Monday, April 15, 2019

Athens ~ Merchants Markets and Mezes

'The traveler sees what he sees,
the tourist sees what he has come to see.'
             -- G.K. Chesterton

Waiting to cross a street near Syntagma (Constitution) Square in the heart of Athens, a person focused on his mobile phone while balanced on a lime green scooter came whizzing down the sidewalk behind us. A car in front of us speeded up, ran a red light and could have taken out a few pedestrians had we not been slow to react to the 'walk' signal. To our side the 'hop-on, hop-off' buses vied with a parade of taxis for a spot to stop near the famous square.

On this Saturday afternoon the streets were crowded and the sidewalks were crammed with shoppers - we could tell they were shoppers by the name-brand logos printed on the bags they carried. Chatter and laughter wafted from tables at open-air cafes.

Cafe and taverna tables are filled in Athens these days

A decade after the economic crisis sucker punched this country, you can feel the vibe, the life, perhaps even the soul of this popular central area returning.  This part of downtown is night-and-day different from even a few years ago when shops were shuttered, businesses closed and the streets in once-busy commercial areas empty.

Time and time again during a long-weekend here earlier this month, we were touched by this upbeat rhythm in the neighborhoods we explored. We avoided the 'tourist' sites this trip and set out to see the 'every day'. To be sure, there is a lot to Athens and economic recovery isn't going to be achieved uniformly or immediately but we could tell the areas of the city we visited are on a definite upswing.

Syntagma (Constitution) Square - Athens
Staying in a hotel at Syntagma Square we remarked on the quietude of the place that less than a decade ago gained notoriety -- much like Cairo's Tahrir Square during their Arab Spring -- when Athenians protested and rioted here as the economy tanked and European Union economic sanctions kicked into gear.

Friends who witnessed first-hand such riots from the same hotel in which we stayed say they'll never return to Athens. It is a shame, that attitude - because that was so then, this is so now.

Ermou Street - Merchants

We headed west from Syntagma Square on Ermou Street, one of our favorite routes in this sprawling metropolis. The 1.5 kilometer road, named for Hermes, the god of commerce, leads  to  Kerameikos, (ceramicus) the old potters' quarters archeological site.

The street, ranked among the top five most expensive shopping streets in Europe and among the top 10 world-wide, begins as a pedestrian zone at Syntagma Square, a feature that makes for excellent 'window shopping'.


Shop until you drop on Ermou Street in Athens

Stretching for several blocks are stores selling shoes, jewelry, specialty items and brand-name children's, women's and men's clothing. Street vendors set up shop in front of the stores offering everything from eats to books. You really could shop until you drop and never leave this street.

Street Vendors are up and open long before stores on Ermou
We love to walk it before the stores have opened when the sidewalk vendors are just setting up shop and again late in the evening when the buskers set up to entertain late into the night.


Night - bucker's delight on Ermou St. Athens

And then several blocks later there sits in the middle of Ermou Street an ancient church. Once you pass this small square, it isn't long before the pedestrian zone ends and you are back on rather narrow sidewalks. This Byzantine Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea is believed to have been built about 1050 on the site of an ancient temple to Athena or Demeter.

Church of Panghia Kapnikarea - Ermou Street, Athens.

The Markets - Ancient and New

We love markets - those public gathering places where farmers and producers gather to sell what they have grown, raised or created. When it comes to such places, you can't beat Athens for having a selection of both ancient and present-day venues. All are walking distance from Syntagma Square:

Tower of the Wind - Roman Agora - Athens
Ancient Agora - once the hangout for the likes of Plato and Socrates, this historic site is a popular stop for tourists.  So large and encompassing are these old grounds between Monastiraki and the Acropolis, that Lonely Planet guidebook's self-guided tour advises it will take two hours to complete.

Just a short distance away are the ruins of the Roman Agora, a commercial center dating back to the first century BC. Julius Caesar started the project and Caesar Augustus finished it.  Perhaps the most famous of its remaining structures is its Tower of the Winds, a handsome eight-sided marble structure that once served as a water clock, sundial and weathervane.

Strawberries are in season in Athens

Our focus this outing was on modern-day markets so we bypassed the ancient. We began with a stroll through Monastraki Square, named for the 'little monastery' that sits to the side of its square.  While the square still has a fruit vendor or two and boasts a weekend 'antique' market, the rest of its small shops could better be described as a tourist-shop arcade. You want a souvenir? You'll find it on the narrow street flanked by shops offering everything from key chains and post cards to mass produced art work, 'traditional' leather sandals, and women's wear. If you want Army camouflage gear, you'll find it at a shop here.

Antique/flea Market Saturday at Monastiraki Square
You'd need hours to rummage through the display tables that sprout on Saturday mornings  in the plaza. There are bona fide antique stores that front the plaza and operate daily but the weekend brings a hodge-podge of sellers who display piles of old used 'stuff' on folding tables. Somewhere within them, there's likely an antique but we didn't have the desire or patience to try looking.

