I am often challenged. “Why don’t you give that stinking ‘souvlaki hell’ a miss?” my friends ask when I say I am going to Athens.
With some, the city has acquired a bad reputation. But ever since the Olympic Games in 2004, Athens has become a much friendlier place to visit.
The center is almost free of cars, air pollution has significantly dropped, old shabby quarters of the city have been revived to their former glory and it seems as though the taxi drivers and dustmen have been sent to finishing school. Shops and society spots have been revamped to become modern and hip, while new creations are rising like blocks of feta in a Greek salad from remnants of 1950s architecture.
These changes may have improved the city but thankfully the soul of old Athens has survived intact. The city’s charm lies in an intriguing and beguiling mix of ancient culture and the unparalleled Greek lifestyle, which has been overseen by the Acropolis for 2,500 years.
On Saturday morning Mikrolimano hipsters shop for the sharpest local and foreign designer clothes in the stylish Kolonaki neighborhood. The area has always been well-heeled, but a facelift of nearby shops and the promenade through Ermou has made it even more attractive.
The prime place to be seen or just people-watch is the terrace of the Da Capo café. Soap-stars mix with politicians, rich-kids, call-girls in designer furs and anybody else who can cut it… or wants to. The café terrace is a favorite meeting place for Greek. Meeting friends, doing business, falling in or out, of love, it all happens here.
When there’s nothing going on, the locals get vocal and shout about politics, football, cars and each other. The real heroes enjoy the scene with a cup of strong, dark, muddy Greek coffee. Don’t call it Turkish coffee: the Greek will get very emotional and point out to you that they opened the first café in Istanbul in the 15th century. The national drink, however, is frappe: frothy ice coffee. Da Capo have called their version cappuccino freddo and think that the name makes it worth the high prices they charge.
Around the north-eastern slopes of the Acropolis hill, historic neighborhoods of Anafiotika and Plaka are ideal for strolling and taking in the history of the temples and archaeology. Walking through the deserted market of the Ancient Agora you can almost hear Socrates and Plato spreading their philosophies. Even the recently-built metro stations are mini-museums and show off treasures unearthed during excavation. Athens presents itself as super-cool and romantic. And it works.
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