Over the past two years, my visit to Athens has been postponed a half dozen times, due to Covid. Well, Greece opens up to tourists on May 14. When will I get there? May 14! I plan to fly into Athens from northern Europe, and spend a week here, splitting my time between Athens and the island of Santorini. You are probably amazed that I have not been to Greece heretofore.
Rather than take you back to Neolithic Age, Pericles, the Ottomans and Greece’s long (3400 years old) and colorful history (you can refresh your European history on your own), let’s just focus on the present. Athens became the capital of the modern Greek state in 1834. Best of all, the city’s historic center has been converted into the largest pedestrian zone in Europe.
Let’s save the Acropolis and its surrounding area for another email. The core of the historic center is called The Plaka (northern side of the Acropolis). The narrow streets are said to remind people of a time machine with ancient monuments, churches, Turkish baths, museums, and interesting tavernas. Which ones do you think I will visit? The Plaka is the best place to shop in the city.
Moving on to Monasteraki, with more narrow streets and small buildings, this is the home to the city’s traditional bazaar (Yousouroum). And of course, nearby are a plethora of bars, tavernas, ouzeris, and clubs. This is the center of the city’s nightlife.
Nearby lies the “heart” of the historical and commercial center along Ermou Street, home to over 2500 shops of all shapes and sizes. The area is also home to the Town Hall, the Municipal Market (meat, fish, and veggies), and Kotzias Square.
Closer to the Acropolis is the Makriyanni neighborhood, with smaller museums, and loaded with bars, cafes, and restaurants. Downtown with Syntagma and Omonia Squares dominate the neoclassical buildings. The area is home to the Greek Parliament, the National Garden, monuments, and the stadium where the first Olympic Games were held (1896).
The various neighborhoods create stunning panoramic views of the city. Everyone says to avoid the suburbs (just like any big city). Greater Athens has an area of 165 square miles. Athenians do not consider themselves to be a mix of European and Asian cultures, they want to be Greek or Athenian!
Surprisingly, Athens is considered the hottest city in Europe, with an average summer temperature of 94 degrees F. The Olympics in 2004 started a dramatic makeover for Athens, including a massive transportation infrastructure, public transportation, and the new international airport.
I hesitate to give you too much history and geography. It is definitely the people here in Athens who make the city so lively and interesting. Greeks are friendly and hospitable (courteous) to a fault. They also believe in intellect, intuition, artistry, and a healthy respect for the past. But perhaps more than anything else, Greeks love to drink, dance, and eat. My kind of people!
I have always enjoyed Greek and Mediterranean food. This is a great opportunity to widen my taste and wine palate. I look forward!
Just to whet your appetite for Greece, here is a list of their ten most famous writers and philosophers: Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Socrates, Aristophanes, Aristotle, Nikos Kazantzakis, George Seferis, and Yanis Varoufakis. I remember reading some of these in high school: Thesius and the Minotaur, Perseus kills Medusa, Poseidon, Athena, Zeus, and Apollo.
On the other side of their personality, Greeks are also verbose and intense in conversations. They love and respect logic. They also exhibit great charm, and may ask a rather personal question, just to get to know you. While these may be rather generalized personality traits, I found it rather refreshing, compared to Americans back home.