Welcome!

Welcome to Bold Athens this is a blog about the city of Athens, Greece, my main intent is to show you how wonderful Athens can truly be through informative walks, interesting buildings and places that have caught my eye. The blog categories are Walks, Buildseeing (a play on the words Buildings and Sightseeing :-)), and Bits n’ places (just places and things that i think are worthy of praise).

Why Bold? I guess it just seemed fitting for a city like Athens that shows unwavering resilience and beauty despite some of her shortcomings, as long as you are bold enough to look in the right places!

As the saying goes “luck always favors the bold”

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Athens during WWII Walk

This is a World War II walk of Athens city center starting out at Korai Square where the Ethniki insurance company building is situated and served as the German headquarters during the occupation. The WWII walk is recommended by our local walk lover and World War II enthousiast Andreas G. with 7 places of interest to visit within the city center.

A. The Historical Legacy Site 1941-1944,  situated in the basement of the building of “Ethniki” insurance company at number 4, Korai Square, was used as an interrogation center and detention facility both by the Italians and the Germans. It was an air raid shelter built in the mid 30’s and is now primarily used as a museum with free admission and theatrical plays take place from time to time.

B. Parnasos Literary Society

This building was used during World War II by the Germans who conducted Military Tribunals against citizens that had allegedly violated the austere Nazi Penal Code of that era.

C. Ministry of Transport / “Public” building at Constitution Square 

From this building on the 18th October 1944 the prime minister Georgios Papandreou of the newly established Greek government of “National Unity” gave his liberation speech.

D. On December 3, 1944 in Constitution Square, less than 2 months after the Germans had retreated, a massive pro-EAM (National Liberation Front) rally took place against the government forces. The rally ended violently when Greek government gendarmes, with British forces standing in the background, opened fire on the unarmed demonstrators, killing roughly 28 demonstrators and injuring dozens. These killings signaled the beginning of the “Dekemvriana” events (3rd December 1944 – 11th January 1945)

E. Metochiko Tamio Stratou 

The Greek Army’s Headquarters were situated in the Metochiko Tamio Stratou Building on Panepistimiou Street, close to the Hotel Grande Bretagne on Constitution Square during 1940-1941. Lt. General Ronald Scobie set up his III corps HQ in the same building in 1944 after the liberation.

F. The commemorative plaque on the facade of the building of the Bank of Greece in memory of the 3 University Students (3 girls aged 17,19 and 20) that were killed while demonstrating by German Nazi Tanks on 22nd July 1943.

G. Exarcheia, 47 Didotou Street 

The building at number 47 on Didotou Street was chosen as a military base by ELAS (The National People’s Liberation Army), the military arm of the left-wing National Liberation Front (EAM) during the “Dekemvriana”  (December Events) of WWII in Athens. The building was chosen as a temporary base for ELAS since it was situated directly opposite the ” Chimeio” (State Laboratory) building which was the temporary military operations base of the group Organization X, also known as “Chítes“, the extreme right paramilitary militia group, and many battles between the two opposite groups took place in the area.

Bios in Bauhaus

One of my favorite buildings in the center of Athens is the one that houses the Bios bar right on busy Pireos Street. The building itself is an architectural experience, making it so much more than just a bar.

As one might notice there are obvious Bauhaus influences that can be seen from the rounded-out balconies and the simplicity that the building effortlessly displays.

This exterior simplicity is enhanced by an elegant and functional interior, the floors are decorated with specks of colored marble that greets you at the building’s entrance. The wide twisting staircase leads to the building’s other floors including the open-air terrace at the top of the building with an unobstructed view of the acropolis. The staircase is stylish yet seems to maintain its basic function, that of carrying you up and down the three story building.

The view from the balcony on the first floor is that of a well-maintained neoclassical house exactly across the street and is one of only a few that are this well kept and can be found in the wider neighborhood towards Monastiraki square.

The building’s spaciousness and versatility also lends itself for various events along with the small theatrical stage / auditorium on the ground floor behind the main bar that occasionally houses local plays and events.

P.S: in the summertime the buildings open-air terrace is open to the public and the bar on the ground floor is closed

Thai in Piraeus

Thai in Piraeus…i was tempted to play around with the words Thai and Piraia but that really didn’t work out that well so i am sticking to this unimaginative title of Thai in Piraeus. Beside the fact that i have no creativity and lack imagination this place is one of my favorite Thai places in Athens or rather in Piraeus. Rouan Thai is a restaurant run by immigrants from Thailand that serves authentic Thai dishes along with a selection of Chinese and multi-Asian dishes, there is also an extensive list of Asian beers.

 

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I tried Sapporo which is a Japanese beer, it really was better than i expected!

 

This place is situated in a rather decadent and quiet street in Piraeus upon which you would never expect to find such great authentic food at very cheap prices compared to all of the overpriced multi-ethnic and Thai food restaurants you would find in places like Kifisia and Kolonaki!

Check out the restaurant on Tripadvisor and see reviews.

