MEDITERRANEAN BLUE ADVENTURE: RHODES producer-director, George Stamou

I embarked on my journey to Mediterranean Blue, a television series that showcases the beauty, people traditions, culture, and cuisine of magical Greece, the name of which is attributed to the special deep-blue and turquoise color of the Mediterranean Sea. I am proud to announce that this new series will be airing on PBS this fall, as well as on New Greek TV, the Greek channel of the U.S. and Canada, in the spring of 2017.

The producer-director, George Stamou, our director of photography, John Stathopoulos, and myself, were very excited and couldn’t wait to get started! Our first filming destination in Greece was the islands of the Dodecanese, located in the southeastern region of the Aegean. The show’s concept was illustrated through the view of a sailboat, which was used to better capture the essence and beauty of each island’s distinct character.

The cosmopolitan island of Rhodes was our first stop. Rhodes has been a vacation “hot spot” since the 1950s. Many of the world’s re-known celebrities have visited this jet-setting travel destination, and many producers have filmed movies on this island. Famous actor, Anthony Quinn, loved this island so much that he purchased property there and one of its beaches was named after him.

As we approached the famous port of Rhodes, we passed its historic pillars, which once held one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the legendary Colossus of Rhodes, a depiction of the ancient Greek Titan-God Helios, which was erected in 280 B.C. The backdrop of the city harmoniously combined the ancient, medieval, Byzantine, and Hellenistic eras of its history, through its imposing medieval wall, palm trees, and architecture. Rhodes was historically a wealthy island, agriculturally abundant, a major trading center, and was often visited by famous men and rulers, including Alexander the Great.

Rhodes has one of the most well preserved medieval castles in Europe dating back to the 7th century, the Palace of the Grand Master, or the Kastello. Once a Byzantine citadel, it became a fortress for the crusading Knights of St. John. Due to this castle’s medieval and port-Byzantine historical and architectural importance, it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

When walking the streets of historic Rhodes, one can almost go back in time, back to when the medieval knights and maidens roamed its streets. As you examine every detail and corner of this historic city, there is a romantic feeling about the place, which can ignite one’s soul to further search more into its history. A visit to the nearby Archeological Museum is encouraged to enhance this.

The Acropolis of Rhodes dates back to Greece’s classical period. Its remains include the Temple of Apollo, Athena Polias and Zeus Polias, a stadium, a small theater, the Odeon, remains of the the Stoa building, the Nymphaeum Caves, and the Artemision.

The historic homes of Rhodes have been renovated and preserved to keep their original architecture and enchanting medieval character, until you venture outside the castle’s walls, where you will find yourself in the modern city of Rhodes. This part is a busy cosmopolitan city that resembles a smaller version of Athens, as Rhodes is the capital of all the islands of the Dodecanese.

We enjoyed a traditional Rhodian dinner, a cup of coffee and delicious local deserts at Koukos, a restaurant and cafe that have kept its traditional architecture and design, to enhance its visitors’ experience of customary Rhodes. Rhodes boasts dozens of 5-star hotels and resorts, offering the best services and promising a luxurious stay with all the amenities one can enjoy.

The island is so big, and has so much for one to see and do, that you will need a few days to really explore it. There are many villages, historical churches, ancient sites, museums, a rain forest filled with butterflies, and a vast array of beaches to choose from that offer many water and land activities, such as scuba diving, jet skiing, horseback riding, hiking, and many more!

We sailed south of the island to the ancient city of Lindos, a magical place with another enchanting village, beautiful beaches, and a well-intact ancient acropolis containing the Doric Temple of Athena, the Propylaea, Hellenistic Stoa, the famous relief of a Rhodian warship, Roman temple remains dating back to the Emperor Diocletian, and a Greek-Orthodox Byzantine church, the Church of St. John.

After enjoying a day of scuba diving and swimming underneath the ancient acropolis, we learned about a new recipe by local known chef, Demetri of Demetri’s Restaurant, overlooking the sea and the acropolis, which has been serving traditional Rhodian food for 70 years! It was fantastic!

Rhodes was a great start to our Mediterranean Blue Adventure and there was so much more to see, however, we had to head out in order to discover the rest of the wondrous islands that were awaiting us. The crew, George, John, Dionysis, Myrto, and myself, jumped on our sailboat with its seasoned captain, Captain Chris, along with his first mate, Pantellis, and we were off to the neighboring island of Tilos!

The customs and traditions of Tsiknopempti in Greece and across the world 

Tsiknopempti which falls this year on the 16th of February or the week of Kreatini, during which large amounts of meat are traditionally consumed by Greek Orthodox believers prior to the arrival of Lent, the fasting season leading up to Easter. (The day is also known as BBQ Thursday). It is similar to, but should not be confused with, the French festival of Mardi Gras (or “Fat Tuesday”.)

Meat is king, with the emphasis on grilled meats, though the occasional stew pot will be visible. Some hotels and virtually every taverna will put on special menus for Tsiknopempti. By far, the most common item will be some variation of souvlaki – meat on a stick. These will be available everywhere along the streets in the taverna areas and walk carefully to avoid banging into an unexpected grill mostly obscured by smoke, sharing the already narrow streets and walkways. (Souvlaki skewers in the hands of the inexperienced can also be causes of mild injury, so be careful.)

