In the Heat of the Athens Summer
NOTE: Photos by Adrian Leeds and Erica Simone
The next time I’m in Athens, it won’t be the height of summer. We knew what we were doing—booking a few days in the Greek capital in the middle of July knowing full well that it was going to be scorching hot. And it was. But we survived it.
We ferried from Symi to Rhodes, then flew from Rhodes to Athens, eating up an entire day traveling. A ferry from Symi to Piraeus (Athens’ port) would have taken up to 16 hours, so the alternative of flying was much better.
We used Booking.com to book our apartments in both Symi and Athens. Symi’s accommodations ended up getting a very sad review from me, while Athens’ got a serious thumbs up. I’d highly recommend it to anyone wanting a comfortable and spacious apartment in a great location—in the heart of the Plaka in close proximity to just about everything you want to do in Athens. It was appointed and managed just as perfectly as we as property managers would have wanted it. (See their site for more information, and please tell Sofia I sent you!)
Our first adventure in Athens was a two-hour private tour of the Acropolis with a licensed guide. It was necessary to start very early in the morning primarily to avoid the heat. Revenge travel has brought the number of visitors to the Acropolis up to 17,000 a day, 70% higher than the previous summer. So it’s no surprise that the lines to enter had already gotten very long even at 8 a.m.
As we climbed up the stairs and I first saw the iconic Doric and Ionic columns of the Parthenon up front and up close, I became overwhelmed with tears. It was a very strange sensation that I didn’t at all expect to have. My daughter Erica, a proponent of past life regression, immediately equated the reaction with some past life of mine of which I wouldn’t have known about. I reminded her that my name, Adrian, is a Latin name also of Greek origin that I read means “rich.” Rich or not, for some odd reason, my mother managed to give names to all four of her daughters of Greek or Roman origin. Go figure. Maybe she had her own past lives that inspired it.
The experience on the hill was well worth the effort, even in the intense heat, and the history of what has taken place there over the many centuries is fascinating, but difficult to fully take in during a two-hour lecture in temperatures getting close to 100 degrees. In a nutshell, Athens saw the construction of the Parthenon temple on the Acropolis between 447 and 438 B.C.E. Yes, that’s almost 500 years before Christ! This magnificent structure was a crucial component of an expansive architectural initiative orchestrated by Perikles, a prominent Athenian statesman at the time. Housed within the temple was an enormous statue symbolizing Athena, the revered patron goddess of the city.
Imagine…an entire civilization devoted to revering a woman!? Athena was associated with wisdom, warfare, and handicrafts. (Women just can’t keep themselves from creating things, can they? Even goddesses!) That seems awfully progressive and democratic, don’t you agree?
The Acropolis Museum, just down the road, is not to be missed. It is a remarkable archaeological museum dedicated to the discoveries unearthed on the rock and its surrounding slopes, spanning from the Greek Bronze Age to the periods of Roman and Byzantine Greece. In an impressive area of 14,000 square meters, the museum boasts of over 4,250 objects, showcasing the rich historical heritage of the region. It’s impressive, to say the least. And it was cool and comfortable inside. The gift shop is also filled with precious mementos. (Isn’t that always the big test?)
Thanks to the advice of a journalist friend who is married to a Greek man and covers Greek business affairs for the New York Times, we had a few great meals in special spots, all with beautiful rooftop views of the Parthenon…Café Avissinia, the Hotel Grande Bretagne on Syntagma Square, and Thissio View.
We loved Café Avissinia most of the three. Hotel Grande Bretagne was pricey, but very elegant and worth it. Thissio View gets a mixed rating from us, but the view is sensational and the walk home from there was particularly beautiful, passing the Roman Forum along the way.
On our last day in Athens, we discovered a Greek eatery named Ergon House that was casual, delicious, inexpensive, and hip. Greek dining out has certainly changed since I was there a zillion years ago. While there are still some of the usual suspects on the menus like tzatziki and moussaka, they’ve invented new ways of making such staples as eggplant and lamb to satisfy any gourmet’s standards. We certainly did not go hungry or unsatisfied! The only real negative to Greek cuisine is the quality of the bread, but beating France on bread is tough for any other country that I’ve been to.
