Despite the current economic woes of Greece I found the people here to be some of the friendliest in Europe.
In fact so much so that usually in their attempts to be helpful they actually over-exaggerated.
When I asked for directions more than once I got the response “just over there,” which turned out to be a good 15 minutes walk away!
Athens was my first stop in Greece, therefore it was the first time I was exposed to people constantly assuming I was from here.
I’d try to go along with it but often I’d have only a blank stare to give when someone spoke to me in Greek, although I didn’t find it too hard to pick up some basic phrases and words here.
I especially love the word for good morning ‘kalimera’ which sounds almost musical when the locals say it to one another.
As coincidence would have it, a friend I had met in Turkey was on the same plane as me to Athens. Two other friends of ours had arrived a couple days previously, so all of us met up my first day in the city at the National Archeological Museum.
That is, I made it there finally after taking a 45 minute tram journey from my hotel which was nowhere near anything since it was in the Paleo Faliro area by the sea.
My tram dropped me off at Syntagma Square, a central point in the city where I found out I would then need to take a bus too to reach the museum and ended up missing the first available one since the driver seemed to simply choose not to stop.
As I cursed him in English, I turned to see a woman, about 80 years old, dressed head to toe in black and standing at roughly 5 feet tall who shouted Greek obscenities (I could tell from the frequent use of malaka, one of the few words I knew already from growing up in the ethnic mix that is Australia) down the street.
It was a purely hilarious sight to see and still makes me chuckle thinking about it.
When I finally did get to the museum it had a wide collection of artefacts on offer, including a large display of Egyptian antiquities and heavy focus on sculptures. It’s easy to spend a few hours getting lost among its many rooms.
Next up we didn’t really have a plan and when you’re in one of the oldest cities on the entire planet, it can be difficult to decide where to start.
We decided the Acropolis was a good a place as any.
The Parthenon is the most famous ruin left on this ancient citadel and as you walk around the little that is left you still can’t help but be amazed that some of these remains are over 2,000 years old. How crazy is that?!
Nearby the base of the Acropolis is the Acropolis Museum. I’d definitely suggest a visit as you can learn more about the Acropolis here, especially if you see the site yourself without a guide.
After taking in a lot of Athens’ history, I was beyond hungry and my first souvlaki did the trick in helping to forget how much my feet were taking a beating seeing a great deal of the city by walking.
A sort of kebab on a plate, it wasn’t on the level as my favourite Greek food gyros but it definitely went down all right!
If you’re in search of souvenirs then the Plaka is where it’s at.
Much more than just this though, the area of town has a huge amount of dining options on offer and a really cool atmosphere.
I particularly enjoy how many restaurants have patrons eating on the steps outside, it’s super chilled out.
Alongside our dinner we got to enjoy some traditional Greek dancing and singing, although no plate smashing!
A for Athens is a rooftop bar which has a great view of the Acropolis.
On my plane ride out of my home town, one of the Emirates cabin crew was Greek and actually recommended this place.
At night is when it really shines as you get a lit up view of the Parthenon, but of course expect to pay top euro for drinks in exchange.
You’ll find A for Athens close to Monastiraki Square, which is a central point in the city.
There’s some markets which lead off from the square and an array of street performers and stalls selling fresh fruit at any given time.
If you’re in need of a shopping fix beyond the knick knacks sold here, then the nearby Ermou St has all the major European stores.
As mentioned I was staying away from all of this in Paleo Faliro, since I would be leaving for a Greek island tour for a couple weeks and it left from a dock close by to here.
If I was to come back to Athens I’d definitely pick someplace closer to the city centre and Plaka area since there wasn’t a whole lot happening near me.
The beach doesn’t come close to any of the islands but my friend and I chose to venture close by and see what was around and randomly came across a cemetery for WW2 soldiers.
There was even a plaque which gave a mention to Australian troops so we had a wander around this peaceful place and paid our respects.
We subsequently chose to follow the tram line that ran past our hotel to the end of the line.
What we found were some cute little canals in a very quiet area of Athens.
There was a lot of abandoned buildings in this part of town and we definitely got the impression we were the only tourists around for a while so it was a cool opportunity to see locals just doing their thing, like kids running amuck since school had ended for the day.
We did get hopelessly lost on our way back to finding the tram which resulted in 15 minutes of walking through some sketchy neighbourhood but otherwise it was an all right detour!
You can certainly see the sight seeing highlights of Athens in a couple of days and there is definitely evidence of a city that has fallen on harder times recently with many areas looking very run down and graffiti filled.
For my first encounter in Greek hospitality I have to say I’m grateful and impressed by all the assistance I was given from the locals here (especially when I missed my tram stop at 2am and a man went out of his way to explain how I could get to where I needed to be!) I found Athens a friendly place full of rich history!