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!