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THESSALONIKI | ATHENS
We got the airport bus
#78 right around the corner from our hotel on Mitropoleos
at Venizelos. The bus was jammed full but the riders
moved around to give us breathing room. 40 minutes later
we were at the airport and on our way to the Olympic Air
departure gate for our 50 minute flight to Athens.
It's a pleasure to have only carry-on
bags. Off the plane, cross the street, up the escalator
to the Metro entrance. The moving walkway deposited us at
the terminal. Since we already had our tickets we just
had to punch them, check the board for the track number
and proceeded down to the waiting train #3 into the city
Athens, the capital of Greece, is a
complex, alluring city. Mythology and modernity coexist.
From the vast array of archealogical sites to the
impressive museums and libraries you can get an
appreciation of the influence ancient Greece has had on
civilization. At the same time the ancient cobblestone
streets serve up the hottest fashion and food trends, new
designer hotels, and stimulating nightlife. The
transportation is excellent and it is easy to visit
nearby points of interest. Start planning your trip and
give yourself time to explore Athens and its environs.
Forty minutes later we were at the
Metro station Evangelismos, one before Syntagma. We had
chosen to split our stay between two hotels of the Yes Hotels Group. The Periscope at 22 Haritos, in the
Kolonaki district, was our first stop.
Kolonaki is nestled in the
foothills of Lycabettus HIll, with its 360 degree views
of the city, including the Acropolis, all the way to the
sea. What I'm getting at is that the route to Periscope
is UP, but only four blocks. It was really quite
manageable. Slow and easy - a little window shopping,
poking around a few food shops looking for interesting
places to eat and before we knew it, we were there.
As soon as we hit Haritos we were
in familiar territory and when we got to the Periscope we
realized that this was the site of a tacky 2 star hotel (Athenian
Inn) we had stayed at in 1997. Oh my, what a difference.
The bright, cheerful staff made our schlep worthwhile.
They and the neat, clean, contemporary design exuded
youth and energy. After 50 years of marriage, we were in
the right place.
A king bed, comfy bedding and
television mounted on the wall opposite the bed met my
criteria for horizontal comfort. When in this position I
could look up at the unique ceiling with its graphic
depiction of a partial map of the city. Complimentary WI-FI
made Linda a happy camper. Two small desks gave both of
us work space. It was fun controlling the light coming
into the room with electric blinds.
The bright white tile bathroom with
a good size stall shower and the array of amenities,
including robes and slippers was welcome.
House cured salmon, fresh cheeses
and yogurt, crusty grain breads, fresh fruit, choice of
eggs, cold cuts, cereals, excellent cappuccino, a
splendid way to start each day, in the comfort of the
smartly designed restaurant.
Kolonaki is the chic upscale
neighborhood in the city center. Life revolves around
Kolonaki Square. Eat, drink and be merry day and night.
Trendy shops for the home and body abound. For the
culturally inclined, there are many outstanding museums
Along the wide Avenue Vassilis
Sofias, at the foot of Kolonaki, are four outstanding
museums, two public (the War and the Byzantine), two
private (Benaki and Goulandris of Cycladic Art) and many
The Byzantine Museum is spectacular in
design and content. The collection of Byzantine and post
Byzantine art and culture from the 3rd to 20th century A.D.
is beautifully preserved and presented. We were lucky and
thrilled that we got to see a temporary exhibition of the
works of Theodoras Papagiannis. The figures were done
from life size to table top figurines - amazing.
The Benaki Museum organisation
considers its mission "to present, through its
collections, Greek art and material culture in a
geographical and evolutionary context, from prehistory to
the present. Unique examples of ceramics, sculpture and
jewellery are included in its Geometric, Archaic,
Classical, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine collections.
The transition from the ancient periods to the Byzantine
world is illustrated in the collection of textiles, oil-lamps,
clay figurines and bone carvings from Alexandria and in a
rare group of Coptic works of art. Byzantine and post-Byzantine
icons, ecclesiastical embroidery and metalwork reveal the
impact of Christianity on the art of the times. Costumes,
jewellery, embroidery, ceramics, wood-carvings, paintings
and metalwork complete the presentation of Greek art in
the four post-Byzantine centuries. By virtue of its
collections, the Benaki Museum cannot be classified only
as a museum of decorative arts, an art museum or a
historical museum; it is rather, the museum of Greek
civilization, in all its pertinent manifestations."
This is accomplished in a splendid environment.
The Goulandris Museum of Cycladic
Art displays a collection of over 3,000 artifacts of
Cycladic, Ancient Greek and Cypriot Art from the 4th
millennium BC to the 6th C. AD. The collection is
contained on 4 floors; cycladic art is on the 1st,
ancient Greek art, a history of images on the 2nd,
ancient cypriot art on the 3rd and on the 4th, scenes
from daily life in antiquity.