Another favorite ethnic cuisine restaurant in the same neighborhood is a really cool Indian place and i will have to do a separate post on that pretty soon…

 

 

 

Gardens and Recreation

 

A visit to the Athens national gardens can turn into a good opportunity for you to try out your talents in photography or sketching if that happens to be your thing.

Many groups of aspiring photographers take day trips to the gardens to help them practice their newly acquired skills.

 

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Photograph of one of the many arches in the park

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Coal sketch of the same part of the garden

The national garden in Athens is a nice green escape from the bustling city streets and is easy to access from the metro station in Syntagma square.

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Map of the gardens at the main entrance to guide you along.

 

There are many different trees and various plant species to see (all of which are labeled so if you want to improve your latin tree/plant name skills this is the place to be) which will most definitely make you feel like you are far away from the city center.

 

The palm trees at the entrance that will transport you straight to the boulevards of L.A.

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Apart from walking, jogging or just sitting on benches feeding the birds, there are also many great goat watching opportunities (and duck watching as well) in the small zoo-like area of the park.

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Lastly, if all of these reasons don’t seem to be significant enough to visit the garden, then you might want to know that it once belonged to royalty and was commissioned by Queen Amalia in 1838 and completed by 1840. It was oficially opened to the public in the 1920’s and renamed “National Garden” so all of us that although not of royal descent we might all the same feel like royalty and deserve to visit this beautiful park.

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The Royal Garden in 1905

Read more about the park here- Royal Gardens, Wikipedia

56 BAR meets Galaxy Bar

A well kept secret in kolonaki is 56 Bar, a hidden (literally behind shrubs and trees) old fashioned bar positioned on the top of the steps where Ploutarchou street meets Kleomenous and is just 10 mins walking distance from the Lycabetus hill in the Kolonaki area of Athens.

 

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Must warn, it’s quite hard to find the place if you are not intentionally looking for it but i guess the owner’s prefer it that way. bar5

 

There is a multitude of old jazz legends adorning the walls on top of the decadent paisley wallpaper with matching table clothes to boot.

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There is also an old piano if anyone is in the mood for an impromptu serenade.

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The patrons vary from people that seem to have been coming here all their lives to very new ones (myself included) that have just discovered this place and are quite taken with what it has to offer compared to the other bars and cafes in the neighborhood.

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Cognac is always a good idea! They have a few good brands to choose from.

 

 

 

Not far away near Syntagma square is another hidden bar on Stadiou street right before the City link building and opposite the old parliament building.

Galaxy bar (not to be confused with the other Galaxy bar on the rooftop of the Athens Hilton) is just as hard to find as 56 Bar as it is hidden in an arcade with other odd stores and shops but once you see it’s retro sign at the door you will know you’re in the right place!

 

Galaxy bar is also old fashioned and has the same jazzy feel to it with many old photos of the bar’s regulars on the walls, both famous and not.

They also serve simple drinks that will be appreciated by those who are not big fans of cocktails and anything fancy.

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Toulouse Lautrec poster above the bar.

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Toulouse Lautrec everywhere…

 

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Cognac addiction!

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Despite their similarity both bars are unique in the way they have preserved their authenticity giving you a glimpse of a different era that you wish you could be a part of and for a finite moment in time you can actually say that you are.

 

 

House with a View

Make sure to add this neoclassical building on the corner of the streets Dimitriou Aiginitou and Otrineon in the Plaka district to your list of buildings to see when visiting the wider vicinity of the Thissio-Plaka-Monastiraki neighborhoods.

 

Plaka, Neoclassical

The impressive convex corner window and balcony stands out and gives this building a bit of grandiosity. The cool colors of stone grey and faded turquoise blend in well with the rest of the surroundings in the neighborhood but allow it to stand out at the same time.

 

The classical high reliefs above the windows and doors add an extra dose of personality along with the black iron cast balconies parts of which have survived the stresses of time however others were not as resilient as one can see below.

Plaka, Neoclassical

While you’re in this area of the historical city center it would be a good opportunity to visit the National Observatory of Athens in Thissio which is situated atop the hill of the Nymphs and has a great view of the city and the Acropolis.

For details about visiting hours and English speaking tours of the observatory click on the link below which will take you to the National Observatory of Athens main website.

National Observatory of Athens

 

Neoclassical corner house

This week’s Buildseeing feature of the week is an impressive neoclassical building in the Exarchia neighborhood on the corner of Emmanouil Benaki street and Arachovis. The house is in pretty good condition compared to other neoclassical buildings in the area the majority of which are abandoned or in shabby condition.

 

Exploring Kalidromiou Street

As we were walking down Kalidromiou street in Exarchia last Saturday, which is one of the largest main streets in the neighborhood, we stumbled upon the weekly open air market .The market on Kalidromiou street is a place for locals to do their weekly grocery shopping but it is also used as an excuse to meet and get a coffee afterwards at one of the many cafes. Most of the time their randezvous doesn’t end there, the coffee drinking ritual usually turns into a tsipouro drinking late night as they get caught up in riveting conversations.

