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City Guide: Athens, Greece

Acropolis of Athens. Google images.

We ask people who have either moved or travelled to certain areas in Greece to provide us with relevant information to help those travelling to these destinations! We provide the traveller with the headings and the rest is written by them based on their own personal experiences! Happy reading and happy travelling!

Athens is the heartbeat of Greece. It’s always buzzing with energy and with people from all over the world. The beauty of Athens is that within easy reach of magnificent archaeological sites are breath-taking beaches and relaxed Greek tavernas serving everything from Greek beer, ouzo to grilled octopus. Not to mention that the nightlife and the vibe is on a level of its own. It truly is a city that never sleeps!

List and describe your top two ‘must see’s’ of the city. These can be tourist attractions, squares, galleries or whatever. 

It’s almost impossible to have a “top two” when discussing a city such as Athens. So instead, I’ll suggest the top sights. For more information, click on the label and you will be linked to a different site for information.

Stadium.

Stadium.

List and describe the food and restaurants available as well as provide your favourite. 

Well this one is easy. Greek food is all over, gyros pita, souvlakia, Greek-style fries, fresh sea food, crepes, pancakes and loukoumades are all over. In Monastiraki, Syntagma, Glyfada and Kolonaki you should be able to find these stores easily. For those looking for something classier, once again, in these areas you will find a wide range of classy restaurants to cater for your specific taste.

List and describe the bar/club life and where you would recommend going. 

There is definitely something for everyone in Athens when it comes to nightlife. From clubs and bars playing Greek commercial music, hip hop, commercial English music to, of course, bouzoukia or live performances by your favourite Greek singers. Athens is somewhat different to other places in terms of nightlife – expect people to only show up after midnight (sometimes later) if you want a vibe and be prepared for clubs / bars that don’t close before 10am the following morning.

Head to Gazi (get off at Keiramikos subway station) where you will find a mix of bars and clubs which cater both to students and young adults. It’s a square surrounded by many clubs, bars and restaurants which makes for a very convenient night out. Many well-known clubs are in this area as well as music halls where you can find your favourite Greek artists singing live if you’re lucky. You will find similar types of clubs, bars and restaurants in Monastiraki, Psirri and Thissio areas, the good news is that you’re spoilt for choice, the bad news is that you’re spoilt for choice.

In areas like Glyfada and Kolonaki you will find a similar mix of clubs, bars and restaurants but generally these cater to young adults and an older crowd.

In addition, in areas such as Glyfada and Palaio Faliro you can also find a wide variety of sea-side bars and clubs as well as bouzoukia and live artists. Make sure to google where and when your Greek favourite artists are performing so that you don’t miss out!

Bouzoukia 

List and describe the transport available/is it necessary/do you walk/is there a bus/taxi/uber/train/underground?

I walk and mainly make use of public transport. Public transport in Athens is generally very easy to use and highly accessible no matter where you find yourself. There are 4 different modes of public transport in Athens – the Tram, Trolley, Buses and Underground. Apart from the Google Maps app there’s also another useful app called “Moovit” which I highly recommend if you never want to miss a stop and/or want the quickest route. Although generally safe, watch for pickpockets on the metro and at the markets. With regard to taxis, there’s an app called “Taxibeat” which works practically the same way as Uber and is just as easy to use – definitely give it a try for those long distance / late night trips. If taking taxis without the use of an app (which I wouldn’t recommend if you can’t speak Greek), ask the driver to use the meter or negotiate the price in advance to avoid any unexpected surprises.

Your recommended amount of days to stay in Athens?

 Forever! But in all seriousness, it’s impossible to take in all the beauty of Athens in a single trip. I’ve been here almost a year and still discover new spots or “hidden gems” practically every day. If I had to recommend an amount of days to stay I’d say nothing less than two weeks. If you’re looking for a holiday, I would recommend that you break the stay in Athens after a few days with a visit to the islands as things are very quick-paced in Athens.

Recommended area to stay in?

This one is very budget specific. The top areas I’d recommend for beach-lovers are Glyfada, Vouliagmeni, Varkiza – however these areas can be pricey and are far from the center. The best areas to stay within the city centre are Syntagma, Monastiraki and Kolonaki. Student travellers tend to opt for accommodation within the Monastiraki area.

Glyfada Shopping Streets. Google Images.

Any beautiful churches you have been to and suggest visiting?

