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Good, Bad And Ugly Sides of Athens Greece Guide

Apr 17, 2021 @
Good, bad and ugly sides of Athens guide. Pic of Monastiraki Square
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Monastiraki square – another very central area of Athens.

Athens is an absolutely marvelous place, no doubt about it. We thoroughly enjoyed our recent visit and definitely plan on going back at some point in the future. Nonetheless, it is not a perfect place. No place in the world is. I have alluded to the three sides on our postcard post, but l will delve into it a little more.

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As tourists, we often gloss over the great parts of a place and rarely see the true local side of said place. It’s understandable, after all, you’re on vacation and world problems should not be on your mind. Regular readers know l try to present what l see in all its glory, and crappiness, This will be no exception. I present to you our observations on the good, bad and ugly sides of Athens.

Good, Bad and Ugly Sides of Athens Greece

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Bad, good and ugly sides of Athens. A good side is Syntagma square with woman in dress at fountain
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Syntagma square  is one of Athens top tourist attractions, where it all happens…both good and bad! This is definitely the good side of Greece!

Athens is the capital of Greece with a population of just over 11 million people, so yes…very crowded. The heart of the city is Syntagma (Constitution) Square. This square is definitely the most famous part of Athens, a lively part of town.

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The Parliament building is located here. Once upon a time, it used to be the King’s Palace. Built between 1836 and 1840 by King Otto, who had daddy (Ludwig I of Bavaria) pay for it. Fun fact: The original plan had been to build the King’s palace on the Acropolis! Thank god it never came to pass. Can you imagine tearing down that history to put up a dime a dozen palace? Syntagma Square is where all the protests and parties (New Year’s Eve etc) happens. Among the government buildings, there are tons of shops and cafes.

athens parliament house guards #athen #greece #parliamenthouseathens #guards #athensmustsee
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Athens sightseeing: Parliament House Syntagma square Athens – the changing of the guards should be on your Athens itinerary.

 

Here’s a video l did on the changing of the guard, a fun thing to see in Athens. Sorry for the shaky hand in the beginning, but l rarely do this :-). I love how they imitate the movement of horses.

Changing of the guard at Parliament House, Athens Greece


The Good side of Athens:

Food and drink:

Food is definitely one of the good in the good, bad and ugly sides of Athens. Plate of moussaka
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What to do in Athens : Try both Traditional and otherwise food and expand your palette.

Food and drink is a good side of Greece as a whole. It is hard not to eat well. The food is hearty and delicious. We had lots of really good traditional food. We had an amazing foodie tour and we sampled lots of coffee drinks that we enjoyed thoroughly.

coffee salads athens greece
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Good things about Athens: Food. Some of the yummy goodies we hate. I have had my fill of Greek salads for a while though 🙂

I have never been a huge fan of drinking to excess or pub crawling, but l do enjoy a good glass of wine or cocktail. The area of Athens we stayed at, called Psyrri, is a bohemian and artsy neighborhood. About a 20-30 minute walk from Syntagma square.

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Iroon square, which is the very heart of the Psyrri neighborhood, has tons of eateries with live music, and lots of bars. I mean bars with proper tables and chairs with dark interiors and great music. I confess l don’t know what they become after 11 or so because l am in bed :-), but during the day, they are wonderful to hang out in. Some had Greek music, some jazz, my favourite were the ones with bossa nova music. We actually went pub crawling, going from one to the next, having coffee drinks (mostly Federico) and cocktails (mostly me). Absolutely loved it.

rice and stewed meat athens greece
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Simple, good food. Stewed meat and white rice. We found a little place run by a girl and the grandmother with an all Greek menu and l just explained that l wanted something simple and she gave me this. I was licking the bowl 🙂

 

bars in psyrri athens
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Non touristy things to do in Athens 🙂 . So many cool cafes and bars to sit, people watch and listen to good music. I had so many good margaritas too! Athens is not a terrible city. Quite the opposite.

 

desserts in athens greece orange pie
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If you ever have a chance to eat the orange pie on the right, go for it. It is amazing. The one on the left was like pudding. I didn’t like it, but ate it because the woman insisted on comping us, and l couldn’t be rude! 🙂

 

meat sub sandwich athens
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Visit Athens and try the yummy kinds of food everywhere!

