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Time Off in Athens

The iconic Parthenon crowns the Acropolis and draws the eye from vantage points all over Athens. Floodlit, moonlit or dazzling in the sun, it is the image of the city you take away with you. The Acropolis museum opened in 2009 in Makrygianni, just a 400 meter walk from the Parthenon. (The museum is also reached easily from the Acropolis Metro stop.) A handsome building in itself, its exhibits enhance understanding of the Parthenon and its history. Purchase tickets on line from the museum website. www.theacropolismuseum.gr/en

For a complete contrast to the bustle of Athens, lose yourself on the northeastern slope of the Acropolis; the nameless lanes of Anofiotika are lined with tiny,vine-draped houses built in the 1800s. Part of the historic neighbourhood of Plaka, they were once the home of workers from the island of Anafi in the Cyclades who were employed in the refurbishment of King Otto’s palace. Today there are only 45 houses left but the feel of a Greek Island community remains.
SHOP
Byzantino is mentioned in nearly every guide book – and with good reason. Almost a museum with its brilliant selection of 22k gold jewellery, the shop is the life’s work of two brothers, Kostas and Georgio; their first collection, in 1987, consisted of faithful replicas of ancient Hellenic jewels.. Since then they have developed several other themes: byzantine, Greek key and modern. Their shop is in the Plaka at 120, Adrianou Street www.byzantino.com. For silver or 18k gold jewellery look in on their cousin’s boutique, two doors down at Olympico.

Plaka is full of souvenir shops. Take an evening stroll here and pick up some mati; these blue glass charms are said to ward off the evil eye. True or not, they make an inexpensive, evocative memento of Athens.

SAVOUR
For two-star Michelin dining in Athens, choose between Spondi, serving French food in a picturesque Hellenic setting, and Funky Gourmet for Greek cuisine ‘molecular gastronomy’ style. Varoulko Seaside, a one- star Michelin restaurant in Pireaus, is a top recommendation for seafood. (At the water’s edge on Mikrolimano Marina, a15 minute taxi ride from central Athens.) Reserve a table on the respective website: funkygourmet.com; spondi.gr; varoulka.gr

Combine a walking tour of downtown Athens with an introduction to popular Greek cuisine. The five hour Culinary Backstreet tour departs Monday through Saturday at 9:30 am. In a group of 2 to 6 persons you visit an old-fashioned dairy bar, sample loukoumades, souvlaki, and kebab, stop at seafood eateries and taste the finest artisanal cheeses and honey. The cost, €135 per person, includes everything eaten on the tour. Book at www.culinarybacktours.com

STROLL
Ermou Street is the one and half kilometre avenue that starts at Syntagma Square. It’s said to be the tenth month expensive retail street in the world (but the sales are on in February). In about 15 minutes you reach the Byzantine Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea, An 11th century structure, the oldest Greek Orthodox church in Athens, it was built over an earlier temple. Go inside to enjoy the magnificent mosaics and the very special atmosphere. Kapnikarea church is open from 8:00-13:00 on Monday, Wednesday & Saturday; 8:00 to 13:00 plus 16:00-20:00 on Tuesday, Thursday & Friday; 8:00–11:30 Sunday. To visit the church without the walk, take the metro to Monastiraki station.

The Arts Foundation (TAF) is a five minute walk away from the Monastiraki metro station. Go west on Ermou and turn left on the first side street (Normanou). The graffiti-framed doorway is a few meters in, to your left. It is hard to spot but worth the effort; you’ll be surprised by the lively interior spaces built around an open-roofed atrium. TAF is popular with young Athenians who come for cultural programmes, modern art exhibitions, lectures and theatre productions. The bar serves reasonably priced drinks, wine and sandwiches. TAF is open to all every day from 11:00 am to 03:00 http://theartfoundation.metamatic.gr

The Monastiraki Flea Market is just outside the Monastiraki metro station. Open every day of the week it is at its best on Sundays when local merchants join the permanent stall holders- clothing shops, antiques, used books,vintage record stores, restaurants and cafes.Crowded with tourists it naturally appeals to pickpockets too, so be careful. If this is too much of a hassle continue into Psiri and look for the shop of Stavros Melissonos, the Poet Sandal-maker at No. 2 Ag Theklas Street. Here you can either buy a pair of sandals (as did Jackie Onasis and the Beatles) or an autographed copy of his book on the joys of drinking wine.

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