greece guide

Getting around in Athens

As the spring arrives with sunny days, almond trees flourishing , the smell of the flowers in the air and the winter clothes taking slowly their way to the wardrobe, I can't say that this winter didn't gave us some really beautiful days like those in February with the surprising snow in Athens who gave us a couple of magical days with the usual grey Athens covered in white and a bright blue sky afterwards. It was on the 17th February that it began to snow and continued throughout the following day, leaving the city wrapped in a blanket of thick snow by the night of the 18th. We knew it was coming, warnings had been given out on the 16th that a polar system was coming our way. Meteorologists were interviewed on television about this further bizarre effect of the La Nina phenomenon that, unusually this time, turned its stream from Scandinavia to Greece.
This coincided with another polar front which came our way from Russia. As a result, we saw unbelievable temperatures in many areas of Greece. Most unusual was the temperatures on many Greek islands.

Evia in the Cyclades, for example, saw snowfall in some areas that was over a meter and, even more unusual, was the experience of Crete which saw temperatures drop below zero. In Athens we had, in the early morning hours of the 17th February, temperatures with minus degrees .5-6 C.
In the early hours of that morning of the first snowfall, in our western suburb of Athens, I looked out of the balcony to see a gentle falling of snowflakes and I thought it will all have disappeared by morning to be a normal grey winter's day. But around 2 am I looked out again and it was amazing.

Having lived in northern Europe for many years, for one moment I thought I had been transported back in time to my winters in northern Germany and Denmark . Like a child, I stayed awake almost the whole night waiting to see if it would still be there the next morning and, yes, next morning dawned and it was the perfect scenery of a white Christmas: thick white snow covering everything, whilst a glorious sun was shining in a clear blue sky. I can't ever remember seeing such thick snow in our neighbourhood even as a child many years ago.

My father, too, who was born in Piraeus in 1929, agreed that this was something he had never experienced before in his lifetime, even when most of the west and north suburbs of Athens and Piraeus were just empty green fields. Anyway the first thing I did, after the family had woken up, was to take my wife and go to our local square and enjoy a cappuccino at one of our local cafeterias. The square was amazing with the fountains and their neighbouring plants looking like crystallised waterfalls. Children and the older people were out playing and revelling in the snow and snowmen and snow-women had 'mushroomed' all over the neighbourhood. Schools were closed and so were many of the shops and offices in the area with a consequence that there was no traffic, no buses, no taxis - only the metro was functioning. The few cars that were on the roads were those that had foreseen the climatic change and invested in snow chains in order to get about.

As the morning progressed the bright sunshine and general busyness of the metropolis began to slowly melt some of the snow on the main roads and suddenly, out of nowhere, loomed an empty taxi. We decided at that moment to jump in and go into the centre of Athens to take a snowy excursion to Monastiraki , the Parliament square, Plaka and go up to the Acropolis. What a wonderfully, special day it turned out to be. We were so lucky to find that taxi and it took us all the way to Monastiraki and so started our Athens sightseeing with snow.

On our arrival I took some amazing pictures with the Agora , the Stoa of Attalos and the Acropolis covered in snow. We were not alone hundreds of Athenians were taking advantage of the unexpected day off from work and school and, although it was Monday and although many of the TV channels had advised people to stay at home in order to avoid typical slippery snow accidents, in typical Greek fashion, people had ignored advice and warnings and ventured out to enjoy this strange phenomenon. Although it was busy, the fact that there was very little traffic and the peace and stillness that snow brings, this place was filled with an eerie hush, where all sounds were reabsorbed into the banks of crystalline snow heaped about us.

We enjoyed a sunny Monastiraki and from there we took the metro to Syntagma. Hundreds of locals and winter tourists were taking pictures of the Greek guards of the unknown solder monument, although by midday the snow in Amalias Street had already melted. We walked from there to Plaka and stopped for an ouzo at Byzantino, my favourite restaurant in Plaka at Filomouson Square. From there we decided to go up to Anafiotika, the small quarter of Plaka, that is a small Anafi village in the heart of Athens. Struggling on the slippery steps, caked with compacted snow and ice, we did it , Just enjoy the pictures from Anafiotika here.

Walking through the winding narrow streets of Anafiotika we managed to safely arrive under the Acropolis and went on to ascend the Areopagos Hill using the newly built steps and not from the slippery ancient rock ones. The panorama from here, which I have seen many times before, was transformed into something barely recognisable as my city.

All the Attica mountains were covered in snow: Hymmetus , Parnitha , Penteli and Aegaleo - a Christmas postcard or an Alpine scene. We went down to Areopagitou Street and had one more ouzo at the open air cafes in Thiseio. Finding a taxi from this area is not easy in clement weather but today it was impossible. Instead we took the good old ISAP train to Piraeus and from there as more taxis were on the road by then, we went back home to tuck into a big warming bowl of my mother's delicious bean soup, the best winter food. Also enjoy a nice Video I took from Monastiraki after the snow was gone and the sun was shining on the bright blue sky of Attica.