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Greek islands shipping aid November 11, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Transport Air Sea Land.
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Deputy Merchant Marine Minister Panayiotis Kammenos yesterday pledged to boost coastal shipping connections to remote islands of the Dodecanese following a meeting with mayors from most of the islands.

The meeting was also attended by Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Valinakis. Local authorities said they were satisfied with the pledges.

A decade later, columnist finds America has invaded Greece November 1, 2007

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A decade later, columnist finds America has invaded Greece
By KIRSTIN FAWCETT For the Blade-News

Following an intermittently rainy week in Geneva, Switzerland, I was quite ready to trade drizzle for dry heat, fondue for fried calamari, and Lake Geneva for the Aegean Sea. Lucky for me, such a dramatic change of scenery was not only a part of my travel itinerary, but was also a mere three-hour plane ride away.
The world is different and beautiful in so many ways. Switzerland is starkly scenic, with rugged mountains scraping a pristine Alpine sky. However, as I descended down my plane’s tinny metal stairs and firmly stood on Greek soil, all I could see was blue. Everything in Greece is blue, from the sky to the mountains to the incredibly clear and salty water. The cerulean sunlight is brilliant yet blinding, even when shrouded by the layers of smog and pollution that hover above the Athenian cityscape.

As waves of heat hit my sweater-clad body full force, I started to realize in those first few Grecian minutes a fact which I would soon hold to be a universal truth: Everything in Greece is warm, from the weather to the sandy beaches to the noisy, inquiring, hospitable people. Everything is warm, that is, except for the sea. The Aegean is cool, though not cold. Rejuvenating, not bracing. The mild breeze and brisk water is a striking and delicious contrast. A less lovely, yet equally interesting juxtaposition is the seaside Temple of Poseidon’s white marble pillars silhouetted against nearby modern chrome hotels. Standing on the cliff where the temple was erected thousands of years ago, one could almost imagine Athena or Zeus lazily descending from the sky to recline amongst the temple ruins. Staring down at the beach below, infested with half-clothed European tourists, one could almost imagine Girls Gone Wild: Mediterranean Style. However, Greece’s largest disconnect had to be its Americanization. Once homogenous in its cultural ways, the country had been infused with a hefty dose of my home country since my first visit nine years earlier.

Despite my wide-eyed wonder towards Greece’s beauty, I am quite familiar with the country. I visited Athens, along with the islands of Santorini, Mykonos and Crete, at age 11. Most families go on vacation to Disney World or Ocean City. My family chose to haggle with gypsies in the outdoor market of Plaka, to order strange meats called souvlaki off of all-Greek menus, and to decipher the guttural, broken English of cab drivers. Nearly a decade later, I was ready to re-enter this unusual yet wonderful world. However, a foreign invader had proven to penetrate the strange, exotic cultural shield of Athens in recent years. Whow as said-conqueror? An American clown named Ronald McDonald.

Plaka, the oldest open-aired market in Athens, was the fiendish clown’s most formidable victim. When I was 11, the cobblestoned streets of Plaka had been littered with stands containing items both intriguing and illicit. I had been mesmerized by porcelain perfume bottles and silver jewelry, whereas my then-13-year-old brother had hankered after the illegal throwing stars and nun-chucks sold by shifty-eyed men.

In September, I was privileged enough to stroll through Plaka once more. However, the only similarity that I now noticed between the Plaka of past and present was its location. Swiveling my head back and forth, I realized that several stone streets had been paved over with smooth black concrete. A Starbucks was nestled among traditional Greek cafes and gyro stands. The gypsies and stray cats that had once yelled and yowled in the background were silent in their absence. The most noticeable change, however, had to be the McDonald’s standing next to the area’s subway station. The lunchtime line pouring out of said building was twice as long as the crowds swarming around a nearby Greek restaurant’s entrance. Plastered on the fast-food joint’s windows, the face of The Clown seemed to mock the presence of outside patrons.

Chewing on a gyro bought from a street vendor, I pondered Greece’s rapid globalization (or, should I say, Americanization?). Yes, Athens, an international hub of business and travel, is surely not immune to America’s pervasive influence. However, I was baffled as to how home had permeated such a culturally and historically distinct area of the city. My mind then flashed back to the 2004 Olympics, which the Athenians had proudly hosted in its city of origin. Obviously, once sketchy areas of the city had been “cleaned up” by the Greek government and officials for the sake of visitors and TV cameras. Talking to a nearby restaurant owner about Plaka’s evolution cemented my conclusion: Athens’ most historical district had been modernized (and Americanized) for global appeal.

