2011-12-12

A Sunday morning walk, in Athens city center

Here are a few images from our "morning" Sunday walk, in Athens city center. It was a bright, sunny day and with Christmas just around the corner there was a festive mood around, besides the problems (always present) that the city center is facing these days.
No Signal mural - Kriezotou St., Athens
The first image comes in the form of one more mural, painted on the side of an apartment building at Kriezotou St., between the main thoroughfares of Akademias St. and Eleftheriou Venizelou (aka Panepistimiou) St., close to Syntagma Sq.  The concept belongs to Greek artist Panos Sklavenitis and was executed by Kretsis & co. and M. Anastasakos. Murals like these have been commissioned by the Greek Ministry of Environment, specifically for Athens city center, and although many more exist already at the artists' own initiative, these particular ones tend to stand out and have attracted a lot of attention. Now, don't ask me if that's the best use of state coffers in times like these... I'm just giving you some pictures from our walk here.
The National Garden was the next logical option for our walk, as it is very near and was much busier than on a week day. The pond with the turtles is always a major attraction here...
Turtle Pond - National Garden, Athens, Greece
The same goes with the lawn with the giant Washingtonia palm trees, near the exit at Amalias Avenue.
Sketch artist at work, in the shade of the Washingtonias - National Garden, Athens, Greece


Lawn with solar clock and Washingtonia palm trees, near the exit at Amalias Avenue - National Garden, Athens, Greece
Outside the Garden, at Amalias Avenue and at Syntagma Square, there were throngs of people, many with their kids who were happy with all the street food, road artists, balloon sellers, etc...


Selling koulouria (a sesame-topped, crunchy bread type of snack) and some Greek style, sugar-topped doughnuts


Roasting and selling chestnuts. These are really yummy and perfect for a winter day.


Syntagma Square, Athens, Greece - Dec.11, 2011
This year, the City has a much smaller budget for Christmas and New Year's festivities and decorations, so local authorities decided to enlist the help of school-children and of the students of the Athens School of Fine Arts. There is no typical Xmas tree at the main square, but students transformed used soda cans into little decorations and hang them from the branches of the tangerine trees.
Reused soda cans, transformed into Xmas decorations - Syntagma Sq., Athens, Greece

Our walk ended somewhere further down Stadiou St., at the Korai Arcade (Stoa Korai), which has an opening at both Stadiou St. and on the square outside the Panepistimio Metro Station. This has been a popular spot at the city centre for the last few years and one of the few places at city center still going strong and seemingly attracting more and more people. It's small but it has a few cafeterias, pizza restaurants and a very slick, state of the art cinema theatre, that also hosted some of the screening for the Athens Intl. Film Festival. Make sure you mark this one, as it could serve as a perfect stop during a hot, sunny, summer day in Athens.
Stoa Korai - A popular arcade at Athens city center
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2011-12-02

The last major exhibit of the old National Gallery

The National Gallery in Athens is about to shut its doors in a few months, so that works can start for the expansion of the current building and the construction of a larger, modern one that will give the Gallery new impetus and allow it to better showcase the thousands of paintings kept in its storehouses.

As a temporary good-bye to art lovers in Greece, before the Gallery re-opens in three years, a last great exhibit was prepared and is currently being presented in the old building. The exhibit showcases "Unknown Treasures from the National Gallery Collections". Each of the 8 curators of the National Gallery has prepared, independently from others, one section of the exhibit with characteristic examples from the corresponding section (usually time period) of the Gallery's collections: "Exhibits from the European collection" (with paintings from Dutch, French and British painters), "Drawings and prints" by great masters such as Rembrandt and Albrecht Dürer, and works by Greek artists from the 19th to the late 20th century, with samples of modern Greek sculpture also interspersed in the exhibition halls.
National Gallery of Greece - Many of the works were displayed for the first time ever, like this late 19th century portrait of an industrialist's wife. 
The Director of the National Gallery, Ms. Marina Lambraki-Plaka, offered a most informative tour of the exhibition a couple of weeks ago and I didn't miss the chance of attending it. A second part of the exhibit, the one with the most recent works, is also on display at the National Sculpture Gallery, at the district of Goudi. Both exhibits run till January 8, 2012.
National Gallery of Greece - Lots of people attended the guided tour

P.S. 2012-01-11 As you might have read in the news, the last day of the exhibition was marked by the theft of three art works... Nice way to  bid farewell to the old Gallery!

