I last visited Greece in 2003. The country was busy preparing for the Olympics and I was often disappointed to find sites closed, with a sign that they were renovating and would be reopening the following year. And I only managed a day in Athens, the standard tourist itinerary of the Acropolis and Syndagma Square, and lunch in the Plaka area. So when the opportunity arose to revisit Athens, I jumped at the chance.
Acropolis, Athens

The Cartatids of the Erechtheion, on the Acropolis

TBEX Europe: Travel Bloggers in Athens

The opportunity was the annual TBEX conference in Europe. TBEX is a global gathering of travel writers and industry representatives, and hundreds of people arrived in Athens to find out for themselves what the city has to offer. There was an incredible buzz about the place as we all set off to explore, discovering a surprising amount to see and do. And everywhere we went, people were friendly and welcoming, going out of their way to welcome visitors to their city.

Athens Old and New

Of course, you can’t visit Athens without going to the Acropolis, and I was lucky enough to have a great view of it from the top of my hotel. But there is much more to the history of Athens than this. I went on a tour of Byzantine Athens, where we looked at hidden churches and saw the place where St Paul preached to the Athenians. And a tour of Literary Athens, which spotlighted the Greek contribution to the artistic and cultural history of the 20th century.

It isn’t all about history. This is a vibrant city with much that is modern and new. Our conference took place in the Megaron Concert Hall, a state of the art cultural centre, and one evening we all headed off to Technopolis, a modern entertainment centre on the site of a disused gasworks. Then there is the shiny new subway, making it so much easier to get around the city. I like to see the subway as a metaphor for the different periods of Athens’ history. Digging the tunnels for the trains provided an opportunity for large-scale excavation, and some metro stations have glass cases exhibiting locally found artefacts. But they showcase modern art at well, creating a synthesis of old and new.

Ancient artefacts in the Athens Metro

Excavated artefacts on display at Evangelismos Station

Modern art in the Athens Metro

Also on display at Evangelismos Station is “Mott Street” (1983) by the Greek American artist Chryssa

A Friendly Welcome

But it is the people who make the place. Athens is not a tourist showcase but a place where people live and work, and there is a small town feel to much of the city. Walking up to the Acropolis I passed along narrow streets with whitewashed houses and a rich smell of pine that would not be out of place in a Mediterranean village. On tours, in the hotel, and in cafés and restaurants, people were keen to explain their city to us and to make us feel at home.

On one of the tours we were stopped by a woman with a basket of fruit cake. “Take a piece,” she urged. Our guide translated what she was saying: she had appealed to a saint to help her find something she had lost, and when her prayer was answered she made the cake to share with others as a thanksgiving. That wouldn’t happen here in England!

And There’s More…

And did I mention the food? You can’t go to Athens without enjoying the food: cheese and olives, juicy tomatoes, and pastries oozing with honey. More of that in a later post…
Yoghurt and honey

A delicious dessert of Greek yoghurt with walnuts and honey

Over the next few weeks I’ll be writing about some of the things that I did. But there was far more to see and do than I could possibly squeeze into the time available. I’ll have to go back.

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