Meat and fish and veggies at the Dimotiki Market

We left Monastiraki and strolled several blocks on Athinas Street to Athens' enormous Central Municipal Market that also goes by the names of Dimotiki (public market) and Varvakeios (a long ago hero) Market.

Now this was real Athens - not a tourist item in sight and no arts and crafts. It was serious food for serious shoppers.  We did spend a lot of time strolling the aisles - which is best done in closed-toed shoes as they are wet and somewhat slippery on the meat and fish side of the street.

Mezes and other culinary delights


One of three market cafes - Dimotiki Market Athens
We suspected the food was excellent at the three small cafes that operate within the market but we were saving ourselves for dinner with friends, long-time Athenians. And were we ever glad we did as they introduced us to a café tucked up in the Plaka area near the Roman Agora - a café that got its start back in the 1930's and is still incredibly popular today. It served authentic Greek 'village' food -- and Taverna Platanos is one we'd recommend if you find yourself wanting a bit of good 'home-cooked' flavor and presentation.

Good Greek food served at this historic taverna
Now before I sign off, I need to circle back to that mention of the lime green scooter that I told you about in the opening paragraph. Electric Lime Scooters debuted in the city in January.  Using an app uploaded to your phone you can unlock a scooter, use it and leave it on the street at the end of your ride. The cost is 1 euro plus .15 cents  for every minute.  They can travel at a rate of 25 km an hour - yikes!  We still prefer walking but keep it in mind if you find yourself in Athens.

Electric Lim Scooters have come to Athens
There's a lot more to discover about Athens and one day we'll head back for another adventure.  Hope that if your travels take you there you'll allow yourselves a few days to experience as much of the city as you can cram into your schedule. As Matt Barrett, who writes an online travel guide to Greece, has said,

'The true wonders of Athens may not be in the dead past, but in the very alive present.'

Hope to see you back here next week when we'll indulge in a bit of the luxurious side of travel in Greece.  Until then, thanks so much for the time you've spent with us and safe travels to you and yours ~

Linking this week with:
Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday

23 comments:

  1. Excellent point. I felt the same way about Cairo

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    1. I recall thinking before our visit that the pyramids were the reason to go to Cairo - all it took was that one trip out there and I knew they were nice but not the end-all. Your reports made us eager to return!

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  2. Commenting as I watch Notre Dame in Paris being gutted by fire. Much as the modern side of Athens is lovely with those markets, I gotta go before those ancient monuments are gone firever!

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    1. We've sadly learned over the years to not put off until tomorrow as it may never come. Another friend and her husband are traveling all they can now and they call it 'future proofing' as the day will come for all us boomers that our travels are happy memories not future plans.

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  3. Commenting as I watch Notre Dame in Paris being gutted by fire. Much as the modern side of Athens is lovely with those markets, I gotta go before those ancient monuments are gone firever!

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  4. Good to hear things are looking up for certain parts of Athens!

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    1. There are still people struggling and their tax structure for businesses and professionals are killing those folks but for the tourism sector, the skies are blue and the sun is shining!

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  5. I had gone to those old thing stores once and felt that they were way overpriced. Better to go for the food and antiquities.

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    1. We find that whole area rather 'overpriced' or 'tourist-priced'. Give me the 'real stores' along Athinas en route to the Central Market anyday.

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  6. This post brought back great memories from our recent trip. You're right..Athens is all about now and it's vibrant and a beautiful thing to see. We also enjoyed Ermous and "window shopping". The only thing we bought was at the H&M store coincidentally (a shirt for him). We had a great time in Athens and look forward to visiting again. Kemkem

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    1. Oh so funny you should mention H&M as we went in twice -- had I not been as bundled up as I was, I found a couple of things I liked and would have tried on. Figured I'd try the Kalamata store and of course they don't have those items. Hope you make it back to Athens and if you do that we could have a rendezvous there.

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  7. Enjoyed the memories you evoked, but this time unfortunately 'No' Athens. Instead packing to leave at the weekend for the Greek Easter in our favourite haunt in Crete. A little extra for us this year before our annual jaunt in September/October. We will cross paths at some point.

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    1. Well safe travels to you and hopefully no delays as you experienced the last time!! Fingers crossed; let us know you are there safe and sound!

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  8. I'm saving this to my Greece Pinterest board since we will be visiting Athens for the first time this fall. I love visiting places where the old is sprinkled among the new --- turn a corner and visit an agora Plato might have recognized (kind of). Goosebumps.

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    1. Hopefully you saw last week's post when I focused on Kolonaki district near Syntagma Square. Great museums and other 'finds'. You will find much of interest here this fall - even if they don't have frozen MaiTai's!

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  9. Good to see Athens recovering froma very difficult time. An interesting tour of a different side of the city.

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    1. Thanks so much for stopping by - glad you enjoyed the slightly different side of the city.

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  10. I enjoyed seeing Athens through your eyes. One day I would love to get there.

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    1. Thanks so much for your visit - I stopped by your blog and it is beautiful!

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  11. Nice post! Thanks for sharing your photos at https://image-in-ing.blogspot.com/2019/04/springtime-is-glorious.html. It was nice to "travel" with you!

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