Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Island of Crete

Let me first preface this entry by saying, Crete is the largest island in Greece. Way back in Ancient times, the Minoan civilization developed and thrived there. It was a completely different civilization then that which developed on the mainland of Greece. Also, because of its position it was dominate power in the Aegean. Ok, enough with the history lesson. Though it will help you appreciate the pictures of our trip because we spent most of our time exploring Minoan ruins.

We arrived in Crete via overnight ferry. I bunked with 3 other girls who are alphabetically right next to me. That was cool because the 4 of us had never met. Anyway, our first stop once in Crete was the town of Heraklion, which also happens to be the capital and the 3rd largest city in Greece. We took a walking tour of the ancient walls, which was basically to show us the Venetian dominance of the culture. My tour guides; none other then Nigel Thornberry and his wife Stephanie. Sidenote, Nigel read us limericks during our extensive bus travels and wore a safari hat while on site.

Next we visited the Palace of Knossos, the most famous site in terms of Minoan history. It is comprised of more then 150 rooms, multiple courtyards, the oldest road in Crete, etc. This was supposed to be the big horrah of the trip and it turned out to be a downer. There were soooooo many tourists that it made the experience much less enjoyable. Anyway, we had lunch in a cute town of Archanes, which is known for their wine. So obviously I purchased some.

Our next stop of the day was the cemetery of Phourni. What used to be a barb wire fence surrounding the grave site, turned in to a full fledged metal gate since last year when CYA had been there. So, we did some breaking and entering and hoped the fence.

After spending the night in Heraklion, we headed to the town of Eleutherna, where we visited a hellenistic fortress. It sat on top of the town, so we got to overlook the city, which was really cool. We visited the University of Crete's ongoing archaeological site to see actual skeletal remains of the people wiped out during the massive earthquake in 365.

We left Eleutherna for a small town called Margarites, where we had lunch. Known for their hand crafted ceramics, most of CYA spent a good deal of money on a lot of pottery. Our next stop was an old monastery. It resembled the Alamo in style and architecture and was just a gorgeous place to see. I had to put my skirt on over my shorts so as to not be showing too much skin.

We spent the night in a really cool town called Rethymnon, which sits right on the water, has a cape cod esque jetty, and lots of good seafood restaurants. They are known for their homemade thyme honey, which I tired. Delicious. This was probably my favorite town that we visited in all of Crete because of its shopping and size. Athens still seems so big to me.

On day 4 of our exploring Crete we visited a Venetian fortress. It was used by the towns people if the town were ever to be under siege. There was also a mosque on site, which was built originally by St. Nikolas as a church. Next, we visited the town of Aptera and explored its ruins, as well as its heavy Roman influence. There were huge Roman style baths and cisterns, as well as a monestary on site.

With the afternoon free in Chania, we new roommates from trip and I went to the fresh market, where we ate lunch across from the butcher. Lovely. It kind of reminded of Nassau with all the touristy stuff in one main area. After that we headed to the beach, which was about a 15 minute walk from our hotel. Had dinner by the beach that that night with my roommates and a few new people.

The last day of the trip was my favorite. All of CYA (160 strong) met at the top of the Agia Irini Gorge and spent the morning hiking down the gorge. It was an 8km hike, which they deemed about 4.8 miles. The weather was perfect. We carried our backpacks because at the end of the gorge we were headed to the small town of Sougia. It took us about 3 hours to complete and we spent of the rest of the afternoon on the beach.

Crete was interesting, not just the ruins or of the daily field trips but the modern culture. We were approached by Gypsy children about 5 times offering to sell us trinkets. I have never seen this in Athens but do remember it from Paris. The landscape is covered with mountains and everything is still green here. So, to say it was picturesque is an understatement. I also liked Crete for the social part of it. CYA did not do a good job introducing us all to each other so I got to meet and spend time with people I had never met before, which was cool. It also made seeing my roommates (during our gorge trek) that much more fun because we all had different experiences to bring to the table. Lastly, I have found my new favorite breakfast ... Greek yogurt and honey. I have been living off of Greek yogurt but tried it with honey on this trip and well I am never going back.

Planning on going to area known as the Peloponnese this weekend to explore one of the old towns, which we have heard is really neat.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Broken Toilet, Drunk Americans, and Great Food

This weekend I opted to stay in and around the Athens area. One because there is stuff I still want to explore around the city and two because our whole school is leaving for a week long trip to the island of Crete this coming Tuesday. So, it is a fair trade off.

