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Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece (AP) - Stung by dismal bookings during the Olympics, Greece will spend $75 million this year to promote itself as a year-round vacation destination, the tourism minister says.

The Greek Tourism Ministry has just launched a "Live Your Myth in Greece" ad campaign with sleek footage of beaches, yachts, pools and monuments.

Apart from the sun and the Acropolis, Tourism Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos said he wants to add agricultural tourism, spas and convention tourism to the list of Greek attractions.

"People travel a lot, and they are looking for new destinations," he said. "We are an old destination, but we can become a new destination, too."

He said convention planning could exploit idle Olympic venues, and new legislation aimed at boosting alternative types of tourism would be submitted to parliament this month.

Tourism is a vital industry in Greece, where vacations to Mediterranean beaches and ancient monuments comprise 18 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

"It is inexcusable for a country like ours with an exceptional climate to have a tourism period of five or six months," Avramopoulos said. "The goal is for Greece to be a destination all 12 months."

Hopes for a bumper year in 2004, when Athens hosted the Olympic games, failed to materialize, with sluggish island bookings and even hotels in the capital left with spare capacity.

The poor results were widely blamed on the strong euro, fears of terrorism during the games and a lack of successful advertising.

Avramopoulos will be in Los Angeles in March to try and woo Hollywood producers to make movies in Greece.

For more information about vacationing in Greece, call the Greek National Tourist Office in New York at (212) 421-5777 or visit www.greektourism.com.

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Art towns

SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) _ About 10 years ago, John Villani changed the way he planned his vacations. Instead of seeking out exclusive restaurants, antiques stores and clothing shops, he started looking for destinations with art galleries, street fairs, poetry readings, outdoor festivals and museums.

"Overnight I'd become a cultural tourist," he writes in "The 100 Best Art Towns in America," newly released in a fourth edition from The Countryman Press ($19.95).

The book Villani compiled as a result of his changed habits provides practical information about local arts venues and events, along with recommendations for lodging and food. Both U.S. and Canadian towns are listed.

Villani planned to announce his new top 10 lists _ one for towns with fewer than 30,000 people and another for towns with a population between 30,000 and 100,000 _ on Feb. 22 in Sarasota, Fla., which came in at No. 3 on the list for bigger towns.

Also on that list are Santa Fe, N.M.; Loveland, Colo.; Hot Springs, Ark.; Asheville, N.C.; Boulder, Colo.; Portland, Maine; Lawrence, Kan.; Bellingham, Wash.; and Chico, Calif.

Naples, Fla., which had not appeared in any previous editions of the book, tops the list for towns with fewer than 30,000 people, followed by Ashland, Ore.; Provincetown, Mass.; Taos, N.M.; Northampton, Mass.; Aspen, Colo.; Eureka, Calif.; Marfa, Texas; Salt Spring Island, British Columbia; and Brattleboro, Vt.

Villani's criteria for evaluating towns included the number of local art galleries, affordability, natural beauty, frequency of arts festivals, and the quality and quantity of museums, art schools, theaters and alternative arts venues.

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Kids' vacation survey

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ Apparently playing video games, watching TV and instant-messaging friends isn't relaxing enough.

Seventy-one percent of children say they "need" a vacation, according to a new poll from Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown and Russell.

Three-fourths of those polled also said that a vacation of seven days or more is the ideal length. Other recent surveys show that the average vacation taken in this country is just four days.

YPB&R polled more than 800 children between the ages of 6 and 17 to survey their views on family vacation habits.

A third of the children reported that they are more likely to talk with their parents during family vacations than when at home; 45 percent said they are less likely to argue with their parents; 48 percent said they are more likely to eat together as a family, and 75 percent said they are "less likely to spend time watching television."

"From a kid's point of view, it's clear that vacations provide much-needed time to reconnect with family, whether through sharing a meal or simply talking more than they do at home," said Peter Yesawich, chairman and chief executive officer of YPB&R.

Over one-third of those children polled said they helped research some aspect of their family's vacation on the Internet.

Where do kids want to vacation most? Theme parks topped the list, followed by beach or lake vacations and cruise vacations. In the theme-park category, nearly one-half of kids picked Walt Disney World (Florida) as their No. 1 choice, followed by Universal Studios in Florida and Disneyland in California.

Top-rated vacation activities were swimming, eating out, staying in a hotel or resort, going to a theme park, staying up late, going to a beach or lake.