 All over the city! In and around Monastiraki one can find a variety of churches (both new and ancient). The well-known Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens (which is regularly shown on ERT) is a 5-minute walk from either the Monastiraki or Syntagma metro stations. Monastiraki is a flea market neighbourhood where one will be able to buy anything and everything Greek (which includes komboskina, church icons and other Greek Orthodox products). The area is named after Monastiraki Square, which in turn derives its name from Church of Pantanassa located within the square.

Any close day trips that you recommend making time for whilst staying there? 

As regards islands, Aegina, Hydra, Poros seems to be a favourite day trip where one can get on a “hop on hop off” ferry. Another favourite amongst locals is to make a day trip to Nafplio (and the surrounding areas for beaching and food) Mycenae and Ancient Olympia. You may want to consider booking accommodation for a night and returning the following day as these places have a lot to offer. Otherwise a day trip to the beaches which are more outside Athens (Varkiza and further) is also a big must!

Any extra information you feel would be relevant to someone wanting to travel to Athens?

Crime has risen in Athens with the onset of the financial crisis. Though violent street crime is very rare, travellers should still be aware of visiting certain areas, especially late at night. Streets surrounding an area called Omonia have become markedly unsafe, there has been an increase of junkies and dodgy individuals in the area, avoid the area especially at night. In South African terms, the area is similar to Braamfontein / Hillbrow although still worth a visit during the day and only in selected areas within Omonia. It’s sad because Omonia was once one of the most beautiful and wealthy areas of Athens.

If you can, provide a suggested 3 full day itinerary:

Day 1 – Visit Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum (this usually takes a full half day), Lunch at Monastiraki Square @ Savvas Kabab (souvlakia) or surrounding Greek taverns, Shop at the flea market and Ermou in Syntagma and see all the various artefacts, history and churches, late afternoon sundowners @ 360 / A for Athens / Couleur Locale or a variety of other rooftop bars in the area.

Savvas Kebab. Rooftop Garden. Google Images.

Day 2 – Beach day: Take a taxi to Varkiza beach (or surrounding beaches) and rent a spot on the beach, sip on cocktails and enjoy traditional Greek souvlakia and a gyro pita on the beach, visit Galaxy Bar (Hilton, Athens) for sundowners or cocktails with a view of Athens at night.

Varkiza Beach. Google Images.

Day 3 – Visit the Benaki museum (Kolonaki) for your mix of culture, grab a bite of Greek food in Kolonaki, hike or take the teleferic up Mount Lycabettus and grab sundowners with a view of Athens, the Acropolis and the sea. My advice would be to hike up to see the beauty of Athens from all angles as you hike up and to only use the teleferic on your way down.

Interview questions answered by George Patrinos. Currently living in Athens. Some images belong to him and others are from Google images. 

 

Our Ex President: Where is she now?

We interviewed our ex NAHYSOSA President, Andrea Spyron (2015 & 2016) to find out more about her exciting adventure and what she has been up to since handing over to current President, Andreas Coulbanis.

1. It has been approximately 5 months since you did the official handover. How did you feel in that moment and how do you feel now?

Wow! It was a bit hectic then I won’t lie to you. I was a bit worried I would have left something out or that there would be a misalignment of perceptions. It’s quite tricky to talk through everything you know and what you may think the other person may know. It was also crazy trying to pull all the admin after Congress in time. So it was a bit stressful, and I was sad to be saying goodbye to about 6 years of my life, but once I handed over I was quite relieved – just emotional haha.

2. Since handing over, you have probably had a lot more free time on your hands, what have you done with this free time?

Well I didn’t leave much time to waft to be honest. December/January was a very busy “holiday” or “life catch-up” period for me. We also tried to do the handover when both of us had time. I was also busy making plans for the year which actually saw me jump onto an airplane at the end of February for a few months with no definite direction. However, I am a bit of a control freak, so I did need to know that I’d be adding value during this time in some way. I previously came across information about Greek language courses through the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and I like the idea of having a “routine” but being able to use Thessaloniki as a base should I want to venture into Europe. It also worked out nicely because I have family here.

3. What made you decide to leave South Africa and travel?

I’m not going to lie to you there were quite a few factors. But I can tell you that I wasn’t too fulfilled or challenged in my job (which I wasn’t sure about in general) for a while. I then also realised I’m not paying anything off or attached to anyone, I’m free from committee responsibilities and obligations, and I generally enjoy travelling. So if there was ever a time to “take a gap year” – it would be now.

4. What made you choose the Greek course?

As I mentioned above I couldn’t deal with not knowing a basic plan. I guess now is also a good time to mention that my Greek isn’t very good, at all, which is a regret of mine. So sticking with the NAHYSOSA ethos of UNITY, KNOWLEDGE, CULTURE I decided to continue the experience in my own way and improve on something so valuable to being a Hellene…while I try find myself haha!

