Athens – If it’s not a ‘hell yes’ it normally means it’s a…. By Dawn Simone

Rachel from Food Around Athens told me that Athens is like marmite, you either love or hate it. I must admit – it did feel a bit like that! Some areas I loved, and others, well, let’s just say the touristy-vibe and street-hustle wasn’t my vibe. On the plus side, I felt safe walking around by myself. There’s so much diversity that one minute you’re walking on an edgy street, and the next you find an oasis and in awe of archaeological ruins before walking into a lively hip area with bars, music, and chatter from the many coffee bars. Athens is a small city full of contrast.

Being smaller than I imagined, Athens is extremely walkable. I spent every day exploring the city by foot. You can be taking photos at the top of Lycabettus Hill with its incredible 306 degree views stretching over the whole of Athens. Walk down and across to the other side and you’ll be visiting the Acropolis in less than an hour, with a couple of ice cream stops on the way (I fell in love with both the coconut and pistachio ice cream…to.die.for!)

Athen’s had its share of bad luck (as with most of the world). After picking itself back up from the economic crisis in 2009, the pandemic has now hit businesses hard – I could see it on the faces of some of the people I met. Passion seemed to be replaced with an urgency to obtain a sale before the summer season was over, especially with the local sightseeing and tourist tours who suffered throughout what’s usually their busiest months. Athens is usually a very busy tourist area.

Whilst seeking out some alternative and authentic activities I met Kallipoli (@awesome_athens_expeiences) who generously showed me a side of Athens I didn’t know existed. As a passionate photographer, lover of street art, history, and travel, she walked me through the trendy, cool, traditional, alternative and retro areas and filled me with the stories behind each piece of art that donned walls, sides of buildings, fronts of buildings, and shop doorways to name just a few – whilst showing me the non-touristy parts of Athens. It was a truly memorable day that ended at a new trendy girly cafe over vegan carrot cake and freddo cappuccinos with almond milk.

I went to Aegina with Kallipoli, an island famous for its rich history, unspoilt landscape and its pistachio cultivation – just an hour’s ferry ride away from Athens. After a very windy crossing (we picked the windiest day to go!), stepping off the boat felt like stepping into a different time zone. It was completely zen compared to the busy traffic and honking horns of Athens. Tiny winding streets filled with arts and crafts, restaurants, and upscale pistachio shops selling nut butters and pastes, pesto, ice cream and even liqueurs. We explored the island and found things move from little fishing villages to expensive villas and ancient ruins. We spoke to locals and women owned restaurants, shops, bars, silver and pottery makers and cooks with secret recipes. We wanted to travel to another island 5 minutes away (where we could hike into the hills to see wild deer, peacocks and other small wildlife) but the boat wasn’t up for the windy weather that day, but even without that we had a fun relaxing day.

Even with the street art and views, Athens remains a touristy city. Despite visiting out of season and during a pandemic, it was still swarming. I’m sure staying just outside of Athens and visiting local villages would have made a huge difference, so I still have more investigating to do before it becomes a Sia Mondo destination. I wished the “coffee reading” experience I had was authentic and that I managed to go truffle foraging (the guide was in Crete visiting a family member who contracted Covid). So, while it was a “nice” getaway, I’m still on the hunt for (and crafting) a soulful, genuine and adventurous travel experience. But once I find it, you’ll be the first to know.

Dawn Simone, Founder of Sia Mondo Escapes