Thursday our toilet broke, along with our shutter, and our oven. Needless to say CYA is not very happy with us at the moment. It has been fixed so no worries there. However, the toilet deserves further mention. The Greeks do not believe in putting your used toilet paper in the toilet. They fear that the old pipes will burst and it will literally be a shit show (… I know I am so funny). Well, being as since the time I was potty trained I have been told that toilet paper goes only in the toilet this has been a difficult cultural adjustment. Mostly because I just do not even think about it. As a result, my roommates and I spent the better part of Thursday running back and forth to campus to use the bathroom. We are slowly adjusting to putting our used toilet paper in the trash can. Hey, at least its better then what Chris encountered in China.

Thursday night we decided to find the Irish pub that everyone keeps raving about. Sidenote: Greece is much more of a caf√© or club atmosphere, there are very few what we would deem “bars”. Prior to going out we decided to all try the famous Greek drink, ouzo. Personally, it was OK but not something I would drink on a consistent basis. It tastes like black jelly beans aka Mom would love it. So we were unsuccessful in finding the Irish Pub but instead found a quasi Greek bar called 7 jokers. It was a fun atmosphere, stayed for awhile and then decided for a change of scenery.

We left 7 jokers and ending running in to a group of Americans who were there on business. They were a few years older then us and their company was paying for their “training”, which for some reason was taking place in Greece. I did not get the whole story because they were quite intoxicated. Anyway, after hooking up with the Americans we ran in to some Germans. The Germans joined our quest to find a new bar and so we wandered. I stopped to ask a Greek where the closest bar was and he proceeded to take this an invitation that I wanted to go to a bar with him. The other Americans and Germans continued on as my roommates and I were being offered a ride to go have drinks with these Greek men. After profusely declining the ride we decided to end our quest and just head to the crepe place up the road.

Friday, myself and two of my other roommates went to the fresh market to stock up on fresh fruits and veggies. It put Winter Park’s farmers market to shame. I went with the intention of buying fresh fish but unfortunately they only sell them as whole fish...scales, heads, tails.. the whole nine. This not only creeped me out but I also have no experience in gutting fish.

Saturday was blah and rainy so I did homework, how awful is that ..doing homework in Greece? On the upside, I probably had the best meal I have had since I have been here, for dinner that night. Combining all things fresh from the market we had corn on the cob, an awesome salad, baked eggplant, and some watermelon for dessert. Speaking of food.. I have become quite fond of the bakery up the street from us. Yesterday I bought what look like mini √©clairs but are better.. filled with what I liken to chocolate mouse and have this delicious almond flavor. Na-Na… you would love them. My intention is to stock up before I leave.

All for now… I am really looking forward to Crete. It is apparently a really rustic island, with a lot of cultural history. Sidenote: they did tell us that people in Crete love guns…like for instance their child gets baptized; they shoot their guns in the air, wedding, soccer game … same thing. Should be interesting.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Santorini = Heaven

Prior to my roommates and my departure to Santorini on Thursday night my one roommate (leslie) and I felt the need to do a little exploring. We had heard of this street that is closed off and just shops. Pure shopping at its very best. No worries, I may get lost driving from Downingtown to Warminister but where there is shopping, I am very much on top of my directions. Anyway, we found the prized Erimou street and did a little window shopping and purchasing. I will be returing to Erimou when I receive my $100 deposit back for my books at the end of the semester.

Anyway, we took the metro to the port Thursday night and got on our 10 hour long ferry ride to the island of Thira, or as we know it, Santorini. We reserved deck seats, that to the best of our knowledge were literally on the deck of the boat. So, we came prepared for the worst only to find that deck seats are actually a couple levels below the deck and are actually comfy airplane like seats. Just another cultural mishap. The ferry was actually really nice.. a dumbed down cruise ship if you could picture that.

Needless to say none of us slept in our "comfy" seats. We willed ourselves to stay awake for sunrise, which I must say was one of the coolest things I have ever experienced .We went on deck around 5:30 AM to watch the sunrise over the island of Santorini. Awesome. We pulled in to port, grabbed some breakfast and waited for our pre-arranged driver to arrive. Two hours after we got to port we arrived at our hostel (which is 10 minutes from the port). Greek time is not Kylene time, yet I have not had a major anxiety attack yet. I just opt for walking instead of waiting.

We dropped our stuff at our hostel, changed in to our bathing suits and headed towards the red beaches. A 10 minute walk from our hostel, which was located in the town of Akrotiri, we followed the crowds to the beach. You'll see in the pictures the amazing red cliff that this little strip of stone beach sits within. We went swimming in the Aegean Sea and just enjoyed the sun for the better part of the day. Soooo many people from all over the world. There was a German couple to the left of us, an Asian couple in front of us, Greeks behind us, and some French and Aussies a couple chairs down. Oh yeah, mostly all couples in Santorini and enough jewelry stores that if you forget to buy your engagement ring while you're there then the Greeks have failed in their marketing.

