ATHENS – AWESOME, AWE-IN­SPIR­ING AND AM­BIVA­LENT

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As a much har­ried travel writer al­ways on the move, I take lib­erty once a year to be splen­didly alone and un­aided in a des­ti­na­tion of my choice. Be­ing domi­ciled in Kolkata – a city that is burst­ing at its seams and with a bur­geon­ing tourism in­dus­try, I am courted like other Travel Writ­ers by tour op­er­a­tors to pro­vide them with that elu­sive travel col­umn high­light­ing their most fab­u­lous des­ti­na­tion. And why not?

Last year it was Geneva and this time around it was Athens – the city that can right­fully claim to be blessed with the most fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory in the world, a city that is ethe­real and adored by not only hu­man­ity but also by divin­ity. This cap­ti­vat­ing cap­i­tal city of Greece has wit­nessed the ori­gin of civ­i­liza­tion. Athens and Greece have been the places where some of the most wise and creative men were born, who shaped world so­ci­ety from an­cient times.

An­cient and mod­ern, with equal mea­sures of grunge and grace, bustling Athens is a heady mix of his­tory and edgi­ness. Iconic mon­u­ments min­gle with first-rate mu­se­ums, lively cafes and al fresco din­ing – and it’s all down­right fun.

The his­toric cen­tre is an open-air mu­seum, yet the city’s cul­tural and so­cial life takes place undis­turbed amid these an­cient land­marks, merg­ing past and present. The mag­nif­i­cent Acrop­o­lis rises above the sprawl­ing me­trop­o­lis and has stood wit­ness to the city’s many trans­for­ma­tions.

Post-olympics Athens, even in the face of cur­rent fi­nan­cial is­sues, is con­spic­u­ously more so­phis­ti­cated and cos­mopoli­tan than ever be­fore. Stylish res­tau­rants, shops and hip ho­tels, and artsy-in­dus­trial neigh­bour­hoods and en­ter­tain­ment quar­ters such as Gazi, show Athens’ mod­ern face.

The sur­round­ing re­gion of At­tiki holds some spec­tac­u­lar an­tiq­ui­ties as well – such as the Tem­ple of Po­sei­don at Sounion – and lovely beaches, like those near his­toric Marathon.

Walk­ing through Athens’ me­an­der­ing streets and al­ley­ways, you will of­ten come across some of the most en­dur­ing his­tor­i­cal land­marks – the Acrop­o­lis, the Plaka neigh­bor­hood, Syn­tagma Square, Odeon of Herodes At­ti­cus, Olym­bion, Ro­man Mar­ket, Panathi­naiko Sta­dium or Kal­li­mar­maro, to name just a few. Be­ing a Kolkatan, I found many sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween these two great cities that ooze with a sense of his­tory and achieve­ment. The only thing that wasn’t sim­i­lar was the restora­tion and preser­va­tion of the ed­i­fices. While all of the his­tor­i­cal Athe­nian ed­i­fices were im­pec­ca­bly pre­served, the ones in Kolkata are in ut­ter ruin, that tells a sad tale of a lost her­itage.

Athens im­me­di­ately brings to mind the “Acrop­o­lis”, con­sid­ered to be the most renowned his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ment in Europe and amongst the 7 won­ders of the world. The Acrop­o­lis is to Greece what the Taj Ma­hal is to In­dia.

The city of Athens is ide­ally perched on the pre­fec­ture of At­tica and ex­tends all the way to the penin­su­lar re­gion of Cen­tral Greece. Athens is mar­velously sur­rounded by un­du­lat­ing moun­tains with Ym­my­tos, Pen­deli and Par­nitha be­ing the most prom­i­nent ones. The best part of be­ing in Athens is that it is a year round des­ti­na­tion and blessed with a salu­bri­ous cli­mate and plenty of sun­shine.

The sheer his­tor­i­cal di­ver­sity of Athens is of such great mag­ni­tude that it be­comes im­per­a­tive for the dis­cern­ing trav­eler to hire the ser­vices of a knowl­edge­able guide to make sense of the city’s rich and com­pli­cated past. I was ad­vised by a mu­seum cu­ra­tor in down­town Athens to drop in at the Tsoha neigh­bor­hood of the city where the Greek Na­tional Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion was lo­cated, and seek the ser­vices of a guide. Dim­itri Kourlianos, ever smil­ing and knoeledge­able, was to be my friend, philoso­pher and guide for my en­tire week-long Athens so­journ.

