In the latest edition of the “Soul of” series of travel books by Jonglez Publishing, Athens-based journalist and documentary filmmaker, Alex King, gets under the skin of the Greek capital like never before. His advice: “Don’t be afraid to get lost: that’s when the real Athenian adventures begin.”
The compact book, richly illustrated and full of original, conceptual photography, offers 30 unique experiences and locations, from “retro-futuristic” arcades to community-run art spaces, and all manner of hidden gems and chance encounters in between. For those who have already experienced the more obvious highlights of the city but now want to go deeper, get off the beaten track and discover the true essence of the city today, “Soul of Athens” is a must-have guide.
In the introduction, King surmises that Athens suffers from the mother of all image problems – “a living museum with a grubby and unremarkable modern city bolted on to the side.” But underneath the frenetic urban sprawl lies a city that surges with energy and is always full of surprises. The very soul of Athens, steeped in history and heritage, vibrates with an exciting new counter-narrative to mainstream culture, full of raw passion and creativity.
The book does not aspire to be an exhaustive list of places and experiences – the kind of travel info provided by TripAdvisor. How could it be? Instead, King has written a love letter of sorts to his adopted home, highlighting the pulsing beat of Athens and its cultural underbelly by combining some his own personal favorite haunts with those picked out by other local urban explorers.
Athens first came on King’s radar in the summer of 2015, when the world’s media was heavily focussed on the ongoing economic crisis. All the negative reporting on Greece prompted him to come to see first-hand the kind of underground cultural projects that were underway in the city, fostering it into a fun place to live and work despite the crisis: “People in this city really know how to live, even in the darkest times.”
Since moving to the Athens full-time in 2017, he has become a cheerleader for young artists and creatives trying to develop DIY cultural projects and telling stories about communities outside the mainstream.
The 30 places and experiences in “Soul of Athens” are tied together by three interviews of locally-based creatives, engaged in innovative urban projects: designer and publisher, Natassa Pappa, filmmaker-photographer Angelos Giotopoulos, and writer/urban explorer Nikos Vatopoulos.
It is virtually impossible to pick out a selection of highlights from a book like this – every entry brings something new to the party – but here are a few to whet your appetite:
The Latraac Skate Bowl on Leonidou Street, Kerameikos, is the brainchild of Greek architect and skater Zachos Varfis. Described as a “mecca” for skaters of all levels, it has developed into a full-on experimental social space, attracting a mix of artists, musicians, dancers and expats.
Diporto taverna in Omonia was founded in 1875, when Athens was still finding its feet as the capital of the modern Greek state. Despite being the oldest taverna in the city center, Diporta is a tricky one to find, hidden down a trap-door! The no-frills menu is as authentic as it gets.
Kopria (Greek for “manure”) is a flower shop with a difference. Located in the edgy urban heart of Exarcheia, the space is also an art gallery, sells handmade ceramics, hosts social gatherings and is a real hub for urban environmentalists.
For those of us who remember the 80s, legendary Goth nightclub “Rebound” in Plateia Amerikis is a veritable time warp, partying every Saturday from midnight to 7 am like its 1986. The club has also become something of a popular hang-out for local artists, and draws in younger crowds looking to soak up some of that 80s retro vibe.
“Soul of Athens” is available now in English, French, German and Italian, and is a steal at €14,95 – $14.95 – £13.99. Editions in Greek and Spanish are set to come out this October.
The book is available at Public and independent bookstores across Athens.