Archive for June, 2009

As Greek as it gets

June 30, 2009

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Obelix used to say that food is like the Romans; the foreign is always the best. All others may agree that when it comes to food, there is no place like home.

But when you live or travel abroad and desire to taste authentic food from your country, things are starting to get dangerous. I admire the Mexican, who endure any cheap tex-mex variety on the high street, and the Italians, who have to make their way through all the self-proclaimed Italian restaurants to discover the appropriate Italian joint. When it comes to Greek food, trying to find an authentic restaurant abroad is no easy feat either.

In Germany, you would except to taste authentic Greek food because of the high numbers of immigrants from Greece, especially in Stuttgart and Munich. But it is not as easy as you think, as the restaurants have adopted their cuisine to the german dining experience. Sauces in dishes appear where they should not be and the main course is always accompanied by a small side salad. Those of you who have been to Greece already know it is inconceivable you keep the food to yourself especially when you are ordering mezedes (small dishes to whet you appetite like Spanish tapas). The salad is typically for more than one person and is majestically put at the centre of the table to shoare. But in Germany, even Greek food needs to obey the unwritten rules of the German: you need to keep the food to yourself so that you can pay for it separately at the end.

Fortunately, Greek food in London does not seem to suffer from the same drawbacks. Your chances to find authentic Greek food are better. This is not to say you don’t occasionally find an odd restaurant that prides itself for being Greek but its offerings are far from being authentic. In fact, there is a chain of joints and does exactly this: it names itself as the Real Greek but should be avoided by all costs. (It is, indeed, rather costly for what it offers). If you want to play safe you may chose any restaurant in the Greek area of Bayswater. I ‘d rather avoid this area, as any conglomeration of Greeks ends up reminding you of living a Greek life in a foreign country and never really getting to appreciate what London experience has to offer.

So, when it comes to tasting simple, authentic Greek food, there is no better place than “As Greek as it gets” at Earl’s Court. (Ok, I admit that I have not tried an exhaustive list of Greek restaurants in London, but this one is very close to the real food that you eat in Greece).

The traditional Greek souvlaki, called "First class" at the restaurant

The traditional Greek souvlaki, called "First class" at the restaurant

The moment you enter the restaurant, you realise that it does not live up to any of the clichés and the stereotypes of the Greek dining experience you typically encounter outside Greece. There are no posters of the “National Tourist Organisation” that advertise pristine beaches and beautiful places to visit, any ancient Greek statues or any form of kitschy ancient greek decoration reminiscent of the film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”.  The area is rather modern and simple, mostly in shades of green. There is just  chandelier, the walls of the stairs are decorated with numerous wooden laddles (not be best of decorations), and the place is full of black and white pictures reminscent of the pictures you typically encounter in a rural old Greek house.

You will be shown to your table by polite table attendants (not necessarily Greeks, but the restauarant is Greek owned) and you will be handed the menu. There you will find many Greek traditional dishes, such as moussaka, pastichio –pasta with minced meat and béchamel sause -, spinach pie and mezedes. But is it for the souvlaki – the pinnacle of characteristic Greek food – that you are here for. Apart from the traditional souvlaki, a piece of meat, typically pork, wrapped around a pitta bread with some tomatoes, onions and tzatziki, you have several variations: one with chicken, one vegetarian and one with low calories. While Greeks might say that £3 or £4 per piece might be excessive for souvlaki, compared to  the prices of other restaurants in London, I believe that it is a reasonable price to ask.

There are, however, some things I am missing. It would be good to refresh the menu every now and then and offer special dishes depending on what is fresh on the season. While you can also order the food for takeaway, there is not delivery service and worse, there is not website where you can take a look on the menu and the restaurant. However, a visit to “As Greek as it gets” will convince you that it is worth the hassle to come all the way down to Earl’s Court.

Lambda.

P.S.: As Greek as it gets is located at 233 Earl’s Court Road, London , SW5 9AH (Google Maps , Google Street View) and the nearest tube station is Earls Court.

[all images © LambdaPhage, special thanks to my friend, Lila K for giving me her camera]

Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2008 in Greece

June 28, 2009

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I hope you already know about the competition “Wildlife Photographer of the Year” which is being organised by the London Natural History Museum and the BBC Wildlife magazine. If not, please refer to my other post for the 2008 winners.