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2011-11-16

Impressions from the Museum of Islamic Art in Athens

I have to admit I had low expectations from the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art at the Kerameikos / Psirri area. I mostly went there to cover it for the blog and to check out the nice view I had read it had from the top floor terrace. 
Benaki Museum of Islamic Art - Athens, Greece
In short, I was pleasantly surprised and had quite a good time looking at the exhibits together with a most interesting temporary photo exhibition from a Greek / Norwegian archaeological expedition in Southern Egypt and Northern Sudan (archaeologists Alexandros Tsakos and Henriette Hafsaas-Tsakos). It's not really the photos themselves as much as the accompanying texts that provide a rare insight into the lives of the people inhabiting the area around the Nile. The photo exhibit runs till 19 February 2012.

"Gaddafi's egg"at the photo exhibition in the Museum of Islamic Art
The exhibits of the museum are spread out in its four floors. You start from the 1st floor (2nd floor for Americans...) and move upwards in chronological order. The exhibit runs from the 7th century CE to 19th century CE and covers the whole geographical area from Morocco to the Indies. Each floor starts with a large explanatory map, showing the spread of the Islamic world in each era and a short text explaining the major forces of that period.

Pottery items - Museum of Islamic Art, Athens, Greece

Clay pots. The circular items in the middle row are taps to keep dust and  insects from entering the pot

Oil-lamps. No reference made to Alladin!
Ivory chess boards from Egypt, 14th-17th century - Museum of Islamic Art, Athens, Greece


Turkish books from 18th-19th century CE - Museum of Islamic Art, Athens, Greece


Jewelry - Museum of Islamic Art, Athens, Greece

Guns and daggers - Museum of Islamic Art, Athens, Greece.
This must be the flashiest gun I've ever seen!
...So, in a few pictures you can see that there's a little bit of everything for every taste found here and the visit to the museum will be more than worth your visit. Before you leave, don't forget to visit the basement, for a close look at the ancient fortifications of Athens, a segment of which was uncovered right at the building's foundations and is preserved for visitors. As for the terrace with the nice view I mentioned at the start? Well, take a look for yourselves, and hope that you get here on a beautiful, sunny day unlike myself :)


The terrace of the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art at Kerameikos - Athens, Greece



Address: 22 Agion Asomaton St. & 12 Dipylou St., Athens [Thission Metro Station]
Opening Hours: Tue, Thu-Sun: 09:00-15:00. Wed: 09:00-21:00. Also, see here.
Closed on: Mondays and Jan. 1, Jan.6, Clean Monday, Mar.25, Orthodox Easter Sunday & Monday, May 1, Holy Spirit Monday, Aug.1, Oct.28, Dec. 25-26.
Ticket Prices: 7€. Reduced admission 5€ for >65 and adults accompanying children.  Wed: free (optional 1€). Free for disabled persons and an escort, students and <18.
Photography: Non-flash photography is allowed
Public Transit: Buses 025, 026, 027 (Pireos Bus Stop) and 035, 049, 227, 812, 815, 838, 856, 914, A16, B18, Gamma18 and Trolley-bus 21 (Thermopylon Bus Stop / Asomaton Bus Stop). Also, Thissio Metro Station (Line 1) (400m walk) and Keramikos Metro Station (Line 3) (700m walk).
Accessibility: An elevator provides access to each floor. WCs in the basement are large but not equipped with holding bars.






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2011-11-05

Photography exhibits at Technopolis - Gazi

The two-month long 11th Athens Photo Festival is coming to an end in a couple of weeks but there's still a great number of events to attend. This past Wednesday I went to the opening of the main exhibitions, at the Technopolis - Gazi former industrial area, in the heart of the Gazi / Kerameikos area.
The exhibitions are a real feast for the eyes (and the mind and soul), featuring many photographers with various styles, Greek and foreign, young, well-known and up-and-coming. The Swedish Embassy in Athens and the Swedish Institute at Athens, as well as the Israeli Embassy, British Council and Goethe Institut are co-sponsoring certain photographers' exhibits from their respective countries.



