I don’t understand the negativity surrounding visiting Athens.
I think it stems from comparing Athens to the Greek Islands of Mykonos and Santorini, which are spectacular in their own ways as well, but are an entirely different type of vacation.
Athens needs to be compared to Lisbon, Rome or dare I say it, Paris. Of course, it’s a major city and that brings all the undesirable yet understandable things about being a major urban center, poverty grime and graffiti.
But I think we tend to see the beauty in cities rather than the negative. We thrive in cities. We like the noise and the feeling of infinite things to see and do and explore and experience.
However having read up on the city and having heard some not so great first hand reviews I was expecting much worse. Sure the facades are covered in street art and graffiti but doesn’t that just add to the unique charm? Plus, compared to say Los Angeles this graffiti seems downright harmless, even artistic and expressive at times.
Walking through the center of the city at night, under the glow of the Acropolis, you could swear you were in one of the nicer areas of Europe.
Athens is colorful. Athens is vibrant and alive. Athens is underrated and full of surprises.
Every night we wandered around the city was full of life. The streets awaken to the sounds and smells of gyros cooking, falafel frying and people dancing.
Our apartment was in a great location within walking distance of the Acropolis as well as the more vibrant neighborhoods. It was the most colorful place we have stayed so far and was just off of the main street with enough silence to enjoy a night alone and enough happening to take a few steps and find the night.
Plus the food was pretty damn good.
Little Kook was decorated like no other place you’ve seen. When we visited it was decked out in full Halloween regalia, impressing anyone who walked by. It made me miss the Halloween and Fall festivities happening back in the States, this place looked like a full on haunted house more than a restaurant and bar! It’s always been my favorite holiday and Little Kook helped bring some of the spooky season to us even here.
The real show stopper is Tazza. I am not exaggerating when we say this place has the most upscale decor we have ever experienced. It truly feels like you are having your meal, cocktail or tea in a room straight out of Versailles or the Louvre. Candelabras, golden picture frames and ceramic figuries compliment the colorful and thoughtful decorations.
Outside is what drew us in. Beautiful lampshades hanging over each table truly gave it a uniquely fancy look to anyone passing by. With reasonable prices too, if you only go to one spot in Athens for a drink, make this your stop!
Not every place had the highest culinary experiences ever, but there was still really solid street food, fast meals and the best salads of the trip so far to choose from. That creamy feta just makes every vegetable taste so much better.
The way things work in Greece is a bit different than France. It is truly amazing to see such cultural and culinary differences within such a relatively small distance. Europe is full of such unique and proud ideas of food, wine and ways of life. The colors of the buildings reflect the colors of personality to be found here in Athens.
Standing amidst the ruins of the Acropolis I was over-awed with what has stemmed from this place. The distinct cultures of Europe began here. Western Civilization itself, accomplishments and flaws, was founded here.
The ideas of democracy for landowning men, theater as we know it, drama and tragedy, the begining of differentiation between East and West, the split between the Middle East and North Africa from “Europe” all has it’s roots in Greek and pre-Greek cultures that inhibited this area for millenniums.
The Acropolis itself remained mostly in tact and would be even more impressive today if it weren’t for the human folly that allowed gunpowder to be stored here in the Renaissance. It exploded and destroyed much of this iconic plateau. What remains is still truly impressive. I can only imagine how it would have looked without that tragedy of errors. Do be aware of the marble steps to get up and down to the sites, although not quite as difficult as it seems I definitely lost my footing and slipped.
The idea that ancient Greece was, well, Greece is quite a myth. It was an interconnected web of city states that all ran themselves and rarely had dominion over more than a nearby region. The true superpower of the day was Persia, with the Greek City States being pesky thorns in their side and occasional subordinates rather than actual peers.
United under the banner of conquest and the myth of freedom Alexander the Great swept down from the North and gathered the collective manpower of the city states to invade and finally conquer the Persian Empire. This transformed Classical Greece into an Empire combining the Balkans manpower with the City State culture. This new fusion is called the Hellenistic Period, and depending on whether you value individual liberty or massive power it is either the height or decline of Classical Greece.
Alexander the Great achieved this by inheriting the army his father Phillip II had assembled. Phillip combined the strengths of each region he conquered with the flexibility of formations and Alexander added the bold strategy only a confident young man has. His Thracian cavalry complimented perfectly the Greek heavy infantry. He hired engineers and artists to construct siege engines never seen before. His lack of disdain for archers and slingers allowed his army to idealistically match up with any foe he encountered.
The rapid spread and rapid collapse of his empire helped share Greek culture and philosophy as far as the Himalayas. The Hellenistic world that arose afterwards was forever altered by the artistic and thought revolutions that sprung from these disjointed city states we call Greece. Statues in India begin to take on Greek forms, Persian luxuries made thier way into Europe. Easter and Western cultures exchanged ideas. This destructive act of conquest eventually ended in a unique combination of cultures that flourished in the coming centuries.
You need to come experience Athens with an open mind, open eyes and an open heart. Remember it’s glory, recall it’s gifts to humanity as well as it’s flaws and eventual decline. But remember, it started here.
Until next time,
Jamie & Austin