Again we lucked out with a fabulous
temporary exhibit by the Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone,
entitled "nude". Seven lithe figures (models
were dancers) are gracefully posed on the floor. They are
made of a mixture of wax and earth pigments in various
earth colors. Simply stunning.
We met Joanna through TheTravelzine
travel discussion group many years ago. Over the years
she has guided us to many treasures of her beloved
country. She is now married to Takis and has a beautiful
son, Konstantinos. We met for dinner at Tzitzikas Kai
Mermigas, Mitropoleos 12, and spent several hours
reminiscing and getting caught up on our lives, the Greek
way, over platters of mezes and beer. Our friends have
that positive spirit but it is being seriously challenged.
The House of Parliament and the
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier overlooks Syntagma Square.
Grand hotels, government offices, banks, travel agencies,
airline office, kiosks, cafes, restaurants, and lots of
room to roam, makes this the square that never sleeps.
Demonstrations, large and small, all begin here.
Next to Parliament is the 40 acres
National Garden, a perfect place to relax after visiting
the museums or wandering the streets. Amongst the world
wide collection of plants, bushes, trees and flowers you
will find a zoo, duck pond, botanical museum, children's
library and playground and a small cafe.
Between the garden and the Olympic
stadium is the Zappelon, a small park that is home to the
handsome Zappeion Megaron, an important congress and
exhibition hall. The white marble Panathenaikon Stadium
was built between 1869 and 1870 for first Olympic Games
held in modern times in 1896. Entering this stadium is a
powerful moment; so many firsts happened in this country.
We met Assa on a flight from London
to Athens many years ago. She had been visiting her son
Yannis who was at university in Sussex. Her husband
Kostas was waiting for her at the Athens airport. We have
been friends ever since.
This evening was special, we had
dinner with Assa and Yannis. This was our first meeting
with Yannis which was a treat. Yannis lives and works
here in Athens where he is the Senior Sales Manager for
the Club Hotel Casino
Kostas could not join us as he had to stay in Dephi to
look after the family business, the Greka Gift Shop (the
best place to buy souvenirs of your visit to that
magnificent archeological site).
They chose the restaurant Kafeneio
on Loukianou just around the corner from the Hotel
Periscope. We sat on the pretty sidewalk patio under the
trees and enjoyed the best meal of our trip. We started
with mezes; a salad of zuchini, artichoke, mushrooms,
celery, parsley and dill; stuffed grape leaves; spinach
and chickpeas; fried zuchini with cheese. We had lots to
talk about so we leisurely lingered over the appetizers
and a delicious rose wine. Time to relax and banter with
the owner before sharing generous servings of lamb
fricasse and roast suckling pig and potatoes.
We walked our friends to their car,
shared farewells and our hopes that it would not take too
long for the country to get back on its feet.
Fortunately the walk from Kolonaki
to the New Hotel at Filellinon, 16 is down hill. We
rolled to Syntagma, passed the Parliament, crossed over
at the Metro stop to Othonos which leads to Filellinon on
the left. The hotel is two blocks from Syntagma Square.
Less than half an hour, strolling.
The 1950s Olympic Hotel has been
magically transformed by Brazilian brothers Fernando and
Humberto Campana into an intriguing 79 room inspirational
The eager-to-please staff greeted
us as we came through the doors and guided us to
reception. It took a while to absorb the impact of the
wooden implements, furniture parts, door frames,
baseboards etc. that were massed at random on the walls.
Once we cleared that hurdle we saw that the pillars in
the lobby and adjacent dining room are transformed into
trees shaped by polished wooden slats. Wow, what awaits
us in our superior room?
We were immediately struck by the
long peach wall with exquisite gold metallic cut outs
depicting figures and shapes of the Karagiozis Shadow
Theatre (shadow puppet and fictional character of Greek
and Turkish folklore) inspired by the "Karagiozis
Wedding" above a light wood desk and shelf. The
floors are done in gleaming light wood. A dash of color
was provided by a bright red leather chair. The quilted
backing on the king bed was grey nestled against a white
wall. A gold stacked base anchored a copper sink.
All the amenities we enjoyed at
Periscope were abundant here. There is an attractive
business center in the lower level along with a workout
and spa complex.
Breakfast is taken in the cool
dining room, wooden trees and all. It's buffet style but
with excellent service. The pleasant staff serves breads,
juices, coffee and eggs to order. The ample buffet
featured that thick yogurt, smoked salmon, meats, cheeses,
fresh veggies and fruits, cereals and sweets. New Hotel
is more than a pretty face.
