During my trip to Athens, I stayed near what is known as the anarchist neighborhood of Exarcheia, where politically-charged murals paint the streets. Here, the touristic vision of the Greek capital melts away into something more local and real.
The area is raw and slightly edgy; from morning until late at night, the streets are thronged with young people drinking Freddo espresso and beer. Coffee and cigarettes seem to replace breakfast, and you can still smoke indoors—which although not a smoker myself, I found somewhat nostalgic and charming. There are bookshops, art galleries, musical instrument shops, and record stores, and I happily ran around the city on foot, dodging traffic and making frequent stops to enjoy coffee and beer like everyone around me.
I was connected with a friend of a friend, Kostis, who manages Greek rap artists and has a radio show with Athens Voice. He took me for the best souvlaki in town, asking if I was a vegetarian after he’d ordered (most of the time, yes, but I break my own rules when I travel and couldn’t miss what turned out to be one of the best kebabs I’ve ever eaten). Over our unforgettable meal, he listed some of the best spots in town, including Latraac, a café run by a skater who incorporated a skate bowl into an outdoor bar, and also a soon-to-be favorite of mine.
It struck me that the younger creative inhabitants are experimenting and making waves in Athens, and in that way, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons between this city and Berlin—not to mention the café culture, dark drinking dens, vibrant art scene, and omnipresence of anti-capitalist graffiti in Athens.
And then there’s the history: It’s everywhere, oozing from every street corner. Perched on its formidable hill, the Acropolis shines like a beacon, and a couple of times I actually got emotional seeing such iconic pieces of history in person. I explored ancient Plaka, little houses on steep streets reminiscent of a Greek island right in the heart of the city, and the quieter but pretty and up-and-coming neighborhoods of Pangrati, Koukai, and Thiseio. And even after seeing so much of the city—the touristed and the local—through my camera’s lens, I left feeling there is still so much more to explore, uncover, and understand.