Friday, August 2, 2013

My last week

I'm sitting in my apartment and I think it just set in that this is my last week and now my last day. (I've been working on this post all week) This apartment has definitely become my home for the past month, even though the first day walking into it I never thought that possible. I love my room, mainly because its huge and made for two people to stay in it. I'm sitting here and can't believe all the things around me, everything I've collected in my time here. Lots of souvenirs from Greece and more shopping to do. My roommate and I always laugh about our bathroom, with the weird shower that we've now come to figure out how to work it properly (and to turn on the hot water 20 minutes before we get in!) to the tiny washing machine that is still pretty impossible to use. 

There are so many great things that I've come to love about Greece, that its hard to even try to get it all down on paper. First, the people. Everyone is so welcoming and open and love to talk! I fit right in, hah! I love that people begin to recognize you and respect you. I have a few restaurants that I go to that they'll know my name and my usual order. Now, I even get the famous discounts I wrote about my first week here! I never thought that would happen. I have one restaurant that I go to probably every other day, and the owner knows my favorite table and what I'm going to order. He also gives us free drinks & desserts on the house every night. Yesterday I went in and he began laughing when I didn't order my usual glass of wine, I told him he knows me so well! 

I've loved meeting everyone on the trip and learning their stories. Everyone comes from somewhere different and has different things to bring to the table. I've appreciated many of their knowledge of Greek when I was stumbling with ordering or when I had no clue what was going on. I surprised myself with the things that I figured out or the things that came naturally to me, like finding my way around on a train or ordering food in Greek using as few words as possible. 

I love the history that is Athens, everywhere you turn there is something to learn about. You can be walking down the street and run into an ancient ruin. 

I love the prices of everything, especially because although sometimes they target tourists, everyone has been very nice and I have not at all felt that I overpaid for something. The food is fantastic and you definitely don't have to pay a lot for it! Plus water is cheap, even out the most I've paid is .50. 

I love learning about the history of Greece and about the politics. I've heard stories about Greece before coming, and I definitely had different experiences than what I expected. I learned so much about politics and the peacefulness that is Greece.

I've come to love the food even though I love the food at home. I love ordering my usual bread and Greek Salad for lunch every day, and my favorite $2 Gyros. I LOVE the Fanta here, I'm definitely going to miss it because it tastes like orange juice with carbonation.

I'm glad we had internet in the apartment, because it made staying in touch with everyone easy. Also glad that Steve was able to put up with talking at weird times for both of us, and making it work!  

To everyone on the trip, thank you. You truly made this experience one of a kind and I loved learning about all of you! To EIU Study Abroad, thanks for encouraging me out of my comfort zone and helping me with direct enroll. And my parents, most importantly, thank you for everything you do for me, every day. For helping me with this trip and being here to celebrate my 21st birthday with me! 

Lycabetus Hill

Yesterday, a few of my friends on the trip and I took the very long trip up Lycabetus Hill to see the sunset. It was something that has been on our bucket list for so long that we knew we HAD to accomplish it before we left.

Now, mind you, a few weeks ago when my parents were visiting a taxi driver offered to drive us up there as a mini tour and I was like "no way! thats totally walkable!". Well, I was wrong.

The walk to the hill from our apartments was about 20 minutes, and was not bad at all. It was when we got to the hill that I started getting nervous. Walking up the hill, there were a LOT of stairs. and I mean a lot. Not only that, but they were old Greek stairs, meaning that they're not normal stairs, nope, rather these gigantic stairs that little legs like me don't really enjoy. (hate)

So we got started, and two of the boys started running to the top, yeah right. I started walking with the other two boys and they easily got ahead of me. I swear, its the long legs. We were having fun and enjoying the view on the way up, so the first half went pretty smoothly. We got to the halfway point and WOW. The view was amazing. We started taking pictures, and drinking water. lots of water. We got started up again and this is when I started struggling, haha. With the heat and the walk it was rough. For anybody reading this that played club soccer for McAuley, think Coach Jionas the first day of club when he made us just run and run and run around the field for the entire 2 hour practice. Yuck! Thats all I could think about.

