Saturday, July 16, 2011

An Italian Girl in... Athens

Acropolis view
The first thing an Italian is told when landing in Greece is: “Italians and Greeks, one face one race”. No matter if the Italian in front of them is a strawberry blonde Milanese looking for a full-screen sun cream in order not to get burnt while visiting the Acropolis.
This is actually a good point: Italians and Greeks share some cultural features that make each other feel at home when traveling in their respective Countries.
We speak loud. We are coffee addicts. We have a great past, a troubled present and a very uncertain future. Our parents call us “my baby” till we become parents ourselves and don’t understand why we should go and live on our own – maybe in another town or abroad - when we can comfortably stay at home with them. We love eating well, much and with many friends. We have a taste for what is beautiful. Athens is a concentrate of all these aspects. 
The city centre is relatively small, so you can easily visit the most beautiful parts in a long week-end: anyway if you have the chance to stay longer, there are several day trips that you can do in the outskirts.  
So, pack your stuff and don’t forget:

1)     A pair of sunglasses: not only because as an Italian I’m a maniac of big fashionable sunglasses even when it snows, but also because the summer in Athens is very hot and sunny and they may be truly essential (contact me if you need help with the model!).
2)     A pair of comfortable sneakers to climb up and down the Acropolis.
3)     A swimwear for a trip to Glyfada beach if it gets too hot.
Be aware that Athens is either love or hate: there’s no an intermediate solution. I’ve been speaking with people disappointed by the (apparently experienced) lack of organization and order of the city and at the same time I’ve exchanged enthusiastic memories, a sort of melancholy of Greek landscapes and suggestions for future visits with others who- like me - totally fell in love for Athens and Greece since the first time they touched Socrates’ land.  
Are you wondering why I’m addicted to Athens? There you go:
1)     It is the place where Western culture was born: have a review to your school books before leaving. You’ll realize that the key pillars of our society derive from ancient Greece heritage. Few examples? The concept of democracy was firstly introduced by Athens Boule (government) in the Vth century B.C. Medical treatments and the concept of hospitals developed thanks to Hippocrates and its fellows…They also improved mathematics…ok, nobody’s perfect!
2)     It is the place where arts were introduced: do you enjoy a night out to the theatre? Or a good concert? Are you a dancer or a writer? Forget about all of that if it weren’t for the Athenians!
3)     The Acropolis view when the sun sets: a walk into the Acropolis area is one of the things that everyone should do at least once in a life. The complex was firstly conceived   in the VIIth cent B.C. but its final shape was conceived only in the V cent, thanks two men: the stateman Periclis, the Acropolis’ mind, and the artist Phidias, the Acropolis’ heart. In that period Athens was the top of the world and you can still feel the charm of its great history at the end of the day, when the crowd of tourists has left, the Levantine breeze caresses the site marbles and another sunset – after 2.500 years – takes place.
4)     Seeing the place where Socrates went praying in the ancient Agora: the ancient Agorà is located beneath the Acropolis hill and it’s what remains of the actual ancient polis of Athens. Indeed the Acropolis was the religious and celebrative part of the city, while the Agorà was the commercial and residential area. The main “celebs” of ancient times passed through it. Including Aristoteles, Plato and friends.
5)     Ancient melting into contemporary: at the Acropolis Museum, a masterpiece of modern architecture which astonishingly fits the archaeological scenario in which it was constructed.  
6)     Going to open-aired Cine Paris eyeing the Parthenon: in the middle of Plaka, in Kydathinaion Street 22, there’s a small cinema that offers an international program of movies to watch on the open-aired roof with view on the lightened Acropolis. 
7)     Having a Greek coffee in a kafeneion: for an Italian coffee breaks are a crucial moment of the day. As far as I saw, the Greeks are the only people that are keener than us on having a coffee with their friends. I strongly suggest you to spend some time to look for the café that mostly fits your tastes in Athens, so to adapt to this habit. Some tips:
- Monastikari offers some very old kafeneia mainly crowded with the local working class: Greek coffee quality granted as well as a chat with an Athenian.
Sounio Beach view from Poseidon Temple
- Syntagma patisseries: preferred by Athens professionals, as they offer Greek products with a Northern European service. Tasty…but much less authentic.  
- Dioskuri café: a café straight at the foot of the Acropolis, straight in the middle of history.
     8) Refreshing in Glyfada or Sounio: the advantage of being in a capital city with an escape to some of the best landscapes in the Mediterranean. Glyfada, Athens’ beach, as well as Sounio are easily reachable by bus. The first offers sandy beaches and glam lounge bar. The second, the typical blue of the Aegean Sea and the rests of a temple to Poseidon – the God of the seas, well-known for the scenario it offers at the sunset. The beach is an easy walk far from the site: literally a “divine” swim.
9)     Buying home-made leather sandals and bags: both in Monastiraki Flea Market and in Psirri you can find leather sandals and accessories still made according to traditions. A visit to the sandals’ guru Stavros Melissinos’ small and cosy shop is a must-have!
10) Rembetiko and Roses: Greece has an old (of course) and wide musical tradition, which is still widely performed and danced by people of all ages. Rembetiko originated in the Greek-Turkish community of Izmir back in the 19th cent, when that part of Turkey was actually under Greece influence. Nowadays, it is still played with the same instruments, the bouzouki mandolin and guitar, it still speaks of love and passion and it’s still danced all night long by the people in smoky Rembetika kafeneia. The boys get into the café with bunches of roses…throwing roses is the traditional way to invite a girl on the Rembetiko dancefloor. So, girls on your way to Athens: add to the “don’t forget” list a nice party dress and don't be shy, dancing rembetiko is much easier than you think!       
I could actually go on forever with my list, as I’m back to Athens almost once a year as my departure point to the rest of Greece. But what actually brings me back again and again to this coastal land with a necklace of islands is its people: open-minded, kind with guests, proud of their culture and willing to share it with foreigners. Each travel is connected to a new friend, a new personal history, a new perspective heard or discussed. And that’s exactly what I think traveling is about.
Kalo taxidi!

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