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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Greece, of course, is another country stung by Europe's economic crisis. And through it all, the country's one-proud capital, Athens, has had an image problem. Television reports show masked gangs throwing petrol bombs at parliament or riot police dousing demonstrators with tear gas. That has caused many tourists to stay away, but one group of volunteers is trying to make Athens feel inviting again. Joanna Kakissis has the story.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Tobias Ejersbo is watching the Greek honor guard change shifts near the monument of the unknown soldier outside parliament. The Danish engineering student has seen this spot on TV full of protesters. He wasn't scared away but others were. The number of tourists to Athens has dropped by at least 20 percent.

TOBIAS EJERSBO: You can easily be the only people at a restaurant for a whole evening.

KAKISSIS: Tobias and his father, Jacob, are using a guidebook to see sites like the National Archaeological Museum. It's an area with rundown buildings scarred by bad graffiti. And at night drug addicts line the nearby street.

THEODORA KAPPOU: My impression in this that...

KAKISSIS: Theodora Kappou would have gladly taken the Danes on a happier tour.

KAPPOU: I always find something new in Athens. It's sometimes a special prize for me too.

KAKISSIS: Theodora is a translator who volunteers as a guide for This is My Athens, a free service that matches visitors with Athenians who take them on personalized tours. She recently gave one of her first tours to three young Spanish women. She said they were skeptical.

KAPPOU: They said they expected Athens to be half-burned, with people going around the street asking for food or for money. And they thought that we would show poverty and depression.

KAKISSIS: But then they spent the day eating Greek dark chocolate at neighborhood cafes and exploring hidden city parks.

KAPPOU: You see that? It's (unintelligible) yes.

KAKISSIS: Theodora likes parks. She often starts her tours with a walk through the National Gardens near parliament.

KAPPOU: There are some small lakes here with frogs and fish and everything. That's very nice now in the summer.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC)

KAKISSIS: Then she crosses a busy street to reach the artsy old neighborhood of Pangrati.

(LAUGHTER)

KAKISSIS: She walks to a small square named after Manos Hadjidakis, the Academy Award-winning composer. He played piano at a restaurant here called Mayevmeni Avli, the Enchanted Garden.

IO THEOFILOU: (Greek spoken)

KAKISSIS: It's run by an elegant former ballerina named Io Theofilou and her son. Io is 89 and she's seen Athens suffer through starvation and two wars. She sees the latest crisis in the frowns of her customers.

THEOFILOU: (Greek spoken)

KAKISSIS: People no longer smile, she says, and they no longer sing. We try to have music here every night.

THEOFILOU: (Singing in Greek)

KAKISSIS: Io likes to sing "Adika Pigan ta Niata Mou," a song about lost youth. It's by Attik, an early 20th century composer of romantic ballads.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHATTER)

KAKISSIS: Theodora goes across town for a more recent legend - Chez Lucien, a French bistro Athenians know for good food at austerity prices.

KAPPOU: (French spoken)

KAKISSIS: It's on a street of neoclassical buildings in Petralona, a lively neighborhood not far from the Acropolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAKISSIS: As bistro diners eat creme brule, a clarinetist from Albania serenades them with a Greek folk song. That makes Theodora smile. Her city may be having a crisis of confidence but it still has its surprises.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAKISSIS: For NPR News, I'm Joanna Kakissis in Athens.

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