Bert Johnson
Alexandria, VA

1. Experiences: a. Watching from a friend's roof in Kolonaki as the parade of torches snaked its way down Lykavitos after midnight Easter service. The smell of lamb grilling and the smoke from the fires permeating the city the next day. Good food, good times, good friends.
b. Watching TV on the balcony as Greece beat Russia in double OT for the European basketball championship; watching my neighborhood explode; going to the square, jammed fans waving the blue and white, cheering well into the night.
c. Sitting in the kitchen with my wife each morning, very early, still dark outside, watching dawn break over Mt Hymettos. Homer was right -- it really is rosy fingered.
e. Finding a shop near our house which was a combination Propo (legalized betting parlor) and needlework shop. The term "split personality" doesn't begin to cover its window display.
d. Eating what I firmly believe is the best chicken in the world, in a non-descript taverna whose main decor was a goat's head and hide on the wall, and a huge stuffed buzzard, whose taxidermy was so bad it began molting, so they began wrapping it in plastic wrap, gradually engulfing all but the head and feet, producing one of the weirdest sights I've ever seen in an eatery, but Lord, that chicken was good.

2. Secrets which hide in plain sight:
a. Anafiotika, the neighborhood of tiny houses built by the workers imported from the island of Anafi to build the new capital after independence. It's nestled right under the Acropolis above Monastiraki, and you would swear you were back in the Cyclades. Few people go up there. See it in early morning.
b. The Folk Art Museum, 17 Kydathinaion. Housed in a faceless new building in Plaka, it was like vintage wine in a cruddy old bottle. It has or will soon move to the converted mosque a Monastiraki. Nearby is the Center for Folk Art and Tradition, on Angeli Hadzimichaili Street.
c. The Jewish Museum of Greece, 5th floor (I think), 36 Amelias. 87% of the Jewish population died in the Holocaust, esp. the fine old Sephardic community that had settled in Thess after expulsion from Spain. This museum contains, among other things, a working synagogue, dismantled and moved from Patras. Go see what was lost.

d. St. Nicodemus Church, AKA The Russian Church, on Philhellinon Street. It's 11th century, was indeed Russian, and received gifts from czars over the centuries; oldest medieval structure left in Athens. Beautiful interior; if you're there on Sunday AM, stand and listen to the hymns.

3. Biblioholic ruination:
a. The shops on Nikis: Eleftheroudakis (#4) and Compendium (#32?); the first very up-scale, the latter quirky
b. Kaufmann's: on Stadiou Street, not far from Syntagma; home to generations of bibliophiles; excellent selection
c. Les Amis du Livre: not a bookstore, despite the name, but then it's run by an Italian married to a Greek, so it has a French name, which is your clue that it sells old maps and prints at 9 Valaouritsou.
d. Amerikis Street: some older English language shops that have been there for years and thus have some really weird stuff in them
e. In and around the university: look for them -- that's half the fun.

4. The Athenians. I know, I know: loud, rude, pushy, etc. If you find them rude to strangers, don't be one. I have never lived anywhere it was so easy to meet people, all kinds of people. And despite the highly political nature of the place, compatibility is far more important than politics. I am not inclined to share personal stories about friends, but it's amazing what can happen (and did).
Apologies for the length of the msg, but it doesn't cover 1%.

Anna Kaloudis:

John, you forgot to add the warm tiropites and the tiny souvlakia!!

David Sheppard:

I'll limit myself to one site.

I spent my final four days of a 10 week trip in Athens and found it delightful in early December, gorgeous weather. One morning I got up early and walked from my hotel in Plaka to Colonus, where Sophocles lived 2400 years before. I walked north across the railroad track to Ioanninon Street and followed it north to a small park on a hill. This is the same hill of which Sophocles spoke in his famous description in Oedipus at Colonus. This play is what caused me to seek out the place and I wasn't disappointed. It was supposed to have been an entrance to the Underworld, earth's Doorsill of Brass. Oedipus dies there in the play. Sophocles described it this way:

Stranger, in this land of goodly steeds thou hast come to earth's fairest home, even to our white Colonus; where the nightingale, a constant guest, trills her clear note in the covert of green glades, dwelling amid the wine-dark ivy and the god's inviolate bowers, rich in berries and fruit, unvisited by sun, unvexed by wind of any storm; where the reveler Dionysus ever walks the ground ... (Jebb translation)

I walked up the hill (called Hill of the Horses) and found it to be an oasis covered with trees where I could overlook the city. It has a playground for kids with a red teeter-totter, a swing, and a gangly wood structure for climbing. Certainly a terrific place to get away from the rush of Athens and have a picnic. I had taken a copy of Sophocles' plays with me and read the full passage about Colonus while sitting on a stone fence overlooking a small outdoor theater. While I was there an old man came up to me and talked for a bit, telling me he'd lost the ability to speak English even though at one time he could. Years ago he'd spent some time in Canada. He tried to tell me something about an old blind man (Oedipus?) but we couldn't quite make the communication click.