The ones that mostly caught my fancy were those of German photographer Andreas Meichsner whose organized vacation photographs I found wonderfully ironic (but was that his intention?), Hyun-Jin Kwak's photos of surreally posing Swedish girls, the twisted and out-worldly photographs of Briton's Roger Ballen, Simon Norfolk's antiquated-looking war photographs, as well as the wonderful depictions of Greek folk and country life of  late Greek master Costas Balafas.



I also liked the photographs of young Greek photographers such as John Tsiadis, Leonidas Toumpanos, William Faithful, Alkistis Tsitouri, Michalis Bitsis with his landscapes and Katerina Drakopoulou with her black-background portraits.
Photo by Katerina Drakopoulou, at the Athens Photo Festival 2011

The exhibitions at Technopolis - Gazi (Kerameikos Metro Station) last till 15 November 2011.
Ticket price: 5€, Reduced: 3€.
Opening hours: Mon-Fri: 17:00-22:00, Sat-Sun: 12:00-22:00

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2011-11-02

More on the situation in Greece, in a couple of pictures

I wrote a long post on the current situation in Greece a few months ago, with the goal to provide a view from the ground, and it has proven to be one of the most visited parts of this blog. Not much has changed since last June when I wrote that. Today I have just two pictures for you. One on how things are, and the other on how they could be.

The first one is a copy of my bank account statement and it speaks louder than a thousand words on the tax storm that the Greek government is hitting us with (when I say "us", I mean those of us who have the bad habit of paying our taxes). I will translate it for you:



“...If you are looking for a facilitation on the payment of your taxes, Emporiki Bank provides the solution with a new, specially designed program, with a preferential interest rate, for a 5 year duration. ‘Tax Facilitation Program’ by Emporiki Bank.”!
I'm sure this could make great material for a "Brazil"-like, sci-fi novel but this time it's real (like science-fiction often turns out to be).

The second one comes from my rather distant past, some 2 decades ago, when I was visiting the USA with the AFS student exchange program. Students from all countries were being hosted at the C.W. Post Campus, in New York for a few days of orientation before being sent to our host families around the country. There was a "talent show" set up for our last day at C.W. Post, as well as a poster competition with students from each country invited to submit their original, DIY poster.
We Greeks had set one morning aside to create our simple, no-frills poster. We chose not to fool around for a couple of hours that morning; not to play Frisbee or soccer, not to chit-chat with kids from other countries and just do that poster thing. The evening of the talent-show we learnt that we had won the poster competition as we were the only country (or something close to that) to had even submitted one. We had won simply by taking part! 
Later on, students from each country presented their small shows and, even though all were fun and interesting in their own way, it was only during the Greek show that the audience got off their seats and up to the stage to  dance together with the Greek crew.
C. W. Post Campus - Tilles Center: AFS Talent show, August 4, 1988

If only the Greek government (and the ones that preceded it) were determined and focused enough to simply do the things they have to do, like we did that morning at C.W. Post, the country wouldn't be in the verge of collapse that it's facing today. The majority of Greek people, with all their shortcomings, bad habits and attitudes know how to pull together when needed and, if the rules and objectives of the game are fair and clear to everybody, they are capable of excelling and dealing with adversities just like anyone else.


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2011-10-28

Agenor Asteriadis exhibition at the Benaki Museum (Pireos St. Annexe)

I just recently visited the retrospective exhibit on 20th century Greek painter Agenor Asteriadis (1898-1977) at the Benaki Museum, at 138 Pireos St. I had come across some of his paintings at a Theocharakis Foundation exhibit ("Masterpieces of Greek Painting") a few months ago and loved his cartoonist, map-like cityscape of the town of Larissa, as well as his vivid paintings on the earthquake that had shaken his native town in 1954.  Asteriadis, though mostly known as a landscape painter using water colours, also embraced and experimented with a number of various means, including oil and egg-tempera and worked on engravings and religious paintings. The influence of religious / byzantine painting on his style is at times obvious, although he incorporated it in his non-religious themed works in a creative, natural way. I was surprised to read, and to then recollect, that some of his works had been used as pictures in Greek school books, esp. grammar school. An interesting piece of information I read was that he had finished at the bottom of his class at the Athens School of Fine Arts...
The exibit runs till 20 November 2011.

If you can't make it to the Benaki Museum you can see a thorough web presentation of Asteriadis's works at this, Greek-only, but very well designed web gallery.


