The Plaka seems to be a mishmash of narrow streets and oldish buildings with whitewashed walls, but I sensed that it was much better organised than it seemed. As it is, looks can be deceiving, because The Plaka, though ancient, is well planned with essential services being delivered underground in a series of tunnels, with many of the narrow streets and laneways now closed to all by essential traffic.
To wander through The Plaka is to get a sense of the true Athens, for the area does ooze ambience and authenticity, even though it is one of the most popular places for tourist to congregate whilst in Athens.
It is true that there is an overwhelming number of tourist shops there; selling an eclectic range of stock from cheap, useless trinkets through to well-crafted, expensive goods, but these stores do seem to belong in that location, along with the many restaurants which sell traditional fare to those seeking an authentic dining experience.
It was at a restaurant in The Plaka where I first enjoyed the Greek way of applauding a favoured performer by breaking a plate at their feet.
I have no idea how this tradition first began, but I had been with fellow travellers when we chose this restaurant at random. I don’t remember much about the meal, except for the fact that it was accompanied by many shots of ouzo and lashings of the local retsina wine, which becomes an acquired taste once you’ve adjusted your palate to the resin-like flavour after many a glass of the aniseed-soaked ouzo.
The food may have been good because the restaurant was mainly filled with locals. Greeks become quite exuberant when excited. The bouzouki band certainly put on an entertaining show, for which they were thanked by having many plates thrown at them with gusto. The harder you throw, the better they explode when they hit the floor. Although an exciting way to end a performance, plate smashing is not as frugal as mere applause, as at the end of the night you get a bill for each plate you break.
Still, I did like The Plaka, and spent many hours exploring the streets, people watching over a coffee and climbing the hill towards the Acropolis, passing modest houses which sit cheek by jowl, and gaining much appreciation for just how special Athens really is.