I am lucky enough to have friends living in Athens, but on previous visits (and for part of this visit) I have stayed in the Hotel Euripides, which is in the Psirri district near to Monastiraki. To look at, this is not the most pre-possessing area, however this goes for many areas of Athens, and a lot of other cities! The area was given a facelift before the 2004 Olympics, as was the Hotel Euripides (new bathrooms!) but if you want to stay in a central location with plentiful nightlife at a reasonable price then this, or one of many similar hotels in the area, then you must look past the facade. This area is very crowded at night so for the nervous amongst you I think I can assure you that you will be safe! The area, judging by many of the old fashioned shops, was once the centre of the ‘Rag Trade’ and the remnants of this still exist in the form of many shops, with Chinese looking names over the door, selling wholesale clothing and accessories. There are also a number of wholesale jewellery and craft shops (ardent eBayers take note!)
On this visit I arrived on a Saturday lunchtime after a very early departure from London Gatwick, so there was plenty of time to pick up a bottle of 풀싸롱 water and some snacky odds and ends from one of the many local shops, before having a couple of hours sleep. The Hotel Euripides is on a very busy commercial street and can be noisy, so it is wise to ask for a room on one of the upper floors, the 6th floor is particularly pleasant as these rooms face out on to quite large terraces overlooking the rooftops. During the winter months you will be given the remote control to the aircon, which you will need to use as a heater as the nights can be cold!
There are three theatres within five minutes walk, and never having been to a theatre in Greece, I decided that it might be a good idea to give it a try! In spite of it being Saturday night I was able to get a ticket to a show called ‘The Aunt From Chicago’ which has been running for some time, and although, with my limited Greek, I lost the dialogue several times, the show was sufficiently ‘visual’ and similar to a British ‘comedy musical farce’ that I found it hilarious, and if all else failed I could watch the Greeks enjoying the whole affair.
Theatre turn out time is around 11.30pm and to say that the surrounding area was now ‘heaving’ with people would be an understatement. Greek nightlife traditionally starts very late and you can walk through this area, centred on Platia Iroon at 10.00pm with hardly a soul in sight, but by midnight there is not a seat to be had anywhere with still more people arriving!
Further down Sarri Street from the theatre is a small gay bar called Aleko’s Island, which I had tried to visit on previous trip, but as this was on a Monday night it was closed. This time being a Saturday it was open although when I arrived there were only three other customers. Well what can I say about this bar? The owner has obviously been part of the local scene for some time, and arrivals after me were all greeted personally and chatted to as old friends, (this makes the service a bit slow at times, but Heigh Ho, this is Greece), my request for a Metaxa and Coke without ice was met without objection, (some places will hate you for the ‘no ice’ bit as they don’t use any official measure for the spirits and without ice they have to give you more of the spirit!) and resulted in a ten ounce glass about one third full of Metaxa before the Coke was added!
I tried to classify the decor, but couldn’t, although the word ‘kitsch’ did spring to mind. I had trouble deciding whether the fairy lights were left from Christmas or remained all year round. I tried to classify the amateur paintings around the place without success. I tried to classify the music but could only come up with ‘eclectic’, when I arrived it was Tamla Motown, but following a blast of the 20th Century Fox theme it turned into what seemed to be the Andrews Sisters singing ‘I Will Survive’, (I have found at since that was The Puppini Sisters, of course!), and the strangest version I have ever heard of ‘Tainted Love’!
Classifying the clientele was easier, generally older, say ‘fortyish’ going on nineteen, probably something to do with the theatre and mainly regulars. Greek of course, although there were a couple more English guys who it turns out live in Athens, but what a nice bar! After the second drink I was getting very settled watching the ‘goings on’ and after the third I began to feel so much at home that I could have stayed until it closed, but common sense prevailed and I left at 1.30am as I had things to do on Sunday!
Sunday is a day for walking in Athens. In Monastiraki the flea market is in full swing. This takes place in the network of small streets between Monastiraki and Thissio stations, the suburban railway line and Ermou Street. (some of it is open all week, but Sunday is the main day with street traders, licensed and unlicensed lining the narrow streets). The Platia Abisinias has some interesting stalls with a wide selection of odd china, but beware, some of the ‘Tiffany’ lamps were made last month in China and it is not unusual to see someone buy something and see the stall holder replace it with another one ten minutes later! You can however buy ‘spare parts’ such as that brass handle that broke on the chest of drawers when Granny first had it, or replacement (and genuinely old!) crystal drops for chandeliers. On week days you can watch craftsmen repairing and re-polishing old furniture, and I am always amused by the sign that advertises hand polishing, although I have never seen them use anything but a machine!