Beyond the standard grilling, each region of Greece also has its own customs and traditions which are celebrated on this day every year.

Athens – In the area of Plaka (downtown Athens) carnival capers make their way around the region’s central squares and in the evening a parade is held -which begins at the Acropolis metro and heads through to Monastiraki area with music and dance-.

Corfu – On the island of Corfu the “Corfiatika Petegoletsia” are held. The word Petegoletsia means gossip and this is one day of the year where you are obligated to yap, yap away! After consuming their meaty meals locals apparently gather at the Piazza near “Koukounara” to “socially criticize” one another.

Patras – In Patras, the custom of “Yiannoula tis Koulouras” is celebrated. According to tradition, Yiannoula (Johanne in English) still believes that Admiral Wilson will come back to her city so he can sweep her off her feet and marry her. As such, she patiently (and frantically) awaits for him at the city’s main port. In respect to the tradition, Patras citizens choose a young girl from the area every year, dress her up as a bride and once she begins acting out the role of Yiannoula they celebrate by singing and dancing around her.

Serres – In the northern city of Serres locals set grand fires ablaze. After roasting their meat, and guzzling up some Tsipouro they then leap over the flames.

Komotini – In the city of Komotini, housewives purposely burn a chicken so that they can serve it to their families on the last Sunday of Carnival. Tradition also says that on Tsiknopepmti engaged couples exchange edible gifts. For instance: the groom sends a “kourko” or poultry to the bride, and she returns the favor by sending him a baklava and a stuffed chicken.

Thebes – In Thebes, a “Vlach wedding” is held. At first the matchmaking begins, and then an actual traditional “Vlach wedding” is held. The dancing and the singing continues for days and ends on Lent Monday when the bride’s dowry is paraded across town and another feast is held.

Ios – On the island of Ios, masked men, wearing cow bells (or sheep bells) around their waists trek all over the island and spontaneously visit homes and shops.

Poros – On the island of Poros, the youth is encouraged to steal pasta! (Or at least one macaroni). They then place the macaroni under their pillows at night to see who they will marry.

Peloponnese – Throughout the Peloponnese locals slaughter pigs and then make numerous traditional meat dishes including picthi (which is cured pork in fat), tsigarides, sausages, gournaloifi and salted pork (otherwise known as ‘pasto’).

Skopelo – On the island of Skopelos, residents meet in the area of Pefko and celebrate and feast together.

Tsiknopempti Across The World

On this day, similar events are also celebrated in other areas of the world where carnival is celebrated as well.

For instance in Italy, Giovedì Grasso (Fat Thursday) is also celebrated, but it is not very different from Martedì Grasso (Shrove Tuesday). It is more similar to Tsiknopempti and involves the massive consumption of charred meat.

In Spain this celebration is called jueves lardero, and in Catalan-speaking areas, dijous gras. In Albacete, central Spain, Jueves Lardero is celebrated with a square pastry called a bizcocho and a round pastry called a mona. Whereas in Aragon a meal is prepared with a special sausage from Graus while in Catalonia the tradition is to eat sweet Bunyols.

In Germany, Weiberfastnacht is an unofficial holiday. At the majority of workplaces, work ends before noon and celebrations start at 11:11 am. In comparison with Rosenmontag, there are hardly any parades, but people wear costumes and celebrate in pubs and in the streets. Beueler Weiberfastnacht (“washerwomen’s carnival”) is traditionally celebrated In the Bonn district of Beuel. The tradition dates back to 1824, when local women first formed their own “carnival committee”. The symbolic storming of the Beuel town hall is broadcast live on TV. In many towns across the state of North Rhine Westphalia, a ritual “takeover” of the town halls by local women has become tradition. Among other established customs, on that day women cut off the ties of men, which are seen as a symbol of men’s status. The men wear the stumps of their ties and get a Butzchen (little kiss) as compensation.

The Diaspora Also Celebrates Tsiknopempti

Greek communities around the world also celebrate Tsiknopempti, and Greek Orthodox church groups may arrange special events. Greek restaurants catering to local Greeks are expected to include special meat dishes this day and expect cities with “Greek Towns” to really smoke some good meat. These include Montreal, Quebec; Astoria in New York; Chicago, Illinois; Toronto,Canada; southern Florida, Melbourne, Australia, etc…

Cyprus also vigorously celebrates Tsiknopempti, with parades and other events.

2017 Greek Carnival Dates

Triodion: Sunday, February 5th

Tsiknopempti or “Burnt Thursday”: February 16th

Tsiknopempti Weekend: Friday, February 17th – Sunday, February 19th

Cheesefare Thursday: February 23rd

Main Carnival Weekend: Friday February 24th-Sunday February 26th

Clean Monday: February 27th
High spirits, creative expression, wild colours and fantasy to spare are the driving forces behind this year’s Athens Carnival, which kicks off on Tsiknopempti (Smoke Thursday).

The aim of this year’s Athens Carnival is to encourage all citizens and visitors to be a part of a lively, fun-filled celebration that will take place at the usual venues but also in city neighbourhoods.

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