In one of our leisurely strolls through the boule­vard, Dim­itri in­formed me that the city has been con­tin­u­ously in­hab­ited since the Ne­olithic Age. The golden pe­riod of Athens com­menced from the 5th cen­tury and in course of time, the city be­came the cra­dle of Western civ­i­liza­tion. Over the cen­turies that went by, wave af­ter wave of ma­raud­ing con­querors tried to cap­ture Athens but be­came ab­sorbed into the city’s her­itage in­stead.

It was only in the year 1834 that Athens was cho­sen to be the cap­i­tal of Greece. It was largely built around the Acrop­o­lis. The Acrop­o­lis is the most im­por­tant an­cient site in the Western world. Crowned by the Parthenon, it stands sen­tinel over Athens, vis­i­ble from al­most ev­ery­where within the city. Its mon­u­ments and sanc­tu­ar­ies of Pen­telic mar­ble gleam white in the mid­day sun and grad­u­ally take on a honey hue as the sun sinks, while at night they stand bril­liantly il­lu­mi­nated above the city. A glimpse of this mag­nif­i­cent sight can­not fail to ex­alt your spirit.

In­spir­ing as these mon­u­ments are, they are but faded rem­nants of the city of Per­i­cles, who spared no ex­pense – only the best ma­te­ri­als, ar­chi­tects, sculp­tors and artists were good enough for a city ded­i­cated to the cult of Athena. It was a show­case of lav­ishly coloured colos­sal build­ings and of gar­gan­tuan stat­ues, some of bronze, oth­ers of mar­ble plated with gold and en­crusted with pre­cious stones. The Acrop­o­lis was first in­hab­ited in Ne­olithic times (4000–3000 BC). The first tem­ples were built dur­ing the Myce­naean era, in homage to the god­dess Athena. Peo­ple lived on the Acrop­o­lis un­til the late 6th cen­tury BC, but in 510 BC the Del­phic or­a­cle de­clared that it should be the province of the gods. Later, when all the build­ings on the Acrop­o­lis were re­duced to ashes by the Per­sians on the eve of the Bat­tle of Salamis (480 BC), Per­i­cles set about his am­bi­tious re­build­ing pro­gram. He trans­formed the Acrop­o­lis into a city of tem­ples, which has come to be re­garded as the zenith of clas­si­cal Greek achieve­ment.

Rav­ages in­flicted dur­ing the years of for­eign oc­cu­pa­tion, pil­fer­ing by for­eign ar­chae­ol­o­gists, in­ept ren­o­va­tions fol­low­ing In­de­pen­dence, visi­tors’ foot­falls, earthquakes and, more re­cently, acid rain and pol­lu­tion, have all taken their toll on the sur­viv­ing mon­u­ments. The worst blow was in 1687, when the Vene­tians at­tacked the Turks, open­ing fire on the Acrop­o­lis and caus­ing an ex­plo­sion in

the Parthenon – where the Turks had been stor­ing gun­pow­der – and dam­ag­ing all the build­ings. Ma­jor restora­tion pro­grams are con­tin­u­ing and many of the orig­i­nal sculp­tures have been moved to the Acrop­o­lis Mu­seum and re­placed with casts. The Acrop­o­lis be­came a World Her­itage–listed site in 1987. Free ad­mis­sions are on first Sun­day of the month from Novem­ber to March.

