Athens Staycation 2010 (pt.2)

Monday, 2010-04-19 (continued from pt.1)
It was movie night tonight. We went to the Trianon cinema, in the center of Athens, to watch "Greenberg", starring Ben Stiller. We both thought it was a rather boring film. Trying to be an alternative to typical Hollywood movies but rather ending up falling flat on its ...sleepy face.

By the way, the naming of movie theaters in Greece is an interesting reflection of the increasing or decreasing influence of foreign / dominant cultures. Many movie theaters used to have French or French-sounding names and many still do, mostly older and independent movie theaters, bearing names such as Etoile, Ideal, Palace, Philipe, (all three pronounced as in French), Petit-Palais, Ciné-…, Trianon, etc. These theaters were built when French cinema was at its prime and French was the language that all "good families" wanted their Greek daughters to learn. There was even an expression about good children been brought up learning "French and piano"! In recent years, English-sounding names have been the norm for new multiplexes like "Village Cinemas" (pronounced as in English) while a good number still bears Greek names, often with an archaic undertone. But mostly new movie theaters are no longer being built. On the contrary, many have been torn down and turned into e.g. supermarkets during the last 20 years.

Tuesday, 2010-04-20
Morning spent at the gym. Later on it was...
...movie night again! This time we went to the Nea Ionia municipal cinema, named Asteras, to watch "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire". Municipal cinemas are supposed to run non-commercial films (European, Greek and independent American films) but sometimes they also run Hollywood films, especially when these are not big hits in Greece or in the summertime, when a movie is no longer shown in commercial cinemas. Anyway, 'Precious' was a great film, much exceeding my expectations, not that I really had something concrete in mind as I prefer to know as little as possible about a film before watching it. And it was very interesting to see 3 first class singers starring in this movie and all of them doing a great job. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, 2010-04-21
In the morning we went to the Psyrri' neighborhood, near the center of Athens and the Traditional Meat Market, at the "a.antonopoulou art" gallery to see a photo exhibition by photographer Yorgis Yerolympos called "Road Trip: USA. 16994.61". Great photographs (landscapes and cityscapes) from his 2-month long, coast-to-coast road trip across the USA.
Later on we tried to get into another photo exhibition but it was... hidden inside a restaurant and we didn't feel like walking around tables, with people having lunch, trying to spot out the hidden photographs :) So, we decided to go for lunch instead. The first restaurant we had in mind was not open at around 5.00pm (considered late noon / early afternoon for Greek standards), so instead, we went to a restaurant named "Fasoli" ("Bean"), in the center of Athens (at the corner of Ippokratous and Navarinou streets). The food (Greek cuisine with a mixture of modern and traditional touches) was very tasty (esp. the mushrooms filled with cheese mixture) but the portions were small and the tables were impressively badly designed! They only had 4-5 wines (the menu only listed their house wine) and a very basic selection of local beers.
So, we wouldn't have a problem recommending it for a short lunch if you're in the neighborhood but you don't need to go out of our way to dine here.

Thursday, 2010-04-22
We mostly stayed indoors. Staycation or no staycation, you do need a little rest from time to time. Nice to be able to wake up... hummm,....later than usual!

Friday, 2010-04-23
View to the West of Athens from Tourkovounia hills / Attiko Alsos park
Early in the morning, after finishing up with some household errands, we completed our walk up in the Tourkovounia hills (mentioned a couple of weeks ago), this time walking inside the "Attiko Alsos" park, the interior part of the top of the hills. The park was recently renovated and should be a welcome addition for the residents of Athens, Galatsi and Psychiko (although the latter ones already have their fair share of green and public spaces) even if most will come here by car (getting to... instructions have been provided in my previous post). Here are a few more photos from the park and from the wonderful views from it (even though it was a hazy day, totally unsuitable for photography).

View of some luxury apartments in the Psychiko suburb with the suburb of Maroussi and the Athens Olympic Stadium in the background (notice the Santiago Calatrava-designed roof)

Some luxury apartments in the Psychiko area, with the Athens Olympic Stadium and its Santiago Calatrava-designed roof in the background. Thinking of my co-workers being trapped inside an office somewhere down there, while I was under this beautiful tree's shadow made it all that more enjoyable  :)

Nice, safe-looking, newly built playground. Not your average Athens playground!

Turtle, marching at full-speed! There was a really big... colony of turtles in the park!

There's a... rudimentary 1982 Greek documentary on the settlement of Tourkovounia hills and its inhabitants. If it sounds interesting you may watch some excerpts (w/o subtitles) at the site of the Greek Film Center Digital Archive, here. Click on "Documentation" - top right - and explore the sub-sections.

