My time in Turkey had been special and memorable, but I was well and truly exhausted by the time I reached Athens. I had booked into stay two nights with the plan of briefly recovering, doing a bit of sightseeing and research before heading to Crete. Thankfully I arrived in warm, clear weather. I’d found a two bedroom apartment in Pagrati, an inner district of Athens through Airbnb, which I had used for all of my accommodation for this trip. Airbnb offered me a few things that I couldn’t normally get from a hotel such as cheaper accommodation (that can be tricky for a solo traveler), insider tips from hosts and a taste of local life. As long as you choose a place that’s in a good location and has great reviews from other travellers you’ll find something that’s right for you. On arrival, I found my apartment spacious and clean and my host Dimitris was fantastic, going out of his way to help me with advice on places to eat and directions for getting around the city. After trekking up hills and sleeping on a single fold out bed, it did feel like luxury being able to stretch out on a large bed in a big space. Needless to say I slept like a baby that first night.
It was around this point in my trip that I noticed a strange phenomenon happening to me. Back home in Melbourne I’d placed my 9-month-old black cat, Onyx into a cat hotel. I later discovered that my freedom loving cat did not enjoy his stay and received photographic evidence from my friend (who generously paid him visits) of a very annoyed, if not hostile moggy. Throughout my whole journey, I would randomly come across a black cat. In Istanbul, I met two on the street (one was even outside the Blue Mosque!). When I stepped out onto my balcony of my Athens apartment, there was a black cat sitting outside and every time I would leave the building a black cat would be perched outside in the garden. It was as if Onyx was psychically messaging me of his displeasure to guilt me into returning home early. Unfortunately for him I didn’t feel guilty. I was in Greece; it was warm, and I had places to go.
Athens has a lot to see, and it’s difficult to cram everything into a single day. The economic situation in Greece is tangible. Graffiti is plastered everywhere, many shops have closed their doors, and the city has numerous building sites where construction has ceased mid-way. Although it’s sad to see a once prosperous city in such a state, the ancient relics reminded me of the resilience of a city that has survived through the ages. Greece may be suffering financially now, but you get the feeling that it will find its way again.
Admittedly I didn’t have an itinerary for the day because I thought “I’m in Greece, so I’m going to relax”. My plan was to walk towards the Acropolis and take in whatever sights were along my way. Pagrati has a busy shopping district which meant I was able to stop by a local café for my morning espresso and grab a pastry for breakfast before embarking on my walk. Thankfully I’d chosen my location well. The Panathletic Stadium, National Gardens, Roman baths at Syntagma station, Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch were all on my route before I found my way into the Plaka, the old district of Athens and to the foot of the Acropolis. Without stopping it was a mere 20 minutes by foot from the apartment. Perfect for my tired legs! The Acropolis was worth a visit, even though there was a lot of renovation going on and groups of school kids everywhere. I sat atop the ancient rock, warmed myself in the sun, soaked up the history and took in the amazing views of Athens.
Speaking of tired legs, I decided to give my body a bit of a break and bought a ticket on the Red and Green tourist buses in the Plaka so that I could orient myself with the city. These buses are great because they are cheaper than catching a taxi everywhere, and they go to most of the major tourist destinations. Taking the bus also gave me the opportunity to travel safely down to the Port Piraeus area. The Piraeus is known for being a somewhat shady area but as it features very briefly in my book I wanted to take a look. There wasn’t much to see other than run-down apartment blocks and old factories and warehouses but I was also able to take in the pretty Marina area a little further down before heading back into town to the Monastiraki district and its shops and markets.
I’d heard about a famous Kalamaki shop called Kostas located in Monastiraki. Kostas is well known for their pork Kalamaki with a spicy sauce. And with Kalamaki being one of my favourite dishes I decided to seek it out for a late lunch. The shop was a little tricky to find (I spent an hour looking for it) but when I arrived there was a line of people coming out of the door. It seems that the place is very popular with both locals and tourists. I love Greek food. Living in Melbourne is great, as there’s a large population of Greeks, and Greek food is easy to get. Planning my trip I knew that I would inevitably be eating a lot, which contributed to my decision to try to walk as much as I could. So far I’d been averaging 22,000 steps a day, which I can testify is enough exercise to counteract the effects of a foreign food binge on one’s body. Having finally gotten my mitts on a Kostas Kalamaki I found that the pork was deliciously tender, and the sauce was a surprisingly nice kick, but overall it was too salty for my palette. My heart, I admit still belongs to Kara’s Kalamaki food truck in Melbourne.
I then took the time to walk off my Kalamaki through the paved laneways and the souvenir market by Monastiraki square. I quite like this area, there’s trendy clothing shops and cafes and loads of young people just hanging out. I was able to get a green juice to top up my vitamins, buy some souvenirs for the folks at home and score some bargain leather sandals before heading back to the apartment for the evening.
By the time dinner rolled around I decided to visit a local taverna near my apartment, which Dimitris had recommended. Mavro Provato, or Black Sheep is a small modern taverna hidden away down a small street in Pagrati. They have a local menu and a tourist menu which features standard Western stodge like burgers and fries. My advice is to definitely try the local menu. I enjoyed an amazing feast of shrimp in a fennel sauce, tomato salad, bread and Ouzo for around 20 euros. It was seriously so good that I ate all of the shrimp heads. And I slept well again that night which let me have enough rest before heading to the Phaleron War Cemetary for research the next day.
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