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2011-10-10

Odysseus Elytis exhibition at the Theocharakis Foundation

The "Basil & Marina Theocharakis Foundation for the Fine Arts & Music" (in short: Theocharakis Foundation) is located right across the street from the Greek Parliament and the National Garden in a 1920's listed, 5-floor building, renovated in 2005. It is currently hosting an exhibition on Greek Nobel Prize Laureate Odysseus Elytis (1911-1996) and his relation to the fine arts. 

Elytis, received the 1979 Nobel Prize in Literature, "for his poetry, which, against the background of Greek tradition, depicts with sensuous strength and intellectual clear-sightedness modern man's struggle for freedom and creativeness", ...in the words of the Nobel Committee for Literature. 2011 marks a hundred years from his birth, thus the occasion for this exhibition, which portrays, for the first time, Elytis'  relation with the fine arts. The first part of the exhibition showcases paintings and collages by the poet himself, which, as I found out seemed to be influenced by the same themes as his writing: Greek history, religion, nature, the Aegean sea... I really liked his paintings, especially the use of color and simplicity, but I'm kind of "prejudiced" against collages in general. They remind me of Grammar or Junior High school "art classes" and, on top, I find something inherently kitschy into collage as an art form (sorry if I offend you; you can safely reject me as an ignoramus). So, collages of angel wings and Greek orthodox churches and white-washed houses and beaches didn't  cut it for me... 
The second part of the exhibit features paintings (mostly) and sculptures of artists whom Elytis admired and had either forged personal relations with or had written critiques on their work. He had spent some time in Paris  in the 1940's and 1950's and got to know Picasso, Matisse and most of the Greek artists "diaspora" in Paris. Unfortunately his texts / critiques are only in Greek. 
The third part consists of works (from paintings to installations) that modern artists created and which are influenced, in one way or another, by Elytis poems. One of them belonged to Basil Theocharakis, a Greek businessman and painter who is the founder of this museum along with his wife.

On top, I got to see the museum's permanent exhibit of paintings by Spyros Papaloukas  (Theocharakis studied painting under Papaloukas) which is housed on the 5th floor and only opens certain days and hours (Tue, Thu: 1:00pm - 5:00pm), at request. The Papaloukas paintings are hung in what seems to be an office room so, unlike the rest of the museum, they are not ideally showcased for visitors but you can get a glimpse of them from up close nonetheless. Overall, the museum hosts some very interesting exhibits and it's worth checking out when you come to Athens. Music performances are also hosted in the underground auditorium from time to time.





Address: 9 Vassilissis Sofias Ave. & 1 Merlin St., Athens [Syntagma Metro Station]
Opening Hours: Sat-Wed: 10:00-18:00, Thu-Fri: 10:00-21:00 (Jul-Aug, Fri: 10:00-18:00), Permanent Exhibit of Spyros Papaloukas' paintings only Tue, Thu: 13:00-17:00 (same ticket).
Ticket Prices: 6€. Reduced admission of 3€ for children and students w/ ID.
Photography: Not allowed.
Accessibility: You need to climb up two stairs to enter the front yard and another three to get to the entrance hall. Elevator provides access to museum's floors and the auditorium downstairs.
Website: http://www.thf.gr/ 



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2011-10-02

Short afternoon walk in Athens city center (Update Feb. 2012)

I had to go to the city center this afternoon, to mail some urgent package at the central post office, as I missed the 1 o'clock-ish Saturday deadline of the private courier in my neighborhood. I'm usually lazy on Saturday mornings as it's my... sleeping day(!), plus their website said they were open till 3:00pm but once I got there I found out it was actually 1:00 ~ 2:00pm for receipt of packages (whenever the girl at the reception desk leaves...).
I called the Postal Service courier service number and was told that the central post office was open till 6:00pm. So, happily surprised that at least one public service is better than its private competitors, I decided to hop on a bus and head to the center, and at the same time take some photographs that I've spotted this past week.

You can imagine how frustrated I was when, upon getting there I discovered that both central post offices were closed. The one at Patission St., near Omonia Sq. was flat out closed while the one at Syntagma Sq. was also shut but had a miserly, printed paper posted outside, informing people (in Greek and English!) that their closing time on Saturdays is actually 2:00pm!

