All posts by Marc d'Entremont

I travel, cook, eat, observe, interact, live and write. As a culinary and cultural travel writer I seek connections among people, activities, the environment and what they eat that tell the story of a region/culture, whether that be in the remote Andes Mountains or the streets of Philadelphia. Publications include my travel web site on Argentina (www.travel-with-pen-and-palate-argentina.com) and articles covering a diverse range of countries and cultures at www.travelpenandpalate.com and both the digital and print editions of the Hellenic News of America. Industry experience includes over 45 years as a chef, chef educator, hotel and restaurant manager, catering as well as teaching history, writing, theater, culinary arts and business. I'm an active member in the American Culinary Federation.

Thessaloniki: history in your face

“In Thessaloniki we live our history.” Sofia Bournatzi

 

looking down to the Rotunda

Of course that statement could almost be a cliché if it wasn’t applied to Thessaloniki. It has greater impact for the city simply than having eighteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It has more to do with resilience. Despite wars, earthquakes and fires, Thessalonians are doing what they have been for 2,300 years.

looking out on Thessaloniki port from the Heptapyrgion

Thessaloniki is still what King Cassander, its founder, planned:

  • Largest city in Macedonia
  • Greece’s second largest
  • The port city of the northern Aegean
  • Gateway to the Balkans
  • Commercially connected to Asia Minor
  • Strategically located on both Spice and Silk Roads to the Orient
excavations of antiquities during construction of 21st century Thessaloniki subway next to a 15th century Ottoman bath.

This reality has made the city coveted and popular over the millenniums by conquerors from Rome to the Ottomans,  and their presence is palpable now. It’s under your feet; it’s towering over your head, and soon you’ll whiz by more on the new state-of-the-art underground subway/tube system. The past is an integral component of Thessaloniki’s urban fabric because it’s in your face.

Looking out to the Thermeic Gulf from Thessaloniki’s new Waterfront Promenade merchant ships are anchored waiting their turn at the modern docks just north of downtown. Behind are the Ladadika,  Ano Poli and the “acropolis” – the imposing Heptapyrgion fortress. These districts are the commercial, cultural and culinary heart of the city. They offer postcards onto the past …

The Palace of Galerius

Palace of Galerius (c.300)

The Palace of Galerius was not a large luxurious house. It was an “Imperial City” within the city – administrative, residential, religious and public entertainment venues. Depending on interpretation, it was such a vast complex it could well be considered a rebuilding of Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki was a major distribution port for the Spice & Silk Roads from the Orient.

The Romans were enamored with Thessaloniki ever since they had absorbed Macedonia into the Empire in the 100s BCE. Four hundred years later the port city was the largest in Rome’s Greek provinces and one of the wealthiest in the empire. By the end of the 3rd century Thessaloniki was poised to become central to the new Eastern Roman Empire.

Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus (Caesar: 293-311) newly appointed “assistant Emperor” in the Tetrarchy created by Diocletian, preferred Thessaloniki over his region’s official capital. Construction on his palace complex started in the late 290s.

(video published 02/02/2016,  Vladimiros Nefides)

It was a vast site covering a good portion of Thessaloniki’s historic core and composed of numerous interconnected components, most of which today are lying underneath streets, parks, residential and commercial buildings as the city morphed over the centuries. The complex was enclosed by stonewalls from the port waterfront up to the newly fortified acropolis. The most visible examples of the complex today are the stunningly preserved Rotunda and the Arch of Galerius.

Rotunda

The Rotunda (Roman c.300 with Ottoman minaret c.16th century)
The Rotunda’s interior was covered in elaborate mosaics and frescoes

The cylindrical Rotunda was built in 306 AD and has served as a public building ever since. It was originally a temple, possibly to Zeus. By the end of the 5th century Christianity had been established in the Empire and for over the next  thousand years the Rotunda was the Byzantine Church of St. George. After Ottoman conquest in 1430 it became a mosque (note the 16th century minaret in the photo) until 1912 when with Greek-Macedonian reunification it was designated a national monument. (Ottoman era buildings are protected by historic designation throughout Greece.)

Arch of Galerius

Arch of Galerius (Roman c 300)

The Arch of Galerius stands on a busy intersection (Egnatia & Dimitriou Gounari streets) just as it did when constructed. Thessaloniki’s Egnatia Street is a portion of the 2,000-year-old Roman Via Egnatia, which still connects Macedonia to Istanbul (aka Constantinople, aka Byzantium). Significant remains of its intricate carved marble panels detail the military prowess of Galerius and Rome.

Heptapyrgion

Heptapyrgion
The Heptapyrgion overlooking Ano Poli

The Heptapyrgion towers above downtown Thessaloniki where the ancient acropolis was located on the foothills of Mount Chortiatis. The massive fortress guarded the city for nearly two millenniums. Started by the Romans in the late 4th century along with rebuilding the defensive walls to encircle the city, it was substantially expanded by the Byzantine Empire in the 12th century and the Ottomans in the 15th.

