Strolling in Athens
- Submitted by: Terje Raa, Denmark
- Website: http://www.zuvuya.net/capa_b_lista.asp?menu=2
- Submission Date: 30th Aug 2005
The Greek capital has squares for every taste. Squares for the rich, squares for druggies, squares for shopping and squares for rest. Moving between them can easily be done on foot, accompanied by an incessant traffic noise.
Omonia Square is a good place to wake up early; oversleeping is prevented by its thundering traffic. After being a building site for years, due to the new Metro, Omonia has healed its wounds and is surrounded by renovated buildings, sparkling with glass and attractive colors. The Athenians have no eye for the splendors, because they are too busy walking against red lights, although the drivers, by accelerating and braking violently, do their best to intimidate them into staying on the pavement.
The Athinas Street, with the Acropolis perched on its rock in the distance, is a practical way out of Omonia. Half-way, a crush of people and a cacophony of male voices calling out today's offers, reveal where the fish and meat market is. Admittedly, it's not a traditional market square; the meat section goes on for three streets covered by a leaky old roof and encircles the fish market. It could be a madhouse - the butchers and fishmongers are yelling like mad and madly brandishing their knives and axes, smeared in blood.
Continuing down the Athinas and turning left at the street of Ermou, the yellow neoclassical Parliament building appears on top of a rise. In front of it, the other main junction of Athens is situated, Syntagma Square, once covered with outdoor cafes under shady trees. Fastfood has taken over, luckily relegated to the lower end of the square, where the customers get waves of roaring traffic into the bargain. The most spectacular sight is below the ground, a Metro station adorned with archaeological artefacts unearthed during its construction.
Away from Traffic
The Lycabettus Hill towers on the left, so attractive when you are nearly choking on traffic fumes. There is also an alternative escape, more nearby. By ascending a flight of steps and crossing another traffic artery, Amalias Avenue, you may seek refuge on the upper part of Syntagma, right in front of the Parliament, previously the royal castle. This is the ideal place for studying a certain category of Greek men, the Evzones, members of the Presidential Guard, dressed in pleated skirts and practicing a very special way of walking while honoring an unknown colleague in his tomb.
Behind the Parliament, the National Garden is waiting, the King's former private garden. If viewed from the Lycabettus, the garden resembles a large green square. It's a well organized jungle, really, traversed by paths and dotted with small squares, where people meet to relax and speak their minds, turning these squares into a kind of miniature parliaments. In case the politicians need a first-hand knowledge of the public opinion, they should definitely take a stroll in the park.
Inside the main entrance, immediately after the row of huge palms, there is a popular little parliament, a well-hidden spot protected by trees, supplied with new benches and a water tap. The majority of its members are retired men in their Sunday best. When bothered by endless, boring monologues, some of them doze off, others pretend to listen but are actually busy watching those who come to fill plastic bottles at the tap, or to cool off their hands and arms or just freshen up their faces under the running water.
A pleasant way to leave the park is through an oasis of a cafe at the Irodou Attikou Street. Walking upwards from there and proceeding straight forward brings you to Kolonaki Square, so posh that neither beggars nor stray cats dare get near it. The sloping tiny square is largely occupied by parked cars and a diminutive park in the middle. The residents' balconies, heavy with verdant greenery, compete against glossy boutiques of designer clothes to catch the eye.
One side of the square is dominated by cafes and restaurants. Due to lack of space, they have spread into the side street Tsakalof, on whose corner lies the self-service cafe DaCapo. The canopy outside will never blow down, for its pole is a solid tree trunk, encircled by a white plastic roof. It's good form to appreciate the surroundings and the meal by leaving a tip, which ends up in a glass jar on the counter inside, mainly crumpled notes of five Euros, indicating that the locals are well heeled and don't mind showing it.
Night in Plaka
Evening in Athens usually means Plaka, the car-free old town at the foot of the Acropolis. It's crowded with tourists of course, but tracking down quiet spots is still possible. Diogenous Street, paralell to the main street of Adrianou, rises sharply and then expands into a nameless little square sporting thriving trees and the tavern Platanos, a family tavern from 1932, run by two aging brothers. The traditional dishes are excellent, prices reasonable and the environment a true paradise.
The waiters, dressed in white shirts and black trousers, are rather self-assured; with good reason, it seems, as they work in nothing less than a cult place. They use their strong shoulders to transport food on oversized trays to the opposite side of the square. One of the brothers sits in the doorway tonight holding his head, apparently suffering from the heat, while the other walks around berating the staff who had forgotten the wilting flowers, so he starts watering them himself.
Following the Adrianou upwards and turning left at the Kidathineon Street, leads to a real square: Filomouson Square. Here, beautiful buildings, tall trees, soft lighting and a quiet street life merge into pure harmony. Cafe Sikinos is part of the harmony, an ancient and proud cafe, a status reflected in the exorbitant price of beer. The waiters look tired at this point. In better form is Dimitris, director of Cine Paris, an open-air cinema on the roof. He is checking tickets down at the entrance, eagerly puffing on a cigarette which he constantly rotates with his tongue.
A night walk towards Omonia Square is a perfect way to end the day. The actual center of Omonia, in the good old days a park with flowers and benches, has been covered by flagstones and is at night invaded by druggies. In the small hours, magic moments may occur, just seconds long, when the traffic comes to a complete standstill, making it possible to hear the metallic Olympic rings move sideways in the tall new monument. Reminding the druggies, perhaps, that their own special sport will hardly ever become an Olympic discipline.
Other travelogues by the same author:
- Dubrovnik on a Silver Platter
- Croatia in Peace and Quiet
- Denmark's Darling
- Collecting Empties in Copenhagen
- Copenhagen from Top to Toe
- Christmas in Copenhagen
- Good Old Copenhagen
- Glossy Greece
- Affluent Athens
- Next Stop Paros
- Greece on a Small Scale
- Greek Maiden Voyage
- Aegean's First Lady
- Among Pigs' Feet in Athens
- Greek Low Season
- Queens of Amsterdam
- The Bottom of Oslo
- Coimbra: Portugal's Student City
- Three-Dimensional Spain
- Queen of Madrid
- Spains Scary Corner
- An Image of Sweden