I arrived in Athens yesterday after several months in Turkey and the Greek Islands. It will take a few days to acclimate. So far, I like Athens and it’s nice to be in a city again. My hotel is near Syntagma Square.
After checking in I took a walk by the Parliament, National Library, Municipal Cultural Center, and University of Athens. It was a hot day so I ended up in the shade of the lush National Gardens – a treasure of indigenous trees and plants.
Often there are demonstrations near Omonia Square which is not far from Syntagma Square. There was a loud one yesterday around 6:00 pm. Luckily I was back at my hotel – not sure why they were demonstrating. Some say it’s wise to avoid the Omonia district altogether because of its high crime rate.
Athens is the capital of Greece and over a third of Greece’s total population of ~5 million live here. With Greece’s economic woes and high unemployment I’m wondering how well the city is functioning. Many Greeks are unhappy about the thousands of illegal immigrants from Pakistan, Syria, and North Africa living in Athens in homeless encampments or on the streets. Greece has called on other European nations to help tackle illegal immigration into the EU.
An Australian couple I met in Santorini just passed through Athens on their way to the Greek Islands. They gave me advice on their favorite cafés and which locations to avoid. Omonia was on their “do not see” list.
Athens cafés are lovely and since it gets so hot they’re a wonderful place to stop to rest and have a cold drink. I noticed a live jazz café near the National Gardens so may check it out one evening.
Many people think of Athens in terms of its ancient history as one of the world’s oldest cities. ”The stimulus of the 2004 Olympics made Athens more than a repository of antiquities, lifting it above the clichés of pollution and impossible traffic that blighted its reputation in recent years.”
“Classical Athens was a powerful city-state known as the cradle of western civilization and the birthplace of democracy.”
“Athens’ cultural and political achievements had a large impact on the rest of the European continent. Today modern Athens is a cosmopolitan metropolis central to economic, financial, industrial, political, and cultural life.”
Athens’ classical heritage is visible everywhere. Its architecture includes ancient monuments like the Parthenon. Athens is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Acropolis and the medieval Daphni Monastery.
Athens has mountains on three sides – Mt Hymettus, Mt Parnitha, and Mt Pentelicus, and there are twelve hills inside the city. Lycabettus and the Acropolis and are the two most prominent. The hills of Athens are a refuge from the noise of the city and have amazing views of Saronic Gulf, Athens’ boundary with the Aegean Sea, and the ancient port Piraeus.
Most major places of interest are in Syntagma Square, an area surrounding the city center. The rest of the city is divided into districts including Omonia, Plaka, Monastiraki, and Kolonaki. The metro system in Athens is described as “a wonder to behold that puts many better-known metro systems to shame.” I took it from the airport to my hotel and it was clean, easy, and efficient.