An October 2003 trip
to Athens by Hal1026
Quote: Athens has more than one aspect to her. Contemporary? Come prepared for a city that parties till dawn. Classical? Athens is a timeless feast for the mind and spirit.
The Sofitel staff combine Greek savvy and warmth with crisp French managerial style to waft new guests easily up to one of the hotel’s 332 rooms or 13 suites above. Sofitel always emphasizes the personal and immediate touch, and this new addition to its brand name is no exception. After a long journey from Miami via London, this traveler was given a knowing look by the portly concierge on duty before dawn and pointed over to the ground floor restaurant for a quick breakfast. The individual care and attention continued throughout several days that included assistance with ferry tickets to the islands, and advice on everything from restaurants in Athens to where the city’s best fast-service photo shop was located in town. Rooms and suites completely insulate guests from the bustle of outside traffic or aircraft; designed with an eye for both efficiency and luxury, they also convey the Gallic insistence on style. Minimalism with warmth might be one way to summarize it: lots of wood paneled surfaces, complementing beige and cream tones everywhere, strategic low key lighting, big fluffy bathrobes and the Roger & Gallet line of toiletries which this traveler has come to swear by. If you can get an executive suite on the seventh or eighth floor, however, the additional cost is certainly worth not only for the larger floor area but also the individual executive lounge and business area for guests on these levels. No question or request about the Greek capital, business services or travel issues are beyond the grasp of the young and enthusiastic staff on-hand round-the-clock at the executive reception.
Athens and its state-of-the-art airport may be among the best connected in southern Europe. While the city center is some 27 kilometers off, Venizelos is linked by both a spanking new superhighway and a metro system that connects Athens and the surrounding areas of Attica province. If you are headed in other directions, such as the islands or beaches, then the airport is just a mere five kilometers from the chic coastal enclave of Porto Rafti, and also about 20 minutes by car or coach to the port of Rafina, from where you take off by ferry or high-speed craft for the islands.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 6, 2004
Sofitel Athens Airport
Venizelos International Airport, Spata
When I returned to Balthazar after some two and a half decades last year, it was without my family and the feeling was quite nostalgic. This time, it was evening, and lanterns here and there glimmered, creating a mysterious and inviting nighttime ambience. We had cocktails at the bar where Athens' trend-setters seem to come still in droves to be seen as much as to drink. The DJ was infusing the room with a livelier air with popular tunes. Still, my eyes and ears kept reverting to that first visit long ago, when I'd sat with family and understood what Athenian fine dining could be all about.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 11, 2004
One of the most inescapable motifs--it's repeated again and again, in various sizes and with minor variations--is the figure of what appears to be a woman. The style is primitive and solid, she is inexpressive, but there is a vulnerability also about the elegant simplicity of the lines. Was she a symbol of her island people? Even a goddess of some sort perhaps? This immense private collection of Nicolas and Ekaterini Goulandris, members of one of Greece's most prominent maritime families, is a great addition to the works of more recent classical periods that have long been housed over at the National Archeological Museum.
On the ground floor is well-stocked museum shop, and adjacent in an open-air courtyard is a nice museum restaurant. Hours: 9:00 a.m. - 2:30 p.m., admission was 3.50 Euros. Tel: 210.722.8321
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 7, 2004
Goulandris Foundation Museum of Cycladic Art
Neofytou Douka 4, Kolonaki
Attraction | "Vouliagmeni Beaches"
You reach Vouliagmeni along a coastal road that takes you by some closer seaside resort towns such as Glyfada and Voula. These towns also have some really nice beach spots but, as they’re somewhat closer to Athens, expect them to be at least if not more crowded than what you encounter at Vouliagmeni. By car, it should only take you about 45-50 minutes drive at most on a normal weekday. On weekends and in summer, be prepared for interesting traffic. In fact, if you go here just for the day in summer you may have the least hassle if you just a hop a bus from the Zappeion (exhibition hall) main bus stop located in the National Gardens in Athens. Slower transport for sure, but certainly also a slice of Greek life along the way as you mingle with every shape, size and background of Athenian on their way out of town.
