Posts Tagged ‘Athens’

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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A Tiny Greek Island Delivers Big Benefits without Stress

Flying Dolphin GR The desire is simple: hop on a little comfortable vessel, have a coffee in a roomy armchair, watch the scenery whizz by, and dock next to pure bliss.  These are the beginnings to a fulfilling getaway on the island of Hydra, Greece.  The spring months open the tiny Aegean Islands to the tourist trade and Hydra, a mere hour and one half sea trek from Athens, is well prepared for  international visitors and savvy Greeks.  The draw to the several square kilometer parcel a short distance off the coast of Greece’s  Peloponnese is twofold: no motorized vehicles and a comfort oriented infrastructure.

Mules and Sporty Motorboats

IMG_2046HYDRA The Port of Hydra is bustling with action, as the visitors make their way over cobblestone whitewashed paths to the numerous guesthouses and very small hotels. Want a taxi? Grab a Mule and driver to move you and luggage to the comforts of your Bed and Breakfast perched over the harbor slopes. A breeze is alway found in the town from the western direction and the mountainous southern peninsula of Greece.  The local sea is regularly calm and commercial trade moves on it between the mainland, the port and several little villages. Caiques can be hired to move the tourist from the harbor to several picturesque coves. Beaches abound, though some are pebbles,  and others have amenities of tavernas and changing facilities, and chaises and umbrellas. The network of pedestrian pathways lace the seaside and countryside and make casual walks very easy and true hiking objectives very manageable.

Grilled Meats and Homemade Wine, A Room with a View

hydra_tavernaHydra_ hillsPhaedraHotelHydra

Wild hare stiffado, baby lamb chops, braised field green in lemon, pistachio ice cream, washed down by carafe upon carafe of white wine from the courtyard’s oaken barrel is a start. The locals know the seasonal foods and the several great little restaurants accommodate, as all are quite good,  Seafood is alway available and a mullet or seabass grilled in olive oil and Greek oregano, bathed in lemon juice, surrounded by crispy chips is a best choice.   Christina’s Taverna is an outdoor courtyard leader and Hilda, owner at the Phaedra Hotel will point you in the right direction for the best daily activities and nighttime dinners to your liking.  The morning meal is perfect on their rooftop plaza and the comfortable rooms add to the pleasure.


My fondest pleasure is the morning wake up call; well, not a call, but the sound of the “clop-clop” of the Donkeys on the cobblestone village path. Out of the canopy double bed and up to the balcony for a Greek coffee got my day going just fine.  No mopeds, no SUVs, no tour buses, all kept the day perfectly aligned.

Take the Flying Dolphin line from Pireaus Port to Hydra, secure advance accommodations, pack light and wear hiking shoes. The evenings are certainly casual and the visitor will want a sweater at night in the shoulder seasons. Value here is very good for the benefits, but bring a few extra Euros to splurge. Ya’ sou!  ~ Ron

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According to Reuters data, in the first half of the year, net tax revenues ran almost 1 billion euros below target. This means that Greece will likely miss a goal to reduce its budget deficit to 7.3 percent of GDP this year from 9.3 percent. Further,  many state mandated policies have missed deadlines and targets. Opposition parties state that the current government adheres [sic: “obeys”] to EU troika and ignores the people.  The delay in the two elections has put the finance schedule in arrears.

With the Summer Olympics looming the Spartans of ancient times must win to move to the podium of Europe.

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Good or Evil, they do the trick.

The black iris surrounded by the clearest bluest color of the crystal Aegean Sea is a required staple of Greek life.  I have several. Why not? One of these items on a keychain or on a rear view mirror will ward off those pesky evil spirits and bring me great luck.  Hanging a Blue Eye on the inside of my door at my residence assures a very peaceful existance.  Ask any vendor in the Athens Plaka or the Flea Market: Monastiraki, several block down the way.  These Blue Eyes come in every size.  They are attached to leather lariats, chains, mounted on earrings, and formed into ashtrays.  I have wonderered about the various factories that might manufacture these items. How many tons of glass are smelted?  Do little villages focus all resources to tie little cords on them?  How about a museum of these?

OK, the name is Mati, some may call it  “the evil eye”.  It is a Greek staple in life, as much as a strand of Komboloi beads or worry beads(Greek: êïìðï~ëüé).  Evil Eye Beads go back thousands of years.

It was believed that, this eye saw  all the wickedness in the world and  removed poverty and ignorance. When Horus opened its  eyes the world was enlightened, when he closed, it became dark. From Egypt, the eye talisman had spread to the Mediterranean, Middle East and Europe. The bead reflects the evil intent back to the onlooker. It somewhat resembles an eye and it is said the typical blue color is a factor in protecting the user.   I know the trick to ward off the evil.

At almost every stages of human history, man has looked for the assistance of magic objects called talismans to defy evil forces.  Accordingly the  first recorded by the Mesopotamians about 5,000 years ago in cuneiform on clay tablets, the Evil Eye may actually have originated as early as the Upper Paleolithic age.  That’s old.

So, “…the technique we use for nazar boncugu – evil eye bead making is primitive. It’s totally hand made. We use a thick and a thin iron rod. We roll the base of the nazar bead on the thick rod. This is the base. We add the white and the blue of the eyes with the thin rod. Just these two rods are our tools”, according to RASIM ALTMISKARA, beadmaster in Turkey, from a work on this subject by Kemal Güzelsin.

I’m sticking with mine and I suggest a keychain or two for you!  Or: maybe you have one now?

