How to run Athens properly
Carien du Plessis is on a mission to run the globe. #Trending catches up with her in Greece in the midst of the economic meltdown
Place: Athens, Greece Distance: Who’s counting Time of run: 7.45pm to 9.20pm (sunset: 8.41pm) Date: Saturday July 4 – warm Rating: Greece lightning Reason: Political tourism travel to the referendum Route: From Metaxourgeio up Lycabettus hill and down around the National Garden, back via Omonoia Square Travelling on a whim sometimes takes you to weird places, sans guidebook, and you end up with just your intuition, some forgotten ancient history education and a half-assed map to rely on. Admittedly, I was a bit lukewarm about Athens, having diverted from my travels in the Balkans to check out the referendum. It’s not exactly a paradise island.
There was also the matter of motivation. Having ruled out doing a grand run from Marathon to Athens on the original route of the first marathon – because Haruki Murakami, in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, said the road was full of traffic, polluted and hot – my motivation was low.
Inspired by the Greek salad I had for lunch, I picked a green-looking space on the map named Lycabettus. The youth hostel receptionist gave the thumbs up to go there, but only before sunset.
Two blocks after putting away the map, I lost my way among the dirty back streets near Metaxourgeio, where the worse-for-wear pavements smelt of the clowder of cats the locals feed there.
Unlike the Germans, the Greeks are fearless. In fact, most are admirably skilled at jaywalking. But let’s leave the Eurozone politics there.
The general rule when you have no clue where you are is to take the road uphill. At the top of the dirt road was a tar road. There I found a church and a wedding party, and the air smelt heavenly sweet. Above the church was the sound of chatter and, around the corner, the steps leading to it.
The hilltop was so crowded I thought the entire population of Athens – and half of its tourists – had sought refuge there. Still, there were surprisingly few runners, but as most women were wearing impossibly short shorts, I felt overdressed in my running tights. There, people took turns to take selfies with the Acropolis in the background.
Most of the high-rises in Athens look like parodies of 20th-century South African holiday flats – probably because they tried to look Greek before Tuscan became the rage. Due to what appears to be limited space, the street lights hang suspended between the buildings.
Making my way through the neat and leafy Kolonaki neighbourhood on the downhill – with its galleries, hipster bars, restaurants and museums – the charm of Athens made me slow my pace.
A little later, the Panathenaic Stadium was revealed in front of me. This is where the first modern Olympic Games were held, in 1896. Seeing it made my tummy float and turn – that feeling when you fall in love and lust at the same time, or when you enter the stadium to finish a Comrades and the crowd is cheering you like you are Bruce Fordyce. That sort of feeling.
Outside the Panathenaic Stadium hung a banner from the #NAI (yes) rally the night before, and the splendid venue made me wish that I had been with those who’d voted “yes” and not the “no” crowd at Syntagma Square.
Home was about four metro stops away by the time I realised I was tired. Public transport was free, but I pushed on.
I whooshed past the official-looking Zappeion – where journalists were busy doing live crossings – the magnificent Temple of Zeus – perched almost shyly on ground full of anthropological excavation – and the Arch of Hadrian. The lot looked dramatic and even more seductive in the semi-darkness.
By the time I got back to my place, I was head over heels. There is no way of running Athens. It runs you. Taken from the blog Carien Runs
VIEW FROM THE TOP Carien du Plessis takes a sweaty selfie at the top of a hill in Athens, Greece, with a great view over the city and the Acropolis (top of picture)