The ‘Police station for tourists’ in Athens has a 1.5 star rating on Google and is little more than a large, sparse room lined with sofas and coffee tables. I was here because the previous night someone ran away with my camera bag.
All around me, tourists of various nationalities were filling out police reports to be rubber-stamped for insurance claims. I approached the desk, explained my situation, and within fifteen minutes was able to leave with a detailed report of what happened and what I’d lost. The silver lining to the heavy amount of petty street crime in Athens is the speed at which they have learnt to process it. I also didn't lose my 35mm camera, which was in its usual place around my neck.
In the two months between booking flights and boarding the plane, both Primitive and Passport released edits from Athens. This was a positive sign that we’d picked a good destination, and their videos provided us with an updated overview of the spots on offer.
Using these clips, alongside various articles, scene videos, and sources dating as far back as DC’s Euro tour 2002, Cliche’s Bon Appetite and Extremely Sorry, we compiled a map to give us a solid backbone of spots and districts to hit over the course of the week. Special mention goes to Jamie Walker, who did the lion’s share of this research.
Day one was spent like most other first days in a new city. We dropped off our bags, set up our boards, and left the apartment, heading vaguely into the direction of the centre of town. Our first stop was just around the corner from the apartment on Omonia Square, a traffic island with a gnarly bank that Dennis Busentiz backside noseblunted in an Adidas edit back in 2012.
Omonia Square was far from an ideal warm-up spot. The ground was rough and more than once a board nearly flew out into the melee of traffic that swirled around us. To add, within twenty minutes of skating flatground we had our first snapped board - nothing stiffens the legs quite like four hours on a RyanAir flight. Fortunately we weren’t too far from Color Skateshop, who stock the best selection of clothes and hardgoods in the city.
With another nearby spot in mind we headed downhill from the skateshop, until a wrong turn led us to an empty fountain bowl outside a grand old mansion. Before long a security guard emerged, but he only watched for a minute before disappearing back inside. This became a common theme. Perhaps they have more important things to worry about.
We collected a few clips here and at another couple of crusty inner-city spots, which wasn’t a bad haul for a first day. As the evening drew in Jamie led us to the first of many souvlaki restaurants, which was where my bag was snatched from under my feet. We chased a few shadows down a few narrow alleys, but whoever took it knew the streets much better than we did. It wasn’t long before I resigned myself to the fact it was gone and there was nothing I could do about it there and then.
The second day began with the trip to the police station, after which we caught a bus from the town to a bench spot by the harbour, escaping the dusty chaos of the city for serene seafront promenade. The sun blazed and we soaked it up, knowing the forecast was thunderstorms for the next few days. The ledges at the seafront were worn and weathered, but somehow still skated like a dream. Nearby, a couple sat fishing with 6 rods by a half-submerged boat, catching only one small fish the whole time we were there.
Returning to the city, we revisited a couple of places we’d seen late the previous evening. We were setting up to film on the plinth of the headquarters of the Bank of Athens when an elderly man appeared, laid down three sheets of cardboard and a blanket, and made it clear that this was his bed for the rest of the night.
On the morning of the third day I bought a Nikon DSLR with an 18-55mm kit lens for €200 from a camera shop meters away from our apartment. We caught a bus out to the university, where every square foot of the building was covered in political graffiti encouraging us to ‘eat the rich’.
One of the first things that strikes you when you arrive in Athens is that everything is political. The first known democracy in the world began here under Pericles in the 5th century BC, and some 2500 year later it’s clear we’re still ironing out the creases.
I don’t pretend to have any kind of understanding of a city after spending just seven days there, but it’s impossible to visit the city without noticing how deeply embedded politics is in all aspects of Athenian daily life.
“We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.” - Pericles, the first citizen of Athens 429 BC
Later in the trip, as we watched a group of masked anarchists chase three men out of Exarchia, the vendor of a nearby falafel stall informed me that the men were thieves, but the real mafia was in government.
