Tag Archives: Monasteraki

A day out with Cosmo in Athens, Part 6

The best way to digest a large Greek lunch, when a siesta is out of the question, is, according to Cosmo, with a good walk. And the only way to explore the fascinating area that sprawls around the Acropolis, is according to any Athenian, on foot.

Monastiraki, Athens
Monastiraki, Athens

Close by and to the west of Monasteraki Square lies quaint, charming, picture-postcard Psiri. Zorba-esque music flows from the old taverna which line the streets. There’s an aroma of roasting lamb, warm bread, honey and strong coffee. Young Greek gods, in the guise of waiters, smile from the terraces of restaurants and cafes. Nonchalant locals and shutter snapping tourists mill in the streets. On the other side of Monasteraki is Plaka, “the neighbourhood of the Olympian gods”. Hailed as the Hellenic Montmartre, it shares the bohemian ambiance and picturesque appearance of its Parisian counterpart. Close packed houses press into the steep, narrow streets. Ancient ruins rise from the dry earth in fenced-off excavations. In shady squares local characters sit smoking in the sun and old men quarrel over card games. There are tiny shops selling souvenirs, gold, leather, furs and pottery, interspersed with neighbourhood grocers, fruit stalls, bakers and cake shops. There is a bath house. Olive trees and vines overhang bleached stone walls. Miniature gardens are crammed with lush green leafy vegetables and fat tomatoes.

Every evening just before sunset a soft purple light spreads slowly up Mount Hymettus and settles over Athens like violet crown. We watched it fade to indigo from a taverna in a back street of Plaka, high on the rocky slope of the Acropolis. A young singer crooned Demis Roussos’ My Friend the Wind”. Our wonderful day out with Cosmo had come to a close. He had taken us into his Athens, introduced us to its capricious gods, its mighty kings and its great heroes, as well its ticket and postcard-sellers, shopkeepers, chefs, baristas and waiters. He had shown us its famous places and its secret corners, shared its smells, tastes, textures and sounds. He had told us its stories. It was a sad, goodbye, with a firm, long grasping of hands, kisses on both cheeks, promises on Cosmos side to visit us down under and on ours to show him our Antipodes, to come back soon to Athens and to drop in on his sister-in-law, the best Greek cook in Australia, at her home in Mount Waverley, Melbourne.

The rosemary and bay leaves, crumbling now, are pressed between the pages of scribbled notes for this story in my diary, along with Cosmo’s card and the address of his sister in law.

Our tour of Athens cost 100 euros each. Our day out with Cosmo was priceless.

To find your Cosmo, ask the concierge or the doorman at your hotel – he’s sure to have an uncle, a cousin, a brother – Athens is like that.

A day out with Cosmo in Athens, Part 5

Downtown Athens
Downtown Athens

Cosmo swung away again, deeper into downtown Athens.

Monastiraki, where we came to rest, is a shifting, vibrant mix of tourists with day packs and runners and Athenians in their Sunday best. Architecturally, it is that blend of ancient, old, new and newer still, which makes up modern Athens. The Acropolis stands against the distant skyline, so the Golden Age of Greece is part of every Monasteraki vista. The last few columns from Hadrian’s magnificent library mark the time of the Romans. In the centre of Monastiraki Square is a beautiful little 17th century church, where black-clad widows, oblivious to the shuffling tourist crowds, pray and light candles to their icons. Nearby, an 18th century Mosque, from the time of the Turks, is now home to the museum of traditional Greek ceramics. A colourful bazaar, selling everything from reef sandals to amphorae, spills through its streets. Traditional taverna and coffee shops stand alongside pizzeria and fast food joints.

Having delivered us safely into the hands of his friends in the restaurant on the corner of the square, Cosmo disappeared. But just like Cosmo, the friends knew what we would like and what would make us happy; olives, dips and pita bread, a crisp white wine, dolmades, Greek salad, soft, sweet Greek bread, moussaka, souvlakia, a tart red wine, coffee and baklava, according to custom, with the compliments of the house. Under the watchful and encouraging eyes of the waiters and chef we ate to a determined finish. But, then Cosmo reappeared and insisted on marsala for Madame and ouzo for Monsieur, with a little halva on the side.