Sunday, May 30, 2010

Feta You Than Me

As a Christmas present this year, my parents (ever-so-loving that they are) bought my sister and I a plane ticket to Europe. Tenaya finally cashed in her voucher and I found her waiting, bags in hand, on my front step about 2 weeks ago. . . okay, maybe that’s not what happened, but the end result is still the same: W-G sisters take Europe!!!

The first few days were filled with jet lag, walks through the National Gardens, visits to the Acropolis, Temple of Zeus, National Archaeological Museum, and New Acropolis Museum. I enlightened her with the taste of Grill and Pita, that fantastic gyro place near my apartment which sells huge pitas stuffed with greasy meat, tzatziki, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and fries for only 1.80. She also came in time for CYA’s farewell dinner where we all dressed up and traipsed down the street in our heels to the cafeteria whose tables were laid with white table cloths, appetizers, wine, and bread. Tenaya acted as my personal photographer for the night, and would follow me around taking the last pictures that I would ever have with my friends.

The day that I was supposed to move out of my apartment, Tenaya and I made our way down to the port at a chipper time of 5 am and jumped on the ferry to take us to Naxos. Not only is it the biggest island of the Cyclades, and one of the largest potato producers in Greece, Naxos is also a beautiful island with great beaches! We stayed at a great hostel/hotel which was a pretty close walk to the rest anywhere we wanted to go in the main town. We spent the first day walking around town and exploring, ending our night at a little restaurant where we ended up meeting an interesting guy at the table next to ours. He was an anarchist who spent his life traveling around Europe, leaving the job when he was not satisfied with the employer. The second day we spent the day getting burnt and swimming at the beautiful beach, and enjoying the sunset through the Apollo’s doorway—the entrance to, and only remnant of an ancient temple right on the sea—and enjoyed a drink at a cafĂ© right on the edge of the sea. As it is the biggest island of the Cyclades, we decided to rent a car the next day driving the scenic, winding roads of the island, stopping off at various sanctuaries (both Pagan and Christian), towers (for which Naxos is also famous), korous (male statues made out of marble) which were 20-40 feet tall, and sitting on rocks at the edge of the sea for a picnic lunch. We made it back to Naxos Town to buy locally made cheeses, olives, and other goods for a little dinner. Sadly, the next day we had to take the long ferry back to Athens, after having a wonderful relaxing island time!
In getting to Athens, we were a little worried about where we would sleep for the night, as I was already kicked out of my apartment, and the friend from CYA that we were going to stay with (her aunt lives in Athens) had decided to visit the islands before she went back to the states.

Luckily, Popi, the housing director, was at CYA when we went to use the internet, and gave us keys to an apartment which had not yet been cleaned. Hurrah for a night of free lodging! After we dropped our stuff off (which turned out that it was being used by another student and her friends as well) and went to do the last exploring of my former home. It turned out to be one of my favorite nights in Athens! We walked around Ermou (the street of shopping off of Syntagma), Monistraki, and in back alleyways that ran along the Roman Agora, Hadrian Library, and other sites up to the rock which juts out next to the Acropolis (where St. Paul converted Athenians to Christianity). When we walked up to the rock, we got the beautiful remnants of sunset, and were able to see the beauty that is Athens at night. We were greeted by two Greek men who meant no harm, who talked with us for awhile about traveling (one of them currently owns a bar in South Africa, and was back visiting his family), and who could not believe that Tenaya and I are sisters, because I am so tan and she has “white feta cheese legs.” On the walk back, past the Acropolis, we walked by the New Acropolis museum, where there was an orchestra and singers performing the soundtrack to Phantom of the Opera in the warm night air of the entrance. What a nice way to end my time in Athens! We finished off the night with a trip to the Ouzerie (like a tavern, but who specialize in appetizers and grilled meats to go with ouzo) to get Tenaya the traditional Greek dishes like fava puree, saganaki (fried cheese), tzatziki, wine, Greek Salad (tomatoes, feta, olives, cucumbers, and onions), and fried calamari (since they were out of the octopus we wanted to order).

