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Old Mesolongi is in search of new opportunities March 29, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Mainland, Nature.
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Famous for its lagoons, writers and politicians, Mesolongi city is now looking to move into the modern era

29-03-08_mesolongi1.jpg  The Mesolongi lagoon is one the most important wetlands in the Mediterranean. It is formed by six lagoons that are part of the Natura 2000 network. Modern cafes line the streets of the city next to the few remaining fishmongers. The young travel on bicycles, which is the main form of transport, not only for students but also for the local residents, thanks to the flat terrain.

Finding employment in this historic city, however, is far from easy. Twenty-five-year-old Thanassis Ninis said: «We have our history and the lagoon to be proud of, but only those who have the right profession will stay in Mesolongi. As an agronomist, I found a job and fish farmers can also find work. But someone who has studied information technology will not find employment here.»

29-03-08_mesolongi2.jpg  It is not uncommon to find qualified teachers working in cafes or doing jobs unrelated to their qualifications. One of the few factories in the city, which produces avgotaraho, a kind of pressed caviar, was opened by Stelios Kotsaris, who decided to take up his father’s trade rather than do odd jobs.

The town that became renowned throughout Europe for the heroic mass exodus of its people after two months of siege in 1826 and their subsequent massacre by the Turks in the Greek War of Independence has produced five Prime Ministers, Spyridon Trikoupis, Epameinondas Deligeorgis, Harilaos Trikoupis, and Zinovios and Dimitris Valvis, and numerous writers, Palamas, Malakasis, Drosinis, Travlantonis, Golfis, Lyberakis, Giannaras, Kasolas, Zalakostas and Griparis, but today, apart from its cultural heritage, it has little to be proud of in terms of economic development.

29-03-08_mesolongi3.jpg  The town was initially founded by Dalmatian pirates and fishermen who took refuge in the area. It was later called Mezzo Lagi, literally meaning “between the lakes” by Italian sailors.

Mesolongi could in fact be considered the eighth island of the seven-island group of the Ionian Islands. In the 1960s, fishing was the main occupation in this picturesque and quiet city. Large sections of the lagoon were drained at this time and the fishermen slowly abandoned fishing and became general workers. There was a large population shift, as over half the town’s residents left while others came and settled from nearby villages.

Today the young frequent the cafes and complain about the lack of opportunities in the area and the high rents. Landlords charge as much as 300-350 euros a month for a damp bedsit. Among the ultramodern cafes, the legendary ouzeri Potopoieia Trikene, run by Pantelis and Eleni, is eye-catching. Upon entering, visitors feel as though they have entered a different era, as though the store, built in 1901, has been untouched by time. The characteristic old floor tiles, clock, marble counter and awards won in Thessaloniki fairs all have their own special place. The store used to be a popular haunt for the town’s artists and writers. Its owner complains that little of the cultural spirit of bygone days now remains. Nevertheless the pedestrian zones in the center and the cafes and bars have brought with them a renaissance of a kind.

The Mesolongi lagoon is one the most important wetlands in the Mediterranean. It is made up of six lagoons that are part of the Natura 2000 network set up by the Ramsar Convention. The islet of Tourlida is connected to Mesolongi by a causeway stretching 5 kilometers long. Unfortunately, the edges of the lake have been used as a dumping ground. The rows of old wooden fishing huts that stand on stilts have now been turned into summer homes and are connected to the electricity grid, albeit illegally, to secure votes for politicians. The well-known natural fish farms or ivaria are located here and are the main form of fishing in the lagoon. The ivaria serve as traps into which the fish are herded. The leasing of the ivaria, however, has been controversial, as they are divided between the Mesolongi Municipality and the Prefecture of Western Greece which apply party criteria and charge exorbitant fees. Illegal fishing, trawling and drag nets in the Gulf of Patras are a major problem, as they prevent the fish from actually reaching the ivaria. Greece, though, is a country where everything is allowed and everything is forbidden.

For years, an incineration site on the southeastern bank of the Kleisovas Lagoon was in operation with disastrous consequences. Fortunately, the establishment of a waste treatment plant closed the site and recent water samples have shown that the lagoon is not polluted, though human activity has damaged the area. President of the Friends of the Lagoon Association Haralambos Gogousis highlighted: «The area is known for its fish, salt and eels. What people don’t know about is the tincture of iodine, a red iodine found only here, in Mesolongi and Japan. Phosphorus is also abundant but we do not exploit it. The lagoon is a reflection of Mesolongi and we are unfortunately destroying it with garbage and overfishing.»