We left the beach, showered, changed and grabbed a quick dinner at the restaurant across from our hostel. I ordered fish and somehow I got a whole fish.. like with the eyes and body and all that good stuff. Note to self.. need to learn words for food a.s.a.p. We then took the bus (old coach buses) to the capital of the island, Thira. When you think Santorini you think Thira. The shops, restaurants, and houses all on the cliff looking out to the volcano. Basically gorgeous. We grabbed dessert at on of the cafes overlooking the water and then made it just in time for the last bus back to Akrotiri. I ate Baklava with homemade vanilla ice cream...probably one of the best things I have ever eaten in my life.

Determined to further explore Thira in depth, we awoke the next morning to homemade breakfast at our hostel (pays to go to family run places!) Climbing back on the bus, we headed to Thira for a day of shopping and exploring. We visited the Archaeolgical Museum (only in Greece are students allowed to enter all Museums and hisorical sites for free..sweet deal) which contains the remains of the site of Akrotiri. In brief, the town of Akrotiri is being excavated becasuse after the volcanic eruption however many years ago it is one of the few sites still in tact in terms of housing. It is the equivalent to a modern day Pompei. The site was closed when we were there but we got to see what was already excavated. We visted a wine museum.. a complete bust but found out dessert wine is not for me.

After our visit to the wine museum we headed back to Thira and found a Irish pub (murphys) where we grabbed a beer and watched the soccer game. Speaking of beer..Greece has a very limited selection. Its either Heineken, Amstel, or their Alpha beer.

We ate dinner at a rooftop restaurant and watched the sun set over the volcano. Beautiful. Overall, I did a lot of shopping and saw some of the most magificient views ever. I would definitly venture back. Unfortuantely, most of the island shuts down post-Ocotober just because of weather and lack of tourism. So, that just means I will have to come back again another time!!

Enjoy the pictures!!!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Fabric Softener

You should all be happy to know that I have made friends with my local convenience store owner. I asked him his name in Greek. I have no idea what he said but that is besides the point. So, I have mastered hello, what is your name, nice to meet you, excuse me, and thank you. No worries, hopefully I will learn more. You ask yourself, why don't I teach these phrases to you via my blog. Well, see I spell them like they sound so I'm sure I would confuse you just as much as I confuse myself. My whole reason for going to the convenience store was to buy laundry detergent and I was on such a high from speaking to my new friend that I ended up buying fabric softener. I did not realize this until after I loaded my washer and started it. So, my clothes smell nice but I am not really sure they were cleaned. Oh well, at least I did not buy dishwasher soap like some other kid today. The washer was overflowing with bubbles, people were cursing in Greek, and I was just ya know enjoying my fabric softener haha.

Anyway, this past weekend was a lot of fun. We saw stomp Friday, climbed the hill in our nice dresses and everything to get there. They were awesome and the view was unbelievable. We spent the night in Kolonaki which is the posh "see and be seen" hot spot in Athens. So, we drank Sangria and ate crepes (not Greek, but still very much delicious!) On our way home we watched the changing of the guards at Parliament, got hit on by the guard supervising the transition, and got to take our picture with one of the ones on duty. So serious.

On Saturday we took the metro to the port, realized we had gone to far to get to the beach, got back on the metro and found the beaches. It should have taken us about 45 minutes but with all our mix ups it took us about an hour and a half. No worries because the beach was gorgeous and we got to swim in the Mediterranean!! Women topless, men in speedos, and what I call a drag suit but I guess could also be known as male booty shorts? Anyway, I posed the question that since being topless on the beach is culturally acceptable what happens when you go to the beach with your family? Do the rules change for husbands and mothers in law, dads and daughters, sisters and brothers? Just curious.

Yesterday, I ventured out to the post office. I got lost (naturally) but eventually found my way to this tiny little side street. It remind me more of a clerk of court office then a post office but anyway I walked in unsure of where to go or what to do so I stood back for a couple minutes before realizing I needed to take a number. I did, paid for my stamps and tried to give the woman my post cards. She refused them and told me I had to place them in the mailbox outside. Just a different way of doing things I suppose. Speaking of mail I got my absentee ballot today. I have voted and will be mailing my ballot back sometime soon! This is especially exciting since this is my first presidential election!!

All for now...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Possibilites Are Endless

At the conclusion of the my first week in Greece, I must say I am overwhelmed. There is so much to do and see and plan to see. I do not really think I will be able to wrap my mind around the fact that everyday I go to class I can see the Acropolis in the distance or the fact that my school's cafeteria sits right next to the old Olympic stadium.

