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Happy New Year from Athens!

Happy 2016! Or as they say in Greece: Xronia polla! We're well and truly into the new year, and it's already been incredibly busy: I returned to reality from a brief sojourn in Athens last week, rushing headlong into my second law exam on Friday. No wonder I'm already longing for another trip back to Homer's country (yes, Greece really was the word in 2015!) So here's what I got up to in Athens - a welcome city break in the midst of my terribly spun-out Santorini posts.

This wasn't my first time in this ancient city, but it might as well have been. The five days I spent in Athens were a world away from my last trip (a teacher-supervised Classics whistle-stop tour through Greece), as I was lucky enough to be staying with Athens natives Athina and Roxy. It makes such a difference to be able to see a city through the eyes of locals, don't you think? Anyway, Roxy, who'd arrived the day before me, had warned me that it was a 'bit nippy', and I'd better bundle up. Winter coat buttoned up and gloves pulled on, I stepped off the plane into bright yet practically Arctic conditions, with flurries of snow stubbornly eddying through sunbeams. Bit nippy indeed. Thanks Rox. Luckily, upon arriving in the old town of Monastiraki I soon warmed up over hot rakomelo (raki with honey and cloves, which I freely admit blows mulled wine out of the water. A must if you're ever visiting Greece in the cold months!) As we left, the moon was already up, the Parthenon illuminated on the hill and the swirling snow steadily growing bolder. 

Naps, showers and makeup complete, I was propelled into the world of Greek family life with a host of Hellenic New Year traditions: pastitsio (a hearty dish best described as the lovechild of moussaka and mac 'n' cheese) with a salmon salad, followed by vassilopita or St Basil's Cake. Similar to the galette du roi enjoyed on Epiphany, it involves hunting for a token - a Euro, in this case - with the recipient bound to be very fortunate in the coming year. Sadly, the six of us weren't so lucky and the luck went to 'the house' - though as a guest, I was gifted with a charm to remember the evening by.

No sooner had we settled down to watch the mayor's speech on TV than - without a countdown! - it was suddenly not 2015 any more. After kisses and squeals, we walked out of the door to welcome in 2016, making sure to step back over the threshold right foot first. Traditions ticked off, it was time to drive through what had developed into an intense snowstorm to make merry in Kefissia.

Photo by Giorgos Makris

Hours of drinking and dancing with Rox, Rallia and Athina later, the night was brought to a satisfying close with home-cooked fried eggs and toast. Yes, this was an incredibly happy new year.

The next day we got up just as Nyx took the reins from Hemera (the sun was going down, if my Ancient Greek enthusiasm needs translating). Crazily hungry, we had one craving and one craving only: burgers, of course! More specifically: Simply Burgers. I plumped for the Godfather: mushrooms, bacon and double cheddar! Hey, it was an offer I couldn't refuse.

I've had some truly jaw-dropping burgers in my time (Bleecker, Honest Burgers, I love you so) but I really couldn't complain here. The thickly-cut wedge chips in particular were right up my alley, with creamy gyros-style Creole dipping sauce making for three very happy customers.

New Year over, the rest of the trip flashed by. Highlights coming right up...

Late-night comedy at Theatre 104 delivered by the wonderful Katerina Vrana that made me laugh like a fool. Want to know something else that makes me cry with laughter? These girls. We had SATC-style chats over giant hot chocolates topped with frothy whipped cream and intense games of Connect 4 at Sensimilia. (Yes, Roxy beat us both resoundingly, and yes, this sore loser will be erasing that from the history books.)

Greece's take on Japanese cuisine at Koi: sushi topped with eel, sashimi, edamame beans and warm sake.

Mulled wine and a ridiculously fun mash-up of Charades and Articulate in an incredibly smoky bar. Smoke was the one and only source of my discontent in Athens: I noticed that in direct contrast to Santorini, most bars and were filled with smoke here, especially at the hotel, and it took some serious washing to get the smell out of my hair and clothes. In this bar they actually opened the roof to let the smoke out!

A day marathoning films (It Follows, Anastasia and Coraline) fuelled by ouzo and some crazy good gyros, spicy feta and smoked aubergine takeaway. Oh, and getting terrified in the vast Metro stations about the possibility of the It Follows ghoul coming after us.

A solo walk around the hills, picking my way over rocks and ruins to get a look at the Acropolis from the back.

The Sowl, Athina's very cool workplace and an arts space with a great bar where we spent the day working (me to salvage the upcoming exam, Roxy looking very professional on her netbook).

It also serves kick-ass food, as I found out firstly over lunch with their amazing tacos. So good that on our last night, after playing a ghoulish escape room game (a fun experience, but overshadowed by the HintHunt Japanese room I beat on work experience last summer!) we went back for dinner. And cocktails.

More last-night fun: zooming up to the Time Machine bar at the A for Athens hotel for more excellent drinks and an unbeatable view of the golden Acropolis. Honestly the perfect way to round off a magical trip. Thank you so much for showing me around your amazing city, Athina!

I hope you enjoyed this short peek into Athens from an insider's point of view! After all that festive eating, I admit I toyed with titling this post 'My Big Fat Greek New Year'. It really would have been appropriate - I frankly ate enough to bring Athens to its knees. Dare I say it: Acropolis Now. Okay, I'm done. I promise. Happy New Year, guys!

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