Since our flight leaving Athens was not until the late afternoon, we were able to explore a bit more of the city. I toured Tenaya and one of the girls who also stayed in the apartment around, showing them Hadrian’s Library, the Ancient Agora, but ran out of time, and was not able to make it to the Karimikos. Caught our plane, and were off to Rome!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Waning Days of Greece: Santorini and Farewell to Athens

So due to the horrible act of procrastination, I have yet to tell you about, or show you pictures from my school-led trip to Northern Greece (Delphi, Meteora, Thessoloniki, and a handful of other locations). It was an amazing trip, and I promise that someday I will tell you all about it. However, if I don’t move on with my life, you’ll never know any of it.

The first of these exciting adventures is Santorini: home of the epic volcano of about 1600 BC which wiped out the Minoan civilization and sent tsunamis halfway across the world. Half of the huge island sank into the ocean, creating the fable of Atlantis, leaving beautiful stratified cliffs along the western half of the island. I went with a few friends and met up with some others in our hostel in Fira (Thira). Decided to rent a car to tour the island and ventured to the black sand beaches, white sand beach, and Red beach (which had huge red cliffs behind the beach and crystal clear water). One of the days, we took a one-day cruise on a motorized sailboat to the mini-island in the middle of the caldera which held the creators of the volcano (which we hiked down into). It then brought us to another little island in the middle of the caldera where we jumped out into the middle of the sea and swam up an inlet where there were hot springs of vibrant yellow sulfur. Then we stopped at a little town on another island for lunch and back to port for the evening. Santorini, or specifically Oia (Ia) is the stereotypical Greece of the imagination: white-washed buildings interspersed with bright blue domes of churches overlooking the beautiful Aegean Sea. We ended up going to this town (where Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was filmed) for the infamous sunset and a nice dinner to end the 4 day weekend. We stumbled on a great bookshop run by a few young American ex-pats who, in addition to smoking at a cluttered desk including a mug of scotch, invited us to dinner for their extra borscht. Had I been with less people, I would have gladly taken them up on their offer for some fun conversations that were bound to be sophisticated and intellectual. But, alas, we were stuck petting their little puppy and browsing the amazing collection of used books which were scattered around on the homemade shelves inside the tree-house-looking room. Everybody left that shop with a calm and content attitude about life and our vacation, to go with whatever item we purchased (I got the Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver in French (Les Yeux dans les Arbres) to help me improve before going back to la France.) We then finished off the trip the next day with a memorable ride up the side of the cliff in Fira—on a donkey.

Going to Santorini was a nice way to go out with a bang, because as soon as we got back to Athens, it was back to the books. Exams were even closer than around the corner, and I had quite a bit of studying to do on top of planning my trip with Tenaya and saying goodbye to all of my friends and Athenian landmarks. Luckily, I made it through. Picked Tenaya up from the airport, toured her around for a bit, and then went to the CYA farewell dinner. It was reminiscent of a high school dance: everybody was dolled up and running around taking pictures like they hadn’t seen each other in years, or were trying to fit in as many pictures before they all left… understandable. However, it was really weird saying good bye to all of these people that I realistically know that I will most likely not see again.

Overall, I am really glad I chose to study abroad in Greece. Not only did I gain exposure to another culture, it was one that I probably would not have explored on my own. By studying in Greece, I was able to get a taste of Europe, but see where it mixed with the eastern influences, and witness the results of ancient history firsthand. On the bright side, I was here during a historical turning point, not only for Greece itself, but also for Europe. The political and economic reforms which are taking place in Greece will soon be sweeping the EU. Even though I did not get much personal exposure with the Greeks (other than a bit at marble carving), I made many American friends who I would like to stay in touch with in the future.

Sorry for the extremely long blog, but I had to kind of tie things up a bit. Soon, I’ll try to post more about our Northern Greece trip, since it was so beautiful and I learned so much. However, from here on out, I will be sharing this blog with my lovely sister Tenaya in our travels and conquests around Europe.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Checking Off Asia

Wow, so apparently, I'm the worse blogger on the face of the Earth. As much as I had planned on writing about everything on time, I just keep putting it off, and then I have more to write about, so I put it off longer... a bit of a mess. So I'll try to give you a "brief" overview.