29-03-08_mesolongi4.jpg  The town became famous for the heroic mass exodus of its people after two months of siege in 1826 and their massacre by the Turks in the Greek War of Independence. In the cemetery, this “Daughter of Greece” marks the grave of independence hero Markos Botsaris.  The capital of Aitoloacarnania prefecture is 248 km from Athens, 523 km from Thessaloniki, 198 km from Ioannina and only 49 km from Patras. There are 15,000 permanent residents, 18,000 counting students.

What to see > Historic Gateway, Garden of the Heroes, cemetery and tomb of Markos Botsaris, the Palamas Museum, the Trikoupis home, the Zinovios Valvis family home, now a library, the old Town Hall with the Museum of Art and History, the Christos and Sophia Moschandreos Art Gallery in a renovated 1835 building and the house of Razis-Kotsikas.

What to taste > sea bass, spaghetti with eel or avgotaraho.

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Greece lands tourism prize in Shanghai March 29, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Tourism.
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Greece has been chosen as the “Most Popular Travel Destination in Europe 2007-08” by China, proving that efforts to tap the Chinese tourism market are bearing fruit.

Speaking at the opening of the World Travel Fair 2008 in Shanghai, where Greece is the honored country, Tourism Development Minister Aris Spiliotopoulos recognized the importance for Greece of the tourist market of Shanghai, as 600,000 of its citizens travel abroad every year.

“Representing a country that organized the 2004 Olympic Games with absolute success,” Spiliotopoulos reiterated his certainty that China will be as successful in holding the 2008 Olympics. He also expressed his hope for the best possible cooperation between Greece and China “in the fields of economy and culture.”

The WTF began on Thursday and ends tomorrow. It features 500 exhibitors from various countries and territories, while Greece’s kiosk by the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) covers an area of 400 square meters. On Thursday, the WTF awards committee delivered an award to the Greek representation for the most popular destination in Europe. Yesterday, the signing of a protocol of cooperation between the GNTO and Shanghai was also due.

Related Links > http://www.gnto.gr

The avenues of Athens 80 years ago March 27, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Books Life Greek, Greece Athens.
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Travel guides to Greece, first published in 1930 by Eleftheroudakis, now reissued in a collector’s set.

27-03-08_travel_guides.jpg  Views of Athens change rapidly, as travel guides published since 2000 demonstrate.

I enjoy reading what people say about my city. Some visitors, like Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, like what he sees as the city’s “confusion,” while others, like American composer Jonathan Nossiter, who loved the old Zonar’s cafe, see it as a “treasury of aesthetic pleasures.”

Let’s go back to 1930: I’m looking at fresh reprints of the little travel guides that Eleftheroudakis published then. A collector’s set in a handsome box, it could furnish ample material for 10 dissertations.

Tourism had begun in the mid-19 century during the reign of King Otto. But given the lack of infrastructure, Athens remained an exotic destination until the 1960s. However, these guides are written in Greek. Travelers used to come from Alexandria and Istanbul, and other urban centers with Greek communities.

An image comes to mind, the sole aerial photograph in “Neoklassiki architektoniki stin Ellada” (Neoclassical Architecture in Greece), a volume published by Emporiki Bank in 1967. Taken in 1932, the photograph reveals harmony and European style in the tiled roofs of Panepistimiou, Stadiou and Academias streets. That’s the sight that greeted travelers who visited with this guide in hand.

They probably would have dropped in at the Eleftheroudakis bookstore on the corner of Stadiou and Karageorgi Servias streets. Had it not been demolished in 1962, it would have appeared in new guidebooks as a remnant of glorious old urban Europe.

Was it a beautiful city then? Some parts must have been, but the atmosphere in 1930 was unique. Athens not only boasted antiquities and clear air, but also the first sparks of modernism, which Henry Miller noted in “The Colossus of Maroussi.”

