Monday, November 24, 2008


This past weekend Leslie and I ventured to Roma and I fell in love with it all..the people, the food, the sightseeing, the wine, and the shopping. Granted if I ever live there I would be broke and 800 pounds. So a weekend was too short but a lifetime might be unhealthy.

Leslie and I took the X95 bus to the airport on Thursday because the Athens metro workers decided to go on strike. Only in Greece can the entire city's metro system just not be open for 48 hours. Anyway, we took the 1 1/2 flight to Roma and got in around 2:00 PM. The Roma airport is like a huge shopping mall, filled with all sorts of top Italian designers. We arrived at our hostel after a 20 minute train ride out to the termini, or main station. For my first ever stay in a hostel I would say it was decent. I have nothing to compare it to. It was clean, we felt safe, warm bed and all good I guess. Plus, our guard dog was a German Shepherd mut..always cute.

We took a power nap and then headed out to do some sightseeing and grab something to eat. We hit the Trevi fountain first, which was gorgeous at night. It was packed with tourists. I can not imagine being their during the height of tourist season, crazy. The fountain was sooooo much bigger then I had expected. After the fountain, we headed to the Spanish steps, which is the place to see and be seen. At the top of the steps is a small little Church that overlooks most of Roma. The next level is filled with painters and sketch artists. I bought this cute 8 x 10 watercolor from one of the local painters. I am such as patron of the arts.

As we made our way down the stairs we encountered so many college students. Everyone seemed to be there hanging out and just catching up. Starving, we headed down one of the side streets and found this cute little restaurant. When we walked in the owner was teaching his waiter how to Italian how to dance, so good Italian food, wine, music and dancing. A perfect intro Italian culture. After dinner we did some more wandering and landed at some little gelato place. Absolutely delicious. Enough said.

The next day we awoke and headed to Vatican City. We started at the Vatican Museum where we spent a good portion of the day. The museum is HUGE. Every ceiling is covered, the paintings are huge, tapestries of the Last Supper..just sooo much. When we finally got the Sistine Chapel I had been looking up at the ceiling for the last hour. The Sistine Chapel was unbelievable in so many ways. First, if you think about Michaelango actually painting that..artistically and logistically, amazing. Next, all the different languages of everyone standing in this room looking at this painting. It transcends ethnicity, language, and cultural boundaries. After the museum we headed in to Vatican City square and got in line for St. Peters Basilica.

The only time I have ever seen anything like St. Peters was the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. This blows that away. Once again every inch of the ceiling and walls are covered. The tomb of St. Peter is memorialized towards the front of the basilica and the altar itself was so detailed. There are sculptures memorializing many of the different Popes spread out along the walls, along with smaller altars and sanctuaries along the sides of the basilica.

We grabbed some lunch..veggie pizza..mmm and headed to the Colosseum. It was closed for the day when we got there but that didn't stop the Caesar impersonators from asking us if we wanted pictures with them. Who knew there were so many Caesars? We decided to head back to our hostel shower and get ready for round two. We hit an earlyish dinner at this cute little restaurant up the street from the Spanish steps. As we ate, a street performer serenaded us and the rain came pouring down.

After dinner we headed back to the Spanish steps to meet up with the group for the pub crawl. Every night in Roma, at 9 PM you can meet at the Spanish steps, pay $20 Euros and go on a pub crawl with usually all other American college students studying abroad. I do not know who thought of this idea but is a great time. You get to drink as much Carlsburg beer or wine in as you can from 9-10 at the 1st bar and then the next too you get a free shot upon entry. You also get a t-shirt (everyone loves a good t-shirt) and pizza. You end the night at a club and can stay there until the doors close. Leslie and I met people studying in Florence, Barcelona, London, Paris, etc. We also met guys in the U.S. air force who were stationed in Venice, not a bad life. Except they were in mortuary services, so I guess that kind of has its draw backs. Anyway, it was just a fun way to go around Roma with 40 other people you had never met before. All Americans, Brits, and Aussies.

After a long night we awoke the next day intent on making the most out of our last full day. We hit the Colosseum first. It is just ginormous haha. The fact that gladiators fought until their death in their blows me away. What it would be like to be in the nosebleeds up there, intense. Next to the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine, which reminded me a lot of the Arch de Triumph in Paris. After that we perused the Circus Maximus, where the public games were held during the Roman Empires.

