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.