I’ve been in Athens with Grace for the past two and a half months. It’s been long enough to get comfortable living here, but short enough to mean that we haven’t gotten fed up going to the same places over and over.
Greece is one of my favourite places in the world, and Athens in particular is a city I’ve always had a fondness for. Because of that, it’s been great to spend such a decent amount of time as a temporary Athenian. I’m definitely looking forward to being back amongst my people in Glasgow, but there’s a lot of things I’m going to miss about this place.
In no particular order, here’s a look at what some of them are:
1. The Graffiti
Street art is everywhere in Athens, and though some of it is less ‘art’ and more scrawls, there are some amazing bits and pieces to be found. This is particularly true in the Exarcheia area of Athens, infamous for being home to those of the ‘counter-cultural’ persuasion. Given that the police don’t venture into this area unless they come with riot shields and motorbikes, it’s no surprise that the walls here have more attention to detail given to them than other places.
Graffiti can make a city feel a lot more run down and unsafe than it actually is. Athens is actually one of Europe’s safest cities, though it can seem differently on the surface at first impressions. Rough around the edges.
2. The Passion
Despite wiling away the days drinking coffee and chatting, the Greeks are a fiery people… some may even say insane.
The latest economic crisis is not the first time Greece has endured hardship, with a history littered with dictators and tragedy. This is a country that has been forged through resistance, and the people are up for a fight.
The politics are fascinating, and too complex to go into, but it’s safe to say that if you’ve never been to a Greek demonstration, you haven’t seen anything yet. Whilst I won’t miss the tear gas, I’ll definitely miss how passionate and engaged the people in Greece are.
3. The Sky
I always thought that Greeks had an unfair advantage over other places when it came to the quality of sunsets they get, given that… well, they actually get sun. However, that presumption was obliterated when the weather began to get a bit cloudier. For whatever insane reason, the sun reflects off of the clouds in the sky over Athens to deliver the most unbelievable colours. Properly amazing.
4. The Views
There isn’t much more that needs to be said about this really. The pictures speak for themselves.
5. The Food
Given that eating and drinking are some of the best things to do on earth, this particular reason could have been expanded into a whole list of its own – but that would be ridiculous. Instead, the award goes to Greek food collectively. Whilst it is undeniably annoying that I can’t get any kind of fruit or vegetable at any time of year like we can in the UK, the quality of what you do get in Greece more than makes up for it.
There isn’t too many pictures of the food, as we devoured it before there was any chance to photograph.
Notable mentions go to:
Kaimaiki – A kind of ice cream made with crushed orchids, and a gum from a certain part of Greece that gives it a chewy texture. Sort of like eating a forest full of pine trees. Sweet delicious pine trees.
Tomatoes – I’m not sure what the hell they do to their tomatoes here, but they are massive, dark red, and utterly delicious. Oh, and the best bit: cheap.
Feta – This is going to be one of the toughest ones. In Europe, cheese can’t be called ‘feta’ by law unless it’s made in Greece. That means that the feta you get in Sainsbury’s is going to be the real deal in terms of origin, but doesn’t mean it’s the end of the story. As you might expect, the Greeks keep the best stuff for themselves. Instead of that measly single flat… thing… that we pay far too much for in a plastic wrapper, here they have massive tubs filled with big slabs of the white stuff. It’s suspended in water to keep it moist, and even the cheap stuff is great. It’s no exaggeration to say that we’ve chomped our way through a tub a day. Feta improves every meal.
Pastries – Baklava, and… well, I forget the names of the rest of them, but the important part is that they’re flaky pastry in a variety of forms, soaked in honey and topped with nuts. That’s just the tip of the iceberg though. Bakeries are on every street corner in Athens, and they smell how I imagine heaven will smell. Decidedly different to shops elsewhere in the world, they always seem to have a sweet aroma caking the air around (pun intended) – probably due to a liberal use of cinnamon and other sweet stuff.
Souvlaki (Gyros) – One of the most commonly mispronounced Greek words around. It is not ‘jiro’, or ‘Euro’, but ‘geeros’ – with a soft g almost like you’d find in loch when it’s said properly. (I’m sure there’s a far more accurate way to describe this). Either way, that’s not that important. What is important is how delicious it is. Souvlaki is a pita bread with meat, fries, sauce, salad, and whatever else you want. It’s Greek fast food, available everywhere, and it’s dirt cheap. The chicken gyros kind is my personal favourite. Deeeeelish.
As a lover of all things alcoholic, there is plenty of interesting drinks in Greece to explore. However, the grand daddy of them all is something called rakomelo.
Sort of like a mulled wine on steroids, strong clear spirit is mixed with honey and spices to create a beautifully tasty drink that packs a punch. Served hot, you can find this stuff relatively cheaply if you know where to look. One of my favourite drinks I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot.
7. Ancient Stuff
8. Cats and Dogs
It might be partly down to the sunny weather, but there are cats and dogs everywhere. Literally, everywhere.
Despite an overwhelming amount of strays, we discovered more and more just how kind the Greeks would be to these animals. It wasn’t unusual to hear of people owning one cat, and looking after two or three more who live out on the street.
Unlike strays in other places, the ones in the city here are mostly friendly, and used to people. Our friend did manage to get chased a couple of times, but we’re just going to write that off. He probably deserved it.
9. The language
Aside from having family over here and wanting to know what they were saying, I’ve always had a bit of a fascination with Greek. I love the way the alphabet looks; especially as it’s something that you don’t really think about growing up. It’s almost expected that Russian, Chinese, etc will look different, but for whatever reason you don’t think that about Greek (or I never did anyway).
On top of that, it’s the one language I’ve always been consistently interested in learning to read and speak. Greece is one of my favourite places in the world, and knowing even a bit of the language helps massively when you spend time here. People don’t dismiss you for trying either, like they do in some other places – which makes it all the more rewarding. After a while you begin to hear what the Greek word for things is in your head when you are having conversations in English too, which is pretty weird; that’s something that can only happen when you spend a lot of time in a place, and I’ll miss that opportunity. Learning will be a lot harder when we aren’t here every day.
Plus, it makes all that graffiti far more interesting when you can read what it says.
Something I always remember about Greece, and Athens in particular, is the atmosphere. This is a country where people are always on the streets – eating, drinking, or doing something. It’s a place that’s filled with life and activity, and still remains one of the safest cities in Europe. There’s a buzz about things that you can’t create artificially, and it still strikes a chord.
So that’s it. Hopefully we’ll get to come back in the not too distant future. The last time I was here was around 8 years ago, which is far too long. If you get the chance to visit, make sure you do. Flights are pretty cheap if you’re in Europe. Why not?