Sunday, February 21, 2010

Carnival and Syros

Sunrise on the Aegean
February 12
Wow, so much for keeping up with my blog... 2 weeks later.

The next week flew by with lots of work being put into presentations and papers and in anticipation for VISITORS! Martha (my future roommate in Ann Arbor) and Erin (a friend from a few classes and mutual friends), are studying in Aix-en-Provence for the semester and decided they should visit me for their week-long break. Quite the brilliant decision!

After finally deciding on which island to go to for the 4-day weekend, we were able to book last minute hostel and ferry reservations for Syros, Greece, capital of the Cyclades. We set the journey off on an interesting note: by taking a 7:30, we had to leave my apartment at a bright-eyed 5:30 to leave us enough time to walk to the metro, take it to the bus, get off the bus too early, catch the next one to take us back to the metro, and grab our reserved tickets... Luckily, everything worked out fine, and we were able to take the cruise-ship sized ferry through the sunrise on the Aegean sea.
Erin (L) and Martha (R) in Kini, Syros
February 12

Our first day on the island, we had a bit of trouble finding our hostel. This was justifiable consider the the directions on the website said to "walk a few meters into the center of the town [Ermoupolis], on your seventh street on the left there will be a big clock and you will see the entrance to the market..." you get the point. However, we did not stress, for we had all the time in the world and decided to make our motto for the trip: every idea is a good idea. One of these ideas was to take the bus across the island to Kini, a beautiful beach town which was almost completely deserted due to our timing. We were able to take a walk along the coast, and eventually found the one open restaurant to have lunch on the water. Participated in the long-awaited siesta and went to a cute seafood restaurant facing the water. I gave Martha and Erin their first experience of a taverna dinner, ordering many of the favorites (tzatziki, bread, greek salad) and a local gem (grilled swordfish). We explored the dark town and climbed up to one of the many beautiful Orthodox churches on the island.

With Erin on the windy hill of the chuch
Ermoupolis, Syros
February 13

Saturday, we were able to enjoy our little breakfast of an orange and Greek yogurt sitting out on the water before catching the Syros Cycladic Museum. Though a small building, the museum held art dating from 3000-2000 BC from all over the Cyclades including sarcophagi, cycladic grave figurines, and the decorated frying pans. All of which I have been learning about in my archeology class. We then climbed to the top of the largest hill in Ermoupolis to a huge Orthodox church. It's always interesting to see the combination of ancient, old, and modern throughout Greece: there was a basketball court right by the church, and spectators not only have a view of the game, but also the Aegean sea and other islands.

When venturing down again, we learned that there would be a Carnival in the main square, however it ended up being a bunch of little kids dressed up in Halloween costumes, their parents (some dressed up, others not), and Latin music being pumped from huge speakers set up by the DJ controlling it. (We learned that the Greeks don't know how to do the dance to the Macarena... how sad.) Realize we weren't welcome at this party, we went off in search of dinner, and later, a bar to celebrate Erin's 21st birthday! We met a few nice Greek guys but ended up cutting the night short (just an early 3:00am).

On the walk up to the huge church, Syros
February 13

One of the views from the big church to the church of the night before and the Aegean Sea Ermoupolis, Sryos: February 13

Ermoupolis, Syros

February 13

Saturday was Erin's birthday, and in celebration, collectively, we made a list of 21 things to do on her 21st. These ranged from 'eat breakfast on the roof of the hostel' to 'get a picture on a moped' to 'learn how to say "it's my birthday" in Greek, and tell a Greek person'. By the end of the next day, she had completed 17 things, and those that were left were completely unachievable. We had a big/fancy dinner at a local taverna (one of the things on the list) where Erin and I split grilled stuffed squid, slow roasted lamb with rosemary, and a Greek salad. What a wonderful meal! That night, we took a taxi up the mountain into a separate town called Ano Syros (old syros) where the oldest town on the island is located, and where cars cannot drive in the narrow streets. We weren't sure exactly what was going on there, but from the information we had gathered, it would be some sort of Carnival celebration sometime around 7 or 8. The atmosphere was quite festive; Everyone from kids to grandparents were dressed up in wild and crazy outfits (including quite a bit of cross-dressing), and it felt a cross between Halloween, 4th of July, and a parade party! It would have been a bit more fun if we had known a family who lived up there, because as we walked back from the costume parade (which is what ended up happening), covered in confetti, there were potlucks going on in all the buildings we walked past. This kind of fun family affair is essentially the only thing that has made me miss home.

Carnival Parade in Ano Syros
February 14
The last day we had to check out of our hostel early(ish) but didn't have a ferry out until the afternoon. Luckily, it was a beautiful day (we would have gone swimming, but we didn't have anywhere to shower off the salt afterwards) and we ended up basking on the rocks by the sea for many hours and returned to Athens with a bit of a sunburn.

