July 7, 2015
A GREEK ODYSSEY
Ever wanted to save the world? Well now you can…or, a country at least. Greece is in some serious money trouble and you, my friend, can be its saviour.
Greek Tragedy. My Big Fat Greek Debt. Show Me the Money. As a journalist covering the ongoing Greek debt crisis I have read and written nearly every headline imaginable. ‘Greece - the birthplace of democracy, where the people are having their say’…the list goes on. It’s an uncertain and shaky time for Greece. It still owes more than 320 billion euros to creditors and the chance of a ‘Grexit' - Greece tumbling out of the Eurozone and going back to its original currency, the Drachma, is still a reality.
But Greeks are proud, defiant, souvlaki/ouzo-loving people. (They are also ridiculously good-looking.) And you want to know the best way you can help? Book a trip to paradise. Right. This. Second!!
I’ve done my research for you - I’ve spoken with Greek mates on the ground and have listened to endless interviews with people on the streets - and now is the perfect time to hit your dream location.
* Tourism in Greece is more important than ever before.
* Greeks want and need you to come and inject some cash - especially in smaller, family-owned businesses.
* ATMS are working and at this stage there are no limits when withdrawing cash using foreign cards. But do bring extra Euros.
* It is safe - there has been little violence on the streets.
* There are great discounts on offer - especially for flights and accommodation.
So here is my easy guide to a chilled-out trip to Athens and a little Greek Island called Agistri.
GO TO GREECE:
It had been a long time between ouzos. 8 years in fact, since I’d last carted my backpack in Greece. I’d seen those breathtaking islands like Mykonos and Santorini in my younger, wilder days. But to be honest, the only site of Athens I could actually remember was the gyro stand at the port of Piraeus.
So, after moving to the Middle East - a magical yet blisteringly hot and sandy land - a trip to Greece was the perfect plan. I’d been in the desert a little too long and had been working around the clock. I was feeling stressed to the max and looked and felt about 100-years-old. I’d convinced the boss to give me one week off - not enough time for my husband to come, so I would be on my own. What I wanted was a tech-free paradise escape in a place that would put me back together. Greece baby!
I landed in Athens and again headed straight for an island – but this time one that was a lot closer. Agistri.
The ferries were just as I remembered: seasick tourists hurling into little white bags, as the locals sipped their iced coffee frappes with a mix of glee and concern.
When I finally arrived at beautiful Agistri, I was the only person to hop off. I strolled up the road to Kekrifalia Hotel and Bar and met the lovely Leila. A stunning white-washed retreat resting on the cliffs above the turquoise Saronic Gulf.
Two doors up is Rosy’s Little Village. A yoga, meditation and bodyworks haven, with the best vegetarian lunch on the planet. I met Rosy and her German and Dutch yogis. These older women were all fit, lean, strong and alive. They asked me about my life, work, husband, dreams and gave me the pep talk I needed. They pointed to the three older Greek granddads bobbing in the ocean who were stretching and doing bicycle kicks in the air. ‘It’s important to keep moving as you get older,’ they remind me, ‘and make sure you keep having fun.’ Suddenly a healthy mix of salad, pear, avocado, pumpkin seeds, orange and olive oil was placed in front of me. ‘Eat up, Steph. You’ve come a long way. You’ve been working hard.’
I took at dip in the aquamarine sea until Leila called from the hotel balcony, warning that a big storm was brewing. Suddenly it was quiet. Really quiet, aside from the rain, and there was nothing to do. No Internet, no TV, just time to relax, re-group and listen to the thunder. It had been months since it had rained in the Middle East.
Breakfast at Kekrifalia Hotel is more like a royal engagement than a meal. The courses just keep coming. Fruits, yogurt, omelette, salad, breads, cheese, meats and a few little sweets. I could barely ride my bike around the island to explore.
A few more days of eat, read, roll, repeat and I was feeling balanced and blissed out. The afternoon storms and even one day of flash flooding just added to the mood. I was now ready to head back to the mainland and give Athens the attention she deserved.