First stop: The second half of spring break, which I started to write a long time ago, but never finished.

Despite the warning against Americans traveling in Turkey, I went with two of my friends on a ferry from Lesvos to cross the border. Kate gets us into the most random situations, and I ended up finding myself in the front of the boat steering the ship and had the best view when the dolphins came jumping alongside our boat!

We spent a day and night in Bergama (Pergamum), where we payed a flat rate to have a cab drive us around to the hot tourist spots all day: The Acropolis (which was MUCH bigger than the Athenian Acropolis, and beautiful with all the Greco-Roman structures), something that was Red-brick and looked very Roman, and the Escleapion (which was similar to Epidauros, dedicated to Escleapius the healing god, and was very extensive with a theatre, tunnels and other buildings). We also found a great restaurant right next to our hotel that was super cheap, and our first experience with the amazingness that is Turkish food. I had a dish called Beyit, which was seasoned, grilled chicken wrapped in something that was like a cross between a tortilla and phyllo dough with a tomato sauce on top. They also had a Turkish specialty, Sheep brain soup, on the menu which I unfortunately did not end up trying, though I now regret that. Turkish food is somewhat similar to Greek food, but it has much more flavor and spice to it.

The next day, we attempted to go to Cannakale, which is to the north, and right next to Troia (Troy), however the guys at the bus station thought we said something else, and were going to put us on a train to the south to switch buses and go back north...something that would have added a few hours onto the drive. Luckily, we realized it (after we bought our tickets) and got off the shuttle at the bus station and just got a new bus ticket. Meanwhile, the Turkish, who are much nicer than the Greeks, welcomed us with open arms, and brought us tea and chatted with us. They are very hospitable, and they're ALWAYS drinking and offering tea! However, most of the people do not know English at all, or if they do, they know pick-up lines or just hello and thank you.

We arrived at Cannakale in one piece, to a beautiful hotel from the Ottoman times. It was a very cool city, right on the water. We walked around and saw the horse that they used in the movie Troy! The next morning, we waited for a long time to catch the shuttle to Troy along with a group of helarious Brits around our age. I had heard that there wasn't anything to see at Troy, however, I was quite surprised. There are a fare amount of ruins around, and we had to do a 1 hour power tour so that we could get back to Channakale in time to catch our bus to Istanbul. Made it with time to spare, and took the six hour bus ride up to the former Constantinople (lucky me, for I got to watch movies in Turkish).

In Istanbul, we met up with two other girls from our program who were were rooming with at the hostel and did a little bit of night exploring around the city. The next day we packed in as much of the tourist hot spots as we could, and went to the Blue Mosque, Cistern, Hagia Sophia, and the Palace. All the buildings were beautiful, and I loved the Cistern since you walk around over a pool of water with goldfish, with the only light being little orange lights at the base of every evenly spaced column. The Blue Mosque and the hagia Sophia were outstanding. Huge domed ceilings and beautiful mosaics and frescoes everywhere. At the Blue Mosque, we had to take off our shoes and cover our heads at the door, which made it a fun and unique experience. In the afternoon, we ventured by the tram to Taxim square where it seemed to be much more modern, and a bit less touristy. Did some shopping, since everything is SO cheap (especially compared to Greece) as the Turkish lira is only worth half of the euro, and everything is cheap to start with. We ended up going back to the hostel for a beer and some cards, and went to a great little restaurant down the street from us which had amazing Turkish pizza.

The final day, I went to the spice bazaar! It was outstanding...I think I found heaven. There were big baskets of spices everywhere along with bulk teas, turkish delight, and occasionally some other things thrown in for fun. The men would shout pick-up lines to try and get us to stop, which made us walk along to the other shops. I bought a bunch of spices and can't wait to use them! (Saffron was much cheaper than anywhere I've ever seen it.) I then met up with my friends to go to the Grand Bazaar, which was similar to the spice bazaar, but had all sorts of merchandise, from wooden backgammon boards to scarves, lamps to jewelry. It was extremely packed and we found ourselves getting lost quite often through the covered hallways that ran through the bazaar. After we left, we grabbed a quick lunch and hopped on the Friendship Express--the overnight train that runs from Istanbul to Thessoloniki.

