Spiro-selfie! With our favorite Athens taxi driver (Photo: Jo Piazza)
Hands down, taxi drivers are some of the most knowledgeable people to clue you in to any city. They know where to eat, where to drink, where to shop, and where to meet new people — good people. A first-rate cab driver is an invaluable asset on any trip, which is why I am constantly on the lookout for the perfect driver. Once I find one, I will hire him or her for the rest of my trip.
That is exactly what happened with Spiro Panagiotopoulos, a dead-ringer as an extra in “The Sopranos” who happened to pick us up from the Intercontinental in Athens en route to dinner one afternoon.
I knew that Spiro was “the one” when he corrected my haughty assertion to Paula Froelich that we were driving past the Temple of Poseidon.
"That’s the Temple of Zeus," he said gently. "But you really should visit the Temple of Poseidon. It is beautiful." From then on, Spiro was our constant companion. Anyone visiting Athens should give Spiro a ring at 6977682070 (or hit him up on What’s App: 6975468685). Here are the four things we learned from spending three days driving with Spiro.
Where to Shop: Like most ladies, we were intent on shopping during our first day in Athens. Frankly, we had packed poorly. Instead of sweaters and jackets, we brought flimsy dresses and tank tops inappropriate for autumn in Greece. Spiro knew exactly what to do. First, he whisked us away to the upscale Kolonaki shops that were lovely but pricey.
"Can we go somewhere a little … um … cheaper?"
Of course we bought this swim cap. (Photo: Jo Piazza)
"Absolutely," Spiro replied. And off we went to Ermou Street, a shopping plaza that offers a mixture of Greek and international brands at high, low, and medium price points, where we found boots, sweaters, turbans, sunglasses, the greatest bathing cap that ever was and so much (too much!) more.
Where to Eat: The concierge at our hotel most certainly had an agenda (and perhaps a cut of the profits) when he sent us to some of the most touristy spots in Athens for lunch and dinner. After we’d had enough of mingling with the fanny-pack set, we began allowing Spiro to curate our meals. He took us down to Voutadon Street behind the new Technopolis installation space carved out of the abandoned Athens Gas Works in the Gazi district. On weekends, the Technopolis is one of the best spots to hear live music in the city.
"You should wander," he told us. He was right. At the moment, Athens is experiencing a renaissance of hip, and no fewer than 10 incredible bistros and bars lined the street, all dotted with chic young Athenians enjoying a Sunday afternoon brunch or cocktail.
Surrounding streets Persephonis and Dekeleon are filled with equally charming options.
About Love: One afternoon, stuck in rush hour traffic in front of the Parliament building, I asked Spiro whether he was married. He proceeded to tell me the story of how he met his wife. A good friend was a doctor working in a special hospital for the blind. She needed someone to drive a patient to and from her appointments and tapped Spiro as the chauffeur. It was love at first drive.
"You can’t rush love," Spiro told me. "You just have to relax and wait and love finds you."
Greece really does breed philosophers.
The Best Ruins Right Outside of Athens: You have to see the Acropolis while you’re in Athens, but you don’t have to love it. Naturally you’ll need to take copious amounts of photos to post on Facebook and Instagram and ogle the incredible views of Athens from high above. The new Acropolis Museum is a must-visit. But for a truly ancient experience, head about 80 minutes outside of Athens to Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon.
The deserted and magical Temple of Poseidon (Photo: Jo Piazza)
Perched high on Cape Sounion, the fifth century Doric-style temple was nearly deserted when Spiro drove us there on a windy and cloudy Friday afternoon. The winds were so strong we were nearly whisked right over the cliffs as we quickly realized why the ancient Greeks would locate a temple to the sometimes vengeful sea god in this exact place.
According to legend, it was here that King Aegeus threw himself into the water, thus the name the Aegean Sea.
After our sightseeing, starving, we gave Spiro the following parameters for lunch: delicious, authentic and by the sea. He delivered, taking us to a small and practically deserted waterfront taverna with the most delicious lobster spaghetti we had ever tasted.
Our giant platter of lobster spaghetti (Photo: Jo Piazza)
In sum, Spiro was the best tour guide to Athens that we could have asked for. His energy, spirit, guidance, and loud whistle turned what could have been an average trip into a spectacular one.