More than any other mon­u­ment, the Parthenon epit­o­mises the glory of An­cient Greece. Mean­ing ‘vir­gin’s apart­ment’, it’s ded­i­cated to Athena Parthenos, the god­dess em­body­ing the power and pres­tige of the city. The largest Doric tem­ple ever com­pleted in Greece, and the only one built com­pletely of Pen­telic mar­ble (apart from the wood in its roof), it took 15 years to com­plete. It was de­signed by Ik­ti­nos and Kal­l­i­crates and com­pleted in time for the Great Pana­thenaic Fes­ti­val of 438 BC. De­signed to be the pre-em­i­nent mon­u­ment of the Acrop­o­lis and built on its high­est ground, the Parthenon had a dual pur­pose – to house the great statue of Athena com­mis­sioned by Per­i­cles, and to serve as the new trea­sury. It was built on the site of at least four ear­lier tem­ples ded­i­cated to Athena. The con­tro­ver­sial Parthenon Mar­bles, taken by Lord El­gin, are now in the Bri­tish Mu­seum in Lon­don. The Bri­tish gov­ern­ment con­tin­ues to ig­nore cam­paigns for their re­turn. The ceil­ing of the Parthenon, like that of the Propy­laia, was painted blue and gilded with stars. At the eastern end was the holy cella (in­ner room of a tem­ple), into which only a few priv­i­leged ini­ti­ates could en­ter. Here stood the statue for which the tem­ple was built – the Athena Po­lias (Athena of the City), con­sid­ered one of the won­ders of the an­cient world. De­signed by Phei­dias and com­pleted in 432 BC, it was gold-plated over an in­ner wooden frame and stood al­most 12m high on its pedestal. The face, hands and feet were made of ivory, and the eyes were fash­ioned from jew­els. Clad in a long gold dress with the head of Me­dusa carved in ivory on her breast, the god­dess

held a stat­uette of Nike (the god­dess of vic­tory) in her right hand; in her left, a spear with a ser­pent at its base. On top of her hel­met was a sphinx, with griffins in re­lief at ei­ther side. In AD 426 the statue was taken to Con­stantino­ple, where it dis­ap­peared. There’s a Ro­man copy (the Athena Var­vakeion) in the Na­tional Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum. The daz­zling mod­ernist Acrop­o­lis mu­seum at the foot of the Acrop­o­lis’ south­ern slope show­cases its sur­viv­ing trea­sures still in Greek pos­ses­sion. While the col­lec­tion cov­ers the Ar­chaic and Ro­man periods, the em­pha­sis is on the Acrop­o­lis of the 5th cen­tury BC, con­sid­ered the apoth­e­o­sis of Greece’s artis­tic achieve­ment. The mu­seum clev­erly re­veals lay­ers of his­tory, float­ing over ru­ins with the Acrop­o­lis vis­i­ble above, show­ing the master­pieces in con­text. The sur­pris­ingly good-value restau­rant has su­perb views; there’s also a fine mu­seum shop. As you en­ter the mu­seum grounds, do look through the plex­i­glass floor to see the ru­ins of an an­cient Athe­nian neigh­bour­hood, which were art­fully in­cor­po­rated into the mu­seum de­sign af­ter be­ing un­cov­ered dur­ing ex­ca­va­tions. The mu­seum’s crown­ing glory is the top-floor Parthenon Gallery, a glass atrium built in align­ment with the tem­ple, and a vir­tual replica of the cella of the Parthenon, which can be seen from the gallery. It show­cases the tem­ple’s sculp­tures, metopes and 160m-long frieze, which for the first time in over 200 years is shown in se­quence as one nar­ra­tive about the Pana­thenaic Pro­ces­sion. The Pro­ces­sion starts at the south­west cor­ner of the tem­ple, with two groups split­ting off and meet­ing on the east side for the de­liv­ery of the pe­p­los to Athena. In­ter­spersed be­tween the golden-hued orig­i­nals are stark-white plas­ter repli­cas of the miss­ing pieces – the con­tro­ver­sial Parthenon Mar­bles hacked off by Lord El­gin in 1801 and later sold to the Bri­tish Mu­seum. Don’t miss the movie de­scrib­ing the his­tory of the Acrop­o­lis. Although the Parthenon was the most im­pres­sive mon­u­ment of the Acrop­o­lis, it was more a show­piece than a work­ing sanc­tu­ary. That role fell to the Erechtheion, built on the part of the Acrop­o­lis held most sa­cred. It was here that Po­sei­don struck the ground with his tri­dent and where Athena pro­duced the olive tree. Named af­ter Erechtheus, a myth­i­cal king of Athens, the tem­ple housed the cults of Athena, Po­sei­don and Erechtheus. Ex­cept for a small tem­ple of Rome and Au­gus­tus, which is no longer in ex­is­tence, the Erechtheion was the last pub­lic build­ing erected on the Acrop­o­lis in an­tiq­uity. Ar­chi­tec­turally it is the most un­usual mon­u­ment of the Acrop­o­lis, a supreme ex­am­ple of Ionic ar­chi­tec­ture in­ge­niously built on sev­eral lev­els to coun­ter­act the un­even be­drock.

