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Athinas Street

athinas street, athens, greeceMy favorite street in Athens is the one that runs from Omonia Square to Monastiraki Square called Athinas Street. If you walk a straight line down Athinas from Omonia it will take you right up to the Acropolis and on the way you would pass some of the most interesting places in Athens. Athinas street for me is the heart and soul of modern Athens and I can sit here in front of my computer in North Carolina and give a guided tour as easily as I could give a tour of my own house. I spend several weeks a year staying on Athinas Street, usually at the Hotel Attalos and if I could find an affordable apartment in the neighborhood I would buy it because nothing makes me feel more alive than to walk out the front door of the hotel and be engulfed in the sites, sounds and people of the most diverse street in Athens.

Athinas street, Athens, GreeceIf you see the center of Athens as the Acropolis then the beginning of Athinas street is at Monastiraki Square where the tables of Mparaktaris old taverna envelope the small church in Monastiraki Square. Ermou Street, the primary clothes shopping street in Athens, comes down from Syntagma Square and passes Athinas street on its way to Keramikos and the Gazi, Athens newest center of nighttime activity. But for me Psiri is still the place to be and the southeast corner of the neighborhood is the corner of Athinas Street and Ermou right where the entrance to the new metro station and the strange old building with no doors sits. A couple streets down Ermou is Ag Theklas Street, home to Lord Byron's Maid of Athens and the shop of Melissinos, the Poet-Sandal-Maker.

Davos Cothes for Big Ben, Athinas Street, Athens, GreeceAs you walk up Athinas Street with the Acropolis behind you there are hardware stores and clothing shops on both sides of the road. One of the first clothing shops on the right side is one that will be of interest to any man who can't seem to find clothes that fit him in Athens. Its called Davos and it specializes in clothes for big guys like me. After hours of frustration on Ermou street where it seems like the men's clothes are meant for elves and hobbits it is a great feeling to walk in and find shirts, sweaters, pants and jackets that are too big for me. Davos at # 12 Athinas Street has been open since 1946. Though many of the small clothing shops on Athinas look the same they actually have their own personalities. One will specialize in out-doorsy kind of clothes and maybe some camping equipment. Another will feature cool T-shirts like the one I bought with the acronym of the Greek Military Police that strikes fear into the hearts of  my Greek-American friends in the states who have evaded the draft and still feel anxious about it. Further down is the store that features the colorful Hawaiian shirts that my wife won't let me buy because she says they make me look like I weigh 400 pounds. One shirt has a giant almost life-sized elk that stares out as if it has been startled by the headlights of an oncoming car. People joke that this is where the Albanians buy their shoes and clothing but the truth is that everyone shops here, Greeks, immigrants and even well-informed tourists.

Periptero, Athinas street, athens, greeceWhen we were kids Athinas street was this forbidden area that attracted us as forbidden areas do. The peripteros, the kiosks that line Athinas selling newspapers, gum, sodas, contraceptives, cigarettes, bus tickets, mineral water, umbrellas, and other everyday items, to us seemed somehow more sinister than even those on Panapistimiou Street that openly sold porno. We heard tales of some peripteros selling hashish and switchblades if you knew the right word that would tip off the owner that you were cool. Obviously it was something you would not normally find in a periptero like crème-caramel or fruit. But that was back in the sixties and there is nothing you can't find in a periptero these days. Except probably hashish, switchblades, crème-caramel or fruit. Athinas street is also known for the people who set up little stands whenever something happens where everyone needs the same item and they need it now. For example when Greece switched to the Euro in 2002, suddenly there were little stands all over Athinas street where you could by calculators that automatically converted the drachma to Euros. When Greece wins a big game you will find Greek flags. On clean Monday you will find kites.

BoukourasOne facinating shop just off Athinas is the workshop of Konstantinos Boukouras at 3 Agia Irinis Street which is one block after Ermou. Inside this shop you will find an amazing collection of decorative art made from original wooden equipment of textile machinery from the fifties. Shuttles, bobbins and other objects have been carved and fashioned into the kinds of objects you might find in a toy museum. The workshop shares the space with a small hardware-type store and you could walk past it a hundred times without noticing it, as I did. His little shop used to sell to weavers searching for spare parts for their weaving machines. When weaving died out in Greece, Boukouras who had inherited the shop from his father, filled with thousands of shuttles, lattices and skewers, began to search for ways of using all these wooden parts. This led to a very unusual and individual art form. In the beginning he made toys for his children using these old pieces of wood, later he put his ideas on paper and started designing and modelling his little cars, taxis, and aeroplanes. Lampshades and bottle openers, candle holders and other practical devices followed. To find the shop just walk up Ag Irinis Street from Athinas and right before you get to Eoulou Street it is on the right. If you have kids bring them here.