But then I got to the point that I knew I wanted to make it to the top and I finally did! Woohoo! Boy was that view worth the brutal climb! We got there about half an hour before the sunset and got to walk around, see the church and just enjoy it. I got some beautiful pictures of the sunset that will be hitting facebook once I'm home! The sun went down and we got some pictures, then stopped at the cafe at the top for some drinks. After the sun went down, I could see the entire city lit up, again, no words to describe the beauty! Plus a breeze without the sun! It was the perfect way to end excursions on this trip! 


Farewell Dinner (the next day!) 
The girls

Me and Eleni 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Northern Greece

My last weekend in Greece was spent up north, visiting many different sites. Here is my reflection of the weekend if you are interested in reading it. 

Our journey to Northern Greece began with a long car ride to Kalambaka.  We arrived at Meteora after driving around a bit to see the town. After driving to the top of the cliff, we got to look down at the town. It was an incredible view from so high up. We also were able to see many of the different monasteries in the area all situated on different rock formations. One of the coolest monasteries we saw was one that needed you to take what looked like a ski-lift to get up to it. 
We began our trip at the Grande Monastery, with a long hike up stairs to get to the top. Once at the top, we did not have skirts on, but were able to borrow some from the front reception area. We put on our skirts and began walking around. The first thing we saw was a room full of skulls and bones. Tom explained that for Greeks, what they do is bury bodies and then dig them up and preserve the bones in the monastery. This was news to me, because at home this is not what we do at the different cemeteries, because it is unheard of to dig up bodies once they are buried. We looked in the room a bit and then proceeded to go upstairs. The monastery was decorated with a lot of Byzantine art and it was interesting to read about different painting and objects that were located inside. One thing I saw at this monastery, and at the next, was a large piece of wood used to summon people to prayer or for meals.
Once we reached the top, we took in the view. Because we were so high up, we had a great view of the area and town. We also noticed a lot of different artifacts located at the top. One thing that stuck out to me was a cannon, that seemed to be a little odd being located in a monastery. After finishing walking around, we left and went to the next monastery. 
The next monastery was much smaller, but just as elaborately decorated. We got in, and learned that this monastery was one for nuns. We saw many women walking around during our time there. The inside of the church was elaborately decorated, with gold figures and design everywhere. As with every church we've visited, there were candles that people were able to lite on the way in.
After an early night in the hotel, we woke up the next morning and were off towards Thessaloniki. Our first stop was the valley of Tempi, which we stopped to take a short walking break and see the sights. We walked through what seemed to be a very strange tunnel, to arrive into a marketplace. We walked up more stairs and got to a river, which was where the valley was located. After crossing the river, there was an area to walk down to a small stream that feeds into the river. At this point, we learned that the water in the stream was so clean that you were able to drink it. There were also different caves that you could walk into and that had the candles outside to light. 
Our next stop was the archaeological Site of Dion. We got to learn more about the sight from Tom, including a lot of information about Macedonia and the Macedonians. My favorite spot in this location was the theater. The theater was huge and is still used today for different performances. It also had the great view of Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece. 
We were able to walk around and look at different spots of the old city. What was cool about this site is that some of the areas were not blocked off, so we were able to walk closer to these things than we were able to in the past. We saw different churches and decorations and even were able to see a row of columns on the ground. We got to see an ancient bath/pool area that was huge. Although it was very hot out, we got to spend a lot of time walking around the site to see everything. We also went to the museum and saw different pottery, money, jewelry and statues that were found in this location. We also learned about how common it is to find ancient ruins in the area when people begin digging. 
We arrived at Thessaloniki at night and were able to spend some time exploring. A few of us were able to walk around to see the different statues. We also decided to walk down to the water, and walked along it. The water was very different than most of the water we've seen in Greece, it was filled with waves and a different color even. We walked down the boardwalk area to see different building and get a feel for the area.
Sunday, we went driving to explore the area some more. We visited Veria, to visit Saint Paul's Vema, which was a very interesting spot for religious reasons. It was interesting to see the depiction of Saint Paul in this location, because it was much different from Catholic versions of Saint Paul that I have seen. He was very tall and lanky and was less serious than what I am used to seeing. His proportions were different and the style in general was just very different. We also saw some other things at this area, including the elaborate shrine dedicated to Saint Paul. Right down the street,  we were able to walk through an old Jewish neighborhood where Tom told us different information about how Jewish people assimilated into Greece.
The next stop was one of my favorites of the day, Aristotle's school. Upon arrival, there was a statue and a small gated off building. Thinking this was the school we began reading the information. Then we learned that the school was actually down a ways. We walked up some stairs, and through a tree filled area. We came upon a small opening with another sign and building, but this was still not it. We walked up more stairs and arrived at a cave! We were able to walk into the cave and discuss Aristotle's ideas and how the cave became his school. It was also nice that inside the cave was very cool and shaded. We then went to Edessa, which was where a huge waterfall was located. We began walking towards it and got closer and closer. Then we noticed that there was actually a path that you can take to walk behind the waterfall, so of course a few of us took off and were able to walk the path and experience that! 
After lunch, we got to Pella, the capital of Alexander the Great. Although the city seemed very small in size, we were reminded that most of the remains were the main city, with the church and important building in the center, while the other building of the city were built around it and obviously were not as well preserved. We also learned about the drainage system, and how important it was to keep the city running. There were beautiful mosaics on the grounds of different building depicting different scenes. We also had just enough time to walk through the museum and see more statues and things found in the ruins.
On Monday, we were off to Vergina, which as I jokingly said, the town had a case of the Mondays. The museum did not open until noon, so that gave us some time to kill before we could go in. We drove around, but nothing in the town seemed to be open. We were able to find a small cafe where we ordered some coffee. Next door was a small gift shop that we walked through. The woman that owned it seemed a little nervous about having all of us in there, but I assume it was because she was not used to having that many people at once. 
We were able to go into the museum at noon and it was well worth the wait. It was definitely my favorite museum that we've been to in our time in Greece. The museum had a cave-like feel to it with only spot lights on different things. What was also very cool about the museum is that it was literally built around/ on top of the Great Tumulus, the royal tombs of Macedonia. One of the tombs was of King Phillip II as well as a prince that was between 14-16 years old that was a prince. It said that he was the son of Alexander the Great and was appointed King after Alexander died. It said that it was not uncommon to have someone appointed king at such a young age (as a baby) with people to help them make decisions along the way. 
 I learned many different things at the museum, including the logic behind putting armor in mens tombs. It explained that the weapons showed status and were important in the culture to include. One cool fact in this museum was that in most cases, two spears and possibly a helmet would be put in the tomb. However, in this tomb, they actually uncovered four full suits of armor, which was a first at that time because it was so extravagant. We watched a different movie about the finds, and there was a quote from the archeologist. He explained that they had guessed/ assumed that the tomb was that of King Phillip II but they were entirely sure when they found it. He went on the say when they actually opened the tomb and found the remains, he was so excited to find that it actually was the King that he has originally hoped. You could just tell from his words how excited he was to find it. 
The movie had a lot of great information in it about the discovery of the tomb. It also explained the importance of death to the culture. Death was not something to be sad over, or not to forget. It explained that to remember someone is the most important thing, because their legacy lives on. This is why the ancient Greeks/ Macedonians created such elaborate tombs to remember the dead.