The weather was fluctuating from mostly greyish to occasionally fair and blue, perfectly matching the city center's and country's gloomy state of these days interrupted by sporadic dashes of hope every time another tranche of the bailout money is released. The picture below is from Tositsa St., the pedestrian street right next to the National Archaeological Museum, where scores of junkies hang out, bargaining for their fix, except when they're temporarily driven out for some special event... It seems like they were the only ones to keep their schedule (which is almost 24/7). [P.S.:  I just read that there are various events planned throughout this week (from 1 Oct. to 7 Oct.) at Tositsa St., but I could see no difference when I passed by yesterday afternoon. / P.S.2 (Feb. 2012): Things seems to have changed, as drug addicts have been pushed away from this street ].

Tositsa St., in Athens city centre: "Drug lane", "junkie joint" or whatever you want to call it ...when I took this picture [things seem to have changed for the better now (Feb. 2012)]

The picture below is from Omonia Square a few blocks away from the Archaeological Museum. I was surprised to see this the other day, and thought it was some kind of quirky or provocative art installation about the state of the Square and the lack of green spaces in Athens / Greece (these are cement sacks).

Cement bags with Greek flags on Omonia Sq. - The hotel in the background was recently shut down due to its owners facing financial problems
As I got close I realized something unusual. On one hand, I felt safe walking on the square, as the drug addicts I was expecting to see were not there, on the other hand I noticed a group of people with military, khaki clothes sitting at the center, which till now was taken over either by drug addicts or/and some of the -mostly illegal- immigrants that live near this area. It then dawned on me that these were probably some extreme-right wingers that had taken over (or "taken back") the square, in a symbolic act and this "art installation" was theirs: an army "bunker" with Greek flags around it!
I've heard it said that people often resort to art in times of crisis and this is probably the ultimate attestation to this truth. A far right art installation! What's next?
[I'm not trying to make light of the fact that immigrants have been injured and/or killed in attacks in recent years, some of them attributed to racist motives, nor of the rise of criminality in Athens, partly attributed to immigrants]

Further down, at 20 Pireos St., a giant mural adorns the side-wall of Vienna Hotel. The mural was commissioned by the Ministry of Environment and the Athens School of Fine Arts as part of an effort to beautify central Athens and was revealed a few days ago (Artist: Pavlos Tsakonas, Execution: Kretsis Bros. and Manolis Anastasakos).


Vienna Hotel, Athens: Mural wall (artwork idea by Pavlos Tsakonas)
Titled "praying for us" with the giant hands upside-down, as if God is praying for people, it perfectly captures the mood of these days (but also many Greeks' fatalist mentality). It's no wonder that both of Athens' major free presses ("Athens Voice" and "Lifo") had it as a cover this week!



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2011-09-16

17th Athens International Film Festival: Details and impressions (update 2011-09-18)

Back for the 17th year in a row, stronger than ever in the middle of the crisis and expanded into an extra movie theater, the Athens International Film Festival - "Opening Nights Conn-X" must be doing some things right! Just like the festival, I'm learning a few more tricks about it each year. This time, the lesson was: "If you want to get a 10-screenings discount pass you must  go buy it at the 1st or 2nd day of sale, otherwise it's bye-bye!". So, for one last year I will have to make do with regular tickets like most people. However, tickets prices are much lower than in the regular season (6€ instead of 8/9€) and morning screenings for the press are also open to the general public, for 4€ each. I think I just broke a personal record today, watching four(4) feature films in one day! I guess I might go for the 25-screenings discount pass next year.

The opening was last night with a screening of an old black and white film but for me it was this morning with On the Icea film taking place in the remote, snowy town of Barrow, Alaska with many indigenous actors and staff participating in it. It’s a well-shot, powerful (but not melodramatic) story with a rough edge that captured my attention and is worth checking out if you come across it. I was not even able to tell that this was an independent studio production until the end titles of the film. The rapping Eskimos of "On the Ice" were a good reminder of the Film Festival's constant interest in "music & film", one of the permanent sections of the festival, which seems quite awkward considering music films always flop in Greece. I mean, even Ray flopped here...Perhaps the festival has become the main place where music lovers can enjoy such films since the general audience just totally fails to connect with them.