We were craving some shopping at this point so we hit the stores below the spanish steps...prada, gucci, escada, louis, armani, united colors of benneton, etc etc. We did a lot of window shopping for the top name guys and girls but we actually found some decently priced shops further along the street. Needless to say, we enjoyed ourselves. You can't leave Roma without clothes right? That would be a sin : )

Our last dinner we went to the Trevi Restaurant where the wine was delicious, the food was even better, and the Tiramasu was heavenly. (See this is why I would be 800 pounds). Our last stop was a little cafe where I got more wine and Leslie got the most delicious hot chocolate I have ever tasted. It was like a melted chocolate bar...mmmm.

We got back to our hostel and had to pay. Upon paying the owner came to our room and brought us shots of Limon Cello. He makes its from scratch and yeah we could tell. That stuff was strong. But his hospitality just sums up the Italian people in general. Everyone was so welcoming and friendly. It could have been that we were young college aged girls but I think a lot of it had to do with that we weren't a big tour group. You get to know the people better in smaller groups.

Our flight Sunday was early and we had to hustle to make our plane. Due to not knowing the train schedule we got to the airport with an hour to spare. We made it to our gate with 10 minutes to spare before boarding time. No worries, it was all worth it. I can not wait to go back and see more of Italy...Florence, Tuscany, Naples, and all the other little villages in between. I could have spent weeks getting lost in Roma. One day I will be back!

Monday, November 17, 2008


This past weekend I took one of my last field trips with CYA. We spent Saturday and Sunday in the area known as Delphi, which is about 2 hours Northwest of Athens. I was with my Athletics class because Delphi is the last of the four sites of the Panathenic festivals. We stopped in the ski town of Arachava for a quick snack and some sightseeing. The town reminds me of small New England ski towns, very picturesque and one main street. The stores were mostly bakeries and fur stores, which sold David Crockett like hats. Priceless.

We drove about 30 minutes to the site of Delphi and spent about an 2 hours at the ancient gymnasium and temples. The gym in ancient athletics was used more as a warm up and cool down area then as a place of heavy lifting. Anyway, after we checked in to our hotel which looked out in the Arcadia mountains, I met up with my professor to go on his voluntary hike.

The EU has put together a hiking trail that connects all the countries of the EU. In essences you should be able to walk the entire EU on these trails. So, we took one of the trails up to the base of the mountain to get a good look over the valley and the archaeological site. It was just nice to be breathing clean air and not have the sounds of blaring car horns filling your ears. Plus the view was spectacular.

The town of Delphi is nothing more then a two street tourist town so there is not much to do in terms of exploring. We had dinner at a local taverna and got hot chocolate afterward. On our way back to the hotel we passed by some traditional Greek dancing in one of the local tavernas so we stopped and watched that for a little.

The next day we spent on site from about 8:30-1:00. We started at the stadium, where we were bombarded by Asian tourists who ended up video taping one of my classmates as they were giving their presentations. Weird. Anyway, we got to see the ancient stadium, theater, treasury, and temples. We also visited the museum and saw a charioteer figure.

The trip was enjoyable and probably my favorite of all of the athletic sites we visited. Olympia was just too big with not a lot of the structures preserved. It was cold at Delphi but thats ok.. I know I soon will be back in my Florida sunshine!

Rome in 3 days...!

Sunday, November 9, 2008


I just re-read my last entry and realized that you can totally tell I was writing while multitasking. I apologize that some of my sentences do not make sense. i.e.--convinced by rony that this was going to be the best movie i had seen in years, i decided to go. also, typing up the dog is supposed to prevent the penis from interfering with competition not the other way around.

...i figure you guys get the gist most of the time : )

"I'll Meet you at the KFC"

This past Thursday was the international release of the new James Bond movie. Convinced by my friend Rony that this was going to be the best "movie I had seen in years." Apparently Greeks love James Bond. Anyway, Leslie and I meet up with Rony at the KFC because according to him "all Americans know where the KFC is." Gross on so many levels. The movie was surprisingly good. Interesting note: You bye your tickets for an specific seat in the theater. Hence, why Rony wanted to wait until the late showing so we could get "good seats." Also there was an intermission.

