I last visited Athens in 2007. Before the crisis. Today the mood of Athens is different. There is an under current of sadness that runs through her veins.
Perhaps I noticed this because I understand her better, because I knew her when times were good. The thing that smacks you in the face is the fact that there are so many stores with ‘For Rent’ signs. I see past this and think of the families that had to put the sign up, close the doors of their small business after decades of trade. This is the sadness you feel when walking through the streets. This is what Bernie noticed as well and I could feel that wasn’t what he expected to see. That wasn’t what he wanted to see.
However Athens had other plans for Bernie.
For first time visitors she put on her usual smile and welcomed them as if nothing was wrong. She put on a show as always. Her intense heat and vibrant streets. The mix of the old and new. The narrow streets with quaint stores and the old market in Monastiraki. Peppered with ancient ruins and the towering Acropolis.
When looking at Athens from above she doesn’t make much of an impression. She looks like a big ball of concrete, almost lifeless. Her streets tell another story. Filled with beautiful trees and interesting locals. Have we mentioned that people watching is a favourite pass time?
Instead of staying with family, my usual form of accommodation when visiting Greece, Bernie and I opted to check into a hotel. We stayed in Alimos, a popular coastal area in Athens. Our hotel was a short walk away from the beach giving us access to the beach bars that Greece is so well known for. Our favourite by far is Akanthus. The best freddo cappuccino money can buy. An added benefit, the tram line was across the road, linking us to the central parts of Athens at a minimal cost. Athens gets many things right and public transport is certainly one of them. We did attempt to use Uber to hail a taxi, however we very quickly realized in a country where cash is king this was not a viable option, the alternative? Taxibeat. Reliable and efficient.
I always tell friends, spend as little time in Athens as possible, it’s just too hot to stay in the city for very long. In some ways this is true, when the temperature and humidity are at 40 degrees and 89% respectively it’s an uncomfortable situation. However Athens drew us in, with her culture and history. Her busy midnight streets and rooftop bars with endless views. Taverns along countless marinas. Beautiful beaches with crystal clear water.
She has become irresistible.
Bernie’s top 5
1. The people of Athens greeted me like an old friend, proud to have me over for the next feast. Excited to show me around.
2. Way of feasting, amazed at how much food we would be served but soon realising the feast was meant to last all night long.
3. Pastries, pastries and more pastries. Elias is a must! Open 24 hours and reasonably priced too.
4. You never sleep because you’re too busy living.
5. Richness in history and culture beyond belief. It was a pleasure soaking this up!
Our top must do’s in Athens
- Walk, walk and walk some more.
- Take a stroll down Ermou Street. A shopping enthusiasts dream.
- Go to the Acropolis museum. Greece’s history will have you mesmerized.
- Visit the Acropolis. This you must do late in the evening, it’s just more beautiful at that time of day.
- Find a beach bar, spend an entire day there drinking Freddo Cuppuccino and eating fresh fruit.
- Got to Mikrolimano and have dinner at a tavern overlooking the marina.
- Visit Monastiraki square in the evening, taking a stroll through the old market area and end your night by having a drink at the roof top bar 360.
- Take a hop-on-hop off bus city tour if you are pressed for time and want to see as much as possible.
- Watch the changing of the guards ceremony in front of the Greek parliament.
- If you are flying into Athens, visit Gregory’s, just outside the airport terminal. Buy a Freddo Cappuccino and a Mediterranean Kourou Pie.
- Have greek yoghurt. Just have it. Have as much of it as you possibly can.
- Eat local, eat the things you wouldn’t normally eat. Ask your waiter to not treat you as a tourist but to rather bring you food that locals eat. You won’t be disappointed.
- Drink local beer, Mythos, Fix and Alpha.
- Have a giro for lunch, its cheap and so very delicious.
- Visit the pastry shops. There is a reason most people gain weight while on a Greek holiday, the food is to die for.
Thank you Athens. You have taken our breath away and we just can not wait to visit you again.