Ano Poli

Oddly both its Greek and Ottoman name (Yedi Kule) mean “fortress of seven towers” even though it has ten and at no time in its construction phases did it ever just have seven. Despite that anomaly, the impressive relic today serves as an UNESCO World Heritage  site, a park with panoramic views of the city, and a backdrop for the historic Ano Poli (Upper Town) neighborhood , which survived the Great Fire of 1917.

 

The Baptistery of St. John

The Baptistery of St. John, 5th century – see map below for location
Hagia Sophia, 5th century

The Baptistery of St. John the Baptist of Thessaloniki (c.400) is a peaceful hidden sunken garden with an art deco apartment building and outdoor cafe overlooking the site. The sacred spring still flows but is channeled inside a modern chapel. It’s considered the oldest Christian baptistery. It is close to the 5th century Hagia Sophia and within the Galerian Palace complex.

Bey Hamam

Bey Hamam, 15th century Ottoman bath house used until the 1960s

Surrounded by popular cafes in the shopping district of the  Ladadika is one of Thessaloniki’s most beautiful medieval buildings. The 15th century Bey Hamam, an Ottoman public bathhouse, is testament to the sophistication this city has enjoyed during its long history. Only ceasing its original use in the 1960s, its intricate brick and tiled facade is an architectural sculpture dramatically lit at night providing a stunning visual backdrop as café patrons dine.

Ladadika

Ladadika

The unrestored street (left) in the Ladadika is on purpose to preserve the facades of what this major international commercial district was like prior to the 1917 Fire. (right) A busy historic district of cafes, commerce and culture today.

The White Tower

The White Tower

The White Tower’s infamous history as a notorious Ottoman prison fades in the mist of time when viewed today at its photogenic location on Thessaloniki’s historic waterfront. The current tower, constructed in the 15th century replacing an earlier Byzantine fortification, anchored the city wall’s southern corner on the waterfront. The tower is a fascinating museum of the historic district and offers panoramic views of Thessaloniki.

Rebetika Music

(video published 28/01/2010, flat13onfire)

Within the prisons of the Heptapyrgion and White Tower many famous rebetika songs of love, loss, resistance and survival were written by Greek prisoners during the last 30 year period of Ottoman rule. The mournful yet captivating music of rebetika still reverberates in many Greek cafes bonding music, food and friends and in 2017 UNESCO listed rebetika music as an “intangible cultural heritage” of Greece.

 

When you go: Thessaloniki International Airport (SKR) is served through major European hubs and Greek cities. Thessaloniki is connected as well by rail and coach bus within Greece and to the Balkans.

Location of the The Baptistery of St. John the Baptist of Thessaloniki and much of the historic core:

Special thanks to Sofia Bournatzi of Pass Partout DMC and to Thessaloniki Tourism Organization for facilitating my stay. Historic and culinary walking tours can be arranged with certified multi-lingual guides of the Tourists Guides Association of Thessaloniki

You can read the culinary story of this history at:

Naturally Thessaloniki is a foodie city

walls of the Heptapyrgion

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Thessaloniki through eyes and mouth

Food tours are visceral experiences. They start with your eyes and end in your mouth. Historic buildings and museums can’t offer that multi-sensory fusion with such an important facet of culture.

Ladadika market district

Read more in my August 2019 travel column for the Hellenic News of America…

Naturally Thessaloniki is a foodie city

 

trigono at Trigona Elenidi

 

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A Central Macedonian feast from the Silk Road

Dionysos Orma Restaurant, Loxandra Restaurant, The View Cafe Food-Bar (Tzibaepi Taverna) and the Courtyard Cafe at Hotel Hagiati: four restaurants in the Edessa/Pella Region that serve classic Greek cuisine … or is it just Greek?

Silk Road

The name itself, the Silk Road, conjures romantic images of camel laden caravans, vast desserts and colorful markets where merchants speaking dozens of languages hawked the wealth of the world. That was fairly close to the truth.

“We think of globalization as a uniquely modern phenomenon; yet 2,000 years ago too, it was a fact of life…” ― Peter Frankopan, The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

Although camels are not commonly used, the business connections made over 2,000 years ago remain. The Silk Road was a commercial system of trade routes from the Orient to the Eastern Mediterranean, not one trek. Dozens of ancillary routes spun off a major artery into the Indian subcontinent, the Arabian Peninsula and Eastern Europe.

Folklife Museum, Giannitsa shows the Balkan/Near East influences of the Silk Road

 

“Location, location, location…”

Goods from lumber to saffron streamed through Thrace and Macedonia in mutual trade with Asia for both internal consumption and distribution to other markets. The region’s borders were a natural gateway for the Balkans. The Agora (marketplace) of Pella in Central Macedonia built by Alexander the Great (c.300s B.C.E.) was the largest in the ancient world. The port city of Thessaloniki was founded in this era to take advantage of Silk Road trade.