We had long wanted to see live a Greek band called Himerinoi Kolimvites (meaning 'Winter Swimmers') mostly known for the distinctive voice of Argyris Bakirtzis and we finally made it tonight. The band has been around for decades and has had a relative share of success in Greece and, purportedly, the Far East (Korea and Japan)! Theirs is a really distinctive blend of music, easily hoping from oriental rebetika music to occidental choir music or from their idiosyncratically-themed songs about varied subjects such as a bicycle rider or insecticide spayers to a song version of a poem by Nobel Prize Laureate Odysseas Elytis. You can sample and buy some of their music at Amazon.com and also check out some of their songs on Youtube for free. Their live show was just beyond any expectations we might have had, although I suppose non-speakers of Greek would have missed a lot since Bakirtzis really shines on stage and could have easily been a stand-up comedian! Actually, he is an Architect as his main... day-time job. It's a pity that Greek radio and TV is mostly flooded with trash instead of music like this. But at least, these guys have managed to shine through, and become known to a good part of the public. The music hall where they played is called "Stavros Tou Notou", it's located fairly close to the Fix Metro Station.

Saturday, 2010-04-24
Waking up late, we went to the Benaki Museum (the Odos Pireos building) to see the Ansel Adams photography exhibition. The new building of the Benaki Museum at Odos Pireos 138 has been a cultural oasis ever since it opened a few years ago, providing a modern and elegant space to host all kinds of art exhibitions and cultural events that did not have the proper space to be hosted till recently. The Ansel Adams
exhibition consisted of 72 black & white photographs, selected by the artist himself during his last years and attended by his daughter, Anne Adams-Helms. A great occasion to see photograph prints that till now we could have only seen in magazines or books.


Right after that, full of art and beautiful landscapes, we got into the car and ventured to the Attica village of Kapandriti (25km north of Athens), with the equally enticing prospect of some finely grilled lamb chops (pa-i-da'kia). The tavern where we sat had been proposed by a friend and was certainly an interesting find for us food-wise but the service was a bit amateurish and annoying so we probably wouldn't propose it to someone visiting town (hard to get there and not worth your time with so many alternate choices in Metro Athens).

Sunday, 2010-04-25
Household errands, cleaning up my PC files and ...blogging! This stuff is not written on its own you know!

Why don't you follow me on twitter?


Athens Staycation 2010 (pt.1)

We have been planning this for quite some time and finally we can both spend a staycation in Athens. (I just found out there's even a book about... staycations, listed here in Amazon.) I suppose our schedule (not that we have a very strict schedule but we'll try to fit in as many things as possible) will give you an idea about the types of attractions one may find in Athens these days. So, on...

Saturday, 2010-04-17
we first went to the Public superstore in the center of Athens, at Syntagma Square, to a book-signing by Greek writer Antonis Sourounis (short bio in German). The whole thing was a bit of a let-off, not because of the writer -I sensed that he himself was also a bit taken aback- but because of the way the thing was organized. It was just a book-signing. No talk, no discussion, nothing else. (The only work by Sourounis translated in English that I've managed to find is a story included in the volume The Livelong Day: Working in the World (Icarus World Issues Series), although several of his novels have been translated into German and French).
But Public has a very nice atrium-cafeteria at the 5th floor, with a view towards Syntagma Square, and it even seemed to be smoke-free! So we spent an hour there lazying around.

Later in the evening, we attended a concert, at FuzzClub, by Ethio-jazz master Mulatu Astatke & the Heliocentrics, a British group that accompanies him in his touring. I had also been to Astatke's last concert in Athens last summer, at Synch Festival, so going for a second time in less than a year was a big gamble, but I was happy for it in the end because they were all a great band of musicians and it was a pleasure to watch them live again. Thankfuly, the air-conditioning system at Fuzz seemed to work quite well (not always the case) so smoking was not a problem. If only the guys behind the bar did not have the horrible habit of breaking glass bottles during the concert...! What a piercing noise that was! Oh, and I can't get over the fact that some people (is it just Greeks?) seem to be going to concerts with no care for the music whatsoever. They keep talking, cheering, yelling, as if the whole thing is about themselves feeling happy or just being cool, and not about the music itself. If people would just listen to the music!

Sunday, 2010-04-18
Early morning wake-up for a visit to the Presidential Mansion's garden. This is something new, as the Presidential Mansion had never been open for the general public until now. A nice initiative from the acting President of the Republic. The Mansion is located at Irodou Attikou St., facing the National Garden, but the entrance for the Mansion's garden is from the Vasileos Georgiou Defterou St. (bottom right in the Google map below)

View Larger Map
Unfortunately, people on wheelchairs cannot access the garden as you have to climb up and down some fairly large marble stairs to get to it.

It's a formal style garden, that is of a fairly strict, geometric design.

