Friday, May 15, 2015

Cyprus and Last Adventures to an Incredible Semester

Our last two weeks came and went much faster than I thought possible.

I spent the first weekend visiting Cyprus with friends to see the Sanctuary of Aphrodite, dating to about 1200BC, the Rock of Aphrodite where in myth she stepped out of the sea, and famous Roman mosaics at Paphos.
We got to explore and stumbled across ruins which we later discovered were of a Frankish castle. The weekend was a lovely one.
Back in Athens after that we had our last week of classes, with sad goodbyes to much loved Professors. Just before finals three friends and I decided to see the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion and took a day trip south to do so which was great.
I have seen so much this semester, from modern cities to Greece's oldest sites, have spent hours studying rocks on site until I could see there what was no longer there, and have begun to become the archaeologist I hope to be, but have also become a fuller person along the way. This semester has shown me art and history that has helped me experience the world, and has introduced me to friends and professors I am indebted to for making my time at CYA the happiest, most amazing semester of studies I have known. In Greece I have found a second home, and though I have to wave goodbye as I did today to the Acropolis, I hope I'll be back soon!

Thank you CYA!

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Retrospective

 In my last post, I reflected upon how I couldn't believe it was already March and that I was halfway done with my semester here in Athens. Having just taken my last final exam earlier this morning and now in the process of packing my bags, I can't believe it is already May and I leave Greece this weekend. So much has happened over these last two months. 

A couple weeks after my last entry to this site, I traveled with CYA to northern Greece. We spent five days in Thessaloniki, the second-most populated city in the country. Not only is this area a vibrant tourist and commercial center, but also it is home to over 100,000 students. Most of them attend Aristotle University, the largest institution of higher education in Greece and the Balkans. Thessaloniki reminded me a lot of Boston, in the sense that it is a very student-friendly city with no shortage of cheap but good places to eat, drink, and go. On this trip, we also traveled to the tomb of Philip II (the king of Macedon and father of Alexander the Great who conquered most of the known world), as well as Thermopylae (the site of the famous battle in 480 BC in which King Leonidas lead his 300 Spartan warriors against thousands of Persian troops). 

The view from the White Tower of the waterfront apartments and
 businesses, with the main harbor visible in the distance
The White Tower of Thessaloniki

A memorial to King Leonidas and his 300 Spartan Warriors
at the site of the Battle of Thermopylae against the Persian Empire in 480 BC

A few days after arriving back in Athens from northern Greece, it was Independence Day. Thousands of soldiers representing all branches of the Greek military marched in the parade marking 194 years since the revolutionaries of the First Hellenic Republic officially declared they were leaving the Ottoman Empire on March 25th, 1821.
Greek infantrymen marching outside of the Hellenic Parliament in the Independence Day parade
Due to the Independence Day celebrations, we had an extended weekend. So one of my roommates and I visited Italy. We flew to Rome, stopped in Vatican City, and then went by rail to Florence, Venice, and Milan. Not only is train travel cheaper in Italy than in the United States, but also it is high-speed. 

The view of Vatican City from the top
of St. Peter's Basilica 
Sunset over Vatican City

Sunset at the Uffizi Gallery
Inside St. Peter's Basilica

Venice at Dawn
The Navigli District of Milan

George David (left), Me (center), Anastassis David (right)
The day after I got back to Athens from Italy, on March 30th, I met with George David, who generously funded my scholarship to live and study here, at his office at Coca-Cola Hellenic Headquarters. We were joined by his son, Anastassis, a graduate of the Tufts class of 1994 and a CYA trustee. The three of us met for almost an hour. We discussed a wide range of topics, ranging from my academic interests and professional goals to Greek and American politics to life at Tufts and CYA. I was very grateful for this opportunity to meet my benefactor, and I hope to see him again one day.

A few days after my meeting with the Davids, it was spring break. My first destination was the famous Greek island of Santorini. My second was not your typical getaway: Kiev, Ukraine.

The village of Oia in Santorini
During our first full day in Kiev, we drove with a tour company two hours north to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, the most radioactive place on earth. On April 29th, 1986, the nuclear power plant in this area exploded, releasing an immeasurable amount of radiation into the ground and atmosphere. During our visit, in addition to seeing the plant, we walked through the abandoned city of Pripyat, which was once home to almost 50,000 workers and their families who had to evacuate immediately within hours of the accident. 

The entrance to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone
The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant 
The ferris wheel at the Pripyat amusement park
The jail under the Pripyat police station
The contents of a classroom in a primary school in Pripyat

While in Kiev, we also visited the National Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War, which ostensibly commemorates the role of Ukrainians in defeating Nazi Germany in World War II. The fact that these exhibits were curated by Soviet historians back in the 1980s is very apparent, so much so I felt more like I was in a museum in Moscow than one in Kiev. Ironically, directly outside the museum, there are nearly half a dozen Russian-made tanks and missile launchers on display that were recently captured by Ukrainian forces in the eastern regions of Crimea and Donetsk. Under each vehicle, there is a placard that reads, "This item is material evidence of crimes committed by pro-Russian militant groups supported by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in the territory of Ukraine." Given the degree of anti-Russian sentiment in Ukraine currently, one would think that the Ministry of Culture would consider making some changes to the Museum.
The Motherland Monument, the National Museum of the History of the Great Patriotic War is housed in its base
Standing on a Russian tank recently seized in the ongoing war
The Soviet-designed rotunda in the Museum
On our final night in Kiev, we meet several local college students who offered to show us all around their city. We were the first tourists they had met in a long time, so they were quite enthusiastic to share their experiences and feelings with us. Some of them had even participated in the revolution last year in which the pro-Russian president was ousted and the previous democratic constitution was restored. The pride they have in their country was very inspiring, and made me hopeful for the future of Ukraine. 

