2011, two years after the economic crisis that struck hard on Greece in 2009, the country has still been under recovery. Tourist arrivals that had slumped in 2009 at -6% (SETE, ELSTAT) quickly turned around with an increase of 9,46%. It was that year that the City of Athens introduced a new voluntary program called ‘This is my Athens’, under the Athens Development and Destination Management Agency. Athens local residents would voluntarily show their city to visitors who wanted to see Athens, not from the touristic guide books but from the viewpoint of a passionate insider.
Insight information, details, feelings that only locals can share. Following similar programs in major cities around the world, “The Greeters” programme yet unique just like every city around the world.
Having heard about it I immediately applied. It wasn’t the first time that I voluntarily offered my services and definitely not the first time showing passionate people around my city, but this time was a different type of experience.
Meeting strangers from around the world and befriending them in no time, seemed like a great challenge. How to condense a whole city in just a few hours?
At the very beginning of the programme, the matching process between an Athenian Local and a Visitor was conducted manually, via emails. Nowadays, the whole program has been upgraded into a super automated online platform with dashboards and unique profiles.
 Here came my day -11 Jan. 2012- when I was matched with my first two visitors from Poland, Sebastian and Agnieszka!

Time-out for warm coffee at Melina’s Café and fruitful discussions about Greece and Poland [photo by Sebastian Karlinski]

The excitement and nervousness were high. After the typical exchange of information through emails, I tried to narrow down their preferences as there were so many things to see and do here. I must admit, in the beginning, I had that ‘nose up’ proud look of someone who thought that knows everything and would share some of it to some people who knew nothing. Such a wrong attitude!
Surprise first came when Sebastian finished his email using the Greek words ‘Με εκτίμηση’ [Me ektimisi] instead of ‘Regards’. Oups! What is that! I sent email asking how come he knows Greek words and to my surprise I got the reply that he had visited several times Greece but Agnieszka would come for the first time.
Well, my initial thought that an ‘Athenian expert’ would meet an uninformed visitor was shoveled away. The more we communicated, the more I realized that he was the Greek expert and i was the uninformed one, especially when he asked me if- being a big fan of Greek Films- I could help him find a documentary of 2004 called “Katsantonis’ Leap and Uncle Lambros”, by film director KOLOZIS Giorgos. He wanted to buy it but it was not on sale and could not find online at that time. I had never heard both until then… I replied that I would search about it and let them know on our meeting.
By searching I learned that KOLOZIS Giorgos was a very important director one of the few who focused on the ecology cinema and who, sadly, died unexpectedly in 2009. His documentary had received awards from abroad. It’s the parallel life story of a 17th century legendary hero Katsantonis(Makriyannis) and a local cult personality, old man Lambros who thinks and acts uniquely at the mountainous village of Afrafa in Evritania, Central Greece.
As the documentary was co-funded by the Greek Film Centre I called them and informed them about the foreign traveler who was in search of that film. The officer encouraged me to go there together with the visitors and she would try to find it.
At the day of the meeting, Sebastian suggested to visit Anafiotika, one of the most beautiful places at the northern slopes of Acropolis as they had not walked there. That blue and white house neighborhood that looks like the Cycladic island, was built by settlers of the Aegean island of Anafi, when they were called to build the Palace of king Otto, in the mid-19th century. They were skillful builders and missing their homevillages they created a small miniature island, just under Parthenon! A well worth visit.

Anafiotika neighborhood at the north slopes of Acropolis

For the coffee break and fruitful discussion I recommended one of my favorite coffee shops, Melina’s Café in Plaka. Not just for the lovely interiors and the coffee but for the person its name bears, the emblematic and incredible Melina Mercouri, a legendary Greek actress and Minister of Culture, probably the “last Greek Goddess” as its owners call her.

Exterior of Melina’s Café in Plaka

Next stop was the Greek Film Center in search of the documentary film “Katsantonis’ Leap and Uncle Lambros”. We entered their premises and searched for the officer we talked by the phone. And one more big surprise! That lady had a familiar face! She was my fellow student, ages ago, at the Bachelor degree in Panteion University! She told me that my name sounded familiar to her but wanted to confirm face to face! I was happy to see her again. Sebastian was lucky! He was given as gift the documentary so he could watch it. Mission accomplished and everyone is happy! We greeted each other so that Sebastian and Agnieszka would continue their Greek cultural exploration by attending a significant greek singer’s concert!

‘This is my Athens’: Walking up the slope of Acropolis and talking with Agnieszka [photo by Sebastian Karlinski]