Bad Yogi City Guide: Athens, Greece
It sounds cliche, i know, but just go with it (ebb and flow with it!): I had to travel halfway around the world to find myself, love, and yoga (via Erin Motz)!
It’s true. It’s my truth. And now, I want to share it with you. I want to share the beauty and wonder and awe-someness of Ελλάδα (Greece).
Greece is a place and a space that captured my heart, gave me the spark, the connections, and the room to grow; showed me who I am; let me put down roots; became a second home (a heart home); and sparked a passion for yoga that sustained me in tough transitions, followed me halfway back round the world, and led me to where I am right now (in Wisconsin, in a YTT program, with dreams of going back and yoga-ing in Greece again by the bluest of seas–or maybe on a rooftop :)).
The beauty of Greece is not contained to a single city — indeed, to truly experience the fullness of the magic/ancient truth, I highly recommend giving yourself at least 3 weeks there if you can (or, you know, maybe a year ;)). I had 11 months there when I lived/taught English there and it wasn’t enough–I still have a list that might fill half a notebook of places to see and things to do. With half an ounce of luck, I plan to spend the rest of my life exploring those borders and beyond.
But, for now, Athens is a great place to start. You’ll find a yummy gyro, Greek kitty cat, and piece of the rich history around every corner. Here’s a go-to list of some of the highlights — from someone who found herself caught living the best of both worlds ~ tourist and local ~ in Greece 🙂
Look out for pop-up yoga events in the area!
If it seems like yoga has suddenly boomed almost everywhere, Greece is no stranger to the zen phenomenon. You can find studios on just about every corner, and many will offer English-speaking classes. Be sure to google it up and ask around.
Also, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation offers free yoga classes. And after yoga, stay awhile and get lost in the library, bask in the view of the sun glinting off the sea/port nearby, get lost in the labyrinth garden, work out on the adult playground, or recapture your childhood playing on the musical playground. Hands down one of the best places in Athens!
And, of course, in true Bad Yogi style, the best place to yoga in Greece is to roll up your mat, grab a friend (and maybe a bottle of wine) and yoga it up on a rooftop with a masterpiece view of the sunset painted live before your eyes–or maybe a glimpse of the Acropolis (which is glimpse-able from almost everywhere downtown Athens, no big deal ;)). This is how I started my yoga story, with Erin Motz and a good friend on our small rooftop balcony after long days teaching English. 🙂
If you’re a runner or ever had an inkling to be one, you’ll find a community in the hilly streets of Athens. Or if you’re looking to balance your yoga routine with some kilometers.
Athens is the home of THE Original Marathon. So, I mean, if you’re ever going to run a marathon, why not this one? 🙂 That was my thinking, and the post-marathon-training wall is what led me to yoga so win-win!
This course is one of the most challenging, with its major incline for the first two-thirds of the race–But it is so worth it!
Plus, just when you think you can’t make another step, you will find yourself running in the steps of those who have run this path before you as you finish in the stadium of the first modern olympics – Kalimarmaro, 1894!
If you’re not feeling the full 26 mile jaunt, a 5K and 10K are also available (and locals will give you credit for running the marathon if you run either of these! Yay translation!). But beware these slots fill up quickly!
Indulge (eat well, be well!)
The Ant and the Grasshopper (locations in downtown Syntagma and Halandri) — a modern and tasty twist on the traditional Greek taverna cooking. With a cool folktale to tie together the theme.
You have to eat gyros in Greece, but fair warning, once you do, if you ever thought you liked gyros in America you will return sorely disappointed at the blue and white gyro trucks serving up lamb that will just pale in comparison. First of all, you will not find a gyro place in Greece serving up lamb on a pita. For the best gyros I’ve found, head straight down Ermou away from Syntagma Square and toward Monastiraki and just before you get there turn right and find Tylixto Greek Wraps. MMMMMMMMMM! Honorable mention for fave gyros in Athens: Sto Xeri in Halandri.
If you still have room, try the traditional dessert, Loukoumades right next door!
Later, head to 360 (located right in Monastiraki) for a drink with a view of the Acropolis. CityZen (off of Ermou street) also serves up a good drink/coffee with a view.
Head to Plaka for coffee — Daskales serves homemade desserts with delicious coffee — get there early for primo seating on the stairs.
Solo gelato–great homemade gelato in Halandri (this stuff sustained our American crew when we taught and lived in this neighborhood for a year!)
Bakalotaverna — another one of our crew’s favorites in the heart of Halandri. Friendly staff. Always busy (unless you want to eat on American time in which case you won’t even need a reservation because you will be way ahead of the Greek eating schedule, where dinner doesn’t even start until 10ish)
Penny Lane — in case you’re missing some American comfort food.
Freddo cappuccinos — a must try! Cool, frothy, just the right amount of bitter, and customizable sweetness (“sketo” = no sugar, “metrio” = medium, and “glykos” = very sweet!). Order one at a cafe with some cozy outdoor seating and sip away the afternoon with friends… if you’re looking to make it a day (night), most cafes merge into nightlife where you can order a cocktail of choice and sip away the evening under the stars, as well.
The Acropolis and Parthenon…more than 2,500 years of history…need I say more???
One of my all time favorite spots in Greece. The true highest point in Athens. A church, and a restaurant to sit with friends and enjoy the time up there. Walk up or take the Funicular. Time it right for a gorgeous sunset looking over the city in 360degrees, with mountains in one direction and the wide blue sea in the other. Take the time to enjoy the journey…
The Metro is pretty reliable and easy to navigate. It connects the airport all the way to downtown and some of the other main spots. Bus can be a bit unreliable — beware of Transportation strikes that happen occasionally! Walking is truly the best way to see the sights and experience the culture anyways 🙂
Learn the phrase “Tha pame sto…(name of place)…” and “Se euxaristo”. (We want to go here and thank you). Your taxi driver will be so impressed with your attempt to speak Greece, he will turn on the Greek hospitality and may even call his cousin who speaks better english and once went to New York to talk to you–true story.)
Se euxharistow = thank you
Parakalow = please
Ya sas = hello!
pou eínai i toualéta? = where is the bathroom?
Nero (neraki) = water
Your Greek doesn’t have to be perfect — just try! And smile!
If you’re looking to work on your tan and/or squeeze in some beachside yoga, head to one of these seaside oases! You might have to get a bit creative with transportation. Use a series of metroes, busses, and trams to make your way to Glyfada or Vouliagmeni.
Ferry and plane tickets are fairly cheap so take advantage of being in Greece and do some island-hopping. Check out Santorini (featuring black/red sand). Mykonos (beautiful beaches and intense nightlife). Rhodes (medevial castle and ancient temple and petaludes (butterflies)!). Kereta kereta turtles! Milos, Tinos, Corfu… truly, too many to name! Xania! Closest to Athens are: Paros, Spetses, Hydra (no cars, only donkeys :)), and Aegina (pistachio festival)
The word for sunbathing is iliotherapeía — now that’s my kind of therapy… 🙂
In Athens, you will find: Water that will teach you the true color of blue. People whose hospitality will show you what it means to welcome. Mountains that surround you, ground you. Clear open blue skies that become the painter’s canvas at sun down. Food that sparks your senses. A lifestyle and timeline that will teach you to slow down. History so rich and so deep around every corner that will connect you to the souls who have traipsed that path before you.
In Greece lies the secret ~ η ζωή είναι ωραία… (life is beautiful)
P.S. I blogged a bit about my adventures in Greece while teaching/living/travelling there for a year. For more Greece insight, head over to http://onwingedwords.blogspot.com/ 🙂
What do you think, yogis? Ready to plan your visit?