TRAVEL

ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE

The entrance is a bit of a disappointment. When you are heading for the famous shrine of Hades, where people from throughout the ancient world flocked to talk to their dead, you expect something more dramatic. At any rate, Odysseus, Orpheus, Heracles and Theseus, who all entered the Kingdom of the Dead, did not pass through a common steel-barred door. The modest notice "The Nekromanteion of Hades" does not befit the dark glory of the site either.

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THE CALL OF THE SIRENS

The owner of one of the two taverns on the Aliki beach puts a second pitcher of retsina and a plate of yoghurt topped with Thassos honey on the table. Figs taken from the jam jar stick out from the yoghurt. "It's on the house!" he says and hurries off to clean the table that another jolly company has just left.

The paper table covers of the restaurant are of the recently trendy type – with a map of the island printed on them. From such a perspective Thassos looks small, traversable and familiar. Especially when you live in Bulgaria.

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MAKE OR BREAK

It is always embarrassing to see a grown man cry. But at the oil-wrestling tournament in Kırkpınar, a suburb of Edirne – just a few miles from the Bulgarian border, you will have to endure it. You will see hundreds of men of all shapes and sizes, from hefty fellows to beardless boys and sturdy youths alike, weeping on the oilsoaked grass of the stadium.

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THANK YOU FOR SMOKING

Xanthi's architectural and ethnic wealth stems from tons of tobacco

The die of the ban on smoking in public buildings that was cast in San Luis Obispo, California in 1990 has finally rolled into Greece too. In seven months, this country where 45 percent of the adult population buy cigarettes will impose a total ban on the use of tobacco in public places. From 1 July, the government is launching a campaign to restrict smoking in cafés, restaurants and so on ahead of the ban.

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A TALE OF SEVEN CASTLES

When Jonathan Harker entered the forests of Transylvania, where the castle of Count Dracula stands, he noticed that the people there spoke German. "I found my smattering of German very useful here. Indeed, I couldn't have got on without it." At the end of the 19th Century, when Irishman Bram Stoker wrote his famous novel, this would have been no surprise.

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ANZAC DAY

On 30 April 1915, when Australia learned that five days earlier the country's first overseas army corps had landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula in the Ottoman Empire, a wave of joy swept through the streets. The day was declared a public holiday.

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10 REASONS TO VISIT SARAJEVO

Thirteen years after the siege, which between 1992 and 1996 made Sarajevo the symbol of the disintegration of former Yugoslavia, the city continues to fight. Today, however, its citizens are not trying to survive the bullets or missiles launched by the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and the Army of Republika Srpska while lacking sufficient power, water or access to humanitarian aid.

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ESCAPE TO ISTANBUL

Numerically, Istanbul has had many faces: it is now the world's third-largest city by population, for the Byzantines it was the Second Rome, while for generations of settlers – from the Arabs to the Crusaders to the Ottomans – it was the Number One city they sought to conquer. So why not cheat on your favourite Bulgarian winter getaway and sneak over to Istanbul? Just think about it: from Sofia, only five hours by car or one by plane separate you from the most cosmopolitan and lively spot in the world.

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10 REASONS TO VISIT ATHENS

If you've been to Athens at the height of the tourist season, you'll probably be hard-pressed to come up with even a single reason to visit the "cradle of democracy and Western civilisation." The rocky hills only intensify the August heat, the hordes of tourists make the narrow streets even more claustrophobic, and the bill you get at the overcrowded tavern is as big as your chances of slipping on the steps of the Propylaea, which have been shined smooth by centuries of visitors.

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10 REASONS TO VISIT EDESSA

Try recalling every stereotype you've known about mass tourism in Greece and then imagine what could be the opposite. Now open your eyes. What you see is Edessa.

Edessa resists any "hidden treasure" cliché. This town of 20,000, in the region of Macedonia, is among the last places untainted by mass tourism, a fact appreciated by travellers who look for authentic Greek landscape, atmosphere and calm.

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