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The Athenian Riviera > Piraeus January 19, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Athens.

Piraeus, the country’s largest port, has been a bustling hub of transportation for products and people since antiquity.

Traditionally, it is a connecting point between the mainland and the populations of the many Aegean islands and, even further, linking the cultures of countries where Greek ships sail. In Piraeus, people are open to conversation, used to the unfamiliar, the foreign and hospitable because almost everyone has a family member in another country. Edgy on occasion, they are quick to return to their warm, calm nature, like the sea, having grown up next to its shores.

Strolling through the Freattida neighborhood, you can smell the fresh fish from the fishermen’s nets and the spices used by the housewives in their cooking, loyal to the unwritten recipes of Mediterranean cuisine, which is now renowned internationally. Always walking with the sea to our right, we reach Marina Zeas, a small harbor for mooring yachts, which brings to mind images of Monte Carlo. We ascend Kastella hill with its neoclassical homes, built at the turn of the century by wealthy businessmen and ship owners, winding downhill to charming Mikrolimano with its fish taverns and bars, like the American style «Pin Up» and the Mexican «Viva Zapata» where locals meet on weekend afternoons to enjoy a cocktail and lively music.

Leaving, in the direction of Pireaus center, art lovers will enjoy a visit to the Archaeological Museum featuring some of the most beautiful and rare bronze sculptures in the world: the Bronze Kouros, male youth, circa 6th century BC, and Athena, circa 4th century BC, created by a unique casting technique.

Close by, next to the architecturally impressive Peace and Friendship Stadium and Karaiskaki Football Field, home to Olympiakos, the well-known, Greek, football team, which has participated in many European tournaments, we arrive at the tram station. The tram, a modern means of transportation, runs along the length of the Athenian coast offering a spectacular view of the sea, as well as a quick and comfortable means of transportation from area to area.

Traveling by tram along the coast, you can admire the newly-built athletic installations constructed for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, which remain as a legacy to the city changing the face of the Athenian coast: the best Beach Volleyball court in the world; the indoor Tae Kwon Do gymnasium; the Agios Kosmas marina, where the sailing competition was held; the Baseball and Softball fields at Hellenikon, which will soon become a metropolitan park; and the Canoe-Kayak facilities, the perfect infrastructure of a model water-park.

The tram also passes Flisvos, a promenade by the sea, flanked with palm trees and kiosks where locals enjoy a romantic or quiet walk while the sea breeze caresses their face. Young people bike and skateboard, while other play chess or enjoy a cup of coffee or delicious ice cream by the water’s edge.

The tram route ends at cosmopolitan Glyfada, the shopping center of the southern suburbs of metropolitan Athens. Here, you can find designer boutiques for apparel, accessories and footwear; elegant and luxurious stores that have won the trust of prestigious clientele. «Luisa’s» window keeps shoppers up to date with the latest creations by designers, such as Roberto Cavalli, Alexander McQueen, Lanvin, Missoni, Narciso Rodriguez, Pucci, as well as women’s shoes by Jimmy Choo and leather accessories by Bottega Veneta.

«Carouzos» has the exclusive import of haute couture by international designers including Prada, Ermenegildo Zegna, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Fendi, Valentino, Celine, and Brioni. «Kalogirou» offers an exclusive selection of shoes and leather accessories by Cesare Paciotti, Church’s, Dolce & Gabbana, Miu Miu, Prada and Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche. A small market, «Bakaliko Ola ta Kala» is unique delicatessen, which sells ingredients for Greek recipes. You will also find marmalades from mountain villages, homemade sausage, organic beans and homemade pasta made with fresh eggs.

And, of course, nothing surprises visitors more than their first encounter with the Greek coffee culture. On Glyfada’s Zissimopoulou street, hundreds of people come and go from the stylish cafes, wearing the latest fashion, greeting each other with a kiss on both cheeks, crowding the outdoor tables, speaking loudly, drinking cappuccino, chocolate or frappe, laughing, joking, conversing, passing time in an atmosphere where the Mediterranean temperament sometimes overcomes etiquette.

If we follow the tram route toward the center of Athens, the end of the line is the station at Syntagma (Constitution) Square in front of the Parliament building and the monument of the Unknown Soldier, guarded day and night by members of the Presidential Guard wearing traditional, Greek costume. Syntagma Square is a crossroads, which most Athenians transverse daily, and it provides an opportunity for the visitor to mix with them and try some of their habits.

Mastiha (gum) produced exclusively from the mastich tree on the island of Chios adds its unique taste and aroma to sweets, marmalades, gum, shampoo, shower gels and body creams, all available at the «Mastiha Shop». Other favorites are the chocolates with nuts or liqueur from «Aristokratikon» confectionery; the baklava and other desserts from Constantinople at «Karakoy Gulluoglu»; and cheese pies from «Ariston». From here, we continue to the Dionysiou Areopagitou pedestrian walkway, lined with age-old sycamore trees, which passes exactly underneath the Sacred Rock of the Acropolis. Many enjoy looking at the Parthenon from the foot of the rock but, we assure you, that the view from the top and the experience of looking at the monument at close range is unforgettable.

On to the pedestrian walkway of Apostolou Pavlou, passing the trendy cafes of Thisseion and the Ancient Agora through the back roads of Plaka, the oldest neighborhood of Athens, with its low-roofed houses and rhythm of eras past. You will rarely see a car and there is always a festive mood in the air. In the stores in Plaka, you will find an original gift; natural sponges from the bottom of the sea, collected by divers from the island of Kalymnos.

Returning to Syntagma Square via Ermou Street, a pedestrian walkway lined with trendy stores and fashionable, international clothing chains. The Benaki Museum deserves a visit to admire its impressive collection of Greek culture from antiquity to today. Nearby, at the «Miseyianni» coffee shop, established in 1914, you will find freshly ground, aromatic Greek coffee. Choose among the many flavors stacked on the shelves.

We return to Vouliagmeni, the beautiful municipality where the Triathlon competition was held during the 2004 Olympics. Ancient finds show that the area has been inhabited sine 3000 BC. In 1924, children from the Vouliagmeni orphanage playing near ruins, which, today, are on Astir Palace’s beach, discovered part of an inscription referring to the shrine of Apollo Zostir.

Very close to the «Astir Palace Vouliagmeni», the crown jewel of the Athenian Riviera, there is another ancient secret. A mystical lake, created by the collapse of a cave with hot springs. It is ideal for an early evening swim in its emerald, semi-salted waters and the temperature is 20-27 degrees Celsius year round. Dine later, either at the «Gourmet Grill Room», the winter restaurant, specialising in international cuisine with an emphasis on French delicacies, or «Alia Brasserie», the «Arion» hotel’s all day restaurant, with a spectacular view to the sea and lush pine forest, and, of course, excellent service.

Remember, the most beautiful sunset you can enjoy is from the ancient Temple of Poseidon, god of sea, at Sounion. In the Dorian style of architecture, built around 440 BC during the Golden Age of Pericles, it is made from white marble from the Agrileza mines. The temple was deserted in the early Christian period. Perched on a cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea, the temple has an almost mystical energy. Enjoy the tranquility of the sunset and wonder at the miracle of nature revealed, in all its glory, at that very moment. The Athenian Riviera has seen to this, too.

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