As Kevin Andrews pointed out in his perceptive work “Athens” (1967), the harder the city tries to look modern, the more primitive it looks in its essential truth. It’s all relative, of course – the periodical Diaplasi ton Paidon referred on March 18, 1906, to “mediocre neighborhood houses,” which we later idealized – and a guide book is simply a tool.

Related Links > http://www.books.gr

Ideas for cycling trips in Greece’s natural surroundings March 24, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Cycling, Greece, Greece Mainland.
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Greek roads and drivers might not be cyclist-friendly, but the countryside is. Those who venture forth are rewarded by the experience of beautiful landscapes and villages.

24-03-08_cycling.jpg  As Greek roads and drivers are not cyclist-friendly, why not load your bicycle onto your car and drive somewhere you can enjoy cycling in natural surroundings.

Route One > A 4.2-kilometer ride at Doxa Lake. The lake is an artificial one in the mountain range outside Corinth, near Goura and Feneo. The peaceful landscape is a lush green, full of firs, black pines and oaks. The road around the lake is sealed all the way, and there are few cars. The beautiful monastery of Aghios Georgios lies just above the lake, and the sign Pontikonisi tis Korinthias leads to a strip of land and the Church of Aghios Fanourios or Paleomonastiro.

Route Two > This is a longer ride, 37 kilometers, but not a difficult one, 22 km on an easy dirt road and 15 km on asphalt. It’s best to start around 3 km out of Elati, at the crossroads for Vlacha. Leave your car, and cycle through the dense fir forest on a gentle uphill gradient of about 2 km to Vlacha. There the road flattens out for the spring and cafe, then descends into a pretty valley. At the bottom, the road goes left to Stournaraiika and right to Neraidohori-Pyrra. Turn right, keeping the river on your left. The road is mainly flat; the scenery and the sound of water are magical. This route is called “Dromos tou Xylogefyrou” or the Wooden Bridge Road. About halfway along, cross the bridge. With the river on your left, continue to the bridge below Neraidohori. You’ll hardly meet a single car. The 2.5-3 km near the village are the only part of the route where you’ll need to pedal hard. At the village, the road turns to asphalt and is flat or downhill on the way back back via Livadion Pertouliou.

Peace deal seen to boost Cyprus tourism industry March 21, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Business & Economy, Cyprus Occupied, Politics, Tourism.
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Cyprus’s tourism industry would benefit from $300 million a year in additional revenues if a peace deal was hammered out, economists said yesterday.

Economists from the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides of the island said the sector would also stand to benefit from greater cooperation and economies of scale.

“Ninety-eight percent of the Turkish Cypriot respondents and 79 percent of the Greek Cypriot respondents see a win-win situation with a joint tourism industry,” The Management Center, an independent think tank, said in a news release.

Tourism is an important component of the economies of both Cypriot sides; it represents 14 percent of gross national product of Turkish Cypriots, and 12 percent of Greek Cypriots’ gross domestic product. Tourism revenues in the Greek-Cypriot part of the divided island were $2.73 billion last year. Revenues in the Turkish-Cypriot part were $328.8 million in 2005, the last year for which figures are available.

The survey, funded by the British Embassy in Cyprus, said Greek and Turkish Cypriot industry professionals regard the division as a negative factor for their businesses.

“Tourism professionals of the two sides believe that the continuation of the current political situation results in lost business opportunities, and is perceived as a lose situation, at least for their side,” the research team said.

Greece improves tourism ties with Moscow March 21, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Tourism.
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Greece’s Tourism Development Minister Aris Spiliotopoulos had a very cordial meeting with Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov in Russia.

Greece and the local authority of Moscow will sign a memorandum of cooperation in tourism probably in May, as agreed to yesterday by Tourism Development Minister Aris Spiliotopoulos and Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov. It follows a proposal by the Greek Minister which surprised Luzkov during the meeting held by the two men in the Russian capital, in the context of Spiliotopoulos’s visit to the international tourism exhibition MITT.

The Minister said tourism is Greece’s heavy industry, generating 18 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. But sea and the sun alone, he added, are not enough, for attracting visitors requires hard work, great effort, education and a strategy.

