There’s something about Athens that makes you think. It’s a complex city with many different sides to its personality. A mixture of ancient meets modern day, with a relaxing yet lively, fresh vibe. It’s a warm and welcoming city but one that reveals itself to you slowly over time, which is you really need to spend a few days there to start to begin to understand it.
Athens will leave its mark on you. Now home after a four-night stay I’m still thinking about the place and wondering how to sum up a city that has so many contrasts. A city scarred by the economic crisis yet with areas of stunning archaeological beauty. A city steeped in history yet vibrant, modern and full of life.
I joined a group of bloggers for the first Blogtrotters tour, organised by Marketing Greece, a non-profit corporation founded in 2013 with the primary objective of effectively promoting Greece. We stayed at the Grecotel Pallas Athena, a new avant-garde 5-star boutique hotel in central Athens with a quirky style and individually designed rooms, including six ‘graffiti’ rooms.
We spent our time gaining a taste of what Athens has to offer, experiencing everything from the Acropolis to the beach and the nightlife, at least to the extent that you can in four short days.
My first impression of Athens was of a city more damaged by the recent crisis than I’d fully appreciated, with abandoned and neglected building dotted across the city, more so as you move away from the more central locations.
Its graffiti stood out and I was left questioning why there was so much of it and why it was still there. It left me feeling a little unsure about the place initially but wanting to know more and wanting to make sense of it.
Scratch below the surface though and you realise that Greece has greater issues to deal with than graffiti and that, in actual fact, its a form of expression that has lead to Athens becoming a European centre for street art. There’s obvious talent here.
Much of the art you see near the city centre has been commissioned, and even when it hasn’t, if you speak to those who know more about Athens and its recent struggles than I do, then you realise that there are far worse activities that youths could have been doing. I’d favour a can of graffiti spray over a knife any day. As the graffiti began to make more sense, Athens started to make more sense.
You don’t have to look far to also notice the very obvious signs of economic recovery. Typically you’ll find 5-star hotels and restaurants standing next to disused shops.
You’ll find gorgeous ice cream bars opposite empty business premises, their freshness standing out against a backdrop of neglected buildings.
Extending out from the centre there are streets lined with charming restaurants, cafes and rooftop bars just yards from streets left empty.
Slowly but surely Athens is coming back to life.
And there are sectors of the city that seem untouched by the crisis at all, thanks largely to the fact that tourism remains strong in Athens, helped by its historic treasures and archaeological sites, outstanding food and its proximity to the coast and the Islands beyond. 2.6 million travellers converged on the city in 2013, with a higher visitor count predicted for this year.
Talk to its residents and you’ll gain a further understanding of Athens. I found them warm and welcoming, as mentioned in my previous post, passionate about their country, driven and determined to help it get it back on its feet.
This gentleman was keen to see his photo published, so here it is:
What’s certain about a city that has faced so much uncertainty in recent years is that there’s a strong sense of optimism, of independence, of passion and determination on the part of its people to rebuild what they have lost and propel the country forward.
We met several tech start-up business, which I’ll mention in future posts, where young, talented entrepreneurs are reinvesting their talents in their home country. There could invest their time elsewhere, but they have chosen not to. They help give Athens its youthful vibe. With such entrepreneurship it is not difficult to see why Athens is successfully rebuilding itself and will continue to do so.
My lasting impression was that Athens is a city with very obvious scars, but one that is unquestionably on the up. Although I’ll say more about the places we visited in future posts, it’s the people that will stay with me. Warm, friendly and welcoming. You can’t help but want them to succeed, to get back on their feet and for their country to flourish again.
Athens will make you think. It will leave its mark on you. Like a child that’s been through a difficult adolescence and come out the other side, you now want to see her fly.