|Don't you just love it? the sign says: "PLEASE! Don't park motorcycles on the pavement [sidewalk]"!|
Even the taxi cabs there are now yellow. It seems that the whole world wants to be like America sometimes. All the Greek schoolbuses too, for instance, are now yellow, carbon copies of the school buses all over the USA. A few decades past, this would not have been the case. So, when you're walking city streets, all set at 90º angles to one-another, dumpsters on most corners, graffiti everywhere, vehicles dancing to the traffic light rhythm and horns sounding every second or two, fast-food joints and roller-shuttered shops everywhere, well, you have to resist the urge to start humming the theme music to Kojak. And that shows you how long it is since I watched such stuff, doesn't it.
On our first evening at the hotel, we headed straight for a fast food joint that my wife had discovered on (the very dubious...) TripAdvisor. It's called To Kalamaki tis Troumpas, and it seemed to have good reports re value and atmosphere. We weren't overly impressed, sadly. It was OK, but the location and the feel of the place felt very downbeat, slightly shabby. The salad was humungus, but swimming in water, and the pittas, well, they were OK. There was hardly any outdoor dining and we had to settle for an inside table beside a wide-open glass patio door. Nevertheless, this was July and we were sweltering. There didn't seem to be any air-con and the cooking area of the kitchen was just the other side of a counter from our table. The staff though, yeah, they were friendly, I'll give them that.
The thing is, the pavements in the area where we were staying were dirty, with quite a bit of detritus laying around. Couple that with all the graffiti (it truly is everywhere, and I mean everywhere) and small wonder that I imagined I was in back-street New York. the big difference though, thankfully, was the fact that, even though some of the pedestrians looked decidedly like they may have been living slightly shady lives, we didn't feel unsafe after dark.
The next night we opted to walk the ten minutes or so over the hill (yet more New York street scenes) to the Marina that I'd seen on the street map. The marina is quite a pleasant place, if you can handle the fact that the traffic is manic most of the time. But at least on the marina-side of the road there is a wide walkway, with a low wall on which locals sit to take in the view, or simply pass the time. Even though the wall is only knee-height, it still has graffiti covering most of it. We strolled the pavement on the opposite side of the road and ended up at Kali Pita, which is situated about here:
|The 'pin' in the map is the location of Kali Pita. Photo courtesy of Google Earth Pro.|
You can eat well and cheaply on any street in downtown Piraeus, there's no doubt about that. We did, however, find ourselves saying over and over, we simply couldn't live in such an environment. We're spoilt now, having lived far away from the city for so long, both in the UK and out here in Greece.
By the time our third and last evening before returning to the airport had arrived, we'd kind of written off the place as too noisy, too dirty, too frenetic for us. Just around the corner from our admittedly comfy, if modest hotel (it's called the Filon, BTW. Although that link isn't very helpful, unless you want to book a room at a hotel you've never seen any photos of, so try this one too), we'd walked past a strip joint as well. Across the street from that was a μεζεδοπωλείο (virtually a taverna, the difference is so slight) which could have done with a facelift, but just inside the permanently open frontage (at this time of the year) was a live bouzouki band, evidently the source of the music we'd heard from our hotel room all night long.
We decided to make one last attempt at finding a positive view of Piraeus. And we succeeded. On our last whole day I finally noticed an A3 tear-off street map of the whole area on the hotel reception desk. Taking it up to the room, I pored over it for a while, and spotted what looked like a clutch of eateries and bars along the sea front near the entrance to the marina. That would be where we aimed for that evening. A fifteen minute walk from the hotel found us strolling down a curved access road, lined with cooling trees and greenery, which emptied out on to a two-hundred-metre-long strip that was a sheer delight.
We made our way down while there was still some daylight...
Once we arrived at the bottom, this quayside welcomed us...
|Here's the Google Earth shot to show you where it is. The road leading down to the front is clearly visible, emptying out on to the boulevard about one third of the way along from the marina entrance.|
All the people promenading around looked to be chic, relaxed and 'normal', not at all like the kinds you'd walk past in the rabbit warren of streets just metres away. That's not meant to sound snobbish, well, OK, just a bit then.
Here are a couple of shots I took from our table...
And here's our food. That salad was called Salad "Tou Agrou" - which means "Salad of the field", evidently referring to the fact that it's a mix of vegetables all of which grow in a farmer's field - plus a few olives. It was arguable the best salad we've ever had and was certainly the largest. Here's the menu BTW.
We were really excited about the whole place and, as we walked the promenade before going back to the hotel, we decided that we could easily now spend another long weekend in Piraeus, this time just the two of us, by spending the mornings taking coffee and a cake down here, jumping on the electriko into Athens centre during the afternoons, before returning here for the evening meal and digestif.
All in all then, after an initial dismay at how scruffy and dirty urban Piraeus appeared to be, we found a truly bright outlook with that marina promenade. Cities are cities the world over, of course, so one shouldn't be too surprised at the shabbiness; but once you factor in the nearness of that modest hotel both to the quay where one can hop on a boat and sail off to Aegina, Agistri, Methana, Poros, Hydra etc., as well as to the chic marina where we ate on our last night, and also the fact that it's only fifteen minutes walk from the airport express bus and the Electriko station - well, you have the recipe for a flaming good short stay.
Something I can't stress enough too, is the fact that through all of our nighttime walks through the backstreets of this huge urban sprawl, we didn't once sense any threat to our security. We never found ourselves saying "Oh, better avoid those people over there. Let's cross the road."
Our final judgment of Piraeus? Forget the fact that it's an urban maze. Seek out the good points and you can have a damn good stay there.