Sophocles loved Colonus and wrote Oedipus at Colonus when he was 90. He used the passage I quoted above to defend himself against a charge of being an imbecile. Since this was also the spot where famous Oedipus was supposed to have died at a secret location, in the same tradition as that of the Mysteries, the place has always held a special fascination for me and to find that a little of the flavor of the place has been preserved from Sophocles' time was gratifying.

The hill also has two monuments which mark the tombs of archaeologists Carl Otfried Muller (German scholar, 1797-1840) and Francois Lenormant (French professor, 1837-1883)

I'm a nut for special places in Greece and certainly everyone won't be as thrilled as I was to see Colonus. But if you have a love for Sophocles, I consider this one a must.

Diane Arnson:

When you've had your fill of book shopping at Eleftherodakis, etc., don't forget to bring home some Greek music. There is a shop called the Music Box just up the street from Eleftherodakis, at 2 Nikis, Syntagma (tel. 3221 574--I have the little bag here!).

George Schmeltzer, Hermosa Beach, CA

I have nothing but wonderful memories of Greece and Athens in 1984 and 1985, the most thoroughly enjoyable year and a half of my life. I lived in the relative serenity of Kolonaki for 6 months but the Athens I remember was hot, dusty, noisy, crowded, smoggy, difficult and entirely wonderful. Of course there were the ruins and the museums and the restaurants and the bookstores but what I recalled as I read your messages were the many delightful evenings I spent sitting outdoors watching old Hitchcock films, eating pistachios and drinking cold Henninger beer. There was a particular "theater" in Kolonaki near my apartment that played at least 6 Hitchcock films over a 2 month period. I never became a Hitchcock buff but I did become a fan of urban, outdoor cinema, a very civilized, very Athenian activity.

June Samaras:

The Lycabettos funicular up and walk down is my perennial suggestion for tourists to get a panorama of Athens. I also add to it a short stop at Dexameni Sq. where there are some seats and shady trees near the children's playground (unfortunately disfigured by untidy graffiti the last time I was there) Now you can also pay homage to Elytis, I gather, at Dexameni.

And the Bookstores of course !!! (BTW I 'fess up to being a Book Dealer when I am not being a Librarian ) Pantelides on Amerikis has the best display of dictionaries and how to learn Greek titles.

Compendium at 28 Nikis has English books, and used to have an area with cheap s/hand paperbacks -- good for long trips on KTEL and Greek Ferries - and I always pass them on when read.

Efstathiadis has some neat paperback editions of English books about Greece that are out-of-print at the original publisher ,as welll as lots of travel guides in English (as well as in German,French Swedish,Italian etc.)

A few more Attic Delights near Athens:

The Ian Vorres Museum in Paeania - one part a delightful collection of lovingly arranged folk art in beautifully restored buildings. The other part a challenging collection of works by Modern Greek Artists - all in a lovely oasis of gardens.

Also in Paeania get relief from the heat & exhaustion of hot and crowded afternoons in Athens by a visit to the Koutouki cave.

In the Mesogeion there are also villages with interesting Byzantine churches tucked away in odd locations. There is a delightful book describing some of them that was published some years ago by Osbert Lancaster, landscape with Classical Figures, which is an essential read for ficionadoes of good travel narratives - full of wit & humour and enjoyment. He was there in the late a940's and has a wonderful description of an encounter with Archbishop Damaskinos.

Cyril Arvanitis:

Here is a short list of personal pleasures to be experienced in Athena:

(1) Apostos, one of the few remaining, genuine ouzeries in Athena, on Panepistimiou Street, just a couple of blocks away from Syntagma and a block or two to the left of Voukourestiou. A charming place, good mezedes and snacks, modest prices.

(2) There is a cellared, dim, large second-hand book store after you exit from Pandrossou street and cross Monastiraki to continue your shopping in the bazaar. It is on the right amongst the clothing stores and just before the square where antiques and a jumble of second hand items are sold.

(3) A block or two up from Omonia (towards Syntagma), perhaps also on Panepistimiou, there is a place where real loukoumades are made right before your eyes and are served with honey (?) and cinnamon sugar, along with a knife and fork for the fastidious. Not to be missed.