While you are in the area check out the Athens Fish Spa at 45 Aeolou Street. What is a Fish Spa? It's a place where you put your feet in a fish tank and these little teethless feet nibble away the dead skin. What does it feel like? It feels like thousands of little feet nibbling your feet, which is to say it feels pretty darn good. There is one in Istanbul and another in Camden Towne Market in London and a number of other places so it is fair to say that if it did not feel good people would not be going to them. As the shop says on its website: "Your feet will feel amazing, refreshed and healthy. These clever fish can also stimulate acupuncture points helping to rejuvenate the nervous system, relax the body and release fatigue. Your blood circulation and flow is also greatly increased during the treatment."  To find the Athens Fish Spa from Athinas Street, walking towards Omonia turn right at the Municiple Police Station, across the street from the Hotel Attalos and walk up Boreous Street and turn left on Aeolou. (They will give a 15% discount if you mention my website).

Hotel Attalos, Athinas Street, Athens, greeceThe trees that line Athinas Street are Jacarandas which are not native to Greece. That does not seem to bother them and when they blossom, which seems like always they are a beautiful mauve color and are now one of the things Athinas Street is known for. Athinas Street used to be known for its seedy hotels that were actually like bordellos or places where you rent rooms by the hour instead of the night. These are now gone and actually have been since the mid-nineties though there are travel guidebooks like Frommers which insist they still exist and that Athinas Street is a den of iniquity. Un-true. One of these hotels was the Hotel Cecil which is now a beautiful renovated historical hotel run by a respectable family from Crete. The other was the Flisvos which is now a student-type low budget hotel but a far cry from being a bordello. As for the pimps and drug addicts who used to be in the area, they too have moved on. In fact the only evidence of the underworld I see on Athinas Street are the street shysters who play the confidence game of 'O Papas'. The guys who run the game are called 'Papatzides'. The name is derived from the fact that the game originally involved finding the King out of the 3 cards being moved around very quickly. The Greeks refer to the King in a deck of cards as the priest or “Papas”. Nowadays you can still find these “quick hand” artists plying their trade on the streets of Athens, especially on Athinas Street, but now they usually use 3 small cups where only one of them has a small ball underneath. But, the game still has the same name and is illegal so you will usually see a crowd and one or two guys whose job it is to watch for the cops. Don't play. You will lose.

There are also the Russians and other immigrants who sell packs of cigarettes at the City Market, but despite this being black-market enterprise I would not call them criminals.

But what happened to all the real lowlifes who once made their place of business on Athinas Street?

True Stories of Modern Greek Heroes

Kostas ZissisThe story of the cleaning up of Athinas Street begins when Kosta Zissis bought the Hotel Attalos, a 6 story modern apartment-style building about 3 blocks up from the Monastiraki metro station. The building had been run down by the previous owners and Mr Zissis slowly but surely cleaned it up and modernized it into an economical tourist hotel. In those days there were several sleazy bars on Athinas and guys would stand outside the hotel and invite travelers to come and have a drink. Those who accepted the invitation found themselves surrounded by women who asked the victim to buy them drinks. When the bill would come it was usually quite extravagant. Zissis asked these guys not to bug his clients but they laughed at him. So he went to the police and reported them. The next day his car windows were all smashed. The message was clear. These bars had protection. So Zissis did the only thing he could do. He told each of his guests that they should ignore the hustlers with their promises of drinks and ladies. Slowly the hustlers realized that their methods were no longer fruitful and they gave up bothering the tourists. The bars began to close and after the last one left, the bordellos began to close too. Now they are gone (for those looking for them check the area between Omonia and the train station). Really it was the determination of Mr Zissis that began the cleaning up of Athinas Street and he still runs the Hotel Attalos which is considered one of the best economy hotels in Athens. For more see www.athensguide.com/hotels.html

