NEWS

Athens has its biggest party ever with street entertainers downtown

An amazing scene takes over downtown Athens every night, when large crowds fill Monastiraki, Plaka, Thiseion, Psyrri and Gazi. Even a simple stroll down the main street demands patience and good humor. The crowds are made up of foreign visitors – tourists, athletes and members of delegations – and Athenians who’ve heard about it by word of mouth and flock into town to enjoy the unique atmosphere. The city center looks nothing like its usual drab August self, or even like the popular nights of Christmas or New Year. People are everywhere, causing extraordinary congestion on sidewalks and in squares, creating a festive atmosphere that nobody expected from Olympic Athens. Tables at the main cafes and bars never seem to empty, and people wander the streets to watch performances and participate in innovative events. Good for the city The first people to witness this Athenian celebration were the owners of businesses in the city center. «Since August 12, when the events began, we’ve had crowds,» said Maria Mitsionis, the owner of four bars and restaurants in Thiseion. «The roads are full of tourists and of Greeks who’ve come to see the celebration. Those with [Games] accreditation are better customers than the Greeks. The others just go for a stroll.» Mitsionis believes if Greece had made the most of the Games there would have been crowds not just downtown but all over Attica. «But I think it will help the city in the long run. All these foreigners who say these are the best Olympic Games they’ve seen are sure to advertise our country and come back themselves.» Extending the operating hours of public transport has also played a significant part: «I’ve concluded that this festive atmosphere isn’t just due to the Olympic Games, but also to public transport, which is still running late at night,» said Aris Kostakiotis, owner of two bars and a restaurant in Monastiraki. «I reckon that we alone serve at least 5,000 people. This is unheard of. But when the electric railway wasn’t working one night a week before the Games started, business immediately dropped to the usual level for the season. The experts should realize that if they keep public transport running until 2-3 a.m., more people will go out.» It is true that extending the timetable has dramatically increased the popularity of public transport. Since the Games began, an estimated 550,000 passengers have used the metro every day and 450,000 the ISAP electric railroad, while the complex network of buses transports 1.5 million passengers a day. Another incentive for people to go downtown has been Athens Municipality’s program of cultural events in squares and on sidewalks. «It’s been an unprecedented success. On Thursday evening, for example, 7,000 people attended the concert by Evanthia Reboutsika and Elli Paspala in the Roman Agora. There were so many that at one point we had to close the gate and not let anyone else in,» said Deputy Mayor Panos Loukakos, in charge of municipal cultural events during the Games. «The biggest crowds are at events on sidewalks, especially on Dionysiou Aeropagitou, Apostolou Pavlou and Ermou. We don’t get so many spectators in Pangrati, Metaxourgeio or on Fokionos Negri, which shows that many Athenians are still away on vacation.»