Despite my passion for travel and a second hat as a travel journalist, Greece hadn’t yet made its way on my ‘been there, done that’ list. Prior to this trip my nearest connection to the host country of the first modern-day Olympics back in 1896, was a short-lived stay on Greek Street (London). 15 years ago my Soho life started when I moved into a small room overlooking what was once the Gay Hassar restaurant. Like many people who visit this end of Soho, I had no idea about its historical links to Greece. The street is thought to take its name from a Greek church built in 1677 in adjacent Crown Street (the northern part of what is now Charing Cross Road). Interesting to discover a connection which dates back way beyond contemporary years.
There haven’t been many safe spaces where I’ve been able to share my lockdown experience, especially when it sometimes feels as if everyone else used it productively. For me, the reality of being stuck indoors for four months with only the ghost streets of Soho as my playground quickly took me to a dark place. I needed a break from my usual surroundings. Travel has always restored my equilibrium when life throws its very worst at me, so as soon as it was safe (and I completed my Bikram Hot Yoga offer) a taste of Greece seemed like the most reliable medicine.
Eat, Love, Pray in Athens
If ancient history and Greek mythology are your thing – Athens is the great introduction to Greece. For me however, the mere privilege of taking a flight was enough to lift my spirits, leaving me with no mandatory sight-seeing expectations. The plan, if you could call it one, was to create my own Julia Roberts starring role in a gastronomic adventure… I wanted to eat my way through Athens, love every bite and pray for more! Think layers of filo bougatsa, loukoumades (fried donut balls), fresh Greek salad with real feta cheese, seafood (ah the seafood!) with a chilled glass of local wine in hand. My base downtown put me in close proximity to many of the historical sites and a host of restaurants and bars.
Museums were off my non-existent must-do list despite the recommendations, though I felt less guilty because of all cities in the world, Athens really is an outdoor museum with plenty of opportunities to admire ancient artefacts from stunning panoramic views of the city, like at the sacred rock of the Acropolis at sunset. From there, an evening drink at the A for Athens rooftop bar overlooking the Acropolis and Monastiraki Square provided the closest example of pre-COVID Athens nightlife I would experience, as the house music beats from the live DJ filled the air, creating the vibe of a previous life without social distancing or masks.
If like me seafood is the reason you’re yet to commit fully to being vegetarian, you’ll be spoilt for choice when you head to the Piraeus bay area. Ta Vrachia Tis Pirekis (The Rocks of Peiraiki) was the recommendation of my Athenian friend Andrea. And it did not disappoint! Go for the fried calamari, steamed mussels, tender octopus and of course, Greek salad. Wash it down with the house wine – no labels needed. Service was friendly, but without the need to impress for a rating (clearly, as our server’s attention was diverted in every direction greeting local punters).
It hadn’t occurred to me to share my trip to Greece when I booked, until a fellow editor asked why I wasn’t including it. And why not? So now I needed a quiet base to work from without muting my holiday mode. I sampled Lavrio, a port about 60km from Athens, and even ferry-hopped to Skiathos and neighbouring islands for time away from the bustle of the city. However, a recommendation from another friend, Calin, led me to Kineta, a small beach town in West Attica, about an hour’s drive from Athens, where I set up a base to work on this issue of My Soho Times. The equation of being in a beautiful picture-postcard setting overlooking the endless clear sea, autumn sun (not as harsh as its summer rival) and the adrenaline of having a deadline to meet somehow gave me all the motivation needed to get the work done! It didn’t mean I missed out on any of the amenities my accommodation offered either – access to the beach right below my terrace (pebbled, however puts Brighton beach to shame) a restaurant offering the most indulgent of breakfasts and lots of options for lunch or dinner. Not to mention outdoor activities such as RailBiking on an old railroad adjacent to the sea. My mornings may have been about emails over breakfast but afternoons were filled with the joy of being transported to an underwater world with a snorkel (my first time ever!)
Greece offered me the mental space needed to appreciate how far I’ve come. Sometimes travelling isn’t about being on the move, but rather just being still… and staying at the Hotel Cokkinis was the taste of Greece I needed. No thrills, just natural beauty – and good food!
This article was published in the autumn issue of My Soho Times magazine. CLICK HERE to view it online and SIGN UP to get the latest issue straight to you inbox!… Next stop on late summer memory lane – learning to paraglide in Romania!
Looking to get away? Use my Airbnb code for up to £40 off accommodation and £10 off Airbnb Experiences: http://www.airbnb.com/c/ktravelmaker
Don’t forget to complete a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) at least 24 hours before your travel to Greece. For the latest travel advice from the UK visit http://www.gov.uk
Let me know in the comment box your hopeful travel plans!