I Came to Athens…And I Got Punk’d

I arrived in Athens knowing just two Greek words: Opa and Ouzo. Other than this being the home of Apollo and the Acropolis, I knew nothing about this city. In fact, Athens wasn’t even on my “must see” list. The only reason I’m here is because my Turkish visa was about to expire and I needed a city that was cheap to fly to and cheap to live in.

To be completely honest with you, I landed in Greece a victim of stereotypes. I expected old men in 1950’s clothing to be drinking Ouzo and shouting Opa on street corners. I assumed feta cheese would be sold on every street corner. I figured there wouldn’t be much to do in this city that doesn’t get the attention of its capital counterparts like London, Paris and Rome.

Well did this city punk me. Athens is more vibrant, more alive, more welcoming, and more culturally cutting-edge than any of those cities mentioned above. If you visit here leave all Old World thoughts behind. Athens has true modern day grit.

 

In neighborhoods outside the tourist district, graffiti artists have left few facades untouched. Here's some of the street art in the Exarhia neighborhood.

In neighborhoods outside the tourist district, graffiti artists have left few facades untouched. Here’s some of the street art in the Exarhia neighborhood.

 

Of course a stay here wouldn’t be complete without touring the relics and ruins of Ancient Greece. Present day Greeks, as they should be, are very proud of their ancestors who invented democracy. But after a day or two of doing that, try to live like a local. It would be a shame to come here and only step foot inside the museums.

As soon as you enter the real Athens you’ll be stunned. Every, and I do mean every, façade has a thick coating of graffiti. Even many of the metro trains have been tagged by the city’s citizens looking to make a statement. And believe it or not, that’s what gives this city its grungy charm.

 

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The mad dash to catch the connecting train along Athens’s “Green Line.”  The metro lines are named by color, and you can see the train cars are jam packed with color themselves.

 

One of the most interesting of Athens’ neighborhoods is Exarhia. This is the social hub for the city’s anarchists. Uniformed police officers aren’t welcomed here, but you will be. The center of the neighborhood is Exarhia Square. Lining the square are cafes and bars where you will see artists, political activists and far left leaning Athenians enjoying either an espresso or beer.

 

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Even the statue in the center of Exarhia Square is tagged with graffiti.

 

The food in any of the cafes here–and in all of Athens for that matter–is exceptional and inexpensive. But in this neighborhood the cast of characters around you is especially colorful. Here what usually is socially acceptable underground is out in the open above ground.

After a bite and beverage, walk a few blocks north. You’ll pass building after building elaborately spray painted with anti-establishment jabs and then you’ll reach Strefi Hill. Climb to the top of the park and be rewarded with one of the best views of Athens. It may not be Mount Olympus, but you’ll still feel like Zeus as you get a 360 view that includes the mountains, skyline and the iconic Acropolis.

 

This is the breathtaking view from on top Strefi Hill. It's just a few minute hike to reach the peak.

This is the breathtaking view from Strefi Hill. It’s just a few minutes hike to reach the peak.

 

You’ll find Athens and its urban inhabitants incredibly warm. They truly want you to enjoy the culture as much as they do. That says a lot about the Greeks, considering their country faces challenges of austerity measures and a tidal wave of refugees.

After a few days of settling into my new apartment and my new city, my Greek is slowly improving. I can now say, “Hi, how are you?” in their language. But in typical Greek fashion, they answer in English. It’s their generous effort to make me feel more comfortable in my new home.

 

About Kevin Ozebek

Kevin Ozebek is a freelance journalist based in Athens, Greece. Previously he has reported from Turkey for TIME, FOX News, Canada's CBC News and Ireland's RTE News.

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