Walking along Patission Street (part 1)

Odos Patission (Patission St.) is one of the main streets of Athens, reaching from the town center to the northern edge of the city, at the neighborhood of Patissia, hence its name. It is actually the continuation of Odos Aiolou (now partly pedestrianized) which starts from the foothills of the Acropolis, in the Plaka neighborhood, and progresses outwards.

Police towing off illegaly parked motorbikes at the pedestrian part of Odos Aiolou.
Greek local authorities have had a bad habit of renaming streets, purportedly “to honor” someone or something but most of the time for self-serving political reasons. Sometimes the “new”, official names stick, while in other cases the people continue to refer to the old, traditional names that everybody is used to. Patission St. is one such case. In the 1980s, the Athens city council took a decision to rename the first part of “Patission” (from Omonia Square and outwards, up to no. 200) to “Eikostis Ogdois Oktovriou” (“28th October”, the day Greece entered WWII, resisting an Italian invasion, which is a national holiday). However, nobody uses this name except for maps and hapless tourists :) If you ask an Athenian for directions to “28th October” Street you will probably get a blank stare!
So, for Athenians, Patission is considered to start near Omonia Square (officially as "28th October" St.), at the intersection with Odos Panepistimiou (aka "Odos Eleftheriou Venizelou" – another case of unfortunate renaming!).

Harley-Davidson bike riders, at the intersection of Panepistimiou St. and Patission St. – The “Harley-Davidson Super Rally (not sure exactly what that is) took place in Patra, Greece from 20-24 May 2010 and 2500 Harleys gathered there. These bikers probably had something to do with it.

Odos Patission is not in anyway an attraction in itself but it has a few things going for it: 1) Fairly large pavements, of variable width but still better than in most of Athens, which make it easily walkable and wheel-chair accessible, 2) The National Archeological Museum with its garden and 3) the chance to see a cultural cross-section of modern Athens, with its multitude of ethnicities, various architectural styles (or lack thereof…), and varied urban neighborhoods. Most of all, it is a live street, with mixed-uses that always has people walking along it, day or night.
The pictures in this post were shot on Monday, 2010-05-24, which, except for retail stores, was an official holiday (called Whit Monday or 'Monday of the Holy Spirit'), thus the low traffic.

National Bank of Greece building, at the intersection of Panepistimiou St. and 1 Patission St.

City-tour bus, in front of the historic “Mignon” ('MINION') department store at the corner with Satovriandou St. – “Mignon” was being renovated and was scheduled to re-open in spring 2011, after many years of abandonment... (Update 2012-11: Nothing so far... An idea was recently floated to relocate the offices of a Governmnent Ministry in this building... some time soon)

Hotel Melia – Residence Georgio, one of the hotels that opened during the pre-Olympic bustle

Much wider than the typical Athens pavement

A private school entrance, at Patission 29

The old, historic building of the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA). This was the site of a historic episode in modern Greek history, when, in 17 November 1973, armored tanks of the military junta that was then in control tore down the gate and crushed a student uprising. Most NTUA classrooms and offices have now been relocated to the Athens suburb of Zografou and the building is only sparsely used (by the School of Architecture), terminally covered with nonsensical graffiti and posters by so-called “leftists” and self-styled “anarchists”. Drug addicts occasionally hangout outside the building at Stournara St., only to be sent off, and then come back, and then...

A look back and you will see the Acropolis with the Parthenon on top

The National Archeological Museum, right after the NTUA building. The pedestrian street between them (Tositsa St.) has been a long-standing spot of illegal drug trade and use, due to the awkward legal status of the NTUA building.  Update: In the past year (2011-2012) Tositsa St. seems to be safe for ordinary citizens

At the corner of Ipeirou & Patission you will notice the recently renovated Livieratos Mansion, a 1909 building which was one of the first to break from the neoclassic architectural trend of modern Athens. More pics here
Almost across the National Archeological Museum, at Patission 61, lies an almost derelict apartment building -supposedly under renovation but probably currently occupied by squatters- constructed in 1925. The young Maria Callas lived in this apartment building with her mother and sister, from 1940 till 1945, when she left for the United States. This was the time when she got her first formal music education.

The pedestrian odos Ainianos, at the corner with Patission. The neoclassical corner building houses the offices of the “Greek Workers Union” (a.k.a. Greek Union bosses...)

Up to this point Patission looks a bit shady. It has all the signs of an once great avenue that has gone downhill, even though it is bustling with people, esp. when shops are open. After the corner with Alexandras Ave. things get a little better and it's a long strip of retail stores - clothes and shoes mostly - with the recent addition of illegal, street-vendors. Police and local authorities turn a blind eye to their presence and local shopkeepers complain.

Corner of Odos Patission & Odos Heyden. Street vendors and people who have just come out of the Victoria Metro Station

One of the many kiosks found in the sidewalks of Greek towns, with a bus load of newspapers and magazines laid out in the steps of the adjacent building.

Illegal street vendors

Buses and trolley buses going back and forth till late in the evening

Starbucks fans will recognize a familiar sign, at the neoclassical building, at Patission 123, which also has a backyard with a nice shade. Starbucks coffee shops are among the few smoke-free places in Greece. Highly appreciated for that!
(...continue here for part 2)

Why don't you follow me on twitter?