My first reaction after the aforementioned revelation was resentment. America’s grubby, far-reaching fingers seemed intent on reshaping the rest of the world in its image. Nevertheless, after much thought, could I really resent a country for developing both economically and structurally? Plaka’s tourist population was obviously strong enough to support coffee chains and Big Mac habits, and the revenue from said-chain stores was most likely the reason that Plaka had undergone such a makeover. Maybe the crowds of hawkers selling illegal items had benefited from Plaka’s revived economy, allowing them to abandon a life of contraband for more honorable pursuits. Perhaps the residents of Plaka had longed for a paved street, and the international attention focused on the city had spurred the area’s reconstruction. Maybe more tourists now visited Plaka due to its comforting Western influence, thus increasing the neighborhood’s business, prosperity and calorie intake. Maybe Americanization wasn’t really bad for anybody, except for me, an American tourist, who was hell-bent on having an “authentic cultural experience.”

Toward the end of my stay in Greece, I had reconciled myself with the country’s evolution. I even grew to appreciate American stores and restaurants, as souvlaki and moussaka slowly yet surely lost their taste-bud charm. However, the best part of globalization, which I had previously overlooked, had to be that English was now spoken frequently among the population. The Greek people, whom I had been unable to talk with at age 11, could now hold whole conversations with me. During the course of our dialogues, I learned stories, opinions, and facts that ended up shaping, and making, my Greek experience. Maybe globalization prevented me from truly knowing Greece. However, a positive aspect of America’s far-flung influence had to be that I could now finally understand the most invaluable aspect of Greece: Its people.

Editor’s note: The writer is a Bowie resident and student at St. Olaf University in Minnesota. She is traveling abroad. Published 11/01/07.

Copyright © 2007 The Bowie Blade > A decade later, columnist finds America has invaded Greece

Night sea patrols seek migrants October 13, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece News.
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Greek Coast Guard officials in the Aegean have intensified their patrols, particularly at night, in a bid to curb a surge of immigrants seeking to enter the country illegally from the neighboring Turkish coast.

The Port Authority has increased patrols after dark as this is when most smugglers’ boats try to make the brief crossing from Turkey to one of Greece’s Aegean islands, an official say. “The main problem is the long sea border we share with Turkey, the closeness of the Greek and Turkish coastlines and the organized smuggling rings,” Lesvos Port Authority Chief Apostolos Mikromastoras said. “With the means that traffickers have at their disposal, they can cover the shortest distance between our coasts in just five minutes,” he said. Smugglers use speedboats that can operate up to 70 knots, or 130 kilometers per hour, or low-lying inflatable dinghies that can elude the coast guard’s radar.

When smugglers are approached by the Greek Coast Guard, even at night, they often throw would-be migrants overboard, the captain of a patrol vessel, said. According to Coast Guard officials, migrants are often “trained” to abandon their vessel if approached by Greek authorities by smugglers who tell them that “the Greeks will not let you drown.”

According to Greek officials, the modes of travel used by would-be migrants entering Greece depend upon the fee paid to traffickers. “Those who have money are taken by speedboat to an Aegean island where they are picked up by another trafficker who helps them board a ferry to Piraeus,” a Port Authority official said. Those less fortunate are crammed onto, rarely seaworthy, wooden boats to undergo a slower, far riskier, journey to Samos, Lesvos, Chios or some other Aegean island. Many of those reaching the western port of Patras are packed into commercial containers and loaded onto ships bound for Italy.

Mark Hadjipateras takes stock on Rhodes October 9, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Arts Events Greece, Arts Exhibitions Greece.
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Solo exhibition on Rhodes features the enigmatic hybrid creatures so typical of the artist > Hadjipateras’s ‘Home ‘n’ Friends’ is a huge installation comprising objects purchased from IKEA, given a new, non-utilitarian character.

He is one of those artists capable of creating an entire world and making the viewer feel part of it. Mark Hadjipateras’s work moves between the fields of sculpture, painting, photography and installation art. It makes up a small, personal universe in which every viewer feels welcome.

This mood prevails in the artist’s solo exhibition, at the Municipal Gallery of Rhodes until the end of the month. With “Home ‘n’ Friends” as a title, the exhibition features the enigmatic hybrid creatures that are so typical of his work and seem as if taken out of fairy tales or science-fiction stories. They are creatures that resemble toys, animals or objets trouves and seem to come from different periods in time and civilizations. They transmit a will to communicate with the viewer, a positive energy and a surface innocence. But they also challenge the viewer’s intellect.

Hadjipateras chose some of his hybrid protagonists for his mosaic installation that adorns Manhattan’s 28th Street subway station. Those sympathetic creatures add a touch of happiness to the otherwise dull surroundings of the metro and, as in the Rhodes exhibition, are a psychological lift for the viewer.

