24 Hours in Athens is a collection of stories from two 24-hour slots spent exploring Athens in July 2022, from True Tales of Greek Taxi Drivers to some serious Athens Movie Magic (yes, friends, it’s the story you’ve been waiting for). I’ll also cover Where to Eat in Athens.
What is there to say about Greece that hasn’t already been said? As a child, I dreamed of this country. My love for Greece – a country I had never yet visited – was undying. I collected books about its ancient history, devouring historical fiction and documentaries about the archaeological digs and the mysteries of the Acropolis. I searched for it in heavy paper atlases that weighed on my crossed legs, imagining what treasures were hidden in those little lines representing the land. Countless islands, beaches, rocky outcrops filled with donkeys and goats.
I didn’t think about plates of food that would inspire me to write like never before, or conversations with taxi drivers that would encourage me to see the world in a different way, or beautiful Greek men that would become famous among my friends. In fact, my younger self would probably be wildly disappointed with me. I’m yet to properly visit any of the sites she dreamed of and studied, instead choosing to get lost roaming the streets at random and sitting in restaurants with far too much food spread out in front of me, just watching the world go by.
This is exactly what I did when I spent 5 days between Athens and Milos in June 2022. I was there for work, technically, and yet I found myself feeling more inspired and more wholly relaxed than ever before. And all of that inspiration? Well, you can find it here in these pages. Tales of conversations with Greek taxi drivers, of food so good I couldn’t help but to rave, and of course, a list of restaurants I loved in Athens.
Stay tuned for Part 2, featuring my stories & recommendations from Milos!
24 Hours in Athens
- 24 Hours in Athens
- True Tales of Greek Taxi Drivers: Part One
- Bottles of Wine and Bumble Restaurant Recommendations
- Another 24 Hours in Athens
- True Tales of Greek Taxi Drivers: Part Two
- A Story from Crete
- If I were a tourist, I’d love Athens
- The Greek God
- Movie Magic in Athens
- 24 Hours in Athens: Walk from the Acropolis to Lycabettus Hill
- Writing by Saint George Orthodox Church
- Travel Outfits & Checking Out
- True Tales of Greek Taxi Drivers: Part Three
- Where to Eat & Drink: 24 Hours in Athens
24 HOURS IN ATHENS
True Tales of Greek Taxi Drivers: Part One
23 June 2022
The taxi driver, dark hair cropped short around his face, looks at me critically in the reverse mirror. I can see his right eye and half of his left. I can’t tell if he’s judging or worried. Either way, he looks perplexed.
A few minutes ago, he was laughing about how he’s fat but it’s okay because people should love you for who you are. It’s hot and dark, and my jeans stick on the plasticky faux leather seats. It didn’t take him long after we pulled away from the dull yellow lights of the airport to notice that I’m struggling to stay awake.
I’m not sure what happened, but the mood has changed.
“So, you’re going to be staying here…” he declares as we pull into a street that’s as foreign to me as the next. “It’s fine. But never walk down the hill. They’ll get you if you walk down the hill. You need to walk up the hill, then turn right and you’ll be on a bigger road. Okay?”
He hauls my bag out of the cab and tells me again which direction to walk in when I go out in the morning. He waits at the door, feet planted firmly next to mine. I tell him it’s okay as the 2am heat permeates into my skin, but he’s not having it. He’ll stay with me until I’m safely inside.
The hotel door buzzes open and he lifts my suitcase across the threshold.
“Okay, be safe. Okay?”
I smile and assure him everything will be fine. I say thank you, bid him good night and good luck, and close the door behind me.
Bottles of Wine and Bumble Restaurant Recommendations
Upstairs the hotel receptionist offers me an entire bottle of wine. I’m not sure what I’ll do with it, but of course, I’d never turn it down.
We talk about the airport delays – the ones that saw me arrive here in the dead of night – and I say perhaps they should pay them properly. He says or maybe offer them decent working conditions.
“At least one of the two,” we agree, a wistful moment of solidarity.
12 hours later, I’m sitting at a table messaging a boy I met online. He recommended the restaurant where I’m sitting alone, watching a busy street, eyes closed as I savour each morsel, laughing with no one but myself.
I dip bread into taramasalata, a fish roe spread that is rich but has a touch of acidity that somehow makes it refreshing. I greedily dig a spoon into fava beans, rationing only the delicate pieces of salty eel that accompany it. The dish is rich and warm and comforting. In between, I push cubes of beetroot, wedges of orange, and slivers of marinated fennel onto my fork. The sweet, fresh mix adds the perfect final piece to the food lining my table.
I tell all this to the boy who recommended it, and he asks if I’m a food blogger or a critic.
I laugh at myself. Normal people don’t write texts describing their food so vividly, but for a moment there, I’d forgotten that my life isn’t part of a movie scene, it doesn’t come straight out of the pages of a book.
And so, I wonder to myself, how on earth did I get so lucky?
