They don’t understand me at the local cafe

 

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Unfortunately I don’t speak Greek, a situation I hope to remedy over the next 3 years.

When I take the dog for a walk and the obligatory  espresso freddo  we communicate via the English language. Much appreciated by me!

What confuses shop keepers and cafe owners is what the hell am I doing hanging around  in Athens during the summer  holiday period.

Conversations usually go this way:

What are you doing here in Athens?

My wife has a job here and we will be here for at least 3 years.

But why would you do that?

Because it is exciting and a new experience for us to live here.

Ok. When are you going to an island?

I am not sure. We have just arrived in Athens and  my wife has just started and it is the busiest time of year for her?

Are you going tomorrow?  Which island will you go to?

You get the gist. There was a two week period in August when I think we were  close to the only people left in this city.

We haven’t been to an island yet. (Last time we were in Greece we did have a weekend break in Santorini – brilliant!).

We will do it soon. I am confident. In the meantime we have been exploring the coast on the mainland close to Athens.

Here are some highlights.

IMG_0311.JPGLake  Vouliagmeni  (sunken lake) in the heart of the Athenian Riviera, 20km south of the city, is a warm water lake and a therapeutic spa. It has a load of seats with umbrellas around the edge and boasts food and drink table service. Small fish bite at your feet while  you are swimming removing the dead skin cells. An interesting experience.

img_0423On a recent weekend we  hired a car and ventured further. This time to Cape Sounion, 69km south-southeast of Athens.Weirdly we didn’t end up swimming this time, just couldn’t find a beach that suited, but we came across some stunning scenery , views of the Aegean and the Temple of Poseidon ruins pictured.

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I have left the best for last as far as the perfect Sunday outing. Last weekend we went to Porto Germeno, 48km northwest of Athens, a coastal settlement surrounded by forested mountains.

A relaxing swim in the strikingly blue sea and a pleasant Greek seafood lunch at a beachside taverna. Hard to beat.

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img_0425We have just purchased a car. More day trips are on the cards and island holidays in the planning. I promise!

Cheers and Yiassas

 

A trip to the barber made my mind up.

image.jpeg(Photo courtesy Lord of the Blades Facebook page)

The return of the old school barber has been bubbling for the last few years. First it was hipsters with Ned Kelly style beards. Now males everywhere are ditching the unisex hairdresser for an environment where men can be blokes and still receive a quality service.

The shop where you can crack jokes that push political correctness boundaries, talk sport, politics and anything else that comes to mind has become fashionable again worldwide.

I am a fan of the old school barber and I am glad that Athens has embraced the revival.  It is a place where men can get some intense care for their beards and hair and pretend that they are not bothered about appearance.

Curiously 60s to 80s rock is the soundtrack of choice for these establishments both here  in Athens and back in Australia. I have heard everything from the Doors to Bon Jovi as the number 2 razor buzzes around my head.

The  scene is set for a good half hour or so of laughs and music except for one slightly important issue. In Athens I can’t understand what the barbers or the customers are  saying or for that matter are chuckling about.

Is it me they are poking fun at? Probably not but you never know.

I am pretty sure this is not the case as the Greeks I have met have been friendly and respectful.

I am desperate to know what they are saying  though so now the Greek language lessons are an immediate priority.

I want to genuinely laugh along with the rest of the guys!

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(Photo courtesy of the Lord of the Blades -my local barber – Facebook page)

Cheers and Giassas

Stu

Five things I have learned living in Athens

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1. It is all about the people

Despite the much reported financial crisis and high unemployment in Greece the people of Athens really do  care about each other.

Whether it is money problems, poor health or other stresses people are willing to give a coin, lend a hand or offer sage advice when called upon.

Athenians love spending  time with each other and their enthusiasm for socialising doesn’t seem to have been dampened by the weak economy.

Revellers head out to eat and party at about the same time I am thinking about bed.

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2. Athens has gone to the dogs

Dogs are very much loved and respected in Athens. Street dogs are fat, happy and well cared for.

The local government here regularly rounds them up, tags them and provides free vet services.

Pets have free access to a a lot of venues and my dog Scamper has never been fussed over as much as she has in Athens

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3. Football fans have real passion

Athens has three major football teams, Olympiacos, AEK and Panathinaikos. The rivalry between the clubs is fierce. So heated that games have been played in empty stadiums with fans locked out due what has been deemed to unruly behaviour.

Graffiti for Panithanaikos FC and their supporter group Gate 13 is visible on walls everywhere I look.

I am genuinely intrigued about the match atmosphere and supporter passion. Hope to be at a game soon.

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4. Cold coffee is the best

After visiting Athens last year in April I was determined not to join the entire population of Athens and become a frappe fanatic.

After a few unsatisfying hot coffees in 36 degree heat I gave an “Espresso Freddo” a go and haven’t  looked back.

