Noone has ever accused Athens of being a beautiful city. There are way too many cheaply built cement apartment blocks, choking traffic and graffitied walls. But then again I’ve also never heard anyone accuse Athens of being boring.
I spent five weeks in Athens when I first moved to Europe back in 1998. I stayed with my cousin and her family in a typical two bedroom apartment. There was a small balcony facing an internal courtyard. You could sit there and see all the little dramas going on in the other apartments, sort of like in Rear Window. Thankfully without any murders. Though if I didn’t speak Greek I probably would have thought those harmless (albeit very loud and animated) discussions about where to go out for dinner were actually a heated argument and a precursor to some unimagined violence.
Upon entering the apartment we’d take off our shoes and step onto little polishing rags that were alway stationed by the front door. Standing on these we’d skate over the marble floors thereby polishing them while getting to our destination. With a little bit of practice and a run up I could eventually slide gracefully most of the way from the front door to the kitchen. I still find it amusing that an average Athenian dwelling would be paved with marble. It’s so expensive here in Australia that having a marble benchtop in your kitchen is considered a luxury.
As I was travelling by myself I spent a lot of time exploring Athens alone during the week. On weekends and evenings I’d go on excursions with relatives and new-found friends. From the student dive bars in Exarcheia to the family friendly tavernas on our local square. Coffee on the top of Lycabettos with Athens blindingly laid out below and waterfront seafood tavernas in Pireaus.
Since then I’ve spent a couple of nights in Athens on the way to and from Zakynthos. Next year however we hope to spend a week there and get a chance to see some of the less touristy parts of Athens and some of the landmarks that we haven’t had a chance to see yet like the Acropolis Museum. Part of this plan involves staying in an AirBnB apartment in one of the Athenian neighbourhoods instead of a hotel in touristy Plaka. We’ll return to some of our favourite places, such as Lycabettus, so we can show the boys but also explore others such as Areopagus Hill, the Benaki Museum and a day trip to Vouliagmeni Lake.
I recently came across this promotional video – 36 Hours in Athens – from the NY Times. I actually went to one of the places called Six D.O.G.S during an overnight stopover in Athens a few years ago. Back in 1998 Athens was still very much traditionally Greek but now it’s truly becoming an international city.
Ugly, perhaps, but definitely interesting.