Seeing the World From your Couch
Avid Athens couchsurfer Spyros Drakatos has hosted 150 couchsurfers
from abroad in Athens flat
Amy from the Netherlands wanted to hitchhike to Ioannina, northwestern Greece. Otavia and Julia, both from the UK, focused entirely on visiting ancient sites and went to bed early. Adrian from Spain liked the local olives so much that he wanted to take two large packets of them home with him, and Linda from Norway got sun burnt on her shoulders and nose while basking on the beach for hours in Glyfada, southern Athens.
These are just some of the visitors Spyros Drakatos, an avid CouchSurfing.com host, has put up in his Athens flat, making the most of the world’s largest free accommodation services network “Visitors coming from countries without beaches want to spend their entire day at the beach, under the sun. Those who haven’t tried Mediterranean food before go crazy on the stuffed tomatoes and mousaka. I take travelers interested in history to ancient sites. In Athens, everybody finds something that may be missing from their lives back home,” says Drakatos, whose flat has seen over 150 tourists come and go since he became a host. And he prides himself on the fact that all his guests posted favorable remarks about their respective experiences.
“ In Athens, everybody finds something that may be missing from their lives back home.”
This enthusiastic host’s apartment is located in Kallithea, the capital’s fourth largest suburb, located 20 minutes away from downtown Athens, towards the seaside south. Quiet spots still exist in this part of the city. The area around Tavros metro station reveals warm neighborly scenes such as laundry hanging on the line directly above a flower shop, elderly ladies keeping each other company on benches, youngsters walking their pet dogs and young girls on bicycles. The area has a relaxed and cheerful character, heightened by the laughter of children at play. Athens is typically not a city for romantics, but sometimes it can be.
Spyros lives in an ordinary flat with two bedrooms, a small kitchen, bathroom, and comfortably sized living room. Over the glasses of fruit juice he served on the thick glass layer covering the coffee table’s embroidered doily, Spyros explains how and why he became a member of the couchsurfing community. “I began doing it in 2008. It feels like I’m traveling, mentally. I’ve met people from countries I will never manage to visit. I learn about things in Korea, Thailand, Nicaragua, Chile. Travelers cook their country’s traditional foods for me and talk about their everyday lives back home … I’m traveling while at home,” he explains.
“I began doing it in 2008. It feels like I’m traveling, mentally. I’ve met people from countries I will never manage to visit.”
Couchsurfing usually draws younger people, traveling either alone or with friends or partners, usually for budget reasons but also out of curiosity to see how their foreign hosts go about their daily lives. “No host is obliged to offer anything more than their couch, and visiting couchsurfers are not asked to contribute towards any household expenses,” Spyros notes. “The secret behind a successful hosting experience lies in both sides having read each other’s profiles very carefully. Even so, visitors stay for between two and five days, which means that even if the match is not so good, this is the amount of time the two sides can usually tolerate each other. If, for example, somebody posts that he or she is looking for a place to stay for an entire week, nobody will accept the request.”
Not all hosts take to their role as enthusiastically as this Athenian. “Most hosts just hand you a map with ten or so points circled out, take off for work and abandon you. I like sharing the experience with my guests. I enjoy entertainment, nightlife, good food, walking… My greatest aim is to have guests express the most favorable things about the city and our country when they’re leaving,” Spyros explains.
Couchsurfing certainly offers tourists a tremendous opportunity to enjoy Athens like locals. And, from the opposite vantage point, locals also have the need to occasionally see the city from a tourist’s perspective or to turn the travel experience the other way round.
THIS HOST RECOMMENDS:
“Filopappou Hill all the way to Troon, a traditional street lined with meze eateries, is one of my favorite nature-related walks.”
Daybreak at Lycabettus Hill
“The best thing you can do after a late night out is to get yourself a cheese pie and experience the sunrise from Lycabettus Hill. That time of day, when the city lights gradually go out and the sun begins to light up the day, is magical.”
Vouliagmeni Coves (Limenakia)
“If my guests want sea, this is where I take them. The setting at the wooden-decked Limenakia bar, which began operating as a round-the-clock place back in the 1980s, is idyllic. You just get yourself a beer, take your place on one of the cushions on the rocks and gaze out at the Aegean.”
Most people go no further than the meze eateries on Mnisikleous Street. But if you continue up the steps, you will discover an entire neighborhood that resembles an island setting, with picturesque little houses, narrow alleys and flowers planted in large tin cans – those old-style ones used to package cheese.
Horse-drawn carriage ride in Kifissia
How many tourists know that horse-drawn carriages were used in the most prestigious northern Athenian suburb until about 1975? On weekends, if the weather is good, you can still get a horse-drawn carriage for a ride around the neighborhood, from the Kerasies shopping centre (2 Kolokotroni).
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