ANOTHER 24 HOURS IN ATHENS
True Tales of Greek Taxi Drivers: Part Two
27 June 2022
The heat rises from the street and beats down from the sun, the fumes of the towering ferry boats and taxis fighting for space only adding to the inferno. My suitcase scrapes against the bonnet of a car as I squeeze through stuck traffic, a somewhat futile attempt to find my taxi driver. Luckily, the blue GPS dot of the app I used to call the cab will help me find the right one.
TAA-5620*, I repeat in my head.
TAA-5667. TAB-1530. TAB-2602.
Two men, hands sat atop their protruding bellies, follow me for a few metres. “Taxi? Lady, taxi?”. I say no once and then ignore them.
TAA-6700. TAA-5620. Oh! That’s it! Wait… I smile at the driver and then double-check my phone. I wave, he pops his head out of the window, smiling, “Beat?”
He gets out and lifts my suitcase into the back. I warn him the backpack is heavy, he waves me off and then his arms drop as soon as the weight is off of my shoulders. “Uff.” I smile, half-I-told-you-so, half-apologetic.
“I know we were supposed to meet over there,” gesturing to the gate crowded with yellow cabs and beat-up Greek rental cars, “but this seemed easier.”
“Much easier!” he agrees, and we hop back into the car.
He asks me where I came from just now, and where I’m from originally. We talk about Milos and his hometown of Crete. He loves it there. He misses it. I tell him I visited once and I’ve been dreaming of returning ever since.
A Story from Crete
He volunteers, “there are only two problems with Crete. The guns, and the drinking.”
“Yes!! In Crete, every man has at least 1 to 100 guns. They’re obsessed. And they all drink so much! I don’t understand. Why should I need alcohol to have fun?”
“This is true. I mean, alcohol can be nice if you drink it because you like it, with food and friends. But not so much just to get drunk.”
“Hmm…” I can sense he disagrees. “I have not had a drink for 4 and a half years! I don’t need it, but it came at a bad time of my life.”
“I was at a wedding, and you know, there, weddings go for two, three days and always with the guns. It’s a war with all the guns! And the bride got shot.”
“Wait what?!” I’m incredulous.
“Yes, she got shot. And everyone was so drunk, and I was the only one who wasn’t, so I had to help and call the ambulance and make sure it was okay. But why should we drink and why should we have guns?! It’s the most important, happy day of your life and she has a bullet in her. What is the point?!”
“Is she okay now though?”
“I mean, she has some problems. Yes, she is okay, but she will always have some problems.”
“But anyway. You know, Crete is famous for its big strong men. But if a man truly believes he is strong, why would he ever need a gun?”
The beauty of this small statement strikes me. I pause for a minute to take it in before we move on to talk about travel and work and the joys of jobs where you’re always meeting new people.
If I were a tourist, I’d love Athens
I ask him if he likes Athens and he says, “if I were a tourist, I would love Athens! But I work here, so I’m not so sure.” How many of us would have the presence of mind to say the same of the cities where we live?
He’s taking his kids to Rome in the summer, so I recommend a restaurant there that was recommended to me. He repeats it back and thanks me, “I’ll remember that!”
When he drops me off in front of my hotel, he wishes me good luck and I wish him the same. I close the door, he drives away, and I think perhaps I should have asked for his card.
The Greek God
aka the One You’ve Been Waiting For
aka Family Members Read at Your Own Risk
TW: Mental Health & Suicide
28 June 2022
Nikos* sits in the chair as if it was made for him, his ankle resting easily on the opposite knee, elbow jutting out to one side. He has the air of somebody who is comfortable and confident with his place in the world, unafraid to take up space.
He leans over to pour more wine into my glass and we talk easily about philosophy and history, Greek culture, and travel. It must be nearing 1 am but the bright light and the navy blue wall behind him set off his curly blond hair, sea blue eyes, and tanned skin. He looks like a painting, a depiction of a Greek god, tall and muscular, prominent brow and perfectly formed lips.
My life already felt like a series of movie scenes, but being on a date with this man was almost taking it too far. Surely this can’t be real?
He asks me about my travels, my scars, my tattoos, using that last one as an excuse to come and sit next to me. He asks about my bee, and the conversation moves to sustainability and the way food changes around the world. Then he reads the script inked into my left arm and asks if there’s a story behind that, too. I tell him about the depression, the bridge, the overwhelming desire to end it all.
Movie Magic in Athens
Later on, when we’re lying naked in bed, all flushed cheeks and tangled limbs, he’ll run his fingers along my tattoo and tell me he thinks only a genius would consider choosing to end their life, because they know how much pain it takes to experience the briefest moments of happiness, but a courageous person would choose to stay despite the inevitable pain.
I’ve had plenty of conversations before about mental health, about choosing to keep going when you really don’t want to. His ease with the subject is refreshing and a touch unnerving. I don’t agree with him, but I appreciate the openness, the honesty, the gentle approach.
The next morning, I’ll text my friends saying, “you won’t believe what happened last night”, filled with glee as the shocked messages roll in. “There’s no way he’s real!!” “Is he a Greek God?” “Why have we been wasting our time in Italy?”
