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The Warsaw Voice » Other » May 20, 2009
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Greek Holiday
May 20, 2009 By W.¯.    
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Greece has long been one of the most popular holiday destinations for Polish tourists. Travel agencies say that year after year Greece comes in the top three most popular choices alongside Egypt and Turkey.

A holiday in Greece offers something for everyone. The biggest group of tourists are those looking forward to doing very little. Greek beaches can provide them with all they need: guaranteed weather, warm sea, good food, friendly service and, last but not least, affordable prices. In Greece, accommodation has for decades been provided with the customer's pocket in mind, ranging from cheapest youth hostels, small family-run hotels and medium-class facilities through to deluxe accommodation for the most demanding guest. The number of beds is so large that tourists can do without travel agencies and travel around the country by car or public transport even during peak season, and still be sure to find a friendly roof over their heads anywhere they go.

This form of sightseeing is especially attractive for those who treat their stay in Greece as an opportunity to visit the world's top monuments from ancient and medieval times. Dubbed the cradle of European civilization, ancient Greece left a heritage of fascinating mythology and countless temples dedicated to the gods and goddesses of yore.

From the country's capital Athens with its historical Acropolis complex, which is on UNESCO's World Heritage List, through to small cities and towns, regions and numerous islands, the tourist in Greece is likely to have just one problem: what attractions to choose to see over just a couple of weeks. The must-see places include the Meteora complex of Greek Orthodox monasteries, added to the UNESCO list as a unique example of monastic life since the 14th century. They are in the Thessalia region of central Greece. But the life of the region's religious communities dates back to over 300 years earlier, when hermits sought solitude climbing high up the soaring rocks to seek out caves. Today, only six monasteries are still functioning, home to small numbers of Greek Orthodox monks and nuns.

The Athos complex of 20 monasteries, located on the Chalkidiki peninsula, is one of a kind. The site has been a monastic republic since the 7th century. No women are allowed; even the animals raised are exclusively male. Today, Athos is home to about 2,200 monks. Tourists, only men, are allowed in with a special permit, an entry visa of sorts. Another place to see on the peninsula is Salonika, the second largest Greek city and the capital of the Macedonia region.

Crete, the largest Greek island and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean, is another special place to visit. Its greatest attractions include archeological sites of palaces dating back to the Minoan period (3,000-1,500 BC), one of the oldest cultures of the Bronze Age around the Mediterranean. The famous Knossos Palace draws millions of tourists every year.

From Crete, you can go by ferry over 100 km north to see Santorini, one of the most picturesque Greek islands and a frequent picture-postcard and poster landmark of the region. The volcanic island, or rather a small archipelago formed from a single island by a powerful volcano eruption around 1600 BC, with its small, black stony beaches, is a perfect destination for a short break. You can also see sites of the Aegean culture only discovered at the beginning of the 1970s.

Most Greek islands are linked by a network of ferry connections used for decades for island hopping. In this way, without using official tourist services, you can reach all of the most popular islands, including Zakynthos, Corfu, Kos, Thassos and Mykonos, and dozens of smaller ones. You can also rent a boat or yacht and try your hand at exploring lesser known islands yourself, including some nearly deserted ones. For, as a Greek saying goes, the seas of Greece are sprinkled with islands like the skies are sprinkled with stars.

If you prefer active recreation and sports, Greek islands have a full range of catalogue seaside attractions, including shore and open-sea angling, various kinds of sailing sports and windsurfing. Rhodos is considered to be the unofficial capital of Greek windsurfing.

Greece has a special allure for aficionados of good food. Greek cuisine has long been popular in Poland, proved if nothing else by the number of Greek restaurants in every large city. Choriatiki or rustic-style salad from fresh vegetables, feta cheese and olive oil; dolmades or minced meat and rice in grapevine leaves; musaka or minced meat, potato and eggplant casserole; arni kleftiko or roast lamb; and souvlaki or lamb/pork shashlik are names familiar to all gourmets. Greece also tempts those who love delicious fish and seafood dishes, which the islands offer in plenty. More than that, Greek cuisine, like most Mediterranean cooking, has a reputation for being healthy.

Connoisseurs of liquor will reach for retsina white wine of a unique flavor and pine resin taste, the ouzo Greek variety of anisette, the raki strong local grape vodka and the famous metaxa brandy. Such drinks fuel the revelry that tourists are bound to encounter in hundreds of taverns in every corner of Greece. The typical Greek night will culminate with the famous dance from the 1964 cult film Zorba the Greek, with everybody rising to their feet and joining in.
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