Erin and Martha basking in the Greek ligtht enjoying the view of the Sea
Ermoupolis, Syros: February 15

Quite the perfect journey, and a nice break from the busy life of Athens!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Adventures Around Attica

Temple to Poseidon, Sounio, Greece February 6

As promised, I will now let you know about the beauty of Attica which Athens tries so hard to cover.

The field trip that was scheduled for a few weeks ago was rescheduled for last Saturday. Our school was split up into three buses, all going different places. Though originally, my bus was supposed to go to Marithon, this time around, we were scheduled to go to Brauron and Sounio. I was much happier with this change of plan. Whereas I would have seen a grassy hill and hear the story about the Battle of Marithon, I now got to see actual standing structures of the past.

Due to the flooding at the site, Brauron was closed, and we were once again herded to a different monument. Our first stop was Thorikos, home of the first stone theatre, which was made in 4th century BCE. This site is also famous for the mining of materials which go into making bronze.

Then, we continued down the coast of eastern Attica to the tip of the peninsula. Sounio was the most beautiful place that I have yet to see in Greece. Located right on the sea, the Temple to Poseidon acts as a landmark to all ships, both leaving, and returning to Athens. Though only a few pillars remain, it is still possible to imagine the glory that it must have been when a whole temple. Even Lord Byron thought so, when he carved his name into one of the stones when there in the late 1700s.


Sounio, Temple to Poseidon

4th Century BCE Theatre and Sea

After being blown to pieces at the top of the cliff, we returned to the bottom to have a picnic lunch on the sea shore. Sadly, it was windy and quite cold, so we had to shield ourselves behind the bus and were not able to appreciate the crashing waves to go with our sandwiches.

Sunday, after a long day of homework, discussing travel plans with Martha and Erin (both friends also from Michigan who are studying in France and who are coming to visit me for a week!!!), we had a nice roommate dinner and got ready to be Americans... afterall, it was the Superbowl! Now, I'm not the biggest football fan (unless Big10), but I did not want to pass up this chance at seeing Americans pretending to be Greek one minute, and the next walk into and Irish pub and go back to being American. (The good part about having it at an Irish pub was that Guiness was finally on tap, and the same price as the other beers.) We had a fun time; There were a ton of students from CYA and a bunch from one of the other study abroad programs, as well as a couple of random Greek, Welsh, and Australian men. And as if that wasn't enough, they gave away free superbowl food at halftime. The down part, was that I stayed awake till 5 am watching football only to have to get up at 7:45 for an orientation at the Blegen Library.

Carpe Diem?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Life of Athens

Full moon over CYA's Academic Center (where all my classes are held), Pangrati, Athens

Often, I avoid writing in my blog thinking it will take a long time, and cause me to miss out on other things. However, once I put off writing, I do more things, and it takes longer to do. So the following is a weeks worth of craziness, and in the future, I will try to update it more often.

Last weekend, Athens was lucky enough to have a few warm days. According to my standards, it was beautiful, and I was able to sit outside and read one of the days, and wear a sundress and sandals without being too chilly the other. The Greeks, however, were still wearing their fur coats, and gave me looks as if I was crazy. Little do they know...

In front of the Stadium on a beautiful spring day, Pangrati, Athens, January 30

Classes are finally starting to pick up. After the first few days of background material, we are getting into the subject material such as the funeral games and Olympics (for my Ancient Greek Athletics class) and the Greek origin story (for Mythology and Religion). However, where there is interesting material to learn, there are also projects and papers. I, mistakenly, signed up for presentations in two of my classes at the very beginning of the semester and have two papers which closely follow these presentations. At least the subjects are interesting: Artemis and Pelops for the presentations, and comparing a different origin story with that of the Greeks for my paper.

I went out with Lily and Liz the other day for drinks at a swanky bar in Kolonoki. Had a fun time, but I doubt we'll go back considering how insanely expensive the drinks were. We're starting to figure out this whole night life scene of Athens. Nobody dances... ever. If there are people dancing, it's the Americans with the Greeks standing around the borders of the dance floor nodding their heads. Also, there is no point in going unless you get there after about 1:30 or 2 and stay till 5 or so. As you can imagine, I cannot compete with this lifestyle very much, and often resort to staying in. (By often, I'm comparing myself to many of the other study abroad kids who go out 5 nights of the week or so.)

The Greeks make up this nightlife by drinking coffee... lots and lots of coffee. There is a whole art devoted to the process of making and drinking the coffee. Frappes, blended NesCafe (instant coffee) with a small amount of ice, milk, and lots of sugar, should be sipped very slowly and the last inch should be left at the end (which is better to do, since it's a bitter froth). Then, of course, there is the traditional Greek (also known as Turkish) Coffee sometimes found in the States. This is almost like an espresso, but made with a TON of sugar, and the grounds are left at the bottom. Needless to say, one is not supposed to drink all of it unless wanting to consume the bitter grounds. This should also be sipped slowly over long conversation debating politics and football (soccer to us Americans).