Got home at 2:30 AM and got up at 6:30 AM to make it on the bus for my trip to Olympia. Needless to say, I slept the whole bus ride. This trip was with my athletics class. We got to see 3 out of the 4 sites of the Panhellenic festivals. AKA: we got to see where the major athletic festivals were held. Our first stop of the day was the site of the Isthmian games (2nd in importance to Olympics).

The Isthmian site was small and not really well kept. We did get to see the ancient starting gates, extremely intricate system that is too complex to describe here. Need a picture for it all to make sense. Our next stop was Nemea, which is actually really well kept.

We got to see the area where the athletes got changed aka disrobed. All athletes competed naked in ancient times. There was also a special way that the penis was tied back to the body so it would interfere with competition. I will not go in to the whole explanation but if you would like further detail google "tying up the dog." After we went through the changing area we walked through the tunnel the athletes took to enter the stadium. This was my favorite part by far because you could still see the inscriptions that the athletes etched in to the walls with their javelins and so forth.

The stadium at Nemea is still used to this day to reenact the ancient Olympics every four years. So, there were still lines in the sand from earlier this summer when people came and "competed". Also, at Nemea were the bathing areas where the athletes used to go to cool down in the sweltering summer heat.

After a quick box lunch, we headed out on the bus to a small town called Lagadia. It is this little town that sits in the rolling hills of the Arcadia mountains. It was just this really picturesque fall town. I have not experienced fall in about 4 years so it was extra special for me.

Back to sleep for another 2 hours until we arrived in the town of Olympia. The town of Olympia was created for two reasons: tourists and archaeologists. There was not much to do in the town. A former Olympic torch runner, turned jewelry store owner invited us to sit and have tea with him. So, we sat and had tea as he asked us about living in the States. He loves the States, has been there 11 times. He wanted us to take a picture with him so we did that and then booked it to dinner. Oh yes and his mother was sitting in the jewelry store when we walked in and she told us he was drunk so not to pay any attention to him.

After dinner we caught Obama's press conference (beauty of staying in hotels is we got to watch tv aka CNN). Awoke the next morning to pouring down rain. Dressed in my rain coat, several layers, and scarf I trekked off with the rest of the group to the Olympia site.

We spent a good amount of time in the museum where most of the remaining statues now remain. When we got out to the site the rain had stopped and the sun tried to make its way through the clouds. In 6 hours on site we saw everything; the Palestria, the temple of Zeus, the stadium, the workshop, and nero's house.

Overall, the trip was interesting but I can only handle so many archaeological sites. I enjoy the time away from Athens and getting to see other parts of Greece but I am so much more interested in the culture and the people then what used to be. Hence, why the drunk jeweler is one of the defining moments of the trip.

Next week...Delphi.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Istanbul: Muslim Country with a Western Feel

Another late night flight, we arrived in Istanbul at 6:30 AM. We got to the hotel only to find out our reservation had been cancelled. After getting in touch with our travel agent, come to find out she moved us to a different hotel. Unable to check in, we stored our luggage and headed out. Istanbul was nothing like Cairo. Clean, pretty, and very New England fall feel… Istanbul quickly became my favorite stop on the trip.

We first visited the Blue Mosque (similar in style to Muhammad Ali’s mosque). The domes are blue, hence the name. The inside is so ornate every inch of the walls covered in different designs. Here we saw a sign for a woman’s only section. It was built during Ottoman control and is the national mosque of Turkey

After that we visited the Hagia Sofia. Originally a basilica built by Constantine in 60 AD. It was converted to a mosque in 1453 when Constantine was conquered by the Ottomans.There are two remaining symbols of Christianity displayed in the mosque. Both of which depict Jesus.

Our last stop of the day was the Topkapi Palace. Filled with gold, jewelry, thrones, ornate outfits, tiled rooms, and intricate ceilings it was the home of the Ottoman sultans from 1465-1853. Mostly used for entertainment and state functions it housed up to 4,000 people in its heyday.

We headed back to Old town for lunch where we sat on cushions and watched people around us smoke their water pipes. After that we did some shopping in old town. Turkish hospitality is something you encounter a lot when you shop in Istanbul. Shop owners invite you in for hot tee or cider and usually bring multiple items to you as you sit and observe. Unlike Cairo and Alexandria, where I did not feel comfortable walking around by myself, Istanbul felt extremely safe to me.

