By ANTHEE CARASSAVA - MAGAZINE " TIME " OCTOBER 15, 2001
SO, YOU'VE HIKED UP THE ACROPOLIS, TOURED the ancient Agora and struck a snapshot pose at the grounds where Pericles once preached the wonders of democracy. You've bought a lamp of Aphrodite with a clock mounted in her belly, and you've paid $8.99 for a slice of mousaka that tastes like the rubber Parthenon you picked up for the folks back home. What next?
Get out, out of the tourist rat runs and into Psirri and Votanikos. There lie the liveliest new quarters of old Athens. Once home to the country's best craftsmen, Psirri, a honeycomb of one-room workshops, barbershops, tobacconists and tanneries, has been revamped and gentrified, gracefully. Humble huts are now trendy ouzeri and cafes. Warehouses have become fashionable nightclubs. Neoclassical buildings with gateways onto verdant courtyards have been converted to stylish galleries and quaint taverns. That uneasy coexistence between the district's old and new, its mix of shabby and swish, is the area's most lively feature. Look behind the designer glitz and the wrought-iron balconies, and you'll find craftsmen like Constantine Petropoulos, 88, repairing some of the world's oldest gramophones. Walk into the workshop of Dimitris Kokkinelis, one of the last chalcographers in Greece, and watch him hold medals, some of which may be destined for the 2004 Athens Olympics. Stroll into an archaic atelier and observe the casting of copper cauldrons, used to brew ouzo, the potent, anise-flavoured national drink. Or trek to the fringes of Psirri, a few steps beyond the final show of its spanking new hot spots, and discover the 200-year-old bakery of Venetis. The site, dusty and derelict, may be unappealing. But the aroma is alluring, guaranteed to send you straight to the counter for a slice of traditional feta-cheese pie, plus some olive-and -basil bread, plus a taste of those yeast less loaves that nourished the ancient Greeks for eons. Then hit the district's hippest gallery, Epistrofi (meaning "return"), for a view of works by upstart artists, mainly of the Greek Diaspora. And wrap it all up with a visit to Dimitris', one of the oldest barbershops in Athens (sorry ladies, this is a treat for men). There, for a merger $7, you can indulge in a trim-and-a-shave that has shipping titans, politicians and common folk queuing for that timeless "garcon" look. What next? Be daring. Face west, a slant to the south, and walk ahead. Fear not the toe-nipping traffic that suddenly re-emerges. Or the streets hawkers and immigrants who sometimes clog the rugged roads to Votanikos, the thriving trend-setting part of Athens. Within minutes, you'll be stunned by the sight of Athinais, an architectural oasis designed by one of Richard Branson's favorite visionaries, Tom Gazetas. Formerly a silk factory sandwiched between a cluster of auto-repair shops, the 6,500-sq-m stone Athinais in now home to the first museum of ancient Cypriot art in Greece, with one of the rarest collections of its kind in the world. It features a gallery of notable avant-garde art and is home to Red, perhaps the most louse-looking restaurant in town. The plump, red couches have even the most starched of customers slouching like lounge lizards. The wine list would make Dionysus' toes curl, and the nouvelle Greek cuisine is affordable and appetizing. Best of all, it won't taste like the rubber Parthenon you picked up earlier. Athens Tour Athens Walking Tour
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