Everything everybody says: it’s true.
Athens is dirty. There’s graffiti, like, everywhere. It seems dangerous, although my jury’s out on whether it actually is.
(Many places in Europe seem dangerous, just because the lights go down and you’ve never been there before. Chances are, one of your idiotic friends had his phone, wallet, and camera stolen from his own naivete, and he just couldn’t stop blabbing to you about his terrible Europe is for that sort of thing. Meanwhile, you still won’t leave your shopping cart alone at your squeaky clean suburban grocery store.)
So, if you’ve come to Athens to hate it, then congratulations. You’ll succeed.
Now, for the rest of you… Athens is amazing. It’s historic. It’s the founding of our modern world (you know, the North American version).
The markets that finger out from the downtown “core” (it’s just a square) and stem toward the Acropolis and the Parthenon are easy to maneuvre and lower maintenance than even Florence or Porto.
Athens is Europe’s Thailand. It’s an escape from standards that is just so happy to cater to your need for hospitality at this very moment.
After all, Greece ain’t doing so well. Their shopkeepers know it. They know they have to be nice to you – charming, even – and they know you won’t want to pay a lot for your Gyro, Pita, or Greek Salad.
You’ll be shocked at how close the Acropolis is. It seriously is right downtown. If you don’t walk it, you’re wasting times in your shoes.
You’ll be shocked at how spacious their Starbucks is. You can spend hours there, having your name spelled incorrectly and in Greek character on the outside of your cappuccino.
You’ll be shocked at how damn good the food is. Not that the Greeks can’t cook – because they really, truly can – but you’d expect four-dollar sandwiches or salads to come with a hair or a nasty paper plate.
They don’t. They’re luscious and tasty and sometimes delicious, and they’re made even better because the chefs don’t seem to think it’s very difficult to pull off. We try and try and try to cook even Mac & Cheese in North America. Meanwhile, the Greeks slap together some kind of life-changing dish without even turning on their brain.
If you can, grab a bed at what I can only assume is the city’s finest hostel, AthenStyle. It’s located a street across from the city’s downtown centre (streets here are, like, five feet wide and soaked with scooters and pedestrians) and it’s lobby is waiting for you to pass out in one of its welcoming hammocks.
The rooftop bar is its shining glory – happy hour is two hours long and cheap as hell. Mythos flows from the taps in the biggest glasses you could imagine (sorry, Munich, but these guys win). When the sun starts to go down, you don’t want to miss spending a solid and worthwhile three hours up there, staring at the Acropolis – which can be viewed in full bore from AthensStyle’s roof.
You’ll see that Parthenon thing set against the backdrop of the sky behind it, and from 7 o’clock to 10, you’ll see it go from blue to pink to purple to red and then to black. Don’t worry, though – Athens’s most famous sight stays lit up all night long. You can see it from anywhere, but don’t take it for granted.
When you’re at the apex – way up high near the Parthenon and the Temple of Athena Nike (you know, the shoe company) – you’ll have the greatest of any city anywhere.
And, from up there, Athens really is quite beautiful. It’s like a haircut that hides a thinning palate. From above, it all looks perfect.
It’s all white-washed roofs and balconies that dot a sunny paradise to one side, and an ocean, port, and beaches behind you. The Greek flag flies higher than the temples, and it somehow stands out greater, too.
Keep turning and spinning and soak it all in – you won’t get up there again anytime soon, and you’ll need patience to get over the hounds of Brits and other overweight tourists who push and shove you up and down the stairs that ascend and descend both from and to the city.
The same can be said for Athens, itself.
If your head’s in the wrong place, you can easily find something wrong with it. You’ll easily start looking forward to your next stop – perhaps somewhere more exotic and somewhere still in Greece, like mine was – and you’ll completely forget where you are.
You’ll forget that Athens is the home of democracy, the home of custom-made sandals, and the home of olives in every-damn-thing.
Just enjoy it. If you let it be what it is, you can enjoy it the way you’re meant to.
*Photos from AthenStyle.com