Athens: Summer In The City
As we sit at the airport lounge, sipping on some dry Greek white wine, we are trying to gather our last few days in Athens into coherent chapters. The truth is the trip has just begun to sink in and it may take us another 2,500 years to comprehend how glorious this city really is.
In the middle of our trip, we were sitting on the operating table of a private hospital in Kolonaki getting stitched up for a minor fall on the metro enroute to the Acropolis, and the doctor asked, “So which of the islands are you going to?” Our response was “None at all.” This trip was to start in Athens, continue in Athens, and end in Athens. Why would we go somewhere else when people have been fighting over this beautiful land for so many years?
Our version of Athens is neither a guide book nor is it a check list. The beauty of Athens is in its unpredictability and the striking co-existence of grunge and beauty. Graffiti exists alongside structures that are over 2,000 years old. The people of Greece are gracious, warm and welcoming with “Kalimera” and “Kalispera” ringing in the air depending on the time of day. Summer is the ‘glorious’ period of the year and everything and everyone spills out on to the streets. It’s almost as if the city becomes alfresco and you need to ask if you want to dine indoors. We highly recommend that most of your exploration be done on foot -- most of the stuff we loved we stumbled upon only because we were on foot.
A great city, whose image dwells in the memory of man, is the type of some great idea. Rome represents conquest; Faith hovers over the towers of Jerusalem; and Athens embodies the pre-eminent quality of the antique world, Art. - Benjamin Disraeli
We also found an incredible airbnb to stay in - an absolute gem in the hilly and posh Kolonaki neighborhood, one of the most beautiful we have ever stayed in. It is managed by two brothers who have preserved it exactly as their grandmother had designed it, transporting us back in time and making for a very unique stay.
Athenian time machine: Nikolas and Alex’s beautiful airbnb in Kolonaki
As avid travelers we have always believed that the greatest form of travel is to see a city through a local’s eyes. Thanks to Dimitris, our most memorable meal was not from the lonely planet, nor the Michelin big gourmand guide; it was a 12 seater ‘cantina’ located on the roof of an office building with 4 items on the menu: beef, salad, potatoes and omelette. The owners were the chefs and the food was authentic, delicious and made to order. Accompanied by the local beer, Alpha, and beautiful views of the Acropolis, we felt what it was like to be a local in Athens on a beautifully sunny slow work day.
While Athens has a fantastic coffee culture with great coffee to be had almost everywhere, our favorite discovery was Kaya. We didn’t find this in a guide book and nor was it a recommendation. We stumbled upon it while zig zagging through downtown Athens. The beauty of this tiny coffee shop located very close to Syntagma Square lies is its transparency and open design; with floor to ceiling glass forming the exterior façade of the shop and an inner counter that doesn’t face the customer but the back wall, standing outside the shop one can lean on the railing with a coffee and watch the baristas work the magic. They were gourmand but had no air of pretension too them. In fact, we bought dessert from next door and the head barista actually came out to hand us tissues as we proceeded to devour it while standing at his shop.
Here is a short list of other things we loved:
- Acropolis, Pantheon and the Panathenaic stadium near the national garden - top 3 must see sights
- Souvlaki, gyros, kalamaki - we would urge you to figure out the differences between these (this can be more challenging than it seems). Cabbies are the best to ask for recommendations, several of whom directed us to great local spots. The guide books and online articles often failed us here.
- Lemon cake for dessert - available at most decent bakeries
- ‘Freddo’ cappuccino – an iced cappuccino with an added layer of wonderfully creamy milk foam on top
- Meat pies at Ariston's (perfect to buy before or after kaya and carry into the park)
- A meal at the local restaurant on the steps at Dexamini - we loved the marinated octopus
- Amazingly fresh and succulent cherries that were in season when we visited (June)
This was on the list but we never got a chance to try:
- Hotel Grande Bretagne is the "grandest" of Athen hotels - Built in 1862, was the Nazi headquarters in WW2 and it even was where there was an attempt to blow up Winston Churchill. We would recommend a drink at the highest bar and then a souvlaki on the street next door (love when dinner is cheaper than a drink)
- Food truck next to Crowne Plaza hotel - apparently it's packed, underground and amazing
- Open air cinema in the park - we couldn't make the film times work
- Diporto Agoras - dive restaurant with apparently incredible food - 2 non descript doors located in a rustic cellar
- Concert in Odeon of Herodes Atticus (built in AD 161 and still holds concerts with stunning views of the acropolis in the background)
- A great way to break the walking journey in the day is to spend an hour at the hammam (http://www.hammam.gr)