When the Romans built the Via Egnatia  after they expanded their empire (c. 100s B.C.E.) it linked the Adriatic Sea with Thessaloniki and continued to what is today Istanbul. The modern highway (A2) that covers the same route nearly parallels the Roman road. The Silk Road has simply morphed in form.

roast eggplant in olive oil (origin of eggplant is India)

It would be unrealistic to imagine that millenniums old contacts among diverse cultures and geographies could not have major impacts on food. Reality has been that Alexander himself brought Pella Region cherries from Asia. Zucchini, potatoes and tomatoes have nothing to do with the Silk Road but are New World vegetables not available in Europe until the 16th century.

It’s common for the menus to proudly print that all products used in restaurants are sourced local. More than two millenniums later the principal occupations of Central Macedonia are still in agriculture – peaches, cherries, cotton, tobacco, wine, grains and animal products. Four restaurants in less than 36 hours provided more than enough to sample the Silk Road ingredients of Central Macedonian regional cuisine.

Dionysos Orma, Edessa

Dionysos Orma, Edessa, Mr. Tassos Avramidis (photo descriptions from top left)

 

Batzo: sheep or goat milk cheese served with spicy tomato marmalade from central and western Macedonia.

Giant beans slow pan cooked with tomato and herbs. Many variations on this dish throughout the Silk Road world.

Fried Zucchini with tzatziki sauce. The zucchini, like all squash, originates in the Americas. However, the varieties of squash typically called “zucchini” were developed in northern Italy in the second half of the 19th century generations after the introduction of cucurbits from the Americas in the early 16th century.

sun dried grape leaves

Vine leaves over veal with lemon, feta cheese and dill. Sun dried vine leaves have an intense flavor and when hydrated are free of the salty brine of bottled leaves.

 

Tsobleki: In its simplest form, this is a dish of usually red meat in tomato sauce slow cooked in its clay pot, a “tsobleki.”  Dionysos Orma’s is a traditional Edessa recipe using veal and adding potatoes, courgettes, eggplant, red roasted peppers, mushrooms, tomato sauce and feta cheese.

Kavourma: a casserole with traditional salami made of beef, ham and pork, potatoes, peppers and herbs served warm. Kavourma has many variations as a fried or sautéed meat dish in Silk Road cuisines.

Pumpkin spoon sweet (in a spiral) stays crunchy because it’s under ripe before cooking.

Kormos: A popular and simple comfort food dessert – layers of biscuits and chocolate garnished with coconut.

Retsina & aged tsipuro

to drink…

A premium Retsina (yes there are premium vintages of this ancient wine!) Resin, especially from Apleppo, has been used since ancient days to seal oxygen out of porous clay amphorae to extend the wine’s life. Wines from Thrace and Macedonia were distributed through the Silk Road,

By the 3rd century, barrel making was common throughout the Roman Empire. The exception was the eastern regions, which became the Byzantine Empire, where resin was used to seal the barrels or directly flavor the white wine. A new generation of Greeks are now discovering a new generation of retsina.

Tsipouro has been the poster child of thriftiness for centuries.  This simple distillation of the must – left overs after grapes have been pressed for wine – has been popular with Greek monks and moonshiners ever since. Now it has entered the premium spirits realm – aged tsipouros are available. The brandy-like aromas vary depending on type of barrel used and previous use of the barrel.   The Katsaros Family tsipouro has been in smoky scotch whisky oak barrels for five years.

Loxandra Restaurant, Giannitsa

Loxandra Restaurant, Giannitsa. Mrs. Soso, owner, sitting in the greenhouse-like dining room.

Moussaka is an eggplant or potato-based dish common throughout the Middle East, the Hellenic world and the Balkans with many regional variations. The Greek version includes layers of meat and eggplant topped with a béchamel sauce – Loxandra’s had a particularly thick, creamy béchamel topping. The eggplant is a child of the Silk Road first cultivated in northern India.

Tzatziki Sauce (basically yogurt, garlic and dill) is embedded in regional Greek and Middle Eastern cuisines.

Fried cheese and raspberry jam. A significant variety of semi hard to hard cheeses throughout the region have been used to prepare this popular meze. Sirene is a regional brine cheese frequently fried.

Salad with pomegranate seeds: The pomegranate originated in Persia and northern India and has been cultivated since ancient times throughout the Mediterranean region. It’s probably as important in Greek mythology as it is tasty in its many culinary uses.

Eggplant cooked with tomatoes and herb. Of course, the tomato, so commonly used in Greek cuisine, is classic New World and did not enter Greek cooking until the 17th century but that does not stop this from being a beloved preparation.

Zucchini stuffed with meat topped with delicate avaglomono sauce. Variations on this lemon egg sauce have been around forever.

Dolma with rice. Dolma is a family of stuffed dishes (grape leaves or cabbage) common in Mediterranean cuisine and surrounding regions including the Balkans, the South Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East.

Roast sheep with lettuce. The Silk Road encouraged “head to tail” consumption.

Wine: Lunch was accompanied by a fruity but dry Pella region red by Ligas Winery, similar to a Beaujolais.

