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Amid Greece’s challenges, Kalamata basks in the sun

October 28th, 2011 by

From CNN: Amid all the news surrounding the European Debt Crisis, it is easy to lose sight of the positive news coming out of Greece, including an increase in tourism of 9.6% over last year.  Chris Kokenes returns to his ancestral home of Kalamata to see how it is faring.

After reading all the bad economic news coming out of Greece, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the Greek people are still carrying on their daily lives.

Greeks may be cutting back on their vacations, but the country has seen a rise in the number of tourists. The Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises expects more than 10.5 million visitors this year, a 9.6% increase from 2010.

On a recent trip to my mother’s hometown of Kalamata, I was curious to see how this seaside city on the southern part of the Peloponnese, best known for its luscious olives and as the birthplace of the New Age performer Yanni, was faring amid the country’s economic crisis.

Unlike Athens, which is home to more than 3 million Greeks, the images of protests and distress are nowhere to be visibly found in this sun-drenched town of just over 100,000. Here, the city seems to embrace the energy of the sun. Young people seem to outnumber the old.

The origins of the city’s name remain murky, but according to relatives, it’s probably derived from the Greek words “kala ommata,” which means “beautiful eyes.”

Kalamata is hardly a destination most tourists consider when they think of a vacation in Greece. The islands of Mykonos and Santorini are usually the headliners in that fantasy.

Kalamata, the 10th largest city in Greece and the capital of Messinia, is built on the foot of the Tavgetos and near Messinia Bay. It draws mostly Greek vacationers, as it’s a good home base close to other tourist sites in Messinia and ferries to some nearby islands, including the Ionian island of Kythira and Kissamos in Crete.

But for most people, the lure of Kalamata is the beaches, with their blue waters and free sun beds.

The tranquil beaches in Kalamata are more than 6 miles long, and elderly people taking a morning swim is a familiar sight.  Take a leisurely walk or bike ride along the promenade, and it’s hard not to stop into one the many tavernas for a cold Mythos beer and a Mikri Pikilia: a selection of sardines, meatballs, calamari, tomatoes and cucumbers.

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