Friday, December 21, 2012

Saying Goodbye (for now)

There’s just a little over twenty-four hours left before I leave Greece. Now that it’s coming to an end, this semester feels like it flew by. I spent the afternoon yesterday taking my last walk through central Athens and making my final climb up to the acropolis. Syntagma Square was all decorated for Christmas and they even had an ice skating rink! Two of my friends, Anna and Remy, and I stopped for some hot chocolate to warm up on a chilly day in Athens. Sitting in the cafĂ© sipping my hot chocolate, it hit me just how comfortable I’ve become here and how much I’m going to miss it.
Ice Skating in Syntagma

Last trip to the Acropolis
I'm going to miss this view
CYA Farewell Party 

 I’ve learned so much during the past four months. I’ve learned to be patient with myself and with others, to be more flexible, and to let loose every once and a while. Adapting to a new environment, language and culture has really taught me that sometimes it’s okay not to be in control of everything.  Sometimes you just have to surrender to the unknown and enjoy the ride, and I have certainly enjoyed the past few months. I’m going to miss the great friends that I’ve made here, my professors, and the awesome CYA staff.  I’ll also miss gyros, tzatziki sauce and the amazing chocolate cake from the bakery down the street! And of course I’ll miss everything about the wonderful Greek culture: the dancing, the ancient ruins, the hospitality, the museums…and so much more. I’m especially going to miss seeing the acropolis from the academic center window everyday on may way to class. I’ve had such a great experience here in Athens and in the other places I’ve traveled to this semester. I am so grateful for my time abroad and I look forward to traveling many more times. Thank you all for reading my updates…I have really loved getting to share my pictures and stories with you. I’ll see everyone back in the States soon!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Little Taste of Christmas

         I can’t believe there are only eleven days left until I go home, which means only fourteen days until Christmas! Since it is my absolute favorite holiday, I’ve been excited to experience some Christmas spirit here in Athens. Although Easter is celebrated more in Greece than Christmas is, I’ve still seen some balconies decorated with strings of lights and storefronts painted red and green. I especially feel like Christmas is close when I walk down Ermou Street in Syntagma (a very popular shopping destination). Since the stores there are more main-stream, most of them are filled with Christmas decorations. To really get into the Christmas spirit, my housemates and I decided to do a secret santa and have a Christmas party. I even bought a tiny Christmas tree (well, a bush)! We had a great time celebrating Christmas early in Greece and giving each other our secret santa presents! I’m also planning on taking a cooking lesson later this week where I’ll learn how to make some traditional Greek Christmas cookies!

Our mini Christmas tree/bush
Rose opening her gift!
            Since I now have less than two weeks left in Athens, I decided to check off a few last minute things on my list of places to visit. This past weekend, I finally had a chance to spend a few hours at the Byzantine and Christianity Museum. What I loved most about this museum was the huge amount of Byzantine Icons they have in their collection. Almost an entire floor of the museum is dedicated to these paintings! Below are some pictures of a few of my favorites. The museum also had a special exhibit on the origins of book making and book binding which was also very interesting.

I'm going to miss those mountains 

            I’ll be writing one more blog post sometime next week before I leave Athens. My time here has flown by and it will be a bittersweet day when I have to make my last trip up to the Acropolis. I’ll make one final update next week with some last thoughts and pictures. Until then, enjoy the Christmas pics above!


Friday, November 30, 2012

My Ironic Thanksgiving in Turkey and London

        It’s been a very busy and exciting few weeks! After finishing up my midterm exams during the first week of November, my parents arrived in Athens on the 9th to spend ten days experiencing my life in Greece with me! I loved showing them the Acropolis, the Agora and the many awesome museums in Athens. I hope they’d tell you I was a good tour guide! Since I still had classes during the week they visited, Mom and Dad decided to take some day-trips to Delphi, Epidauros and Mycenae. From what they told me they loved these sites as much I did and I’m so glad they got to see other parts of Greece outside of Athens. One of the highlights our week together was getting to sit in the Panathenaic Stadium and cheer on the winners of the Athens Classic Marathon. 

