I didn’t expect to like Athens. People said it was smelly, ugly and run-down. Pah, anal Germans. Athens is really a perfect blend of charming and vibrant, but not too clean. I call it quaint grittiness.
Have frappe, will shop. And eat pies.
Sure, it’s not as architecturally exquisite as Paris or Rome, but the very narrow and ancient ramshackle streets, with an occasional ruin in between designer boutiques and markets, are part of the appeal.
It also seems that the Greeks, not the French, invented café society. Or at least subscribe to it with greater enthusiasm. Every single street is lined with places offering cappuccino and frappe (real iced coffee, not a milkshake).
And the shopping is fantastic, cheaper than SA too. We stayed a few minutes from the Acropolis at a little hotel off Arnou, the high street of Athens. But my favourite street was Voulis, with its sparkling jewellery and icons, and the aromatic scent of freshly baked goods.
We picked up delicious ham & olive and spinach & feta (spanakopita) ‘pies’, not leaden pieces of pastry but light and fluffy layers of phyllo. Happily munching, we went to see the changing of the guard at the Greek Parliament.
The Hellenic Python
I’ll have to sacrifice a bottle of olive oil to my ancestors for saying this, but the Greek changing of the guard is the most absurd thing I’ve ever seen.
Very serious, very tall, very handsome men doing something out of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks. In shoes that have giant pom-poms on them. Carrying muskets. Wearing beige stockings, pleated skirts and heavy jackets. In humid 32-degree heat. Whoever does their laundry deserves a wreath.
Lost their marbles
Then it was time to visit the Acropolis. Hot, dusty and completely mind-blowing, this magical site and the exquisite marble pillars of the Parthenon defy description. Thousands of years old and still breathtaking, the goddess Athena must be pretty pleased. And the shiny new museum holds even more artefacts and discoveries.
The Greeks’ dedication to preserving these treasures defies all the clichés the British use to justify keeping the “Elgin” Marbles. They truly belong in Athens, but that’s another debate. (Christopher Hitchens’ writes brilliantly about it.)
Beware Greeks bearing spray cans
In fact, being a tourist in Greece was a pleasure, much better than France or Italy. Athens in particular is organised and efficient. The metro runs on time, the people are friendly and helpful, and there’s a sense of pride in what has been accomplished. There was also a spirit of revolution, with tons of graffiti and protest installations everywhere. This dichotomy was oddly reminiscent of home – trying to do things right combined with massive discontent.
Perhaps I loved Athens mostly because I felt I could live there. Every time I visited a market or went into a store, people spoke Greek to me. I didn’t think I looked like a local but Alistair said I fitted right in. I’d have to master the language first though. It really is all Greek to me.
See more Athens pics on my Flickr account.