 

One of the buildings you can’t miss on Kalidromiou Street is the abandoned Aiolos neoclassical building. It is rather an oddity among the other buildings towering over the rest with a lost grandeur of years past. At night it almost seems haunted, exuding an eerie ambiance. Unfortunately it is not in very good condition and despite my efforts to find old pictures of the building and perhaps who it might of belonged to I have not been very successful.

 

 

At the end of Kalidromiou street we arrive at the crossroads of four streets, Kalidromiou, Ioustinianou, Oikonomou and Deligianni. This is the exact spot that the last dramatic scene of the legendary movie “Stella” starring Melina Merkouri was filmed by director Michalis Kakogiannis. Also on the corner of the streets Oikonomou and Deligianni there was a taverna named “Michalakou” that was transformed into a nightclub called “O Paradisos” (paradise) for the needs of the movie.

 Kalidromiou, Ioustinianou, Oikonomou and Deligianni

 

 

Kalidromiou street has a collection of various buildings ranging from old neoclassical to more modern constructions with bauhaus architecture prevalent. Despite the diversity they all manage to co-exist nicely as you can see for yourselves.

The street is at the foothills of Strefi hill and along the length of Kalidromiou there are 4 stairs that lead up to the hill top. The hill of course is visually blocked by the buildings that are situated at the foothills. You also have a distant view at the end of Kalidromiou Street of Mount Lycavitos and the 19th century Chapel of St. George situated on top.

 

The Exarchia neighborhood is also well known for its street art and is the preferred place for artists to convey their messages. It definitely is not a part of town that likes to be censored or constrained.  Artists find it to be the perfect place to freely express themselves, create and be inspired.

Street Art by Oré Art

 

For all of you gaming geeks there is a real cool store on Kalidromiou street called Kaissa, that is the largest supplier of board games in Greece. The store on Kalidromiou street was the company’s first store when they started out in 1985. In the beginning they started by supplying chess boards and accessories and then slowly branched out into other board games, collectible card games, strategy games and role playing games.

 

 

The Historical Building on Bouboulinas Street

The building situated at 20-22, Bouboulinas Street behind the National Archaeological Museum is definitely impressive as it takes up an entire neighborhood block, but besides the obvious architectural interest, it has a rather bleak and dark past. This apartment building was used during the axis occupation for various atrocities that mainly took place on the rooftop, where inmates were regularly tortured. Today the building houses the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports.

The building was built in 1932 based on architectural plans by Kyprianos Biris, who later on became a professor at the National Polytechnic University of Athens. The building towers over the museum at 5 floors tall and has two arcades including 3 indoor atriums helping sufficient light and air flood in and reach the 46 apartments in total. It was also one of the first buildings to have the so called “Erker” forms with linear windows that protrude in a box like manner from the façade and when opened give off the impression of a balcony. The apartment building is situated on the crossroads of 3 streets, Bouboulinas, Kountourioti and Zaimi. A good example of early modernism in architecture which blossomed during the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, using simplified architectural lines, minimal shapes, clear forms without any unnecessary details. Spaces are created to cater to the needs of the modern urban dweller without any stylistic exaggerations adopting a “form follows function” dictum that accentuates the actual utility of form over superfluous design. Early modernism in architecture was characteristically expressed by Le Corbusier in France , Constructivism in Russia, Bauhaus architecture in Germany with Walter Gropius as the founder of the Bauhaus school in Berlin that was shut down during the rise of Hitler in the 1930’s.

 

 

Number Nine

 

This neglected neoclassical building stands out from its dull and lifeless neighbors. It was once the home of Greek theater director Karolos Koun (Kuhn) (September 13 1908- February 14,1987).  He was an acclaimed theater director throughout Europe and founded in 1942 the experimental Art Theater and drama school.

This beautiful building situated on 9, Zoodochou Pigis street is near the corner of busy Solonos street, in the Exarchia district. Although the building at number nine has definitely seen better days it still has a sort of je ne sais quoi quality about it. Most likely the architectural design by architect Elias A. Kourmoulis from Smyrna has given it the classical quality it holds till this day.

On the façade of the building the graffiti laden plaques that can easily be missed, explain to whom the house once belonged to and who the architect was.

Just a piece of info that might be of interest, Karolos Koun worked with famed actress Melina Mercouri, who played Blanche Dubois, in the play A Streetcar named Desire which was staged by Koun’s Art Theater.  (Source: wikipedia)

“Πρέπει να πιστεύουμε στα θαύματα για να γίνουν θαύματα. Πρέπει να ξεφύγουμε από κάθε μαρασμό, δυσπιστία, άρνηση και εγωκεντρισμό, για να βοηθήσουμε να ξεπετάξει ο μικρός θεός που ο καθένας κρύβει μέσα του.” -Κάρολος Κούν.

 

“We must believe in miracles to make miracles happen. We must be free of the fetters of failure, disbelief, negativity and the ego in order to help the small god that everyone hides inside spring forth.”