 

pork belly grilled, with chips
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Pork belly, grilled..served with homemade chips. Food sampling is definitely one of the best things to do in Athens. The flavors and spices are awesome.

We found cute little off the wall places to eat, everything from kebabs to gyros. I can’t remember eating anything bad. The fact that the prices were reasonable was an added bonus.

People:

greek man in car athens greece
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This super friendly guy insisted on Federico taking his picture when he saw the camera and started talking to us. Athens has some of the friendliest people we have ever met in our travels.

The people were very friendly, warm and smiled a lot. Everyone was eager to help when we got lost, sometimes even walking us to the metro station. It was pleasant haggling with the traders, they weren’t aggressive like in Marrakesh, which was a nightmare for Federico, but fun for me..felt just like home!


Athens – Home of the Greek Gods and Goddesses:

roman agora ruins athens greece
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Remains of the Roman Agora Athens, built during the Roman period in Plaka Athens. It is an incredible feeling walking and seeing ancient Greece.

Greek mythology is alive and well. Being able to see where it all began is a joy. If you can afford it, I think everyone should visit Athens at least once in their lifetime. Sightseeing in Athens is mind blowing. Places such as the:

athens acropolis at night
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Acropolis Athens night view. Amazing sight! The Acropolis is probably one of the top things to do in Greece, if not the top.

pillars and ruins on the good, bad and ugly sides of Athens guide.
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You don’t see sights like this ancient columns everyday! Well, unless you’re in Athens Greece of course 🙂 Part of the Roman Agora in Plaka Athens

Some of the best things to see in Athens include: (Things to do in Athens Greece)

  • Acropolis – 5th century hilltop temple of the gods that includes the Parthenon with its magnificent columns.
  • Acropolis museum where you can discover the treasures unearthed from the Acropolis
  • Temple of Zeus dedicated to the Greek god Zeus
  • Monastiraki – flea market neighborhood located close to Syntagma square
  • Temple of Hephaestus
  • Temple of Athena (definitely one of the top things to see in Athens. It’s magnificent)

Athens tourist attractions: If you’re looking for Athens tours, we recommend GetYourGuide tours, which we have personally used on our trips.

 

tower of the winds Athens Greece one of the good things to see in Athens.
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Places to visit in Athens Greece include the Tower of the Winds in Athens Greece. It has stood at the bottom of the Acropolis for over 2,000 years. It was used by merchants to forecast the weather.

It seems like there is a temple dedicated to every Greek god! 🙂 . This time around, we didn’t really seek them out much as l’d already visited them on my first trip to Athens.

Street Art in Athens:

Good bad and ugly sides of Athens guide with street art mural of man in jail looking out
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Things to see in Athens: Great street art that one can appreciate.

 

loukanikos riot dog #athens #greece #riotdog #graffitti #streetart #loukanikos
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Street art depiction of the stray Riot dog Loukanikos who always sided with the protesters against the police. He was actually one of Time magazine’s people of the year 2011. He died in 2014 🙁

 

Good things about Athens_ Street art like this musicians playing instruments wall mural.
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This is good stuff 🙂 . What to do in Greece? definitely look for street art. There are some great ones.

When they’re good, they’re very good. We found some great street art in Athens in the neighborhood of Psyrri, right off the main square. There are some very talented artists. If you’re interested in a taking a street art tour, reserve your spot here.

Athens Weather:

Athens weather is pretty good year round. There are few days of rain and the average temperature is 84 degrees which is quite nice. August is the hottest month to visit Athens. In the winter, the temperature drops to about 59-62 degrees which is still hot for some. Weather in Greece in October is about 74 degrees and October, along with April seems to be the best times to visit Athens.

The Bad Side of Athens: (Bad Things About Athens)

  • Drug Abuse
  • Homelessness
  • Stray Cats
  • Graffiti

Drug Abuse in Athens:

The two often go hand in hand l know, good and bad. It’s hard not to notice the increased number of drug addicts that are in Athens. Eating outside on the sidewalk is a thing in Europe. Neither one of us like this. The sidewalks are often dirty and l hate people passing by peering at my food, dogs sniffing and doing their business or peeing in front of me, and boy..the sidewalks are dirty and stink! (worse in Spain).

