Sunday, 4 September 2016

Italy: The eternal beauty of Rome

The eternal beauty of Rome

The Tiber River, ancient, with all of its serene majesty, slowly flows amongst monuments of human grandeur. On one side the imposing St. Peter’s Cathedral stands high, in the middle of its large circular plaza aligned by columns and on the other side the Coliseum, which rises high, a solid and impressive structure covering with its shadow the ancient Roman Forum. Two symbols of different periods in history, but in the same amazing city. A city of a glorious past, and a colorful and tasty present, with heady aromas and unique beauty, that awaits you to enter its magical labyrinth. The “eternal city”, as Romans call Rome, does not belong only to them but to the whole world, and you can also make it a part of you, forever.

Roman Pantheon

The historic center of Rome, the Roma antica, will be, in reality, the core of your exploration, but first you will have to solve the issue of your accommodation.  In Rome, there are, actually, thousands of places to stay, with quality but not so cheap, near or even inside the historical center. The Via Nazionale, is a unique street, which can be a perfect base for your excursions, as it does not belong to the "hardcore" tourist zone, ideal for shopping with stores in all of its length, and has many accommodation offers at an affordable price. At one end of Via Nazionale you will find the Piazza della Repubblica and its metro station (Repubblica), where by paying a ticket of EUR 1.50 you will be able to take a ride anywhere in the historical zone, while the at the other end of the street, you will find yourself in the heart of the ancient Roman Empire, and in the Roman Forum. There, you will come upon the well-preserved Trajan's Market,  and, within walking distance of Piazza Venezia, the imposing,- and "sacred" for the Italians-, National Monument of the Homeland, known as "Vittoriano".

Fontana di Trevi and Vittoriano

Fontana di Trevi

Also, at a very close distance from the Via Nazionale, you can find the famous Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain), which has recently been renovated, and its whitewashed marbles sparkle under the Roman sun. However, I would recommend you to visit it further late in the evening, when it is beautifully lit and full of couples in love, receiving into its watery embrace coins filled with dreams and wishes. Note that, nearby, lies a secret "temple" of the Italian gastronomy, "La proschiuteria", where in a small alley, you will be able to enjoy the excellent cheeses and sausages of not only of the Lazzio region but also from the whole of Italy, as the famous prosciutto of Parma or the salami of Milan, accompanied by an excellent Italian wine.

Vittoriano and Trajan's Column

However, in order to be able to really feel the majesty and the imposing beauty of this city, you will have to walk. A lot! You can reach all important focus points on foot, and each different alley is sure to reveal to you a gorgeous new secret. I suggest a nice walking tour, starting  from the National Monument, the "Vittoriano", where you can take some  beautiful photos of this splendid white, impressive monument dedicated to the unification of Italy, but paying attention to your behavior, since the security guards take pride in whistling even if you rest on the stairs!


Afterwards, you will head for a quick espresso (“café” in Italian, as the Italians never actually use the word “espresso”), to the Piazza Venezia, serving as a central hub for your explorations, as two main streets start here, the Via del Corso, which is the central shopping road and the longest street in the historical center, and will bring you to the famous Piazza di Spagna, and the ancient imperial road (dei fori imperiali), which will bring you to the Coliseum. Following the "imperial" road, you will essentially start a virtual tour of the Ancient Rome, the starting point of which is the Trajan's Column and the end is the Coliseum, a monument that even from afar seems to defy the human scale. When you reach the Coliseum, the waiting queue will be usually very long, but you can use the time available to make a whole tour around the monument, perhaps discovering along the way some corner of it, which has not yet been photographed (nearly impossible!). Note that next to the Coliseum, you will encounter the Gate of Constantine and exactly opposite the "Temple of Venus and Rome", a beautiful complex of monuments which unfortunately the reputation of the Colosseum has concealed.

Piazza di Spagna, Prada and espresso!