 

View Food-Bar (Tzibaepi Taverna), Klisokhóri

View Food-Bar (Tzibaepi Taverna), Klisokhóri . (central photo: restaurant view of Edessa )

Shopksa salads are common to a southern Balkan/Northern Greek table. The mild sheep milk cheese, most likely grated sirene, was perked up by a napping of balsamic vinegar. Of course, every dish with tomatoes is post 16th century since it is an American fruit.

The local freshwater trout is as Greek as they get. The Edessa/Pella region has an abundant supply of fresh water streams from the surrounding mountains. Simple, with slabs of grilled potatoes.

Delectable dishes of roasted eggplant with olive oil and fried cheese are popular small plates.

Roasted local mushrooms from the Black Forest. Greece’s forests, especially in the north, have 150 edible mushroom varieties.

Aegean Sea fried fresh anchovies. Despite the lush mountains and valleys of Central Macedonia the abundance of the Aegean is never far away. These are like savoring french fries.

Grilled Potatoes. The potato was brought to Europe from South America in the 16th century and has never lost its popularity.

Savory beef in tomato sauce – slow cooking…relaxed dining.

 

Courtyard Cafe at Hotel Hagiati, Edessa

Hotel Hagiati’s Trahana Soup

The Hotel Hagiati in the historic medieval Verosi district has an intimate courtyard cafe open to the public well into the evening.Breakfast, complimentary for guests, is available as well.  Both the interior lobby and the courtyard comprise the cafe.

Besides local breads, jams from local fruits and classic phyllo pies there are regional specialties. The Hagiati’s Trahana Soup is ancient (open link for a recipe) a product of the Silk Road and still common throughout the region.

Agrozimi Traditional Food Products

Kostas Martavaltzis

Centuries after its creation as a convenience food to take on Silk Road caravans and keep at home as a staple, Trahana is still being made. The origins of this sourdough or regular breadcrumb-like food is part of the Silk Road’s history.

Kostas Martavaltzoglou is GM and  3rd generation of family owned Agrozimi, makers of traditional Greek grain products since 1969. Trahana is one of their products.

 

Culinary history is human history and too rich to quibble over  words as “authentic.”   All recipes are regional – even to a village or a family. For Central Macedonia and the Edessa/Pella Region it was all about location on the fabled Silk Road.

Looking down on Klisokhóri & the Loggos Valley from the View Food-Bar (Tzibaepi Taverna)

 

When you go: Edessa is an easy 55 miles (90 k.) west of Thessaloniki. It’s possible to drive, take a train or travel by intercity couch bus. Pella Archaeological Site and Giannitsa are within 25 miles (40 k.) from Thessaloniki. Both are on the (Silk) route between Thessaloniki and Edessa.

What to do in the Edessa/Pella Region? At home with Alexander: Edessa and Pella 

Where to stay: Hotel Hagiati: Macedonian comfort in Edessa

Special thanks: Edessa Municipality, Edessa Tourist Information Center and Pass Partout Tourism Marketing for facilitating my visit.

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Hotel Hagiati: Macedonian comfort in Edessa

Absorb the architectural soul of Macedonia at the Hotel Hagiati.

Hotel Hagiati, Edessa, Greece
Hotel Hagiati room

Occupying a historic stone merchant’s house a short stroll from Waterfalls Park, the Hotel Hagiati’s interior is a blend of Balkan and Near East textiles and decorations. It’s not an artificial blend. This traditional Macedonian style is due to being at the crossroads of the world.

Cozy rooms feature wood-paneled ceilings and natural stonewalls, plus minibars, free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs. Room service is available and the enclosed garden courtyard of the former stables is a cafe until late in the evening.

Hotel Hagiati lobby

Driving the smooth, flat roads of the Loggos Valley past the ancient cities of Pella and Giannitsa, through lush farmland it was easy to see why this became the heart of an empire. Ahead, visible for miles, was the Rock of Edessa. Looming 1,000 feet above the plains, the current city of Edessa was perched like an eagle’s nest.

The city proper wasn’t always on top of the rock. The top held the acropolis. According to legend a descendent of Hercules, Karanos, founder of the Argead Dynasty, (Alexander the Great’s family) built Edessa as Macedonia’s first capital. Two thousand years later (it’s only “time”) the waterfall was named after him – the tallest in Greece.

The city was at the base on the valley floor close to the agricultural commerce of this affluent region. If a mantra of business has been “location, location, location,” Edessa was blessed. It was a western distribution center for the fabled Silk Route linking Asia and the Mediterranean World since at least the 5th century B.C.E.

looking towards the HOLY METROPOLIS EDESSIS PELLIS AND ALMOPIAS

Both earthquakes and wars during the long history of Edessa meant that few buildings remain intact prior to the 14th century. The Varosi district, where the Hotel Hagiati is located, is the most historic area keeping its character and medieval Macedonian ambiance.

Verosi was created on the site of the city’s ancient citadel after the fall of Edessa to the Ottoman Empire in 1389. This was followed by the catastrophic topography altering 1395 earthquake – it created the waterfalls – which by the mid-19th century had turned the neighborhood into a major water powered industrial center. Significant World War II damage and the demise of the mills led to the Municipality of Edessa in the 1990s to focus on a concerted effort to preserve Verosi.

restoration work in Verosi , Edessa

Meticulous but expensive restoration continues. Restoration must preserve and repair the exterior using identical materials and methods (The Hotel Verosi, the Hagiati’s compatriot around the corner, has a Plexiglas floored lobby covering ancient city walls).