We saw at least five separate instances where drug abusers were tweaking and it brought back nasty memories of my pharmacy years. Tweaking is when meth users (tweakers) become unpredictable, paranoid, and might be dangerous, usually at the end of a drug binge.

One woman was screaming because she felt something/someone was hurting her, was scratching herself furiously and taking off her clothes as she walked, all her teeth were rotten. A man was trying to calm her down, but he looked in the same sad shape.

Another time, a man in a red shirt was in a fit, just rolling on the floor and yelling angrily, and went about punching the tree shrubs, he was quite close to the diners. I was a bit scared honestly, and would have moved had Federico not been with me.

I did notice though, that the employees come out in full force, to gawk, but to also probably make sure that their clients are not disturbed, which is kind of re-assuring. We didn’t take any pictures because l really don’t care to showcase human despair.

Athens Greece Guide #athen #greece #visitathens #europeantravels
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There is some compassion with the bad side of Greece as we noticed that quite a few of the cafes feed the homeless. We made sure to revisit the establishments that did that. The homeless people would stand at a particular spot and wait. When the waitress/waiter had a spare minute, she would bring out food for them, they would take it, and go away.

There was only one exception. A waitress had given a man a sandwich but he defiantly refused to leave. He just stood there eating. Now, this guy looked like a hobo, matted hair, torn clothes and l’m sure smelled badly. We weren’t very close to him, but l could tell it was disturbing to the nearest diners.

She called another waitress who came out and talked to the guy firmly in an angry and raised voice and that made him finally leave. It was sad to see, and while l feel sorry for them, I just would rather not be exposed to that. If that makes me a cold, unfeeling twat, then so be it. I think it’s just a part of everyday life there and the people just get used to it, it is however quite jarring for visitors to Athens.

 

Athens Greece flea market in the good area of Athens.
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Lots of fun stores can be found at the flea market. Consider it a must visit in Athens.

Stray cats:

Probably the biggest reason is my fear of cats! They are freaking everywhere. I will overturn the table if one gets close! 🙂 Anyway, we prefer to eat inside. Sometimes, depending on how the exterior seating is, we will seat outside and have drinks. If you are not fond of cats, you should probably get seated inside as they will bother you.

Homelessness in Athens:

One of the bad things about Greece on the whole is the rampant homelessness. The country still hasn’t recovered from the world crisis when a lot of people lost their money, housing and life. I had previously mentioned the high amount of homeless people that were sleeping in the doorways of houses in the area where we stayed.

There were also lots of homeless sleeping in the nearby parks. I can only imagine how much worse the refugees have it as this was mostly a locals area. We saw people sleeping during the day in the porticoes just off the beautiful Monastiraki square. I assume the situation is only going to get worse.

Bad facts about Athens - homelessness under the portico
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This is just off the main square. You can see the beginning of the sleeping bags, further down, it’s narrower and we walked on the street instead.

Graffiti in Athens:

bad graffiti in Athens in the good, bad and ugly sides of Athens
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Negative things about Athens: Graffiti everywhere. This is just bad crappy doodling!

 

good bad and ugly sides of athens greece
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Unfortunately, there’s more crap than good stuff. This was an old historic theater that the government doesn’t have money to fix, refuses to sell and is left to rot and get defaced.

When they’re bad, they are simply horrible! The bad art makes you think Athens is ugly. Does this look good to anyone except to someone in a drug induced haze? They cover the houses, stores and streets with it. The same can be said for a great part of Spain, and l think it’s terrible too. I’m not sure when defamation became art :-)!

You might like: Honest opinions of New Delhi

The Ugly side of Athens:

Survival Sex: Prostitution in Athens

What happens to most of the refugees fleeing war torn countries that end up in Athens? A bleak life with no end in sight. Syntagma square for all its beauty, also has a dark side. A side where these young men turn to prostitution to survive. It’s so disheartening to read these stories.