It was such a great trip! No time for pictures right now, but someday maybe they'll appear.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Limnos and Lesvos- Spring Break Oh-Ten!

On the wall of one of the fortress/castle on Limnos... happy Greek day!

Well, as soon as spring break snuck up on me, it was over.

I started off our week and a half vacation by flying to Limnos, a northeastern Greek island, along with 4 of my friends (Megan from Barnard, Emily and Eric from Notre Dame, and Kate from Toulane). After being picked up by our hotel owner who did not speak very much English, we wandered around the town. There were a lot of people out and about, because it was Greece's Independence day, but that meant that the only things that were open were tavernas. We enjoyed a chilly, and extremely long lunch about 5 feet away from the Mediterranean Sea. One of our favorite dishes was a baked feta and herbs in a tomato sauce covered with another cheese. Also, I tried retsina for the first time, which Limnos is famous for. I cannot say that I enjoy it very much. Retsina is white wine that is flavored with pine resin. It had the smell and what I imagine the taste to be of nail polish remover.

We then walked up the town's mountain to a Venetian fortress which overlooked the two coves and the Sea. It had some pretty cool mini caves and a lot of easily-climbable rock faces. Kate and I thought it was a great idea to climb down a grassy/rocky slope to the sea down below. Turns out that it was much farther, and more difficult than we had originally imagined. We bonded over the fact that we may not make it out alive--always a fun topic. It was completely worth the hike though, because it was so serene and beautiful at the bottom of the slope, and we were able to stand out on rocks being pelted by the waves.

Back up and to our hotel/hostel to warm up and start our continued tradition of playing cards at any lull in the action. Since Emily, Eric, Kate, and I are all from the Midwest (Kate is also from Indiana, even though she goes to Tulane) we all knew how to play Euchre, a popular card game in the Great Lakes region. We went out to an Ouzerie for dinner which had some of the best tzatziki that I've had since coming to Greece. Ouzeries are similar to Tavernas, but only offer the appetizers to go with the ouzo. Since this is what we usually get anyway, it was fine, and much cheaper. Eric and I split a bottle of ouzo that was made on the island, and I realized that I actually like the taste of ouzo when it has been diluted by ice cubes and accompanies dinner. The black-liquorish flavor kind of cleanses the palate in between dishes.

Sunset at the marina in Limnos

The next day, we were planning on renting a car so that we could drive to the other things Limnos has to offer, such as waterfalls, hikes, hot springs, and flamingos. However, none of the car rentals were open until later in the day, so we lounged on the beach for awhile. We then found out from the car rental place that we were supposed to be 23 to rent and/or have an EU license. Since we had neither, we ended up hanging out around the town again, playing a lot of cards, and getting fun coffee drinks at a cafe/club overlooking the Sea. Went back to that club later in the night for their extremely fun fruity mixed drinks (I stuck to a gin fizz).

Said bye to Limnos the next day and boarded the 7 hour ferry to Lesvos (a little southeast, bordering Turkey) where we played endless amounts of cards and a fun character-guessing game that they play in "Inglorious Bastards"... long enough that Emily ended up getting a post-it-note sunburn on her forehead.

We arrived in Mytilene, the main town of Lesvos, in the afternoon, and spent the afternoon wandering the city (pretty big for an island). We found yet another Venetian fortress and climbed (illegally?) up the walls into the castle. It was not nearly as big as the one on Lesvos, but it was much better preserved. We went to a taverna on the way back to the hostel, and I finally got to try the coastal speciality of Greece: grilled octopus drenched in lemon. It was pretty good, but I would rather have squid.

Fortress/castle in Mytilene. I clmibed the trianglular wall support to the right (farther away) and went into the round area of the castle.