(4) O Platanos is on Mnisikleos in Plaka. Just walk up from the square at the beginning of Adrianou Street, which is Plaka's main thoroughfare, and after a few minutes you will see a narrow street on your right (it is the very first street on your right which you will encounter). This is Mnisikleos, and you will reach O Platanos and its many outside tables and bustling waiters under the large plane tree after a walk of only one minute or so. The food is plain, Greek, varied, cheap, with adequate portions, and it will be accompanied by good, refreshing retsina (or unresinatead wine for the unbelievers). The fruit for desert is fresh, cold, an occasion for joy, and the ambiance is restful and very Greek.

(5) Although it has now become well known, may I remind everyone to be certain to visit the Goulandris Cycladic Museum in Kolonaki, just a ten minute walk from Syntagma? A true gem, orderly, beautifully laid out and lighted, small and neat.

(6) One should not leave Athena without having walked down Athinas Street, that great working class thoroughfare, from Monastiraki to Omonia Square, and by all means do go into the incredible, immense, polyodorous and anachronistic fish and meat markets, each of which contains within several working men's restaurants, where the food is plentiful, open for viewing and selection, and cheap. It is a city experience not to be missed, especially as those structures are to be demolished and replaced by more hygienic, if less historical, markets. Across the street is the new, large outdoor fruit and vegetable market, which in its turn is surrounded by shops selling fowl of all varieties, rabbits, eggs, and all those edibles which the Greek public requires. At the rear of this market are two or three shops which sell only olives, and olive eaters will be in heaven there. For those who do not know the city, after you walk down Pandrossou and pass the blessedly last jewelry shop you will be in Monastiraki Square. Turn right. That broad, busy street is Athinas. It is perhaps no more than a 20 minute walk to Omonia,a raffish place, but walk slowly and enjoy the incredible variety of shops where ordinary people buy what they need for their homes, gardens, kitchens, etc.

Alison Cadbury:

Three of my great favorites: the Byzantine and Benaki Museums and the Monastery at Kesseriani. I lived within walking distance of both museums and so I could visit them in my favorite way: a room, more or less, at a visit. The Benaki has a nice rooftop restaurant too, for reflections after visits to Coptic tapestries or Byzantine jewelry. the Byzantine Museum has a lovely garden full of marble fragments and roses, a delightful place to stroll, especially on Sunday morning, though alas, no cafe as of my last visit. Sometimes I would just walk down, visit a favorite icon, stroll in the garden and leave. This practice makes stuff in museums special and avoids artifact overload. The Moastery at Kaiseriani (not inhabited) is a half-day trip, I would take a picnic, and something to feed the famous cats. It has a beautiful peaceful view, and is a nice way to get a "wholistic" glimpse of monastic life.

i loved Sunday mornings in Kolonaki; it was quiet, for a city, social, and beautiful. I worked 6 days a week, so Sunday was really special: I wd drop in on one of my museums, then wend my way to the Plateia and sink into a cushy chair and muse over a coffee or granita. Informed indolence was how I saw it.

wish the Cycladic Museum, which is also in Kolonake like the first two, were more friendly and accessible, but it isn't. For me it is "over=produced" in modern museum style and shows no affiliation with the landscape from which the artifacts were derived.

Bert Johnson
Alexandria, VA

As you head north on Athinas Street, you will come to the kendriki agora, about half way to Omonia Square. The meat and fish markets are on the right side of the street. The hall(s) were built in the last century and many of the scales in use date from that era as well. The meat market is especially worth seeing, but only if you can accept that meat comes from a once living creature like yourself. It is brought in by the half cow or whole hog (or lamb or rabbit or whatever) and cut up by butchers using cleavers so adroitly you can't believe it. Many appear to use a cross section of a tree trunk as their butcher's block.

(Until I visited this market I never realized how big a beef liver was. I had always assumed as a kid that I was being asked to eat the whole thing -- wrong. You could seat a party of four on one liver and still have room for dancing.)

Hint #1: If you go in summer, go early. (They close by late AM anyway.) Moreover, the halls are not air conditioned and the scent can become overwhelming by later in the AM. When Cyril said "polyodorous" he captured it well. If you can handle it, go about 0430 or 0500, when the meat is first being brought in. Then have breakfast with ouzo at one of the nearby establishments where the marketers eat.

Hint #2: If you are a photographer, take fast film, the fastest you can stand without compromising your aesthetic standands. (I got away with 400 in mid-AM but if you go early, head for 800 or 1600.) You will need it, esp. for the meat market, which is very dark. The fish market is lighter. Some of my best shots from four years in Athens are from these markets, and I didn't even have to try hard.

I heard Cyril's news that the halls are soon to be replaced with more modern and hygenic ones with mixed emotions. I have never thought that anyone should sacrifice a better living (health, convenience, etc.) to remain photogenic, but I am willing to bet there are plenty of Athenians who will feel something is lost when it happens.

Last modified 2/2/10; posted 2000. Original content © 2010, 2000John P. Nordin