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Athens

Athens

Cheap city breaks to Athens

 

Athens is probably the one that has changed the most in recent years. But even though Athens has become a modern metropolis, it still retains a good deal of its old small town feel. Here antiquity meets the future, and the ancient monuments form a classical backdrop to a new and trendier Athens – and it is precisely these great contrasts that make the city such a fascinating place to explore.

Athens heyday was around 400 years BC—that’s when most of the classical monuments were built.

During the Byzantine and Turkish eras, the city decayed into just an insignificant little village, only to become the capital of newly-liberated Greece in 1833. Ahead of the 2004 Olympics, almost the entire infrastructure was transformed—the Metro, trams, new ring roads and viaducts have eased the pressure of the heavy traffic.

Athens is still a rather messy and chaotic place—it wouldn’t be Athens otherwise—and despite all the improvements, still retains a great deal of its oriental charm. The whole coastal stretch from Piraeus to the old Hellenikon airport has been improved with new plantings, viaducts and paths for walking. The Plaka quarter is becoming more popular and is on the way to catching up with Psyrri, Gazi and Rouf as regards restaurants. Discover the right places in the Anafiotika district, at the feet of the Acropolis, and you will find it still has a village feel in the midst of the city. In Exarchia, there is still a somewhat in-your-face anarchic atmosphere around the Technical University. Meanwhile, Kolonaki is becoming more and more chic.

Discover the right places in the Anafiotika district, at the feet of the Acropolis, and you will find it still has a village feel in the midst of the city. In Exarchia, there is still a somewhat in-your-face anarchic atmosphere around the Technical University.

In the Psyrri district, the former handicraft workshops have been converted to trendy restaurants and cafés, and this has continued out to Gazi and Rouf. Many chefs came ‘home’ from Australia or America, carrying granny’s recipes in their luggage, and were appalled at the Turkish menus. You can still find simple taverns serving good home fare, but it is the ”new” Greek cuisine that has been winning all the laurels.

Athenians love to sit in a kafeneion, sipping Greek coffee or frappé, iced coffee. But these days the new fashion for caffe latte and cappuccino is gaining ground. Try also an ouzerie- an establishment specializing in small dishes (mezes), mostly served with Greek ouzo, hence the name. They are not that common any more, usually they come in combinations such as mezedopolio-ouzerie (more like a restaurant), Café/ouzeries or kafeneion-ouzerie (serving coffee and ouzo).

Athens is not really a city of fine bars – for that you should visit some of the international hotels. On the other hand, there are lots of combined bars/cafés that serve both. Often combined with some food, as it is the Greek custom to eat a little snack to go with drinks. In the summer, much of the night life moves out to Glyfada and Vouliagmenis along the coast.

The best shopping streets are Voukourestiou, Patriarhou Ioakim, Skoufa, Tsakalof, Kanari and the side streets around Kolonaki. There are many designer clothes, expensive boutiques and jewellers. Try, for example, Emporiko Centro, an exclusive galleria of several floors with gold, ties, clocks and watches, glasses and a Gucci boutique. In this area is also Old Athens—a shoe and handbag shop with a 1960s flavour, when ladies wore gloves and pearl necklaces à la Jackie O and Maria Callas. The shop owner was a fashion editor before setting up on his own, putting Greek handmade accessories on the map.

In the middle of Athinas street which runs between Monastiraki and Omonia square is the covered market hall which occupies a whole block, with a fish market in the middle. All around are butchers and spice shops, and around the market are several simple but good places to eat. Like onion soup in the Paris markets, here you eat patsa or tripe soup to ease the effects of ouzo. You will also find little shops selling specialties like Pastourma (a kind of Pastrami) and Armenian and Russian specialties brought here by the Greeks who once resided in the Black Sea region and now belong to the Greek cuisine. This is the area to go if you are a foodie.

 

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