Almost everywhere, one is bombarded by Greek souvenir shops offering the same basic evil eyes, drapey dresses, and jewelry. If you resist making any initial purchases until you’ve got the lowdown on the scene of real artisans, you will end up with much better mementos. I had the purchase of a ring in mind and looked in just about every jewelry window and shop. Then, we had the good fortune of visiting the Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum, the first museum devoted to the art of jewelry in Greece and one of only three of its kind in the world.
The museum is a nonprofit cultural organization certified by the Greek Ministries of Finance and Culture in 1993 and opened to the public in December 1994. It acts as an international center for jewelry and decorative crafts, with an emphasis on silver and goldsmithing, as well as contemporary studio jewelry. Ilias Lalaounis was new to me, but he was a pioneer of Greek jewelry and an internationally renowned goldsmith especially known for his collections inspired by Greek history. He became the only jeweler designer ever to be inducted into the Académie des Beaux-Arts.
As we strolled and perused the display cases, I was overwhelmed by his designs, so much so that Erica began to film me marveling at the cases, muttering under my breath how beautiful each piece was and laughing hysterically at her mother’s enthusiastic antics. Of course, I couldn’t wait to hit the gift shop hoping to find something I could afford to buy…and I did.
We were assisted at the shop by the museum director herself, Ioanna Lalaounis, the designer’s daughter. She was lovely and full of interesting information about what they do to promote the art and craft of jewelry-making. I felt very privileged and as a result of our visit, Erica felt inspired to further pursue her own jewelry-making talents.
It was tough to decide which ring to buy, but somehow I managed to make a decision! This was by far a better souvenir than any of the cookie-cutter pieces in the jewelry stores all over Athens—one that I will treasure forever. Lalaounis’ original pieces were out of my price range, but the collection of another artist, Maria Apostolopoulou, whose designs are one of a kind under the title “Eros & Psyche,” really wowed me. She works in the art of “glyptography”—an ancient art of gemstone carving.
The art of Glyptography derives its name from the Greek word “glyptos,” meaning to carve. It encompasses the intricate skill of carving gemstones, known as intaglios and cameos, in jewelry and decorative arts. This art form has ancient origins, dating back to around 15,000 BC when early rock carvings, called petroglyphs, were used to communicate and record events through signs and symbols. What’s so fascinating about the ring I chose is that the underside of the carved stone looks completely different than what is displayed on the outside…like a secret soul under the surface. I left with the treasure I’d hoped for as well as a special encounter with the museum’s director. Should you have the opportunity to visit the museum, be sure to ask for Madame Lalaounis…and tell her I sent you!
By sheer coincidence, on the streets of Athens we ran into a dear friend whose mother had been a client of ours about 13 years ago and with whom I had taped my fourth House Hunters International episode. Sadly, her mother died of cancer a few years ago, but we have kept in contact ever since. She’s now living in Mexico City, but her boyfriend of Greek origin enables her to visit Greece on occasion. If we had not been in that one spot seconds earlier or later, we would have missed her—it was a sign that there is a future for us, so we met again before we left Athens and vowed to reconnect in France or even in Mexico City.
Our flight back to Paris was in the evening, but our check-out was at 10 a.m. leaving us with another day to enjoy Athens, but it also left us with the dilemma of what to do with our luggage. Athens has the answer—a luggage storage service that was easy and inexpensive right in the heart of town. StoreLuggage, just a block from Syntagma Square, is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The bags went into a locker. I handed them 20 bucks, took the key, and went on with the visit of the city. It couldn’t have been easier. As it turns out, Paris has several luggage storage spots all over town of which I wasn’t aware since I’d never needed it before…but this is valuable information for tourists.
It was so hot in Athens that we first sought refuge in the National Gardens for a while, but even that didn’t help. After an hour or so of wandering along the dirt paths, we hopped in a taxi and headed to the National Gallery/Alexandros Soutsos Museum where it was cool and we could wander aimlessly to enjoy Greek contemporary art.
The National Gallery was established in 1900. Its initial collections were sourced from the National Technical University and the University of Athens, with significant donations subsequently enriching these collections. Presently, the National Gallery boasts an extensive repository of over 20,000 works comprising paintings, sculptures, engravings, and various other forms of art. This treasury represents the entirety of modern Greek art, spanning from the post-Byzantine era to the present day. Additionally, the National Gallery houses an impressive collection of Western European paintings. In 1954, the National Gallery merged with the Alexandros Soutsos Estate, giving rise to its dual name.