Here is a video that does a better job than me of showing you how things are that l watched recently. These boys are trapped in a world where the only way to survive is to become male hustlers. We were told by both our host and our food guide to stay away from Omonia Square  (this article made me aware of that before we arrived) especially at night because it’s ground zero. We took the advice.

A quick Google search will bring you tons of stories on how hard life is for these young boy. It’s a growing problem. When a 16 year old says he wished he could die that very night because he has no future and his advice to future refugees? Don’t come. It’s better to stay and live with the war. They keep getting younger too. We hear about the girls, but the boys are caught up in the same vicious cycle.

Overall thoughts on the good, bad and ugly sides of Athens:

Should you visit Athens, Greece despite all this?

Of course you should! Now that you know the good, bad and ugly sides of Athens, you are more prepared than ever for your visit. The beauty and the history alone should make you want to visit, not to mention the people. Once again, no place is perfect. It’s no different than any city in America with the drug abuse and prostitution. Would you not visit New York because of Times Square? Thankfully, unlike the U.S, the people in Athens don’t carry guns.

Tourism, apart from shipping, is the biggest money maker for Greece. After a devastating economic downturn, the country is slowly recovering and they need that money. There are so many cities and islands to visit in this diverse country, you’re bound to find someplace you’ll love, like Heraklion , Crete where we spent some time and had a fantastic time. We spent a total of 15 days in Greece on our holiday and are eager for more. Is Athens worth visiting? The answer is a resounding yes! There are so many things to do in Greece also besides Athens, so get out there.

Where to stay in Athens Greece – We stayed in Pysrri and we really liked it. It is funky, bohemian and artsy. We stayed at a rental studio flat which was very central and had a  stunning view of the Acropolis. My only complaint would be the bathroom which is tiny, but apart from that, it was spotlessly clean, had everything you needed. The WiFi was super fast and the A/C was insanely efficient.  I don’t know if it’s the best place to stay in Athens, but we really liked it and would stay there again.

Essential tips for Athens travel:

  • Comfy shoes are a must. Those cobblestone streets are no joke, and make sure they have grip.
  • A hat is a great idea, especially if you’re follicle challenged like us :-). Federico ended up purchasing that hat because he forgot his.
  • Suntan lotion. I shouldn’t even have to tell you that :-), but it’s easy to forget.
  • Portable charger for your phone. Trust me on that one!


 

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Have you been to Athens? or any other part of Greece? What were your observations? Did you see the good, bad and ugly sides of Athens?

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24 thoughts on “Good, Bad And Ugly Sides of Athens Greece Guide”

  1. Oh that’s so sad about the homelessness and prostitution. I went in 2010 and like you I hated all the cats. I also recall it being dirty and tons of graffiti everywhere. We didn’t have good experiences in terms of the people being friendly. But the Acropolis is a must and the food was delicious. We took a daytrip to Delphi which was interesting.

    Reply
    • Yeah..you can tell the recession hit them extremely hard and like Spain, they are struggling even more to recover. Haha! I’m glad someone else doesn’t like cats. They just scare me silly. It sucks that you didn’t encounter friendly people, even on my first visit 20 years ago, we got comped a lot of food and drink and people were really friendly. I agree about the Acropolis. I like the word you use about Delphi.. interesting :-). Sounds like there’s a story there.

      Reply
  2. I remember being shocked about the number of homeless people sleeping on Budapest’s streets, especially around the metro entrances. Some had mattresses and had set up some pretty serious camps there. And the smell was unfortunately horrible. So it seems that some big cities do have to deal with this problem… hopefully things won’t get worse in the future, despite the fact that in many places the future doesn’t look that good.