  After a great week with my parents, my friend Anna and I headed off on a trip to Istanbul and London! Both of these cities were amazing for very different reasons and I feel so lucky to have been able to travel during my fall break.  Having studied the Hagia Sophia in two art history classes at Tufts, I was so excited to see it for myself! One of my favorite aspects of the church-turned-mosque is its blend of Islamic and Christian attributes. Upon walking into the main building, I was immediately struck by the height of the central dome and the enormous size of the circular roundels with their beautiful Arabic calligraphy. Since we live in a world where religions are often seen only for their differences, I loved stepping into a space where Christian and Islamic aspects seem to meld together.  All of the mosques Anna and I visited, including the Blue Mosque, were amazing. We also visited Topkapi Palace (Ottoman), the Roman Basilica Cistern, the Spice Market, Grand Bazaar, and Istanbul’s Archaeological Museum. Although I loved everything about our visit to Istanbul, my favorite part about the city is the daily call to prayer (“adhan”). Five times a day a “muezzin” announces the call from each mosque in the city. The sound of the chanting radiates throughout Istanbul and creates a beautiful melodic chant. I was so mesmerized by it that I have at least five or six videos recorded on my phone! After a great couple of days in Istanbul, Anna and I left early on Thanksgiving (hence my ironic Thanksgiving in Turkey), and headed over to London.

                                                  Inside the Hagia Sophia

                                                           Hagia Sophia

             The Blue Mosque at night                                   The Basilica Cistern

In addition to seeing Parliament, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, and all of the other things London has to offer, I also got to visit with two of my best friends: Lucia and Brie! Both of them are studying in England this semester so my visit to London was made even more perfect because I got to spend it with them! On Friday, Lucia and I had a busy day touring all of the famous sites of London including the National Portrait Gallery, Harrod’s, and the “Eye.” London struck me as a very clean and classy city with lots of beautiful architecture. Even their taxis were classy looking! I also really enjoyed getting a taste of winter weather and seeing the amazing Christmas decorations. On Saturday, Brie left Oxford for the day to meet me at the British Museum in London where we got to see the Rosetta Stone and the other Parthenon sculptures. I also had afternoon tea with both Lucia and Brie and even stopped by the Tower of London. 
                                                            Westminster Abbey

My trip to Istanbul and London was amazing and I feel so lucky that I’ve now gotten to experience four different countries! I love seeing all of the stamps in my passport and I can’t wait to add more! I’m now settling in for my last three weeks in Greece. I’ll be staying in Athens so I can hopefully make the most of my last couple of weeks here and visit the last few museums and sites on my list.  I’ll keep you updated on my adventures in Athens…hope you enjoy the pics!
      -  Sam

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Freaks and Greeks, Pt. 7 "Never Eat Questionable Pastichio"

As you may have noticed, I haven't been too up to date on the blogs posts recently. That's mostly because I had an absolutely incredible weekend in Istanbul two weeks ago (talking about that wouldn't make sense in a  blog about my time in Greece, but I'll post pictures anyways, plus some from the Peloponnese) and spent last weekend at the Hygeia Hospital in Athens. Plot-twist, amIright?

Basically what occurred is this: while on our CYA sponsored trip to the Peloponnese, I encountered some questionable Pastichio in the city of Tripolis. Pastichio is a (normally delicious) dish consisting of layers of cooked beef, pasta, and bechamel (but it's NOT lasagna, they get mad if you say that). This happened on a Wednesday. By Saturday morning, I was being whisked down the mountains of Delphi in a taxicab to reach the hospital back in Athens, two hours away. I was diagnosed with some severe dehydration and an infection in my gastrointestinal tract - they still don't know what the pathogen was, but hey, that's life for you. After three nights, four days, and a nuclear arsenal of antibiotics, I was released with a clean bill of health. It has been kind of an out-of-body experience to think that I was just in a Greek hospital.

My stay in the hospital was surprisingly headache free as well. There was barely any language barrier with my limited Greek and the staff's extensive knowledge of English. The CYA administration was also incredibly efficient and helpful in making sure I got the care I needed and handled everything regarding my insurance (and keeping my family in the loop). I'm really grateful to have such an amazing group of people looking out for me while I'm here.

I had to continue my antibiotic regiment for a few days after returning to Pangrati and CYA, but I'm officially med free! My Greek teacher let me know that the community holds medical donation drives at a nearby church, and I took the opportunity to donate the antibiotics (they're mostly over the counter here) to charity today. They go to sick citizens here that can't afford the prescriptions or have been hard hit by the financial crisis. It's the least I could do after all of the help and care I was given/shown in the past week. And it also really made me feel like I'm a part of a community here in Pangrati. So I guess this story has a silver lining afterall, besides the fact that I have a pretty awesome story to tell about my experience abroad now. That and my newfound knowledge of the Greek medical system.

