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Archive for the ‘Greece’ Category

IMG_5494The central area of Athens, Greece, near the Governmental Parliament Building, offers a wealth of joy to the visitor or the local.  This area has something for everyone.  From the people watching, to food, to touristy trinket stores, and to some fine specialty stores, all engage the traveler on foot.  The narrow and cobble-stoned streets warrant good walking shoes.  The vendors of the small establishments often lean outside the doorway and beckon the foot traffic. Smaller side paths lead to more treasures and more obscure wares.  A store that is a wall on which hang antique door-knockers could be a good example. The owner would be a specialist in that trade.  Commerce is brisk in many shops, as there are lots of people.  As it is said, “better buy it now, as it won’t be here next time”, is very true in the Flea Market.

Take a stroll through this area. Getting to the flea market is easy. If you are coming from Syntagma Square you will be walking down Metropolitan Street, past the Cathedral and the square of shiny marble. There is a small Byzantine church in the shadow of the cathedral that you should take a look at called Agios Eleftherios.  I love the peace and solemn quiet in this space. The church has an Icon inside which they say performs miracles. There are some cafes in the square and this is where Pondrossou Street begins. This section of Pondrossou is the high-end section of Monastiraki. There is a lot of touristy stuff here. I bought a wonderful Bouzouki guitar here from John’s Music Store.  But in my opinion, the really cool stuff is on lower Ermou and across on small streets. If you seek originality and real antiques leave Monastiraki behind and wander around Psiri.

If you continue through the square you will come to Ermou and if you cross into Psiri there are people selling there too. The further you go the weirder it gets and by the time you get down towards Pireos Street you have very poor people buying and selling from piles of rags and little gypsy children running barefoot.  Some shops are not even stalls, only things hanging a some wall. All is for sale.  So… Gypsy, bad, bad, bad!

vendorGypsies are skinny and invisible to the human eye. They know where every wallet is in the world. Then they are quicker than the fastest I have ever seen, ( personal ). Your Sock “might” be safe.  Here is an example of one stealth group gypsy action, [sadly from personal experience, from a time ago] : I don’t look like a tourist, just a Westerner, Plus, I stay away from the logos on the clothing and designer accents. These are a beacon of light to the gypsies. The thieves work the odds and the angles.  Groups in skinny teams quietly surround the mark, i.e., the Metro train commuter, a narrow cafe; close in, as in a crowded space; press against the (now) victim; and fleece every zipper, pocket, nook and crannies. When the train opens at the station, the Gypsies evaporate and all is gone. Do not get in that position ever. Hint: position a mouse trap in your back wallet pocket! Wait for the …snap and scream!

Check out the morning meatmarkets, if available to your schedule in Psiri.  In the evening, the tavernas, ouzeries, and little restaurants are authentic & the nightlife is excellent ( Cab it back to the hotel in a metered vs. “Gypsy Cab”).

The Tourism Police are an integral part of the Hellenic Police (ELAS), consisting of men and women especially trained and competent to offer tourists information and help, whenever they have any problems. They are also competent to solve minor differences between tourists and enterprises. They all speak foreign languages. You can recognise them by the shoulder badge Tourism Police on their uniforms. Tourism Police operate an emergency telephone line on a 24 hour basis (just dial 171 any day, any time, from all over Greece).

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Oia Town Can Stimulate Every Appetite

ACaiqueFloatsAtArmeni-AmmoudiA Must Do, Go down to Amoundi Bay below Oia and have lunch at one of the fish tavernas down there: Ammoudi Fish Tavern . I found this to be so relaxing sitting right next to the sea and watching the fishing boats bringing in the catch of the day (Early Morning) which is then freshly cooked either on a bbq grill or in the kitchen, try Marides, (fried shiners: eat the whole thing, like french fries.)

Now the Amoundi Beach I talk about is to the Left at the bottom of the Mule path steps. Go past the tavernas, up and over a ledge on a gravel path. Continue to the Rock bluffs and pick one ledge to spread towels on the edge of the Caldera.