The Rhodes exhibition is the first time that the artist has taken on the role of curator. “I had to choose and install all the works that I believe to be representative of all my work. My estimate is that I have created more than 3,000 works from the 1980s until today. This is a sort of survey exhibition. I tried not to be overwhelmed by the challenge but to be light about it. My idea was to show some works that have never been shown before or that are very recent. I finally decided that with the 80 works that I chose, I would tell a small story,” the artist said.

Hadjipateras, who belongs to the well-known family of shipowners from Oinouses, is unpretentious and affable. He also has unconventional views on art: “The story I am telling at the Rhodes exhibition is that art is not only for the elite or for art historians and specialists. On the contrary, the presentation of an artist’s work should be an open invitation to everybody. In any case, most of the people who will come visit this exhibition will most likely be tourists. My objective was to create an exhibition that would communicate a feeling of familiarity and domestic warmth, a playful mood. An artist should know how to entertain. Not to entertain with dubious lightness but by creating an attractive object or pleasant surroundings for the viewer. To entertain by sharing thoughts and emotions and not with haughtiness,” the artist said.

“Speaking for myself, I can say that I have found a refuge in art. Art helps me integrate socially and I really feel lucky that I have been able to commit myself to art without having to worry about making a living. This is why reciprocating becomes all the more important to me. I would like each work to be able to offer something to others. When I was studying art in London and when I was still a young artist, I very strongly felt the need of the public’s affirmation. I wanted to prove that I could make a good work of art. Nowadays, I enjoy much more the creative process itself.”

The exhibition is a huge installation comprising objects that the artist has purchased from IKEA: sheets, bedspreads, bottles, mirrors and cutlery are the artist’s tools, the idea goes back to Hadjipateras’s participation in the group exhibition “Unfair” which was organized by Gerasimos Kappatos. They are mass-produced, ordinary objects that take on a new, non-utilitarian character. This mini-retrospective exhibition on Rhodes reveals the diverse media in which the artist has worked: sculptures, objets trouves, monotypes and paintings among them.

“The mind never stops coming up with new ideas. Some works spring to mind but are implemented at a later time. As an artist matures, it is important that he become less narcissistic and more in tune with what he really carries within. I am lucky to be a father because my two sons have helped me to understand that neither one’s self nor one’s art are at the center of the world.”

Mark Hadjipateras’s maturity enables him to turn the childishness into a primary tool for his work. And, to do so with a sense of humor and irony but also with sincerity and self-awareness.

Municipal Gallery of Rhodes, 2 Symis Square, Old Town, Rhodes, tel 22410 23766 and 22410 36646. Open daily except Sundays 08:00-14:00.

Related Links > http://www.rhodes.gr/portal_en/

A worldwide guide to budget flights October 7, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in News Flights.
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Say you want a cheap flight from Manchester, England, to Greece, but you don’t know which budget airlines or charters fly there.

Turn to www.whichbudget.com, which offers a directory of such carriers around the world.

The England-based site lists 116 airlines in 124 countries, including out-of-the-way nations. Perusing is fun just to find airlines you never knew existed.

Big prospects for Greek conference tourism October 5, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Tourism.
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Conference tourism, one of the best branches worldwide for attracting foreign currency, has huge growth potential in Greece, the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) suggests.

The association’s data show that Greece can rise to 15th position internationally in hosting top conferences, obtaining a 2.1 percent share of the global conference market by 2017.

Already in the last decade there has been a major increase in the number of visitors through conference tourism. In 2005 a total of 78,347 delegate-visitors were hosted in Greece, effectively quadrupling in just 10 years. In 1996 the corresponding figure did not exceed 18,500.

One of the branch’s greatest advantages is that conferences are held throughout the year, while the peak months are June and September along with the winter ones. The global conference market, according to a report by the World Travel and Tourism Council, generates around $90 billion in Europe and $482 billion internationally.

According to Bank of Greece data for 2001, the annual turnover from conference tourism stood at 184 million, representing 10 percent of the figure for tourism as a whole. This percentage is very high when considering that in 2001 conference and professional tourism was in its early stages in terms of investment and promotion and related in effect to the period leading up to the 2004 Olympic Games.

The Association of Greek Exhibition and Conference Organizers (AGECO) suggested that the main comparative advantages of Greece in developing this kind of tourism are the following:

  • Ideal weather conditions, unique natural beauty, excellent cuisine, high-level hospitality, night entertainment, the feeling of security and the cultural and historic heritage across the country.
  • Modern infrastructures and well-organized, modern hotel units, especially in Attica, Thessaloniki, Halkidiki, Alexandroupolis and other destinations in mainland Greece and on the islands.
  • Greece has outstanding conference centers in popular destinations such as Rhodes, Crete, Athens and other destinations.