5. What made you choose Thessaloniki?

A bit of what I mentioned before but I have also never been to Greece. I suppose I could have gone to Cyprus or tried to do something online, but this travel thing was also about getting out of my comfort zone, learning about myself and how I manage when experiencing new things. And Greece is beautiful so why not 🙂

6. Have you stayed in Thessaloniki the whole time or have you travelled? If so, where and what was your experience of these places and travelling?

I have been a bit restless. Before I came to Thessaloniki I stopped off in Cyprus for a brief family visit. After two months here I managed to go to London because I absolutely love the city and I have family and friends there. It’s such a great city! Easy to get around, and so interesting. I don’t think you could ever get bored there. Every time I go back I have such a blast. I also manged to briefly visit Zurich. I’ve always wanted to travel to Switzerland. And so before it got too expensive over the summer I thought it would be a good time to get my first taste of it. I can save you all a lot of money and tell you that Lindt is indeed the best chocolate to come out of Switzerland. Sorry to break it to you…

7. What has your experience of being away from home and family and friends been like?

Since Congress 2014 I have been using the phrase: “It’s not where you go. It’s who you’re with!” and this cannot be more present in my life right now. I am grateful to have taken this opportunity and I’m not ready to come back home juuuuussssttt yet. I also did want a bit of alone time to pull myself towards myself (also a trademark of mine). But there have been many times when I’ve been through something or seen something or tasted something or whatever it may have been that made me think of someone back home. Or how I had a good time experiencing something and would have loved to have shared it with those close to me. This isn’t my first time away from home home (yes x2) but it is my first time out of South Africa for so long, away from everyone I know for so long. And it’s truly made me appreciate what I am blessed with each and every day as well as what we have in South Africa. I don’t think I’ve ever spoken about our “Rainbow Nation” more than I have since I left and I’m so proud to be able to show anyone and everyone who will listen what we as South African Hellenes are up to. And let me tell you, it blows their minds.

8. Where do you see yourself after this experience?

Even me I’d like to know! No but I guess just more settled in life. Hopefully more mature to make the most of what I have in front of me and to stop wishing about the future and staring so long at it that I do not live in the present…I’m sure this answer will change as each week passes though.

9. Do you miss being involved in NAHYSOSA and do you see yourself being involved again? If so, in what way?

I do miss NAHYSOSA. I am fortunate enough to have mostly had a good experience. It gave me so much I cannot even begin to explain. But I guess if it wasn’t worth it, we wouldn’t work as hard as we do for it. However after six years you get a bit tired. In your thinking and your effort. I also feel NAHYSOSA cannot grow if the new, fresh and bright ideas and limited due to “traditional” thinking (I’m also a control freak rememeber 😉 ). So I don’t think I will get involved again. I will however always be there to support NAHYSOSA and the affiliates as best I can. But I’ve also learnt to never say never…so you never know 🙂

10. Any advice for someone deciding to leave South Africa and travel abroad for a long period of time?

It depends on why you’re going to be honest. If it’s just because you want to party my advice will be a little different to if it’s for career or personal purposes for example. But I guess the general is as follows: 1) Budget. Budget for the known and for the unknown. This will also determine your path, whether you’re free-wheeling or have a plan. You’ll know how hard you need to work before or if you’ll also need to work while you’re abroad… or how soon you need to start working after you’re arrival 2) Packing isn’t easy. Especially if you’re crossing seasons. A lot of winter jackets are becoming warmer and lighter. So invest in the right gear. But also understand you can’t take everything with you. So prepeare to mix and match and wear things again. Also consider that you can buy things as you go if you really need. Toiletries are also an issue. They take up a lot of room and weight. So consider taking what you need for maybe the first month and then be prepared to buy as you go (see … budgeting!) 3) It takes quite long to get ready for a trip! Don’t think you can pack on Monday if you’re leaving on Friday for five months abroad. If you need Visa’s and documents make sure you start well in advance trying to acquire them because, let’s be honest, admin very rarely runs smoothly. 4) Embrace it! Whatever you go through – make the most of it! Live for then. Don’t think you can come back later to enjoy a place. Enjoy it now because you are there NOW. 5) If you’re going alone – a great and cheap way to meet people is through pub-crawls. They’re usually there for the same reasons so it’s a good start if you’ll be spending some time in a city you’re not too familiar with.

Interview conducted by Angeliki Vayanos.