After the frenzy of the Internet Governance Forum, I decided to spend a couple of days in Athens getting to know the city. Athens seemed like just the kind of place that I would like — full of rich history and urban grit. I had few preconceived notions about Athens, just a desire to see cool artifacts and eat yummy food. It turns out that it’s an incredibly beautiful place that you can’t shoot a bad picture of. Well, you be the judge.
More pics and commentary after the jump…
The Acropolis is the first place every tourist goes, for obvious reasons. The old ruins lean out on top of a steep hill in the center of town, just a short climb from the central Plaka neighborhood. The star of the Acropolis is the Parthenon, an ancient temple that is still breathtaking even though covered in scaffolding. It’s worth the climb just for the view of the city from up there.
Just below the Acropolis is the ancient agora, similar in scale to the Fori Romani in Rome. The most impressive structure is the temple of Hapheastus dedicated to the art of metallurgy. But more important is the historical significance of the site as the birthplace of democracy. It was in the Agora that the various tribes of Athens would gather to jointly administer the city, convene the Senate to draft new laws, and various civic spaces that all Athenian citizens could make use of.
I didn’t get to as many ruins as I would have liked. I was particularly sad to have missed the old cemetery, the largest and best-preserved ancient necropolis in the world. And much of the real ancient treasures are in museums in Athens, not out in the open. Next time next time.
Meanwhile, for this visit, I got in a bit of shopping, wandering the modern city streets, and eating and drinking my way through the city.
The main beverages of choice are the Greek coffee and ouzo. Both are found in plentiful cafes and ouzeri all over the city.
The coffee is black and strong, really just unfiltered grounds in hot water served either very sweet or very very sweet. It’s quite expensive, running from 2-5 euros. But it does hit the spot. Avoid the sludge on the bottom of the cup though.
I spent a lovely evening at an ouzeri in the Psiri district, really just a hole-in-the-wall with a couple of tables and chairs, a tiny kitchen, and one wall dominated by hundreds of ouzo bottles. Lots of tasty mezhedes (sort of Greek tapas) came out of that kitchen, from fried spelt to grilled calamari to tzatziki yogurt sauce. Perfect complements to the strong ouzo that was the only beverage on offer there.
The food offerings I discovered were not particularly sophisticated, but they were quite delicious and inexpensive. Souvlaki and kebab are everywhere of course. I went with fellow IGF participants Bill Drake and Adam Peake to a tremendous place called, I think, Thanasis near the Monastiraki station, where they only served pork, chicken and lamb kebab. We had all three for lunch and were extremely pleased.
That evening we went to a great ouzeri and medhzedes place in the Plaka called Scholareio, presumably referring to the fact that the building used to be a school-house. Dinner consists of a huge assortment of mezhedes brought to you on a giant tray by busy waitstaff. You get a choice of 12 places for 12 euros, a tremendous deal. We ended up ordering more fried calamari because it was so tasty. The place is filled floor to ceiling with old family photos of the owner’s clan, from kids in sports uniforms to naked women in repose to soldiers displaying their medals.