To­day, the city hosts a pop­u­la­tion in ex­cess of 4.5 mil­lion peo­ple. Make it a point to visit the all im­por­tant Syn­tagma Square, which is where the Greek Par­lia­ment is lo­cated. In close prox­im­ity are the neigh­bor­hoods of Mona­s­ti­raki, Kolon­aki and Ly­ca­bet­tus Hill, that have be­come a rage with tourists from all over the world. If you go fur­ther up­front to the north of the city, the classy neigh­bor­hoods of Marousi, Melis­sia, Vrilis­sia and Ki­fisia will leave you speech­less with their el­e­gance. Apart from neo­clas­si­cal ed­i­fices, Athens, like all great cities of the world, has its share of mu­se­ums, each one of them a trea­sure-house of Greek art and cul­ture. Be­sides the stu­pen­dous Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum, one of the world’s most im­por­tant mu­se­ums, which

houses the world’s finest col­lec­tion of Greek an­tiq­ui­ties, the Mil­i­tary Mu­seum and Byzan­tine Mu­seum, are other pop­u­lar haunts of the dis­cern­ing world trav­eller.

Dim­itri, my guide, in one of his more emo­tional moods, re­vealed that Athe­ni­ans took a lot of pride on the re­turn of the mod­ern Olympic Games to its birth­place. The grand Pana­thenaic Sta­dium lies be­tween two pine-cov­ered hills be­tween the neigh­bour­hoods of Mets and Pan­grati. It was orig­i­nally built in the 4th cen­tury BC as a venue for the Pana­thenaic ath­letic con­tests. It’s said that at Hadrian’s in­au­gu­ra­tion in AD 120, 1000 wild an­i­mals were sac­ri­ficed in the arena. Later, the seats were re­built in Pen­telic mar­ble by Herodes At­ti­cus. There are seats for 70,000 spec­ta­tors, a run­ning track and a cen­tral area for field events. Af­ter hun­dreds of years of dis­use, the sta­dium was com­pletely re­stored in 1895 by wealthy Greek bene­fac­tor Ge­or­gios Averof to host the first mod­ern Olympic Games the fol­low­ing year. It’s a faith­ful replica of the orig­i­nal Pana­thenaic Sta­dium, and it made a stun­ning back­drop to the archery com­pe­ti­tion and the marathon fin­ish dur­ing the 2004 Olympics. It’s oc­ca­sion­ally used for con­certs and pub­lic events, and the an­nual Athens marathon fin­ishes here.

THEATRE

The nu­mer­ous the­aters that dot the Athens land­scape of­fer en­ter­tain­ment that is high class, of­ten bor­der­ing on the sur­real, true to the city’s di­vine charms. The an­cient theatre at Ep­i­davros and Athens’ Theatre of Herodes At­ti­cus are the

head­line venues of Greece’s an­nual cul­tural Hel­lenic fes­ti­val featuring a top line-up of lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional mu­sic, dance and theatre. Ma­jor shows in its Athens Fes­ti­val take place at the su­perb Odeon of Herodes At­ti­cus, one of the world’s prime his­toric venues, with the flood­lit Acrop­o­lis as a back­drop. Events are also held in mod­ern venues around town.

Its Ep­i­davros Fes­ti­val presents lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional pro­duc­tions of An­cient Greek drama at the fa­mous an­cient Theatre of Ep­i­davros in the Pelo­pon­nese, two hours west of Athens, on Fri­day and Satur­day nights in July and Au­gust.

