March 15, 2011

{travel to} Greece - Mainland & The Islands

There are so many places I'd like to experience before I'm too old to do so.  Greece is one of them.  To have a well rounded experience, though, I'd have to stay for a few weeks at minimum.  There are obvious reasons why I'd pick Greece as a must-see travel spot. 

The architecture.  I've always been interested in how things were made; the process of starting with absolutely nothing and creating this standing functional structure fascinates me.  I collect books on architectural history & avidly read them in my spare time. 

An important architectural period of Greece is visible by the period of the construction of the first monumental marble temples from the Archaic and classical periods. Those temples were characterized by three different orders: Doric, Ionian & Corinthian.

The Parthenon at the Acropolis is the most known Doric structure, although it has some slight Ionian style elements.  Other examples are Hera in Olympia, the temple of Hephaestus in Ancient Agora and the temple of Poseidon in Sounion Attica. The characteristic of the Doric style is the austerity of the building.

Ionic Architecture is a more ornamental & graceful style.  It permitted the artist to have more freedom & artistic expression.  One of the best examples is the Temple of Athena Nike at the Acropolis of Athens. This is the earliest Ionic temple built on the Acropolis. Another famous example is the Erechtheion, opposite the Parthenon. Artemis at Ephesus, which is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, is of Ionic style. 

The columns of the Corinthians temples were by a single or double row of leafy scrolls, usually acanthus, and was the most popular style for the Romans to use.  One of the best examples of the Corinthian architecture is the Roman temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens (Made of 104 columns, although only 15 are currently left standing.)

Roman architecture was much inspired by ancient Greek architecture. This alliance gave birth to many buildings, fountains, gymnasiums, public baths, temples and theatres that were built that time. Some of the best examples are  the Roman Agora in Athens, at the foot of the Acropolis &is the theatre of Herodes Atticus and the famous Arch of Hadrian, in the centre of Athens.

The Byzantine period gave rise to the incredible amount of churches in Greece. The Byzantine churches have a unique architecture and vary from region to region.  While I am not a religious person, I would love to see the structures.  Churches usually have dome and the majority is constructed of stone, although some are cross-shaped, with a combination of basilica and a symmetrical central plan.  Seeing the frescoes painted on the ceilings of these buildings would be an awe inspiring sight.  Popular sites are Thessaloniki & the seventy-five monasteries around Kastoria. 

After the Greek War of Independence of 1821 and especially during the reign of King Otto, Athens was embellished by buildings of Neoclassical style, a combination of modern and classical style.  The National Library of Greece & the Grande Bretagne Hotel are popular places to view this style.

Historical Buildings.  There are so many places I'd want to visit.  I'd love to see the Acropolis & it's main building, the Parthenon
The Oracle of Delphi, where the Temple of Apollo, the Treasury of the Athenians, the Altar, the Stoa of the Athenians, the Theatre, the Stadium, the Tholos and the Gymnasium were all excavated.  There is also a museum.
Olympia, where the first Olympic Games were held in 7th century B.C.  (The site was excavated by French archaeologists in 1829 and some of the findings were transferred to the Louvre Museum in Paris.)  The most important monuments of the site are: the temples of Zeus and Hera, the Stadium, the workshop of sculptor Phedias, the Palaestra and the Gymnasium.  There is a museum here as well.   
Knossos is the most important and best preserved palace of the Minoan Civilization & was the seat of King Minos.  It is also a place connected to many legends such as the Labyrinth with the Minotaur and the story of Daedalus and Icarus.
The site of Mycenae is considered as one of the oldest sites in Greece.  Mycenae was home to Agamemnon, ruler of the Greeks during the Trojan War.
The island complex of Dodecanese in south-eastern Aegean is the sunniest corner in Greece.  Kos is third largest island of the Dodecanese, home to the Nerantziá Castle.  Archaeological finds from this area date back to the 4th century.   You can sit under the plane tree where Hippocrates himself used to teach his students and examine his patients!  The plane tree must be over 2,500 years old, & is the oldest tree in Europe.
Rhodes is a beautifully preserved area. I'd explore the Old City, surrounded by medieval walls with seven gates, and admire the Palace of the Grand Master, which is said to be the most awe inspiring place on the whole island.  I'd also visit the archaeological museum.
Léros is your destination for relaxation.  I'd like to swim in bright blue waters, admire the Italian architecture in Ayia Marina, wander around centuries-old castles (like Brouzi and Castle of Panayia), or go scuba diving to explore ship wrecks lying on the seabed since the Second World War.
Nissyros was formed by volcanic eruptions. It is rather impressive that today Níssyros is still an active volcanic center together with the volcanic centers of Milos, Santorini and Methana! In Nikia there is a Volcanic Museum, the only one of its kind in Greece. The colorful houses in this area were built with hewn slabs of andesite and dacite (volcanic materials).

People.  The Greek Islands represent one fifth of the country's surface. Greece has about 1400 Greek islands, of which only 169 are inhabited. The majority of the islands are scattered in the Aegean Sea between the Greek and Turkish coasts.  In 2000, the population was around 11 million, with 4 millions living in Athens alone.

Hiking.  I am ready to walk!  Hiking is particularly popular in the mainland of Greece, where landscapes vary more and things are more organized.  Zagoria, Meteora and Central Peloponnese are the most popular places.  The difficulty of the paths would, of course, differ based on region & weather.  It is common to cross, lakes, valleys, gorges - and while doing so stumble upon monasteries or archaeological sites which are part of the Agro Tourism movement that has gained popularity over the years.