Definitely the go in summer I am now not sure if I will return to ordering a macchiato or cappuccino at least until the weather gets cold.

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5. Get out of Athens in August

Athens  literally dies in August which can be great for a newcomer getting around what is normally a busy city.

Problem is everything closes down. Shopkeepers, service providers and anyone else that you can think of all head to the islands to escape the heat and questions about ” why you are still in Athens.”

Next August even if I don’t get to an island  I will make sure I am cooling off in water somewhere outside of this city.

Cheers and Giassas

Stu

 

 

Stumbling through Gate 13

As I walk along the streets in the northern suburbs of Athens there is graffiti calling to me and drawing me in.

image.jpegThe 13 in this picture refers to Gate 13 the Panithanaikos supporters union founded in 1966. Gate 13 is also where hardcore fans met  outside the stadium for games and is the entry point for the “cheap seats” when watching a Panathinaikos FC game.

image.jpegSport for me is the emotion of  supporting your team through the highs and lows. Generally more lows than highs in the case of the teams I follow.

Before I came to Athens I looked at the football clubs I could  support.

Olympiacos – the most successful club in Greek football but over on the other side of Athens in Pireaus so that counted against them. Also as mentioned I  don’t  support teams because they are consistently successful. I have to feel an affinity.

AEK – had a lot of appeal because their colours are black and gold (also the colours of the mighty Balmain Tigers) and they were founded by immigrants from Turkey.

Panithanaikos – my local team, the stadium is in walking distance, founded in 1908 (as were the Tigers) their ground is run down, lots of atmosphere with supporters almost on top of players (sounds like Leichhardt Oval).

In the end I think the artists of Athens made the choice for me.

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image.jpegThe passion of fans  at Panathinaikos FC games particularly when it is a local derby has led to bans and games being played in empty stadiums with fans  “locked out.”

I haven’t been to a game yet but I am looking forward to a wild and exciting experience with lots of noise, colour  and quality Greek football.  “Take a crash helmet” is advice I have been given.

image.jpegCheers and Giassas

Stu

My big fat Olympic decision.

image.jpegWhile debate rages over whether Russian athletes should be competing in Rio, the state of the Olympic village facilities and the risks of the Zika virus I have a big decision to make. Where in Athens, the home of the modern Olympics, am I going to watch all the action?

After appointing myself Chef de Mission for this decision I went to where it all started in 1896, the Panathenaic Stadium.

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On a hot day I did a circuit of the track.

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Then finally settled for bronze.

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Having worked for the organisation that funds and supports Australia’s Olympic athletes for the last 6 years I am keen to see how it all plays out in Rio.

So where will I watch? With my still limited knowledge of the bars of Athens I narrowed it down to 3 venues:

The Wee Dram – a Scottish pub close to where Iive but unfortunately closed for August. ( August in Athens is like January in CanberrA – everything shuts down and residents go to the coast or in this case the islands.)

The James Joyce- a friendly Irish pub where I watched the last Origin game.

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The Athens Sports Bar – owned by Aussies from Perth for that green and gold hospitality.

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On balance I think I will hop between the 2 venues.

Greece finished 75th in London and is sending 95  athletes to Rio.

Australia was eventually placed 8th in the 2012 games after race walker Jared Tallent was awarded Gold retrospectively. The Aussies have selected a large squad of 419 competitors.

I will be following both countries with great interest.

So let’s get the viewing started!

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Cheers and Giassas

Stu

 

Are the grungy areas the best part of a city?

Athens has its fair share of great tourist sites. The Acropolis, Parthenon and Panthenaic Stadium quickly come to mind, along with a host of world class museums and galleries.

After a couple of visits to this city, the area that excites me the most is immediately south of Monastiraki Square commonly known as the “flea market”.

Walking through the laneways with initial stalls selling t-shirts, shoes and suitcases, you will quickly reach a point where the  shops are hawking second hand goods. Records, books, furniture and retro household items greet you in every nook and cranny.

This is a grungy world only metres but on the other hand a thousand miles away from Ermou street the bustling modern shopping strip popular with the people of Athens.

A local told me about a bar in the area I might like to try. I went a round the block 3 times before I found it. It is called Taf Metamatic.

Once through the door you find yourself in a sunny courtyard bar or beer garden as I like to think of it.


The bar was fairly quiet while I sat and sipped on my pint of beer, but I have a feeling night time is when it fills up.

A pleasant afternoon drinking beer surrounded by the rustic charm of this art gallery come hidden courtyard  bar.

A good find in my favourite area of Athens. 

I have barely scratched the surface on the “hidden” delights this place has to offer.

Cheers and Giassas

Stu

Mex in the heart of Athens and Jimmy the Greek/American

I really do love Greek food and I have been eating plenty including the best souvlaki I have ever had at Kostas in Pentellis street. More about that later.

We decided to mix it up and try a Mexican place called Taqueria Maya recently and came away very happy.