To supplement my eating, traveling, drinking, and socializing habits, I am getting a job busing in a fancy restaurant a block away from school. The restaurant put a call out for two girls to come in, and my roommate, Joyce, and I were the first two to reply! We'll be going in for a test run sometime this week. It won't be much, but at least we'll get tips and a meal! After we met the owner, I headed over to my weekly marble-carving class. Got to work on my marble for the first time! By the end of the class, I had 80% of the outline chipped away by hammer and chisel, a numb thumb and forefinger, and a sore arm and shoulder for the next four days.

Last Thursday was Tsiknopempti which translates into "smoked day" or "eat meat day." All of Greece goes out to Tavernas (small, family owned restaurants) and does exactly as the name suggests: eats a LOT of grilled and smoked meats. According to Orthodox tradition, it is the last day to eat meat until Lent is finished with the Resurrection on Easter. However, in current times, people eat meat up until Lent, and then go meat-less until the end of Lent. Regardless, I went with a group of 19 of our closest friends to a cute Taverna on between our apartment and school. Great food including, tzatziki, french fries (which they serve with EVERYTHING), fried cheese, fried zucchini and eggplant, mint and lamb balls, chicken in a cinnamon tomato sauce, greek salad, and grilled lamb. I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but it was delicious! And to finish off the fun affair, at the end of the meal the waitress gave us streamers to throw at each other and across the table. Quite the festive event!

Group at the taverna for Tsiknopempti, Pangrati, Athens, February 4

And, because this blog is sooooo long already, I'll talk about Saturday's field trip, and Sunday's superbowl-ness in the next blog.

A little teaser for the next post: Me at Sounio, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea from the Temple to Poseidon

Thanks for reading this far, I hope to make them shorter for all of you in the future.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Food and Light

Not Wax Fruit! Farmers Market Purchases, January 29, Pagrati, Athens

Travel writings can vary quite drastically. Some talk about food, others culture, and some just architecture. However, every travel article I have ever read about Greece somehow includes light. I will not break this longstanding tradition. The light here is almost indescribable. It's like the reflection off of freshly laid snow after having cloudy days for a month. The white-walled buildings enable it to emanate into even the darkest corners of rooms. The oranges soak it up to produce the sweetest, most succulent juice you have ever tasted. And all I want to do is taken endless walks around the city, exploring all that the light reaches.
However, there is too much to do.

I cannot believe that a week has gone by without me writing. I am not sure how the time flies so fast, but it seems as though I was just uploading pictures yesterday!

Girl Feeding Pidgeons in Syntagma Square, January 31, Athens

Last week, I participated in the first lesson of marble carving! I showed up at an underground studio filled with various sized blocks of marble, paintings, sculptures, and, of course REAL Greeks! At that point, I was the only student, but later in the session, four others joined me to listen to the six middle-aged Greeks performing a song to the rhythmic beat of their hammers and chisels. Our first mission was to find what we wanted to draw, draw it without much detail or shadow (which was my biggest problem), put it onto tracing paper, and then transfer the design to the marble using carbon paper. I decided on a figure similar to one of Athena, which I found in a book of ancient marble reliefs. Towards the end of the class, the owner of the studio came over the table where we were working, and invited us to clean up, and take part in eating various dishes prepared by the other Greeks, and homemade wine made by Dimitri (the studio owner) in celebration of the New Year. We were able to somewhat mingle with the adults, eat great food (smoked fish, grilled sausage, fresh tomato salad, and potato salad), and listen to fun music. At one point, one of the men recited a memorized poem to Apollo in Ancient Greek. Apparently, the group likes to celebrate as often as possible, and asked if we had any birthdays or special holidays coming up that we wanted to celebrate. Looks like we'll be celebrating Valentine's Day next week! And next time you're drinking wine, just do as Dimitri did, lean over to your neighbor, drop in a piece of apple and exclaim "Look! Now it's sangria!"

Continuing on the food note, I also signed up to take a cooking class last week. Or, at least, I thought it was going to be a cooking class. The thirty of us students expected to be split up into little groups and learn how to cook some traditional Greek food, exciting, right? However, when we got there, we were ushered into a room containing one big, professional kitchen and audience-style seats. It turns out, all we got to do was watch the chef prepare things, drink wine, and taste the pre-made versions of what he was making. Oh yes, and we were allowed to put garnishes on the plates. At least I left with a memory of good tastes, and the recipes to recreate these dishes (fava bean mashed up with lemon, fried vegetable balls, roasted grape leaf-wrapped lamb served with baby potatoes, and what they called "milk pie"-- a custard-like concoction with a phyllo dough crust).

Also, I went with a couple new friends to Kafissia, a suburb northeast of Athens, where there are cute shops, galleries, and other over-priced items. However, the next day, it was the extreme opposite: the Monastraki flea market, where you are surrounded by 'antiques', scarves and bags, and, of course, the typical fake name-brand items. A sight to see!

Monastraki Flea Market, January 31, Athens