The worst part of going on a vacation with mom and dad? Getting up early and riding in the car.

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Long Island

NEW YORK (AP) _ "Another day. Another memory" is the new slogan the Long Island Convention and Visitors Bureau is launching in a campaign to attract out-of-towners, the first such effort since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, officials said.

The island hopes to lure visitors to its beautiful beaches, from the enormous state park at Jones Beach _ which offers concerts, playgrounds and pools in addition to sand and surf _ to the Fire Island National Seashore. Other attractions include Old Westbury Gardens, the Vanderbilt mansion, wineries, the celebrity glitter of the Hamptons, lighthouse tours, fishing expeditions, cruises, the scenic beauty of Montauk, and a popular waterpark, Splish Splash.

R. Moke McGowan, the bureau's president, said the $240,000 print and online campaign is aimed at visitors from places like Boston and Philadelphia, who can "recharge their batteries" on weekend visits to the island.

The ads, which will target women, will appear in magazines like Parenting, Food & Wine and House Beautiful.

The campaign is a shift in tactics from the post Sept. 11 effort, where the focus was on being "a tourist in your own backyard."

For a free guide to visiting Long Island, call (877) FUN-ON-LI or go to www.licvb.com/.

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Culinary poll

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ When it comes to culinary chauvinism, Italians take the cake.

Spaniards rave over their pickled octopus and blood sausage, but Brits and Germans _ who flock here for vacation and retirement _ can't stand the stuff. As for English fare, many Londoners pooh-pooh their own steak-and-kidney pie.

Thus reads a six-country poll just released on what Europeans like and don't like to eat.

Those proudest of their national fare are the Italians. A robust 89 percent of those questioned prefer it to any other kind of cuisine, according to the survey carried out by British pollster MORI.

Spain came in second with 85 percent, followed by the French at 76 percent.

Those least enthused by their own cuisine are the Dutch. They eat things like "zuurkool met rookworsp," a hodgepodge of sauerkraut with potatoes and smoked sausage.

The survey questioned about 5,500 people in Britain, Spain, France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. It was commissioned by the hotel- and restaurant-supply branch of the American paper manufacturer Kimberly-Clark.

Italians seek out pasta and other carbohydrates, even when they travel abroad, said Alessandro Circiello, a chef and cooking teacher in Rome. They also crave mozzarella cheese, tiramisu and cappuccino.

More tidbits from the poll:

_ Italian grub is preferred not only by the Italians, but by other Europeans: 42 percent of all those questioned in the six countries say it is their favorite, followed by Chinese food and then French cuisine.

_ Only 21 percent of Londoners prefer English fare.

_ A lowly 1 percent of Britons and Germans _ major sources of tourists and expatriate retirees for Spain _ say Spanish food is their favorite.

In the case of Brits, it's not that they're squeamish about Spanish dishes such as lamb's brain, pig testicles or squid cooked in their own jet-black ink, said Jamie Downing, an American chef who has lived in Britain and now cooks at Churchill's, an upscale English restaurant in Madrid.

Her Majesty's subjects eat things like jellied eels and pickled whelks, which are large marine snails, he noted.

Rather, part of Brits' aversion to Spanish cuisine stems from their experiences with mediocre food served in low-budget Spanish tourist resorts, Downing said.

Another problem for Brits is olive oil, which is ubiquitous in Spain. "It is a different kind of rich," Downing said. "They really can't stomach it. Literally."

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Daisy Bates house

LITTLE ROCK (AP) _ The home where the Little Rock Nine gathered each day in the fall of 1957 before facing the mob at Little Rock Central High School is on its way to becoming the lasting reminder of the city's desegregation crisis that its former owner wanted.

"They changed history here," said Leroy James, who now lives in home once shared by Daisy and L.C. Bates, but now owned by the Christian Ministerial Alliance.

Before she died, Bates said she wanted her house to become a testimony to the 1957 desegregation crisis.

The alliance, which bought the home after the deaths of the couple, is working with the Daisy and L.C. Bates Museum Foundation to see that her wish becomes reality.

The home is already a National Historical Monument, declared by then-President Bill Clinton on a visit to Little Rock in 2000. He returned in 2002 to raise money for the home's renovation.

Some improvements have already been carried out, and more are planned, along with a $500,000 visitor center.