    But despite its negatives, Athens still looks like a place you really must visit and the good sides outweigh the ugly ones. And I do think that the world of travel blogging does need more honesty and articles like yours. How many VERY popular bloggers out there even mention the junkies or the homeless? The world is usually painted in a much better picture than it actually is and it shouldn’t. So this is something I highly appreciate: the truth. It’s not your fault that things are as they are, so why not say it exactly as it is? 🙂

    Reply
    • Homelessness is becoming quite the problem in a lot of place unfortunately. Yeah..we saw a young boy close to the metro with his matress and a little shopping bag just walking up and down the stairs by the metro, just up and down and it was like 11AM. I think the system is just so seriously overwhelmed.
      Athens in my book is definitely a go visit, the good as you say outweighs the bad and they need those tourist dollars. I was saying recently that l barely read travel blogs anymore, they are so sleek and just too rosy, and it seems you can interchange the writers because they say the same things. Once again, this is the reason why my blog will remain small and not very popular :-). It works for them because maybe that is what people want to read, but l believe there is a small section of travelers who care to read about the real stuff too so they can make an informed decision or know what to look for when they go. I don’t present things as good or bad, just as they are…that is what l see. Thanks for the comment C! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Oh my…didn’t know about the extent of homelessness or that there was a prostitution problem there. When I visited for TBEX 2014, I got scammed at the port of Piraeus as I stopped and listened to their explanations…lesson learnt..have been very wary of scammers since then. I hope for better days for the locals!

    Reply
    • I do remember reading about how you got scammed with the electronics! That must have been very upsetting and a hard lesson to learn. I don’t blame you for being wary, they are everywhere. I do hope for better days for them too. Nothing worse than a feeling of hopelessness. It’s too beautiful and historic a place and l hope they eventually come back strong.

      Reply
  4. I haven’t been to Athens in 30 years. Back then I went with my mom who’s not always great at organizing things…somehow we ended up being taken to a crappy hotel by a taxi driver when the roaches came out at night. The biggest I’ve ever seen anywhere, you could HEAR them walking.
    Spent a few days in the city center (which didn’t find special except for the Acropolis) then escaped to the beaches of Piraeus. I do remember the food being very good.

    Reply
    • The roaches must have been something for you to still remember it 30 years later.. 🙂 . Left quite an impression. There’s something about its grittiness that l love. It might have to do with the hustle l see. The food is really good for sure…that alone is enough..haha!

      Reply
  5. Homeless I can handle, but drug addicts frighten me. They can be very unpredictable and dangerous. We were in Athens years ago, and did not have a great experience with the locals, (glad to hear they were helpful to you). I am happy that we visited and that we saw the Acropolis and will go back to Greece. Next time we will stick to the less populated islands.

    Reply
    • Unfortunately, you are right. Drug addicts can indeed be unpredictable. I saw quite a few while l was working. You reminded me of years ago, a lot of pharmacists were getting the new bumper sticker “Pharmacist do it over the counter” which l thought was really cute and l almost got one but did not want to deface my lovely car. My partner at work got one. One day, we had a disagreement of sorts with a drug seeker. Long story short, after our shift was over, we go to the lot and her new black Mazda SUV had been destroyed..slashed tires, windscreen, the whole thing banged up. I’m sure he found the car because of the sticker and l was spared. I’ve worked in places where we had real cops in the store to escort us to our cars after the shift was over. I don’t miss those days at all. You’re the 3rd person who mentioned the locals weren’t friendly..must be my bubbly personality.. HAAAAAAAHHHHAAAA!!!! Yeah..the islands are awesome.

      Reply
  6. I’ve been twice. The first time in Aug the streets were disgusting and I was turned off, despite the history. Then I returned in late October and the streets clean and I felt better being there. I think weather makes a difference. A good storm to wash the pee and turds away. Both times druggie homeless were abundant, sadly, and kinda scary. I agree, Athens should be visited, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

    Reply
    • I can just picture your August visit…and l laughed out loud because here in Spain, Federico and l are always praying for rain to wash away the horrible smells..haha! Yeah..October and April definitely seems to be the best time to visit to have an awesome time in Athens it seems. I will keep that in mind for the future. I don’t think l would like to live there either. We considered it for a quick second when we heard how low the rents were 🙂 . I would love to visit it again though.

      Reply
  7. Interesting Kemkem. My wife stayed in a rough ‘hood in Athens – she admitted it was run down and not the cream of the Athenian crop – and really did not like it. Homelessness, dirty, and lots of folks staring at her. Not Greeks, but immigrants from all over the world, from cultures where staring is commonplace. She did say the food was delicious and out of that rough hood, Athens improved. The tweaker bit can be really scary. So unpredictable.