After it finishes at the Natural History Museum in London every April, the exhibition travels around the world. In fact, the Natural History Museum maintains a site with a list of all the cities the exhibition is scheduled to be hosted at, both in the United Kingdom and around the world.

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During my recent visit to Greece, I was positively surprised to see the exhibition there. The Exhibition was hosted by Polaris Publications, with Piraeus Bank as the sponsor. Instead of a museum or a gallery, the exhibition was featured in the atrium of the new Citylink commercial centre, within walking distance from the Syntagma square at the centre of the city. Although the pictures they are illuminated from the back as in the exhibition at Natural History Museum in London,they were printed in high quality photographic paper and were still lokking superb. And the best thing of all is that  you need not pay a ticket to see them.

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The pictures are from the area of the atrium. I managed to get some, until security told me it was not allowed to take pictures.

Lambda.

[photos © Lambdaphage, except for the photos of the exhibition, which are copyrighted by their respective owners].

Poetic Spam

June 26, 2009

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In many ways, the spam messages I have receiving by the dozens every day do not differ from the avalanche of advertising messages I encounter during my everyday life. A visit at the supermarket, a brief ride in the tube, a leisure stroll at the Southbank and I am constantly bombarded with messages. Everything is perfect in the advertising world. Families exist in harmony: the dad is a successful business entrepreneur, the mother is able to balance her busy career and family life, the kids are constantly smiling and the house appears tidy and spotless. This exuberant picture is completed by the latest offering of a detergent  able to wash better,  the latest version of toilet paper or other unimportant product.

In contrast, spam mail messages do not paint a world in harmony, but a world in disarray, unless you seek solace in the product advertised. You are not complete without a prestigious degree from a famous university, the latest fake designer bag or luxury watch and you may not keep a proper relationship unless you sport a bigger size … and we are not talking about perfume bottles here. While in advertising, there are a number of tricks – colourful and sensual images, clever catchphrases and sometimes sound and motion – the only communication vehicle of the spam message is the subject line. The way it is written can make the difference between reading the message or dismissing the content without reading it.

Writing the perfect and the most appropriate subject line for the spam messages might in many ways resemble the creative process that is being followed in the big agencies to advertise chocolates and crisps. You will need, after all, to discover inventive ways to catch the attention of your victim without betraying the existence of the spam. Sometimes the subject lines fools you that this message is somethings you are expecting, sometimes it avoids common words detected by spam filters by changing letters for numbers. But most of the times, the subject line strikes a chord with something more intimate: the feeling of guilt.

The company I work for recently moved offices. While setting the new computer systems, they delayed activation of spam filters for the company’s email system, and as a result, we were inundated with spam messages everyday for at least a month. While most of my colleagues dismissed them at once, the subject lines of those spam messages caught my attention. Here are some of the subject lines of those messages:

Believe us women care about your size down there.
Every inch of your manhood proves that you are a real man.
Empower your darling night adventures.
I CAN is way more important than IQ – so get that little pill.
Now women will bring you coffee to bed in gratitude of the night.
Perform in bed like you are in your twenties again.
Reconstruct your male friend and you will love the changes.
Your immature undeveloped friend is really bugging you?
Your tool is so small she scarcely finds it in bed?

And many variations of the common theme of the above subject lines. However, it got really interesting when I realised that among the usual ones some small gems lay hidden characterised by their rhyming character:

Men will see your power in every public shower.
It easier to slide when you have gigantic pride.
Women will be funk when they see your trunk.
Now you don’t have to be depressed over men who are well-blessed.
Take a big important stride – add some inches to your pride.
You will be mega cool if you get a bigger tool.
Are you sick because the size of your stick?
Women will divulge the beauty of your bulge.
Now you will not detest men who are from nature blessed.
Give her pleasure with every stroke – we assure you it’s no joke.

