What's New in Greece
Arriving in a taxi (sorry, no chariots), today's traveler may be surprised to find Athenians garbed by Armani and driving the latest sports car. Shouldn't they look like truncated marble statues in the Acropolis Museum and have brows habitually crowned with wild olive?
Incongruous as it may seem, most natives have two arms attached to the torso in the normal place. And if visitors still arrive nurtured on the truth and beauty of Keats's Grecian Urn, they shouldn't be puzzled by the locals talking about the hottest club in Athens's Gazi nightlife district.
After all, only the most scholarly bookworm still believes that Greece is a dusty museum. The country is now alive with vibrant trends and styles, especially after the mammoth 2004 Olympic Games were held in Athens.
Everything old—even 25 centuries old—is new again. Although still an agelessly beautiful land, the post-Olympic "European" Greece is burgeoning with boutique hotels, hot restaurants, and sophisticated nightlife that challenges the Zorba-era conceptions of the spartan Aegean. To get you acquainted with the "new" Greece, here's a rundown of the topics the natives are busy discussing in neighborhood cafés or, as the case may be, the hot new taverna.
The Neo-Taverna Phenomenon
They all look reassuringly familiar—the red wine and ouzo, the simple square tables, even the wood-and-straw chairs. However, something is decidedly different at new "reborn" tavernas, or neo-tavernas. More upscale and design-oriented than before, these neighborhood hangouts kick it up with organically inclined ingredients and, at a time when diners can no longer take what they eat for granted, have successfully courted foodies by seeking out recipes with a unique twist or a quirky name so odd they have be authentic! Along with a return to regional cuisines—be it Cretan or Asia Minor—their chefs like to surprise by adding international ingredients into "grandma's recipes." And since nothing is left to chance—these eateries are carefully calculated to stimulate the palates and calm the nerves of hard-working, pleasure-seeking neo-Greeks—the decor is often a witty mix of rural and urbane: a dowager aunt's woven rug may be a chic display.
One hint that you've stumbled across a neo-taverna is the predominance of white decor mixed with soft trendy hues like lime green and tangy orange, rather than the traditional blue. Lest this all sound like some faddish folderol, neo-tavernas can make for some great eating. Mamacas in Athens's Gazi quarter and Manimani in the city's Makrigianni district are excellent examples of this tasty and tasteful taverna renaissance.
In a testament to the country's real relationship to its past, antiquities continue to regularly make headlines in Greece. In Northern Greece, archaeologists recently uncovered "forensic evidence" related to Alexander the Great's murdered family members. Aigai—once the site of the palace of Alexander's father, Philip II—is at the archaeological epicenter. In 2008 and 2009, new burial finds were located there, including the remains of someone who may have been Heracles, Alexander the Great's murdered illegitimate teen son. It appears these bones were reburied, perhaps in secret.
To make things more intriguing, some archaeologists have been claiming for more than a decade that the objects considered Philip II's funeral items are actually not his own but those of Alexander the Great's half-brother. Meanwhile, after years of construction, thens's New Acropolis Museum has not only become the biggest "must see" spot in town but a source of constant debate. For decades, Greece has demanded that the lion's share of the Parthenon Marbles be repatriated from the British Museum to Athens. From its inception, Greece made no secret that the new museum's raison d'etre would be creating a state-of-the-art home for the marble frieze sculptures that British diplomat Lord Elgin removed from the Acropolis in 1803. Will the fabled Marbles ever be returned? Stay tuned.
Smells Like (Angry) Teen Spirit
They snap pictures of each other on the latest cell phone models. They giggle and flirt. They get along amazingly well with their parents. On the outside, the Greek teenager may appear happy with the status quo, but events of December 2008 indicated otherwise. Following the shooting death of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos by police, rioting began in Athens on December 6, 2008, and then spread to other cities.
Why the rage? Some chalked up the pre-Christmas trashing of rows of shops/sidewalks in central Athens to spontaneous mass protest against systematic police brutality. Others blamed it on an education system that has undergone countless reforms but is still shadowed by a private, expensive economy of tutoring classes. Another popular explanation was that young people were voicing frustration at the bleakness of their future prospects, with unemployment growing and many 20- and 30-year-olds resentful of the fact that they are "The Generation of 700 Euros"—the generation who will spend years in higher education only to make EUR 700 a month. When asked what's wrong directly, in the midst of the riots, many Greek teenagers simply answered: "Everything." It's a tall order for change.
When it comes to wildfires, the Greek summer of 2009 was a grim reminder of the disastrous summer of 2007, when massive fires killed at least 63 people (mainly in the Peloponnese), destroyed up to 100 villages, and burned as many as 6 million acres. In 2009, the fires began in Grammatiko, about 25 mi northeast of Athens, and quickly spread toward the Athenian suburbs, in a region already known for its illegal ribbon of development, where thousands of homes originally built on forest land (without permits) have been legalized ahead of elections by successive governments.
A state of emergency was declared throughout Attica, although no casualties were reported. The ecological disaster in long-suffering Mount Penteli, one of the capital's few remaining—and rare—oxygen sources, is significant. With the help of winds, Penteli lost 51,000 acres of pine forest, olive groves, shrub land, and farmland, with many animals perishing. The déjà vu of the wildfires again called into question the state's ability to effectively protect the country's forests and respond in a timely fashion to fire emergencies. The huge losses of 2007 didn't spur the government to launch a major fire-prevention strategy—so everyone is now wondering if the 2009 fires will finally get the bureaucrats moving.
Free Fodor's Newsletter
Subscribe today for weekly travel inspiration, tips, and special offers.
Fodor's Trip Planning Ideas
- Weekend Getaways: Fodor's Recommends the Best Weekend Escapes in the US
- Great American Vacation: Find Your Next U.S. Trip with Fodor's
- 80 Degrees: Fodor's Helps You Find Your Best Beach Vacation Spots
- Go List: Fodor's Top 25 Places to Go in 2013
- Hotel Awards 2012: Fodor's 100 Top Hotels
- Best of Europe: Fodor's Picks the Best Places to Visit in Europe
- $1649 & up -- Greek Islands 8-Night Escape w/Air & Ferry go-today
- $549 & up -- Last Minute: Greek Islands and Turkey Cruise Royal Caribbean
- Albania, Macedonia & Beyond IExplore
- Greece Experience — $3,125 IExplore
- $699 & up -- Oceanview: Roundtrip Venice Cruise — $699 Royal Caribbean