Get ready for some local lore. As part of the continuing series of podcasts “We’ll Always Have Athens” produced by the Greek Podcast Project and supported by This Is Athens, the official guide to the city of Athens, the noted journalist and photographer Nikos Vatopoulos talks about the joys of discovering the city on foot.
An Athens native whose weekly column in Greece’s leading newspaper highlights the many surprises he encounters as an “urban scout”, Vatopoulos is the author of numerous books, including “Walking in Athens”, published by Metaichmio.
Vatopoulos begins the 20-minute episode by explaining exactly why he loves exploring his sprawling metropolis so much: “It’s an unexpected city.. Athens is unpredictable… a city that calls for more time, and more thought…”
He then takes us out of the studio and onto the streets of the downtown neighborhood of Kypseli, where he was born and raised. Vatopoulos talks about the sounds and sights that he loves in the area, which he describes as having been the “epitome of Athenian middle class life”. The listener is drawn in alongside him by the presence of those same background noises of burbling fountains and children at play.
Nostalgia gives way to architecture, as Vatopoulos notes that his old neighborhood is known for its interwar and post-war modernist buildings. He also drops a name or two: the area, he says, “was very popular in the 1950s and ’60s, when it was a truly fashionable area… You could see …artists and actors and actresses…Foreign stars visiting Athens would tour Fokionos Negri [in Kypseli] as well: …Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor…”
Today’s Kypseli has certainly changed demographically, Vatopoulos explains as he heads into the municipal market, music audible in the background.
“There are a lot of young people, immigrants from all over…from Asia and Africa mostly…” He also sees another change: “One can see a youth culture developing here…They’re investing their love for this old neighborhood.”
There are, in fact, planning changes afoot for much of central Athens, but this isn’t as disconcerting as it might be, since, as Vatopoulos explains, Athens is, in fact, a relatively new city, one whose major streets and squares were only laid out in the first half of the 19th century.
“Think of it as a modern city… a city that embraced modernism.” What’s more, these changes will make what is already a great city in which to take a walk even more of a stroller’s paradise, as the newly-approved pedestrianizing project known as “The Great Walk of Athens” will, Vatopoulos says, help both residents and visitors enjoy “the landscape and the historic layers of the city.”
You can find and subscribe to the podcast series “We’ll Always Have Athens” on Spotify, iTunes or wherever else you get your podcasts. Past guests have included actor, author and television presenter Stephen Fry and acclaimed fashion designer Mary Katrantzou.
You can listen to the podcast with Nikos Vatopoulos here.