And as much as I’ll appreciate the unbelievable movie magic of spending a night with a man as impossibly handsome and attentive as him, I think the best part was the beauty of open conversation, of honesty, of sharing considered thoughts with a perfect stranger.
24 Hours in Athens: Walk from the Acropolis to Lycabettus Hill
28 June 2022
The whole of Europe seems to be swept up in a heatwave, and it’s not even July. Athens is no different and the heat hits me as soon as I open the hotel door.
The sweet waiter from the restaurant downstairs says hello. The open kitchen and haphazard tables are spread across three sides of the intersection and are frequented by a mix of old Greek men who yell jokes at each other across the street, and tourists from the hotel above. I like the hectic mix, the waiter’s cheeky smile, and the fact that a plate of fried calamari, a Greek salad, and 250ml of wine will only set you back €11.
Here, we’re just a touch removed from the touristic Monastiraki area. The nearby streets are lined with dusty cars, litter, and open storefronts selling beans and nuts and soap wrapped in plastic from clear tubs and straw baskets. Men stare at me as I walk solo down the street, and I remind myself to keep my face stony.
I walk and walk and walk, a vague idea that I should head to a bakery that a boy recommended. It takes me through the streets of Monastiraki and across to the other side. Here I find local cafes and boutiques. It feels like perhaps, this is the wealthier side of the city.
Writing by Saint George Orthodox Church
Unexpectedly, I find myself climbing staircase after staircase, surrounded by greenery and apartments with clean facades. At the top, high above, I spy what could be an ancient church. Out of curiosity, I check its name on google maps. Saint George Orthodox Church.
The park that surrounds it is steep and populated by sparse trees, all dried greens and thin leaves. It’s beautiful, in its own way. I decide to eat my pastry there, shrugging as dust fills my Birkenstocks when I start hiking up the unpaved track. I find a perch to sit, Athens spread out before me in the baking sun, and begin to write.
Travel Outfits & Checking Out
Back in my hotel, I change into my sticky, loose-fitting jeans and surf shirt, tucking the linen shorts and top I had been wearing back into my case.
Before I left for this trip, Mum told me that she’d never understood why I travel in jeans. “Because they’re comfortable enough”, I explain, “they take up too much space in my case, and I don’t like the feeling of the airplane seat on my bare legs.”
I wash the sweat from my face after my morning of getting wonderfully lost and somehow walking from Psyri to Lycabettus Hill to the Acropolis and back to my hotel again. I plug my phone in, just for a minute.
It’s time to call a taxi.
True Tales of Greek Taxi Drivers: Part Three
For a moment, I can’t decide if I want another great conversation or a chance to sit in silence and watch the world whip by. Of course, it’s hardly a question. I’m hoping to hear more stories.
Alas, 15 minutes later, I’m texting my ride or die. “So this last taxi driver might actually kill me with his insane fucking driving”.
His open rideshare app tells me he’s going 31km over the limit when he slams on the brakes, very nearly smashing into the car in front of us – a car that started braking well before. In the same moment, he yells what I imagine are a slew of choice Greek swear words.
I text her again, “love you”, half-joking, half-serious.
I laugh a little to myself, thinking well, there had to be something to break up the perfection.
*Any identifying features such as names and number plates have been changed for privacy.
WHERE TO EAT: 24 HOURS IN ATHENS
Cherchez La Femme
If you’ve been wondering where you, too, can go to eat smoked eel with fava beans, taramasalata, and crisp, refreshing chunks of beetroot and fennel that will make you wax lyrical, then wonder no more. I actually walked straight past Cherchez La Femme, in Athens’ Monastiraki neighbourhood, because it appeared far too touristy for my tastes, but then I realized this was in fact, the place the boy from bumble had recommended. I turned back around and asked for a table for one, and obviously, didn’t regret it. Highly recommended.
I discovered Ergon House by chance, but I thoroughly enjoyed this bustling marketplace-restaurant space. I devoured a plate of marinated anchovies, at the waiter’s recommendation, and did my very best to finish the single plate of Smoked Sardine Gyro I ordered. Seriously, just the thought of it is enough to make my mouth water – and there are so many other plates I would have loved to try, like the Peinirli or basically anything on their sweet breakfast menu. At least there’s always next time!
The Restaurant Under the Hotel
I honestly don’t know what the name of this Athens restaurant is, and all of my attempts to find it have been futile. You can find it on the corner of Theatrou and Diplari beneath Soul Athens. In fact, at first, I thought it was a part of the hotel, but I later realized it wasn’t. This little spot is far from glamorous, but I enjoyed it a lot. I loved the old locals yelling at each other across the intersection and cracking jokes with the wait staff as they ordered another beer. I loved the haphazard setup and wonky chairs. I loved sitting and writing as I munched on perfectly fried calamari soaked in lemon juice, a Greek salad, and wine from a brass jug. I loved the way the groups at tables around me continued to order small plates as they chatted late into the afternoon. If you’re tired of touristy spots or want a spot to wait out the midday heat, head on over!
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24 Hours in Athens features true stories from my adventures in Greece in June/July 2022. If you have tips or questions you’d love to share, or if you just enjoyed reading this post, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!