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.