On the problem arising from the visas that Russians must obtain to visit Greece, Spiliotopoulos said it would be better if they were not required. He did however stress the rapid and efficient processing of applications with the Consulate in Moscow, which issues as many as 3,000 daily, delivered within 48 hours, while the Consulate in St Petersburg has them delivered the same day. Luzhkov thanked the Greek Embassy and Consulate for making it easier for his compatriots, while promising to do what he can to reduce bureaucracy for Greeks who wish to visit Russia.

Last year some 235,000 Russians visited Greece according to data from the Russian Tourism Organization. The Russian official accepted Spiliotopoulos’s proposal for Greek investors with expertise in building hotels and infrastructure to become active in Moscow and around the Black Sea, adding that there are at least 120 suitable plots in his city waiting to be utilized.

Spiliotopoulos also announced the tripling of funds for the promotion of Greek tourism in the Russian market this year, rising to 1 million euro from 350,000 spent last year. The Minister further invited Russian businesses and groups to invest in Greece, making special reference to the programs available through the Tourism Development Company for the utilization of public tourism property.

A high-end sports village for Mazotos village in Cyprus March 20, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Architecture Infrastructure, Cyprus Limassol, Sports & Games, Tourism.
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A branded sports tourist village featuring 300 properties has been announced near the village of Mazotos. Located between Larnaca and Limassol, the name behind the development is ex-England and Davis cup Tennis player David Lloyd.

The development will be a self-contained village created in a traditional Cypriot style, while affording the luxury and convenience demanded by modern life. The focus will be on sport, particularly racquets, but also canoeing and football. With meandering cobbled streets and a selection of coffee shops, eateries and supermarkets sprinkled throughout the development, it promises to deliver a self-contained environment with its own unique ambience.

Properties will be either one bedroom or two bedroom apartments, split 20% to 80% respectively, and will make up the development. A beach is 300 meters away, a marina which is scheduled for expansion and plans for a theme park two kilometres away. A Four Seasons 5-star luxury hotel in the immediate area is also being built. A journey time of 25 minutes from Larnaca airport allows for easy access.

The village will also be a magnet for those interested in taking their sport seriously, with the climate providing ideal training conditions for professional and novice athletes alike. Consequently, the rental yield is likely to be very high. Commercially, the development already has an independent rental guarantee programme in place which operates on a sliding scale depending upon the level of personal usage the owner wishes to take. The minimum is five per cent although higher rates can be obtained. There is no compulsion to take the rental guarantee. Owners may wish to control this aspect themselves instead.

Overseas property specialists Thomson OPI have announced their involvement in the project which they claim will deliver all the attributes of an outstanding investment. Mike Thomson, Managing Partner at the firm said: “It is rare for all the variables in property investment to come together at the same time. With this project all of the critical elements of successful property investment are positive. With low or no entry deposits, no stage payments and a remarkable ten-year index linked rental guarantee scheme offering 6.25 per cent per annum it means that investors can access the Cyprus property market with security.”

According to its website, “Thomson OPI sets itself apart by specialising in pure investment properties. While this is the primary criteria, superb lifestyle purchases can also be excellent investments.” The company is inviting investors to register their interest early to obtain preferential options in the development.  “We offer to our clients our hand-picked properties which we ourselves have invested in,” Thomson explained. “This gives a measure of confidence to our clients that the appropriate due diligence has been completed. Additionally, we offer carefully selected opportunities through our partnership programmes.”

The likely financial structuring for acquisition in the development is consistent with Thomson OPI’s objective of delivering high capital growth opportunities whilst enabling easily affordable deposits payable over a long period of time. Sizes and prices are yet to be released, with completion scheduled for summer 2010.

According to the BuySell property index, 2007 saw prices increase by over 20 per cent, with the island set to enjoy continued double digit capital growth over the coming years. Key features of the development can be obtained by contacting Thomson OPI at: info@thomsonopi.com.

The project in summary > 
300 apartments, Sold fully furnished, Indoor and outdoor tennis, Full range of other sports activities, 300m to the beach and the marina, Water based activities, Concierge greeting service, Restaurants, bars, banqueting suite, Commercial Business Centre,
Supermarkets and shops, All year sunshine, PGA golf course 15 minutes away, Rental guarantee available (up to 10 years at a minimum of 6.25%), Low entry costs, 10% deposit with 5% upon delivery, Capital growth c. 12-15% per annum.