Last night my roommates and I went to the open air theater that sits right at the base of the Acropolis to see a flamingo dance show (aka poofy dresses). It was breathtaking. With the stars of the night as our sky and the Acropolis 100 ft away from us all lit up, I could not ask for anything better. Tonight we will be going to Likavitos theater, which sits at the top of a hill that overlooks all of Athens. Stomp is performing there!

Before the show last night my roommates Liz and Fabi headed out to explore the area of Plaka, just west of our town (Pangrati). Fabi bought hand made sandals from the most well known shoe maker in Athens. We explored the market and ate dinner at this tiny little cafe that sits on the cobblestone road at the base of the Acropolis. It is interesting to see the many difference in culture that are prevelant throughout Athens. On one hand you have the very old small cobblestone roads with traditional Greek food. But just down the road at this market there are stores filled with so much of America's culture. There was a whole store devoted to every day hip-hop clothing, a restaurant with a menu completely in English, and better yet we passed an Applebees on our way to the shoe maker.

I met my first Athenian yesterday. I went to run around the track at the top of the Olympic stadium because my body was in need of working out. Anyway, I met a guy named Nick (my father is convinced that everyone in the country is named Nick thanks to the movie, my big fat greek wedding). so only typical that the first Greek I meet is named Nick. Anyway, we talked about Obama and how he hopes for the everyone else in the world that he becomes our next President. That is probably the 4th or 5th time that I have heard from people who live in Greece that if "you're not voting for Obama you shouldnt be allowed to vote."

Other updates are my roommates and I are planning a weekend in Santorini next weekend. We were told it is "THE" island to see and that this time of year would be great for it. I am sure I am leaving out critical other details but these are the big things that have happened in the last two days.
pics have been updated..

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

So I have survived orientation aka lots of talking. But it has only filled my head with so many more things I would like to do. Here is the list as it stands..
1. Spend a weekend in Rome
2. Visit the island of Santorini one weekend
3. Visit Istanbul sometime for some amount of time
4. Go see a show in the open air theaters
5. Visit all the major archaeological structures in Greece
6. Take Greek cooking classes
7. Go on every field trip imaginable that CYA offers
8. maybe a weekend in Cairo?

That is where the list stands for now. Some of these goals are easier said then done. CYA offers plenty of weekend trips as well as field trips from our classes. Santorini is a short ferry ride away. Italy, Istanbul , and Cairo could be a little bit more challenging. \

As far as the archaeological sites go.. I've seen the acroplis from a far (i get to go there with one of my classes). Oh plus there is an open air theater that does performances at night that sits right next to the acropolis..I am definitely going there! We explored the National Gardens where the Zappeion building sits. It is building where Congress is held. We also visited the Temple of the Olympian Zeus. I have posted pictures on my webshots page of what my apartment looks like, the churchs we have visited, as well as the 2 sites I mentioned above.

I am taking my crash course on Greek and while the alphabet seems wayyyyy confusing I am picking up key phrases and sayings. Tonight CYA has scheduled a taverna dinner for all those interested. Of course I am going. We will split between different tavernas throughout Athens and get to eat with professors and administration. Next week, the President of our program has invited all of us to join his family at a garden party at his home in one of the Athenian suburbs.

Classes start tomorrow and I think the game plan for this weekend is to maybe hit the beach and then go on a hiking trip up this pseudo mountain to one the most spectacular views in Athens. (link to my photos)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I Have Arrived

Day 2 of oh so many...Sunday afternoon I said by to the family and hopped on my plane to Greece. My flight had about 30 other CYA students on it and we all seemed to congregate in the waiting area at the Philly airport. People are from all over the country, some have never left the U.S, others have been all over the world, and most of us know no Greek..typical Americans ; ).

Anyway, I ate tofu on the plane...U.S. Airways is classy like that. Not. haha. Tried to sleep but with a combination of nerves and restlessness I think I probably slept for all of 2 hours. Arrived in Athens to find out the girl I had set next to on the plane was actually one of my roommates. I have an apartment about a 5 minute walk from our campus. I share one bathroom and a small kitchen and living area with four other girls. But we have a gorgeous blacony and it is very authentic.

Yesterday and today have just been about checking in and getting books. I'm going to the crash course on Greek today because I need to learn some basic words and phrases. Tomorrow is orientation with all those fun ice breakers and the important info and Thursday we start class. I'm taking The culture of Modern Greece: An Ethnography of a society in Transition, Ancient Greek Athletics, Religions of the Middle East, and The Monuments or Greece, where we get to do alot of on site learning.

Last but not least there are more Anthro majors here then I have ever encountered in my life. You all would be astonished that more then just me exisits in the world of Anthropology!!!! More later..