But while we may delight reading a book or looking at advertisements, why do we easily dismiss the content of the spam messages, even though they use similar vehicles of expression and marketing techniques? Probably because of the brutal evasion of our personal space. Books, magazines and billboards are not parts of our personal space.  Advertisements can, therefore, be seen and disregarded just by turning the page or focusing our attention  somewhere else.  But an spam message appearing on our personal inbox is a vulgar intrusion of our personal space, something unwanted and very difficult to let go by. Immediate action is being called to remove the offending material from our world forever.

And the balance in our little world is momentarily restored – momentarily, before we receive the next spam message.

Lambda.

[pictures © LambdaPhage].

The Lawn Tennis Championships – Wimbledon

June 22, 2009

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When I was younger, most of the boys of my age were fascinated with football or basketball. I was not. Instead, I was obsessed with tennis, not a very popular sport in Greece at that time.

With time, this small obsession faded away, to the point that my wooden tennis racquet, the one I got as a Christmas present, got its permanent place to our storage area.

It wasn’t until after I had moved to London that I was reminded of my youth obsession. There, at approximately the end of June, Londoner and visitors fanatically descend to the SW19 area to watch tennis. What would seemingly be a small tennis tournament in a suburb of a big city, here in London it has transformed to the best tennis championship in the world – rivalling even the Olympic Games tennis event. The Lawn Tennis Championships, commonly referred to as Wimbledon, take place for two weeks during summer.

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The first two years I lived in London, I was quite busy and did not get the chance to visit. It was only last year that I seized the opportunity to hop in a district line train after work to join the long queue at Wimbledon and finally gain entry to the grounds of the championship.

Most of the ground courts at Wimbledon were positioned next to each other. I had never before experienced what it feels like to watch a tennis games within a small distance from the players. It just reminded me what it felt like casually playing tennis in Greece.

Can’t wait to get to Wimbledon this year.

Lambda.

[all pictures were from Wimbledon 2008 © AELTC]

The New Acropolis Museum

June 19, 2009

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There are times I wish I was in Greece and one of them is today. The reason is quite simple. It is the official unveiling of the new Acropolis museum.

The new Acropolis museum is a building designed by renown architect Bernard Tschumi. The concept was to build a museum where natural light can enter the building as much as possible. The extensive glass surfaces with the view of the Acropolis and the Parthenon also serve for the contextual unification of the exhibits with their natural environment.

Parallel to the opening of the new Acropolis museum, an old debate seems to be reheated. It is the return of the Parthenon marbles to Greece. The Parthenon mables, sometimes referred to as the “Elgin Marbles” are pieces of Parthenon’s east and west pediments and the metope, that were removed in 1801 by Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, when Greece was under Ottoman occupation, and were transported in Britain. They were then purchased by the British government in 1816 and placed in the British Museum where they still stand.

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The Greek governments have instigated an international campaign to have the marbles returned to Greece for moral and artistic reasons. I will not describe the debate here into more detail, as you can read about it in several other sites (Wikipedia, International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures.

The fact however, remains. To be able to see those marbles in their full glory, you need to have a strong memory and travel 2392 kilometers between those two cities. I hope with the unveiling of the new museum the real reason for their return will resurface. In the new Acropolis museum, the marbles will be bathed by natural light – the same light praised by many writers and poets. It is an experience, that the dimly lit and grey – but nevertheless spacious – room in the British Museum is not able to offer.

Lambda.

P.S.: You may also watch two videos with the prepapation and transfer of the antiquities from the old museun (situated at the Acropolis hill) to the new one.

(First picture © The New Acropolis Museum website and second picture © Christos Vittoratos, source Wikipedia).

Baggage (re)claim

June 13, 2009
Heathrow International Airport, Terminal 5

Heathrow International Airport, Terminal 5

Traveling by plane can be an unusual experience.  The passenger often puts their life into the hands of two people, the pilots, who will steer and maneuver an expensive piece of equipment  at 30,000 to 40,000 feet above ground. It is, therefore, not surprising that the landing of the plane and the end of a journey is met with delight and relief. In about 10-15 minutes, the passengers who shared the same flight will embark on different routes. The businessman will hurriedly make his way to the exit, where a personal limousine service will safely transport them to the business place for their meetings; the teenagers, who went away on a road-trip holiday, will leisurely make their way to the bus stop and the family, exhausted after their two-week holiday in the exotic destination, will have to settle with their back-to-reality routine as they make their way to collect their car at the parking lot.