The Inky Blue sea goes down some hundreds of feet right here. Dive in and swim to the left side of the little island ( 40 yards) and find the steps to climb up to the White Greek Chapel on this little island. Wait for a CruiseLiner to pass and when the wake surge arrives jump into the sea. Nudist may find a spot here also. There is a long utility road down to the Amoundi port and some parking on the side of the road to save the knees on the 300 steps! Mule drivers can get you up the steps to the Oia cliffs above. Find the Oia Cathedral in the middle of the village. Sit down and drink it in.

Oia also has some great eating for dinner (Thalami Taverna) . I also have discovered local Oia tavernas off the beaten path: There are two on the Finikia area down to the right to the plains below Oia: Anemomilos Restaurant, 30 22860 71410, at the bottom of the road down to the sea. Outdoor eating and the smell to the sea is to die for. Another one is just before the entrance to Oia on the Main road, on the Right, called My Santorini. The Owner, Mihalis, sings and plays Bouzouki.  See below. Look for my photo, as a guitar playing musician with Mihalis, among the hundred photos hanging from the grape arbors.

Kamari Beach area has lots of tavernas and Pizza places along the “boardwalk”.  All are at different price points, you must shop first.  Sit on the boardwalk of a restaurant and people watch in the late afternoon.  At midday, the black sand beach is best used by the farthest end of the stretch.  Get the two chaises and umbrella at water’s edge and park for a bit to swim and sun.  Perissa Beach on the other side of the mountain is very enjoyable and may be reach by ferry boat from Kamari for a few hours. The Caiique  ( ky-eeek-cay) Boats travel back and forth.

 

As for other restaurants/tavernas I have to say that as I stayed in Imerovigli, I just tended to eat there on a night or two. There is a taverna of great food and a value, family run, with my blessing:  Taverna Imerovigli, along the cliff before Firostefani, is a good Greek taverna with decent food if you ever wander into Imerovigli on foot on a night. As for Thera Town, there are dozens of places to eat.  There are some pricey restaurants in Thira on the cliff edge, some not that great. Some good ones are not on the cliff but on the street by the museum up the stairs from the street level “Stani” and Roof Garden and Dionysus is in the same area.  As many cultures, Greeks will dine in the evening fairly late. A sit down dinner in a popular spot might begin at 11:00 PM.  After din-din may end at 4:00 AM.  Santorini is just a bit more laid back and some areas close by 11:00 PM.

Clubs will keep going while guests partake.  Greek coffee helps!

Imerovigli Traditional Tavern, Imerovigli

Owned and run by Maria Tsagari and her husband Dionisis, this is one of my  favorite places to eat on Santorini. Perched on the cliff above the caldera, the restaurant has a matchless view and good to people watch as they walk the cliff.  The service is warm and personal. Try to sit on the outside space: bring a sweater. Try a Greek or Seafood Salad; Spaghetti with Mussels and Pine Nuts; Try the fried squid app.  I eat the Chicken Filet Stuffed with Spinach and Cheese or Stuffed Lamb in Vine Leaves; House Barrel White Wine; stay a while and you may get a special cordial on the house!

Imerovigli, Tel: 22860 24190

 

ANOGI RESTAURANT, Progressive tavern

Imerovigli, 84700 Santorini Tel: 22860 21285

The two owners and fantastic chef have come together to convert a past sleepy area in Imerovigli village into a hopping dynamic place.

Eat in the garden tavern space under the stars.  Have a Raki toast by carafe.  Dig in to Lamb in Parchment or the other casseroles. Dip breads into fine olive paste and oil.  The wine will satisfy here. Make the call and get the reservation early in the week.  Walk-ins will eat at 10:30PM! The chef is real good, oh, I said that! Note: this is not a cliff view. It is a busy little village with much foot traffic. The staff will make you feel special.

Taverna Roza, Vourvoulos,  22860 24378, far below Imerovigli

The ten tables may give a hint. This family run village taverna is potentially overlooked by the passing tour busses. The kitchen is open to the guests.

The menu could be traditional or very seasonal.  All is made to order. Eat on the covered porch. Flowering trees surround the spot. Grilled sardines or skate wings can be followed by plates of lamb chops.  An Ouzo “mini” wets the appetite for more. Go for more. Tour the mini kitchen and you’ll find it. Very affordable here.