The second film I watched was Hit So Hard, a music documentary, on the life of Patty Schemel, drum player for the 1990's band Hole. The film takes you into Seattle's 1990s grunge scene, the inner workings of the band and Schemel's fight with her drug and alcohol addiction. A large part of the film consists of archive footage from the band's touring and personal moments, including scenes with the late Kurt Cobain while the rest is interviews. Patty Schemel currently works taking care of dogs (www.dogrocker.com - I think in Portland) and teaches drums in a Rock'n'Roll Camp for Girls. Overall quite an interesting film.

Getting out of the theater to go home, I came across some communist student union demonstration, against the recent university reforms (all calm). Streets were still full of garbage from a recent 48-hour strike of municipal garbage collectors but I managed to get home safe and sound:) I guess that's part of the allure of a movie festival; to take you out of the everyday mess and ongoing problems and transport you to different worlds and places. 

I got back into the action in the evening, for the premiere of a Greek film called "3 Days of Happiness". Overall, 12 new Greek films are scheduled to premier in the festival. You could tell this was not a regular screening by watching the action before the screening: lots of people involved into film-making (including a good number of the crew and cast as well as other actresses.I think you can tell them apart when they kiss someone and at the same time look around... :) The film (shot in black & white) draws a dark, grey, violent  and inhospitable portrait of Athens with sex-trafficking in the crux of the story. Besides the excellent photography and its achievement in creating a certain atmosphere, its slow tempo and often unnatural, minimal dialogues could very easily make you drowsy, as I noticed in others and myself especially at the first half. Anyway, if you don't want to come to Athens this is a film to see as it will surely put you off for good :)  To my pleasant surprise the film had English subtitles and the translation seemed to be quite good (not always the case).

Finally, a break and a Coke later, I was ready to see the final film of the night, Killing Bono, which is an angst-filled, and at the same time light-hearted, music comedy loosely based on the true story of a band coming from the same school with U2 and trying to make it big like their old school-mates. You can see an interview of the real McCormicks at the site of The Telegraph.

Now, for some general information on the Athens International Film Festival (AIFF), here's what you need to know: Besides the "music & film" section, other sections include "premieres", "short premieres", "short stories", "retrospective" (each year on 1 or 2 filmmakers - for 2011 it's Johan van der Keuken and Jasuzo Masumura and don't worry I hadn't heard of them before either), "director to watch", "midnight movies", "special screenings" (w/ restored old classics),  "documentaries" and "cinema on the edge". Almost all featured films compete for the same prize which makes the AIFF's competion really distinct. An additional prize is given in the "music and film" category.

The screenings take place in 3 movie theaters downtown (Apollo Cinemax, Attikon Cinemax and Astor Hollywood at 19 Stadiou St. and 28 Stadiou St.) and at the Danaos 1 and Danaos 2 cinemas a bit further north (109 Kifissias St., Athens), near Panormou Metro Station.

A number of events are also planned to take place as part of the festival, including a concert in front of the Acropolis Museum, in the evening of September 23. For more info, including the full schedule / timetable of screenings you should check out the Film Festival's official site here. It lasts from 14 to 25 September 2011. I shall probably post additional thoughts and updates from the following days below.

Updates: I also highly recommend the excellent, very-well directed, music documentary on Miriam Makeba, which I watched on Friday morning. Especially the first half describing the start of her career was a sheer pleasure to watch and listen to.
On Sunday night (18 Sep.) I got to watch Orson Welles' "The Trial", based on the book by Franz Kafka. The AIFF has certain quirky themes (or "zones") each year and the "Kafka zone" is this year's major zone.

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2011-08-28

Tips on tipping in Greece

I have written about restaurant tipping before but it was buried under another post, so I decided to make it a separate, more complete post with all the information concerning tipping in Greece (in restaurants, taxis, and anywhere else I may think of). I have also adjusted the indicative amounts a bit higher, to compensate for my cheapskate nature:) If you believe I have left something out let me know and I shall respond within the day.

