Athens Travel Guide
In a new weekly Friday column, we'll explore street food and other culinary specialties from around the world. Last week, it was the surprising taco trunk scene in Columbus. This week, we head to Athens, Greece, to see what's cooking.
This one might be as obvious as deep dish in Chicago or cheesesteaks in Philadelphia, but you absolutely must try a gyro in Greece. We say that not because you've never heard of one before, rather because, like the cheesesteak in Philly, you've never had one this good.
Ancient History Travel / Elgin Marbles / Museum Travel / Historical Travel / History / History Travel / → All Tags
Today's a big day in the world of Greek antiquities, as the massive New Acropolis Museum in Athens opens its doors to the public for the first time. The fancy new building was designed by architect Bernard Tschumi, and incorporates classic and contemporary elements to display 4,000 artifacts, more than ten times the number of the inadequate old museum it replaces. The New York Times has a nifty article and slide show of the $200 million museum, which it calls "one of the highest-profile cultural projects undertaken in Europe in this decade."
My Life in Ruins, a new rom-com in theaters today, stars Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) as a tour guide in Athens who accidentally falls in love. The plot is as dull as it sounds, but Vardalos' character's chosen profession does provide some great vistas of the city. Taking a cue from Nia, here is our guide to the best of all that Athens has to offer:
On March 25, Greece celebrates its independence as won from the Ottoman Empire as won between 1821 and 1829. The occasion is typically celebrated with military parades; New York's Greek population is even having one, albeit not until April 26th.
In the Athens airport, you can celebrate your independence every day with free WiFi via the Wiz portal. We hear you're limited to 45 minutes, though, so make sure to take full advantage (or wait to log on if you've got a long layover).
Feel free to share your airport WiFi experiences.
And you thought the anarchists had given up: Riots that were touched off by the killing of a teenager earlier this month, but were more broadly caused by economic concerns and growing dissatisfaction with the government of Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis flared up again today in Athens. After breeching security at the Acropolis earlier this week and continuing to chuck molotov cocktails at police, today rioters attempted to burn down Athens' new Christmas tree--new because they torched the old one last week.
Just days ago, Athens seemed poised for recovery. But today, police are again warning holiday shoppers and tourists away from downtown, partly because the teenage son of a teacher's union official was shot in the hand Wednesday night. The UK's Foreign Office recommends avoiding downtown as well. For its part, the US State Department is staying mum on conditions on the ground in Greek capital.
After the jump, four very different video looks at the December riots, now in their 13th day.
This time of year, it can be fun to throw around the word "overrated" in its pop-culture sense--for example, a lively debate about the most overrated movie of 2008. (As opposed to, "Bernie Madoff's investment prowess was, in retrospect, overrated.") But what makes a trip or a destination overrated? For the Los Angeles Times' Leon Logothetis, it's all about the people you meet. Logothetis singles out cities like Prague and Athens for particularly negative interactions with the locals; in Paris, no one would speak English to him even when they were able, and a cab driver ripped him off in Moscow.
We tend to believe people in other countries were not put there for our own edification, but everyone has his own yardstick for determining whether a place is overrated. We'll get started with a few of ours right here; won't you add yours in the comments?
First and Foremost: Hype:
This can be a very personal scale, although many destinations come packaged with universally recognized "You're gonna love it!"s. We went to New York City for the first time too young to be exposed to the hype, but for many first-timers, that initial cloud of bewilderment never lets up. If no one you know has been to a city like Bilbao, you could end up loving it. (Or did we just overhype it right there?)
Logothetis mentions the masses of tourists who "move along the Charles Bridge like zombies" in Prague, and while it doesn't seem fair to completely discount a place because everyone else is there, high-season crowds can put the most seasoned traveler off. Long lines can create Disney-sized anticipation or Sartre-esque ennui. And those crowds may suggest something more damning to a destination: That beyond the tourist track, there isn't much of a public life for visitors to join. Responding to the LA Times article, Village Voice columnist Michael Musto came up with his own list, and of Vienna he writes, "What a snoozy town of old farts! I swear by 9 pm, there isn't a light on in the whole place. You could crap into a streetcorner garbage can and be the most exciting person in town."
Money, or This Way To The Egress:
As much as Logothetis comes off as a bit of a Scrooge in his Moscow tale, it's hard to go to a place where the attractions are free and truly deem it overrated. He's not just being cheap: Destinations that entice you there specifically with the intent on getting you to spend money are tourist traps, but destinations that promise an unforgettable experience for your money are overrated. That's the difference between South of the Border and, say, Iceland, where Foreign Policy warns "you won’t run into Björk in a bar."
· Athens Overrated? Yes, and There's More Such Travel Spots [LAT]
· The Most Overrated Destinations In The World [Village Voice]
· World's Most Overhyped Vacation Spots [Foreign Policy]
· Three Mexican Restaurants in New York Better Than Dos Caminos [Jaunted]
· Good Circulation Is Overrated [Jaunted]
It's been eight days since the killing of a 15-year-old boy by police in Athens touched off riots across the country, and things are finally starting to calm down. The AP reports that open-topped buses filled with tourists have returned to the city's famous historical sights, while the bars and cafes in the Thissio district, with its sweeping views of the Acropolis, are once again packed with patrons. The scene was quite different a week ago, when angry youths clad in red-and-black - some of whom identified themselves as anarchists - took to the streets to protest the killing by overturning garbage cans, looting stores, and scuffling with police. While most Greeks deplore the violent tactics of the rioters, a significant number of citizens have legitimate grievances against the government, not only about the police shooting, but a host of economic and social issues as well. It's sad to think that the country that created the basic fundamentals of philosophy and rule of law could degenerate so dramatically. Perhaps the rioters and government officials both need to take a tour through the Parthenon and other ancient centers of Greek justice, democracy, and scholarship for a reminder of the heights their nation was once able to reach, and ought to aim for again.