The next day was Emily's 21st birthday, so we woke her up with mimosas in the morning, and proceeded to go rent a car. (Don't worry, Eric didn't have any mimosa, and he was the one driving.) Apparently, the car place we went to did not have the 23 year old rule, so we got a car without a problem... except for the fact that Eric only knew a little bit about driving a stick shift. That was an adventure in itself, and provided a lot of entertainment and joking. Luckily, Kate knew a bit, and directed him through the process and we were able to drive across the mountainous terrain to the other side of the island, stopping at a huge monastery, anti-climactic petrified forest, seafood taverna, and the home of Sappho along the western coast. As you may have guessed, the name of the island, Lesvos (spelled Lesbos in Greek characters), is linked to the word lesbian. Sappho, the first woman poet from around 6th century BCE was renowned for her poetry, some of which was erotic and directed towards women. When, in the 17th century AD, people were starting to define sexuality and fragments of Sappho's works were discovered. Thus, Lesvos became a site of pilgrimage for the newly defined lesbians, and continues to be so today. The beach we visited had a bunch of interesting interpretive sculptures of Sappho but was too windy and chilly to sit by the water. So we ended up not staying for sunset and instead made the beautiful and windy drive back to our hotel (complete with sing-a-long in the car).

Skela Erossos, home of Sappho (the town, not that hut)

The following day was quite relaxing. We started off the morning by driving up north to the village of Molovos where we participated in a 115 degree Fahrenheit mineral hot spring. The white dome was situated directly on the sea, and as directed by the woman who ran the bath, we slowly, slowly, slowly (siga siga!) dipped our limbs into the scalding water. When our whole bodies were submerged, we would stay in for 2-5 minutes, slowly slowly get out, and then go jump into the Mediterranean (whose big waves were knocking us against the rocks). We then repeated this process another three times or so. The room itself was pretty interesting. I had to duck through a small archway (like I was entering a hobbit house) into a domed room pierced with holes allowing beams of sunlight to pierce through the steam and enter the clear pool that was about fifteen feet long by five feet wide. I felt so relaxed and rejuvenated by the end of the process! Continued our day by eating lunch at a taverna overlooking the hills and valleys of the town where we got to go into the kitchen and pick out which meat we wanted (amazingly spiced and grilled lamb and pork) to go with our Greek salad, cheese rolls, tzatziki, and white wine famous in the region. We then drove down to the south where there is the longest beach in Greece. Sadly, it was too cold to swim or even bask in less than a long sleeve and pants, but we had fun just relaxing. And after a few more games of cards, it was time to go to bed, and say good bye to Lesvos. Eric and Emily caught their flight out early the next morning, and Kate, Megan, and I continued on our way through customs, and onto the ferry to Turkey.

Hanging out at a random meadow in the mountains of Lesvos

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dust storms, and Islands, and Markets, oh my!

Well, this blog may have less details than the past ones, but that is due to me leaving in approximately 6 hours for spring break! (I don't want to leave too much unsaid.)
Since I last wrote, I have completely finished my midterms, turned in my two papers, celebrated the Americanized holiday of my ancestors, developed a nice base tan, and walked through fish guts in the minority section of the city.

One day, I woke up seeing yellow. Everywhere I looked outside had an odd glow as if we were being attacked by aliens. Later, after seeing a dirty film covering all of the cars, I learned that there was a huge dust storm in Egypt which had mixed with the rainclouds over Greece to create mud, which fell from the sky covering everything. Turns out I wasn't imagining the yellow haze.

Recently, I have been hanging out with a new group of fun people (all from New England). Last week, I went over to their apartment (only half a block away from mine!) to make dinner and watch a movie with them. Today, a few of them joined me with another one of our friends to have a Mexican dinner night. It was so nice to finally have Mexican food again. Especially since, according to my Greek professor, the Greeks hate Mexican food.

St. Patty's day was a fun day. Some of the students started celebrating early in the morning, however I had a paper that was due that day, so I avoided all contact with people until the afternoon. Lily and I had marble carving that night, so we were not able to hang out with people for the full night, but we ended up meeting up after the class was over. I went with a few friends to an Irish pub in Monistraki (where we went for the superbowl). By the time we arrived, there were tons of English speakers spilling out into the the pedestrian street with Guinness in hand, and Celtic music being blasted in the background. I had a good time, but ended up leaving on the earlier end (to think that 2:30 in the morning is the earlier end among college students) because I had an 8:30 on site class the next morning. (Which ended up being canceled, giving me 2 extra hours of much-needed sleep.)