The university campus was loaded with spots, including a pattern of raised pads with endless possibilities for lines and combinations. We got a couple of hours here before the first of the forecasted storms arrived, and after sheltering beneath an awning for the worst of it to pass we decided to cut our losses and head back into town, hoping the rain would pass before the evening. The storm did pass, and the steep hill back to town dried quickly enough for us to bomb it all the way back to where we caught the bus that morning.
The weather looked set to write off Sunday so we spent Saturday night back in Monastiraki, first in a rooftop bar overlooking the Parthenon, then to a smokey indie bar, and finally to a tiny 50-capacity club. It gets a bit hazy from there but I think everyone had a good time one way or another.
Sunday brought some of the heaviest storms I’ve ever seen. Those of us who didn’t arrive home at 9am thought it would be a good idea to find a bar to catch the football. We got about a mile from the apartment before the rain started and we were forced to take shelter in the gazebo of a betting shop. Amongst the screens showing digital horse races and bingo numbers we caught most of the game before the rain crept into the tent and cut the electricity. Realising the downpour wasn’t going to stop we ran home, sprinting from awning to awning.
The next couple of days brought more heavy storms that seemed to surprise even the locals. With the acknowledgement that the mornings were generally drier than the afternoons, we decided it was best start setting out earlier in the day. One train took us outside of the city centre to a leafy suburb where we stumbled across a town square with a banked platform that we hadn’t seen in any of our research. Walkies stepped to land an awkward wallie in next to no time at all.
We had just set off for the next spot - the one we were originally heading towards - when the storms started again. We left the area but by the time we were back in the city it was dry enough to skate the kicker gap outside the Bank of Athens, which was mostly undercover. This time the man who had made his home there let us stay long enough for Darby to backside heelflip the gap, before we thanked him for his hospitality and set off to another spot at a different bank.
The Olympic park in Athens reminded me a lot of the other Olympic parks I’d seen around Europe. The dream of an ‘Olympic legacy’ had long since diminished, and all that remained were a few empty stadia in the desolate outskirts where only a few curious tourists tread. All the doors to the arenas were open, so after skating a steep bank spot we explored the aquatic centre where huge dusty tv cameras still sat, leftover from the final race in 2004.
We left the Olympic park and followed a dual carriageway towards a few more spots we’d heard about. The road was dotted with car showrooms, and outside one that looked abandoned we found a long gap into a road with a perfect marble run-up. Darby 180d it within a couple of attempts and began filming a line when a bearded man and his elderly boss emerged and asked us to leave. We pleaded for a few more attempts but they wouldn’t budge.
“You came all the way here to go skateboarding? Fucking hell”.
As we were leaving the guy with the beard asked us where we were from and what we were doing here. His mind seemed pretty blown when we told him we’d flown here from London to jump around on his car showroom in the outskirts of Athens.
We finished the evening at a bench spot on a glass bridge that spanned the dual carriageway, which was more picturesque than it sounds.
With one full day remaining the storms cleared and walkies led us to a plaza we'd wanted to visit a few days before. On arrival we found enough ledges, rails, bollards and smooth flat ground for pretty much everyone to get a trick or line. It would have been easy to spend the entire day here, but there were a couple of other places we wanted to squeeze in before having to fly home. The decision to leave was also made easier by the arrival of a Greek Orthodox priest, who instructed his cleaner to pour water on the run-up to a very low handrail outside his church.
Our final stop for the trip was the port, where we found a long marble manual pad. Just when we thought we’d found the perfect mellow spot to settle in for the evening, a security guard appeared and gave us the boot from here too. At the start of the trip we were hardly kicked out of anywhere, but as the days went on security guards (or members of the clergy) had become a bigger and bigger problem.
We saw out the evening at a spot close to our apartment, and made a few last beer runs to one of the corner kiosks that had fuelled much of the trip. Our flight home was the following evening, which gave us enough time to check out the Acropolis and Parthenon - places that most normal people come to the city to visit.
So there it is. Despite the downpours, the security guards and the thieves Athens managed to live up to the hype. The negative aspects were more than cancelled out by the positives - friendly locals, endless skate spots, cheap beer and good vibes. A city of contrasts and contradictions, but what capital city isn’t?
Video ‘ATHINA’ by Matt McDowell (thanks for the thumbnail):