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In defense of Athens...

Beaumont, Texas USA
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In defense of Athens...

I need some input and resources from those here who love the city of Athens!

On another bulletin board/forum, someone asked about visiting Greece -- the typical "what should I see; where should I go" post... a large number of responses to this inquiry were that Athens does not deserve more than one day, how ugly and boring the city is, and why this person should not waste his time there.

Of course, I directed this traveler to visit this forum, and recommended that he ask questions here. But I would also like to post a few web links that might help explain the attraction of Athens that might generate some interest from those with such negative opinions...

I believe Athens is one of the most vibrant cities in the world, and treasure every visit there, and would love to present some arguments in favor of spending time there. Anything contributors here can offer would be appreciated, and I will certainly post a link to this topic on the other board.

Thanks in advance...

Vancouver, Canada
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1. Re: In defense of Athens...

In May I will go to Athens for the 5th time. I love the city more then any other city, even Paris. Athens is unlike any other city in Europe, and after seeing places like Paris and London I can understand that people say it is ugly and dirty. I mean, the box-like cement apartments that are covered with hideous airconditioners and roll out patio shades.. The broken cement sidewalks..

But if you are a traveller, and not just a tourist you will see past all that. You will see the amazingly friendly people, you'll feel the energy that envelopes the city. Take a slow walk through the National Gardens and listen to the birds and smell the orange trees, sit at a table on the patio and share mezedes with a friend, drinking a freddo cappuccino watching the people walk by. There is so much more to do in Athens then people might think. There are so many that come to Athens and think "Oh, well I have to see Plaka and the Acropolis, and thats it". But there is so much more. Yes there is the Acropolis but there is also The Temple of Olympian Zeus, Ancient Agora. There are dozens of great museums- The New Acropolis Museum is my new favorite. The Benaki museum is great too. You can go to Plaka and shop for souvenirs. You can climb lycabettus hill and take in the great views of the city, or stroll up philopappou hill and watch the sunset near the acropolis. Enjoy delicious souvlaki in monastiraki square. Watch the changing of the guards at sytagma square on a sunday. Visit the Panathenaic Stadium which was built in 566 BC!! This city has so much history, and people visit it not even considering that the ground they walk on is part of history. Its a real shame that people think it only deserves one day.

Athens, Greece
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2. Re: In defense of Athens...

Hi Deb, what do you mean in particular??

If you go through Athens DE, recent posts, Nick and Thalia, they have great suggestions...perhaps you could direct them to the Athens forum in particular. Also, the main questions and answers to common questions have a great source of info.. {right hand box}.

Beaumont, Texas USA
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3. Re: In defense of Athens...

dianabiz -- I've saved some posts for future reference... but I've never had a reason to keep those explaining why Athens is worth a visit. This is not something I've ever questioned! I recall nick_arch in particular making some wonderful arguments for spending time in Athens, but could not quickly locate them...

I was simply looking for some quick and eloquent statements to support my argument about this city I find so wonderful being worth a traveler's time and energy. I hope the person who asked (on a totally unrelated internet forum) about travel to Greece, and to Athens in particular, will give the city a harder look than that suggested by many others who answered his question. I already suggested he visit these forums!

Here on TA, so many of us already love Greece and Athens, that I figured someone here could add to a prompt response. The reply already offered above said some of what I had in mind. Thanks to Fire-Fly87 for this!

Athens, Greece
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4. Re: In defense of Athens...

Well. . .root of the problem starts from the fact that people expect to find Athens like let's say the plains in Xena the Warrior or something.

I mean, most people don't have a clue of how Athens is like and this is sensible. Since their source of information is tv-shows, or mythology or newspapers, their pre-visit perception of Athens is similar to that of a Greek villager visiting USA thinking the whole country is full with scyscrapers.

I still remember my grandmother after she returned from her first USA visit saying something like: "Nick, they also have corn fields there!".

So, for most foreign visitors, especially those coming from USA or Canada or Australia, Athens is expected to be something like a little version of Brugges, well. . .a little more white. . .a little less rivers. . .and what their first image is is that of a huge sprawling alive noisy metropolis with more or less 6 million people in it.

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Another possible reason on why people say "Athens is a place for a day" is perception of Athens, Greeks living abroad have. Imagine an Athenian at his age of 18 in 1965 when Athens was hardly having a tarmac road. Take him to Sydney for 45 yrs and take him back at the age of 62 to see a sprawling extremely bysy metropolis instead. Think him probably arriving in the middle of summer, having taken a taxi and falling in hir first traffic-jam. He will hate the city that he was raised in for ever.

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Third possible reason for people saying "oh Athens is just for a day" is exactly those people having done so, specifically cruise ship passengers or jet-lagged passengers on their way to Santorini.

Nothing worse exists from trying to go to Acropolis after a 12hrs flight or cruise ship passengers that were stuffed into coachbuses like sardins and were taken up to the Acropolis at 11am with hot temperatures.