Hopefully next time I'll have a more culturally interesting post (I'll be in Italy next week for our fall recess!)

Monday, November 5, 2012

From the Bronze Age to the Middle Ages

This past Monday our entire group of CYA students embarked on a week-long trip to the Peloponnese and Delphi. The Peloponnese is the large are of Greece south-west of the mainland and Delphi is an amazing site about two hours north of Athens. Given the fact that I took almost 500 pictures and visited eleven different sites ranging from Bronze Age palaces to Venetian castles, there is no way I can describe everything I saw and did. Therefore, I’ve decided to talk about my three favorite sites: Mystras, Mycenae, and the Palace of Nestor.
            The first site on our itinerary for Wednesday was the medieval town of Mystras.  Built into the mountains near the modern town of Sparta, this abandoned town includes twenty-four medieval churches with original wall paintings, a large palace complex, fortifications, and many other structures.  The views from the mountain are spectacular and the churches are incredibly well preserved. Below are a few pictures from around Mystras, including a shot of one of the church domes with a depiction of Christ Pantokrator (Christ the Judge). This image of Christ in the central dome is a feature shared by almost all Greek Orthodox churches.

       Two of my other favorite sites in the Peloponnese are Mycenae and the Palace of Nestor (located in Pylos).  Although I visited Mycenae during my senior year of high school, the scale and richness of the site amazed me yet again. Mycenae also holds a special place in my heart because of its repeated references in Homer’s Iliad (one of my all time favorite texts).  This large palace complex is the supposed territory of the wanax (king) Agamemnon.  Inhabited during the Bronze Age in Greece, Mycenae is especially known for its cyclopean masonry and the large amount of gold objects and bronze weaponry found in its graves. Many of these prestigious items are now located in the museum at Mycenae and at the National Archaeological Museum here in Athens. The rocks used to construct the walls are so huge that I had to take a picture standing in front of one for scale.  Some of the rocks are as tall as me!

                                         Inside the Treasury of Atreus (a large grave) at Mycenae

The Lion Gate

                                                 That's just ONE of the stones in the wall!

            Another of my favorite Bronze Age sites is the Palace of Nestor at Pylos.  Like Mycenae, the Palace of Nestor was inhabited by the Mycenaean people and is said to have been ruled by the wanax/king Nestor (who is also featured in the Iliad). This site was especially amazing because we had the privilege of speaking to many of the archaeologists who are currently excavating the palace. They even showed us some of their test pits that revealed many different stratigraphic layers of the palace.  I also enjoyed this site because of its well-preserved “megaron.” The megaron is the central room of a Mycenaean palace.  It is characterized by columns and a large round hearth in the center.  Scholars speculate that this room served as a receiving/throne room for the king.
                                                         The hearth in the megaron
                                                 Archaeologists at the Palace of Nestor

            I had an amazing time exploring the Peloponnese and Delphi, but now its back to classes and midterms.  Check back over the next couple of weeks to see some pictures from my parents’ visit (they arrive in a few days!) and some stories from my up-coming trip to Istanbul and England! 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Monastic Weekend

I said goodbye to Athens this past Friday and set out with a group of CYA students and professors to spend the weekend in two other fantastic Greek towns: Meteora and Metsovo. Located about six hours north of Athens, Meteora and Metsovo rank as two of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. Both towns have spectacular local landscapes and a lot of traditional Greek charm. Since we were quite a bit north of Athens, I even got a taste of the fall weather and foliage that I’ve been missing here in the southern Mediterranean.
I’m not sure it is even possible to describe the magnificence of Meteora, but I’ll try to put it into words. This small area of Greece is known best for its towering rock formations. And as if that doesn’t sound amazing enough, those towering cliffs are the foundations of monasteries that date back to the Byzantine period! Of the twenty-four orignal monasteries that were built in this area, only six survive today.  Over the course of the two days we were in Meteora, our group visited four out of these six working monasteries. Since they are located on top of island rock formations, getting to these buildings is no easy feat. Roads can only get so close to the cliffs, so bridges and many many steps are used to reach the top of the rocks. I was exhausted after just a day and a half of walking to these monasteries, so I can’t even imagine how difficult it was to construct and access these places hundreds of years ago! However, the stairs are well worth the effort.  Once I reached the top of the first monastery, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the mountains and cliffs. The view is so beautiful that it almost doesn’t seem real. In addition to the amazing scenery, the monasteries provide great examples of Byzantine iconography and manuscripts. Our group was lucky to have three great professors with us who gave us so much information on the modern Orthodox Greek Church as well as Byzantine architecture.