Our dinner was typical “Turkish hospitality” in that after our delicious meal the owners came over and asked how things were. They then offered us fresh fruit, chocolate cake, and some Turkish tea to top it off. We headed to an Irish pub down the street from our hotel (it is true they are everywhere) and had an Efes (Turkish beer). The dark Efes was good but the light one tasted like Heineken. It was nice end to the evening. Once again the only females in the place, we watched the soccer games that were on and rooted for whoever seemed to be in the majority.

The next day we went to the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul. Much different then the one in Cairo, this one was covered and more modern. Found pretty much the same items in that bazaar as we did at the one in Cairo. Never the less, still fun to wander around and bargain with people. The men working the different stands (never saw a woman at any of the stands) would call out to us to entice us to come in. We got everything from “hey spice girls, to the lovely ladies of sex and the city, to Charlie’s angels”. Also, everyone seemed to think we were Australian because apparently the Aussie’s travel A LOT. We have met / ran in to Aussie’s everywhere we have been both in and out of Greece. They do not quite compare the number of Asian tourists but then again no one does.

As we were leaving the Grand Bazaar it was noon on Friday, which is high prayer time for Muslims. We were literally almost run over by the number of men flocking to the mosque right outside the bazaar. It was like something out of a movie. The call to prayer came and suddenly swarms of men flooding towards the washing station and then the mosque. We obviously stood in amazement / culture shock and watched this all unfold.

After a quick lunch we jumped on the metro and headed towards the new part of the city. My advisor at Rollins lived in Istanbul for 5 months so when I told her I was going she recommended visiting this new section of the city. She said one street in particular “would blow my stereotypes about a Muslim country out of the water.” Needless to say, I had to check it out. A completely pedestrian street filled with shops and restaurants. We saw everything from a 3 floor NBA store to Puma, to Nike, to Starbucks, and so much more. Everyone was dressed in very chic western style clothing. Not what you expect from a country where two hours earlier men were flocking to the mosque.

However, I will say that Istanbul was the most liberal of the three cities we visited. There were very few women in head scarves and even fewer in full burkas. It was this strange yet interesting mix of east and west. Other funny stories from Istanbul are on our last day in the city Liz, Fabi, and I were waiting for Leslie and Teplyn when these two guys approached us. Assuming we were Australian they asked us if we like Istanbul better then Australia. After acknowledging that we were from the states, they both said “we don’t like America.” Now, to be honest with you, I was expecting more of this sentiment. This was however; in all the time I have been abroad the first time anyone has ever said that to me. I mean I have encountered tons of people who dislike Bush and love Obama but nothing as blatant as this. Unsure how to respond I just said “That’s OK”. And then 5 minutes later they invited us to have tea with them, which only confused me more.

The only downside from the trip is that we all (in varying degrees) got some kind of stomach / intestinal bug from the food in Egypt. I felt so awful our last day that I felt like I was getting the flu. Although, I’m glad my body held up until the last day because I would not have wanted to miss a single day.

Cairo: 25 million and Growing

The 5 of us squeezed in to a taxi and headed to our hotel. On the way to our hotel, the taxi driver asked me to speak to his friend on the phone. Thinking this was just like a novelty thing since I speak English, I said O.K. The man on the other line spent a good 10 minutes trying to convince me to stay at his hotel. I actually became frightened that our taxi driver was going to take us to another hotel. Thank goodness he did not. We come to find out later that this is common practice, as the taxi drivers get a kick back from more low class hotels for how many tourists they bring in.

It was dinner time by the time we arrived at our hotel in Cairo. So, after grabbing food we just wandered the streets around our hotel. We ran in to a wedding celebration that had spilled out in to the street. Women of all ages were singing and dancing around the bride, who was surprisingly wearing a white wedding dress. This is a new trend with more modern Muslim women.