Santorinimou: Traditional Taverna & Live Music, Oia Tel: 22860 71730

Aka: My Santorini: In season go to the simple but idyllic roadside taverna-in-a-garden, on the right as you drive into Oia. The food and barrel wine here are plentiful and reasonably priced but, after 10, it’s Mihalis Hionas, singing and playing his own compositions on guitar and bouzouki, which charm utterly. Ask for the songs “Santorinimou,” and “Eleni and Frank,” pick up a CD, and give Mihalis a hug from Ron & Sharon. If you’re lucky enough to hear some of his stories, you’ll feel you’ve caught a glimpse of the real Santorini.

What not to consider on Santorini: Many go to the live volcano tour in the Caldera by the boat at the bottom of the Thera cliffs.  Note, this is a full half day trip and can be grueling as well and quite smelly (sulfur) and packed with hundreds on the several tours at the same time. Oia does have an evening sunset cruise by sail and that might be most enjoyable. Your call.

What else: Avoid the high noon roaming of the town of Thera when the several Cruise Liners are in port. It is a madhouse.  Also avoid the switchback steps to the Thera Port when the tourists are on the Mules rising from the ships on those steps. Lastly, the Winery Dinner theaters might entertain many groups, but it is kind of contrived, certainly the food served is not to standard.  Stick with the keepers.

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Sunkist2 Island Traveler

This page gives you a little insight of my Travels through my lens.

Weekly Photo Challenge: One Shot, Two Ways

The Greek Mountains of the Peloponnese of “southern Greece” is far from tropical in the winter months. This roadside chapel near the famed Olympia is active with tourbuses, except for my vision this winter!IMG_5549

IMG_5548A

The Nikon d7100 DSLR, Nikkor 55-80mm captures this Alps-like scene.

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Copps Hill Burial Ground      My travel to a new destination is not complete without a journey to a local cemetery.  You may call me bizarre, as others have noted this trait as unusual.  I generally see that the culture of a land and the knowledge of an age long past is before my eyes upon walking past those gates.  A somber reflection, in a dignified manner, into the lives of those departed, opens my eyes to the needs to respect the dead.  The payment of homage and need to glorify the memory of a family member takes on so many differences in the cultures of my travel.  From an early age I found the monuments to the dead intriguing.  The walks through the cemetery take on a peace of their own.  Ancient or modern in design, open wide or grown over set a tone.  The maintainers of the gravesites add to the culture.  My earliest remembrance came from a Victorian era matured cemetery in Connecticut, USA.  Though not in a New England wealthy town, the deceased  retained many beautiful and massive stones over their graves.  Many monuments reflected the touch of the sea with anchors and granite crosses adorned with cherubs and dolphins.  The cedar and cyprus trees were so mature that the shadows fell across most graves in a cloak of sadness.  Pools of fresh water in the hollows on the grounds drew weeping willow branches toward the reflections on the water and tears of leaves  floated down in the breeze. The families of the late 1800’s felt the sadness of loss of the loved ones and those graves clearly let the living feel the grief.

    sabagraveIn the heat of the noonday sun, no cemetery was more striking to explore than the Hassell Cemetery on the 5 square mile  island of Saba in the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean Sea.  This island is an upside down ice cream cone with a population of 2,000.  The lilliputian villages are populated by ancient seafaring Scot families and Carib/African descendants. The families had etched a space over several generations to bury the dead.  Volcanic in nature, the land required the above ground vault mausoleums.  These were not like the historic New Orleans, LA style, but more low-rise, in a dense plot of graves.  The island seaman would travel the world and return with glass and ceramic tiles from every culture.  Those tiles were then used to pave every inch of every vault in every color and mixed pattern. The reflection in the sun and the intensity of the blend is a vision of ingenuity.  Most crypts sport an oval photograph of the deceased imbedded on a raised head stone. Like a hotel washroom, the tiles are scrubbed and shined gleaming by the  families.  They were so proud of their graves.