    Ryan

    Reply
    • Yep! they’ve got it all. I’m sorry she didn’t like it, but it is an assault to the senses especially if you’re not used to it. I am so used to stares that l hardly notice it anymore. I get stared at for being black in a foreign place, female, hairless (no more frigging weaves for me! 🙂 ), big, traveling with a white guy..etc..etc. The only place l ever felt wicked uncomfortable was in Warsaw which l wrote about. Athens takes getting used to, but l really liked it and once you’re out in the centre, you can really appreciate it :-). Druggies are scary everywhere, so caution and give them space :-).

      Reply
  8. Shame but every country has its problems I guess. Greece has really been hit hard over the years with this fire or one thing or the other. It speaks to the resilience of its people that you were still able to travel there and enjoy an overall positive experience.
    It’s odd though- on one hand there are all these luxury resorts on eg Mykonos which give a certain impression yet on the other hand there is the scenes you witnessed. They really need to find a better way to handle the migration crises they are facing.

    Reply
    • They have certainly had their share of bad stuff. I think the problem with Athens is that many people use it just as a stopover to the islands where they drop all their money. We didn’t see a homeless problem in Crete. It would take money to get there which would be an impossible task for the homeless. The migration problem is real and because it is nearly impossible for people to leave, it’s getting to be a mighty task indeed. I wish there was a magic bullet to end this, but what is happening all over is getting worse daily :-(.

      Reply
  9. Thanks for providing such a balanced portrait of the city. Homeless people seem to be everywhere, especially on church steps. Such a tragedy, whether we are home or traveling, that there is such income disparity and untreated mental health/substance abuse problems all over the world!

    Reply
    • Yes..the world is certainly moving the wrong way the more enlightened we are. It is such a shame as it seems we should have the resources to battle these things, but the mentality seems to be to care about just oneself or a small percentage of the population. It is depressing. I hope it gets better soon even though l doubt it.

      Reply
  10. Thx for this great post, Kemkem. I’ve not been to Athens since 1996, so I’m sure much has changed. We hadn’t noticed any homelessness then. Thx, also, for the AirBnB recommendation. At that price, you can’t go wrong!

    Reply
    • Yes.. it has certainly changed a lot, and not for the better. It looked way different than when l was there last too. That place is superb and totally, at that price, you can not go wrong. She had everything down to a T. :-).

      Reply
  11. A great look at Athens. I agree that big cities everywhere seem to engender homelessness and drug use. I know I reduced my number of trips into downtown Seattle because of the street people and the ‘Amsterdam-like’ air that surrounded so many of them. But each big city — as you so beautifully balanced out in this post – has its good as well. I laughed at your description of dining on the sidewalk as I too would likely turn over the table if a stray cat came along, but it would be so I could get down on the ground with the cat! And just one thing better than the orange cake you showed: that is orange cake with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream at the side! xxx J.

    Reply
    • Haha! I love how you put the Amsterdam-like air! :-). I love discovering the many facets of places we visit. Cuddling cats? No thank you! I am terrified of cats, I just feel like they look at me like a piece of meat, ready to bite me. Oh my God, I would love to have had vanilla ice cream with that pie. It was so good and l am so jealous that you get to have that whenever you want. It was freaking fantastic! :-).

      Reply
  12. Athens in all its ‘glory and crappiness’ sounds like a well-rounded critique which is really appreciated by travelers (like me) who have yet to visit this wonderful place. The food looks awesome, the sights historic must-sees and hopefully you felt fairly secure during the day despite the drug use, the tweakers and the homeless. Loved the video of the changing of the guard but hey, there’s got to be a good story behind those shoes! 🙂 Anita

    Reply
    • The food is indeed awesome! So fresh and yummy. It’s so cool to walk around these places in Europe and know they’ve been around for so long. The thing is no place is perfect, and l would not like it perfect either. The grittiness along with the great things make it unique. I definitely felt secure during the day, even the evenings we were out (like 11PM) haha.. it wasn’t bad, we still stopped at the kiosk for water etc and no problems. Yeah..you gotta love those shoes. I think they are meant to imitate horses which l assume maybe guards used to have back in the old days. No pooping from human guards..haha!

      Reply

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