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Athens needs time, needs research and needs focus. It is a big sprawling contemporary metropolis in contradiction with what most people expect. Nevertheless, its area of initial interest to the traveller is a very compact, walkable central area which is a mostly a pedestrian bliss compared to the rest of the city. This area includes Acropolis, 6 - 7 ancient sites, half a dozen of world class museums, many shops bars and restaurants to enjoy the Greek food, great neighborhoods, many places to do people watching or city observation, all in a package that includes genuinely good weather, friendly and hospitable people and a sincerely safe environment.

It is impossible to persuade all people that start their research already persuaded that Athens should be visited for just one day or some hours. It is just impossible :)

All you can do is advise, provide info, tips and help, what all of us are doing here.

For a starter i would send these links:

culture2000.tee.gr/ATHENS/ENGLISH/main2.html

http://tinyurl.com/AthensAttractions-English

http://tinyurl.com/AthensEats-English

http://www.breathtakingathens.com/

saying to them that any city in the world deserves their attention. Even more a city standing here for milleniums.

Edited: 02 March 2010, 08:10
Athens
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5. Re: In defense of Athens...

Deb, when I first started posting here I was furious when I read those "Athens for a day, what to do?" posts. I even posted a topic (twice) explaining why Athens worths at least 3 FULL days and the post was closed (twice) because some members of this forum had a different opinion.

After lots of thinking and contemplating and since stopping Rick Steeves and Matt Barrett from publishing their ridiculous guides was out of the question, I decided that those who don't know why they should visit Athens they simply shouldn't.

Athens deserves love, excitement, taking the time to take it all in, willing to see and join the rhythm of the city, understand that history and importancy of this wonderful place.

So, for me the persuading has stopped. You don't wanna come? You don't see why you should come? Then DON'T! Athens don't deserve you and you don't deserve it. Go to Mykonos and Santorini and don't bother with the birthplace of modern civilisation.

Having said all that, someone has recently PMed me and asked "what does Athens possibly have that one or two days aren't enough to see?". My reply was just this link: nylou.com/html/…

Edited: 02 March 2010, 10:22
Oslo, Norway
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6. Re: In defense of Athens...

Thanks, Deb, for bringing up this issue.

Like Nick says - Athens needs time, needs research and needs focus. I just love the city, the athmosphere, the friendly people everywhere, the busy life in a big metropol, and the conglomerate of streets to explore, ancient sites at every corner, a genuine Greek meal in some obscure back street, making new friends, great food. I have also visited so many times and yet have some many places to go and explore - I will never get tired.

However, it is always an issue of what is the goal for the visitor - and what are their main interests ? Mainly relaxing in the sun on some beach in a nice island, but just grabbing the opportunity to see Acropolis on their way to or from there ? It takes all kinds, and we weill have to respect their choices.

Me - on my behalf - will always stand up for Athens, like I also do for Greece in general. You will find many trip reports from me in my contributions to this forum, where you may find things to quote for others.

tripadvisor.co.uk/members-forums/greek-trave…

I also include this report from 2008 as an example (it has vanished out from the forums as outdated a long time ago, and I have abbravated it somewhat since th original):

I love Greece. The contrasts from city to island, the contrasts between an island to another, the sceneries and the landscapes, the sea…..

I love Greece. The cradle of democracy and the template of present day civilisation, the feeling of respect and humility by seeing major historical sites around every corner, the sense of being where some of the most important parts of our common history started, and the foundations of our communities of today were laid. Not to forget the cradle of science and art.

I love Greece – and most of all the Greek people. Their ever present hospitality, their openness and including attitudes, their ever present aim to connect and to please. Not to forget their very special Greek peculiarities, which makes them true Greek in their own?

I have travelled Greece for the last 27 years. It all started with a girlfriend finally succeeding in making me accept “to go south” for a holiday, and we ended up on Rhodes on a package tour for two weeks. I suddenly realised I was in heaven. History has always appealed to me, and here I experienced old temples and medieval towns, the sense of why a myth has come into life by watching the scenery and surroundings – it was out of this world, all in one country. I also made friends with some locals, and one of them told me about the islands – how easy it is to travel on your own and explore, how different they all are, how much to see and how many different people to meet.

Since then I have been every year – mostly twice, and some years even three times. Up to three weeks at a time. I have been lucky enough to visit small islands populated by a few and been offered their most precious gift – a glass of clean water – upon arrival. I have seen how these islands have developed, and I can understand that they all want to take part in earning a decent living – however heartbreaking it is to see a small islet of the old days turned into a day excursion site for sun and bath lovers from the surrounding islands.

Most of all – I have met people, and I have made friends. Greece is like a second home to me, and on many islands there are doors open to me, people welcoming me “back home” even when there has been years since my last visit in that specific area. It makes me feel very grateful, and in many ways it makes me feel to belong…..

I have previously done “an ordinary report” on my visit to Athens and the surrounding areas – just to sum it up. In this report I will rather put emphasis on my experiences and the feelings I get when I am there. When I first came to Athens – after travelling the islands for some 10-12 years – I made my homework and had some ideas where to start and what to look for. I found out there is a central triangle to start with to learn the city centre – the triangle of Syntagma, Thission and Omonia. I easily found the two main streets out of Syntagma – Mitropolis and Ermou – and made my way down these until I reached Monastiraki. Going further down Adrianou from Monastiraki I reached Thission, and all the time I had the Acropolis above with the ancient Agora in front. It was all very stunning and made me pay deep respect.

