The app on my phone that measures the time I spent walking from Nea Smyrni Park to the Olympic Esplanade in Faliro shows 41 minutes – for a distance of 3.5 km. But I didn’t hurry: I made a few stops, took some photos and wandered down streets that I’ve known since childhood. In other words, I took my time, meaning that someone walking a steady pace can probably go on foot from Nea Smyrni to the waterfront in less than half an hour.
Those who’ve had their appetite whetted by the successive Covid-19 lockdowns for shorter or longer walks have all come to the same realization: distances that once seemed inconceivable to walk have turned out to be completely feasible, even for beginners. What’s more, walking can help us realize how much the accumulated experience of driving in Athens has altered our perception of distance and time.
We begin from one of Nea Smyrni’s three acknowledged landmarks: its park – the other two are its famous square and Panionios Stadium. Having grown up around here, I’ve always been aware of the neighborhood’s main patch of green, but it was only brought to the general public’s attention when it was restored 15 years ago. Since then, running has become popular and, as a result, there is a constant flow of people in the park – even during the successive lockdowns.
From the park, it takes five minutes to reach the square, through a green path that passes through the smaller, elevated open space of Karyllou Square.
The path leads to one of Athens’ most architecturally interesting public spaces – a space which had the misfortune of being built during the Greek junta (the architectural work done here by Giorgos Leonardos and Lazaros Kalavytis is certainly worth a look).
In 1985, Greek singer Alkistis Protopsaltis first performed “Adonis,” a song about a café of that name on Nea Smyrni Square that attracted different types of people. During the lockdown, Adonis doesn’t serve coffee on the square but they’ll still supply you with some java to go.
Head towards the southwest, taking Konstantinou Palaiologou Street with its new, expanded sidewalks. You’ll soon spot the floodlights of Panionios Stadium in front of you, as if beckoning to you. Resist the siren call and take a right on Megalou Alexandrou instead; this used to be one of the most elegant streets in Nea Smyrni, and free-standing detached houses prevailed there until as late as the 1990s.
Unfortunately, new legislation on building brought about the demolition of dozens of houses in the area. If you look around down Sevdikiou Street, you’ll get an idea of what once was, and what is now: two remaining “old” Nea Smyrni houses are your right, while on your left, two new apartment buildings are under construction.
Megalou Alexandrou Street ends in a side road just off Syngrou Avenue. Turn left and keep walking until you reach the underpass – in front of the Planetarium – taking you across the avenue and back up to ground level at a spot close to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC).
Walk alongside the canal until you reach the footbridge to the Olympic Esplanade, where the scent of the sea will greet you as the Saronic Gulf says hello!
A stroll around Athens’ “Barceloneta”
The Olympic Esplanade was created along with the Faliro Coastal Zone Olympic Complex and the Olympic Indoor Hall, just a few months before the 2004 Olympic Games. Like most of the infrastructure built for the Olympics, it soon fell into neglect, when it could have been made into an Athenian “Barceloneta” (no laughing, please) and been extended all the way to the Peace and Friendship Stadium.
This was the noble objective: to build a coastal area for walking, water sports and carefree seaside fun. That is what will happen, they say, once the works taking place on Poseidonos Avenue in both the Kallithea and Moschato municipalities come to an end, and once the second phase of renovation is completed – this stage envisions the creation of a coastal park for soft recreation.
In the meantime, head east towards the outdoor exercise facilities in Neo Faliro or drop in at the Flisvos Marina, where you can pretend that you actually are in “Barceloneta.”
For the time being, the esplanade is under the care of the people at the neighboring SNFCC, while the surrounding environs remain a place where people can do basically anything they want. During our walk, we saw people playing beach paddle ball, cycling, running, skating, or taking their dogs out for walks, and couples fooling about.
The main attraction down here is the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, parts of which can be accessed. The Park is open from 06.00 to 21.00 – the Canal, the Agora and the Running Track are open, too. However, due to the ongoing measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the center’s outdoor exercise facilities and sports areas remain closed until further notice, as is the Greek National Library, the Greek National Opera’s indoor spaces, the Lighthouse, the playgrounds, the Musical Garden, all the food and drink venues, the SNFCC Store and the Visitors’ Center.
This article was first published in Greek on kathimerini.gr