Saturday, 11 June 2011

Surviving: summer in the city

Despite being in the world's headlines for all the wrong reasons lately, Greece is a wonderful country - and summer is very much its season. But you need to act smart to get the most of it, especially in the hot gritty city.
So, in the latest of my (very) occasional "Surviving" series, here's a quick guide to enjoying Athens during the hot summer months, without paying for it with sunstroke, new markings like a blushing zebra or a raging thirst-driven headache...

Spring’s showers have melted away, the temperature’s rising and the outlook is bright (at least weather-wise). Summer’s here and the great Athenian outdoors is calling.

It’s not all pool bars and beach umbrellas. The heat can be merciless, even after dark. At night in residential areas, the chirrup of cicadas is accompanied by the murmuring of TVs dragged onto balconies for family viewing, the chink of ouzo glasses and the scrape of knife and fork across plate for a late-night meal.

From June to September, Athens can be a sweaty, gritty city and if you don’t take care, you risk ending your day dizzy, dehydrated and sporting a painful plumage of bright pink and white stripes.

For every tourist to arrive during the summer, at least one year-round resident leaves. As the schools close in mid-June, most Athenians are planning their escape to the hills, islands or grandparents’ villages. And by the time the 15 August holiday rolls around, the city is like a ghost town of sun-baked concrete and shimmering heat mists.

That exodus offers some relief to users of public transport. Fewer people pouring into the buses, trams and trains means there’s less chance of being jammed up against someone’s pungent armpit as they dangle from the strap.

And if you’re smart, summer in the city can be a real joy. Here are a few tips.

We’re not talking about a cup of tea, a couple of ouzos and a few litres of beer. Water is a must. It’s cheap too, as price is strictly controlled, so poverty is no excuse for not having a bottle to swig as you hit the tourist trail.

Dress right, dress light
Wear loose clothes made from natural fabrics. That skin-tight mini-dress might expose lots of luscious flesh to the Mediterranean sun, but you need a few molecules of space between your clothes and your skin to let a little air circulate if you want to avoid passing out. And unless you think a squint and lobster-red head is a good look, invest in a hat.

Protect yourself
Don’t even think of applying baby oil instead of high SPF sunscreen unless a special kind of masochism and doctors’ appointments are your thing.

Seek out shade
In any Greek café, the folk occupying the shadiest spots are the smart ones. Sipping your frappé is much less fun when you’re screwing your eyes up against the glare and the tingle of prickly heat is creeping along your arms.
If you don’t want to pay for your shade, grab a fresh bottle of water from the kiosk and head for the natural shade of the gardens around Zappeion.

Take your time
Summer’s not the season for pit-stop sightseeing, especially at midday when the sun is blazing down and the tarmac resembles warm toffee. Amble along, savour the sights, stop for a leisurely drink or ice-cream. Enjoy it.
Athens has a lot to see, but it’s really not worth rushing around like a manic mosquito just to tick things off your “Must See” list.

A/C relief
Most places are air-conditioned these days, so if the heat gets too much for you, just duck into a café or shop for a cool blast. But if you decide to take a taxi, don’t believe the driver if he tells there’s an extra charge for turning on the A/C.

And if the call of the Med gets too strong to resist, just jump on a tram and head for the beaches of the southern suburbs....

1 comment:

  1. Great tips! Summer was a little late arriving in Cyprus but it's suddenly turned up with a vengence - 30 deg in our bedroom at 2am this morning!