Nightlife.  The Greek people are known for their love of all things fun.  Start late at night, end when the sun comes up.  When you're there, you might as well do it big!  Nightlife is so intense on the islands of Ios, Santorini, Paros and Mykonos that they are often compared to huge night clubs, attracting people from all over the world.

Music.  A lot of places that play live Greek traditional music can be found all over Greece; it is where a lot of Greeks go to enjoy their night;  Eat, drink and dance all the Greek traditional dances, accompanied by the sound of the bouzouki, which is a Greek lute. Everybody laughs, dances, sings and throws flowers: I'd love to be a part of that unique experience.

Food.  Mezedes are appetizers served before or during the meal, usually accompanied by ouzo or tsipouro.
Popular Mezedes:

- Tzatziki: Greek yogurt with finely chopped cucumber, garlic and olive oil. Ideal to eat with fresh Greek bread, fried potatoes or fried meatballs.

- Saganaki: Fried cheese. Different sorts of cheese can be found in saganaki. Excellent with a zest of lemon.

- Keftedakia: Fried meatballs of beef, garlic and bread. Excellent dish.

- Spanakopitakia: Small spinach pies with crushed feta cheese.

- Tiropitakia: Small cheese pies, usually made of feta or kasseri cheese.

- Horta: Boiled wild greens with olive oil, salt and lemon.

- Briam: Mix of roast potatoes, eggplants, onions, garlic, tomato sauce and olive oil.

- Dolmadakia: Grape leaves filled with rice and onions and sometimes minced beef.

- Kalamarakia: Small pieces of fried squid with lemon juice.

- Htapodi: Small pieces of octopus served either fried with lemon juice or boiled, with olive oil, vinegar and oregano.

- Feta cheese: The famous Greek cheese can also be eaten alone, as a meze, with olive oil and oregano.

Popular Salads:

- Horiatiki Salata: Also know as "Greek salad", the horiatiki is a mix of fresh tomatoes, olives, cucumber, onions, green pepper, feta cheese, olive oil and oregano.

- Melitzanosalata: An eggplant puree with finely chopped garlic and olive oil. It is succulent with fresh bread.

- Taramosalata: Crushed fish eggs.

Popular Main Dishes:

- Moussaka: This famous Greek dish has a base made of potatoes topped with eggplants onions, minced beef and bechamel creme.

- Pastitsio: This is another well-known Greek dish reminding of the Italian Lasagnas. It consists of spaggeti No 2 topped with minced beef, onions, tomato sauce and bechamel sauce.

- Paidakia: Grilled lamb's ribs served with lemon.

- Kokoretsi: This is one of the favorite dishes of Greeks. They mostly eat it during Easter. It consists of wrapped and roasted entrails of lamb, served with lemon.

Popular Soups:

- Kotossoupa: Chicken soup usually with avgolemono (sauce made with eggs and lemon).

- Psarossoupa: Fish soup with parsley, potatoes and carrots.

- Fassolada: White bean soup with parsley and, sometimes, tomato sauce.

- Fakies: Lentil soup with tomato sauce.

- Magiritsa: Easter soup made of the inside of lamb, dill and the avgolemono sauce (egg and lemon).

- Patsa: Tripe soup, considered by Greeks as a very good remedy to hangovers.

Herbs & Spices

Greece is famous for its unique herbs and spices which they use in every dish to add an extra taste and delight the senses. The excellent quality of Greek spices and herbs is due to the long sunshine periods, making the Greek flora particularly rich, producing an incredible variety of the best herbs and spices in the world.

Famous herbs of great quality and easy to find in Greece are the chamomile, the mountain tea, sage, basil, mint, parsley, tilio (lime leaves used as an infusion) and much more. Supreme Greek spices are the sesame (white sesame also), the cumin, the machlepi and the valuable red saffron.

Wine.  Wine has long been a part of Greek culture.  Hippocrates did extensive research on the topic. Various types of wine were prescribed by Greek doctors for use as an analgesic, diuretic, tonic and digestive aid.  
The poet Eubulus noted that three bowls (kylix) were the ideal amount of wine to consume. The number of three bowls for moderation is a common theme throughout Greek writing; today the standard 750 ml wine bottle contains roughly the amount of three glasses for two people.[1] In his circa 375 BC play Semele or Dionysus, Eubulus has Dionysus say:

Three bowls do I mix for the temperate: one to health, which they empty first, the second to love and pleasure, the third to sleep. When this bowl is drunk up, wise guests go home. The fourth bowl is ours no longer, but belongs to violence; the fifth to uproar, the sixth to drunken revel, the seventh to black eyes, the eight is the policeman's, the ninth belong to biliousness, and the tenth to madness and hurling the furniture.
Popular Wines:

- Tsipouro:
This really strong alcohol looks a bit like ouzo but with a stronger taste of anis. Greeks drink it with ice and sometimes add a bit of water. It is always accompanied with mezedes and good friends.

In different parts of Greece, such as Crete, some islands and the northern Greece, people make their own home made Tsipouro, also called Raki (depending of the region) which is really strong.

- Ouzo: This is the most famous Greek alcohol beverage, the trade mark of the country. It is a strong alcohol, drinkable straight with ice or with a bit of water. It is ideal to drink with all kinds of mezedes. The best ouzo is made in Lesvos and the most famous trades are Ouzo Plomariou and Barbayanni.

- Mavrodafni: This sweet wine is made in Patras Peloponnese. It is really thick and dark (almost black) and can be compared to the Portuguese Porto. This strong wine is used for the Holy Communion in the Greek Orthodox Church.

- Retsina: The famous Retsina is a Greek white wine with a particular resin taste. This taste is due to the way of production of this wine: they put the grapes in new cask which have still the wood resin on, giving to the whine that special taste..

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