  GreeceChurch On the road to the last vestige of land of the mainland before touching the deep blue Aegean Sea and the islands of Greece, the villages of the Peloponnese area, known as Mani, gives us the color of a proud culture.  These fierce people from ages long past retain the memories of stoic, no, Spartan times in history. This culture retains religious veins of intense respect for the dead.  The honor of the departed parent is most evident here.  The graveyard of Greece is a family place and many times attached to the family’s own individual church. These churches serve as the last resting place.  Black-shawled women tend the grave/vault near the cubic whitewashed structure.  Within a glass-doored wooden tombstone are put vessels of  “holy water” and olive oil, photographs of family, incense, dried flowers, toys, “toma” or the pressed religious icons of silver, painted icons of saints, candles of golden bee’s wax and the list goes on.  The touching sadness of the stuffed toy puppy and the photo of the dark curled haired toddler speaks of this culture.  These are glimpses into a respect for life and the prayers for the departed.  The life of the village revolves around all in the Mani mind-set.

     These and the many chances to walk the paths that the mourners have walked have opened my eyes to a respect for the timeless  museum of granite, marble, slate and the wood.  I place my hand on the chiseled words and feel the warmth of the stone and drink in the sound of the wind through the monuments that draw me to the land of the lost.  The land of the living becomes most real. 

GreeceMani

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Sunkist2 Island Traveler

This page gives you a little insight of my Travels through my lens.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Curves

Challenge: choose an image that denotes: Curves

Paraportiani Church, Hora, Mykonos, Cyclades Islands, Greece

This little structure is really three small churches in one.  Located near the famed windmills on the port near “little Venice”,

the Church is active, ideal for wedding services, and photography in the many hues of the Aegean light.

Paraportiani3

Paraportiani2

Greek Orthodox Church, Mykonos

Greek Orthodox Church, Mykonos

Paraportiani4

Paraportiani4

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Sunkist2 Island Traveler

This page gives you a little insight of my Travels through my lens.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fleeting

Challenge: choose an image that denotes: Fleeting

Imerovilgi, Santorini, GR Fleeting Sun
Imerovigli, Santorini, GR Fleeting Sun

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 Living Santorini Greek Wines: Let the Lava Flow

My first remembrance of this mystical island was the Byzantine chants drifting on Sunday morning through my open window on the edge of the caldera. The chanting Greek priests in the Cathedral of  Thera set the bar high for further Santorini experience.  Several visits in the coming years proved that a surprise was welcomed around every corner on those September island vacations.

Thera, Santorini pathwaysA very fond encounter, on one hectic noontime visit in the village of Thera, made  friends for life with Yannis and his mother, Ruella.  The touristic streets and paths in the center of Thera were filled with the Cruise Ship visitors, yet the littlest shop under the steps near the postoffice proved to be the perfect refuge.  It was the strumming guitar and the humming to a Greek fisherman’s song that drew me in to sit and listen. Captain John, Yannis’ friend,  put down the guitar and we all greeted each other. The postcards, lottery tickets and the aging souvenirs on dusty long forgotten shelves were behind Yannis.  His diploma of Notary and the religious icon art on the walls, and the stacks of documents in organized piles proved the 60-year-old man was more than perceived. Yannis lived on Santorini his entire life. He and mother, Ruella, perhaps at age 80, lived steps away in the vine-draped whitewashed house, situated on a narrow path in a Greek courtyard.  A rusted and dented Vespa motor scooter gave Yannis his mobility.  The shop was alway open.

The full white beard and the stock of white flowing locks contrasted with the well tanned face and arms on his near five foot frame.  St. Nicholas in khaki shirt and pants was more of the total vision of his appearance.  Yannis spoke english, though a nod and the Greek expression, “Nai” or yes, always with a smile, made most conversation flow.  The visitors to the shop were steady and regulars of local commerce, some farmers, fishermen and several realtors.  In island government, Yannis made the official transactions happen. He knew them all.  Captain John, the guitarist, but also island real estate developer, was a fine friend. In fact, Yannis had dozens of very close friends, very few local family members, and was a life-long bachelor.

The ability as an outsider to be humbled with acceptance into the home of a proud and stoic traditional family on Santorini is very special.  The thongs of tourists and day trippers that come to this speck in the Aegean Sea, an angelic perch above the crater of a still active volcano, dominate a very short island season.  The year-round families and businesses endure for the considerable “off-season”, in an isolated and protective life.  Ruella, on her four and one half-foot height, and dressed for decades in her widow’s black, maintained a simple house.  Discarded olive oil tins hang filled with fresh herbs, amongst the red bougainvillea flowers that climb the front porch.  Cats sit on the stoop and canaries sing in the wire hanging cages in and out of the house.  Cycladic dark cedar furniture, linens and religious icons fill the house.  The china cabinet and several  fine porcelain vases fill the one wall with the photograph of Ruella’s second son, Father Vlavianos, the Greek Orthodox Arch Bishop in Chicago, IL, USA.  The invitation to eat dinner and join with Captain John,  at their home with Ruella to cook was easy to accept.

