Saturday, September 27, 2008

Athina, Hellas (Athens)

When I came back to work, my colleagues ask me how was Athens. I surprised them and myself when I replied, “I felt like I was back in Manila!”

The most popular cart vendor in Athens, the pretzel - Koulouri vendor. This one is taken in Omonia circle where I had a quick lunch before heading off to Acropolis.

The weather obviously was very Manila-ish. Hot, sticky, and smoggy. Summer and even autumn in Greece is like the tropics, although during winter, it can get cold and freezing in Athens. The fumes, street vendors, chaos on the streets, noise, rows of buildings one after the other built during the 60’s and 70’s in the city center reminds me of downtown Manila and Cebu, and of course, the eternal traffic pandemonium! The madness on the road that goes on until the early hours of dawn had me in a confused state for a minute. I was sandwiched with a car, a cab, and two motorcycles in a very narrow street while S stood at the other side of the road laughing -- Welcome to Athens!

Scenes of Plaka; a shop selling traditional ethnic Greek garb and a busy corner street of lively Plaka during a very warm Saturday afternoon.

More fotos of Athens can be found here: Athens, Greece

Shops in Plaka; an art gallery and carpet store. I like the dilapidated look of the carpet shop. S told me the story about these old buildings (they abound in Athens!) left by its owners to rot. Will talk about this on my next entry.

There were a couple of places I found really nice in Athens.

A very cozy corner in Plaka. I was tempted to sit here for an afternoon drink but Phil and Stan sent me a SMS inviting me to check the view from their hotel which turns out to be a couple of blocks away.

Plaka, the old town at the base of the Acropolis is where everything happens at night. In all my travels, I have not seen such a huge outdoor terrace – nightlife area other than Plaka. I met up with my friends, Phil and Stan, and we sauntered for hours in Plaka and its surrounding areas. Strip after strip, in every corner, are inviting outdoor cafes, lovely restaurants and tavernas with rows of terraces, sparkling clubs, pretty shops and hundreds of street vendors hawking their wares.

I find this very charming - the shop across the street extended their selling grounds and use the rundown building to display some of their stuff. Not really sure what they are but the whole set up caught my eye.

The walk seemed endless but the beauty of it all is the magnificent and breathtaking backdrop – the lighted Acropolis on top of the hill at night. Where in the world can you see a nightlife place with such impressive backdrop that dates back to the ancient times? I think Phil wanted to pinch himself when he said this.

Traditional Greek coffee with Oreo. An afternoon with S in Psiri in one of the tavernas.

We also discovered this interesting place called Psiri. The area was tipped to Phil and Stan by the hotel personnel. So we went there for some evening drinks. There were a number of tourists present but mostly are locals.

In one of the side streets the whole area was packed so we probed further and meandered in. It was almost impossible to walk through without squeezing and kneading yourself with everyone else. But what really entertained us are the people there. A lot of fierce looking outrageously clad feral haired youngsters! The place was a teenage hangout, like a raw sub culture for the young group in Athens.

Phil, Stan, and I posing and having our goofy moments in the Kolonaki shopping area. Next foto is me and Stan - Phil took a series of shots, it looked like a comic strip, and we did not even know about it.

For a moment we thought there was a hairdo competition going on or perhaps the whole team of L’Oreal hair gel teenage models got lost in Psiri, Athens. We didn’t get to take pictures but the impression left us that extreme and weird hairstyles for the young kids is the new genre in Athens.

The day after, I met up again with Phil and Stan, and the plan was to visit the archaeological museum which I will be making a separate entry in this blog as I took lots of fotos of the nice pieces there. We decided to take a walk and explore the surroundings en route to the museum and it was a good decision as we were able to see some interesting places along the way.

S (who is almost Greek) and I in front of the beautiful Orthodox Agios Dionysius Church in Kolonaki. S said the church is famous for its intricately carved door.

In one of our turns, we came upon the uptown area called Kolonaki. S told me later that it’s the posh and trendy place of Athens and adding that I have been indeed to the right places, ha-ha. It was easy to notice that it’s the snobbish part of the city because the shops scream with luxurious designer-signature names. High-class shopping is the main hobby of many female residents here. Many embassies are also housed in the area near the avenue towards the Parliament side.

The Agios Dionysius Church interior and the impressive ceiling at the lobby entrance. I love the green and rouge colors of the half domed ceiling.

The day after, S brought me to the Agora market. My gay friends warned me beforehand when I told them I am going the next day that it’s not a sight to behold and I should consider passing it. They were so distressed with all the carcasses of dead animals hanging for sale on the stands!

The Agora market. S said that before Greece was part of the European Union it was a chaos here. With Greece entry to the European Union, everything changed. Regulations were put in place that is why each meat vendor have a fridge.

Well, for someone who’s German and Dutch, I can surely understand why they are distraught but I am Asian and I have seen worse in the Philippine public markets. I have seen chickens, goats, and pigs beheaded and slaughtered mercilessly, many times right before my very eyes.

Cheese-feta vendor and this poor hanging dead pig is so patriotic, so Greek, the Greece flag must fly beside it.

Gyros vendor posed exclusively for me but he forgot to look into the camera. Yummy olives.

In some cultures it’s normal to see these kinds of brutal acts, while for others, not. I think I can say that I have the best of both worlds. I have the luxury dwelling in both (or many) cultures. With a very open mindset, a heightened curiosity, having traveled here and there, growing up in an eastern culture, and now living in the western part of the world, all things fold right before my very eyes and nothing really surprises me anymore.

Just for the experience, S brought me to the cheap part of Athens where locals buy cheap or items by the bulk. Its like Quiapo or Baclaran in Manila. Next foto is a group of men playing backgammon or Tavli outdoors right beside a shop. Tavli I was told is a typical board game in Greece.

The pinnacle of this trip is not just visiting the celebrated Acropolis but of course the food. Fresh yummy seafood!

I love love love grilled Octopus (called Khtapothi Sti Skhara in Greek)!

One evening, S brought me to Gazi, a place that used to be an old industrial terrain, and in some areas, still being inhabited by gypsies. Gazi is now transformed into a new and cool nightlife hangout by the locals. Cafes, restaurants-tavernas, and clubs have ransacked the area. I would not be surprised in a couple of years if real estate here would go up more than twice from what the market offered now.

I will be posting more entries on Athens Archaeological Museum, Lycabettus Hill, and Pireaus... soon...

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