Tipping in restaurants in Greece
1. Most often you just leave the tip on the table, unless your bill is brought in a leather or paper pocket, in which case you may leave the tip inside the pocket. In some countries (e.g. Germany) leaving money on the table is considered rude but in Greece this is standard practice except for a select few, very high-end establishments, which will again just provide a leather pocket for your convenience. On the contrary, trying to put the money into the waiter's hand will probably be considered rude and patronizing (unless you are leaving a huge tip and you don't want others to see...)
2.Waiters' salary is typically (but not always) included in the restaurant's bill, by law, so people don't normally tip big like in the U.S. For the same reason, there are no set rules on what one is expected to tip. Follow the guidelines below and don't sweat it much.
3. For smaller bills (in cafeterias) you usually just round up (leaving at least something like 30 cents). E.g. If your bill is Euros 6.70 you leave 7.00; if it is 5.50 you leave 30 to 50 cents (for a total of 5.80 to 6.00 Euros). 
4. If the total is more than 10 Euros you may leave something close to 2%-8% of the bill. i..e. for a total bill of 50 Euros something ranging from 1 to 4 euros, so essentially you round up to the higher integer and add a  few Euros on top. These are approximations and will/should depend on the level of service you receive.
5. In all cases, the waiter should bring you back the exact change from whatever you gave and you will leave the money on the table yourselves, afterwards. If you pay by credit card you may not be asked to write the tip on the credit card paper so you should again leave what you want on the table.
6. The bad news: Americans are known for being large tippers (since they carry the habit from back home) and may often be expected to tip more than Greeks. I don't know what tip is "expected" of people from other western countries but I bet it is somewhere between Greeks' and Americans' tips.
7. The good news: Since Americans (and perhaps most Western visitors) are expected to tip bigger than Greeks or Eastern Europeans, they usually receive better service and the occasional fleeting smile :) In this blog, I try to present restaurants that have a good level of service or -at least- a very good level of food to compensate for potentially average service.

Tipping in taxis in Greece
Overall, tipping is not expected by taxi-drivers but it is not denied either (Quite often, taxi-drivers are not the owners of the vehicle themselves so they may just be employees but you have no way of checking that out). My father-in-law is one of the few persons I know who occasionally "tips" taxi-drivers, that is, he just rounds up the amount to the higher integer.
Make sure you don't "tip" the taxi-driver unwillingly! During the day (05:00am-11:59pm) and within town limits you should be charged by Tariff 1 (lower tariff). A small "1" should appear in the running meter next to the running amount of the charge. There are some extra, mandatory charges, which are not considered tipping: charge for heavy baggage (>10kgs/piece), for calls/appointments and when departing from airports, ports, bus stations, rail stations or towards airports.

Tipping bus-tour companions or guides
Again, this should depend on each company's own rules. It's been a long time since I've been in a bus-tour inside Greece but from what I remember people always, voluntarily, collected a certain sum, gathering change from participants, and gave it to the tour guide or companion at the end of the day if they were happy with the services received.

Tipping in theaters
In the rare occasion you are going to watch a theatrical play: In most old-style theatres, ushers usually expect a couple of Euros as tip. A most distasteful habit I think, but the theater managers are the ones to blame for this. In most new / modern theaters such tipping is not expected or accepted as ushers are normally paid by management. What constitutes an old-style theatre? Hmmm... Perhaps one with oddly numbered seats, where you need ushers, who in return expect a tip?
Tipping in plays of the Greek Festival (i.e. Epidaurus Theatre and Herodes Atticus Theatre) is not permitted.

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2011-08-21

Impressions from the Numismatic Museum of Athens

I had often heard of the Numismatic Museum in Athens (dedicated to the study of coins and money) but I had never felt the urge to walk inside it till now. I like money as much as the next person but the thought of a museum about coins brought one word to my mind: Boring! So, what finally got me to enter the Museum was not the collection itself (even though that turned out to be interesting as well) but the Museum’s garden and cafeteria, together with a guided tour of the building that houses the Numismatic Museum, kindly arranged by the Museum’s staff as a means of drawing more visitors.

A secret corner
My first approach to the Museum (within breathing distance…) was via a very tasty milkshake I enjoyed at the beautiful garden found at the side and back of the building! I’ve been here 2-3 times, this year, and can attest to the cafeteria’s overall good quality. Surrounded by an abandoned old building, offices, blocks of flats, the back of the museum building and lush greenery, the back yard is your archetypical “hidden corner”. An ideal place to take a pause while walking in Athens, hidden from the hustle of the city even though you can still hear the noise as it’s located right at the city center. On special occasions, live concerts are held here in the evening.


The garden and cafeteria of the Numismatic Museum

Iliou Melathron (i.e. the Palace of Troy)
The ground floor of the building housing the numismatic museum is kind of inconspicuous from the outside, and as people walk hurriedly up and down Panepistimiou St. they tend not to notice it, except for its… unusually themed iron gates (more on that below). 