With your mind filled with scenes from the Gladiator movie, you can take the metro from the Coliseum station, and head directly to the beautiful park of Villa Borghese and the famous steps of Piazza di Spagna. The park is ideal for wonderful walks even by bicycle, while small, beautiful and outdoor cafes are scattered in the park, especially on the small lake. In Piazza di Spagna, amidst the cheerful crowd and couples resting in the famous steps and around the small fountain in the center, in the shape of a boat (the most famous meeting point in Rome), you will be able to indulge in a shopping marathon, as the options are many and for all budgets. Especially in Via dei Condotti, all the infamous Italian brands are gathered, together with other renowned brands, from Prada and Gucci to Cartier and Luis Vuitton.
Sant Eustachio Cafe

At the end of this street you will arrive in Via del Corso, previously mentioned, which is a more "affordable" shopping area, with many Italian brands and alternative shops. Near Del Corso Street, and walking in the labyrinthine of narrow alleys you will come upon the unique Piazza Navona, where you can enjoy the best Italian coffee and savor one of the most tasteful meals. The café "Sant Eustachio" is always crowded, because it uses a unique coffee blend in the whole world, as the sugar is already toasted within the blend! I would seriously recommend you to buy some coffee for your home from its shop.

Eating as an Italian!

Trattoria "La Cabana"
"Gelatto", itlaian splendour!
Further down you will find yourself in the imposing "Pantheon", a monument containing all the tombs of the Italian kings, and probably the only one with a circular hole in the central dome. Next to it, the "L'Antica Salumeria", with cured prosciutto hanging on the ceiling and fine "Parmesan Grana Padano" aged for 36 months, will certainly provide a tasty memory from your trip to Rome. But in order to be actually fully submerged in this delicious world of flavors, that the Italian cuisine offers, you should visit the small, -authentic Italian-, trattoria (Italian restaurant) "La Cabana", where you may taste the best handmade pasta of your life with wild mushrooms, while in nearby "Sapore di Mare", crates, full of the best fish that you may find in Rome, decorate its showcase. Alternatively, seek the elegance of one of the oldest "trattoria" of Rome (since 1870), the "La Matriciana", a common but fanatically loved by Italians trattoria, though with slightly more elevated prices, or head to the fast and non-conformist style pizzeria "La Monte Carlo Pizza", with beautiful Roman pizzas using very thin dough, and the famous "Dar Filettaro" with steamed cod fillets served on a piece of paper!

The Vatican'

Cathedral St. Peter and square

Finally, having regained your powers, you should cross the Bridge of Sant Angelo with the stunning views of the Tiber River and the Vatican, as well as visit the impressive Castle Sant Angelo, from which the bridge took its name. Being in the renowned Trastevere, you will have the opportunity to visit the magnificent Cathedral of St. Peter, and of course the Vatican Museum (Musei Vaticani) and admire one of the greatest works of mankind, the famous Sistine Chapel, a marvelous dome crafted by maestro Michelangelo, as well as many other masterpieces both from Rome and Ancient Greece. However, you should know that, because of the increased security measures, the queues may stretch for kilometers! Nonetheless, Vativan definitely worth a visit before you leave the eternal city of Rome, haunted by the beauty  of a unique, vibrant place, that respects its rich past and knows how to promote it, while at the same time enjoys the love and respect both from Romans and tourists alike.

(Published in KATHIMERINI ©, on December 12, 2015 - transl. & edited from Greek, original here)

Sant Angelo Castle and Bridge

La proschiuteria
La Matriciana

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Greece: Ios island, the Kingdom of eternal youth!

The time stops as beauty, energy and happiness collide in an explosion of laughter and joy in this magical island!

Chora of Ios at sunset (photo by Irene Mc. Photography)

The sun starts to cover in red the white graciousness of the Chora (main village of a Greek island), perched high up on the hill, as it sets deep in the blue, tender embrace of the Aegean sea around it. Gradually the bars of the Chora pump up the volume, and the music begins to invade with its notes of all the white alleys, the blood begins to warm up, the energy, the beauty and the youthfulness collide in an explosion of laughter and joy, as the time stops in the "Kingdom of eternal youth", in the seductive island of Ios.

Mylopotas beach
Every summer, thousands of tourists, mainly of a young age, arrive from all over the world to get lost in the vibrant cobbled alleys of the Chora and the famed bars of Ios.  They swarm in the island to live its legendary parties and swim in its cold waters. Ios island offers everything generously: magical beaches with golden sand, a beautiful, vibrant and dynamic Chora, accommodation of the best quality, and, without any doubt, promises unforgettable nights!