Inside, pictures of the Bateses overlook a cluttered living room, and small typed signs point out where Martin Luther King Jr. and Thurgood Marshall _ later a U.S. Supreme Court justice _ once slept. James occasionally guides visitors through the rooms, sharing the building's history.

By late summer or early fall, Gibson said, the house likely will reopen for limited public tours.

"People come by all the time," James said. "We've had people come from Africa and from Canada. It's amazing how many people recognize this home and what it stands for."

The two groups hope eventually to build a visitor center in the back yard that would include a small theater, museum exhibits and a gift shop, Gibson said.

Gibson and James said they hope to have it built in time for the 50th anniversary of the crisis, in 2007. For more information about the Daisy Bates House, go to www.cr.nps.gov/nr/travel/civilrights/ak2.htm.

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Ohio islands

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ A steel bridge links the West Virginia mainland to Middle Island, occupied by settlers in the late 18th century and farmed almost continuously until the island became part of the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge in 1995.

Today the island is a mix of clearings, wetlands, sloughs, restored tracts of forest, and a small fringe of mature forest. Its 235 acres include loamy former cropland that was once some of the most productive corn and soybean fields in West Virginia.

Several thousand sycamore, green ash, swamp white oaks, hickory and other trees native to the island have been planted since the refuge acquired the land.

The Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge extends nearly 400 miles from Kentucky to Pennsylvania and is made up of 22 islands. Only Middle Island is accessible by bridge, from the town of St. Marys.

A road and a hiking trail gives access to the preserve. Visitors can take a self-guided driving tour of the island along a 1.5-mile dirt road with stops for five roadside interpretive signs. A 1.5-mile hiking trail follows the other edge of the island, and includes a stop at a wildlife viewing blind on a bluff overlooking a wetland slough that is often teeming with waterfowl. The covered viewing blind also can be reached via a 1,000-foot accessible trail leading from a parking area off the island's access road.

Wildlife sightings include rabbits, deer and groundhogs, and river wildlife like mallards, Canada geese and great blue herons, along with the occasional osprey or eagle.

For more information about visiting the Ohio islands, go to refuges.fws.gov/profiles/index.cfm?id51660.

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Winter walk

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) _ A couple who were celebrating their 25th anniversary by hiking 200 miles over northern Maine's frozen waterways completed the four-week journey just before Valentine's Day.

Alexandra and Garrett Conover arrived in Allagash village after a trek on snowshoes that took them along the same route they followed on their honeymoon.

The Conovers, who operate a guide service in Willimantic, left Greenville on Jan. 15 on what they dubbed their Winter Walk for the Wilds. They hauled their 200 pounds of food and equipment on toboggans.

The Conovers, who used audio journals to record the trip on their Web site, hoped that their adventure would serve as a vehicle for educating children about the wonders of winter in the outdoors.

Their route, which included Moosehead Lake, portions of the Penobscot River and a 90-mile stretch of the St. John, followed a corridor long used by Indians on their travels in the region.

Faced with spectacular 50-foot-high ice jams at the confluence of the St. John and Allagash rivers, the Conovers were forced to summon help. They were hauled off the St. John on a snowmobile, about six miles from their destination.

There were many new wonders, Alexandra Conover said, such as the ice reefs and canyons at the end, a whole new population of coyotes, lynx and bobcat tracks, and a raven mating dance they witnessed along one section of the Penobscot River.

For details on the journey, visit www.winterwalk2005.org.

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Silk Road

BEIJING (AP) _ China, the United Nations and neighboring Central Asian countries plan a program aimed at reviving the ancient Silk Road by boosting investment, trade and tourism.

The $1 million, two-year Silk Road Project involves the governments of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

It is seeking support from other countries, such as Japan, Turkey and Russia, with historic links to the remote trading route that once linked Europe with Asia, said Khalid Malik, representative for the United Nations Development Program in China.

Winding more than 6,000 miles through desolate mountains and deserts, the Silk Road guided camel caravans to and from Central Asia and Europe. Marco Polo, Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great followed its paths.

Organizers hope to relieve the region's isolation and poverty by adjusting policies to promote travel and trade, Malik said.

Such efforts might also help to counter terrorism, he said: "From our own experience, where there is peace and prosperity, terrorism subsides."

Some tours of parts of the area already exist. Visit www.travelchinaguide.com/silkroad/ for a look at one such tour.

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