DISCOVERING ATHENS – PART 1

monastiraki 5 n DISCOVERING ATHENS   PART 1Athens is a motley town: each neighborhood has its own characteristic traits and atmosphere, a distinctive soul you can breath with a simple walk across its’ streets. Downtown Athens can be easily explored by walk, strolling from one district to another in less than few hours, leaving you the time to jump on a train or a bus and head to a suburban area. I really liked Athens’ suburbs and I was amazed by that fact that it didn’t take me long to get there: in fact, Athens public transport is really well-structured, which allowed me to explore so many areas of Athens in just one week, with an efficiency that could not have been possible in –let’s say- Rome.THISIO

On my first day in Athens I wanted to enjoy a panoramic view of the town to better understand what I was going to deal with. I went then to one of the most panoramic viewpoints of Athens, Philopappo Hill, a quiet spot which happens to be also the birthplace of Democracy, because that’s where Athenians gathered to debate on how administrate the city-state of Athens.

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Philopappo Hill, Athens, greece

Another great view you can enjoy from Thisio is the one of the Gazi district: strolling along Eptachalkou street looking for the Bernier-Eliades Art Gallery, not only I discovered a great traditional restaurant, but I also had the chance to enjoy this beautiful view:

thisio 1 DISCOVERING ATHENS   PART 1Thisio, Athens, Greece

While the way to Philopappo Hill is characterized by many small, island-like houses with an open terrace, downtown Thisio is made of beautiful neoclassical buildings, pedestrian streets and many cafés and restaurants.

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Thisio, Athens, Greece

Exiting from Thisio station you will find a pedestrian street with many art-and-craft stands, which leads to an area of touristic and quite showy restaurants contending the best view on the Acropolis; hurry through it until you will find a more authentic part of the hood, with many bars and restaurants frequented by locals.

MONASTIRAKI

Monastiraki is the neighbouhood of the most popular flea market of Athens, a collection of small shops and outdoor vendors selling just about anything, a heritage of Monastiraki’s Ottoman past together with the narrow and curvy streets of the area.

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Monastiraki market, Athens, Greece

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During the week the market is not as crowded as on Sundays, but it is more like a bazaar taking place within Monastiraki small buildings (again, reminding the Ottoman past of this district); I especially loved the shops of antiques and to indulge in people-watching from a small café within the market area.

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Monastiraki, Athens, Greece

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Monastiraki, Athens, Greece

Besides the popular flea market, Monastiraki is also the neighbourhood of Megali Metropoli (the Great Cathedral of Athens), of the smaller Byzantine Church “Agios Eleftherios” located next to it and of another beautiful Byzantine Church called “Kapnikarea”; in Monastiraki you will also find a Ceramic Museum within a former Mosque and “Kostas”, the most popular souvlaki place of Athens.

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Monastiraki, Athens, Greece

KIFISSIA

At the end of the green line, Kifissia is a rich neighbourhood of historic villas, elegant hotels and fancy shops developed around a nice park. When I visited Kifissia, the park was full of speakers giving out Christmas songs and there was a soft snow falling down from the white sky: the opposite of the Greek-cliché!

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Kifissia, Athens, Greece

The area just outside the park is so full of chic bars and expensive shops to look like an open-air shopping mall, and even I could not resist and ended up buying a pair of gloves to face the unexpected cold.

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Kifissia, Athens, Greece

This green neighborhood has been the haven of rest of Athenians since long time: it was a retreat of philosophers during the Roman Empire and it still is the area where rich Greeks have their summer houses to escape the chaos and the crowd of downtown Athens.

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Κifissia, Αthens, Greece

SANTIAGO CALATRAVA’S SKELETON

On my way back from Kifissia, I stopped at “Irini” (still on the green line) to enjoy a beautiful yet very controversial piece of contemporary architecture (controversial for its high cost, which lies on a country with a difficult economic situation).

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Santiago Calatrava’s skeleton, Athens, Greece

Santiago Calatrava’s skeleton was built in 2004 to redesign the Olympic Sports Complex for the upcoming Olympic games; the complex has an area of 96 hectares and it is inspired by the form of an arc, which was very common in the Byzantine period of Greek architecture.

METS

The residential area of Mets is an elegant, up-hill neighborhood of small old houses, each one different in some lovely detail. I visited Mets on the last day of the year, thus running into the Greek tradition of local children singing door to door, which contributed to boost the village-like atmosphere of this beautiful hood.

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Μets, Αthens, Greece

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Mets, Athens, Greece

Thanks to this special atmosphere and to the amazing view on Athens’ roof I enjoyed from the top of the hill, Mets instantly became one of my favorite areas of Athens.

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Mets, Athens, Greece

In Mets you will find the Panathenaic Stadium (from 330 BC) and the first cemetery of Athens, which has some really beautiful graves adorned with magnificent sculptures.

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Cemetery of Athens, Mets, Greece

Here many famous Greeks are buried and the tomb artworks were created by the most remarkable Greek sculptors of the last two centuries.

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Cemetery of Athens, Mets, Greece

PANGRATI

Next to Mets, there is another residential area called Pangrati, which develops around a green square (Plateia Varnava) where locals gather to enjoy a coffee or a beer.

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Pangrati, Athens, Greece

A walk across Pangrati is the perfect way to mingle with locals and enjoy an authentic slice of Athens, both during the day and during the night, at one of Pangrati’s many bars and traditional restaurants.

AGHIOS DIMITRIOS

I admit that when I exited the subway stop on the big, traffic-congested road full of shopping malls and gas stations I was a bit puzzled… Snow began to fall and I had to take shelter into one of Aghios Dimitrios’ shopping malls. As I was stuck there anyway, I opted for a cappuccino at the panoramic bar at the last floor of the mall and by writing in front of a far reaching view out to the sea across the neighboring rooftops I started to kind of liking the area.

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Aghios dimitrios, Athens, Greece

Later on, I entered the neighborhood and walked until a big orthodox church I saw from the panoramic bar and I discovered that the inner part of Aghios Dimitrios is totally different from its traffic-congested arterial road: here I found pedestrian streets, flowerbeds, vintage cars and nice houses indeed.

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Αghios dimitrios, Αthens, Greece

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Aghios dimitrios, Athens, Greece

aghios dimitrios athens 1 DISCOVERING ATHENS   PART 1Aghios dimitrios, Athens, Greece

BENAKI MUSEUM

I wanted to visit the Pireos complex of the Benaki Museum especially for its interesting structure: the museum –in fact- is hosted in a former industrial building of the Gazi district, covered with red marble and re-designed to highlight the beautiful central courtyard which, during the summer, hosts outdoor exhibitions, musical events and performances.

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Benaki Museum, Pireos, Athens, Greece

I was so lucky to find also a very interesting exhibition going on: a major retrospective of Pavlos Samios, a contemporary Greek painter whose works I found really powerful.

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