My beautiful pictureI love all Greek food.  I will try anything, yet, much of the local foods of Santorini are imported, with exception of produce and some fishing.  Yannis’ household was all natural: locally caught, locally grown, and most importantly locally pressed and bottled!

The night began with a dram of raki.  The distilled spirit had a tendril of fennel immersed in the thick bottomed aged glass wine bottle. It was potent and hot on the throat, made to open the senses. Yiamas was the toast to our health.  Soon Ruella’s icebox was opened to produce the dark green unlabeled wine bottle from Yannis’ vineyard.  Yannis proudly talked about his father and grandfather’s grape vines.  Several acres on a track of land toward the caldera road to the Village of Pyrgos is the location of the vineyard.  The soil is ocher, appears very dry, contains one small cinderblock tin roofed structure and a wire fence encircles it with one gate.  Tourbuses on way to Akrotiri rumble past this nondiscript location without fanfare.  The grapes are white Assyrtiko and Athiri.  The rows of Yannis’ grapes are non existent, as the land is planted in clusters.  The vine stems are now ancient and five-inch base stems throw off the vines each year in the volcanic soil of Santorini.  The morning air is rich in moisture up from the sea far below in the crater. The heat of midday pulls the sugars up into the grapes. Very little rain in the summer and fall months requires the porous subsoil to give up the winter deposits from deep below the surface.  These characteristics make a dry, citrus aroma, hinting of salt, acidic full-bodied wine.

Yannis explained the family church.  Most older family landowners retain a small church on their property.  It is used for religious events from year to year and maintained with the proper icons and candles and offerings.  Yannis takes the harvested September grapes to his church and spreads them to air dry on the stone pavement adjoining the church for ten to 14 days. Covered with gauze to protect from birds, they mellow and concentrate the sugars ready for pressing.  Soon the grapes are brought to a local press and filtered and barreled.  They are stored near the church and some are bottled.

The dinner was wonderful. The start became a hit as a filefish was baked in garlic and olive oil and the crusty local bread combined well.  Ruella grows the special baby white eggplant, unique to the IMG_1733island.  These were sliced into discs and fried in light egg and flour batter.  The finish was the morning harvested local rooster, baked on Greek oregano stems, and feta cheese cubes over warm slices. Horta greens were bathed in lemon juice, salt and olive oil.  The desert was local pastry shop, daily baked, sweets.  The local made wine was two years in the process and paired perfectly with the food.  It was a couple of percentages more in alcohol, but refreshing to taste.  The night went a bit longer that imagined.  We all laughed and Captain John played more guitar.

20130428_22When September comes the vineyard owner must act.  Three days after the dinner we went to the vines.  The time was right.  Yannis opened the little structure, we took wicker baskets, hook-shaped paring knives and we headed to the closer grapes.  The vines are twisted into wreath like circles.  Inspecting the grape bunches was a shocking treat.  Those nearer the ground were so robust in swollen juice, that each grape pressed against its neighbor into a cubic block of grape bunch. A flick of the wrist and the block fell into the wicker, then on to the next.  Several baskets finished the task.  At noon, the work was, well, hard.  A breeze was blowing off the lip of the crater’s edge.  We transferred all to the little church, said a prayer, and had a sip of last years wine out of a plastic liter jug, a little warm but alright.  All was perfect to finish a great day.  I am certain the grapes seasoned and were pressed into a fine batch.  Yannis was a perfect host this visit.

Yannis hopped onto his Vespa and had plenty of people looking for him back at his little shop.  The restaurants on Santorini are supplied by several commercial wineries. A carafe at a favorite taverna is the way to go.  I especially like the dry wines of Santos Winery, and Boutari assyrtiko white is readily available away from Greece.  Prices have risen some over the years but the cost is worth the pleasure.

Down the Caldera My beautiful pictureMy beautiful picture

PyrgosChurch

 

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