Across the street from the Hotel Attalos is the Municipal Police Station. I am not sure exactly what these guys do. They don't chase bad guys. They may give parking tickets though because Athinas is one of the strictest streets for parking. I have seen people leave their cars running while they ran into a shop for a tiropita and in the time they were gone the police came, removed their license plates and left a ticket which must be paid in order to get the plates back. In the summer of 2006 I parked in front of the Attalos the evening I arrived, but had to wake up every morning at 7am to move the car to avoid getting a 150 euro parking ticket. Since there was nowhere to move the car to (besides the parking garage under the fruit and vegetable market which seems like a lot of hassle to get another hour sleep) I would just drive out of the city and cruise around the Attika peninsula. It was a painful experience waking up so early but it resulted in my Driving Guide to Attika which I probably would never have gotten around to if I had not been forced to by the zealous Athinas Street parking police. I do have an affinity for the Athens Municipal Police even though a friend of mine scoffs at the idea of them being policemen at all and calls them bureaucrats in police uniforms. But in 2001 the day after New Years we happened to be in the Taverna Psiri while they were having their end of the year party and it was the wildest affair I have ever been to. The plates and debris on the floor was ankle-deep and everyone danced, many on the tables. For more on this evening see www.athensguide.com/christmas/mytrip.html under the section 'Breaking Plates'. So the Athens municipal police may not chase crooks but they sure know how to party.

Next door to the Hotel Attalos is Alex Pak which is a sort of discount store that started as an office supply store and now has everything. If I am waiting for a taxi or to meet someone outside the hotel and I get bored, I will wander around in here and see what kind of unusual things they have for sale. Next door is a shop that sells products from the island of Lesvos, known for its sardines, cheeses and ouzo among other traditonal foods. When you walk in the store there are samples all over, sort of like when you go into a Whole Foods in the USA. Across the street and continuing on to the small Vissis and Vlahava Streets are shops that sell doorknobs. Not just doorknobs, anything that has to do with doors that is not a door. Knobs, handles, screws, latches, locks, everything. By the way the easiest route into the neighborhood of Psiri is from the street next to the Hotel Attalos. When the street ends turn right and you are there.

Ag Kyriaki Byzantine Church, Athens, greeceContinuing on we pass the Hotel Cecil which is a great place to stay when the Attalos is full. Across the street is a fast-food cafe that has tiropitas, soft-drinks and coffee. There is also a pretty good electronics shop. The large building on the west side of the street is OTE, the Greek National Telephone Company where you have to go if you want DSL in your house or want to open an Otenet account. Otherwise unless you are there to dispute a phone bill it is one of those bureaucratic places you want to avoid where you wait in line for an hour for someone to tell you that you are in the wrong place and you have to go to an office up 6 flights of stairs and you wait on line there only to have him tell you that you need to go back to the first person who then stamps your paper and sends you off to the cashier to pay without even apologizing for sending you away the first time. Right across the street is the tiny Agia Kiriaki Byzantine Church, built in the 6th Century with a very small and ancient congregation as well as some icons and wall paintings. Keep in mind that when this church was built it was practically out in the country. Now its address is #30 Athinas Street. Check out the services on Sunday. If you keep your eyes open you will see some monks coming and going from this small church.

Evripidou Street

Evripidou Street is the first traffic light you come to after Ermou and it is one of the most important streets in Athens. To the right is the edge of the central market and a tiny herb and spice stand, as well as Echogram, one of the best CD shops in Athens where I buy most of my rembetika and laika music. The woman who works here is Roula and she is very helpful. If you want to know the best CDs to buy see my Greek CD picks. If you continue up Evripidou past the Feta cheese shops you come to Eolou Street, another pedestrian shopping street. Past Eolou Street you will end up in Klathmnonos Square which is the area of electronics shops where people buy TVs, air-conditioners, coffee-makers, electric stoves, heaters and so on. There is also a stamp-collectors shop that you would never find if you did not know it was there on Aristidou Street. (There is more about Klathmonos Square in the Omonia section.) There are two important streets that merge at Evripidou. Aiolou and Agiou Markou are two of the best streets for shopping for household items, clothes, wool and cotton materials, kitchen utensils and God knows what else. If you go right on Aiolou it will take you all the way back to the Plaka, ending at the Roman Agora and the Tower of the Winds. If you go left it becomes Patission street and takes you to the National Archaeological Museum, the Hellenic Motor Museum(My Favorite Museum in Athens) and my old neighborhood of Kypseli.

Back on Athinas street, if you turn left on Evripidou you will go past the famous Elixer herb and spice shop and a number of small multi ethnic shops. You are in Athens version of China town, or India town, or Pakistani town or whatever you want to call it. Most Americans seem a little wary of this neighborhood like they think Al Queda is going to jump out of an alley and drag them off but this is pretty unlikely. The people in this neighborhood are immigrants trying to make a new life for themselves and it is one of the most culturally diverse areas in Athens. Check out the little butcher shop at Evripidou 41 called Arapian which has been there since 1922, just about the time when the Turks kicked the Greeks and the Armenians out of Smyrna. In fact Arapian is an Armenian name. The shop is full of interesting sausages, pasterma and other smoked and dried meats.

