That’s what everyone told me and ex, anyway. “Check out Santorini, it’s sooo much better.”
But we didn’t listen. And I liked it a lot!
We went last year (2016), so about eight years after their debt crisis. Not that their economy was booming when we went- they were (and still are) in recovery mode, with not a lot of opportunities but a lot of unhappy people willing to express their grievances, and you could see it in the streets.
Disclaimer: I’ve never been to a place in this situation before, so maybe that’s why it was so interesting. And we were only there for four days, so clearly I didn’t get to know the city like a local person.
We arrived at 6 PM and as soon as we entered the city, the young, grunge, punk, political vibe was palpable. I actually moved to Seattle for this, thinking that it was still in the 90s maybe, but Athens had what I wanted from Seattle.
There was graffiti every, and I mean EVERYWHERE! Art, political statements, social stances, offensive things, random words- you name it, and someone had drawn it. Young folks were dressed in almost exclusively all black or punk outfits. We walked by a protest for free trade that day- in fact, there were 1-3 protests a day across all ideologies the whole time we were there.
This all built up until we reached Exarchia, the district our hotel was in. It turns out it was the anarchist district, so it had all of these sentiments x 1000.
We woke up the next morning at 10 AM… And the city was dead! Save for a few old people dressed nicely, there was no one around- unless they were at work. This was something that held true during our whole time here and both of us noticed it…
Anyway, we went out for breakfast on day 1, and I had bougatsa (picture a flakey Greek pastry filled with custard and topped with cinnamon and sugar) at a cafe, which honestly was the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my whole life. And the waitress was so nice! She talked to us about her experience learning English and showed us what a frappe was (don’t think East Coast frappe- think sugary strong iced coffee).
We window shopped through some markets, and I fell in love with beads and the beads stands, and then we headed towards the Acropolis.
The standard “I went to an outdoor market outside the US” pictures.
We didn’t make it very far the first day, though. On the way, we saw people headed to a vantage point, so we followed them instead. The passageway was actually made of real, slippery marble, which was scary-ish to walk on, but led to the most beautiful views of the city and Acropolis!
We both love sunsets, so on a different night we actually we trekked back up here, and for me, this sunset is in the top 10. Despite the mountains in the distance, the rest of the area was relatively flat, so you could see so far! A group of 10 year old boys also came to show me a new song by Rick Ross and Skrillex… LOL.
Once the sun set, we stayed a bit to enjoy the night sky, and eventually it turned stormy! So, we ended up also watching the most beautiful, clear lightning storm ever. I don’t really have pictures, but I still remember this moment and the existential thoughts of how people nearly 3000 years ago watched a similar storm and how they must have rationalized it.
Anyway- back to day 1. After finding and enjoying this area, I got freaking hungry, and we went to go get a snack. I had spanokopita – in actual Greece!!!!! And it was amazing.
We did some more wandering and then my ex got hungry (and I’m always hungry), so we went out for dinner, and I had moussaka- in actual Greece!!!!!! And it was also amazing.
And then we passed by a sweets store (that we ended up going to every day of our trip), and had baklava, birds nest, and all kinds of other sweet things. And it was SO AMAZING.
Oh, and on our first night here, we didn’t want to spend too much money, so we stopped by an unassuming gyro spot. Little did we know we would have the best, juiciest gyro of our life here, served by the sweetest lady ever, with the most refreshing beer. We were in Athens for four days and came back here six times!
But, it was the very last place we visited that had the best grilled meat ever. For some reason, we really wanted to order a ton of food and sat at this place for hours trying to finish all 40 souvlakis and side dishes.
We also had dakos, which can perhaps be compared to bruschetta, except the bread and cheese are different and awesome.
Every day we were here, by 4 PM all the hip young people started to come back out. We spent a night exploring Plaka, where all the happening clubs and people and most tourists tend to be. The energy and creativity here was so cool!
Every corner we turned, people were experimenting with new music or new art or just partying. And yes, I mean inside and outside.
There was one very experimental ambient house DJ in one of the streets we turned to. Everyone across him was sitting on the concrete, looking down at their feet. Unsure of how to appropriately make it on the other side of them, we just cut through, and all heads moved to stare at us. I think we broke their moment.
Later, back in our district, my ex talked someone who was attending a 5 AM rock show by our hotel, and he explained (take this with a grain of salt of course, because it’s one person’s opinion) that
“The young people are out and active so much at night because they want to piss off all the older people. The older people ruined the country for them and gave them no jobs but all this debt, and they’re not doing anything to help. So the young people go out and make as much noise as they can at night.”
Very interesting perspective- what is one to do, when the previous generation messes things up for the future?
All in all, I personally liked Athens because I liked the vibe, the food, and the few people I met. I see why not everyone recommended it and I think if you’re more interested in seeing history, relaxing, not cities, or being surrounded by rich people, there are other places in Greece that you’d probably love!