I was with a friend arguing about which city is better Thessaloniki or Athens. I was for Athens, when this blond Aussie guy jumps in with his broken Greek. My friend and I thought ëwhoís this malaka?í Later we became close friends.
Anyone who has lived in Athens will testify that Athens is an exciting city. It is a 2000-year-old city that never sleeps, crammed with five million people built on the bones of human history.
It is remarkably safe for a metropolis of its size and density. Its ancient and modern juxtapositions are equally dramatic.
Suckered into Hollywood visions of the Greek islands most of the 17 million international visitors to Greece bypass the exhilarating experience that is Athens.
Athens can be chaotic and frustrating, forcing one into an intense love-hate relationship with the city. You wake up in love with Athens as the smell of freshly baked bread from the local bakery wafts up to the balcony while you sip on coffee.
By 11am you hate Athens, after waiting for an hour at the post office queue to be told they are shutting down for the day, and getting caught in grindingly slow moving traffic.
But by 11pm you are in love again as you sip an ice-cold beer at a garden jazz bar in Psiri or while devouring great food in an outdoor taverna.
However the hyper-concentrated urban density of Athens, memories of the horrendous car pollution in the 1980s and the limited range of accommodation options in the Greek national capital have shaped the negative perceptions of Athens.
Business partners in Boutique Athens and long-term friends, Yorgos Tserexidis and Dean Hewett, are opening up Athens to a new and hip generation of travellers by creating affordable and unique accommodation options in the heart of historic and now very bohemian Athens.
Yorgos and Dean have bought inner city apartments that have been abandoned or left unoccupied as a result of Athenian fleeing the decaying urban centre for the leafy outer suburbs of Athens.
They have restored them and rent them out to foreign visitors as contemporary holiday apartments, of which there is a limited supply in Athens.
“Athens is still the most underutilized city in Europe,” says Yorgos.
Part of the problem as far as he is concerned was the sub-standard accommodation parading as back packers’ hotels, or as three star hotels in Athens.
“We knew that if we provided great service, there would be a niche market for it. We looked for apartments and re-invested in them bringing them up to a standard and thus offering real quality,” he underscores.
Dean’s and Yorgo’s first endeavour was EP16, apartments found five minutes away from the flea market in Monastiraki, the ancient Acropolis and the new Acropolis museum, Thission, Ancient Agora and Plaka.
“EP 16 is in the centre of the contemporary art scene in Athens with many of the studios and galleries in the area,” says Yorgos.
“In 2009 we had Dimitar Gochev the famous director from Berlin and his actors staying at the apartments when they performed the controversial, The Persians, for the Epidaurus festival,” he adds.
Yorgos is a trained economist and thoroughly Athenian in his cosmopolitanism.
In the 1970s he was a student steeped in radical politics who saw action against the 1967-1974.
“The Junta had fallen by 1974. I was ready to be called up for [compulsory] military service and decided to leave.”
“The army was still the same army; they had only changed a few people on top and there were files on me.”
He decided to head for London to pursue a filmmaking course, ìbut I had no money and could hardly surviveî he adds.
He came to Australia as a tourist in the early 1980s and stayed.
Yorgos soon became involved in the nascent bohemian revival of Brunswick St, Fitzroy as a partner of Rhumbarella, one of three key Fitzroy landmarks, along with Marioís and The Black Cat.
Yorgos met Dean at the Dogís Bar in St Kilda over 15 years ago.
“I was with a friend arguing about which city is better: Thessaloniki or Athens. I was for Athens, when this blond Aussie guy jumps in with his broken Greek. My friend and I thought “who ís this malaka?” Later we became close friends. Dean loves Greece…”
Dean is the quintessential blond blue-eyed Aussie ex-surfie who once was the epitome of yuppie success.
At the age of 26 Dean was an associate director of Deutsche Bank in Australia, but as Yorgos says, “Dean left banking for ‘life'”.
“I found that moving money from place to place and waiting for the ‘golden crumbs’ to fall was soul destroying,” says Dean from Athens.
“The job didn’t create hospitals, hotels or schools. We pretended we were important to oil the wheels of business, but really we just made money for ourselves and didnít achieve much for anyone else.”
At 28 he left banking to study history at Melbourne University and then invested the money he had made at Deutsche Bank in tourism based properties in Falls Creek and later in Greece.
Like the few non-Greeks who have lived and experienced Athens, Dean fell deeply in love with Athens. He highlights how, for all of Australiaís affluence we are still beguiled by the rising youth suicide rate and “the attacks against recent immigrants”.
Yet for him Athenians are “free to express themselves in a city that has all the rules of Melbourne, but enforces those rules like a loving parent, not with the iron fist of a brown shirt.”
Dean, like Yorgos, loves Athens for its life. “Only people who have experienced a roof top meal under a brightly lit Acropolis at 2am can understand how many more hours in a day one can really live in Athens than in Melbourne.”
“The new Athens is full of possibilities nothing is impossible here. The opportunities are endless. The proximity to the Arab world, Eastern Europe, Northern Africa is all so alluring,” says Dean excitedly from Athens.
“Young people from around Europe have descended on Athens to create theatre, painting, art installations, video installations, experimental music, to design furniture, jewellery and clothing,” he adds.
Neither Yorgos or Dean are overly concerned with the Greek financial meltdown.
“Whatís new?” says George. “When hasnít Greece been in crisis?”
Dean points to the fact that for the first time in over 40 years, ìa Greek Government now has the capacity to make much needed reforms in public service and other measures which will enhance business.î
Clearly Dean and Yorgos are on a long term winner.