It was the middle of Thursday night when we finally landed in cool, gray Paris, a welcome change from the heat wave in Greece. I never thought I’d feel that way about what I jokingly call “Gray Paree,” but it was a pleasure not to be sweating for a change.
Tomorrow I’m headed to Nice for more of the heat, but not nearly as intense as in Athens. This left one last weekend with my daughter before we go our separate ways for several months. So, we took Saturday afternoon to visit the “Philippe Starck/Paris est Pataphysique” exhibition at the Musée Carnavalet, as well as the works in the rest of the museum devoted to the history of the city of Paris.
In the case of this special exhibition, artist/designer Philippe Starck invites museum-goers to embark on a land voyage from Paris to Paris, his hometown. “The voyage is original and surprising, oscillating between the real and the imaginary. From stopover to stopover, ‘visitors-travelers-passengers’ enjoy a constantly renewed experience in an original scenography designed by Philippe Starck.” A wax replica of Starck in the exhibition from the Musée Grevin done in 2010 is “starckly” realistic and almost frightening. He has mused that perhaps the wax figure is the real Starck! It would be easy to think so.
If you haven’t been to the Carnavalet in a while, it’s time to go back, especially since its recent four-year renovation. In collaboration with Snøhetta and Agence NC (Nathalie Crinière), the Chatillon Architectural firm undertook a comprehensive restoration, transforming it into a masterpiece Notably, the introduction of the very grand iron stairways plays a crucial role in welcoming the museum into the modern era, further elevating its status as a cultural gem. I always marvel at their beauty, but even more so at the engineering that it took to create these enormous iron structures formed from one piece of metal. One could spend hours in the museum, if not days or weeks, there is so much to see and take in. Plus, the formal French garden of the museum is a delightful spot for a drink or a snack.
We topped off the weekend with dinner with friends from Los Angeles at Le Bouillon Racine, one of the city’s most beautiful restaurants. The “bouillons” have their roots in the early twentieth century, during the flourishing Art Nouveau era, when both Parisian workers and the city’s upper-class citizens came together. The concept was first introduced in 1855 by a clever butcher named Pierre Louis Duval who offered the workers at Les Halles market a simple dish of meat and bouillon (soup/stock). By 1900, Paris had nearly 250 Bouillons, becoming the pioneering chain of restaurants catering specifically to the working class.
During this period, Art Nouveau’s enchanting charm spread across Europe, influencing architecture, furniture, and decor. The Universal Exhibition held in Paris further accelerated the popularity of this artistic movement, and restaurants embraced the trend. Today, only a few authentic Bouillons remain, including this one on rue Racine, which proudly showcases the most opulent and baroque style of Art Nouveau. Beveled mirrors, painted opalines, stained glass, carved woodwork, marble mosaics, and gold-leaf lettering were meticulously applied, creating a rich and inviting ambiance that we can still enjoy to this day. The food is quite good, but the atmosphere is even better. If you’ve never been, then put this on your Paris bucket list, too.
Tomorrow I’m leaving Paris for the rest of the summer, spending warmer days on the Riviera in my second home, Nice. That doesn’t mean “vacation” for me, as Nice is even busier with property renters and buyers. But I will take one week in Corsica mid-August to be a lizard on the beautiful beaches…when you will not be hearing from me at all. It’s the one time of year I take a real break.
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group®
P.S. While I was gone, Gaston, the owner of Café de la Mairie suddenly died. This is the café where we have held Après-Midi since 2003. His funeral is today at the Père Lachaise, but I can’t go. However, I did stop in and pay my respects by writing in their special book. We are all quite saddened by this news. Life will go on there as normal, but actually, the café is going to renovate during November and December. Fortunately, we now have a new venue for those two months:
1 rue de Bretagne
MAKE NOTE OF IT NOW! Le Progrès can only handle 40 people maximum on their upper level, so this means we have to take reservations and cut it off when we reach that number.
If you wish to attend either November or December (or both), be sure to reserve by emailing us. Be sure tell jus how many people the reservation is for and which months apply. If for any reason, you cannot attend, we’d appreciate your cancellation so that someone else can fill your place!