The tyrant Pei­sis­tratos in­tro­duced the an­nual Fes­ti­val of the Great Dionysia dur­ing the 6th cen­tury BC, and held it in the world’s first theatre, of Dionysos, on the south slope of the Acrop­o­lis. The orig­i­nal theatre on this site was a tim­ber struc­ture, and masses of peo­ple at­tended the con­tests, where men clad in goatskins sang and danced, fol­lowed by feast­ing and rev­elry. Drama as we know it dates back to these con­tests. At one of the con­tests, Th­es­pis left the ensem­ble and took cen­tre stage for a solo per­for­mance, an act con­sid­ered to be the first true dra­matic per­for­mance – hence the term ‘th­es­pian’. Dur­ing the golden age in the 5th cen­tury BC, the an­nual fes­ti­val was one of the state’s ma­jor events. Politi­cians spon­sored dra­mas by writ­ers such as Aeschy­lus, Sopho­cles and Euripi­des, with some light re­lief pro­vided by the bawdy come­dies of Aristo­phanes. Peo­ple came from all over At­tica, with their ex­penses met by the state. The theatre was re­con­structed in stone and mar­ble by Ly­cur­gus be­tween 342 BC and 326 BC, with a seat­ing ca­pac­ity of 17,000 spread over 64 tiers, of which about 20 sur­vive. Apart from the front row, the seats were built of Pi­raeus lime­stone and oc­cu­pied by or­di­nary cit­i­zens, with women con­fined to the back rows. The front row’s 67 Pen­telic mar­ble thrones were re­served for fes­ti­val of­fi­cials and im­por­tant priests. The grand­est one – in the cen­tre, with lion-paw arm­rests – was re­served for the Priest of Dionysos, who

sat shaded from the sun un­der a canopy.

In Ro­man times, the theatre was used for state events and per­for­mances. The 2nd-cen­tury-bc re­liefs at the rear of the stage de­pict the ex­ploits of Dionysos. The two hefty men (who still have their heads) are selini, wor­ship­pers of the myth­i­cal Seli­nos, the de­bauched fa­ther of the satyrs, whose favourite pas­time was charg­ing up moun­tains with his over­sized phal­lus in lech­er­ous pur­suit of nymphs.

OTHER AT­TRAC­TIONS

Also called the Hill of the Muses, Filopap­pou Hill – along with the Hills of the Pnyx and Nymphs – was, ac­cord­ing to Plutarch, where Th­e­seus and the Ama­zons did bat­tle. In­hab­ited from pre­his­toric times to the post-byzan­tine era, to­day the pine-clad slopes are a re­lax­ing place for a stroll. They of­fer ex­cel­lent views of At­tica and the Sa­ronic Gulf, well-signed ru­ins, and some of the very best van­tage points for pho­tograph­ing the Acrop­o­lis.

The heart of an­cient Athens was the Agora, the lively, crowded fo­cal point of ad­min­is­tra­tive, com­mer­cial, po­lit­i­cal and so­cial ac­tiv­ity. Socrates ex­pounded his phi­los­o­phy here, and in AD 49 St Paul came here to win con­verts to Chris­tian­ity. The site to­day is a lush, re­fresh­ing re­spite, with beau­ti­ful mon­u­ments and tem­ples and a fas­ci­nat­ing mu­seum .

First de­vel­oped as a pub­lic site in the 6th cen­tury BC, the Agora was dev­as­tated by the Per­sians in 480 BC, but a new one was built in its place al­most im­me­di­ately. It was flour­ish­ing by Per­i­cles’ time and con­tin­ued to do so un­til AD 267, when it was de­stroyed by the Heru­lians, a Gothic tribe from Scan­di­navia. The Turks built a res­i­den­tial quar­ter on the site, but this was de­mol­ished by ar­chae­ol­o­gists af­ter In­de­pen­dence and later ex­ca­vated to clas­si­cal and, in parts, Ne­olithic lev­els.

The en­trance to the Ro­man Agora is through the well-pre­served Gate of Athena Archegetis, flanked by four Doric col­umns. It was fi­nanced by Julius Cae­sar and erected some­time dur­ing the 1st cen­tury AD. The well-pre­served, ex­tra­or­di­nary Tower of the Winds was built in the 1st cen­tury BC by a Syr­ian as­tronomer named An­dron­i­cus. The oc­tag­o­nal mon­u­ment of Pen­telic mar­ble is an in­ge­nious con­struc­tion that func­tioned as a sun­dial, weather vane, wa­ter clock and com­pass. Each side of the tower rep­re­sents a point of the com­pass, with a re­lief of a float­ing fig­ure rep­re­sent­ing the wind as­so­ci­ated with that par­tic­u­lar point. Be­neath each of the re­liefs are faint sun­dial markings. The weather vane, which dis­ap­peared long ago, was a bronze Tri­ton that re­volved on top of the tower. The Turks al­lowed dervishes to use the tower.

