A Greek winery near Athens

Back to some positive stuff, now that the garbage problems seem to be over and the trash from the streets of Athens has been cleaned!
About two weeks ago, when the strike was still ongoing and walking in the center of town was not a pleasant experience, we chose to spend a Sunday afternoon at the Katogi & Strofilia winery, located south of Athens, about 1-1.5 hour from the center, 18kms before Cape Sounio.
The winery was organizing a Holiday bazaar - which as we learnt is a pre-Christmas tradition for them - offering visitors the chance to sample their wines, along with some accompanying snacks and Greek Christmas pastries.
It was a nice, sunny day, and the coastal road was fairly free of traffic. Quite a pleasant drive, even for us who are kind of used to it and take if for granted. The sea was blue and the sky was clear and sunny.

Katogi-Strofilia is the result of the merger of two formerly independent wineries: Katogi-Averoff (located in Metsovo, at the Region of Epiros) and Strofilia (located in Anavyssos, Attiki south of Athens). The result seems to have been a successful one, both commercially and quality-wise from what I'm reading... and tasting. The name "Strofilia" comes from the old, wooden, mechanical press that was used to extract the juice from the grapes.
Strofilia vineyeard, right next to the winery, in December

Winery entrance

Tasting room, behind the main building

Inside the tasting room. Pictures from the winery's past on the wall
I was most impressed with the wines produced in Epiros. The Traminer is a very aromatic dry, white wine while The Rossiu di Munte series showcases red, dry varieties (local and international ones)  cultivated at high altitudes in the mountains of Epiros, around Ioannina and Metsovo. You can read detailed information about  each wine in the winery's website. We bought some bottles for Christmas gifts and a few more for personal consumption... Again, you will find tonnes of details on the company's bilingual website.

Nice wrapping net, to protect the bottles...

Here they are... net-less, on our kitchen counter
An interesting linguistic notice is that many of the names are in the "Vlach" language, which was heavily used in Metsovo and other areas in Northern Greece. The Vlachs were a nomadic people, mostly practicing commerce and herding sheep, traveling between the areas of the current Balkan countries. They have for long been assimilated into the existing Balkan countries but you can still find traces of their culture here and there. The "Floara di Munte" (Mountain Flower) is another Vlach-named wine; a sparkling one for that matter,  made from the local Debina grape variety, which we will be drinking tonight, in lieu of champagne, to welcome the new year!

Getting there (updated 2013-03): First of all, make sure the winery can accept you on the day you want to visit. To get close by, take one of the "KTEL Attikis" (peri-urban) buses leaving almost every hour from Egyptou Sq. in the center of Athens going to the direction of either Anavyssos or Paralia Fokaias or Legraina or Cape Sounion via the coastal road. With either of these you may get off at Anavyssos (1.5hr. away ) and take a short taxi from there to the winery.

P.S. The name of the winery comes from an old winery machine. It is not connected with the Strofilia wetland  and forest in the west of Greece.

Why don't you follow me on twitter?


A clear, if dirty, picture...

If this blog aims to be one thing, that is to provide potential visitors of Athens with a clear, even "boring" or brutally honest perspective of what is going on in the city and its surroundings without the usual fake enthusiasm and exclamatory remarks found in - too eager to sell - travel guides and articles. High expectations lead to disappointment, nine times out of ten, so it's much better to bring all the deficits and shortcomings to the fore rather than pretend to ignore them or hide them under the rug. When something good happens, and lots of things do, I will try to present it as well, but there are many others who do this and one more site with nothing but love and admiration for the city wouldn't have much to offer I believe.
Why am I saying this?
Take a look at the two pictures below [sorry for their low-quality]. As I hinted in my previous post, a series of strikes, work actions and internal restructurings of the city has resulted in piles of garbage gathering up in most streets of Athens during the last 3 weeks. Even though the center of the city (where most tourist attractions lie) is being kept mostly clean, side-streets and passages and far-out neighborhoods are suffering, as garbage pick-up is much more scarce there. And not all residents are helping to the extent that they could.