Finding friendships is the essence
of our travel. Standing on a corner we were discussing
the best route to take and were absorbed in our map when
we heard a voice ask if he could be of help. We looked up
to see a young man and his passenger on a scooter
greeting us with big smiles. The driver was Aimon, a
ballet dancer. His passenger was his mother, Ersi, a
retired lawyer. By the time we parted company we knew
quite a bit about each other and knew that one day we'd
The long pedestrian way, Ermou
Street, has always been the popular priced fashion center
of the city. Starting at Syntagma it is a magnet for
shoppers and idle strollers.
After having a piece of the best
pie in Athens (leek for both of us) at Ariston at Voulas
#10, we joined Ermou en route to the Beth Shalom
Synagogue at #5 Melidoni Street and the Holocaust
Memorial at the end of the pedestrian crossing, where
Melidoni meets Ermou.
The memorial overlooks the ancient
cemetery of Keramikos. Six broken marble blocks depicting
the Star of David rest in an aromatic herb garden, a
symbol of healing and rememberance. Each block points in
the direction of where Jewish Communities had existed,
their names engraved in the marble.
Beth Shalom is Athen's main
synagogue. The building was started in the 1930s but
never completed until 1975. The austere exterior is of
white pentelic marble. Simple yet striking.
As we arrived, the city police
guards (it is sad that this protection is necessary) told
us that the caretaker had left. Luckily he had not yet
mounted his scooter and was kind enough to delay his
lunch and took us inside. Large stained glass windows
brighten the side wooden paneling. Wooden pews fill the
center. The womens gallery is upstairs along the sides
and across the back.
About half way along the length of
Ermou is the Monastiraki district. You'll know when you're
there by the noise, blaring music (both recorded and live)
and screeching vendors blast your senses. This busy
market place is packed with a huge variety of products
from second hand records and books to musical instruments,
clothing, shoes, old and new furniture, home furnishings
and of course lots and lots of souvenirs. Monastiraki is
a favorite destination for locals and tourists; enjoy the
show but watch your valuables.
We found our way to #30 Praxitelous,
home to the restaurant Doris, a neighborhood gem. A
counter top case at the front bar displayed a few of the
day's offerings and the main event was a few steps away
at the side of the kitchen. Moussaka, sardines, roast
potatoes, and mixed veggies along with dense crusty bread
and beer was a perfect lunch. Worth finding your way here.
The Acropolis Museum, 15 Dionysiou
Aeropagitou, (across from the Acropolis) opened in 2009
to exhibit significant finds from the Sacred Rock and its
foothills. The architecture was dictated by three major
requirements: maintain visual contact with the monuents
of the Acropolis, exhibit the Parthenon sculptures in
their entirety and adapt the building to the
archaelogical excavation that extends across its
The visual link between the
sculptures and the Acropolis is achieved through the
large glass outer walls of the Parthenon Gallery. The
views of the Acropolis, the surrounding hills and the
city are outstanding.
The glass walkways leading to the
entrance provide a marvelous view of the site's
archaelogical excavation. Tall, majestic columns support
the 3 levels of display. Large glass windows and walls
allow the light to highlight the powerful presentation. A
stark modern home for a historical ancient collection; it
doesn't get better than that.
The wide Panepistimiou Avenue is home to the
National Library, the National and Kapodistrian
University, and the Academy of Athens, which form the
"neoclassical trilogy" a beautiful stretch of
19th century buildings.
Nearby and worth a visit is the
restaurant Ideal at #46. This charming old-school (since
1922) establishment offers traditional dishes in a
comfortable environment. The avgolemono (egg lemon) soup,
ripe tomato and cucumber salad, baby lamb fricasse served
with tiny zuchini and pureed potatoes were as good as it
gets. The service was very good; a fine value by all
The Jewish Museum of Greece, #39 Nikis, is modest in size but impactful.
It was founded in 1977 to collect, preserve, research and
exhibit the material evidence of 2300 years of Jewish
life in Greece.
We were warmly received at
reception on the lst floor. The 2nd floor presents the
cycle of Jewish holidays. Also on the 2nd floor was a
remembrance of the "helper heroes" (Greeks who
helped Jews survive) and the survivors. This is powerful
stuff. The 3rd floor shows historic documents that prove
the presence of Jews in Greece from late antiquity until
the 19th century and their contribution to the protection
of the nation. The 4th has educational films. On the 5th,
learn of the holocaust. The 6th displays traditional
costumes and the 7th describes everyday life. The hours:
Monday to Friday - 9:00 to 14:30, Sundays - 10:00 to 14:00,
do not miss it.
We were delighted with our decision
to celebrate our 50 years of marriage in Greece. We
wandered freely and never felt threatened. We ate and
slept well at reasonable prices. We felt the kindness and
good nature of the people. Best of all, we renewed old
dear friendships and made some new ones.
Back to Toronto and a walk along
Danforth Ave. (Greek town).
THESSALONIKI | ATHENS
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