Packed James Joyce Pub Irish Marble Carving

Zee unfinished product

While studying abroad, it is easy to get stuck in a routine of where you go, who you hang out with, and what you do at what times of day. Lately, I have been realizing that I am falling prey to this, and have been looking around for new ways to explore Athens. I had been meaning to go to Omonia at some point, and this pushed me into finally going. Omonia is the section of Athens where it is recommended that you always travel in groups, especially, if you are unable to avoid it, at night. Greece has a huge 'problem' with illegal immigrants, and somewhat of a problem with drug users and prostitution. Unable to deal with these problems, the government swept all of these to Omonia. The positive aspect of all this meant that little neighborhoods have been created within Omonia, producing some of the best food in Athens. And where the best food is, there has to be the best markets. So finally, the other day, two of my friends accompanied me to the Omonia Central Market where there are about four blocks packed with butchers yelling to customers and one another, haggling over the price of a lamb's head, and taunting the "pretty ladies" with a whole carcass of ... lamb? I was in heaven. However, not only did they have meat, but branching off was another few blocks of anything that one can find in or around the water. There were snails, squid, crabs, muscles, and even the body of a shark with its head propped up behind. At the end of the various proteins there were a few stands selling fresh spices. I wasn't able to buy anything at the time, but I am looking forward to going back and getting the freshest of meats for the lowest prices and creating my best dinner yet.

Meat Market!


The cow knows what's coming

Pig hooves and fish
This past Saturday, I went with a few friends (the same that I have been talking about throughout this email) to Aegina, a small island just an hour ferry ride from Piraeus. It was a beautiful, relaxing day and we bummed around in the sun, checked out one of the two temples, and enjoyed a very leisurely lunch overlooking the sea.

Kendra, Lynn, and Nikki overlooking the rest of Aegina Temple of Aphaia

As for now, I will be gone from tomorrow (the 25th) to the 5th of April for my spring break. A couple islands in the west (Limnos and Lesvos), and a few places in Turkey (Pergemon, Troy, Galipoly, and Istanbul), and ending up in Thessoloniki for Easter! There will be lots of pictures, have no fear.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Videos from the Peloponnese

Hey All!

I have recently been informed that I could post videos on my blog (who knew!) Thus you are now graced by this new realization by being able to check out my sound-less videos from the Peloponnese. Sorry if they make you a bit motion-sick. . . enjoy!

At Methione:

Thiolos Tomb at the Palace of Nestor

View from the Spartan Acropolis: Lecture by Prof. Nigel Kennell

View from mountain at Meistros

Monday, March 8, 2010

Journey Through the Peloponnese

At Methione
Bloggers all over the world will cringe at the thought of me, because once again, I have waited three full weeks to write this. Things have been a little crazy around here, so I guess I have a bit of an excuse, as you will see.
Okay, where did I leave off?
The week of February 22, our school took its first extended field trip: 5 days and 4 nights in the Peloponnese, the large landmass west of mainland Greece, separated by a thirty foot canal. We were separated into three buses, each taking a different path, so I was able to form friendships with people that I did not know at all before the trip.
The first day, my bus went to Isthmia (the site of one of the Panhellaic games like the Olympics), Nemea (site of the Nemean games), and ended the day in the town of Olympia. Isthmia was hard to visualize what it once was, because almost every structure we saw had tumbled into ruin and was partially charred by a fire that went through causing its demise. However, there were some interesting Roman bathhouses from around 2nd century AD with mosaics that had been covered up, and a great heating system for the water. Nemea was a little easier since the Palaistra (or the "un"-dressing room) where the athletes prepared for their events was still partially standing, as was the tunnel that led from it to the stadium. We were able to walk through the tunnel, hear other students give their presentations about the site while sitting on the original forms of seating for the games, and even run a stadion (regular foot race). After seeing a temple (to Zeus?) and the potential site for the Hippodrome (area to compete in the horse-races), we were back on the bus and heading towards Olympia where we stayed the night in the quiet little town playing cards and eating a wonderful taverna dinner.