The Hotel Hagiati is a product of this effort, and its location could not be more central to both Waterfalls Park and a historic walk through Verosi.

Virtually next to the Hotel Hagiati is the centerpiece of Edessa, Waterfalls Park and the Open Air Water Museum. Started in the 1940s as the multilevel entrance to the tallest waterfall in Greece, Karonos Falls, the Municipality completed the restoration of surviving mills into museums in early 2000. The museums highlight the industrial and agricultural history of the region as well as the significance of water and the ecosystem.

14th century Byzantine Church of the Koimisis

In the opposite direction from the Hotel Hagiati a stroll will bring you past the14th century Byzantine Church of the Koimisis – its historic frescoes are undergoing restoration. The many canals and streams snaking through big old trees set a dreamy scene. Lined with small cafes, the water softens even the modern city.

The world’s oldest convenience food?
Edessa/Pella Region peaches

Breakfast is complimentary at the Hagiati and among a menu of choices are local jams – especially the region’s famous cherry – and their fresh peaches to ancient dishes such as Trahana Soup. In its most basic form Trahana Soup is the traditional farmer’s breakfast porridge. Yet not just in Greece.

Some culinary historians consider trahana to be the world’s oldest convenience food. Trahana is made with semolina, wheat flour, bulgur or cracked wheat. Milk, buttermilk, or yogurt is mixed in to form a thick dough.

Trahana comes in two types: sweet and sour. Sweet is made with whole milk, typically goat’s milk, and sour trahana is made with yogurt or buttermilk.

traditional spinach pie at Hotel Hagiati

Regional variations can have additions such as vegetables, sesame seeds or red peppers. The mix is then broken into chunks, dried, and then broken up again into pea size pieces. It sounds simple but the process if done by hand is lengthy so it was made in large quantities, carried in pouches on caravans and was a staple in households.

Whatever its origins, trahana in various forms is still found, commercially produced, almost everywhere from the Balkans to the Middle East. (In the Edessa/Pella Region it is made and distributed by Agrozimi, makers of Greek traditional products since 1969). It’s a nearly instant thickening agent ­– like Ramen noodles – added to soups, stews or as a food topping. Another proof that Eastern Mediterranean/Mid Eastern cuisine knows no boundaries.

Hotel Hagiati’s breakfast Trahana Soup was chicken based with cubes of feta cheese. In “The Joyful Cook’s Guide to Heavenly Greek Cuisine,” Greek-American cookbook author Georget Photos has an upscale recipe.

Spicy Chicken Trahana Soup

Hotel Hagiati’s Trahana Soup

Ingredients:

  • 1 fresh chicken, quartered
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup spicy trahana (not spicy can be substituted)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ½ bunch parsley
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup red (or white) wine
  • water
  • salt to taste

Preparation:

  1. Melt the butter in a deep skillet.
  2. Saute bay leaf, pepper, parsley, cinnamon stick, onion and tomatoes for 1 minute
  3. Add the trahana and continue to saute 1 to 2 minutes more.
  4. Arrange the chicken quarters on top of the sauteed mixture.
  5. Add the wine and ½ cup water.
  6. Cover and simmer on med low heat for 1 hour. Check halfway and add more water if necessary.

After a hearty breakfast, it is an easy stroll to take in the city and use as a base to explore the legendary history of the Edessa/Pella Region. The Hotel Hagiati offers the ambiance to experience Edessa’s present within its past.

 

When you go: Edessa is an easy 55 miles (90 k.) west of Thessaloniki. It’s possible to drive, take a train or travel by intercity couch bus. Pella Archaeological Site and Giannitsa are within 25 miles (40 k.) from Thessaloniki. Both are on the (Silk) route between Thessaloniki and Edessa.

More to do in the Edessa/Pella Region: At home with Alexander: Edessa and Pella  

Where to eat: A Central Macedonian feast from the Silk Road

Special thanks: Edessa Municipality, Edessa Tourist Information Center and Pass Partout Tourism Marketing for facilitating my visit.

late 19th century water mill at Waterfalls Park, Edessa

Please read more by Travel with Pen and Palate at…

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My world through the Hellenic News of America

Travel Pen and Palate “Explores the world and your own backyard.”

In the first 6 months of 2019 “your own backyard” is relative.

My monthly travel column for the Hellenic News of America meanders through Aegean Islands and the Andes Mountains, from thriving ancient cities to the birthplace of wine…read on please.

At home with Alexander: Edessa and Pella
Karonos Falls, Edessa, Central Macedonia, Greece

What forces make a legendary region a tourist attraction? Conflict and nature are two factors. Pella was Alexander the Great’s new showpiece capital and over 1,500 years later nearby Edessa profits greatly from an earthquake.