An island with an irresistible magnetism, with a history that is lost in ancient myth, as Homer, the legendary ancient Greek bard and writer, casts his shadow on this Cycladic island, as he rests, as it is believed, deep inside this beautiful land. It is an island with a distinct vitality and an unrestrained dynamism, that will captivate you the moment you feel its energy as you walk in the Chora or you enter the cold, clear waters of the bay of Mylopotas. The latter is the most organized beach of the island with an amazing beach resort of an exceptional quality, which has distinguished itself internationally, as people with enthusiasm, knowledge and passion for what they do, constitute its soul. 

Far Out Village, mylopotas beach
Far Out resort, consists of a camping site, a hotel and spa, and a beach club and it seems as though this is the place for which the famed band Blur have sung the lyrics "..follow their hearts down to Greece .."! Each and every summer, it becomes inundated by thousands of tourists, particularly from Australian, eager to live it all in the legendary parties organized by the beach club. There, apart from the frozen daiquiris by the beautiful pool, you will be able to indulge in numerous water sports, enjoying one of the cleanest beaches in the Cyclades islands.  The fact, however,  is that you have to book as early as possible as tourists thirsty for sun, sea and guaranteed fun, rush there each year! In addition, other quality options are the five and four stars hotels, such as "Ios Palace", "Dionysos" and "Liostasi" or the most economic choices of "Avanti" with beautiful vistas of the Chora and the famed "Francesco's".

Far Out Beach Club
Having ensured your stay, you must explore Homer´s island of to discover the beauty in all of its aspects, as there are many hidden treasures on this island which are well-kept secrets. If you  follow the road that begins from Chora up on the adjacent hill you will encounter two gorgeous sights, the Museum of Modern Art "Gaitis-Simosi" and the Open Theatre "Odysseus Elytis", both of which offer a spectacular view and worth the visit.  Moreover, there are other important monuments to visit, as is the impressive prehistoric settlement of Skarkos, in which you arrive through a beautiful trail, directly from Chora.  The ancient settlement looks like a stone snake wrapped around a hill and you can take a magical walk through its ancient history, as the alleys still seem to resonate with the long forgotten voices of its inhabitants.  If you can spare some time, you could also visit the alleged Homer's Tomb with breathtaking vistas at the sea beyond and then go for a swim at Agia Theodoti beach, close by. 

Kalamos beach
If you become tired of exploring and sightseeing, then you must visit the famous gold beaches and cool waters of Ios. Besides Mylopotas, being the largest sandy beach of the island and probably the biggest in Cyclades islands, the beach of Manganari is equally impressive, as is organized and in a beautiful bay.   Aghia Theodoti, close to Homer's Grave, is accessible by a rough road, but will reward you with its endless golden sands.  Do not forget to visit also the small and hidden Kolitsani beach, Koumbara beach with a great tavern by the sea, Kalamos and Valma, both being beautiful beaches with golden sand, and some hidden gems like Aylaki tou Papa (accessible by a rough path) and Pikri Ammos (only by boat).

With your mind haunted by the beauty of this land, you can now take the road that leads to the wonderful Chora of Ios, to wander through its narrow alleys, buy beautiful handmade jewelry in the «Theros» and enjoy an iced freddo in the charming little square next to the "Kafeneio", or even climb up to the temple of Panagia Gremniotisa overlooking the unique, vast, blue horizon far beyond. If you get hungry then let your nose lead you to the "Katogi", a small charming restaurant,  where Theodora, the always smiling owner, will offer you the best tapas of the island, made with an overwhelming Cycladic taste, and with the company of some of the best cocktails you will ever try, preparing you for the lively, vibrant, and passionate night of Ios island.  Bars like "Slammer", "69", "Orange" and "Scorpios Club" have long been the centre of the nightlife in Ios with a vast offer of cocktails and shots promising a crazy night out with countless happy faces to accompany you in this radiant Aegean paradise!

(more photos to come! stay tuned..)

(Published in KATHIMERINI ©, on June 27, 2015 - transl. & edited from Greek, original here)

Far Out Village

View at the sea (photo by Irene Mc. Photography
Treis ekklisies beach


Far Out Village bar