Byzantine Churches wearing our skirts! 

Our hotel pool the first night as the sun set! 

cannon at the monastery
monastery art! 

Archaeological site

Aristotle's school!!!

last stop of the trip, to see the ancient statue! 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Benaki Museum

Yesterday, we got the opportunity to take the train to the US Embassy here in Greece. We got to sit down with a financial advisor who went through the basics of US/ Greek relations and other topics. He was very interesting but had so much information on Greek history that it was hard to take it all in! I noticed he was wearing a Ted Talks lanyard, and so the two of us got into a whole conversation about how great Ted Talks are! (Thank you EIU Soc Department!!) He explained that the US Embassy brings in a lot of guest speakers to talk to high school/ college students in Greece. They try to emphasize the importance of entrepreneurship and motivated Greek youth. It was great!

He also talked about a lot of different situations including the media right now. He was impressed with our knowledge of the US Finance Officer visiting as well as the German Finance Minster visit. Thank you Dos Equis professor! We talked about Greece's transition to the Euro as well as many other interesting topics. Dina is supposed to email out the picture of us with him from our visit!

Today we got to go to the Benaki Museum which is located right by the Parliament building, so about a 15 minute walk from our apartments. The museum was broken up by year as well as there were certain rooms for certain things. We saw old Greek pottery, jewelry, outfits, rooms, paintings and so much more. The top of the museum also had a nice cafe with a beautiful view. This afternoon I am going shopping with my friend Eleni and then I am going to my class. This upcoming weekend we have a 4 day trip to Northern Greece with a few different stops planned. 