Then I had Athinas to Omonia, and made my way back to Syntagma along the big avenue. This gave me an idea of distances and what to cover.

Every time I come to Athens I make this walk from Syntagma along Mitropolis to Monastiraki and Thission – sensing being there, stopping at a corner to have a frappe and have a look at everyday life – I’m in many ways back home. An alternate route is walking Mitropolis a short way from Syntagma to Volous str., turn left and walk up the hill to a small church, then turn right – and I am in the heart of Plaka (even though that area is not frequently visited by me). Then follow Adrianou to Monastiraki.

Exploring major cities I visit requires to get out of the beaten tracks – looking up places and neighbourhoods where people live and everyday life goes on, meeting locals and adapt to their ways to learn to know both the people and the country. Athens has been no exception to this. Of course – I have done all the major sites – not once, but many times – and I still will do them from time to time – there is always something new to discover. But I also turn my back on them and look in another direction at times.

Walking down the Ermou towards Thission there are lots of old houses and blocks which seems to be in a state of decay, with some dirty and dark narrow streets leading in behind. Small local shops in between, a filthy house with spindleback chairs of a small taverna. I walk in, have a meal in one of these tavernas and it is the genuine Greek food, hospitality end enjoyment far from the big crowds.

The area next to Ermou, Psirri, has since my first visit done major renovation – especially in connection with the 2004 Olympics – and is now one of the major in-places in Athens. Still you can sense some of what it was like when you enter from the Thission end of the area and walk your way a couple of hundred meters in to reach the Psirri of today. Likewise I have also strolled through the backstreets of Omonia, often advised not to approach, and I have found a living part of town like mentioned for the early Psirri – and not met any problems at all.

This also means that I meet real people. I adapt, and many nice meals and evenings have been spent in company with locals. You learn their way, you learn and appreciate their way of life and their culture. I do not speak much Greek, but I have never had any problems in finding ways to communicate when visiting these areas – or even when visiting other parts of the country and the islands. People show you genuine interest – questions may seem very personal at times, but I have learned that this is not because they are curious – they just like to get to know you to show you their hospitality in the best way possible. Take the piece of bread offered you, have a bite when they get another plate for you to share their meal – that is when you learn to know Athens and Greece.

The main attitude I try my best to keep – always – is like these words which greets any visitor when arriving in Patmos: “Welcome to Patmos. Enjoy its beauty – Respect our traditions.”

I just felt like doing these reflections after my recent trip. I recommend everyone to spend adequate time in Athens – or any other place – not only to scratch the surface by seeing the topic attractions, but to get down to learn to know the people and the places. That is when Athens shows to be something else than what the day excursion tourists see on their 8 hour visit, or what Athens is more than the top 5 attractions to those who are travelling through on a transfer.

Edited: 02 March 2010, 10:42
Athens, Greece
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7. Re: In defense of Athens...

Thank you Erik, I always value your contributions.

Deb, Nick said something a few weeks ago, which stuck to mind > something in the likes of..a city with 25 centuries of civilization demands some time or more time. Thankfully Athens has retained many monuments from this wonderful Golden Age., simpy because it was its core.

When I was young and new to Athens, I once had to prepare a brochure for tourism, based on Greece,. After initial research, not having studied classics, opening lines included-

birthplace of democracy, arts, literature and philosophy, architecture and medicine. Cradle of civilization...it went on, I was truly amazed and mesmerized!

Edited: 02 March 2010, 11:00
Old Forge, New York
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8. Re: In defense of Athens...

Erik...just as the first time I read and reread your "I love Greece" in 2008, it still speaks for many of us that are like minded Grecophiles.

Athens is a diverse place that can get under your skin sometimes, just as any "big" Metropolitan area can. Vibrant and exotic, the open minded traveler

will be rewarded at every turn.....its that "open minded" part I worry about, that defies nationality, and "close minded" is becoming a malaise of our world, ...I will repeat my mantra once more..." a mind is like a parachute, it has to be open to work"...

Athens is meant to savored, ...and the way hotel rates are these days, those of us who visit regularly maybe should encourage..."go directly to a Greek island from the airport and back, as there is nothing to see in Athens!"...lol, that way we might find ourselves staying in Syntagma area hotels for 50 E a night!!!!! (just kidding) ...missing Athens on a trip to Greece is like missing New York City on a trip to the US....sure its busy, sure its a bit expensive, sure its not pristine clean, but you gotta see it! have fun!

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9. Re: In defense of Athens...

I also appreciate this - Greece exporting 51.807 words to the world:

http://tinyurl.com/yfbt4q7

... and kept one for themselves - the Mythos ! :-)

Edited: 02 March 2010, 12:11
Athens, Greece
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10. Re: In defense of Athens...

Yes it's amazing that teaching English can be rather easy at times, direct translations to many words!