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Vitina in the Arcadian mountain range of the Peloponnese Peninsular of Greece rises to winter pleasure.

I have travelled the countryside of the Greek mountains in the summer months and can relate the pleasure of discovering a wealth of culture aroung every bend in the road.  The northern mountains in the center of Greece provides a touristic path that gets overrun in all seasons.  I have discovered in the winter that the  southern mountains give the traveler the chance to view a  region unphased by the hassles effecting most Europeans today.  Ski resorts and the groomed mountain trails can be found on the Peloponnese.  My destination is to the villages that  support the winter trade.  Vitina is one of these villages with less that 1000 residents.
Food and drink is the important focus of this village and the church and family really support the infastructure with  real service to the visitor. The freshest dried herbs, homemade greek noodles, rounds of cheeses and dried sausages are offered by craftsmen in the very tiny shops.  White and red wines from local vines are bottled and line the shelves.  Olive trees in groves line the roads to the village of Vitina.  It goes without saying, but I will, that the first cold press of the oil is the finest and the woods of the trees make their way to lathes and the carver hands of the villagers.  Some shops specialize in the most unique crafts. Need a walking staff with a sheep head in olivewood?  When the temperature is Zero C. and the light coating of a night flurry remains on the northern facing red tiled roofs, the lunchtime gastric juices flow.  The hardwood charcoal ovens of the local tavernas whaife the aromas of the local specialty meats in the narrow pedestrian streets.  Wild boar, hare, rooster, baby lamb are on the menu.  Field greens (horta) are still hearty and grown on the southern facing glades and those tender leaves bathed in lemon juice and olive oil, touched with salt and tossed make the meal zip. I particularly like the Taverna called Paradosiaki, a comfortable, nicely decorated family enviroment with great staff and menu.

A drive to this village from Athens takes less than two hours.  The route is quite simple as you head toward the Corinth Canal and on E65 towards Tripoli.  Before  the route narrows, yet after the fantastic mountain tunnels, and tolls, the right cutoff on road E55 and then 74 toward Olympia directs you to Vitina, also spelled Vytina.  The snow topped peaks loom over the hillside passes.  It is dramatic in winter.  Many small hotels and Bed and Breakfasts abound in the village. Larger hotels are along the access route. Finding  these gems is a joy; experiencing the benefits of each is the reward.

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 Greece Tourism:  Can  A Five Year Austerity Plan Change Human Nature to “Live Life”

It used to be that June was the Italian Families, July was the English and Swedes, August was for the German Households and September for the Rich Texas Brides and then, me.  The summer in Greece and on their Islands in the Aegean Sea was the melting pot for the liberal exodus of Euro Travelers on extended holiday. Where were the Greeks then?  Well, they were around but in those places that the rest knew not.

A recent Eurobarometer public opinion survey said seven out of 10 Greeks will be opting for a local holiday destination this summer. Tight budgets and austerity and the pinching of the retirement incomes, with more planned, has changed Greek tourist history:  to that of  belt tightened planning.

Further, Greek unions on Thursday called a two-day general strike next week to coincide with debate in Parliament on a fresh package of belt-tightening measures.  Demonstrators in Syntagma Square, i.e., the “Times Square/Steps to White house of Athens” , who have occupied this space in front of the Greek Parliament building for about a month, are also planning a strong showing. A general strike set to take place next week is expected to once again paralyze the center.  Greeks need to get away from this.  Local travel is geared up with some special last minute deals at 50% discounts.

www.Greektouristguides.gr  or  www.GoldenDeals.gr  or  www.Travelplanet24.com

The Flying Dolphins are booked solid, as are Aegean Air to the Jewels in the Greek seas.

The Greeks know the ropes and will make the necessary adjustments as needed.  The rest of Europe will now have to fight side by side with them for summer bliss.

Hey Merkel, leave the Greeks alone   By Nick Malkoutzis, Ekathimerini, the English Translated Greek Newspaper, writes:

“…It is just over a year since Greece signed its 110-billion-euro bailout agreement. As the country continues to teeter on the edge of economic collapse and doubts about the viability of the euro persist, it is easy to forget that within this bigger picture there are little people paying the price. They are paying for the failures of their leaders.  The pension law passed in Greece last year will raise the retirement age to 63.5 by 2015.

In her speech, Merkel also suggested that Greeks take too much time off work. But a study by Mercer Human Resource Consulting found that while there are big variations between holiday entitlements in the EU, the differences between Greece and Germanyare not that great. The report indicated that an employee in Greece with 10 years’ service will have a total of 37 days’ leave each year (12 of them public holidays) while his or her colleague in Germany will receive 33 days off (13 of them public holidays). Four days a year difference hardly seems like the greatest injustice within the eurozone, nor is it the cause of the downfall of the Greek economy.

The image of the undisciplined Greek loafer who fritters away the day doing nothing is proving useful for a number of European politicians, not just Merkel, but it is difficult to criticize them when the government inAthensis doing nothing to combat this image. If anything, it is allowing it to be cultivated — perhaps because Greece’s politicians feel that this way they have an alibi when they are unable to meet the targets set by the EU and the IMF. It is easier to blame economic and political shortcomings on social inadequacies or cultural traits rather than accept your own failure.

If the last year has taught us anything, it is that millions of Greeks, who want to be part of a modern, efficient country and a progressive EU, are trapped. They are caught between austerity measures that are choking the economy, politicians at a national and European level that lack courage and a state apparatus that is not fit for the 21st century.  These people are crying out for a helping hand. Comments like those from Chancellor Merkel simply serve to beat them down.”

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