Athens in September: Building sites and the high life

The summer which is fortunately continuing and the end of the holiday season for Greeks have left the islands and other resorts in peace, to be enjoyed by those who prefer to take their holidays in September. The same cannot be said for Athens, where work on Olympic venues, the Kifissou Avenue extension and the suburban railway have turned the city into a giant construction site, a nightmare for pedestrians, drivers and cyclists alike. Temperatures are still high for this time of year, a deterrent to anyone wanting to stroll around the city to see those sights that are still clear of construction crews – the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; the concrete desert of Omonia Square; the minimalist, refurbished Hilton Hotel and the majestically redesigned Hotel Grande Bretagne, whose roof garden has recently opened, providing a panoramic view of the Acropolis, crowned by the Parthenon, of Lycabettus and Vassilissis Sofias Avenue, Syntagma Square and Parliament. A must for those whose pockets can afford it, the roof garden is a favorite watering hole for politicians and socialites, not those on their way up who are still laying about in Myconos or sailing around in their newly acquired yachts, but the real celebrities. One evening recently, when Helbi was the guest of Evangelos Constantakatos and his wife Eleni Samara, whose name is synonymous with furs of quality, at other tables were former Prime Minister Costas Mitsotakis and his wife Marika; Yiannis Costopoulos of Alpha Bank; Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos; the former minister Nikos Gelestathis with his wife Anna, who is a lawyer, and Mr and Mrs Daskalantonakis of the Grecotel chain and the Macedonia Palace Hotel in Thessaloniki and the soon-to-open King George. Don’t ask me for photographs! It was a private evening in a public place, not the time to take photographs unless asked to do so. But those who want a coffee or a drink at the open bar can, for a price, do all the people-watching they desire without having to run the gauntlet of bodyguards and doormen. Next year the King George will be ready, with its famous Tudor Hall restaurant on the top floor to compete with the Grande Bretagne. As for ordinary tourists, there are always the open-air tavernas in Plaka – although fewer than in the past – and in Monastiraki, where the Bairaktaris is open for lunch as well, with its family atmosphere, music and photos of politicians, television and theater stars rubbing shoulders.

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