Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Athens ~ a bit of grit and a bit of glam

“Travel and change of place impart a new vigor to the mind.”
                                        -- Seneca

The quote above reminds me that it is time to get back to writing about travel, the topic that gave birth to this blog in the first place.

It seems we focused most of the last year – with a few carefree intervals – on downsizing our life and shifting residences from one continent to another. While it’s been an amazing process it has cut into travel. . .the kind that provides new adventures and packing suitcases, not moving boxes.

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Acropolis from the Electra Palace Hotel roof bar/restaurant
Now that we are settled on both sides of the Atlantic, it is time to hit the road again on this side ‘of the pond’. Luckily a couple of travel-enthused friends from Canada gave us the nudge we needed to pack the bags and head to Athens for a rendezvous with them last week.

Getting to Athens from our house can be done in a number of ways. In summer season, there are flights between Kalamata and Athens, but this time of year you either drive, take the public bus or hire a shuttle. We set out on the 3.5 hour road trip in our trusty Hi, Ho Silver, our Toyota RAV.

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Traffic jams were routine in downtown Athens
Since neither of us like downtown Athens traffic – The Scout is the driver and I am the navigator -- we park at the Airport, (some 33km or 20.5 miles out of town) and take the airport shuttle bus to the heart of the city. We get in a bit of sightseeing while someone else does the driving.  Traffic on the weekday afternoon we arrived was bumper-to-bumper – it took the shuttle bus twice the normal time to get us into the heart of the city.

Athens, capital of Greece, had a population of 4.1 million at last count in 2012.

Since we moved to Greece we have been guilty of treating this town as being one from where we depart its airport and return to pick up our car. As other travel enthusiast friends commented, “Once you’ve seen the sights (Acropolis, for instance) what else is there to do?”

Well, let me tell you with only the three days we had in this city we didn’t have time to do all that we could have, which means we’ll just have to return there again – hopefully soon! And we didn't even get to any of those famous sites!

A Bit of Grit and a Bit of Glam

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Big cities and graffiti seem to go hand-in-hand
Like all big cities Athens has a gritty side.  Graffiti and street people. However we saw similar amounts of graffiti in Rome and Lisbon  - if not more - and far more homeless sleeping on sidewalks in Honolulu than we did in Athens.

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Street art is taking over graffiti scenes
As for that graffiti. Some wise city folks are working to turn that destructive art into an attraction by encouraging street art. An enterprising street artist named Sophia now leads street art walking tours. But it is really quite easy to find many examples by strolling the streets on your own as we did.

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Spotted a couple blocks from Syntagma Square

Athens is the UNESCO World Book Capital 2018 and has put together a year-long program of events celebrating the written word.

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High-end shops line the boulevards of Athens

Window shopping kept us entertained as we strolled the areas surrounding Syntagma Square. We are talking high end shops. . .Paris’s Champs Elysees had better take note – this place just might offer a bit more glam these days than do the storefronts along that famous Paris boulevard!

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The decade's old  Zonar's Café between Syntagma and Kolonaki district
Much like Paris, there’s no end to sidewalk cafes – perfect spots to spend a couple of hours in contemplation, conversation or people watching.

Athens at more than 4,000 years of age claims it is the birthplace of Democracy, Philosophy, Theatre, Music and Poetry.

It is when the sun goes down that Athens comes to life – restaurants, cafes, coffee shops and bars were filled and the pedestrian streets were crowded with shoppers and those out for their evening stroll.

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Spotted on Ermou Street near our hotel
We followed the advice of another traveling friend (and the Michelin 2018 guide) and dined one night at 2 Mazi in the Plaka district, an easy four blocks from Syntagma Square.  The food and wine pairing was perfect, a distinctly modern touch to Greek favorites. We’ll be recommending it to all who visit Athens in the near future.

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2 Mazi is worth a visit
Several places where we tried to have a glass of wine, were completely booked and required reservations. I’m no longer worried about Athens being able to recover from the economic collapse a decade ago. She’s back and maybe better than ever.

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You'll need a reservation here 
It seemed we barely touched the surface of all that Athens has to offer. We certainly made note of some places that will tempt us on a future trip. Maybe next time we’ll bring some fancy ‘big city’ clothes and dine at the King George Hotel. . .instead of just walking through it as we did this trip.

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King George Hotel restaurant
And we’ll make it a point to check out the performing arts. . .especially after having happened upon this performance as we walked past a theatre one afternoon.

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Not all dancing is to Zorba's theme song in Greece
We divided our stay between two of the three Electra Hotels that are located within walking distance of Syntagma Square. This Greek hotel chain (with one property in Thessaloniki as well) has developed their properties so each has a rooftop deck with enclosed space and open air seating for drinking and/or dining. . .and breakfast buffets are included in the room price.

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Breakfast with a view at the Electra Hotel
After this 'taster trip'  I’d had a plan to come back and see the city decked out at Christmas, but you know The Scout and The Scribe can be unpredictable when it comes to travel. Our plans changed just yesterday.  I’ll tell you more about our upcoming December travel adventure soon -- for now just know it is set in the Middle East!!

Thanks for your time and we look forward to having you back with us again next week when we’ll take you on another Peloponnese road trip to a destination we haven’t yet decided upon yet. But I know we are going somewhere! (Isn’t that a great way to travel? Or do you need to have your travel plans set out in advance? Let us know in the comment section or shoot us an email – as always we love hearing from you!)

Linking up this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday
Communal Global
Travel Photo Thursday – 
Best of Weekend




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