With Leslie’s parents now joining us, we headed to the Pyramids the following morning. Our tour guide, Heba, was a woman. She had spent 4 years at the university to get her “tour guide” degree. In Egypt, it is a very well respected position, especially for a woman. The Great Pyramid was our first stop. Built for King Khufu, it is the only one of the original wonder of the world that still stands today. It is about 5,000 years old. There are two other pyramids (slightly smaller in size) that sit on either side of the great pyramid. One is for King Khafre and the other for King Menkaure. They represent 3 generations.

We chose to go inside Khafre’s pyramid. You would think for something so massive that the entryway they take you through would also be massive. Not the case. We crouched down into about a 4ft high entry and head down at about 45 degrees. You make it down this brutal staircase to stand up for 30 seconds and then head up another one. I got to claustrophobic because there was no air down there that I turned around at that point. If you went further you would be able to see Khafre’s sarcophagus. Interesting note about those that built the pyramids—they were not slaves but instead average citizens. Also, pyramids are shaped the way they are because their main god was the god of the sun and the sun’s rays come down in the shapes of triangles.

Next, we saw the Sphinx. His purpose was to be the guardian of the Giza plateau. He is huge! We spent a good deal of time taking so pretty funny pictures with him so be sure to check those out. After that was went to Saqqara, which was the royal neocroplis for the old kingdom of Memphis (capital of Egypt during the time of the pyramids). Saqqara contains the step pyramid of King Djoser. It was built in the 3rd century and precedes the pyramids at Giza, making it the first pyramid made out of stone instead of mudbrick.

Our last stop of the day was Memphis as it has been classified today. It was founded in 3100 BC by King Menes. While most of the city was pillaged by foreigners we did get to see the colossal statue of King Ramses II and the Giant sphinx at Memphis (2nd most famous sphinx). For lunch Heba took us to a traditional Egyptian place. They are big in to mezes, which are small plates of different foods for everyone to share. We had eggplant, potatoes, grilled vegetables, lamb, and chicken. Plus, we got to try all these different kinds of dipping sauces to go on our homemade pitas. They brought us fresh fruit at the end of the meal and I got to try guava for the first time. Very good. Kind of reminds me of honeydew. Oh and another typical Egyptian thing is hibiscus juice. Good stuff.

After a full day in Cairo I was able to make some interesting cultural notes. Women dressed just as conservatively here as they did in Alexandria. There are no traffic laws. I have only seen one stop light. Also, having Leslie’s Dad with us made a difference in how we were treated on the street. We at dinner and then walked along the Nile, just experiencing the city some more.

The next day we headed to the museum of Egypt. We got to see King Tut’s display, which was just more gold after gold. It is one of the few, if not the only, tombs never robbed. Tut was mummified and then placed in 3 different tomb encasings, one fitting nicely into the previous one. He had jewelry to die for and a chariot covered in gold. King Tut did OK for himself. We also got to see the mummy display. Real mummies of Kings and a few (not many) queens that have been discovered were on display. Most of their bodies are still wrapped but you got to see their faces, hands, and feet. Sidenote: there was one mummy whose information read “overweight female with bad teeth.” How would you like for that to be your legend? We also got to see some of the animals that were mummified. Most common were dogs and baboons. Though, there was a pair of mummified alligators (gross!) on display.

Our next stop of the day was the Cairo tower. During the 1960s the U.S. government gave Egypt money to buy arms. Instead, the president at the time decided to take the money and use it to build the Cairo tower. Overlooking the whole city, we went up right before sunset. It was cool to see the modern buildings and then be able to see the pyramids off in the distance. It also showed you how smoggy and dirty Cairo really is… our pictures were sub par.

Best dinner of trip was our dinner on the Nile. We picked a restaurant along the water that evening. Ended up being a really good seafood restaurant, where you choose your fish from their display. I got blackened grouper and this cinnamon-y tasting rice. Also, had mango juice, which you could tell was fresh because it was thick and smoothie-like.

On our last day in Cairo, we visited the Citadel and the Bazaar. Within the walls of the Citadel lies on of the most famous mosques, the mosque of Muhammad Ali (once a prominent leader in Egypt). We were asked to remove our shoes (common practice) and we, as women, were asked to wear these big cape like deals that covered us from shoulders to the floor. The mosque was breathtaking. The chandeliers, the ceiling, the domes, the paintings…all so ornate. It was built to model after the Blue Mosque, which we saw later in Istanbul.