Swastikas in the iron gates of the museum?

The Numismatic Museum of Athens has only been housed here for the last 13 years or so. The building was originally constructed in 1878-80 and used as the residence of German speculator/merchant-turned-archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, associated with the discovery of the ancient cities of Troy and Mycynae. Schliemann commissioned the building of the residence to Ernst Ziller, noted German-Greek architect whose works can be found all over 19th century Greece and stand out to this day. The building, named Iliou Melathron (Palace of Troy) was an exquisite one for its age, employing many state of the art techniques such as the presence of a ventilation system, the innovative use of window-shades, the installation of gas heating and the use of passive fire protection measures. 
From an artistic point it shines even more and is a reason in itself to visit the museum. Wooden door frames were painted to look as if they were made of marble, ceilings and walls feature paintings by Slovenian painter Jurij Subic, floors are adorned with mosaics created by Italian artisans, in themes borrowed by ancient Greek ornaments and symbols while furniture crafted by Ziller himself holds, even today, part of Schliemann’s coin collection (1st room to the right of entrance).


Ceiling painting, over the dining room of the Schliemann residence - Iliou Melathron. A servant was charged with reciting passages from Homer's works during dinner time while Schliemann lived here!


NOT a portrait of Freddie Mercury! Coin collector and donor Nikolaos Zosimas, by  Greek painter Nikiforos Lytras.

Floor mosaic with right and left facing swastikas
Parenthesis: 
Our guide-host deliberately avoided calling this decorative symbol by its tainted name. In ancient Greece it was called gammadion, tetra-gammadion or tetra-skelion. This is a symbol found in many ancient civilizations, representing the sun, eternity, well-being, a lucky charm, a comet or other things, depending on each civilization and the interpretation given by modern day scholars. It still has a religious meaning for Hindus and Buddhists. Schliemann's archaeological discoveries might have helped popularize it in Germany only to have it usurped by the Nazis.
End of parenthesis.

The ground floor, which now houses the museum’s offices, used to be the servants quarters and auxiliary rooms, while the 1st floor was dedicated to social gatherings and the 2nd floor housed the family’s private quarters. The roof-terrace, which is still closed to the public, and the garden featured a number of copies of ancient Greek statues.


Statue of Artemis(?) at the garden of the Numismatic Museum, Athens
In 1926 the mansion was sold to the Greek State which abused it by housing the Greek Supreme Court (and lower courts) in its premises from 1929 till 1983. If you ever find yourselves inside a Greek court you’ll probably understand what I mean… The extensive restoration programme that followed was finished in 2003. 

The Numismatic Museum has been in operation since 1834, that is almost since the founding of the modern Greek State, but was only transferred into this building in 1998 (the permanent collection at the 1st floor) and 2003 (temporary exhibitions, library and offices at the rest of the building). 

Among the shiny coins and informative signs and displays you will most certainly find some exhibits of interest to you, even if you are no coin or medal specialist or collector. 
Hoards of ancient coins are displayed in the Numismatic Museum


A beer stein (to the right) adorned with encased coins


A piggy bank in the Numismatic Museum! Who would have guessed...? :)
Coins, medals and other exhibits from ancient to modern times, from Greece to Japan, to the Byzantine Empire and the EU are on display here!


A display of medals given at the 19th century "Zappas' Olympics" and the 1906 Intercalated Olympics, hosted in Athens' Panathinaiko Stadium.

Address: 12 Panepistimiou St. (a.k.a. Eleftheriou Venizelou St.), Athens [Syntagma Metro Station]
Opening Hours: Museum: Tue-Sun 08:00-20:00. Mon:13:30-20:00. Cafeteria: Mon-Sat: 09:00-23:00, Sun: 09:00-15:00.
Ticket Prices: 3€. Reduced admission of 2€ for >65 and non-EU students. Free for EU students and <19.
Closed on: Jan. 1, Mar.25, Orthodox Easter Sunday, May 1, Dec. 25-26,
Photography: You are allowed to take non-flash pictures, even though the stares of guards will follow you closely...
Accessibility: An elevator provides access to handicapped visitors and there's an accessible WC on the 2nd floor.
Entrance Ticket for the Numismatic Museum, Athens

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