 

Four Wineries of Macedonia and Eastern Macedonia/Thrace

It’s easy to understand why fun loving Dionysius was a favorite deity among humans. Vineyards have existed in northern Greece since antiquity. The earliest archeological records for wine production are at least 7,000 years old. Wine was essential to the Greek psyche and in everyday life Macedonia and Thrace was its motherland.

 

Ursulines and marble: educating Tinos Island

Angela de Merici, founder of the Ursulines, believed that educated young women could make great contributions to society. The year was 1535.

 

Cadiz: Beyond the Pillars of Hercules

When Hercules had to perform twelve labors one of them took him to the westward extent of the then (at least to humans) known world. Trouble was that the actual end of the world was on the other side of a great mountain (which if true would effectively have made the Mediterranean a lake). So what’s a super-hero in a hurry supposed to do?

 

Mountains of the Pachamama: the Andes of Argentina
El Chalten, Argentina

The dome of the planet was a glittering display for the Pachamama. No wonder for thousands of years the indigenous people of the Andes worshiped the land as a living force and looked upon the Pachamama – the Earth Mother – as their benevolent protector.

 

Union of Santorini Cooperatives unique mission

The volcano that blew Santorini into history 3,500 years ago created a soil that produces the driest white wines and the finest dessert wine this chef has ever had moisten his palate.

 

Please read more by Travel with Pen and Palate at…

The Hellenic News of America
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Corfu magic at Villa 1870

“Gradually the magic of the island settled over us as gently and clingingly as pollen.”  ― Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals

Villa 1870

Built in 1870 in the Venetian style by an English architect for a Corfu merchant, Villa 1870 is for discerning guests to experience the magic Durrell felt in the 1930s. Except, unlike the Durrell’s, your personal chef will be roasting the lamb while you relax by the heated pool overlooking the Ionian Sea. Perhaps after lunch your personal driver will take you the short distance into UNESCO World Heritage Corfu Town or to explore this legendary island’s countryside.

Villa 1870, Corfu, Greece

Dimitrious and Nancy bought the house in 2017, made a total restoration, installed the heated swimming pool and opened for their first guest in April 2019 – me. I have had the pleasure of previous experiences being guest number one, and it does provide a travel journalist a unique perspective.

It is possible for one guest to have Villa 1870 to themselves since this impressive house is a vacation rental – five bedrooms, five bathrooms, housekeeper, car and driver and a personal chef to cook to your needs. Obviously it’s the perfect venue for a vacation with friends, family or a small wedding.

Villa 1870

Each of the spacious five bedrooms and baths are individually decorated in 19th century style with 21st century conveniences. An antique armoire is still a functioning piece of furniture. Even the rain shower in the marble bath hearkens back to the luxury of Villa 1870 when it was first constructed.

Palace of St. Michael & St. George (1824) Corfu

It was only six years earlier, 1864, that Corfu Island was united with Greece for the first time in its history. Although the Ionian Islands off the west coast shared many similarities with their mainland and Aegean Island neighbors, Corfu was either independent or part of empires. From the Romans through the British – especially during the nearly 500 years of Venetian rule – Corfu was at the center of Asian-European international trade and influences.

Being on Corfu at Villa 1870 for Greek Orthodox Easter highlighted some of these unique influences. Already the most celebrated holiday in the Orthodox calendar, on Corfu there is the tradition of throwing water-filled red clay pots.

Dating back to pre-Christian days of getting rid of winter’s cooking pottery at the Spring Equinox, it morphed in Christianity to symbolize the earthquake that proceeded the opening of Christ’s tomb. At noon on the Saturday before Easter, after a solemn procession, thousands of people gather on the narrow streets of Old Corfu Town and the balconies of buildings and drop the pots to smash on the street below.

Within an easy stroll or even easier ride from Villa 1870 is UNESCO World Heritage Site of Old Corfu Town with its pedestrian friendly streetscapes lined with an eclectic mixture of architecture. This is not a “typical” blue roofed whitewashed Greek town. World class museums (the Museum of Asian Art) and restaurants (The Venetian Well) are all within easy walks.

Chef Themes Iliabi, Villa 1870, roasting lamb

Yet Chef Themes Iliabis at Villa 1870 just might entice you to eat in. From classic slow spit roasted whole lamb at Easter dinner, jewel like maze with late afternoon drinks to sumptuous and surprising breakfast treats, dining at the Villa matches any restaurant.

Dimitrious Kyiakis, owner Villa 1870 & Chef Iliabis

Corfu has been a vacation mecca for centuries and a stay at Villa 1870 will evoke the magic of time standing still. An elegant mansion, the Ionian Sea, your driver, your chef, your housekeeper and the heated pool will settle over you. Surrender.

Villa 1870

When you go: Direct flights connect Corfu International Airport (CFU) to many European cities including London, Frankfurt and Rome. Frequent flights connect the island to Athens and Thessalsoniki. Ferry and coach bus connections to major Greek cities are frequent as well. For Villa 1870 booking information please visit their web site.

