I have just returned from a week in my wife’s home city of Athens.
Having visited dozens and dozens of times before, it is difficult to think of something new to do once reacquainting with family & friends has been accomplished.
This time we had our great friend Hamish coming to stay for the weekend, so would need to come up with something.
As much as I love the Acropolis and the wonderful Acropolis Museum, I was not inclined to visit again. So what to do?
The Acropolis in Athens
The highest hill in Athens provides wonderful views of the city, whilst taking you far away from the crowds of Athens centre.
First of all we had to get past an all too familiar political demonstration that meant we had to abandon our stationary trolley bus and jump into a taxi.
This also saw us change our plans on how to reach the summit. We had planned to take the short funicular ride up, but with this costing €5 each one way (€7 return) and us having now invested in a taxi (now stuck in a demo caused jam), we decided to taxi as far up as possible by road.
This meant a fair few steps to navigate, so we sauntered up, taking in the views as we went.
We were well rewarded with some spectacular views of the sprawling city and out over the ancient Acropolis to the Aegean.
The peak is also home to a lovely little whitewashed chapel of St George, built in 1870.
We decided to walk down past the orange trees and expensive apartments until we reach St George’s Hotel.
This just happened to be where we held our wedding reception in 2000 and as we were with our koubaros (best man) in Hamish, we had to pay a visit.
The function room had not changed a bit in nineteen years it seemed. The carpet was bearing up remarkably well I thought!
Reminisce over, we decided to take refreshment at the rooftop bar. Again the view was wonderful, especially as we were to see the sun setting spectacularly behind the Acropolis.
The Gazi District, Athens
That evening we met up with friends to visit the trendy Gazi area for dinner and live music.
Gazi used to be the power centre of Athens, housing giant gasometers and several gas related industrial buildings.
The district became run down before getting a new lease of life after 2000, together with a new metro station called Karameikos. The gasometers remain as a reminder of the district’s past, however they are now brightly lit like huge exhibits.
Not quite Baku, but atmospheric all the same.
We were spoiled for choice for eating options and plumped once more for Greek mezze style.
We were clearly upping the average age of those around us, but never felt out of place.
Our main reason for our visit that night was to go and see a Greek gypsy jazz group at hipster venue Gazarte.
The stylish venue housed in a converted warehouse has a main music venue on the ground floor and a less formal stage setting up top, which is where we were headed to see Gadjo Dilo, the jazz swing sextet.
Excellent they were too with their re-working of classic old Greek songs and timeless French, Italian & Spanish favourites.
The only downside was the wanton ignoring of no smoking signs meaning that we left partway through the second set. A great shame and a reminder of how hideous it used to be in the UK.
On Sunday we decided to do a side-trip, taking the train from the main Larissa train station to coastal Halkida, situated on Greece’s second biggest island of Evia, an hour & twenty-minutes away.
The journey was great fun as we swept past snow-capped mountains, olive groves and herds of goats & sheep.
As we approached our destination we passed an impressive suspension bridge before doing a sweeping arc around the bay to lead us into the waterside station.
The weather was gorgeous and our first port of call was the old hilltop fortifications. The Karababa fortress was built by the Ottomans in 1684 as protection against the Venetians and its main outer walls are still largely intact.
We reached the fort by navigating a rough rocky path, before clambering around the free-to-enter site for yet more great views.
We also visited the surprisingly well-stocked archeological museum inside the grounds, featuring artefacts from the Neolithic Era down to the Late Roman Empire.
There were plenty of prehistoric artefacts on show including items from gravesites, marble Cycladic figurines and Mycenaean works of art .
As you may know neither Hamish or I are ‘museum people’, but we enjoyed skipping around the exhibits with a minimum of reading about what we saw.
We were now hungry & thirsty so headed a little way down the hill to a cafe/restaurant for refreshment & relaxation in sight of yet another excellent view.
After an hour or so of chilling out we wandered down to the main town for a stroll around the promenade. The place was very popular with Greeks wanting respite from the capital and the many tavernas & bars were doing a roaring trade on this fine March afternoon.
We just meandered aimlessly, taking in the replica Trojan Horse situated on the water’s edge.
Three-hours was enough time to do Halkida justice so we ambled to the station to await our train back to the Athenian throng once more.
Athens Old Town
On Monday we wound down our last few hours of our visit to the Old Town taking in Syntagma Square with its classic colonial style hotels, parliament building and marching Evzones and the National Gardens, before winding up in the historic Plaka District to take in the impressively decorated Metropolitan Cathedral and to dine al fresco once more.
I have probably visited Athens more times than any other major city aside from London & Manchester, but I never tire of the great city and always find something new to do.
You are sure to enjoy yourself if you fancy an excellent value city break.