Shimmering Athens

Athens has been part of my imaginary since I was pretty young, firstly, because it was the center of a culture that worshiped beautiful and powerful gods whose names and stories always amazed me, and secondly because of their aesthetics. The way they lived and their love for creating beautiful things always impressed and inspired me, and thinking that it all happened about 2500 years ago makes me think about how society forgot that chapter of history and lived in darkness for so long.
So seeing all the treasures that Athens holds was a dream come true.

I was told by some people that visited Athens before that the roads were dirty and that it was way poorer than Portugal. I have to say that I couldn’t disagree more. The roads are full of fragrant orange trees (they’re in bloom at this time of year). The buildings have beautiful faded colors and all balconies have plenty of plants, which gives the streets a very tropical and exuberant vibe! For me, Athens it is a very original mix of Barcelona and Telaviv. We stayed at a cute neighborhood (Negri Fokionos) with lots of cafes and restaurants filled with locals and their dogs.

Monastiraki Square and all the Monastiraki neighbouhood is a lovely place to start exploring the old part of the city, which is bursting with life. From there, you’ll be just a few meters away from Melissinos Art – The Poet Sandal Maker, a 3rd generation Greek sandal maker (open since the 1920’s), whose family has been making sandals for celebrities such as Jackie O, The Beatles, Prince Charles and Sarah Jessica Parker to name only a few. The sandals are made there at their workshop and after you select the model you want and the size that fits you best, they give them final adjustings like beveling the edges of all the leather in the sandals or making small adjustments like tightening or making some straps more loose. The natural colored leather comes from tanneries in Crete and is tanned using traditional methods. There are a lot of shops in Athens selling industrially made copies. They’re cheaper but not a lot compared to Melissinos but there you won’t have such a genuine experience! I couldn’t have left without my own pair – Maria Callas style!

The first sight we visited was Hadrian’s Library, apart from the wonderful ruins we met some beings that made it their home: tortoises! Then there is lovely Plaka the most famous zone for chilling in street level or rooftop taverns, some streets that go up the hill have cafes and restaurants that have adapted their terraces to the stairways – perfect postcard scenario. Oh! And there are vases with plants and flowers everywhere, which makes the whole environment more heavenly alive! There we had some lentils with dried tomatoes and mint at Yiasemi while we drank some white wine and cold coffee (everybody was drinking it everywhere!). Near there’s a very sweet and charming neighborhood called Anafiotika. Between the houses of the hills inhabitants there are winding and steep alleyways, full of secrets and sights waiting to be found.

Going up to Mount Lycabettus was a perfect choice for the end of the day. The views are totally overwhelming and we stayed there till dusk, absorbing all the beauty around us. Athens is a huge white city that glimmers day and night but the piéce de resistance in the middle of such eye catching shimmer will always be the Parthenon, that golden star, the ancient above modernity.

As it is said, the early bird gets the worm! Waking up early is far from being something I enjoy , but life has rewarded me several times for my efforts and this was one of those days, in Monastiraki you can find amazing views and guess what? We had a rooftop only for ourselves. We were expecting huge crowds up at the Parthenon and down at the Agora, where the Temple of Hephaestus is located (the best well preserved building from those times, made circa 460BC), but instead, the places were quite peaceful early in the morning (most of the sights open at 8am). I can’t find the words to describe how wonderful those buildings are. I’ve already seen them from afar but being so close to them, transmitted me a lot of calmness. They’re as ancient as it gets and all the things they’ve been through, all the people that passed inside or in front of them had their own story. So imagining the ‘city’ as it was since 5BC is a thought worth having while you’re there. I like to think about the people that lived in those times: what they did, how they looked, where they lived.

We were so lucky to have visited all we wanted before a big downpour! On our way we got ourselves totally soaked in rain but we had some time during lunch to dry up our clothes and hair. As the rain wouldn’t stop we decided to visit the Acropolis Museum, which has most of the ancient Athenian artifacts and fragments of buildings and temples that need to be preserved.

Next to the huge columns that are left from the Temple of Olympian Zeus there’s the beautiful Panathenaic Stadium and the National Gardens with beautiful blooming flowers. After it all and a walk in the gardens we were starving so we had Loukoumades and luxuriously tasty but humbly made Souvlaki (at Lefteris O Politis).

All the food was so amazing! I’ve always disliked feta cheese but now I’m in love with it! Oh, and the yogurt… We had an amazing one with honey and walnuts at a place pretty near the Souvlaki one called Stani.

Athens was actually a city where we were only going to stop a few hours to catch a plane to Turkey, but I’m glad we stayed long enough to get to know it! I’m absolutely coming back to discover Greece further!

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