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Posts Tagged ‘Plaka District’

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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Sunkist2 Island Traveler

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

LOST IN THE DETAILS

Chemist, Oscar Waithe, perfects the blending formula for Mount Gay Rum in their Lab in Barbados, WI

Chemist, Oscar Waithe, perfects the blending formula for Mount Gay Rum in their Lab in Barbados, WI

I kind of like exact regularity in a process, as I was given a unique private journalistic tour of the Mount Gay Plant of Barbados.

Monastraki Flea Market of Athens, Greece is the closest to organized confusion seen, yet the details get accomplished.

Monastraki Flea Market of Athens, Greece is the closest to organized confusion seen, yet the details get accomplished.

I also love the random madness of this treasure in the center of the Plaka District and every turn presents another remarkable quality of industrious detail.
 
 

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I have alway been mystified by amber, from the first time I held a small piece to the sky, and behold, a tiny insect came to light, trapped in the yellow resin for all eternity.  Worry beads first appeared in India. They were invented to help count prayers and consisted of a series of fruit pits, punctured and strung on a piece of string. Over time fruit pits were replaced by amber, ivory, coral, semi precious stones, or other precise stones and noble metals. A tassel and a “papas” (the bead that marks the beginning and end of its cycle) were eventually added. The people of India embellished worry beads in various ways and thus created a work of art. Worry beads evolved into a collectible jewel that soon became a symbol of wealth, prestige, power and culture. They were something between jewel and sceptre . Today, they are still used to count prayers.

The Greek word for worry beads is kompoloi (Greek: êïìðïëüé), often spelled koboloi, komboloi, or coboloi and was first introduced by the Turks.  Kombolois became popular among the common people as means for meditation and to calm the nerves.

During that period worry beads were  popular among religious Greek people.  The most common name for the religious worry beads is worry knots or komposkini (Greek: êïìðïóêïßíé), meaning a rope with knots, because the religious persons use  each knot to say a prayer.

You would be hard-pressed to not see a senior citizen Greek man sitting at a tavern or ouzo bar table without a komboloi in hand.  Twirling one is not that easy.  It took me many ouzos to learn the technique! In my right hand, the tassel is held between the middle and first finger second joint, with the tassel in the palm, lying down. A flick of my wrist in a counter clockwise motion, launches the beads over my hand and wrapping around my little finger, I then repeat the motion, releasing the Papas, shield, bead and tassel. My komboloi is silver beads on a silver rope chain with dark yellow amber beads disbursed throughout. It fits my palm size. I have owned plastic ones.  Ancient Persian komboloi can run at $1,000 for large hand hewn Baltic amber. Nice!

When tourism development in Greece occurred, komboloi, being an important element of Greek culture and tradition, became again popular but this time as a souvenir sold to tourists. Then and today, komboloi can be a trinket usually made of plastics, metals, or machine-made silver platted beads and had nothing to do with the jewel of superior aesthetics and a symbol of wealth, power, freedom and prestige that used to be in the past.

In our age, when  stress, shopping, drinking, smoking, depression and antidepressant drugs have become a matter of everyday life, kompoloi made a dynamic comeback and offer many solutions to the “vices” of contemporary life. My chain-smoking Greek shipping friend stopped cold turkey with one komboloi; twirling away the vice.

They are not exaggerating  when they say “show me your worry beads and I’ll show you who you are”.  Choices include the size, color, number of beads, shield, tassel and priest head (papas). In order for a komboloi to be functional as a twirling toy, it is said that they should consist of an odd number of beads, with a sum always equal to a modulus of four, plus one.  I was told they should have forty beads in the body: representing the 40 days of Jesus on earth before ascending to heaven.  The Plaka District in Athens purports a plethora of shops. Nafplion, Greece has a museum dedicated to the art. My favorite shop was on the rim of the volcano in Thera, Santorini, Greece.  Sadly, the old artisan closed the doors some years ago, though, I will keep my komboloi close at hand.

Komboloi of every size and style

Vitina Village Bead Shop in the Peloponnese Mountains with artisan.

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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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     Some of the tastiest world cuisine is offered from the Athens hole in the wall establishments. 

Though, not off the beaten track, the Souvlaki and Gyros stands in the neighborhoods of Athens draw the regulars and the tourists for the right foods at the best times.  Value and flavor blend together into a frenzy of activity at the lunch hour and then at two A.M. nightly.  Taxi drivers have their special spots. One only needs to search for the cue and the triple parked vehicles to get a resource. Behind the counter two or three fellows with short -sleeved white shirts and short white apron silently scurry and fulfill the the stream of fast moving food orders.

The Monastiraki District, just past the Plaka, below the Acropolis in Athens is the place to get started on this food quest. Of course, more sandwiches and sweets are offered at these small walk-up food shops.  Perhaps juices and sodas, coffees and frapuchinos are delivered to the diners.  Yet most stick to the specially of the house.  Sadziki on the griddle seared Pitta bread, that is a bit more spongier than the Lebonnese style, is the building block for the sandwich. Thinly sliced onions, small cubed ripe tomatoes, and the open fire grilled seasoned pork cubes almost finish the dish. Then you may be asked, potatoes? Say yes.  The savory olive oil fried French fries blanket the Pitta and all are rolled into a perfect waxed-papered and aluminum-foiled Souvlaki sandwich.   Where are these?  You may ask each Taxi driver. In his cab, you may drive a dozen blocks away.  Stick to my area.

Thanasis on Metropoleos street by Monastiraki.  Platia Iroon in Psiri ( This is one of my favorite nightly districts and near all.)  Kostas on Agia Irini Square next to the church of the same name on Aeolou Street.  Ap’ ola means “with everything”.   Two sandwiches are just right and costs Four Euros total.  Cheap when you aquire a Mythos or Heiniken beer to wash it down. It always works for me at  Two A.M.!

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