A ceme­tery from the 3000 BC to the 6th cen­tury AD (Ro­man times), Keramikos was orig­i­nally a set­tle­ment for pot­ters who were at­tracted by the clay on the banks of the River Iri­danos. Be­cause of fre­quent flood­ing, the area was ul­ti­mately con­verted to a ceme­tery. Re­dis­cov­ered in 1861 dur­ing the con­struc­tion of Pireos St, Keramikos is now a lush, tran­quil site with a small but ex­cel­lent mu­seum con­tain­ing re­mark­able ste­lae (stone slabs) and sculp­tures.

The An­cient Greeks cer­tainly knew how to choose a site for a tem­ple. Nowhere is this more ev­i­dent than at Cape Sounion, 70 km south of Athens, where the Tem­ple of Po­sei­don stands on a craggy spur that plunges 65m down to the sea. Built in 444 BC – at the same time as the Parthenon – its Doric col­umns look gleam­ing white when viewed from the sea, which gave great com­fort to sailors in an­cient times: they knew they were nearly home when they saw the first glimpse of mar­ble pil­lars, far off in the dis­tance. The views from the tem­ple are equally im­pres­sive: on a clear day you can see Kea, Kyth­nos and Ser­i­fos to the south­east, and Aegina and the Pelo­pon­nese to the west. The site also con­tains scant re­mains of a propy­laeum , a for­ti­fied tower and, to the north­east, a 6th­cen­tury tem­ple to Athena. Visit early in the morn­ing be­fore the tourist buses ar­rive, or head there for a stun­ning sun­set view. By­ron, and sadly, count­less oth­ers, have carved their names on the col­umns. There are a cou­ple of tav­er­nas just be­low the site – per­fect for lunch and a swim.

ATHENS BY NIGHT:

The en­tire kalei­do­scope of Athens un­der­goes a trans­for­ma­tion as the red molten ball dips down into the far hori­zon and with dusk be­low the sea, it is “Time to

Disco” and no-holds barred, party time.

The unique­ness of Athens by Night is the fact that there is an el­e­ment of au­then­tic Greek cul­ture and the fa­mous “Bouzoukia” revs the city’s en­ter­tain­ment pulse. The dis­trict of Gazi is the most hap­pen­ing place in all of Athens when it comes to night time en­ter­tain­ment. Most of the main­stream bars, chic res­tau­rants and clubs featuring live Greek pop are to be found in this cool neigh­bor­hood.

Apart from Gazi, I found the Syg­grou Av­enue and Iera Odos to be great places for an evening’s en­ter­tain­ment. Fuel your ap­petite with a night-time tour of Athens, be­fore re­lax­ing with a Greek din­ner and show. Tak­ing place at a typ­i­cal tav­erna in the renowned Plaka dis­trict, it’s the per­fect way to fin­ish your night out in Athens! Your evening tour com­mences with a re­lax­ing panoramic drive through cen­tral Athens over to the Acrop­o­lis, which you will see lit up against the night sky. Browse over 60 ar­ti­facts and re­con­structed mu­si­cal in­stru­ments from An­cient Greece. Con­tinue through the nar­row pedes­trian streets of Plaka in the old city of Athens. Here you will dine in a typ­i­cal Greek restau­rant and en­joy a folk­lore show with live mu­sic, bal­let and dancers in tra­di­tional Greek dress.

SEA­SIDE ATHENS:

If you are a beach bum, all you have to do is hop into a tram or car to reach the coastal town of Pa­leo Faliro, which is a mere 30 min­utes away from the Syn­tagma neigh­bor­hood. The balmy Mediter­ranean Sea and the Sa­ronic Gulf is vis­i­ble from Po­sei­don Av­enue. The 2004 Olympic Games have had a huge im­pact in pop­u­lar­is­ing the charm­ing towns like Pa­leo Faliro, Alimos, Agios Kos­mas, Kala­maki, Elliniko, Gly­fada...ex­tend­ing up to Vark­iza. The mari­nas Mikroli­mano and Zeas, lo­cated ide­ally in the port town Pireaus, also of­fer ex­cel­lent sea­side hos­pi­tal­ity and en­ter­tain­ment.

