So Athens obviously has a wealth of historical sites, but I also found simply wandering the old town to be enchanting. There is graffiti everywhere (see above, or the slideshow in the previous post), beautiful views from the many hills, and a cafe-culture that begs you to sit down and relax. Many streets are lined and sometimes filled with tables and chairs for people to sit and sip coffee. In the evenings, the restaurants add candles and live music and it feels like the whole city is outside, relaxing together. Here's where I had dinner my first night, at a taverna by the base of the Acropolis:
The next day while I had a late lunch, the waiters were busily pruning back the grape vines that shaded the street and patio but were overtaking the electric wires. Shady spots and family restaurants like these abound. Every day I made multiple stops to sip coffee or juice, rest from the sun, and read or chat with locals who had stopped in for the same reasons.
There is a wide and curving pedestrian path that edges two sides of the base of the Acropolis, and at night musicians and artists set up shop all along these streets, cafes and restaurants fill up, and people of all ages stroll by. One evening, I decided to follow these streets around to the Thissio district to do some people-watching and catch a movie at Cine Thissio, one of the many outdoor move theaters that operate in the summer here. Eyes on a tree-lined path ahead, I missed my turn and ended up high on the Hill of the Muses, part of a huge park where Athenians had come to let their dogs off leash and watch the sunset. The breeze and views were gorgeous, there was honeysuckle in the air, the cicadas were buzzing, and I happily crisscrossed the summit for an hour before finding my way down a steep street into the heart of Thissio.
I was a little late by the time I made it to Cine Thissio, but caught most of The Long Hot Summer, a 1958 Paul Newman/Joanne Woodward treat. A lot of the outdoor cinemas in Athens show a mix of classics and new films, and always show them in their original language, with Greek subtitles. With the Acropolis looming above us, a mixed crowd of old and young, good popcorn and cheap drinks, I couldn't have been happier to spend a few hours there. As I walked home close to midnight - the air warm, people laughing, music everywhere - the pedestrian paths were still packed until I curved around the Acropolis for the final short stretch home. There the crowds thinned out and it got a little quieter. Behind me, in the dark somewhere, a sax player started wailing out "What a Wonderful World" and I sat down abruptly on the curb because... is this real life?
A moment later a woman pulled up on her moped, talking loudly into her phone, headlight shining directly in my face... and I concluded that it certainly was, and took myself off to bed.
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the museums. Air-conditioned and thoughtfully laid out, these were a pleasure to visit. The very new Acropolis museum is beautifully designed to give context to the Parthenon directly across the way, as well as the art that would have been found there. I'm so glad to have seen the Elgin/Parthenon Marbles while in London last year, and hope the Greeks' fervent desire to have them brought home to Athens and installed in this space prepared for them will come to fruition.
The National Archaeological Museum, as promised by all guide books and everyone I'd met, was fantastic. Organized to show the shifts and developments in artistic skill and aesthetic through ancient Greek history, it showcased incredible works. The exhibition also heightened my awareness of how art stands witness to history, a reminder of how cultural shifts are molded by interactions between peoples and cultures - both through trade and force - and reflected in the art and architecture left behind. A reminder, too, of how awesomely advanced the Greek artists of the Classical period had become! Check out the slide-show below for some of the highlights.
Ms. Rush's [the]