City Walks! – Part 1
Welcome to Athens, the most ancient contemporary city in the world! No matter how busy it seems at first glance, it will always find a way to reward, to enchant, to pleasantly surprise. Well-kept secrets as well as famous landmarks await at the turn of a corner. This city has a cure for every problem. When walking in Athens, keep your senses heightened. The city will not disappoint.
The downtown arcades hide surprises: Hidden wine bars and cocktails bars discovered through word-of-mouth, shops full of unusual objects, delicatessens and more. Like any strong personality, Athens too has many secrets, often hidden in the city’s arcades. She’s ready to reveal it to those willing to go beyond the surface in their urban explorations.
If Lewis Carol lived in present-day Athens, he’d base a contemporary version of Alice in Wonderland on it. If you’re open to new experiences, one thing is for sure: At every step of the way, you’ll meet interesting, curious people with stories to tell, and karmic signs and omens hidden on a playing card lying on the pavement, in graffiti, in the store sign of an upscale drinking hole. Keep your eyes peeled and let Athens work her magic and reveal her wonders.
Plaka, Athens’ Postcard
A classic choice, every inch of Plaka resembles a postcard. Characteristic and photogenic, you won’t get enough of photographing it. Every one of your posts from Plaka will land you many jealous likes from your friends. Here, you’ll find dozens of souvenir shops which in recent years, thanks to new designers and creatives, go beyond the stereotypical.
Plates of king-size moussaka and Greek salads come and go at the clustered together tavernas. Syrtaki music at every step. When I walk the cobbled streets of Plaka with friends, one of our favourite games is unexpectedly grabbing each other to dance at the sound of traditional music, giving tourists a DIY stereotypical photo-op… Pretending that yes, as soon as we hear some music, we Greeks burst into dancing. Propagating the legend of partying, outgoing Greeks. Which is not too far from the truth, to be honest.
For coffee, homemade sweets and food, we recommend the stunning Yiasemi, whose tables are spread on the steps of Mnisikleous Street. If you’re in the mood for a walk uphill, you’ll reach Anafiotika, perhaps the most beautiful neighbourhood in Athens, built in the very image of the Cyclades island of Anafi. Here, lucky residents sit in their gardens and greet you when you walk by.
The National Garden is a green oasis in the heart of the city. Centenarian trees and unique classical buildings link the modern world to Ancient Greece (Zappeion-Temple of Olympian Zeus-Arch of Hadrian).This impressive garden was designed in 1839 by the very first Queen of Greece – Queen Amalia – herself, who planned to make them the gardens of the royal palace of the time (which is now the Greek Parliament). To this purpose, about 500 different types of plants were transported to Athens from all five continents – a rather risky move, considering Athens’ dry climate can be lethal to plants not used to it. Still, the venture was a success, and the reason for this gorgeous jungle of tall centenarian trees among thick bushes and climbing plants.
Make your way downhill to end up in front of the Kallimarmaro – also known as the Panathenaic Stadium – which hosted the first ever modern Olympic Games in 1896. If, however, you want to take a more secret path around the Kallimarmaro area, take Archimidous Street to Mets, where you’ll find an entrance leading to its back and the stunning Ardittos Hill, ample opportunity for rejuvenating forest walks and views from above without leaving the heart of Athens.
Besides the forest itself, a walk farther on Archimidous Street is also rewarding – on both its sides, as well as nearby streets you’ll find some of the most beautiful houses in Athens. This is where Athenians from other parts of the city go when they want to marvel at houses with gardens, beautifully decorated roofs and tall walls covered in ivy and other climbing vines, fantasising about living in such a house one day.
If you want to get to the highest spot in the city, Lykavitos, you only need to head to Kolonaki (66 Ploutarchou str) and take the cable car that will transport you to an altitude of 277 metres. On Lykavitos beautiful green paths abound, and there’s also coffee and food. From up here, you’ll have a birds-eye view of an Athens charming in its juxtapositions, irresistible thanks to its ancient history and contemporary worldview.
V for Vintage
To be perfectly honest, before the economic crisis Athenians weren’t fans of vintage clothing – they wanted everything to be new, out-of-the-box. When money started becoming a problem, the need for cheaper options finally opened the up to the charm of second-hand objects.
You can find impressive clothes, shoes and accessories at remarkably low prices at Kilo Shop (120 Ermou str), Gouadeloupi, Treasure House and Like Yesterday’s at numbers 12, 6 and 16 of Protogenous Street in Psyri respectively. At number 8 is Paliosynithies, which sells furniture, lamps and smaller objects that could be the envy of the most experienced set designer.
Vinyl is also making a dynamic comeback to Athenian homes. They’ve gone back to buying record players or repairing their old ones. Guess what: There’s a very up-to-date vinyl shop on the same street, at number 13 of the small but extraordinary Protogenous. Its name? Syd Records!
The Yoga Trend
Of course, a busy metropolis like Athens could only turn to yoga to release the tension of the stressful grind. Spiti Yoga at 6 Leocharous Street is a stunning, hospitable loft conversion, where you can attend yoga classes as well as have Thai massage by appointment.
(To be continued…)
photos 1,2,5 © Dimitris Skigopoulos / www.skigophotography.com