 

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Looking upon Greece: Doors and Windows

“The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. ”
Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception

 

 

 

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Celebrate at the home of Carnival: Naxos and the Small Cyclades

Makes perfect sense why Naxos is home to Mardi Gras. Dionysus was its first Rex!

 

Naxos Carnival 2019

Venice, Rio de Jeneiro and New Orleans may capture headlines, but no destination other than Naxos and the Small Cyclades can claim Dionysus, the patron of Carnival, as their native son, as well as his father, Zeus.

The Carnival of Naxos 2019 (2 – 13 March) blends timeless Greek festive elements from ancient Dionysian spring rites through to the evolution of modern Mardi Gras. Tracing roots back to rituals of sowing winter crops and praying for the coming of spring through to the Christian celebration of Easter’s promise of rebirth, the Carnival of Naxos 2019 captures all – and their web site details all!

The Koudounatoi 

the Koudounatoi

The classic Koudounatoi  – based on ancient rituals during Dionysian celebrations – is a hallmark of the Naxos festival.  The Koudounatoi dance and rituals are performed by men dressed in traditional white costume bedecked with colorful ribbons and a belt of cowbells. Their dancing movement makes the bells create a very loud sound in order to clear away bad spirits that may bring plague and famine.

Temple to Demeter

The Temple to Demeter overlooks the productive agricultural land of Naxos Island. Agriculture had made Naxos wealthy and in the 6th century BCE the island erected this first all marble temple in the Greek world to Demeter, goddess of grain. Dionysus was the protector of Naxos and maintained one of his divine residences on the island.

Carnival Naxos 2019

In more traditional form the men are covered with a brown coat wearing a belt with hanging bells. Holding large sticks that symbolize the Dionysian phallus, the Koudounatoi challenge each other and anyone who interacts with them and the divine right to ensure a bountiful harvest.

 

 

 

 

Wedding of the century

On Friday March 8 at the Temple of Apollo’s Portara this fertility theme is dramatically recreated with a retelling of the arrival of Theseus and Ariadne, which through a series of complications worthy of Greek story telling (including pirates!) ends with her marriage to Dionysus, elevation as a goddess and blessings upon Naxos. Ritual weddings are a common theme during Carnival.

Portara of Temple of Apollo

Parades night and day

The island villages are studded with individual folkloric events during Carnival, the preparation and presentation of traditional foods, the beloved Torchlight Parade and the culminating Grand Carnival Parade on the Chora waterfront.

Torchlight Parade

The Greeks elevated revelry to divine status. Christianity added its themes to the pre-Spring/Lenten season, and Naxos’ several century occupation by Venice all embossed their personality on the Carnival of Naxos 2019. Travel to the heart of the Cyclades and experience three millenniums of Carnival.

The Grand Carnival Parade

When you go:

Naxos and the Small Cyclades are regularly served by air and ferry through Athens. Being the largest of the Cyclades islands, Naxos offers a wide range of accommodations.

 

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Carnival 2019

Puerto Vallarta lives on its streets

From food festivals and music on the Malecon to affordable week long book fairs, just walking Puerto Vallarta offers too many distractions from work.

aguachile festival

A recent email from a friend living in a popular south Florida destination praised its beauty but bemoaned a culture not interested in much more than lying around a pool or beach. Although that is fine for some, for others there’s vibrancy on Puerto Vallarta streets and beaches rare in North America. Whether it’s the riot of colorful craft stalls on the Isla de Cuale, neighborhood street festivals, processions, parades or oyster vendors on the beach, there’s no lack of stimulation.

Rio Cuale, Puerto Vallarta

Of course that’s all beyond the major events that attract locals, expats and visitors from vacationing Mexican families to gay singles. Food, naturally, is a major focus either as a side component or on the center stage. Northwestern Mexico with its Pacific waters teeming with sea life is a veritable food market.

It’s appropriate that Puerto Vallarta and a nice selection of its many restaurants annually honor aguachile with its own festival – a native dish that can define Mexican food in the northwest. Aguachile (chili water in Spanish) is a “cousin” to ceviche. Like most regional dishes, recipes do not believe in boundaries.

3 different aguachiles

Whereas both dishes include seafood and lime juice, aguachile infuses the lime juice with hot chilies. Both dishes also have variations from the most common, shrimp, to octopus, scallops, salmon or any combination of shell, seafood and fish. The single imperative is that these raw ingredients are as fresh as possible – sushi grade is not too extravagant.

Additional ingredients are both traditional and optional. Ceviche has a bit more onion and less chili. Both include cilantro, frequently other vegetables and even a combination of juices.  Aguachile always includes generous slices of cucumber for the soothing qualities that vegetable provides given the spicier nature of the dish – after all, it is called chili water.

If you happen to own a molcajete for preparation, it doubles as a beautiful bowl with its black basalt contrasting with the colors of the ingredients. A number of internet sites have recipes for aguachile. Hispanic Kitchen has a good basic shrimp aguachile recipe. America’s foremost chef on southwestern Hispanic cuisine, Rick Bayless, provides ideas outside the box.

The annual January Aguachile Festival was held in Parque Lazaro Cardenas, currently undergoing a transformation with stunning mosaics.