Costa Navarino opening: A historic day for Greek tourism?

After the recent riots in Athens and all the tragic and ugly events that ensued, and the negative effect they are having on Greek tourism (thousands of cancellations at Athens hotels), the coming week could be a historic one for the Greek tourism and travel industry, and a glimmer of hope for the country as a whole. I will choose to write about this today and leave Athens for another day.
I was surprised to see that -so far at least- the Greek press hasn't woken up to the importance of the event. With the exception of a few brief articles in the financial press, most newspapers have not written anything about this yet.
So what is the big deal? The first "integrated tourism development area" (ITDA) is starting operating in the Prefecture of Messinia, in Peloponissos, southern Greece. ITDAs are a development tool envisioned in various pieces of 1990's legislation. Essentially, they are as the title says, big, integrated, tourism development projects that encompass multiple installations (hotels), sports complexes, golf courses and other facilities and receive, like most tourism investments, state grants or other forms of financial support. The ITDA in Messinia, at Navarino Bay, is the first one to start operating. It has been envisioned by a Greek shipowner named Vasillis Constantacopoulos, originating from Messinia, and has been in the works for twenty some years (!!!) with the "official" red-tape, permits-gathering phase lasting 12 years. The 1.2 billion Euro project had stalled due to the bureaucratic mess that permeates and complicates everything in Greece but also (or should I say including?) environmental concerns. Even today, as two hotels -of the total seven planned for the final phase of the project- have been completed and are about to accept clients, legal questions still linger and some people insist that the investment may have a serious detrimental effect on the natural environment. I am not in a position to answer that, but it is obvious from the company's website (http://www.costanavarino.com/) that great care has been taken into accommodating environmental concerns and make the whole complex, including the golf-courses, as eco-friendly and sustainable as they come. If not anything else, these concerns and questions, and EU environmental legislation, might have helped make the whole project a better one for that matter.

I am not a fan of "all-inclusive" resorts (is that what this is?) since I like to explore the area I visit, but my impression is that if the project itself  is half as good as its website (one of the few flash websites I've seen that's really worth its money), this could ignite a revolution for Greek tourism which up until now has been mostly based on shady, mom-and-pop establishments most often lacking in many ways. It's not that big, luxury hotels, or decent, average ones, don't exist in Greece, but this project, due to its sheer size, complexity and significance, could be the turning point that would persuade Greeks that big is not necessarily evil. This could affect a number of other issues, such as the construction of tall buildings in Greece which is another no!-no! for reasons related to ignorance and lack of proper urban planning. The two hotels that open for business are The Romanos (A Luxury Collection Resort) opening on May 20, 2010 and The Westin Resort - Costa Navarino, opening on June 4, 2010. Along with them 2 golf courses have already been constructed. Greece has only had 6 golf courses up to now (including one in the Athens suburb of Glyfada).

Aegean Airlines has already started daily flights from Athens to Kalamata for this very reason and a number of charter airlines have set up routes from several European cities to Kalamata as well. Seven hundred jobs are to be created in the first phase of the project, in the complex itself alone. It'll be interesting to see how all this turns out.

Why don't you follow me on twitter?


Lofos Strefi (Strefi Hill)

A suggestion for a walk on the... wildish side today.
Tucked between the central Athens neighborhood of Exarcheia and Alexandras Avenue, Lofos Strefi doesn’t have much to offer in itself, except for some nice views and the rare chance to walk in a woody, non-paved area. At night, the area is rumored to be relatively unsafe (frequented by drug addicts) and it certainly isn’t well lit. But during the day you can walk up the hill (mind the possible drug syringes on the ground, esp. if you wear sandals) for an …alternative view of Athens, in the shadow of the nearby, and much more clean-cut, Lykavittos Hill.
Lykavittos Hill as seen from Strefi Hill (this is probably Tsimiski St. connecting the two hills)

Lofos Strefi with a view to the W-SW of Athens. The fairly unbuilt part on the left side, in the background, is the Votanikos industrial area where the new soccer stadium of Panathinaikos will be built in a couple of years

How to get there:
-From the center of Athens (e.g. Akadimias Ave.) walk up along Emm. Benaki St. or Themistokleous St. These two streets dead-end at some point. Right after that, walk up the steps and you will see the path leading up to the hill right in front of you. As a “landmark”, there is also a small basketball court right there.

-You may also get buses 021, A7, B7, Gamma7 either from Kaniggos Square or from 30 Harilaou Trikoupi St., and get off at the 3rd stop (KALLIDROMIOU Bus Stop), at about 90 Harilaou Trikoupi St.
Turn left on Kallidromiou St. (on Saturdays there’s a farmer's market here which you might enjoy). Turn right and walk up the steps where Kallidromiou meets the end of Emmanouil Benaki St. You will see the path leading up to the hill right in front of you.

A walk at Lofos Strefi can be combined with:
-a stroll in the center of Athens (Syntagma Square, Panepistimiou St, Akadimias St., Kolonaki neighborhood)
-a visit at the Pnevmatiko Kentro Athinon (City of Athens’ Cultural Center) if there’s an exhibition there.
-an early morning visit in the Archaeological Museum and early lunch, possibly at the Exarcheia neighborhood.

View AthensWalker-Lofos Strefi in a larger map

Why don't you follow me on twitter?