Athens – the one and only
Athens – the one and only – I make as many trips a year as possible, usually from Tel Aviv where I am based and I was most recently there in August. Because I have seen the major sites and museums, on this trip I focused more on getting to know some of Athens’ less “discovered” neighborhoods, such as Monastiraki.
This area is very close to the Acropolis and famous Plaka, just a few steps north of it, but has an earthier flavor. Of course, there are all the big shops along Ermou Street, but the side streets are full of pretty churches tucked away, and lively cafes such as those around the little square of St. Irini. There are traditional tavernas as well as more modern wine bars and restaurants.
During the day, the best thing is to just walk around and you will see not only classic Athenian-style buildings in pastel shades but also a mesmerizing array of street art that rivals anything you’ll find in other European capitals.
There is a very young, creative vibe here and plenty of great coffee spots to keep you going. Of course, if you really want to make a long night of it, take the metro one stop to Kerameikos station and the Gazi neighborhood: on weekend nights the bar and club scene here is something you have to see (and hear) to believe.
While on that trip I was researching an article on Greek yogurt and cooking and decided to contact a leading Greek nutritionist to get his opinion on the cuisine of Greece. Stefanos suggested that the best way to experience Greek food was to have a big appetite and sample as much of it as possible – but there was very limited time and I didn’t know where to go. He recommended we try a “secret” restaurant in the center with a focus on the cuisine of the Mani region, which is actually south of Athens. We spent a lot of time trying to find it, but that was part of the fun and well worth the bother as the food and wine were exceptional – an exciting discovery and more proof of how healthy and diverse Greek cuisine is.
For me it was a very emotional experience and to even write about Greek scenery makes it all the more poignant that I am not actually there – it is like the evocation of a past love. But I will talk about it in the spirit of a future love. Of course, there is nothing like seeing the caldera of Santorini for the first time. But I will add something a little off the map: on the drive from Athens to Delphi, the spiritual or, if you will, mystical cradle of the ancient world, the terrain grew more rugged and alongside the road there were clutches of purple and yellow flowers rising from the verdant ravines – a landscape unspoiled and pristine that reached its height (literally) of poetry at Delphi itself. It was easy to see the allure of this place for the ancient Greeks and why it continues to fire the imagination of travellers today.
I have had too many excellent meals in Greece to mention but let me just recall one, or rather a dish…it was a simple salad I ate on the balcony of the Grecotel Pallas Athena hotel in Athens…fresh green arugula sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and mixed with chunks of cured pork from Crete. A taste unlike anything else and all in Cretan olive oil, said to be the best in the world. Healthy, delicious and totally Greek.
Athens is home to some of the most impressive monuments in the world, but for me one of the most captivating aspects of Athens is the side streets, which are full of discoveries waiting to be made as long you make the time for them. I was really impressed by the colorful street art and murals, these works by talented young artists sometimes covering whole sides of buildings. One sunny morning I simply wandered around taking pictures of these murals, many of which I intend to print and frame , to create a unique record of this thoroughly modern vision of Athens.