A street in an Athens neighborhood, 2010-12-14
Merry Christmas in Athens! Love the Xmas lights? Athenians just won't give up that easily...
Now, no travel guide will tell you that Athenians and other Greek urbanites are faced with pictures like this about every once a year more or less (for a few days or more) and - for lack of other options - have become "accustomed" to the annual strikes of garbage collection personnel who are asking to receive tenure and / or to be transposed to other municipal services ("behind a desk").
Now, if and when you come to Athens you may see none of that, either because the strike will be over or because you will move in the limited area of the, better cleaned, city center. But wouldn't you rather know what is going on around you, or of the potential to encounter pictures like this, instead of relying merely on the picturesque images painted even by sites like TripAdvisor which, today, highlights Athens as the No. 4 "history and culture" destination in Europe with this raving description:
"Once known for smog, traffic and tacky architecture, Athens is a city reformed thanks to fortunes brought by the 2004 Summer Olympics. Spotless parks and streets, an ultra-modern subway, new freeways, an accessible airport and all signs in perfect English make the city easily negotiable."
The underlined part (by me) is the part that is true. The non-underlined part (and what's implied by it) is probably the result of hallucinogens! Of all things, I couldn't for the life of me understand how the Olympic Games could have helped any city get rid of its old architecture, tacky or not! Was the city razed and rebuilt for the Olympics? I don't think so! And this is not just TripAdvisor, which I use myself quite often in order to plan my trips, but a great many travel guides.

So, instead of that hoopla, I will choose the option of giving you the clear, even if dirty, picture...

Why don't you follow me on twitter?


Walking to work (2010-12-08)

As much as I may like to walk, I almost always go to work by car in the morning, and just a few times a year by mass transit.

Public transit employees are on strike today (the necessary price for a much needed reform) and my car's in the garage for service (bad timing on my part!). So, my wife drives me up to a certain point -on the way to her job- and then I have to walk for about half an hour.
Garbage collection workers were also on strike for about a week and called it off just a few days ago (but will strike again?). Most of the garbage from the strike has been picked up. Sidewalks are mostly free of …stuff.

Smell of bleach on the sidewalk, as some store-owner has been doing some early morning washing.
To my surprise (I shouldn’t be…) I notice I am moving faster than the cars.
Honking from some quick-tempered, late sleepers. Their red, green and yellow lights are dotting the early morning greyness.
Exhaust fumes… I thought we had gotten rid of those. People have been putting off the purchase of new cars, especially with the crisis. The car market is about 35% down from last year, which was also 30% down from the year before, so we will be seeing more and more clunkers in the foreseeable future.

Pigeon droppings complete the smelly landscape.

I reach an avenue and fast-moving cars start to pass me by again.

Walking through a park (we have a few of those) to cut through.
It’s mostly empty, with a few people going to work with rather dormant looks, a Japanese(?) couple jogging and a man walking his dog (or the other way round?)

Exiting the park and going back to my favorite side-streets. I dislike the early-morning sun and anything (like a wide avenue) that lets the light pass through is my enemy.

Children going to school. A girl is proding her younger brother to hurry up.
I bet she’s picked that expression from her mother.

A lady’s sipping on a coffee. I am zig-zagging through the narrow passages and I’m already there. Not too late…

Why don't you follow me on twitter?


Cleaning up Athens

I have written before about a new urban movement of Athens residents called "Atenistas". These are people who -disappointed with the city's gradual but steady decline over the years (with the noted exception of the 2004 Olympics)- are trying to take things into their own hands and set an example for the rest. They identify problem spots (an abandoned lot full of garbage, a dirty park, a flower-bed that has been left to dry, a beach with garbage) and take concrete, hands-on, D-I-Y action to try to turn things around.

I had the chance of taking part in such an event today, cleaning building walls and columns, covering 4-5 city blocks of Patission St., one of the main thoroughfares of Athens, for about 4 hours. A large number of Greeks show no respect for public space -although they'd go ballistic if you touched their own private property-  and walls are full of advertising stickers, political or advertising posters, "for rent" and "to sale" labels, "tags", graffiti, etc. Cars and motorbikes are often parked on sidewalks. The fact that city authorities have failed to deal effectively with this has only exacerbated the problem in recent years. 

So, fully aware that this was just a minuscule action compared to the massive amounts of dirt that surround us, we scrubbed,  sprayed, pulled off stickers and washed and scrubbed again, until a good number of walls and columns was reasonably cleaned; not anything spectacular but enough to realize that something had... happened.

We had all kinds of reactions, typical of the different attitudes you may find around. Some people were simply curious and inquisitive as to who we were and "who had organized this". Some with a positive, even impressed tone; others  with a sarcastic, dismissive one. Some were plain indifferent. We even came across a couple who were shocked that we had the nerve to scrub a slogan with the "A"(narchy) sign; I guess these two were coming from the next Harry Potter film: Harry Potter and the Magical "A"...  We even came across an old, public, analogue clock -outside the central post office at Aiolou St.- that probably very few people had noticed till then, and tried to clean that one too.

All in all, this was an interesting way to spend an early Sunday afternoon and do something for the city at the same time.

Why don't you follow me on twitter?