After spending most of Friday and Saturday in Meteora, our group packed up and headed to our next destination: Metsovo. This small mountain town was the perfect place to spend a fall weekend. I was so happy to kick my feet through the fallen leaves and sit down to a warm meal on a cold night.  In addition to spending time looking at the wood-working and cheese shops (Metsovo is known for these two products), we also visited a local folklore museum where we got a taste of life in Greece during the 19th century. Before heading back to Athens on Sunday, our group had the privilege of attending a Greek Orthodox church service and sitting down for coffee with the local priest. His congregation was very inviting and he openly answered our questions about his church and his religion. My weekend in Meteora and Metsovo was definitley one of my favorites so far in Greece and I can’t wait to go back some day!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Freaks and Greeks, Pt. 6 "(Un)Civil Disobedience"

So, let's deal with the elephant in the room. Greece is going through a widely publicized economic crisis at the root of a much deeper issue plaguing all of the Eurozone. As it stands, around 25% of the population is unemployed. For the Greek youth, that number basically doubles, if I'm not mistaken. And there's nothing more unstable than an unemployed, disgruntled, and unmarried young male. Throw all of these in the mix with the pervasive culture of demonstration and protest in Greece, and you've got a recipe for what the media would call anarchy. Demonstrations occur on a weekly (if not daily) basis in Syntagma Square outside of the Greek Parliament. These demonstrations are normally very peaceful, if not a little chaotic. However, it's become pretty standard for these protests to be infiltrated by anarchists or (more often than not) young men that are bored and restless, looking for trouble. Their frequent skirmishes with the Greek police are typically mild, but the standard response for riot control is tear gas. As a result, the international media has a somewhat skewed perception that Athens is burning, a real life Armageddon.

Having attended several of these demonstrations, I'm starting to get the sense that all of the focus on the protests and their violent turns have shifted attention away from their purpose, both in and outside of Greece. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, visited Athens last week in a show of support for the German-backed austerity measures that are meant to reign in the astronomical debt here in Greece. It was her first visit since 2007, and I'm frankly not surprised - thousands of demonstrators gathered outside of Parliament dressed up in Nazi uniforms, bearing signs condemning the German "fascism", or protesting European interference in Greek politics and economics. But what struck me most about the demonstration was the diversity of attendants. I talked to several different people about their thoughts on the situation, and there was no one general consensus. Everyone there was protesting something different. I talked to a university student that was protesting the austerity measures, but thought that nothing would come of the protests, because she "had been going to them since she was 16 and nothing has happened." Another woman represented the Immigrant Workers Union and was protesting the radical Golden Dawn political party in Greece. A third was there just to attend, and said they didn't have any problem with Merkel at all. And the so-called anarchists, the ones that instigated the eventual violence and police response? They're easily identifiable by their motorcycle helmets, gas masks, or scarcely concealed clubs. The ones that I saw before leaving the demonstration couldn't have been much older than teenagers. I got the feeling that they weren't there to protest the economic situation, but rather to stir up trouble.

I've been fascinated by the economic situation here - it's a large part of why I chose to study in Greece. Rather than focus on the protests, I've been more interested in talking to people about their opinions on the austerity measures and the entire crisis. All of the responses are mixed and there isn't any consensus besides the opinion that austerity is more hurtful than helpful. My marble carving instructor claims that Greece is embroiled in the "Third World War" of economics with Germany. A taxi driver blamed the Greek troubles on the growing immigrant population (one of the main arguments of the far-right Golden Dawn party). No one has any idea how things will pan out - if Greece will stick to the Euro or go to back to the Drachma, if the EU will remain intact. Needless to say, it's an incredibly interesting time to be in Greece. There are protests for sure, some of them violent, but not nearly on the level the international media makes it out to be - I only heard about a protest turning violent several weeks ago because I read about it later in the New York Times. I worry more that everyone will lose sight of why these protests are occurring in the first place.