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GLOBE TREKKER GREECE

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Christina Chang, Megan McCormick
Directors: Angus Cameron, Andy Humphries
Audio: English Dolby Stereo
Subtitles: None
Video: Color, full-frame
Studio: Pilot Productions
Features: Round the World tour, fun travel information, web links
Length: 108 minutes
Release Date: July 26, 2002

Greece is physically and culturally at a crossroads.  It is said, "Their heart is most definitely east but their mind is west."

Episodes ***

Greece has long been considered the cradle of western civilization.  With a rich heritage and a history stretching back thousands of years into ancient times, Greece is home to some of Europe's oldest and most influential regions.  Possessing a population over ten million people, this Hellenic Republic occupies the southern tip of the Balkan peninsula and boasts some 14,000 kilometers of coastline, complete with clear turquoise waters, sea turtles, and even seals.  Over the years, this ancient Mediterranean nation has transformed into a vacationer's paradise for native Greeks and tourists alike.

The long-running television travelogue program Globe Trekker takes a look at the wonderful Mediterranean nation of Greece through the eyes of hosts Christina Chang and Megan McCormick.  Christina Chang is one of the newer and younger hosts for Globe Trekker, and for this disc, she visits mainland Greece and the Peloponnesian peninsula, while Megan McCormick ventures forth into the vast open expanse of the Greek Islands.

Christina's exploration of modern Greece begins in the "Last City of the West and the First City of the East" - Athens.  Home to nearly four million people, Athens is situated in the Attica region and is the current capital of Greece.  A most cosmopolitan city, Athens is an exciting mixture of an ancient society with a modern Mecca.  The city itself suffers from the traffic congestion of a typical sprawling metropolis, complete with nephos, Europe's equivalence to Los Angeles' infamous smog.  Taxis are cheap but difficult to hail, so motorcycles are a quicker and more effective way to get around the city.

While in Athens, Christina visits the Kolonaki area, near Syntagma Square, and the Exaria, the center of student life and counter-culture in the city.  Herein, the hip energy of the young is intertwined with the familiar customs of the old.  Christina explores a few ethnic restaurants for a flavor of the diverse live Greek folk music and rembetika (or "Greek blues"), played with accompanying bouzoukia and evolved over the years by immigrants and refugees to the city.

However, no trip to Athens would be complete with a visit to the Acropolis, the "High City" that towers over Athens like a monument to the gods themselves.  While the Acropolis once served as a religious site in ancient times, its role now is merely that of a very popular tourist attraction, particularly for the Parthenon, a Doric order temple built in the time of Pericles around 480 B.C. to pay homage to the goddess Athena.

After paying home to the Acropolis, Christina continues her journey next to the island of Chios.  The Aegean Sea is literally dotted with over a thousand Greek islands, and any visit to Greece must include a visit to one of its many islands.  Ferries are available to transport tourists to most any island, although finding the right ferry for one's destination can be confusing, especially since ferries do not always dock where they are supposed to!  The ferries are leisurely and rather slow (but cheap); sun decks, game parlors, and even sleeping cabins are available for exhausted or bored tourists.

Chios is home to Greek's great shipping dynasties and is close enough to Turkey to see the Turkish coastline.  The island's main export is mastic, a tough and valuable resin derived from Pistacia lentiscus, a short evergreen shrub.  Mastic is purported to have multiple medicinal and even Viagra-like properties and today is still used in chewing gums, liquors, and perfumes and other hygienic products.  Christina samples a bit of mastic but to no immediately discernible effect.

Travel around Chios is most easily accomplished with a moped, so Christina rents one to visit the monastery of Nea Moni.  Built in the eleventh century, Nea Moni is one of the finest and oldest Byzantine churches in Greece.  It also serves as a poignant reminder of the 1822 Ottoman massacre during which a quarter of the population of Chios was killed and the Mastichohoria (mastic growing villages) were devastated.

Christina's next destination is the town of Nafplio back on the mainland.  Formerly the first Greek capital (from 1829-34), Nafplio remains a busy port town today as well as the gateway to the Peloponnese.  It is also a popular destination for young Greek lovers, and komboloi, or Greek worry beads, can be found here in abundance to soothe the aching spirit.  Dominating the town's skyline is the massive fortress of Palamídi, built by the Venetians in the 18th century.  The view from this fortress is a truly awe-inspiring one, although the climb up to the summit, nearly one thousand steps in total, may be too taxing for some tourists.

Next on the itinerary is a trip through the Mani Peninsula, which extends southward from the Peloponnese.  En route, Christina catches a glimpse of the town of Mystras near the remnants of the ancient city of Sparta (of which only a few foundation stones remain).  Then, she takes a scenic ride along the picturesque road to Areopoli via the stunning Langada Pass between Sparta and Kalamata.

Areopoli was named after the Greek god of war, a rather appropriate name considering that the Mani were a fiercely independent and proud people who today still consider themselves separate from the Greeks.  Christina probes into the history of the Mani people to learn more about their past blood feuds or even mini-wars fought between entire villages over family honor.  The magnificent towers built for these territorial conflicts still dot the countryside and are today a popular tourist attraction in Areopoli.  Naturally, a region with a long history of so much conflict will have a tradition of mirolóyia (mournful tunes) songs, many of which are thousands of years old.  Christina takes an opportunity to listen to a few such songs.