“Props” to my daughter Milly  for her research and choice.

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The restaurant is in a side lane off the bustling Ermou street shopping strip.

We started with a margarita. Best one I have had since a work trip to Mexico City and that was a while ago.

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From there it only got better. I ordered the Cubano  based on a movie called Chef where a guy travels around the US selling Cuban sandwiches. I have wanted to try one ever since. A tasty and spicy meal.

However the winner on the night was Milly’s chicken burrito. The corn chips are good too!

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On of the best features of the place is the friendly guy behind the counter and rattling the pans Jimmy.

A Greek American from Connecticut (surely the best pedigree for a Mexican chef) Jimmy says he speaks 2 languages,  Greek and American. Although I am sure I heard a bit of Spanish banter with some customers.

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A good night at Taqueria Maya. We will be back for sure.

To top off the international evening in Athens we then walked around the corner for gelato to Le Greche in Mitropoloes street. Le Greche means “the Greek woman” in Italian I think.

We backed a winner again!

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Cheers and Giassas

Stu

It’s Friday – Market Day

Yesterday was market day in the Athens suburb where I am living, Paleo Psychiko.

image.jpegFarmers markets have been a welcome addition to the lives and stomachs of many Australians including me. The market at EPIC in Canberra is one of the best.

In Athens the “laiki agora” have been around since 1929 to prevent the “middlemen” taking all the profits from the primary producers.

They occur on specific days for each neighbourhood.

Mine is on Fridays and it is 3 minutes away (just down the hill).

image.jpegThe fruit and vegetables are high quality and  a fair bit cheaper than the local shops.

I bought zucchini and green beans which I cooked last night and ate with aged steaks. Very nice!

image.jpegI also got a bit loose and bought a heap of oranges which I juiced this morning. The family verdict again was positive.

image.jpegI experienced  an amazing moment with Yiannis who sells eggs telling me about his hard life in Athens and then refusing to let me pay. Greeks appear to have generosity in their DNA.

image.jpegI bought too many things early in the piece including some good looking cherries and peaches leaving me with a tougher walk back up the hill to the apartment.

Next time I will try the fish.

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Cheers and Giassas

Stu

 

The dog, the heat, Origin and RL in Greece

Our dog (Scamper) arrived in Athens from Canberra, where it has been snowing recently, to the furnace with temperatures up to 36 degrees.

Scamper is spending a lot of time in front of the air conditioning while we all adjust.

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The alternative to beat the heat is swimming so the girls and I went to the pool at the Hilton Hotel (very classy pool with matching prices).

While  I hung out at the bar drinking Espresso Freddo ( I have caught the Greek bug for cold espresso coffee).

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The girls actually went in the pool and relaxed on the deck chairs. This was the view for them.

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I was contacted late last week by a Greek Australian, George, who is heavily involved with rugby league in Greece inviting me to watch the Origin game at an Irish pub (The James Joyce).

I felt like I was in Australia at the pub watching the game and talking rugby league. George, Jim (Tigers fan) and the other Greek guys love their footy and are real enthusiasts about the game.

The game in Greece has undergone political maneuvering and break away factions in recent times, both elements common to  rugby league generally and this country.

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Rugby League in Greece ( @rlgreece on FB ) will have 5 teams for next season and George has hinted that there is a club coaching vacancy if  I am keen. (Never say never!) We will see.

(Selfie photo below courtesy Jim Minadakis)

image.jpgOn a sadder note my elder daughter Lucy went back to Canberra for school yesterday but we will see her again late September. She will be missed.

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So as the sun sets on another scorcher in Athens.

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Cheers and Giassas

Stu

@discomclennan on Twitter

 

 

 

Athens – the first week

I arrived in Athens a week ago with my wife and family so it is time to start the blog.

We are here for at least 3 years and I couldn’t be happier about it.

My passions are sport and food with a bit of music so I am thinking that is what I will write about.

So far we have moved in to a nice apartment in Paleo Psychiko which is a quiet leafy suburb in the northern suburbs of Athens.

I have made myself familiar at the local shops using my almost non-existent Greek language  skills, relying on the  owners’ English  skills.

I have found the cafe where I  think will spend a lot of time with our dog Scamper who arrives tonight hopefully OK after a long arduous flight.

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I was also impressed  with the local butcher’s paper bags – yeah I know small things and no I don’t know what it says.

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So last night we went to an embassy function at a very cool bar with a food truck inside called 48 Urban Garden.

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On the way I literally stumbled across the home ground of the Panathinaikos football club. The ground looks eery and intimidating but I can’t wait to get to a game and feel the experience.

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Impressions so far- the Greeks have been incredibly friendly and welcoming and the food is sensational.

Priorities for me are seeking work and learning as much of the language as I can in a short space of time. Meanwhile I am enjoying the ride.

Cheers and Giassas

Stu