Thursday, September 9, 2010


Santorini is a small archipelago of volcanic islands located in the southern part of the Aegean Sea, about 100 km north from the island of Crete and about 200 km southeast from the Greek mainland. Its largest island, Thera, marks the southern end of the Cyclades group of islands.
Today Santorini represents what remains from the island Strogili. An enormous volcanic explosion called the Minoan eruption occurred around 1600 BC and destroyed the ancient settlements. The large island was torn into several smaller ones, which surround on three sides a lagoon 400 meters deep.

Santorini is considered to be one of the best vacation destinations in the world. The islands offer breathtaking natural beauty combined with unique architecture and a mystifying, enchanting atmosphere.
The Santorini beaches are one of the finest in Greece. The most popular is the Kamari Beach on the eastern side of the island. It is long more than five kilometers, with black sand and crystal clear deep blue water. Other famous beaches are the Red and White, located on the southern coast and named after the slabs of red, black and white volcanic rock found there.
There are everyday cruises to the volcano and the hot springs where the guests can swim. Various boats leave every morning from Athinios port or from Fira’s old port. The usual route is first climbing the volcano, then stopping at the hot springs for swimming, staying for about two hours at Thirasia for lunch and then a final journey back. The cost is about 20 to 25 € depending on the route, with children under 12 years old paying a reduced price.
Another popular trip is the visit of the Akrotiri settlement. It is located south of the capital Fira and is one of the most important prehistoric villages of the Aegean region, dating back to the late Neolithic era. The volcanic materials which covered the entire island after the Thera eruption have protected the ancient buildings and their contents in the same way as the famous remains in Pompei, Italy. The great development and prosperity of the settlement can be seen from the multi-storeyed buildings with extraordinary wall paintings and the elaborate drainage system. Akrotiri is known to had been in contact with other regions such as Crete, Cyprus, Syria and Egypt, however the severe volcano explosion signaled the end of the settlement.
For the tourists interested in history Santorini presents an astonishing glimpse into the past at the Thira Archeological Museum, located in Fira. It was built in 1960 in order to replace the old museum, which was destroyed by the earthquakes in 1956. The main exhibits are sculptures ranging from the Archaic to the Roman period, inscriptions, vases and clay figurines.

As one of the most popular islands of the Cyclades, reaching Santorini is relatively easy. There are two airlines currently providing flights to Santorini from Athens: Olympic and Aegean. The flying time is around 45 minutes and the most popular tourist resorts are only a 15-minute drive from the airport. Many hotels provide transfers to and from the airport and there are also taxis and local buses available.
Apart from flying there are also daily ferries to Santorini from Athens Piraeus and Rafina. From the port at Santorini there are bus lines to the capital Fira and to the major tourist destinations. It is also possible to hire cars, motorbikes and bicycles and all these modes of transportation are popular with visitors.

Hotels in Santorini are generally more expensive than those with similar facilities in other parts of Greece. During the summer the prices are the highest in the year with a peak in late August. If you book your vocation several months in advance there will probably receive a reduction in the price of up to 10-15%. To demonstrate, one double room in a standard four star hotel would cost in January 35 € per person, per day, while the same room in August will require a payment of 80 € (the current example - Aroma Suites, Fira). Of course, in order to fully appreciate everything Santorini has to offer, it is best to go during the summer.

Last but not least, the visitors are welcome to try the famous Santorini cuisine. The most popular delicacies are sun-dried tomatoes and fava – a lentil dip with onion and lemon. The wines of Santorini are spectacular as well. There are three varieties - athyri, asyrtico and aidani – and due to the volcanic properties of the soil all three of them have a special, unique taste.
As far as popular places to eat out in Santorini, Fira and Oia offer the most expensive and trendiest of restaurants, while along the Kamari Beach and in the village of Perissa you can find a variety of more relaxed, cheaper taverns.