Roman Bath House at Isthmia: Feb. 23
A floor would have been built over these stacked bricks. In another room connected to the one with the stacks by a tunnel, there would be a fire, the heat would travel through the tunnel and the heat surrounding the bricks would heat up the floor above, thus heating the water held in that room for a hot bath!

Nemean Games

About to run the Stade race, and in the ancient starting position: one foot in front of the other with "toes" curving over the grooves, knees slightly bent, and arms straight out in front.

The next day, we were scheduled to go into the site of Olympia (while the modern Olympics were being held halfway across the world!) However, the gods had other plans, and told the guards to participate in the general strike all across the country, so we were unable to go into the site, and had to see what we could (just the stadium, potential site for a house of Nero, and the tips of the Temple of Zeus) from one of the roads. I gave a presentation on Pelops, who has a hero shrine at Olympia, and is sometimes credited for the creation of the games (and so much more...) Because we cut so much out of our schedule by not being able to go into Olympia, we were able to go to a Venetian castle and fortress called Methione in the southwest corner of the Peloponnese. This was probably one of my favorite things that we did on the trip, and I am so glad we went! Mother nature was nice to us, so we had beautiful weather, and all over the inside of the fortress was covered in bright green grass and beautiful spring wild flowers. The castle was at one point in Ottoman control (as was all of Greece...) so there are a few buildings representing Turkish architecture (the typical rounded roof). The structures were sound enough that we were able to climb all over the fortress walls and walk over the little bridge to the mini island that was the prison. Oh yeah, did I mention that the walls came right up to the Mediterranean? After frolicking around for a few hours, we drove to the nearby town of Pylos, a beautiful sea-side town where we spent the night. (After eating one of the best taverna dinners I've had since coming to Greece... influenced by sitting for 4 hours with good wine and great company.) We celebrated the amazing weather by sitting out on the pier watching the warm Mediterranean waves come in.

Olympic Stadium, 24 Feb. At left you can see the original seats for the Hellondykai (judges and planners) and at the end you can see the tunnel used to enter the stadium with the guards who were on strike just standing around smoking... the same thing they would otherwise be doing.
Methione, 24 Feb.

So many pictures of Methione... we walked around that whole outer wall that you can see in the upper right picture.

The next day, we got a bit of a delayed start (2 1/2 hours) from Pylos, because some drunkard students may or may not have done some hugely inappropriate thing in the hotel and were being grilled by the professors and hotel staff to see who had committed the...act (probably not what you're thinking, but also not fit for the Internet). So the rest of us were stuck in the beautiful town of Pylos for awhile to bask in the sun and dangle our legs into the water... what a horrible thing. However, that meant that the sites we were supposed to hit that day had to be rushed through. We went to the Palace of Nestor, a Mycenean palace (from around 1300s BCE) one of the best preserved palaces of that time. We also got to see their Thiolos tomb, which is a bee-hive shaped structure about 40-60 feet tall in the center consisting of stacked blocks of stone on top of each other without anything in between until they curve close enough in the center to be held by one stone. Quite impressive! After a quick picnic lunch in the mountains on the huge stones of an ancient wall similar to that of China's we hurried on to Messene, which was a beautiful site tucked into the mountains. Sadly, it was supposed to close 30 minutes after we got there, so we literally had to run through the site to get to the "important bits" before our time ran out. We then made the long twisting journey through the tallest mountains of Greece (beautiful!) to the modern city of Sparta (best pronounced if you leave out the R). There of course, were many "This IS Spartaaaaa" jokes (the movie 300 reference for those of you who don't watch inaccurate main-stream representations of history).

Pylos in the morning, 25 Feb. Bathtub in the Palace of Nestor, 25 Feb.

