The unexpected yet common observation that many will make in reflecting on their time in Athens is the presence of a large and widespread population of stray dogs. Before Athens hosted the 2004 Olympics, the city gathered thousands of its strays to have them bathed and sterilized in an effort to clean up the city. Following the games, the strays were returned to the streets, but not to worry, these dogs generally prove to be harmless and are even known to become temporary traveling companions to those passing through their neighborhoods whether that means the National Gardens or the Acropolis.
The best-hidden, cheapest sites in Athens are its own metro stations. As work began to improve the city’s transportation system, thousands of years of history were unveiled. Statutes, pottery, roadways, and numerous other relics were cataloged and placed on display throughout the stations in which they were discovered. So when you are on the train be sure to pay attention to more than where you are going or you will have unfortunately missed some of Athen’s most recently unearthed treaures. Some of the biggest finds can be found at the station stops Acropolis, Syntagma, and Evangelismo.
Athens is known for its hills…Lycabettus, Philopappos, or the one you’ll have to climb to reach the Acropolis. What is less well known are that the pathways and stairs leading up these summits, as well as the less glamorous treks you’ll make while navigating the city, are built from limestone. In the event of rain or a newly washed down sidewalk, tread extra carefully or risk an unplanned excursion to one of the city’s emergency rooms.
Don’t Strike a Pose
If you’ve been to Paris you’ve probably posed in front of Rodin’s The Thinker or Michelangelo’s David in Florence, but you won’t come home from Athens having vogued in front of a famous piece of art. Considered disrespectful, there is no posing next to the art or artifacts in the city’s museums or next to the Evzone soldiers at the Parliament building. Save you best poses for photo opportunities at any of the city’s outdoor ruins.
Reminiscent of ancient Greek plays when men played female roles, women still appear absent from some aspects of modern Greek culture. Kafeneios are male-only coffeehouses where the patrons waste away the days over games of backgammon and discussion of politics. Generally, these cafes can be identified by the clacking of worry beads and the unmistakable all male crowds. Although women may enter, the stares they will be given are likely to be unsettling enough to deter them from making another visit.
You’ll likely see the Greeks mindlessly tossing these colorful strings of beads in their hands and you will definitely hear the cracking of the beads in local cafes. Komboloi, or worry beads, are a traditional remedy for stress, believed to cure whatever ailments you might have or simply create a distraction for your mind. Traditionally, the beads were rarely seen in the hands of women, but today, the beads have evolved into a symbolic piece of Greek culture and are widely used among the population. In addition to being carried, the beads also turn up as home decorations, car accessories and make for a uniquely Greek souvenir for travelers.
A quick 35 minute hydrofoil ride from the mainland port city of Piraeus will bring you to the shores of Aegina, in the heart of the Saronic Gulf. You’ll disembark at the bustling harbor where ferries, hydrofoils and small fishing boats are constantly passing in and out through the marina. For easy, guided tours, visitors can take a horse and carriage ride from the waterfront, but navigating the island by foot or motor scooter is just as easy and will allow you to explore the numerous alleyway restaurants and shops tucked into the hillside.
Although a day could easily be spent watching the activities of the marina and exploring the markets and restaurants that line the waterfront, Aegina is also home to some not to be missed historical sites. One of the most popular of these being the Church of Agios Nektarios and the neighboring Monastery of Agia Triada. Built around 1904, the church holds the mausoleum of its namesake saint, Agios Nektarios. Having been known as a great healer of disease, thousands come to the site to pray to for the saint’s blessings. A trip to the island should also include a stop at the Temple of Aphaia. The original temple was built around 570 BC, but the one on the island today dates back to around 510 BC after a fire destroyed the original temple and it had to be rebuilt. Believed to be a site for the worship of fertility, twenty columns remains in tact at the site. The temple is an equal distance from the Acropolis in Athens and Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, creating a North, East, South triangle among the three historic sites.
In addition to all Aegina has to offer, the island is most well known for its pistachios, which have been grown there since 1860. Considered the best in world, the local nut, known as the Aegina Fistiki, can be purchased throughout the island, in small bags, family-sized bags, as nougat bars or sweetened roasted kernels. The nut is now the cause for an annual celebration, The Aegina Fistiki Fest, which began in 2009.
Dedicated to the ancient cultures of the Aegean and Cyprus, the Museum of Cycladic Art houses four floors containing over 3,000 pieces related to Cycladic Culture, Ancient Greek Art, Cypriot Culture and Daily Life in Antiquity. The main draw of the museum is its collection of Cycladic art from the Early Bronze Age, which accounts for one of the most comprehensive exhibitions of this kind in the world. Marble figurines are among the most recognizable pieces of Cycladic Art. They typically depict nude females with their arms folded across their chest and much less rarely, males, who are generally shown seated.
The museum also features rotating exhibitions, which often relate to modern art and contemporary art, and seek to highlight the connections between antiquity and its influence on artistic creation during these later movements.
4, Neophytou Douka str.
Metro: Evangelismos, Syntagma
Operated by the Greek Ministry of Culture, the Museum of Folk Art’s collection represents several different aspects of Greek folk art, including shadow theater, embroidery, regional costumes, weaving, folk painting, woodcarving and metalwork. The museum highlights the ways in which different aspects of Greek life were represented and how certain expressions created defining aspects of regional identities. The collection of regional costumes details how one’s attire could communicate social status, age and marital status. Similarly, the different regional dresses can also be seen in the displays of shadow theater, which depict small vignettes that tell stories of both daily life and mythology. These explanations and illustrations of Greek identity from the 17th to the 20th century continues throughout each exhibit.
The Central Building, at 17 Kydathinaion Str., Plaka.;
The Tzisdaraki Mosque, at 1 Areos Str. in Monastiraki Square, housing the folk ceramics collection of V. Kyriazopoulos;
The Bath-house of the Winds, 8 Kyristou str., Plaka. The only remaining Public Baths of Old Athens; and
The Building at 22 Panos str., Plaka, housing the latest permanent exhibition.