Sculptures of various styles and periods dot the lawn. Every year, on July 24, the President gives a reception in the Mansion's garden as this is the day that Greeks celebrate the restoration of democracy, after the 1967-1974 junta.

The garden opens for the general public from 10:00 am to 2:00pm on Sundays (unless it's an official holiday) and you need to have a passport to get in. There is a small queue but you don't need more than 30 minutes to walk around and get a good feel of the garden.

You could easily combine this with a walk in the, much larger, next-door National Garden and then have a coffee at the "Aigli" café - restaurant next to Zappeion Megaro (Zappeion Mansion). "Aigli" has top quality coffees, shakes and pastries (on the expensive side) but the service was rather mediocre on this busy Sunday morning.

In the evening, we went to see a play (which was actually 2 monologues), starring 70-year old, long-time actor and theatrical director Takis Vouteris. The plays were written by Yorgos Maniotis and Iakovos Kambanelis or Kabanellis or Kampanellis. I bet you didn't know that Athens has a real fascination with theater (or theatre :) ) and more than 400 plays went up on Athens' stages last year. There are more than 110 theatrical venues and some small productions come up in alternate venues like cafés or bars.

(Continue here for part 2 of our 2010 Athens staycation)

You should follow me on twitter


View from Tourkovounia - Panorama Galatsiou

In case you don't know, the word Acropolis (or 'Akropolis') is a compound of 2 other Greek words: akro (meaning peak or edge) and polis (meaning town). So, the 'Akropolis', in ancient Greek cities was the area located at the... (vertical) edge of a city, at the top of a hill. Such location usually served as the city's stronghold, being difficult for invaders to occupy. Most ancient Greek cities had an Acropolis, but the most famous one is the Acropolis of Athens, with the Parthenon and the other ancient monuments on top. So, the word 'Acropolis' has almost become synonymous with the 'Acropolis of Athens'.
Yet, modern metro Athens, sprawling over an area many times that of the ancient city, encompasses several more hills. The view below is from a grouping of hills called Tourkovounia (meaning Turkish mountains) and especially from the Panorama Galatsiou vantage point.
The hills got their name from the fact that Turkish troops used to be stationed there for 1.5 year during the battle for the occupation of Athens in 1456-1458 and it has stuck ever since. I've also read that these hills had remained a Turkish military camp up until the liberation of Athens in the 1820's.

The curved road seen in the picture serves as a sort of lovers' lane at nights, with couples or groups of friends parking their cars on the narrow pavement, watching the city lights.
The first hill, right below the Tourkovounia, is called Lofos Patatsou, the large one in the middle is the Pedio Areos / Parko Dikastirion (the largest city-center park in Athens - a good part of which is currently under re-construction), the third one is Lofos Strefi (Strefi Hill) which does not have much going for it other than the nice view and a city-center location, and finally, behind all these is the hill of the Acropolis, with the Parthenon on top.
In the background you can see the Saronikos Gulf and the island of Aegina.

The picture above was also taken from the Tourkovounia. You can see Lykavittos (aka Lycabettus) Hill in the middle and the Acropolis to its right. Tourkovounia themselves have also recently been landscaped and a brand new park (named Attiko Alsos) sits on top of the hill, together with a playground and some tennis / basketball courts (you can see a few pictures of the Attiko Alsos here)

To get to Attiko Alsos / Tourkovounia you have several options, but all of them involve a bit of walking:
-Catch Bus 036 from either Katehaki Metro Station or Panormou Metro Station. The bus goes around the Tourkovounia. Get off at Evrou bus stop and walk up the hill (Attiko Alsos) on your left hand side. You should see the signs pointing to Attiko Alsos and the open-air, summer cinema located in it.
-You can also catch Bus 622 from in front of the Archaeological Museum, at Patission Street, and get off at the end of the line (at Protopapadaki St., IKA bus stop). You will have to walk up the hill to your right (be careful of the heavy car traffic!) and then turn left to reach the Attiko Alsos entrance.

Why don't you follow me on twitter?


Greek Easter = empty streets

Greek Orthodox Easter is a major holiday over here, same-scale as Christmas, and as it coincides with the begining of spring, most city people take a leave (extended weekend or more) to go back to their villages and roast the traditional Easter lamb as close to their roots as possibly. Athens especially is a barren land at that time, but some foreign visitors might find this a good occasion to walk around town without the traffic hussle of an ordinary day. Do expect to find a lot of closed doors though, as Good Friday is an official holiday and so is Easter Sunday and the Monday after it.

We were also out of Athens for most of the past week and the streets were already looking half-empty here before our departure.
The picture below is from the provincial port-city of Patra (218km west of Athens), taken at a central street at about 7:00pm last Saturday. I think Athens must have been just as empty if not more.

Why don't you follow me on twitter?