At the very tip of mainland Greece, according to the ancient Greeks, is the entrance to Hades, but Christina opts instead to head northwards to Zagorohoria, a national park in the woody, mountainous regions by the Albanian border.  In the village of Mikro Papingo, she sits through a customary ritual, conducted by a local "Evil Eye" woman, to restore positive energy.  It is probably a wise decision, as Christina must expend all her energy on the next phase of her passage through Zagorohoria - an arduous, seven-hour trek up the mountains to Dragon Lake.  Named for the dragon that reputedly lives within its depths, this mountainous lake fails to reveal any secrets to Christina, although she is still rewarded with an unparalleled and breath-taking view of the mountain peaks.

Next, Christina heads eastwards towards Seres, near the Bulgarian border, to witness the anastenaria, a fire-walking festival.  Held annually every May, the festival commemorates a church fire in 1250 during which the church's holy icons were rescued by brave villagers who were miraculously unscathed by the burning blazes.  Those icons have since been passed down through the generations and are believed to protect the fire-walkers now in their annual ritual.  Christina watches the trance-like dances, the ritual sacrifices of sheep, and the culminating fire-walking ritual held in the evening.  She doesn't partake in any fire-walking herself, though!

Finally, Christina ends her journeys in Kalamkaba, home to the mysterious monasteries of Meteora.  Fans of the James Bond thriller For Your Eyes Only will recognize these seemingly inaccessible monasteries perched high upon their pinnacles of rock.  The origins of these enigmatic structures have been lost in time, but the climb up a steep, vertical rock surface to reach the monasteries provides a spectacular way for Christina to conclude her journey through mainland Greece.

Despite the many rewarding sights of mainland Greece, the Greek isles, rather than the mainland, are ultimately among Europe's favorite holiday destinations.  Globe Trekker sends its next intrepid host, Megan McCormick, on a journey through the multitude of Greek isles scattered around the Ionian and Aegean Seas to discover the appeal of these isles.  Megan is one of the show's more popular and bubbly hosts, and she clearly enjoys a whirlwind vacation trip through a paradise which many viewers would probably die for.

The Greek islands are fifteen hundred in number, although less than 10% of them are inhabited.  Megan begins her journeys at one of the more popular islands - Hydra.  After chartering the Pink Elephant, Megan McCormick sails to this Saronic island for its annual Miaoulia festival.  Hydra, lying in extremely close proximity to Athens, is a favorite harbor for Athenians with their myriad boats and yachts.  Transportation on the island itself, however, is quite basic and consists of...only donkeys.  A tourist could always simply walk to destinations, though (or take a water-taxi around the island).

Every June, the Miaoulia festival is held to commemorate the struggle for Greek independence from Turkey around 1800.  Costumed Hydriots re-enact a glorious sea-battle between small rowing boats (packed with explosives) and the Turkish battle ships, and the ensuing night-long celebrations are filled with music, ethnic dances, and even fireworks.  The biggest thrill for Megan, though, is an opportunity to meet the Greek President, who annually comes for the festivities, too!

Megan's journey continues on a convoluted route via the mainland and then by ferry to the Dodecanese island of Patmos.  While passing the day hours there, she tries the extremely strong Katakathi Greek coffee and a fresh octopus (which she helps to catch).  Octopus being a staple of island diet, Megan later goes to several restaurants, sampling the many ways of preparing this cephalopod delicacy, including octopus ice cream, believe it or not!

Octopi aside, the peaceful island of Patmos is also a very sacred Christian site.  According to the Book of Revelation, Saint John the Evangelist experienced a vision from God on this island around 95 A.D.; consequently, Christian pilgrims regularly flock to Patmos now, where they may even visit the cave in which Saint John reputedly received the Revelation.

Megan's next destination, requiring another convoluted journey from the port at Piraeus, is Mykonos.  This glamorous, cosmopolitan island, one of the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea, is an extremely trendy vacation spot famous for its incredible party atmosphere, hip and wild night life, and nude beaches.  Talk about a spring break dream vacation!  Megan takes a quick peek at the popular Paradise Beach before heading out via motorbike to the decidedly less flashy, quieter, and seldom-visited northern coast of Mykonos.

Megan then heads for the Cyclades island of Delos, legendary birthplace of the god Apollo and only twenty minutes away from Mykonos by boat.  A very important cultural antiquity, Delos is home to such archaeological treasures as the Agora of the Competaliasts, the Temple of the Delians, the Minoan Fountain, the Terrace of the Lions, the Stoivadeion, the Temples of Isis and Hera, and the House of Dionysos.  There are still vestiges of the original plaster, paint, or mosaics at some sites, offering a glimpse of the formal beauty of Delos.

