It's no wonder that all roads lead to the fascinating and maddening metropolis of Athens. Lift your eyes 200 feet above the city to the Parthenon, its honey-colored marble columns rising from a massive limestone base, and you’ll behold architectural perfection that has not been surpassed in 2,500 years. Today, this shrine of classical form dominates a 21st-century boomtown.
One of the world's oldest cities, Athens is home to 4.5 million souls, many of whom spend the day discussing the city's faults, including budget woes, red tape, overcrowding, transport strikes, immigration problems, and unemployment. These complaint sessions are usually accompanied by good coffee, food, or cocktails since Athenians refuse to stay indoors in any weather or mood. But while Athens is a difficult city to love, it's also a difficult city to leave, and many temporary visitors end up settling there for years without ever having expected to. As damaging as it has been to the Greek psyche and businesses alike, the financial crisis has also served to inspire Greeks to try out new jobs and start innovative and sophisticated entrepreneurial pursuits, while the blossoming urban arts scene has earned the Greek capital the title of being "the new Berlin." Over the last five years it has undergone a huge transformation, and almost every day an innovative new shop, gallery, or eatery pops up.
To experience Athens—Athìna in Greek—fully is to understand the essence of Greece: ancient monuments surviving in a sea of cement, startling beauty amid the squalor, folkish tradition juxtaposed with ultramodern concepts. A priest in flowing robes looks entranced as he studies his iPhone while waiting on the platform of the sleek, space-age metro. To appreciate Athens is to appreciate life with all its surprises and complexities.