Maidan Square, the site of the Ukrainian Revolution of February 2014

The day after I got back from Kiev, it was Greek Orthodox Easter. At midnight mass in churches throughout the country, candles were lit to mark the conclusion of Lent. However, there is more to this ritual than meets the eye. Apparently, on the day before the holiday, the Patriarch of Constantinople enters a hidden section of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem with a candle that is miraculously lit "by the hand of God." This candle is then airlifted to Greece, and used to light hundreds of other candles that are in turn delivered to every church in the land.

Midnight mass at the church on my street in the Pangrati neighborhood of Athens

In the month since Easter, time has flown by. The weekdays have been filled with classes and homework, and the weekends with visits to the beach as the weather has gotten warmer. Now, it is time to go...and I am not entirely sure what to say. My Contemporary Politics professor perhaps phrased it best during a dinner that he and his wife cooked for our class at his apartment, "If you've gotten anything--not just out of my class and the others you've taken here--but from your time in Greece, I hope its a sense of curiosity, a desire to learn about new places." I definitely feel that I got all that, plus so much more.
Onsite lecture at the Acropolis for
my Art & Archaeology class 
Visiting the Hellenic Parliament
with my Contemporary Politics class

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Spring Break and Crete Trip!

Hello again!

April was a wonderful month for me full of adventures in Athens and on Greek islands! I spent my two week Spring Break primarily in Athens, and got the chance to spend time in the museums I had not yet and wanted to visit. With my dear friends Emily, Alicen, and Yili visiting me I took trips to the Byzantine Museum (where I spotted this elephant, Tufts at heart!) and look at their wonderful icon collection as well as see some of the remains of the Byzantine church that once resided inside the Parthenon.

I also made it out to the National Museum, where I was happy as could be looking at Mycenaean artifacts such as this Mycenaean dagger decorated on both the handle and blade with lilies. (And of course saw the famous bronze statue of Poseidon/Zeus which is stunning.)

Emily and I also took a day trip with three of my CYA friends to the island of Aegina! Aegina is close to Athens, and while it's claim to fame today is pistachio's better than you could believe, in ancient times it had a very important Temple to Athena, so after we disembarked our boat (not this one but I thought it was a funny coincidence), we headed to the temple and had a wonderful time exploring the site before enjoying some pistachios on the island ourselves.

Spring Break flew by with these adventures, work on a paper on the interesting topic of the Temple of Athena Nike on the Acropolis, and my birthday for which we went up on the Areopagus and enjoyed the night lit-up view of the Acropolis, and the next thing I new I was getting excited for the Crete Trip. As I've mentioned before I love studying the Bronze Age, so Minoan Crete was right up my alley. We visited Knossos first thing in the morning, where we saw Sir Arthur Evans reconstructed palatial structure and explored the ruins. I was so excited about the throne room - decorated with the original stone seat and with frescoes of griffins how cool is that! - that I came back to it twice, and spent quite a while speculating on the mysteries of the Minoan civilization. It was absolutely wonderful. We even saw peacocks nearby!

We then went south to Plaka where we visited the islet of Spinalonga which was once a Venetian fort and later a leper colony. The history of the island is a deeply emotional one, and was moving to see.
For day two we moved back into the Bronze Age with a visit to the Heraklion Museum. I was buzzing with excitement to see the famous artifacts of the bee pendant, the Phaistos disk, beautiful Minoan labors (double-axes), and the real frescoes of Knossos. I had visited this museum once before college, but now with my studies in archaeology lending me knowledge of these beautiful things I can honestly say that for the first time in my life the age and historical presence of these artifacts hit me, I was completely in awe of the craftsmanship, the undeciphered language on the disk, and the survival of the frescoes over the course of so much time. The glass separating me from the objects felt fogged by the more than 4000 year temporal divide between myself and the people whose legacy these objects represent. What I wouldn't give to remove the mist and learn more about this first civilization of Europe.
We had some beach time in Matala after that, and enjoyed the amazingly delicious food of Crete, and before I knew it it was our last day and we were off to a potters village called Margaritas. There we learned about the pottery tradition of Crete, and saw some very fun ceramics such as some Byzantine trick cups and ceramic hot air balloons. 
We made our way to the Arkadi monastery and learned the history of the site, including its incredible battle between the Turks and Greeks in the 1800s. It's role in the history of Greek Independence is one to be remembered.
After that we only had time to see the Venetian port fort at Chania before we were off for Athens, but it was a beautiful evening.
I hope to return to Crete soon, and as my last two month with CYA flies by will explore as much as I can!