From Crete to Santorini > breathtaking displays of nature October 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Islands, Greece Islands Aegean.
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Santorini. The very name brings to mind shimmering images of white walls and blue domes rimming a curving shore, high above the blue waters of a caldera, where the sea filled the basin of a collapsed volcano when it erupted around 1600 BC.

santorini1.jpg  Mesmerising sunsets extolled in a hundred photographic displays crop up in the mind’s eye too. Any traveller would be dazzled long before setting eyes on this legendary pilgrimage of mass tourism among the islands of Greece. What could be a more passionate expression of the relentless wanderlust that drives today’s nomadic millions across the globe in an addictive search for the spectacular, the novel, the breathtaking displays of nature, spoilt or unspoilt, or of human habitation, past or present?

Crete was our primary destination for a week’s stay at the picturesque village of Koutouloufari, now a tourist village, located at a moderate height, about 23 km away from the capital Heraklion. It was from here that I proposed to make our visit to Santorini, like a minor general carefully plotting the conquest of a prized target after establishing himself on a larger base.

After some hesitation, we decided we would try to make a day’s excursion to Santorini from Crete rather than spend a night. There was too much see in Crete during the short stay of a week, and a night at Santorini would have reduced our stint. Of course, not stopping for the night meant missing the fabled sunset on the caldera, but we decided to sacrifice this for the sake of more time in Crete.

It was on reaching Koutouloufari that we discovered the ideal one-day excursion to Santorini. This was by catamaran, a high-speed ferry which made the journey between Heraklion and Santorini in less than two hours. The organisers arranged it so that the catamaran made both the outgoing and returning journeys on the same day.

The other normally advertised one-day excursions were by slow ferry involving a four-hour journey each way. Our organisers also arranged to have us picked up in the morning from very close to our resort and have us dropped back there at night. Above all, they had included in their package, a tour by coach on Santorini, all this at very economical rates.

santorini2.jpg  The weather was perfect, and the catamaran journey was remarkably comfortable and smooth each way. Much has been made by travellers, of the sight from the deck, when the white buildings on the rim of the caldera come slowly into view as the slow ferry approaches Santorini. But our ferry brought us swiftly to our destination, so that was that.

We alighted at the port from where the white buildings on the caldera rim appeared almost like wide smudges of chalk on top of the rising brown shoreline. With a waiting coach we were spared the trouble of seeking transport up the hillside and saved a great deal of time reaching the villages which make up the inhabited regions of the island. Up the winding road we saw the bay receding below and the expanse of the constantly blue Aegean Sea coming into view, as we rose towards our first stop, the village of Pyrgos.

Santorini has been linked culturally to neighbouring Crete as an island which hosted the Minoan civilization, and was in existence from 2700-1450 BC and whose centre was represented by Crete. But occupation in Santorini, known also as Thera, not only includes the Minoan period, but goes back further to 4th century BC. Crete too, has evidence of settlements going back much further than the Minoan age.

The massive volcanic eruption which occurred around 1600 BC caused the island to split up into three, with the present Santorini as the main island. The hillsides and boulders, the coast and the exposed soil of Santorini, all bear the mark of the island’s volcanic history in the darkness of their colour.

We came to our first stop of Pyrgos and climbed up the winding paths between small white recesses and enclosures, representing traditional houses and shops. Churches figured repeatedly along the way with beautiful stark white walls and blue domes, and small squares lay between them. From a square in Pyrgos we got a panoramic view of the surrounding land and the sea.

Returning to our coach, we drove further up to Oia which is perhaps the best known village in Santorini, at least for the tourist. The view is magnificent all round, but particularly so from the main centre which looks over the caldera. This is the place from where the famed sunsets are watched. But even during the day, lunch in one of the restaurants overlooking the caldera was a wonderfully exhilarating experience. On the narrow streets, the shops sold expensive jewellery and miscellaneous souvenirs, underlining the area’s fame as a tourism hotspot.

And so to our last stop Fira, the capital of Santorini. An impressive Museum in Fira displayed artifacts discovered in the archeological sites of Santorini of which Arkotiri is the most notable. Fira, lower in altitude to Oia, also overlooked the caldera and, as in Oia, the white houses descend in cascades down the hillsides, making for picture-postcard-perfect photographs.

Clicking and admiring over, we rode down to the port to take the catamaran back to Heraklion. It was 6 o’clock in the evening, and the sun was descending slowly behind the white houses of Santorini , behind us high up on the ochre coloured hillside. We managed to catch the sunset after all.