There was a military museum on site that I ended up wandering through. While I could not tell you much about the museum itself because it was not very interesting and definitely too long, I do think it is worth noting a quote I read while inside there. It said, “Faith in God, Victory or Martyrdom.” Just made me think.

Our last stop of the day, was the Grand Bazaar. Everything from water pipes (hukas), to silk scarves, to pyramid key chains, to traditional tunics; you name it you could find it at the Grand Bazaar. I (obviously) purchased some things and had a good time playing the bargaining game. I offered a guy ½ a price for his scarf and he told me I was crazy. I walked away and he agreed to my price. I was like now if only I could walk in to banana republic and do the same. Hmm…

Random Observations that caught my attention:
1.there was a card in each of our hotels that told you which way was facing Mecca, so you could pray in your room
2.there was a mosque in the Cairo airport
3.the language schools are considered the best in terms of education
4.we were proposed to numerous times, even collectively (Muslim men are allowed to have up to 4 wives) many police (carrying semi-automatics), yet do very little
6.girl who was studying to be a tour guide approached me while I was at the museum as a means to practice her English
7.culture clash: man in traditional Saudi grab checking in to the hotel while the woman next to him, also checking in to the hotel, was wearing spandex cheetah pants.

Alexandria: "Welcome to Egypt"

Arrived in the Alexandria airport (4 walls and a roof) at 3:30 AM. We quickly jumped in a cab en route to our hotel. After sleeping for 5 hours we got up ate and set out exploring. Our first stop was the library (biblotechque) of Alexandria University. It is one of the coolest building architecturally you will ever see. Plus, on the walls surrounding the building there are inscriptions from all the different languages of the world. We tried to go in to the main part of the university’s campus but the guards stopped us.

Our next stop was a Coptic Christian cemetery. Similar to the Greek Orthodox cemetery we visited in Athens, most graves are family graves. Plus, a lot of the bones are dug up and put in “bone boxes” instead of being kept in the ground. We headed in to the Church next to it, St. Georges, where the kid’s choir was practicing. Just like the Orthodox every inch of every wall on the inside of the Church is covered in paintings. We opted for dinner at our hotel’s rooftop restaurant. The food was amazing and the view of the city was spectacular.

Day two in Alexandria we got in to what turned out to the longest cab ride of my life. Not an official taxi driver, this man took us to the ancient catacombs, Pompeii’s pillar, a “modern” day Bazaar, and Farouk’s Palace. The catacombs were interesting because you got to actually go down in to them and walk through the old tombs. They have only recently been discovered so there is still a lot of work being done on them. Pompeii’s Pillar was like a smaller version of what we would end up seeing in Cairo. The coolest part of the site was the underground “library” that we got to walk through. The taxi driver then proceeded to interrupt our no’s as a yes to going to this bazaar. Inside a strip mall, he took us to a jewelry store. We later read that these kinds of drivers get a kick back from the stores for bringing tourists through. He made money off of me but oh well. Farouk’s Palace was gorgeous. You could not actually go inside but you got to walk around through the gardens and take pictures.

After dinner we went to grab so dessert from the cafĂ© at our hotel. This waiter ushers us in to the bar area and tells us we should sit and enjoy because his “lady friend” is going to be performing. Within the next 10 minutes this woman dressed in a short skirt but belly dancer like top starts singing for us and about 10 other men. We begin to realize we are the only women in the bar and are unsure of our place in the situation. So, we finish our dessert and head out unsure if we were supposed to be there or not.

Overall, Alexandria was interesting. It was a nice introduction in to Egyptian culture. I am glad we went there before going to Cairo so we had some idea of what to expect. The women wore very conservative Muslim garb. Most were full burkas and if not then they had head scarves on and their arms and legs were completely covered. We felt out of place with our hair showing.

We got our train tickets from Alexandria to Cairo (population 25 million) and looked down to realize the ticket was in Arabic. I headed for the office of the station master in hopes he could help us. He was so excited to hear that I was American because he had just applied for his green card and was wondering if I could help him in any way. I was so taken back that this man not only could speak good English but he could write it as well. Uneventful train ride but very lush scenery. Oh yes and should mention that the Egyptian pound was 5 for every $1 USD. So, our 1st class train tickets cost under $10. If only Amtrak was that cheap…