'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
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 - MerchantsWe 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
|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 NewWe 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
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
|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
|Good Greek food served at this historic taverna
|Electric Lim Scooters have come to Athens
'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