When it comes to high end yacht­ing fa­cil­i­ties, the Flisvos Ma­rina, which is pop­u­larly re­ferred to as the “Athe­nian Riviera”, much like the “French Riviera”, has evolved as a much sought af­ter yacht­ing zone re­plete with un­in­ter­rupted sea views, lux­u­ri­ous yachts and quin­tes­sen­tial ex­pan­sive walk­ways. The en­tire neigh­bor­hood is re­plete with award winning res­tau­rants, cozy bars and end­less shop­ping op­tions.

In close prox­im­ity to the Flisvos Ma­rina is an­other yacht­ing venue, although much smaller in size – the Ma­rina Alimou, that caters to the ex­act­ing needs of the mid­bud­get yacht afi­ciona­dos. The em­pha­sis is on gas­tron­omy. Try out the Amer­i­can Cheese­burg­ers at Kitchen Bar and Skip­pers for heady cock­tails, right be­side the dock­side.

GAS­TRON­OMY:

The city of Athens is a gas­tro­nomic delight with a eclec­tic mix of res­tau­rants that range from tra­di­tional Greek and Mediter­ranean fare to Asian and Ara­bic cui­sine. The en­tire culi­nary land­scape of Greece has evolved and un­der­gone a trans­for­ma­tion, with the pres­ence of the world’s finest chefs in the coun­try. When it comes to Nou­veau In­ter­na­tional Cui­sine, which sprang up from Omo­nia Square, it is an in­te­gral part of the Athens’ gas­tro­nomic land­scape. I was also quite taken aback by the ready avail­abil­ity of In­dian Tan­doori and Hy­der­abadi Biriyani at a restau­rant in down­town Athens. Fresh Seafood del­i­ca­cies are best sa­vored at the At­tica. The fish­er­men of the lo­cal­ity daily bring back the fresh­est catches and some of the most pop­u­lar fish tav­er­nas are Gly­fada, Sounio, Pi­raeus, Vou­liag­meni and Mi­croli­mano. The Street Food scene too has an au­then­tic stamp of tra­di­tional Athe­nian cui­sine. The city’s land­sacape is dot­ted with hun­dreds of street ven­dors who of­fer lo­cal del­i­ca­cies. In the fall and

win­ter sea­sons, Athens’ crowded streets are packed with push­carts fry­ing chest­nuts, corn and dried nuts. Try out the sesame and raisin bread that hap­pen to be the sta­ple food of Athens. Shawar­mas, cheesy snacks and fried seafood bites are also quite pop­u­lar.

The streets around the colour­ful and bustling Var­vakios Agora are a sen­sory delight. It is the high­light of the vi­brant Athi­nas mar­ket dis­trict. It’s a sen­sory and gas­tro­nomic delight, with an amaz­ing range of olives, spices, cheeses and deli treats. The meat and fish mar­ket fills the his­toric build­ing on the eastern side, and the fruit and veg­etable mar­ket is across the road. The meat mar­ket, with hang­ing car­casses il­lu­mi­nated by swing­ing light bulbs might sound like a strange place to go for a meal, but its tav­er­nas are an Athe­nian in­sti­tu­tion. Clients range from hun­gry mar­ket work­ers to ele­gant cou­ples emerg­ing from night­clubs in search of a bowl of hang­over­bust­ing pat­sas (tripe soup).

Ev­ery Satur­day morn­ing lo­cals also make the trek up to the Kalidromiou, in the foothills of Strefi Hill, to Exarhia’s weekly farm­ers mar­ket or laïki agora , an en­dur­ing Athens in­sti­tu­tion. This is one of the city’s most at­mo­spheric mar­kets, with rowdy traders tak­ing over one of Exarhia’s finest streets, lined with lovely neo­clas­si­cal build­ings and set against the dra­matic back­drop of Lykavit­tos Hill in the dis­tance. It’s mostly fresh pro­duce and house­hold goods, but it’s a real Athe­nian neigh­bour­hood ex­pe­ri­ence. Get a prime seat at one of the busy cafés.

