Athens, you were kind of cool when all is said and done…
There’s a lot of places I’d like to visit and a lot of places I’d really, really like to visit, Athens falls into the former category and wouldn’t be my first choice for a 15-year anniversary trip. However, seeing as the capital of Greece was a forerunner on Etina’s (Athina) bucket list, it became an obvious choice for the trip.
I’m very glad I went, as Athens is one of those cities that creeps up on you unawares, which may sound strange when you think that the Acropolis dominates the view from every angle (we even had a view from the hotel), but it’s a little more complex than that. Yes, you have the Acropolis and Zeus’ temple, and Ancient Agora, etc. but you have a city which, although doesn’t wow you with the rest of its architecture, charms you before you know it.
My first thought was, ‘this is a bit grim isn’t it’, kind of dirty, dusty, hazy and not unlike several other cities low down on my to-visit list. Soon after though the character of the city starts creeping through, permeating the haze and the dust and the grime, and transforming the city into a whole other beast, colour and style, history and culture all to the fore and it’s then you start getting a feel of where you are.
Standing in the shadow of giants on Acropolis hill (most significantly, the Parthenon) gives a sense of just how insignificant we all are but also how destructive we are and how wilfully we destroy things that others have taken years to build. Mentioned quite often on the information plaques and on videos in the museum was the great thief, Lord Elgin, who took advantage of making off with several statues and works of art from the area, refusing to return them when the Greeks requested their history back. These artefacts can now be found in the British Museum and are yet another reminder of just how much we Brits have to apologise for…
The people are, on the whole, cheery and friendly but our main interaction, in truth, was within the tourist industry and bars, shops, restaurants. Coffee was incredibly expensive and at times was as pricey as Sweden (no mean feat), food was great (lamb dishes and various cheeses, were my highlights), and both of us fell for the Christmas biccies: Kourambiedes, heavenly biscuits filled with almonds and coated with a sprinkling of icing sugar…delish!
The more we walked around Athens (we pretty much only walked, save the obligatory open top bus tour), the more we realised the spider web network of streets linked each other far more than we could even fathom, it was like one minute we were at the other end of the Acropolis (our mainstay landmark), and all of a sudden we were directly under it ordering a coffee. Streets were filled with numerous bars and restaurants until turning a corner into a dark street (without even streetlights) before then turning again and hitting a plethora of bars. And it kept happening, all over the place, the ultimate pot pourri of street life. The design of the bars and the cafés were the same, with no two alike (except for the chains, which included the dirge of the local scene, Starbucks).
Ermou was my absolute favourite street, due to just how manic and all over the place it was (especially in the Monastraki and Ancient Agora areas). There were people everywhere, jostling for parking spaces (Greek parking is a must-see), running up and down the streets, shouting to and at each other, blocking each other in before having a chat about the weather. There were second-hand shops all over the street, selling junk (and finds) of all kinds. I was walking in a daze, carried on on some kind of manic euphoria, my cosy Western European (lately more Northern European) eyes unable to send all the messages to my brain quick enough. I was entrenched between an adrenaline rush of epic proportions and needing to go and have a quiet moment to digest it all – I forced the adrenaline rush to take over and decided to digest it all later on (I didn’t regret it).
Food and drink prices, on the whole (coffee excepted), were reasonable and not up to the extortionate prices which were claimed by many Trip Advisor reviewers on their stay. Sure, it was expensive if you are expecting Eastern European prices (as Slovakia it is not), but travelling around in the EU zone, prices are generally not as different as they used to be.
This was not the only negative with Trip Advisor unfortunately as I was constantly reading reviews which claimed views such as “Rude staff, expensive and not that good”, whilst also giving the restaurant in question a four-out-of-five-star grade, making it very hard to know what people liked. The lowest grade for one of the cafés we visited was 3.5 and the highest, 5. It seems like all of the places in Athens are recommended.
The places we went to were varied, like their designs, but were mostly managed by polite staff, the orders usually came in a reasonable time and we were only subject to the ‘extras charge’ once, as most places either asked us if we wanted extras, or gave us complementary bread and olives.
We ran (slowly), we walked, we explored (most of the areas) and we savoured the expensive coffee and the OK Greek beer (the highlight was finding some Belgium beer in one of the restaurants) and had a cracking time. Thankfully we were rewarded for the risk of not keeping with tradition and visiting Italy, as we had for our first anniversary (Rome, Florence), and tenth (Bergamo, Verona, Venice and Milan). We didn’t travel on our fifth anniversary, as Maddoc was only eight months old.
The question now, I suppose, is what do we do for the 20th anniversary trip? Keep an eye out!