Think Athens. What comes to mind first?
Yes, same here. Acropolis, Greek gods, wabbly economy, pitstop on the way to a dreamy Greek island, dirty, dangerous, etc.
Not exactly saying either of us is wrong!
The thing is; in this travel obsessed digital world where we basically live, it can sometimes feel like there aren’t many pages left unturned. Or perhaps it has become that much harder to draw a personal conclusion about a place while Instagram is constantly trying to do that job for us.
Which is why when a destination pleasantly surprises me and surpasses expectations, I ought to feel privileged.
Queue in an all revamped and improved post Olympics Athens.
I tagged along on my husband’s business trip to Athens last month. Considering that this was going to be our last summer trip, we planned to stay for a full week. I know, a far stretch from the usual 48 hours folks allot in their lives to explore the birthplace of academia and democracy, if not rushing across on a cruise day trip or while waiting to catch the next flight to Santorini.
Nope, not judging.
Still, we thought we could give this significant part of Europe a fair chance.
And just what do you do for that long in Athens? you may ask…
We realized that Athens is a great place to travel slowly, if that’s what you’re into, or hope to try it. Where time appears to have been sanding still for a while, we figured it couldn’t hurt to adjust our rhythm accordingly.
And just because you’re in Greece it doesn’t have to be a ruin viewing marathon. Seeing too much of the seemingly same thing in a day is a sure way for me to lose interest. Hence, we picked the five locations that we really wanted to see and spread them across the week, starting with the one and only Acropolis of course.
Instead, we spent time exploring some of Athen’s popular neighborhoods, such as Plaka, Monastiraki, Psyri, and Syntagma. We strolled aimlessly for hours and took regular frappe breaks. You’ve got to respect a country that invents its own cold coffee and celebrates it as a national drink.
While making a clearer sense of the city, we ended up seeing and doing a lot more this way.
We shopped at local boutiques, people watched at café lined steps, ducked into a museum or two around midday when the hot sun threatened to beat us down, ate long lunches at local taverns and enjoyed friendly conversations with the hosts.
We also noticed Athen’s edgier side, which isn’t much talked about. A side laced with graffiti and the voices of the street. You can even take an organized tour to trace the most popular ones. We didn’t go on a tour, but did see plenty and loved reading the writings on the walls on our daily walks.
Stop to watch the sunset
Athens loves its rooftops views. And since the acropolis hill is centrally located, it is never too difficult to find a unique spot to enjoy a timeless sunset.
That became our daily goal. After a long day of exploring we really looked forward to that time of day when intense golden hues trickled down on the monumental Athenian skyline
Savor the spirit of Greek hospitality
The more I travel, the more I’ve become conscious of how the energy of the people forms an essential part of the general impression I harbour about their home.
My most cherished takeaway from Athens is how friendly and hospitable the Greeks are. In the words of a dear Greek photographer friend, who texted me with some tips when she realized I was visiting her home, “We consider guests a blessing from god and we’re very grateful to have them”.
This notion certainly came through.
We were never turned away from restaurant when we showed up at peak hours without a booking. On the contrary, there was always a way to find us a comfortable spot with the best view.
One afternoon, an owner of a popular Greek restaurant took few minutes to explain everything on the lunch menu to us while the tiny space buzzed with hungry customers. I might’ve even picked up a couple of traditional family recipes from that generous encounter.
People always wanted to talk, ask questions, get to know us better. They dug deep into their modest English reservoir for kind words and helpful things to say. I didn’t even mind answering the usual question – where are you really from? – repeatedly!
I bought a dress from a local designer, and before I left her shop, she made sure that my bags and wallet were tucked away safely to avoid unfortunate pickpocketing mishaps in busy streets, or worse. “You don’t want to end up at the wrong end of a sharp knife because you forgot to close your purse” – her words.
Alright, fine, not exactly every single person in this town is optimally friendly!
*Side note – speaking of Greek hospitality and food, do yourself a huge favor and go on a strict Greek salad, Greek honey, and Greek yogurt diet while there. I’ve been living in Switzerland for over a year now and been starving for the good stuff. The good stuff are in Greece.
And who knew Greek yogurt bars are even a thing? To our delight, apparently in Athens they are.
Admittedly, there came a moment when we just had to get out of town. Not because we ran out of activities, but to take advantage of the short proximity of more wonderful things to see.
Athens after all is a capital by the sea. If it’s a beach day you seek, you don’t really have to hop on a boat and escape to an island when you have the entire Athenian Riviera coastline to explore.
It was a glorious late summer day. We rented a car and drove all the way to the southern tip of the Attic peninsula, with Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon as our final destination.
And yes, on another day we did make it to a nearby island. We opted for pedestrian Hydra, so we can spend the day meandering on foot and taking it all in.
I didn’t want to make this an extremely long post, so will try to share more images and details on these two locations in future posts.
Have you been to Athens before? What did you think about it?