Eleni and I this morning at the top of the Benaki Museum! 


Sunday, a few of us decided to hop on a ferry and head to the island of Aegina for the day. Thank goodness Eleni knew enough Greek to get us around because otherwise we would have not gotten to do everything we did in one day! 

We got up and moving around 8AM. (very early I know!) We got on the metro (only 70 cents/ticket) and got down to the Port of Piraeus. We found the travel agency and got our tickets. We got on the boat and relaxed. The ride took around an hour and a half so Eleni and I just sat around talking and being goofy as usual while the others slept/ listened to music.

When we got to the island, we looked for a tour company, no such luck. I was like too bad we didn't go to the donkey island. So we talked to some people and they said to take a bus. Another no no. The bus system seemed sketchy and didnt give us enough time to get back. We began getting worried so we went up to a taxi driver. He said that we should get a ride to the Monastery and Temple of Afea, that there would be taxi's up there to take us back. We tried to get in his cab but he wasn't having it because there were five of us. It started looking like we were going to change our plans when another taxi driver showed up and asked where we wanted to go. Eleni explained that we just wanted to see both of the sites and he said he would take us. He explained that it would be 10 Euros each and we would have a certain amount of time at each stop and he would drive us from place to place. Perfect!

So we hopped in and we were off! First stop: Saint Nectarios' Monastery. (for more info read up on my older blog post from my birthday!). We got dropped off at the top of the hill and had to work our way down. It was cool because it was a Sunday so there was an actual service going on that we got to see a little bit of. After Saint Nectarios we got to go to the Temple of Afea (again for more info please check out older blog post from my last visit to the island). We got back down to the port and paid the taxi driver. Then we got lunch: another cheap appetizer day where we shared saganaki, Greek salad, fries, and bread, yummm! 

We had about 2-3 hours to kill before getting back on the ferry so we walked over to the beach. We stood with our feet in the water for awhile and then went over to a tiki bar. The girls all sat around and had a drink while John decided to go exploring a little bit. We all met up and got back on the ferry and went back to Athens! 

Us at the Temple of Afea! 

Saint Nectarios 

Cape Sunio

This weekend we got to take a trip to Cape Sunio, which is where the Temple of Poseidon is located. This is the 3rd of the 3 Temples that form an equilateral triangle with each other (Poseidon, Athena, and Afea). It was an amazing view of the water and the colors of Athens really stood out to me from the Temple. 

What was also cool was that when you sit at the Temple, it actually sounds like waves crashing if you're in the right spot. Ancient Greeks, you were definitely doing it right! We spent about an hour up on the rock taking everything in and taking as many pictures as possible (some to come!). After our hike up we got to go down to the water. We had 2 hours of free time to do what we wanted. We decided to stop at a Fish Taverna for a quick bite to eat. We decided on doing a light lunch so that we could do dinner when we got back. We ended up ordering and splitting a bunch of appetizers to keep our cost down. I got to eat a lot of bread, saganaki, and Greek salad, yummm! That's basically what I've been eating a lot of lately. That and my gyros! 

After lunch we went into the water. The water wasn't too deep and there were no waves so we got to just relax and swim and have fun. I enjoyed it! The water was a beautiful blue color and was so salty and sandy! I was glad I got the opportunity to finally swim in Greece! We got on the bus and went back to Athens for the night for an early morning trip to the islands! (next post!)

climbed a rock with my friend Eleni! 

a few of us sitting and listening to the water!

us by the beach (you can see the Temple in the back!)

just me!  

First Few Days of Classes

So last Thursday I finally started my first official Greek class (the other is an independent study) so I was very excited to get going! 

My professor is very nice, and as one of our friends said looks exactly like the Dos Equis man. Although he may not be the most interesting man in the world, he is filled with information and has already taught me so much about Greek policy. He is sometimes hard to understand, but the class is easy enough that I can keep up without too many problems.

Since it is such a short class, we don't have any tests we are graded on attendance, research, and a final paper. Whats nice is that the final paper can be on just about anything as long as we can relate it to some topic we've discussed in the class. That's great for me because I've decided to write my paper on the Athens 2004 Olympic Games!! Which coincidentally is similar to what I'm writing my final paper for my independent study on! Hooray! I'm excited to continue researching everything about the games and learn more about them!