If you continue down Evripidou you will come to the famous Telis which is known for having the best hirino brizoles (pork chops) in Athens. The next block in Platia Koumondorou, also called Platia Eleftherias (Freedom Square). Besides the oriental and Arabic shops here there are also several Indian Restaurants. Evripidou Street also has several garden shops where you can buy seeds and bulbs and whatever else you need to grow a garden in your hotel room since you are not supposed to bring this stuff back to America. I don't know about other countries. If you walk down Evripidou and take a left on just about any street you will end up in Psiri. If you are lucky you may stumble upon the Stoa of Manolis, a small working class tavern, as authentic as you will find, should you manage to find it.

Back on Athinas street we are now at the Central market which I cover pretty thoroughly on my Central Market page. If you like food you can easily wander around here for an hour or so. The meat and fish are on the right side of Athinas Street and the fruit and vegetables are on the left. There are also dry-goods, herbs, olives, eggs, bread and other shops scattered around including a Polish store at the top of Armodiou Street. Check out the sausage shops and the shops that sell live chickens and ducks. This is the area where immigrants sell cigarettes, CDs, DVDs and all sorts of other things. Don't be afraid of them. But because this area can get crowded it is a good idea to keep your hand on your wallet because even though compared to other cities pick-pocketing in Athens is rare, this area is where it is most likely to happen. It has never happened to me or anyone I know but if I were a pick-pocket this is where I would be. There are a couple souvlaki shops like To Steki Tis Agoras (The Hangout at the Market) which is as good or better than those famous ones in Monastiraki but never as crowded. There are also a couple tiropita (cheese-pie) shops, some dried fruit and nut shops and the sausage shops. Check out Athenaikon, one of the oldest nut shops in Athens, right on Athinas Street.

As you continue up Athinas you pass Zoo World, a pet store I go in to visit the animals since they have such an interesting collection including monkeys, exotic parrots, toucans, giant boa constrictors, walabees and other exotics and not so exotic animals. I got an e-mail from a woman who told me that she was disappointed that I advertise this shop because they have been taken to court for their treatment of animals. But I explained I don't advertise the shop, I just go in and visit the animals and write about it. That's not an advertisement or an endorsement especially since people who use my guide are in no position to buy an animal since they are tourists. (Try bringing a wallabee on a plane with you). But visitors to the shop are able to look around and if they see an animal that looks sick or does not have water or whatever, they can tell the people who work there (who are all pretty cool even if the owners aren't). In Greece the laws about transporting exotic animals are not as tight as in western countries which is why you will find creatures in these shops that maybe should not even be sold as pets. But they are here and so are you so you may as well visit them and if you see one being mistreated its OK to complain. Anyway if you have kids this is somewhere you can take them if they are bored with ancient ruins.

Across the street from Zoo World on the edge of Ethnikis Andistassis Square is another shop where they seem to treat the animals better. There is a cafe next door and you can have a coffee, look through the window at the animals and feed the sea of pigeons. It is one of the few places in the world where you can feed pigeons and experience the thrill of possibly being eaten by them yourself. Ethnikis Andistassis Square is also known as Dimarchos Square because City hall, the office of the Mayor is right across the street. The square is surrounded by impressive historical buildings, pretty much all banks of course. Kind of makes you wonder when all the beautiful old buildings are owned by banks if maybe the banks don't have a little bit too much money. Its like when you are in the USA and the skyline of every city is dominated by bank and insurance company skyscrapers. In Greece it seems like every time an old building gets restored, a bank moves in. But at least they have been restored instead of laying derelict as many of the buildings owned by the church or the state are. So admire these buildings in Dimarchos Square. Its not Vienna but for Greece its pretty good. Behind City Hall is a great Egyptian supermarket. Check it out.