The main beach at Vouliagmeni is a curving strip of sand set in the mouth of a wide arc of the bay of Vouliagmeni. There are all sorts of water sports available either here or at the other beach in Vouliagmeni, Astir Beach. Astir sits at the northernmost end of the bay, has somewhat nicer sands but the water may also be a bit choppier. Both beaches are maintained by the GNTO authority. Cafes and eating spots are set along the road fronting the main beach. Almost any water sport can be found on Vouliagmeni or at Astir. While the sands can often get crowded in summer months, be here in April, early May or at the end of the season in September and you will have a lot more space to yourself. Staying there: several hotels are close to or fronting the Vouliagmeni bay, including the three five star properties of Astir Palace Hotel and the superior Hotel Armonia. The local number for information at the beach office: Tel 210-9673184-8.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 16, 2004
Athens, Greece 166 71
+30 210 896 2237
Attraction | "Athens' New Mini Museums: Art at Every Level"
Examples of this to stop and savor, giving yourself a moment of respite from the rush of the city: coming or going on your next flight in or out of the new Eleftherios Venizelos Airport, take a brief trip out of time up on the second level of the gleaming new airport. Here you can step into the newly opened airport in-house museum, displaying an impressive permanent collection of some 172 ancient objects that span the Neolithic to the Post-Byzantine periods. They haven’t moved far from where they were discovered, since all were excavated during the airport’s construction in the Messogheia area of the Attica plain. Relics of everyday life including vases, tools, sculptures and signs can now be viewed, unearthed from their long sleep among altars, graveyards, streets and homes of the Archaic period, cottages and villas of the Roman and Byzantine eras, and fortresses and churches such as Aghios Pavlos, which originally stood where airplanes land today and was relocated nearby. This reappearance of long hidden treasure into the stream of life happens again even in some of Athens’ newly opened metro stops. Rushed for time to complete a transportation and facilities system for a modern Olympics, the Greeks made an artful virtue out of necessity and constructed small museum spaces whenever they hit upon some cache of ancient objects. Most likely to be among those you can pause to marvel at is the museum display at the Syntagma Square metro station. It’s fortunate that time and nature hid so much for so long, allowing a newborn Greece to emerge again and Greek pride to lovingly share so many new yet ancient marvels with the world again right on home soil, where they were created and where they remain to tell their tale again.
Notes: The Airport museum opens daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., with entrance at Gate 3.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on August 18, 2004
New Mini Museums: Art at Every Level
Kifissia: This random approach to getting acquainted with an Athens neighborhood was something I fell into unintentionally on my most recent visit back to Athens when I wound up in the suburb of Kifissia. The original plan was to find the new Olympic stadium that had been built nearby in Maroussi, then walk around the exterior and take a few pictures. Instead, I got off the new metro service at a station called Irini and was instantly lost, in spite of maps, in spite of several verbal directions from English speakers in surrounding shops. The huge stadium was nowhere to be seen; the interesting thing was that I got to know Kifissia rather extensively in one afternoon of walking around that wasn’t at all unpleasant and probably more interesting than a stadium exterior. This was suburban, upscale Athens, a sprawling mix of traditional architecture and the occasional older, stately homes on residential streets, while the commercial areas were filled with pleasant outdoor cafes, restaurants, gyms, bars, boutiques selling the latest fashions from other EU capitals.
Kolonaki: The longtime centrifugal point for Athens’s social, political and business elites, Kolonaki has held its own over the decades I’ve known it. Seemingly a lot busier, the traffic much crazier than 20 years ago around Kolonaki Square, but still worth strolling around the side streets, with even more points of interest as far as shopping, dining, nightlife. Museums to visit: the much improved Benaki Museum, the Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art. Cafes and bars with atmosphere: Central Funky Restaurant (Kolonaki Square); Frame (St. George Lycabettus Hotel); Ratka (Haritos 30); Rock and Roll (Loukianou 6 & Ipsilantou).
Patissia: Everyone knows the National Gardens, but seeing the city's residents strolling and enjoying themselves really takes place in the area called Green Park. I know, because this is the park we lived across from. It's about two short blocks from the National Archeological Museum, which also has some pleasant outdoor cafes.
Glyfada: More accessible nowadays thanks to a metro that runs right up to its front doorstep, the seaside resort of Glyfada still retains some of its suburban peacefulness in the more distant residential streets away from the downtown. Well, you’re going to be downtown, so be ready for crowds, hotels that have sprung up all over, and outdoor restaurants that are much more busy even on a weekday than they used to be. The GNTO beach and its facilities are still pleasant up until late spring; later, you can still find good meal deals at restaurants lining the streets that lead down to the main coast road.