When I needed to go to Tbilisi you couldn’t fly direct from the UK and had to connect somewhere. Out of all the options available Athens seemed the most exciting, so by chance rather than design, I ended up spending a day in the Greek capital. I didn’t know much about Athens before I went, only hearing that it was crowded, the traffic was bad and the air was polluted. However, as with pretty much every place I’ve ever been to it was way better than I had imagined. Here’s what I got up to:
I arrived in the centre of the city by metro at 9:30 P.M., due to leave by the same route in less than 24 hours time to fly on to Georgia. Through the darkness, I made my way to the Jason Inn hotel in the Psyri area of the city where I had booked a two-night stay (feeling awkward about the whole late-checkout thing). This hotel was very reasonably priced and in a great location but that didn’t stop people leaving some quite unfair negative reviews about the place, mainly about the decor needing updating (which has since happened and it looks really classy now). Anyway, I was very happy there.
The next day, I set off early in the morning and made straight for the Acropolis. This was for two reasons. 1: It is the most famous attraction in Athens, the most iconic and the most significant. 2: It gets busy, quickly, so get there early to beat the crowds. The name comes from the Greek words akron “summit” and polis “city” and similar citadels like this are scattered across Greece. The Acropolis of Athens consists of a collection of ancient relics and ruins mainly of temples dedicated to Athena, Poseidon and various other Ancient Greek deities. It is really impressive, especially the monumental gateway which serves as the entrance and the panoramic views of the rest of Athens but the whole thing was slightly marred by the cranes and machinery there to aid the reconstruction.
Descending from the Acropolis in an eastward direction you pass through the “Turkish Quarter” of Athens: Plaka. This historic neighbourhood is full of attractive and colourful old houses and is home to the Ancient Agora and close to Monastiraki Square. It was a pleasant area to spend time browsing the little shops, wandering through historic alleys and talking to the local cats but soon I had a more pressing concern: lunch.
I dined at Dióskouroi (ΔΙΟΣΚΟΥΡΟΙ) in Adrianou. I opted for a spanakopita (Greek: σπανακόπιτα), because spinach, cheese and pastry are always a great combination. It was a really calming place, under the shade of an old tree, with rustic chairs and tables, watching people walking past.
Next: Syntagma Square (site of protests over the economy during Greece’s period of severe economic troubles 2010-2012) and the Hellenic Parliament. These were both interesting and impressive but by this time the heat was intense, even though it was only May, so I was glad to be able to slip into the nearby National Garden. Apart from feeling like a refreshing, calming bower of dense greenery, ideal for recharging your batteries, an unexpected experience was to see baby tortoises swimming in the fountains. I’m not sure if they were meant to be there or not but for me, it was a personal highlight.
I spent some time browsing the antique markets around Adrianou and Ermou then ended up at Crepa Queen on Agion Asomaton. As the name suggests, this establishment focuses on pancakes but I also saw halva listed on their menu. This would be the first time I’d ever ordered halva and safe to say I have never been able to replicate this experience. The halva that was brought to me was cool and milky with a sweet and nutty flavour. Since then I’ve had halva from Bosnia, Turkey and Macedonia but each one of these has been hard, salty and tasting more of sesame than anything else. They have all been really disappointing. If someone knows why the Greek halva was way better, I’m dying to know. (Another unexpected revelation was the oregano flavour crisps you can get at the kiosks, they’re way better than they sound and I feel sad they’re not available in the UK).
The evening soon came and almost the same time as the night before I was on the metro again, this time going back to the airport to catch my midnight flight to Tbilisi. I feel I packed a lot into my slightly less than 24 hours in Athens, it was a great experience and if there was ever another chance to connect there I would love to see what else the city has to offer.