On our very last night in Athens, Porter and I made the fifteen minute or so trip from our hotel to Plaka at around six thirty. We’d been experimenting with taking photos at “golden hour” (dusk) more and more, and our hope was that, at closing, The Acropolis would be a little less crowded. We were right. I don’t love the word “special” but we are currently on hour five of a midnight ferry to the small Greek island of Folegandros, and that is the only word that’s coming to mind. It was really, really, tremendously special. The weather that night was perfect, about seventy five degrees with a hot summer breeze, and, just as we were hoping, most of the tourists and tour groups had already cleared out. What we didn’t know that I instantly became so grateful for, too, was that the guards who announce closing do so for a solid forty-five minutes or so. Most people will leave after the first announcement is made, but those on private tours with guides who make the trip there nearly daily linger for a bit longer, as did the half dozen or so photographers that were up there that night (including us).
I really don’t like crowds, and neither does Porter. If I go to a place, even somewhere I’ve had on my bucket list to see for a very long time, crowds make me want to turn around almost immediately. My biggest fear heading to the Acropolis was that it would be swamped, and that people would linger there to watch the sunset. For some reason, the exact opposite happened. I’m thinking maybe it’s because the sunset time was right around when people, especially tourists, were starting to think about getting ready for or heading to dinner. Whatever it was, we were grateful, and we had the entire place almost to ourselves. It was kind of a dream scenario, and with the hazy light and all the dust that gets kicked up around those ancient monuments, it looked dreamlike (I like to think the photos show that, too).
But this post isn’t meant to just be about that night, but our time in Athens overall. More importantly, what we loved about the city, and what we think you can’t miss. I mentioned this briefly in a couple of our other recent posts, but, in my experience, Athens isn’t a city that generally gets a lot of hype. I talked to a lot of people who have visited and felt like the consensus was that it was a special city in certain areas but that, overall, it was dirty, less architecturally attractive than other European capitals, and, to be honest, kind of sketchy. For some reason, probably because we hadn’t been to a big capital city in a couple of weeks, Porter and I kind of pushed that aside and were really really excited the night we flew in. Our expectations were high, and I was praying the city would deliver. Fortunately, I think in large part due to the section of the city our hotel was in and its proximity to the areas we really wanted to check out, it definitely did. We would’ve happily stayed in Athens for a week more. We loved it. Here are a few reasons why:
The Food – I love Greek food, as does Porter. For me, it’s based a lot on the fact that they use a lot more sheep cheeses than cow cheeses, since I’m lactose intolerant (but only to cow’s milk – there’s a word for this I think, but I’m drawing a blank) I love that gin Greece I can try a lot more things and know that I won’t hurt my stomach. Porter and I both fell in love with a few different Greek restaurants in Boston right before leaving, (okay, one of them is super cheap Greek takeaway, but still, really good) so we were both looking forward to good, clean, healthy Greek food; simple, delicious, local ingredients, and menus where there were always a few things we knew we loved and a few things we knew we wanted to try. What we weren’t expecting was the Athens health food scene. In Kolonaki – the section we highly recommend anyone visiting stays in, there were health food stores, and vegan juice bars, and restaurants with amazing “raw” options absolutely everywhere. There were way more options than even Boston has – and I really wasn’t expecting that. Athens gets a lot of points in my book for that. If you come here do not miss out on getting dinner at Zurbaran, and definitely get a drink at Malconi’s Gastropub or NEW Hotel’s Art Lounge (the place with the view from the photos in our next post).
Kolonaki – As I just mentioned, the section of the city we were in, Kolonaki, was ideal for anyone who was seeing Athens for the first time. There are tons of incredible restaurants and cafes, and Plaka, the historic section of Athens that really comes to life at night with small cobbled streets and lights strung across them and Greek music pouring through them and what feels like hundreds of dinner spots, is just about a fifteen minute walk. Kolonaki felt incredibly safe, too, which I do know isn’t always the case in other sections of Athens. Porter and I could walk to and from Plaka after dark and were constantly surrounded by other twenty-somethings doing the same. Athens also felt like a very young city, and Porter was annoyed at how often I was pointing out girls that were incredibly well dressed, but they were everywhere, as well dressed (if not better) than Roman women. Again, wasn’t expecting that for some reason. They all seemed to wear skirts and tops in monochrome neutrals like beige or taupe or creme in linens and other natural materials and it just worked. Athenian women, keep it up.
The People – from our cab driver who took us from the airport to Coco-Mat and waved to every other yellow cab “hello, my yellow brother” (which had Porter and I laughing hysterically), to all of the staff at our hotel, to every cafe and shop and restaurant employee we came across Athenians, and Greeks in general, seem to just never put on airs. There’s a level of authenticity here when you meet people that you just feel instantly they’re being exactly who they are, no ego, no delusions of grandeur, no snootiness toward Americans who haven’t taken the time to memorize the small handful of Greek phrases they probably should have. People seem content in who they are here, and that contentment seems to us to mean that, when they meet people, they instantly assume that you’re content and comfortable as well. There’s no judgement on there end and it’s just kind of a breath of fresh air to be honest. Port kept saying to me, “I feel so relaxed here,” and I felt the same. For a busy city with a ton of people, there was just nothing stressful about Athens to either of us. It’s hard to be stressed when you’re surrounded by a culture that feels deeply ingrained in self-acceptance and acceptance of others. Can you tell we love it here? I know I shouldn’t say this or that is my favorite country but…
In Athens, I kept thinking about New York for some reason, especially because Kolonaki felt a lot like the West Village. Americans and people in general love New York, and the people who love it tend to be kind of die-hard. But other cities that share some of New York’s less lovable qualities are too often, in my opinion, over shadowed by them. That’s how I feel about Athens. Is it dirtier than other European cities? Yes. Is it architecturally stunning? Definitely not. There are white apartment walk-ups pretty much everywhere, and not particularly pretty ones. Is it sketchy in certain areas? For sure. But even though it ticks all of those negative boxes, it ticks a lot of positive ones, too. The beauty is there, and the pride of the people who were born and raised in Athens, and love that they were, is as deep-seeded as it is in New Yorkers. They carry that balance of love and humility in a way that, for me at least, makes the whole city magnetic. I don’t think I need to say that we’ll be going back…
Anna Lisa & Porter