Driving through the mountains 25 Feb.
The next day, we walked through the modern city of Sparta to see the few stones of the remains of ancient Sparta... interesting, but if you are planning a trip through the Peloponnese, this is something you can skip. Towards the afternoon, we left Sparta and made our way to a near-by castle and working convent called Meistras. It had an amazing view (especially from the top of mountain we climbed) and had interesting architecture. It was originally Byzantine, then was taken over by the French and turned Catholic, and eventually made its way back into the hands of the Byzantium empire. Eventually, we left the site and drove to Naufplion, the first capital of modern Greece (after 1827 when they gained their Independence from the Ottomans) and where I was just a week earlier on a day trip with a few friends. Went on a walking tour of the historical aspects of the city with Anne, one of the professors on my bus. (This, of course ended with the arrival to one of the best gelatto shops I have ever been to.)

Spartan sunrise, 26 Feb. This is Sparta? Spartan Acropolis, 26 Feb.

One of the churches at Meistras, 26 Feb.

The next day (and last day of the trip) we went to Epidauras, the site of the first hospital, where patients would ask the gods to cure their illnesses and drink a potion so that they could sleep until the "gods visited them" and told them what to do. There was also a really interesting theatre which was engineered so that the person standing in the very middle of the theatre can be heard by anybody in the audience as if they were standing right next to the listener. A whisper can literally carry to the top row. Then, we went back to Naufplion to visit the Venetian castle/fortress which I had visited on a cloudy day exactly one week before. However, this time we drove up to the top, rather than take the 999 steps like I did the first time. Sadly, we did not have very much time to explore since we had to go back down to the town for a quick lunch before advancing to the famous site of Mycenae. Though the main city of the Myceneans, the site is also famous for the untrained archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, who found a whole lot of gold in a grave circle, and credited it to the burial site of Agamemnon. After awhile at this site, we were back on the bus, and heading back to Athens. Though a very interesting trip, it was going to be nice to be back at home and able to sleep in. However, again the gods had something else in mind for us.

At the theatre of Epidauras, 27 Feb. One of the students performing for us

Outside the Thiolos tomb at Mycenae, 27 Feb. At the top of the fortress in Naufplion, 27 Feb.
My bus arrived first, about 2 hours ahead of the other roommates. So I made the treck with my bags up to the apartment by myself. When I got to the apartment, I stepped out of the elevator to see that our door was ajar with a piece of the doorjam hanging by a few splinters to the door, plaster and wood all over the floor, and couch cushions overturned. First thought: oh, somebody got home before me, that's weird. Second thought: figures, our apartment would be broken into. Third thought: oh shit, our apartment was broken into!!! By this third thought I had started shaking as the realization set in. Luckily, I knew that I probably didn't have much stolen, since all my valuble technology-type stuff was with me on the trip (SO happy I made the last-minute decision to bring my computer!) I went back to the Academic Center where I told the receptionist and waited for my roommates. The Director's assistant came in and called the police, and did all the dirty work. When all the roommates got back, we all went to the apartment together with the police, the Director, his assistant, and a few others to assess the dammage. As I guessed, I only had about 60 US dollars stolen from my locked drawer that had been pryed open. However, my roommate was not so lucky: she had her laptop, external hard drive, ipod, and other random things stolen. One roommate hid her laptop well enough that they did not find it, and the rest of us had ours with us. Two of the other girls had their credit cards and ipods hidden well enough as well. We trailed back and forth to the police station the next couple of days to figure out the police reports and all that kind of stuff. We also moved into a new apartment which we were given the option to stay in permanently.
The rest of this past week was essentially us debating whether or not to stay in this apartment (which we ended up doing, despite the fact that it's much smaller, because two of the girls refused to go back to the old apartment). There were highlights of the week, including eating Asian food twice (the first ethnic food I've had since being here), having a fun night in watching the old Willy Wonka and eating Chinese food out of the box, and going out to see the new Alice in Wonderland movie the day it came out.
But I have been a bad student. Just spent about 2 1/2 hours writing this instead of writing my 2 papers or studying for my 3 tests that I have this week... good thing the professor told me I should take extensions on the two papers...
Next time, I swear, the post will not be insanely long.