THE DETAILS - AGISTRI ISLAND
STAY: Kekrifalia Hotel Bar and Restaurant - http://www.hotelinagistri.co
EAT/YOGA: Rosy’s Little Village - http://www.rosyslittlevillage.com/
Before arrival I’d quizzed my Athenian mates for their inside knowledge. I really wanted to uncover the beauty of Athens. I’d been told to stay near Kolonaki Square – a trendy, buzzing neighbourhood full of good food and boutique shops. I’d rested on Agistri Island and was now ready to rock and roll.
St. George Lycabettus Boutique Hotel is a beautiful base. The cute rooftop pool and bar is spotted with white pots of geraniums - just like my granddad has. The restaurant view is just as impressive – you can eat your eggs while taking in the panoramic view of the Acropolis. The hotel is nestled against the slopes of Lycabettus Hill - which is well worth hiking purely for the the view of Athens. Half the fun is walking up there amongst the Athenians. Mums, dads, kids, grandparents, young lovers, dogs - all pushing forward with their arms folded behind their backs, talking about the meaning of life. If the hike is too much, or you’ve eaten too much baklava and can’t move, you can always opt for the cable car.
Post hike, you’ve definitely earned yourself a cocktail or two. Head to the Hilton Hotel Rooftop bar for sunset drinks.
Get set for the beauty of Greek ruins. The Acropolis and its monuments form the greatest architectural complex left by Greek antiquity to the world. Plans for The Acropolis were put in place in the second half of the 5th Century BC, after Athens had just thrashed the Persians. Around the same time a democracy had been established. The Parthenon and the small temple Athena Nike are my highlights.
For its size, the heart of Athens is actually quite easy to walk around – but it is hot. On the way down from the Acropolis I took a stroll through Anafiotika, a 19th century neighbourhood on the northern slopes of the Acropolis hill.
Anafiotika seems far removed - it’s almost as if you’ve entered a long lost land. Bougainvilleas climb whitewashed walls and cats pounce from balcony to balcony. Cafes are squeezed in between endless runs of stairs. Anafiotika Café was always packed with locals – a good sign. It offers traditional Greek food, hearty salads, great coffee, homemade lemonade and a free shot on departure. The waiter told me the name Stephanie is Greek, and it means 'Crowned One'. He also suggested we were probably cousins. What’s not to like about that?
Another good tip from my local mates - check out the Museum of Cycladic Art. Here you can see bits and pieces from the 3rd millennium BC. Unbelievable!
GET YOUR SHOP ON
Finally, what’s a trip to Greece without dropping some cash at the shops. Plaqa and Syntagma Square in the centre of town have the staples like Massimo Dutti and Zara. Kolonaki has a few of the big chains, like Sisley, but also lots of little boutiques and family-owned stores.
My favourite is Graffito just near Kolonaki Square. I walked past the shop on its opening day and instantly fell in love with the clothes, shoes, homeware and friendly staff. There’s everything from locally designed bags and shoes, to leather lounges and film set lights to a cute little cactus collection. The raw food cafe serves excellent coffee and top-notch gluten free chocolate pie. Don’t forget to ask to look at the kooky artwork in the back patio. The staff had to literally push me out of the store at closing time.
Another cute little food surprise is Era Nuts. Past the old, heavy wooden doors is a magical display of nuts, herbs, spices and sweets. Almonds, cashews, dried fruits and your healthy fare are presented in tall glass bottles along with an evil selection of chocolates, baklava, homemade honeycomb and Turkish delight. Of course, wine and spirits are also on offer. Heaven.
THE DETAILS - ATHENS
Where to stay:
St. George Lycabettus Boutique Hotel - http://www.sglycabettus.gr/default-en.html
Where to eat: Anafiotika Cafe - http://www.anafiotika-plaka.
What to do: The Acropolis - acropolisofathens.gr
Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art - http://www.cycladic.gr
Where to shop: Graffito - http://graffito.gr/
Era Nuts - http://www.eranuts.com/