Friday, March 2, 2007

Greek wine, where to find and what to try

There is more to Greek wine than Retsina. This page will tell you all you need to know about Greek wine and where to find out more

Greek wine: Retsina from the barrelI am a wine drinker. My favorite earthly activity is eating in a taverna with my friends and drinking wine. My favorite tavernas have their own wine, straight out of the barrels, which are usually stacked against the wall. We order it by the kilo and we can go through several kilos in an evening. Glasses are continually being refilled by each other without anything being said. It's like a reflex or second nature to fill your neighbors glass when you see it is empty. And when the carafe is empty someone at the table just lifts it in the air and catches the eye of a waiter, the busboy or even the owner of the restaurant and in thirty seconds it is full again.

Retsina is my preferred wine and most of the time that is what is available in those barrels. But many tavernas also have an excellent red, or a white which is not resinated. Most restaurants are proud of their wine though not all the restaurants make their own. Some buy it from distillers by the barrel or by large jug, and in some touristy restaurants homemade wine, or hima , as it is called, is not even available and you have to take your chances with the wine list.

Lately many restaurants have been buying bulk wine in boxes and filling the carafes from them. But before you get upset I want to reassure you that many of these boxed wines are pretty good and in some cases it is the same bulk wine the restaurants have always had, but now it comes in boxes. But walking into a restaurant and seeing barrels stacked is usually a sign that they make their own wine and you should try that first before you try any bottled wine they may have. But my rule is to always ask for local wine (doh-pio) and then ask for hee-ma or wine in a carafe (karafaki) and hope for the best. It is rare that I will get a house wine so bad that I send it back and order a bottle from the wine list, but it does happen. I always ask if it's good (eeneh kalo?) and they always say absolutely (veh-vay-os). But what else are they gonna say? It's terrible?

Greek Wine: Taverna barrelsThere have been many explanations as to why retsina tastes the way it does. The explanation is because they put pine resin in it to make it taste like that and the reason is because they like the taste. Some people have come up with theories on how this all began. When we were kids we heard (from other kids of course) that during world war two the Greeks put the resin into the wine so the Germans would think it was turpentine and not drink it. That was a romantic theory but not a good one. But according to Vassilis Kourtakis, who makes the most popular of the bottled retsina, the ancient Greeks knew that the air was the enemy of wine and used pine resin to seal the tops of the amphora and even added it to the wine itself.
Retsina was the wine of Athens. As far back as the late 1800's Athens had over 6000 tavernas, all filled with wine barrels. The grapes were pressed in the countryside and then brought into the city by horse-drawn carts, before the fermentation had taken place and then taken to the restaurants where the proprietor poured in the resin and decided when the wine was ready. It was not until the 1960's that bottled retsina became available in the countryside and common in the city as many of the old tavernas disappeared and land for cultivating wine near Athens became scarce.

Nowadays retsina from the barrel is hit or miss. But if you go to a taverna and it is full of happy Greek people drinking from glasses that are being refilled over and over again from a carafe then chances are the retsina is pretty good. When it's not, mix it with soda water like I do. This also will enable you to drink all night long. One of the things I have noticed is that I can drink a lot of retsina and still not be hung over the next day. My kidneys may hurt like hell but otherwise I feel great, considering.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

What is a must see in Athens

  • At first glance, Athens seems entirely to be composed of nasty, four- to six-story concrete buildings, lacking character and badly in need of a paint, but look beyond that and you will find little gems tucked in amongst the grey. The areas at the foot of the Acropolis, Anafiotika, Plaka, Monastiraki and Thiseio are home to many wonderful neoclassical buildings, trendy and traditional cafes and shops, narrow winding streets, and incredible views of the Acropolis. Little Greek Orthodox churches are tucked in amongst the concrete, often in the most unexpected places. These are usually beautifully decorated with icons and brass fixtures inside, but make sure you're appropriately dressed (no short sleeves or bare legs is a good rule of thumb, as a mark of respect).
  • For the best views of Athens, take the funicular railway from the top of Ploutarchou Street in Kolonaki (make sure to wear flat shoes, and bring lots of water!) and see the whole city, the port of Piraeus and the island of Aegina from the top of Lycavittos Hill. Have a drink at the cafe there, and pay a visit to the chapel of St George.
  • If you're lucky enough to be in Athens for the Easter Weekend, you'll see the spectacular sight of hundreds of people making their candlelit way down the hill on Easter Saturday night as part of the Easter Vigil procession.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Sunday, February 25, 2007

When to come to Greece

July and August are fine if you are prepared. This is the time most people come to Greece because this is when most people have their holidays and what could be better than to be close to the sea during the hottest months of the year?