Athens International Airport, Eleftherios Venizelos

Athens International Airport, Eleftherios Venizelos

However, before embarking of their different routes, those passengers will get the opportunity for another brief encounter, this time to collect their baggage from the designated space at each airport. The process is quite simple. Every time you fly with excessive baggage – mistakenly thinking that the stuff you brought with you are completely necessary –  you will need to check it at the start of your journey. Your baggage is then transported, along with the baggage of your fellow travelers, at the aircraft hold. At the end of your journey, you will hopefully be reunited with your stuff, which are be delivered to you in a similar way that they were taken away. I said hopefully, because approximately 150 000 passengers left the airport without getting back their luggage last year. So, it is indeed a miracle each time you see your baggage at the revolving belt, knowing that it is only just a few seconds before you get reunited with it.

Frankfurt International Airport

Frankfurt International Airport

After you have exited the aircraft, then, you will need to follow the signs that will show you the route the the baggage claim area. But wait a moment! Is it a baggage claim area or baggage reclaim area? After all, this baggage belongs to you, you just gave it to the airline and they are giving it back to you. The British airports correctly define this area as the baggage reclaim area, but other european airports do not.  Airports in Greece and in Germany for example, will designate this space as the baggage claim area. Occasionally, there are also non-typical signs, such as the “Baggage” sign at the Billbao airport, avoiding any mention of the word claim or reclaim.

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After all, it does not really mind, as long as the passengers find the way to the area. But I think you will agree that it is the little details that count.

Lambda.

[all pictures © LambdaPhage]

Gatwick International Airport

Gatwick International Airport

Stansted Airport

Stansted Airport

Lutton airport

Lutton airport

Thesaloniki, Macedonia airport

Thesaloniki, Macedonia airport

Heraklion, Nikos Kazantzakis airport

Heraklion, Nikos Kazantzakis airport

Fancy a snog (without guilt)?

June 9, 2009

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Caught you attention, didn’t I? Before you jump into any conclusion that I am so desperate to extend an indecent proposal to anyone just to get lucky (after all, I am not that bad, am I?), I would probably encourage you to read on. While a snog might have been a much coveted activity of our teenage years – and for some still is – there is no reason why we can’t appreciate a snog every now and then. Only the one I am talking about is a bit different. It comes in the form of frozen yoghurt with a choice of delicious toppings.

My first snog: Green tea-flavored snog with cranberries and chocolate nibs (and a green tea-flavored snog with cranberries and blueberries at the back)

My first snog: Green tea-flavored snog with cranberries and chocolate nibs (and a green tea-flavored snog with cranberries and blueberries at the back)

Instead of sugar and other artificial sweeteners, the yoghurt is sweetened with agave extracts – the Mexican plant that is used for mescal and tequila – and promises to be healthier than ice-cream.  This snog has low fat, low calories and a low glycaemic index. You can chose among the original flavor (with 72 calories per 100 g) or get adventurous with the green tea or chocolate flavor (with 79 calories). You can then add one or more toppings ranging from dried fruit – strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, blueberries, mangoes, bananas, kiwis and other fruit – or indulge in guilty pleasures like chocolate brownies, oreo cookies, chocolate nibs and hot espresso shots. However, note that agave syrup has a high percentage of fructose and a low percentage in glucose.  Thus, after you get over you sweet snog, you may crave some more.

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To experience this type of snog, you will need to visit one of the immaculate-white and bright-pink little shops in South Kensington or Soho. The Soho shop we visited has a few tables where you can sit and enjoy your snog in the company of fellow snoggers (although we were not sure if sharing is encouraged). But the most striking feature was the arrangement of numerous, colour changing light bulbs at the ceiling.

It costs £4.20 for a classic flavor snog with two toppings, so we believe that there can be lots of opportunity for more snogging in the future. Fancy a snog, then?

Lambda.

P.S.: You can find Snog at 32 Thurloe Street, London SW7 2HQ (Google Map,Streetview) and 9 Brewer Street, London, W1F 0RG (Google Map)

(all pictures © LambdaPhage)