Old Habits Die Hard in Athens – Part 1
Sunday at Zappeion and the National Garden
Those who grew up in the central neighbourhoods of Athens have spent endless Sundays at the National Garden lake, feeding pop-corn to the ducks and swans. Our childhood hours at the nearby Zappeion playground were accompanied by balloons and rooster-shaped lollipops of bright red caramel.
Selfies with Evzones
Just a stone’s throw from the National Garden you’ll find the Parliament, with the Evzones Guard donning the traditional foustanela kilt. Every few hours, it’s time for the ceremonial change of the guard with pronounced, precise, synchronised moves, which attracts passers-by. It’s one of the most well-known tourist attractions of Athens – visitors seem unable to leave without a selfie with a seemingly impossible to distract evzonas.
From the Real Thing to the Figurines
The small, usually rectangular wooden kiosks on street corners are an essential part of the mosaic of everyday Athens. Everyone knows there’s always a periptero nearby, ready to cover every unexpected need or desire. From painkillers and ice-cream to freshly printed Sunday papers late on Saturdays, a periptero sells everything and stays open most hours – if not 24/7. At many, you’ll find souvenirs and mementos such as evzones keychains, wise owl figurines and ancient Greek busts. Athenians who’ve had a few near Syntagma often joke about heading to a periptero to buy “a pack of cigarettes, a box of matches and a bust of Perikles” – the essentials, in other words!
The Tremendous Mini Cheese Pie
After a night of drinking you need a good breakfast in order to enjoy your walk through the city, even if it’s to go. A traditional cheese pie that’s 108 years old but remains the freshest in town is definitely a miracle in our book! Ariston bakery (10 Voulis str) serves the oldest and best-loved snack in the city: A cheese filo pie in fluffy pastry whose buttery smell brings back childhood memories.
Aromas of the East on Evripidou
Down Evripidou Street you’ll meet the most fragrant street of the historic centre. Intersecting Athinas next to the large meat and produce markets, Evripidou has been host to spice and nut shops for decades, as well as to others selling freshly ground coffee and to all sorts of delis, which attract a mixed crowd that ranges from refined gourmands to old-school housewives. If you enjoy photographing people in candid everyday moments, don’t forget to bring your camera with you. This is where Athens reveals one of its most authentic sides, where Greece explores its unpretentious oriental past without hesitation or judgement, leaving behind Western influences for a while.
Antique Stores, the Temples of Nostalgia
At Monastiraki, browsing the antiques of Avisinias Square shops is nothing short of a journey through time, calling at elegant inter-war lounges, teenage rooms of the ‘70s and urban Athenian flats of the ‘60s. If you enjoy the smell of old paper and wood, if you love exploring marginalia in second-hand books or if you believe that objects hold something of the soul of their past owners, you’re sure to spend endless hours exploring the treasures of these stores.
Chestnuts and Koulouri
Oh, how time flies! By now you must be a bit peckish – you want something small that packs a lot of flavour. One of the most typical smells of Athenian winter is that of the chestnut cart. It’s impossible to pass by one of these street vendors and resist the urge to stop and buy a paper cup full of chestnuts. As for the absolute staple of Athenian street food, it’s none other than koulouri, a round, crisp sesame bread available to buy on the street or at bakeries. Some will also give you a small triangle cheese to eat it with.
But let’s not kid ourselves! The most popular, fluffy and famous koulouri in Athens is at Elias’ Bakery (27-29 Karaiskaki str) in Psyri. Open 24 hours, this bakery captivates the senses with fresh koulouri, sugar-covered dough balls, and raisin bread baked at the break of dawn. You’re sure to see bar patrons heading here in droves to enjoy the day’s first snack after a night of drinking.