AC­COM­MO­DA­TION:

As the city of Athens gained in pop­u­lar­ity as a much pre­ferred tourist des­ti­na­tion, so has been the bur­geon­ing growth of the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try, which is right now boom­ing with new ho­tels. The 2004 Olympic Games acted as a kind of har­bin­ger to­wards the rapid de­vel­op­ment of the city’s hos­pi­tal­ity land­scape and a vast ma­jor­ity of the ho­tel own­ers mod­ern­ized, ex­panded and re­mod­eled their prop­er­ties to meet the ex­act­ing hos­pi­tal­ity needs of the global trav­eler. The Athens econ­omy may be slow­ing down but there is no sign of re­duced ho­tel prices.

From stun­ning ho­tel suites with sooth­ing spas by the sea­side or just bed & break­fast stuff, Athens caters to all. A vast ma­jor­ity of the up­scale ho­tels are to be found in the neigh­bor­hood of the city cen­tre like the Acrop­o­lis, Plaka, Omo­nia Square, Kolon­aki, Par­lia­ment Square, Sy­grou Av­enue, with bud­get op­tions too.

PUB­LIC TRANS­PORT:

Pub­lic trans­porta­tion in Athens is well or­ga­nized and of­fers a va­ri­ety of routes and com­bine var­ied means like the metro, rail­way, buses and trams. With a 1,00€ ticket you can criss­cross the en­tire city by us­ing one or more modes of trans­port within 1.5 hour. Tick­ets can be pur­chased from metro and train sta­tions as well as from the street kiosks. The most eco­nom­i­cal op­tion is to pur­chase day or weekly passes which are heav­ily dis­counted.

When us­ing pub­lic trans­port, be sure to val­i­date tick­ets af­ter pur­chas­ing. One has to bear in mind that for un­val­i­dated tick­ets, one has to pay 40 times its ac­tual value. The val­i­da­tion ma­chines are eas­ily sighted in the buses and trol­ley­buses in the form of or­ange col­ored boxes. In the case of the metro, the boxes are po­si­tioned on the sta­tion lobby, while on the tram, there are beige boxes that are to be found on the plat­form.

CAR HIRE & RENTALS:

Car rental agen­cies abound in Athens. They are op­er­ated by li­censed driv­ers and can be re­lied upon. Be­fore rent­ing a car make sure you check the ve­hi­cle in­sur­ance cover against ac­ci­dent, theft, fire, etc... Hir­ing a taxi in Athens is in­ex­pen­sive by Euro­pean stan­dards. All li­censed taxis are fit­ted with me­ters and the fare is charged on the ba­sis of kilo­me­ters and hours. Don’t try to hire a bike, you must have nerves of steel to ne­go­ti­ate the city’s chaotic traf­fic.

A va­ri­ety of cruises are on of­fer from Pi­raeus port or hop on a ferry to visit the nearby is­lands. Many ferry ser­vices are shut in win­ter.

For fur­ther in­for­ma­tion and reser­va­tions, get in touch with Greek Na­tional Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion, 7, Tsoha, 11521, Athens, Tel: +30 210 8707000; E-mail: info@gnto.gr

The her­itage of Athens

Mona­s­ti­raki Square and Acrop­o­lis in Athens

Con­tes­tants of the Miss Tourism Planet beauty con­test pro­mote their up­com­ing tele­vi­sion show in front of the Par­lia­ment in Athens

Acrop­o­lis by night

Boats in the har­bor

A trendy bar in Athens

Athens Tram Sta­tion

The Ele­gant Lime­stone County Court­house

Restau­rant in the Plaka neigh­bor­hood, Athens

Vari beach, south­east of Athens

Athens

Plaka

Breath­tak­ing View of Acrop­o­lis from the Ho­tel

Athens nightlife

Odeon of Herodes At­ti­cus

Houses in posh part of Athens

Athens fish mar­ket

Restau­rant by the sea in Athens

Athens’ his­tor­i­cal ru­ins

Athens is the birth­place of the Olympics

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