Protopapadaki Street is mainly lined with restaurants and automobile repair shops. They are all open, so there is not much indication of a lockdown here.
Only the fact that you have to walk up the road indicates that something is amiss, since normally people drive up to Tourkovounia and then begin their hike.
This specific hills give a breath of fresh air to four neighborhoods, being nestled between Galatsi, Kypseli, Polygono and Psyhiko. The inhabitants of these areas are able to easily take their lockdown walks here, accessing the hills directly from pathways that begin in their neighborhoods.
Our route mainly follows the central road that boasts consistent panoramic views of the city below. As a starting point we head to Hatzispyrou Square, at the end of Protopapadaki Street, where the road turns right and heads up towards the ring road.
The finishing point is the viewpoint after the Georgios Papandreou neighborhood, making for a total of two kilometers, a distance that can be increased depending on the detours you take.
For instance, you can choose to walk the entire ring road (3 km) in order to reach the same viewpoint, or spend all your time in the park, Attiko Alsos (Attican Grove), that is located on the way.
You can also walk along the pathway next to the main road, which leads to Zafiro café-bar. It is closed, much like the beautiful outdoor cinema across the way. But the famed Attiko Alsos park is open – its gates are unlocked at 6:30 each morning and closed at 10:30 at night, as per the signs posted at the entrance gate.
“Should I smile? Oh, you will not see it with the mask,” Christos, owner of the food truck that is still open for business in the park, tells me playfully as I take his picture. Of course he smiles, adding a joyful note to the day, something that pervades everything around me as everybody seems to be relishing their freedom from confinement.
The pathways that have been created across this 55-hectare expanse were used by the residents of the surrounding areas long before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Parents watch their children play ball and ride their scooters; Fanis engages in his daily Callanetics workout (an alternative exercise system that promises impressive body contouring); five or six elderly people enjoy their walks in nature.
The basketball and volleyball courts are not open, the playground is locked, but the five-a-side football pitch was never completed and therefore cannot be locked, thus offering a few boys a space to play.
The tennis courts are all occupied. “Tennis is becoming very popular, and since it is one of the few sports that are still allowed we are concerned that many more people will come here to play, and the courts will always be full,” explain three young friends who have recently taken up the game.
Outside Attiko Alsos, the walk continues on the main road: a chicken appears in front of me almost in a panic, and begins to run in the opposite direction. Giannis Fratzeskos comes out of his house and shouts: “Calm down, are you running away again?”
The rebel chicken is part of a large gang reared by Giannis on Tourkovounia, as if it were a village. Geese, turkeys and two goats live with the chickens. This is the first warning that you are about to enter a different world, since the Georgios Papandreou settlement begins a little further down, a veritable village in the heart of Athens.
Our recommended route traverses the settlement and descends to a wonderful spot that boasts views of Mt Lycabettus, the Acropolis and, in the distance, the sea. At sunset, visitors gather to watch as if filling makeshift bleachers. They keep their distances – especially from the concrete jungle spreading out below.
A sense of the Greek countryside in a village “hidden” in the city
The Georgios Papandreou settlement looks like a village. Not because of its beauty, but because of the sense of the Greek countryside it exudes, something unexpected for Athens.
Almost all the hallmarks are here: sparsely built houses constructed from a variety of materials, from shacks to modern homes; gates, courtyards with vegetable gardens or well-tended decorative plants; discussions on the front steps about the day’s cooking; chickens that run away from their pens and wander the streets; cats rubbing against your legs in search of a snack.
“Fifty families live here,” 23-year-old Giorgos tells me. “It is very special, the only problem is getting around as there is no public transport.”
They say this area has been inhabited since the 1940s, yet the settlement took its current form in the 1960s during the premiership of Georgios Papandreou, as its name suggests. Its legal status has been challenged many times; the case has been taken to court, yet questions remain. The settlement’s connections to the electrical and water grids were completed only in the 1990s.
“This is a true village. And you should have seen how it was before,” says Ms Voula, as she waters her plants while I keep my distance so as to protect her.
“The younger generation now commute for work, while we older folks do not really get out much, but we cannot really close ourselves off. During the previous quarantine, all of Kypseli would come here every afternoon,” she adds.
Walking around the settlement is interesting, chiefly due to one’s curiosity to see (discreetly, of course) how people live here. It’s easy to locate the two churches; that of Sotiros (Our Savior) beneath which there is a wonderful viewing point, and Aghia Kyriaki in the square.
Continuing straight, the first road on the right will lead you to the Tourkovounia rock climbing field along a 15-minute walk on dirt paths. The area is also accessible directly via the ring road, and many people spend their afternoons rock climbing here.
The last road on the left becomes a dirt road at some point, passing in front of the quarry and Attiko Alsos theater before heading to the neighborhood of Polygono (there is also a pathway). If you continue going straight you will arrive at a kiosk with endless views of the city.
This article was first published in Greek on kathimerini.gr