It's more crowded and rooms on the islands are harder to find, but the island nightlife is jumping and the beaches are lively. Face it: Greece is fun in the summer. More fun than most people can handle and many people who have spent a summer here have become spoiled. That’s why im still living here I guess ha ha

Athens can be pretty hot in the day but mornings and late afternoons are fine and the nights in the Plaka and Psiri are wonderful if not a little crowded. Athens empties in August especially the week of the 15th and this is a great time to be in the city if it is not too warm. You can get good Hotel offers in that period!

May-June and September-October are the best months The weather is perfect and the kids are in school so it's quieter on the more popular islands.

There is still some nightlife but the beaches are almost free of people on the less mainstream islands.

You may get a day or two of rain but it usually adds a little excitement. This is a time to go to the islands like Mykonos, Santorini, and Rhodes because most of the tourists are gone. If you go early in the spring or late in the summer then bring a windbreaker and a warm sweater. You probably won't need more then that.

The weather in Athens is perfect for dinners in outdoor restaurants, hanging out in cafes, going to the local beaches, climbing the Acropolis and exploring the city and the countryside. Usually the weather stays pretty warm at least until the beginning of December and sometimes it stays warm with periods of rain here and there for most of the winter.

November to March can be cold and rainy but it can also be like Indian summer. Athens comes alive during these months and there is nothing like a night out in the city.

YES It does snow in Greece. (like my unt once you have mountains in greece? :)

However it does snow in the mountains so much that you can ski there.

February can be cool with periods of rain but it can also be what they call the halcyones which is an extended period of spring-like weather when even going for a swim is a tempting idea. It is worth the risk because even if you don't get the halcyones weather, the winters are still mild and nightlife is at its peak, especially during Apokreas which is the equivelant of Carnival or Mardi Gras.

The last two weekends are the best. The Plaka, Psiri and Thission are full of merry-makers, blowing horns and throwing confetti like it is New Year's eve. There are parades in the area of Moschaton and in the city of Patras there are enormous parades and celebrations. Tavernas are full and open late and the bars, clubs and cafes are thriving. When Apokreas ends, 40 days before Easter, things get a little quieter as people begin their fasting.

But it is during this period that spring begins and there is a procession of trees, plants and wildflowers in bloom that make the archaeological sites of Athens and the surrounding countryside look like the Garden of Eden.

April is usually Easter time which is magical. If you are lucky enough to be on an island during Easter when all the wildflowers are in bloom and the smell of lamb roasting fills the air you will know what I mean. It is also a great time to be in Athens because there is no traffic since most people are out of town. The Church bells ring, there are ceremonies and processions which peak at midnight of Saturday-Sunday when there are fireworks, a cacophony of sound as every church in the city seems to be ringing its bells. Most people go to the islands or to the country for Easter Sunday but many people stay in Athens to celebrate with their family, eating lamb and kokouretsi, taking walks in the Plaka and around the Acropolis.

You really get the feeling that after the long winter life has begun again. People greet each other on the street saying Christos Anesti(Christ has Arisen) and answering Alithos Anesti (Truly He Has Arisen).

Generally between April and November expect sun in Greece. Between June and September expect nothing but sun. In the winter expect a bit of rain.

Check Out for weather forecasts.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Acropolis and the Parthnenon

A bit of history of the great stones...

The Acropolis in Athens is the most symbolic area in Greece. Although in ancient Greece most major cities used to have their own acropolis, this spot is known as the centre of Athens and contains the most iconic and famous ancient constructions in the entire country. This way, the Acropolis is the most visited destination in not only Athens, but in the entire Greece as well, being a major attraction for tourists from around the world who approach this region in order to meet these constructions.

The Acropolis hill, also known as the Sacred Rock, contains several ancient symbolic constructions such as per example, the Parthenon, the Temple of Nike, and the Erechtheion. These spots, built within the years 450 and 330 BC have gone through several different historical moments and meeting them is without any doubt as meeting the past in the present.

The Parthenon, in The Acropolis, is the most symbolic construction from Ancient Greece. The Parthenon was built between the years 446 and 432 BC in honor to the Goddess of Athens Athena Parthenos. This construction was built almost entirely with Pentelic marble and shows 8 columns at its two shorter sides and 17 columns at its longer ones, containing a statue of Athena in its central area.

The Temple of Athena Nike, another major construction in The Acropolis, was built around the year 420 BC. This construction shows four columns at its shorter sides and walls in the larger sides. This construction's walls contains depictures of gods' conferences and battles at each side. The Erechtelion, is another major construction in The Acropolis. This construction was originally divided in two main sections which were dedicated to the Goddess Athena and the God Poseidon.

Another major spot located in The Acropolis in Athena is The Propylaea. The Propylaea was built between the years 436 and 431 BC following a design of the architect Mnesikles. This construction was built with the purpose of being the main entrance to The Acropolis and contains rows of columns and decorated walls. It is interesting to know that, due to its paintings, this construction is often known as the Pinakotheke.