OMG, Greece! The land of dank tavernas, crumbling temples and ouzo pounding, cigarette huffing Paris Hilton exes is going absolutely bananas right now, after the funeral of the 15-year-old shot by police Saturday.
Gangs of red-and-black-clad anarchists are roving the streets of Athens, smashing windows and chucking molotov cocktails at cops, while smaller interest groups are using the unrest to rally for their pet causes. Some rioters even burned the city's Christmas tree, a total dick move.
While tourists were spared the full force of the violence until now--at least as long as they stayed indoors--the riots are now touching everyone: A strike will completely shut down all airports in the country Wednesday, and hotels came under heavy assault on Monday. The brutes didn't even spare a life-sized diorama of The Nutcracker!
· Greece Riots: People Have Lost Faith in Government [Guardian]
· Funeral Leads to More Mayhem [NYT]
· As Riots Continue, Greece Faces Mounting Political Crisis [IHT]
· Greek Riots: Airport Strikes Add to Misery [Telegraph]
· Anarchist Riots in Athens, Thessaloniki Keeping Tourists On Their Toes [Jaunted]
Violence / Crime / Police / Anarchists / → All Tags
We've been to Greece and just love it to death, but what we don't know about contemporary Greek society could fill a warehouse. Who knew that the capital of Athens and the northern port city of Thessaloniki were hotbeds of disaffected youth gangs and violent left-wing extremism? The cities have been in the headlines this weekend as riots erupted in response to the shooting death of a youth by a police officer on Saturday near the National Museum in Athens. According to the police, two officers were attacked by thirty stone-throwing youths in the central district of Exarchia, "an unruly haven for far-left youths, including anarchists." Anarchists! The officers responded with superior firepower, fatally wounding one of the youths and touching off riots that have extended into a second day. According to the International Herald Tribune, hundreds of black-clad youths smashed up banks and storefronts, set fires, and harassed cops, who responded with tear gas. It's scary stuff, and we'd advise visitors to keep a low profile until things cool down. As is often the case, the violent demonstrators represent only a small minority of an otherwise peaceful and bohemian segment of society. Unfortunately, it only takes a couple of violent people to set off a maelstrom. As for the police shooting, it's being investigated and the officers involved have been suspended. Be careful out there.
[Photo: International Herald Tribune Europe]
Museums / History / → All Tags
It might be 30 years in the making, but the laid back Greeks are only just now putting the finishing touches on the New Acropolis Museum in Athens.
Located at the foot of the Acropolis, the new museum already has the ground floor open so you can get a taste for the ancient; the rest of the exhibitions are due to open early next year. At the moment it's free to see the ground floor and as yet, they haven't set a price--which scares us a little, as we think they've decided the price but it's too expensive to reveal.
Meanwhile, they've been trying to get back some ancient bits that were basically stolen by other countries. While Italy and Sweden have been cooperative, the Brits are holding off on giving back the Elgin Marbles, which are sittin' pretty in the British Museum.
[Photo: New Acropolis Museum]
Greece / Contests / → All Tags
Americans don't really understand Eurovision, a schlockfest that nonetheless inspires great passion and massive television viewership throughout Europe every May. Hosted each year by the country whose act won the festival the previous year, Eurovision this year will be held in Athens on May 18 and 20.
Last year Helena Paparizou, a Greek-Swedish singer who grew up in Gothenburg, won the first-place prize for Greece.
Eurovision isn't just a music contest. It's also a massively gay cultural event, a friendly tussle of soft patriotisms, and, not infrequently, a prism through which shifts in European cultural politics can be glimpsed. To wit: Armenia is competing this year for the first time, and Georgia is set to compete for the first time in 2007. Both countries are bidding hard to be seen as part of Europe.
More dramatically, the spat that led to the withdrawal of the Serbian and Montenegrin entry is an expression of basic tension within that particular political unit, a tension that will be addressed by a referendum on the future status of Montenegro, to be held the very day after the Eurovision final.
This year, Greece's Anna Vissi (above) leads the betting odds, with Romania's Mihai Traistariu, Sweden's Carola, and Belgium's Kate Ryan not far behind. Finland's Lordi thus far wins the award for the most talked about act, with their theatrical metal entry titled "Hard Rock Hallelujah."
Jaunted will be on the ground, reporting on this most significant of European cultural events in addition to providing the skinny on that post-Olympic, immigrant-fueled, cosmopolitan boomtown also known as Athens.
Some travelers push their bodies with a strict regimen of alcohol and greasy foods. Others choose to purify themselves with seaweed wraps, salt scrubs and Enya. Guess what? They're all wimps compared to tourists who travel great distances to run marathons.
As a service to runners who missed the registration deadline for this year's London marathon, the Guardian wraps-up six European alternates. Limp down Rome's cobblestones! Dodge Stockholm's fat summer mosquitoes! There's a wealth of options for the discerning, uh, foot jockey.
The real highlight is the Athens marathon in November. It's the same route that the 2004 Olympians ran, plus the race begins in the famed town of Marathon. Sure beats running through Queens, right?
[Image via CarlosMoraes/Flickr]