Turkey is a remarkable country with a long and proud history and a wide variety of gorgeous landscapes. The unique position of the republic as a bridge between Asia and Europe enables it to distill the cultural traditions of both the East and the West, giving rise to a relaxed and accepting Mediterranean atmosphere.
In the ancient world the land of today’s Turkey was owned by great empires and saw many infamous battles. Here Achilles fought the Trojans in Homer’s Iliad and Alexander the Great defeated the Persians and slashed the Gordion Knot. The Turks started to arrive from Central Asia much later, during the 10th century, and before that the lands belonged, in turns, to the Byzantine Empire, the Romans, Persians, Lycians and Hittite tribes around the time of the Trojan War.
With such a rich history Turkey is abundant with archeological wonders. Along the Mediterranean coastline visitors can admire the well-preserved Greco-Roman cities of Pergamom and Ephesus, while inside the mainland hide the cave churches of the Anatolean plateau, the underground cities of Cappadocia and the extraordinary rock formations in the Goreme Valley. On top of that, there is the city of Istanbul, a vast modern metropolis with population of over 12 million people, which is full of historic buildings and artifacts from Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman times.
But even with its heavy past, the country today is a vibrant modern nation and the only secular democracy in the Muslim world. Because of the efforts of Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey, nowadays the republic is hospitable and more affluent than ever.
One of the most famous destinations in Turkey is Antalya, the unofficial tourism capital. The visitors can enjoy there one of the cleanest beaches of the Mediterranean, together with beautiful architecture with various influences from past periods and rich archeological sites nearby.
Another very popular tourist destination is Ephesus, which was the site of one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis. The city offers also other must-see palaces like the Cave of the Seven Sleepers and the House of the Virgin Mary.
And in the end, no description of modern Turkey is complete without the capital city of Ankara, which is also the center of trade and commerce. Many cultural, historic and artistic attractions for tourists exist there, and it is also the best place to find native handmade Turkish crafts at bargain prices.
Hotels in Turkey offer a wide range of prices and accommodation standards, including one of the only two “seven star” hotels in the world – the Rixos Premium Hotel Belek in the outskirts of Antalya. There are also plenty of other luxurious hotels, most commonly situated in specially built modern districts out of town.
There are of course a lot of other kinds of accommodation available for the more price-sensitive tourists. Generally, cheaper hotels are most likely to be available in the winter, when the tourist activity is at its lowest. Whenever you decide to travel, it is always a smarter choice to book a room in advance and thus to take advantage of the commonly offered price reductions. Consider that the season’s peak is in late July and the beginning of August, and hotel prices always are the highest in the year at that time. It is also possible to use the services of the online hotel price comparison sites and find the most suitable option for your taste and pocket.
During your stay you may witness some of the traditional celebrations. There are two public Muslim holidays in Turkey, Seker Bayrami, which is a three day festival ending the Ramazan – usually in December or January; and the second holiday is Kurban Bayrami in March or April, held in honour of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Ismael on Mount Moriah.
The secular festivals on the other hand include the traditional camel-wrestling in the town of Selcuk in January and the National Sovereignty Day on April 23, the day of the first meeting of the Republican parliament in 1920.
When it comes to traveling inside Turkey, there are a lot of options. The Turkish Airlines are the obvious choice if you are in a hurry – all the major cities are connected, including the Istanbul-Ankara corridor. On the other hand, if you are looking for good value for money, a cheaper possibility is to use the sleeping-car trains linking Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara. And of course, there are rent-a-car services available in almost every town, but have in mind that the traffic in the large cities is very busy.
Car ferries are another suitable way to travel and they also offer you a great opportunity to take a cruise in the clear waters along the Turkish coast. Ferries operate from Istanbul to Trabzon and Bursa from June to September.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Milan has a reputation for having one of the highest standards of living in whole Italy. This is the biggest city in Northern Italy, home of its stock exchange and yet – not driven by tourism, capital of fashion and design, and not to forget the local religion called football – the city is home to Milan and Inter, two of the top Italian teams that drive the crowds to San Siro stadium on Sundays during the season.