Beyond the square there are a number of discount shops and a couple remodeled hotels that look pretty good especially compared to what they looked like before. This area looks a little seedy but it is relatively safe as long as you are not carrying a handbag and your wallet is not making a seductive bulge in your pocket. There is a bus stop at the top of Athinas street for the 049 Bus to Pireaus which is handy, though taking the metro is faster and usually easier if you are staying nearby the stations at Omonia or Monastiraki on each end of Athinas Street. Another good bus to know about is the 034 which is a small bus that goes to Kypseli on its way from Petralona. Both neighborhoods are worth a visit. Kypseli so you can see how crowded small streets can get and also hang out in Foikinos Negri and Petralona because it is a low key neighborhood with some great tavernas. Another small bus, the 200 goes to the National Museum and Kolonaki from Athinas street. You can also pick up the Athens Tour bus on Athinas street. You will also notice some interesting vehicles if you keep your eyes open. When people come from the villages Athinas Street is the one street they know.

Greece, euro champions, football 2004Probably my favorite moment on Athinas Street was in June of 2004 when the Greek National Soccer Team shocked the world by winning the Euro-cup when they defeated host Portugal. I watched the game unfold in the bar on the roof of the Hotel Attalos and within minutes of the game's end Athinas Street was full of revelers on foot, on motorcycles and in cars, waving the Greek flag. We followed the crowds to Omonia square where the police had blocked the traffic and were taking part in the celebration themselves. It was an historical moment. Two months later Greece would surprise the world again when they hosted what were said to be the best Olympics every. Athinas street had a major role in this too. The men's and women's bicycle race began and ended at the Central market. Athinas street never looked better, all decked out in Olympic colors.

On Friday and Saturday night Athinas street is still jumping at 4 or 5 in the morning with people coming and going from Psiri and Gazi as well as other areas. I have had to wake up at 5am for a 7am flight and gone outside and felt like I was leaving Greece during a party. On weeknights, well mornings actually, at about 4am you can see the trucks on their way to the market carrying meat, fish and vegetables from all over Greece and elsewhere. If you are awake it's a good time to go to the restaurant at the meat market for a breakfast of patsa, especially if you are a little hung-over.

I also forgot to mention that the area between Athinas Street and Aeolou street across from the Hotel Attalos is full of small bars and clubs. If you walk up  Voreou Street and turn right on the tiny Avramiotou street you will come to Six Dogs which is a day & night cultural entertainment center  which combines a Café, a Bar, a visual arts' Project Space, a Garden and a Gig Space for live gigs, parties, workshops, screenings, and more. On weekend nights this street is packed with people and a band or two playing in the different venue. Just around the corner on Aeolou Street at number 48-50 is Mama Roux which is an American style bistro with live jazz on Sunday and a pretty cool place to hang out day or night as well.

So that's it. This is my favorite street. Don't let the out of date guidebooks convince you that Athinas is a sleazy area. It's not. It's a diverse area and the most authentically Athenian street in Athens. So much so, that the famous Greek composer Manos Hatzidakis made an album about it called Ballad of Athinas Street. In it he wrote:

"Athinas Street is the heart of Athens. Athens is the heart of the nation. That is why all that praises Athinas Street is both national and Greek. And as the street bears the name of a Goddess and lies under the blessed shadow of the Parthenon, no man can possibly doubt its national value throughout Greece. The street Athinas is bursting with taverns but most of all with brothels, cinemas that offer private erotic pleasure, dark hotels for those seeking love refuge, innumerable cafeneon for daily languor, the City Hall and an undertaker's office, a relic from a past forgotten time. On this street one can see workers, hawkers, tramps, prostitutes, transvestites, journalists, provincial pimps and a thousand assassins strolling up and down."

The transvestites, porno cinemas, whores and pimps are gone, and hopefully the assassins too. Unfortunately they took the tavernas with them but even so Athinas is still my favorite street in Athens. Ya'll come visit....

By the way you can continue to the Omonia section (it overlaps a little).

Hotels on or Around Athinas Street

Hotel Attalos, AthensMy first choice in this area, and really in my opinion the best economy hotel in Athens is the Hotel Attalos which is just two blocks from the Monastiraki metro station. A little further is the Hotel Cecil which is also an economy hotel, though in an old historic building. The Boutique Hotel A is for Athens actually overlooks Monastiraki Square. The Hotel Tempi which is on Aeolou is also a budget hotel as is the Athens Style Hotel in Psiri which is something of a hostel though you can get a double room if you want. The only 4-star hotels in the area are the Hotel Fresh which is in the Central Market (where Jamie Oliver stayed when he filmed his episode in Greece and cooked on a hibachi on their roof), and the 2-star Economy Hotel which is just around the corner and much less expensive and has a nice rooftop bar with a view. The 3-star Arion Hotel is in Psiri just a half a block from Athinas street and close to several good restaurants.

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