Delegates attending the ESCRS Winter Meeting in Athens may be surprised by some ‘halycon days’
The Temple of Olympian Zeus
To see Athens in winter is to see this ancient city in a new light. The crowds have gone, the locals are out enjoying their cafes and wine bars, the first shoots of green can be seen. February may even bring Alkyonides – ‘Halcyon days’ – summer-like days that regularly occur during the winter months.
It’s the ideal time to follow the pedestrian route that links many of Athens’ most iconic monuments. Constructed as part of the city’s Archaeological Unification Project, it’s a landscaped walkway winding through several neighbourhoods. The roughly two-hour pedestrian walk offers views of the Olympieion (or the Temple of Olympian Zeus), Acropolis, Agora and Kerameikos Cemetery. Start at the Acropolis Metro station – and take a look inside the station, which is decorated with casts from the Parthenon.
Wish you had a local friend to walk with you and fill you in as you go? Try My Athens, a free programme inaugurated in Athens in 2010. It pairs visitors with local volunteer guides, providing daily tours of two-to-four hours for up to six participants. As they greet and connect with visitors, these knowledgeable Athenians take pleasure in sharing off-the-beaten-path experiences and tucked-away corners of the city they love. The website myathens.thisisathens.org profiles the volunteers, answers any questions you may have about the free service and provides a booking tool.
Time for just one museum? Invest an hour or two in the Museum of Cycladic Art. Housed in two interconnected buildings, this museum presents ancient art from across Greece and temporary contemporary art exhibitions. Located on Douka Neofitou, near Syntagma Square, it presents the largest Collection of Cycladic Art in the world, from Mycenaean and Classical eras to modern times. Four floors of artefacts; the first floor offers an incredible display of Cycladic art – the fourth floor presents the daily life of Athenians in ancient days. The Cycladic Café is an oasis of greenery and a charming place for coffee or a light meal. There’s an interesting gift shop as well. www.cycladic.gr
And if shopping is your thing, it’s good to know the winter sales are on in Athens until the end of February. Check out the famous shops in pedestrianised Ermou Street and the offerings at the Attica department store at Panepistimiou 7. Boutique fashions are to be found in the upmarket Kolonaki district.
BEAT THE QUEUES
A useful free app for your mobile phone in Athens: ‘Taxibeat’, a service dreamed up by a group of friends after problems finding late night-transport. Despite initial resistance from the local taxi company, Taxibeat eventually signed up a number of drivers and meshed with the regular Yellow Taxi system; it charges the standard taxi rates but offers some useful options. You can pre-select an English-speaking driver and choose the type of car you prefer. You can book a taxi (although not 24 hours in advance) and there’s no booking fee. At the booking stage choose to pay by cash or card. Rate your driver after your trip. Download the Beat-Ride app for iOS devices at iTunes.
VEGETARIAN AND VEGAN MEALS
Finding a meal a vegetarian or a vegan can enjoy – wherever in the world they travel – has been made a lot easier by HappyCow. Click on to this site, choose your country, then your city, to find a listing of suitable establishments near you. In Athens – a notoriously meat-friendly city – there are 60 listings. The site also highlights the city’s top 10 establishments, based on HappyCow community customer reviews. Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, or just searching for plant-based dining options, there’s something here from breakfast to brunch, dinner to late-night snacking, and every meat-free meal in between.
Carnivores who like nothing better than the sound of a steak sizzling should know that the Apokries (literally good-bye to meat) carnival starts in Athens on 17 February, 2019, the last day of the ESCRS Winter meeting. It continues for the 40 days until Lent. Not as well known as the carnivals of New Orleans or Rio, it is nevertheless a high-spirited festival of food and music leading up to the Greek Orthodox Easter. Street parties under the lights, theatre, dancing and costume parades are part of the mix with each neighbourhood contributing its own original twist. It’s your chance to fill up on barbecue and watch this old city let its hair down. For the schedule of events: www.whyathens.com