Most of the sights of Milan are in the city center. Must-see attractions are: Milan Duomo - the third largest cathedral in the world; the Castello Sforzeco - a fortress built in 1368 that later became an elegant and stunning Renaissance residence of the family; the Teatro alla Scala Opera House - built in 1776 and hosting some superb theatrical productions; Santa Maria delle Grazie - the church where Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting 'The Last Supper' is on display; Santa Maria presso San Satiro – a church with a very interesting sound effect – the choir singing seems to come from the sanctuary where there is noone indeed.

For the art lovers, there are large numbers of galleries and museums, such as the Pinacoteca di Brera Gallery - housing one of Italy's most important art collections; the Villa Reale and Civica Galleria d'Arte Moderna - featuring masterpieces by famous artists such as Matisse and Picasso; Palazzo Bagatti-Valsecchi - considered to be one of the finest museums in the whole of Europe, with many outstanding displays and collections; Milan's Civic Archaeological Museum - home of the world's oldest wooden plough still in existence, dating back around 4,000 years.

The city also harbors some less-known attractions such as the Navigli’s canal-side cafés and old-fashioned gelaterie (ice-cream shops) and the funky design district of Isola.

Milan is a major European city therefore you can easily reach it by plane, train, bus or car. Once you are there, the city is relatively easy to get around. The centre is fairly compact and most of the sights are within walking distance of one another. There is an excellent bus network and local railway in Milan. The metro consists of four underground lines which run from 6 am to midnight. If you choose rent-a-car, have in mind that traffic in Milan is often heavy and driving in the city centre can be quite an experience due to Italian temperament. Instead of a car, you can also rent a bike for just €10 per day. Alternatively, if you prefer to be driven around, there are plenty of taxis. Official Milan taxis are generally white, although there are also some yellow and other color taxis. You should only use the official licensed taxis – with taxi sign on roof and numbered shield on the side. There may be some supplements such as luggage or late night charges so it might be better to ask for these before leaving.

As for staying - there are plenty of places to stay in Milan – over 400 hotels with rates ranging from €10 per person in hostel up to over €1500 per suite. As Milan is the business center of Italy, it is natural that here are the most expensive hotels in whole Italy and also – the largest number of business hotels.

If you have a limited budget – choose “backpackers hotels” where rates normally are as low as possible. Best offers you can find in the area of the Stazione Centrale, on the Piazzale Loreto and the Corso Buenos Aires. For a business trip you may prefer a more convenient hotel in the business center of Milan. As in every other major city in Europe, here you would find famous hotel chains such as Hilton, Marriott, Holiday Inn, Best Western, Ritz, Plaza, etc. providing all kind of services and facilities for your stay.

Milan may be famous for its shopping, trading, and amazing designers, but it is also a great place to enjoy a good meal. Milan restaurants are usually very expensive. For one complete dinner take count of at least 25€ per person. A 15% service charge is usually added to the bill at the end. Additional tip is customary.

If you want to keep it cheap and simple, there are many ethnic restaurants, pizzerias and trattorie in the city where you can enjoy local food on reasonable price. Typical antipasti include ‘nervetti’, a local specialty of boiled calves’ shank seasoned with onion. This could be followed up with the city’s signature dish, a filling ‘risotto alla milanese’ which is flavored with beef broth and saffron.

In terms of where to eat, the golden rule applies in Milan as it does everywhere else: stay away from the main tourist streets and attractions, especially the Piazza del Duomo, where the restaurants offer multilingual menus and over-priced food.

For cheap meals, the best place to head is Navigli – with wide variety of cafés and pizzerias offering simple, low-cost food. Other way to keep the costs down is the local version of the Happy Hour known as ‘aperitivo’. Usually from 18:30 to 21:30 in most of the bars with 5-8 € you can have a drink with an open buffet with a large variety of food. Many places offer not only pizzas and snacks, but also pasta, vegetables and sometimes meat.