Monday, June 30, 2014

Long Weekend in Athens

Like many large European capitals, Athens is a city of contrasts: between ancient and modern, cultural and pragmatic, real life and tourism. But on my first visit to this ancient metropolis last month, I found it to be even more strikingly diverse than most. I was lucky enough to be staying out of the tourist centre in a friends' apartment - always a good start to a great adventure - and was charmed as much by the everyday people and places as by the more obvious historical attractions. 




At the historical heart of Athens sits Plaka, all higgeldy piggeldy streets, charmingly crumbling stone steps, and crowned by the Acropolis and its legendary temples. We found our way up to the top by a roundabout route, taking in the residential backstreets and peeking into tiny tavernas along the way. It would be churlish to say I wasn't impressed by the ruins in the Acropolis, but in all honesty they stayed with me less than other parts of the weekend. The view from the top is amazing, though, and it's well worth climbing onto the rocks opposite the site entrance to soak it up. We ended up returning to Plaka to eat and drink a few times, and loved this stepped street of bars particularly 



Outside of the picturesque centre lies a sprawling concrete jungle, the result of extreme unplanned growth in a short space of time. But look past the less-than-pretty buildings and you will discover, as we did, a city full of character, warmth and charisma. It is a place to eat well, drink enthusiastically and wander aimlessly.If you love history and museums, this is one of the greatest cities to visit, rich with an ancient and proud heritage. The national archaeological museum is particularly impressive, but other hidden gems are dotted around everywhere, including in tube stations and along side streets. 



Our adventures took us to some unlikely suburbs - easily found on the straightforward metro system - including leafy Kolonaki, busy ferry port Piraeus and chi-chi yuppy hang-out, Kifisia, where bar-lined streets and leafy people-watching spots were plentiful. In just four days there, I really felt like we started to get under the skin of the place, and honestly was sad to leave so soon. Have a watch of our Athens vlog to see what else we got up to on the trip. We also carried on to the Peloponese, and there'll be a separate post/video of that soon, too.


Some of the places mentioned in the video:
Nice & Easy restaurant
Old Fashioned cocktail bar in Psiri
Diogenes Taverna, Plaka

Chillbox frozen yoghurt (all over the place)
Alexandrou Pavli St in Panormou
National Archaeological Museum
Turkish baths (and Folk Museum)
Temple of Poseidon, Sounion