Megan's next destination is the cluster of volcanic islands known as Santorini.  Also a member of the Cyclades, Santorini (now mostly a caldera whose largest island is Thera) possesses a fascinating historical and geological past pertaining to the 1650 B.C. eruption of one of its volcanoes.  Ancient records relate how the resultant magma shot up 22 miles into the sky and, in raining down, utterly destroyed the ancient Minoan city of Akrotiri on the island and created a massive 80-foot tidal wave that reached all the way to the Middle East, with ash falling as far away as Egypt.  Ancient archives worldwide even record severe climactic changes around this time, suggesting a dramatic global impact from the Santorini eruption.

The eruption has been estimated to a Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI) of 7, or in layman's terms, super-colossal.  The Santorini eruption and its fallout has even been suggested as the inspiration for the Titanomachy in Hesiod's epic poem Theogony or the ten plagues of the Hebrew Exodus, with the effects of the subsequent tidal waves possibly allowing for the Red Sea crossing.  Another popular theory also links the eruption with Plato's story of the tragic fall of Atlantis.  Fascinating theories, all!

Today, Santorini annually receives half a million tourists who explore the white-washed architecture of its modern towns.  The city of Akrotiri itself, re-discovered and first excavated in the late 1960's, remains an on-going archaeological dig site and is a solemn reminder of the once-mighty power and influence of the Minoan civilization around these region.  Amazingly, Akrotiri is fairly well-preserved and still holds ancient pottery and furniture that survived the volcano's wrath intact.

The Minoan civilization was a pre-Hellenic Bronze Age civilization based in Crete, so Megan fittingly continues her journeys in Crete, the largest of the Greek Islands.  An extremely popular destination with over two million tourists annually, Crete is renowned for its 600 miles of coastline and a plethora of water sports.  Megan indulges in some canoeing, visiting a former leper colony at Spinalonga before exploring the ruins of old Venetian fortresses along Crete's coastline.  At Souda Bay near the port of Hania, Megan visits war cemeteries for the many fallen men from the invasion of Crete by the Turks in 1931 and by the Germans in World War II.  Today, the people of Crete still remain a proud people with tremendous fighting spirit.

Megan's most memorable excursion on Crete is a hike down the largest gorge in all of Europe, the Samaria Gorge, formed by the flow of water between the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) and Mount Volakias.  During the summer months, the gorge receives several thousand hikers daily.  One of the Samaria Gorge's more popular photo ops is the "Iron Gates," where the sides of the gorge close in and reach up to 1,000 ft high.  The gorge was named after the Church of St. Maria (Ossia Maria) which served as the center of Samaria, a village once situated just inside the gorge.  The village was subsequently abandoned after the gorge became a national park in 1962. 

Near the end of the gorge, from the village of Hora Sfakion, an infrequent ferry is available to carry curious travelers to the seldom-visited, tiny island of Gavdos.  Home to only fifty permanent residents, Gavdos is also the most southerly landmass in Europe.  Legend has it that Odysseus was once shipwrecked here and spent seven years under the spell of the beautiful siren Calypso.  The aphrodisiac berries which she fed to the epic hero to keep him spell-bound can still be found throughout the island.  Megan ends her Greek island-hopping experience here on Gavdos on its stunning beach at Agios Yannis.

For a relatively small nation, Greece has an overwhelming wealth of diverse sights and locales.  From monuments of great antiquity to the cosmopolitan allure for the modern-day jet set, from holy destinations for religious pilgrimages to extreme mountain peaks and cavernous gorges for adventurous hikers, Greece offers something for all tastes.  It is a nation rich in heritage and ceaseless wonders.  And yet, with over a thousand islands rarely visited and a mainland covered 80% by hills and beckoning mountains, there is a lot left to explore or re-discover in Greece.  Globe Trekker: Greece takes audiences occasionally off the beaten path, but it only merely touches upon the full array of delights offered by this ancient Mediterranean nation!

Video ***

Globe Trekker: Greece originates from cable television, so the images are TV-quality.  Colors are generally bright and clear with natural skin tones and good delineation in contrasts.  The graininess of the image will vary depending on the type of film stock or medium used, as the Globe Trekker episodes tend to employ a wide variety of different visual media.

Audio ***

Audio is provided in English Dolby stereo with occasional voice-over narrative by hosts Christina Chang or Megan McCormick.  The soundtrack is complemented by ethnic music and plenty of flavorful background ambient sounds due to on-site sound recording.

Features *

For anyone considering a trip to Greece, there is travel information concerning the country's weather, cuisine, travel system, popular attractions, and festivals.  This information can be further complemented via links to the various Globe Trekker web sites.

The only other offering here is a Round the World tour (10 min.) featuring a collection of clips promoting various Globe Trekker DVDs.  Hosts Ian Wright, Christina Chang, Megan McCormick, and Justine Shapiro can be seen traveling through such countries as Brazil, Spain, Sri Lanka, and Bolivia, to name but a few.  For a promotional feature, this tour is quite exhilarating and highlights some truly gorgeous scenery and exotic sounds.

Summary:

Globe Trekker: Greece finds the popular travelogue program traveling through the very cradle of western civilization.  Armchair adventurers and neophyte history buffs should definitely check out this highly entertaining disc!

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