Annual Book Fair in Plaza de Armas

On the same day, the annual Book Fair, a week long event, was taking place on Puerto Vallarta’s main Plaza de Armas. Dozens of book stalls sell new and used books in a variety of languages for all age levels. The prices are below reasonable.

Food for the stomach and the mind, stimulation for the eyes and the ears with enviable weather and fronting the Bahia de Banderas: no wonder Puerto Vallarta greets all with “Welcome to Paradise.”

Aguachile Festival n Parque Lazaro Cardenas

 

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Naked Boys Singing: the ultimate selfie

The peppy opening number of Naked Boys Singing, “Gratuitous Nudity,” pokes fun as to why we’re in the audience but promises, “No crudity. Just gratuitous nudity.” (Certainly easy on the eyes and naked 99% of the time the ensemble of Max Albertos, Mitchell Guzman, Joby Hernandez, Fidel Rebolledo, Renzo Sotelo and Luis Villanueva are handsome talented singers). Yet, most important, at the end of the opening number the men sing, “Than nakedness is just another window to the soul.”

Incanto Theater, Puerto Vallarta

Naked Boys Singing is an entertaining comedy revue with some real life pathos. Yet the lyrics and even the sequence of songs fail to develop this cohesive theme. The lyrics are gay oriented, a good selection for Incanto Theater situated in Puerto Vallarta ­–the gay friendly capital of Mexico. Yet most people evolve beyond potty humor after discovering the magic our naked bodies can create.

Perhaps edgy when originally produced Off-Broadway in 1998, I was getting bored and puzzled with Robert Schrock’s current version of his 20-year-old musical Naked Boys Singing by the end of the third song. I stress bored with the production not the boys.

Is Naked Boys Singing a vaudeville revue poking fun at our attitudes on nudity and sex? Or is it a musical of how we men see ourselves, literally, develop from the potty humor of 9-year-old boys, through teenage angst, to a celebration of why we (men and women) have beautiful, biologically designed bodies that produce fun, brainpower and love. Unfortunately creator Robert Schrock fails to ask himself these questions.

A lack of imaginative direction leaves six handsome naked men basically singing a concert in a straight line. One potty humor opening number would have been fine. “The Naked Maid” is silly but at least it was choreographed.

“Fight the Urge” (sung by Max Albertos, Mitchell Guzman, Joby Hernandez) speaks to many men, especially when gay teens, of uncomfortable moments in school locker rooms. It’s funny, true and in the last stanza sets up what could have continued a developing theme for the musical, “I can’t let anyone know what’s happening inside. I am all alone.”

Following that number, “Window to Window” (sung by Fidel Rebolledo and Luis Villanueva) provides a glimmer of thoughtful lyrics that brought more meaning to this play. In “Window to Window” two neighbors view each other frequently from across their apartment buildings’ divide. In a beautiful duet they communicate through attraction and desire. In the final lines their thoughts mesh even though physically separated when they sing, “Take a risk. Be daring.”

The beauty in “Window to Window” is that we do not know if the desire will be fulfilled. How many of us, gay or hetero, have not felt this same longing? That is the direction that could make Naked Boys Singing relevant theater and still retain its humor.

Unfortunately Robert Schrock concentrates on a miscellaneous list of minor topics ­from gay gym rats in “Muscle Addiction” to being a “Perky Little Pornstar.” Too many songs are just gratuitous entertainment. The lack of creative direction and a thematic vision fails to take advantage of the talents of six handsome naked men.

Yet the second act does have three songs of significant interest that capture a universal sense of humor, longing, fear and acceptance. The lyrics in “Nothing But the Radio On” (sung by Joby Hernandez) comically compare reactions to Marylyn Monroe’s famous 1950s nude calendar photo with still hypocritical sexual image attitudes.

“Work of Art“ (sung by Luis Villanueva) was appropriately a tableau recreating athletic nude marble statues with four of the cast members. The central, classically posed statue (Luis) sings of a particular man that frequently visits the museum. In silence they are doomed in expressing their mutual love. Once more the longing for love shines in this song.

The third to last number, “Window to the Soul,” a tender duet sung once more by Fidel Rebolledo and Luis Villanueva, should have been the final number in the production sequence. The “Window to Window” couple discovers the true nature of their love. They take the risk as scary as it is, “And now I know that who I am isn’t shameful or obscene.”

Naked Boys Singing should be an entertaining exploration of nakedness as both physical beauty and its impact on everyone’s self-image. Yet out of fifteen songs only a handful explore this identifiable theme – “nakedness is just another window to the soul” – that the musical introduced in the opening number, “Gratuitous Nudity.”

Still, the six talented naked young men in this Incanto Theater production have fun proving that nudity is the ultimate selfie.

Outdoor cafe, Incanto Theater

Despite production flaws, Naked Boys Singing is entertaining and worth seeing. It is running several times per week along with Incanto’s stellar concert calendar for the 2018/2019 Winter season.

Lady Zen, just one of the stellar singers in Incanto Theater’s concert series this season

 

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