Monday, December 21, 2009

I'll be home for Christmas...

The end has finally come, today is my last day in Greece! It is a very bittersweet feeling as I am very excited to come home, but sad to leave. Last week was busy with lots of last night celebrations pretty much every day since someone was always leaving. Jamie left on Thursday morning and I helped her get to the airport which was quite an adventure since there was a taxi strike we were unaware of. It has been a very quiet weekend; as of Friday there were only 7 or so people left in my dorm. I spent the weekend doing the last of everything, last bus ride home from school on the 58, last walk to the water at sunset, last gyro from 150, last taverna night, and last minute shopping of course.

During my last walk around the city I was thinking about how many things here I am going to miss, and its a pretty long list. I'm going to miss the weather for one (its about 40 degrees warmer than Boston right now). But I am very much looking forward to snow and a white Christmas. I'm also going to miss the food, the feta, the chocolate, and the tavernas. The Greek lifestyle includes sitting at restaurants or cafes for hours at a time with the staff in no rush for you to leave. In fact, they encourage you to stay with live music, and rounds of wine and dessert on the house. I'm going to miss walking down the street and seeing a group of old men sitting outside relaxing and playing backgammon. I'm going to miss the kiosks that line the streets and are really handy at night when you have a snack craving, just get there before midnight. Then of course, there are all the beautiful places here in Greece. Thessaloniki may not be a hot tourist spot, but all of Greece has some really amazing places. I'm going to miss being able to travel to another country within a few hours, and at a fraction of the cost it would be from America. Most of all I am going to miss the people that I have met here. It was crazy making such fast friends and then having to say goodbye when it feels like we just met. I'm sure that I'm leaving a few things out of that list that will come up once I get back home.

But, while there are many things I will miss, there are a few that I wont. I will certainly not miss communication with family and friends over skype with a connection that cuts out every few minutes. Not to mention the 7 hour time difference that makes finding a time to talk hard as well. I am not going to miss the public transportation. The bus home from school was always an experience, that I think I even prefer the Boston subway. I'm not going to miss having to throw toilet paper in the trash, although I will miss the signs all over the place. The best sign I saw was in Athens in a random restaurant. Naturally I took a picture...

Ha ha, it was a good one. I also won't miss the struggle that came with the language barrier, especially when trying to grocery shop and not being able to ready any of the labels. Granted, that did get a little easier when I learned a little more Greek, but trying to communicate with cab drivers never did. All in all, the list of things I'm going to miss is longer than the ones I won't.

After about 20 hours of travel, I should be touching down in Boston Logan Airport at 6:35 pm tomorrow. It has been an absolutely amazing semester, and has gone by so fast. I'm so thankful for the opportunity and experience I have had here. Also, I have really enjoyed sharing it with you all. Thanks for following me along the way. Have a happy and safe holiday season!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Even here in Thessaloniki, it is starting to look and feel like Christmas. Stores have snowflakes and red and green decorations in their windows. There are tons of buildings with little Santas hanging off the balcony like he's trying to climb a latter (very amusing). Many of the streets, including our own, have lights along them.

Last weekend was really fun just being in one place the whole time. I went to the modern art museum Saturday morning with our professor to see the Miro exhibit. I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. Sunday I got to sleep in as long as I wanted and I loved it. Then I realized that I had homework and finals to study for and that was not so lovely.

This is the last week of classes for most of us. Some people leave as early as this coming Monday! The building is going to get really quiet really fast I think. I had my first final yesterday and my last is on Wednesday. Classes ended well and I'm really happy with the ones I chose. Greek got a little more complicated but I've also been able to use more phrases around the city. We finally learned directions and adverbs of places which makes directing a cab driver much easier. My final yesterday was for the European Union politics class which although I've found the class interesting, the second half of the semester was not as exciting as the first. Still I think I've learned a lot in that class, and the final went well. Art History does not have a final, instead we get a take home exam and a research paper due January 8th. Maybe I can get it done and not have to work on it when I get home.

Last night was our dorm Christmas party. Since this is the last weekend everyone is all together we had to pull out all the stops. Everyone was dressed up in random holiday things that we were able to find around the city. Some people were even creative enough to make vests and hats out of wrapping paper. We hung lights from the interior balcony, including a light up Santa. It turned into a big event with a lot more people than expected from ACT and the other buildings, but it was a lot of fun. The rest of the weekend should be a little more relaxed including crunch time for finals on Monday.

Only 10 more days till I leave Thessaloniki. Tomorrow starts the single digits!
Hope all of you are doing well. Until next time.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Turkey and Turkey

So I started this post about 3 days ago but had to put it on hold to finish my final project for History. I think my parents will certainly agree that was a priority. So now that I've handed it in I'm here to finish it up and let you know how my Thanksgiving turned out.

While you were all enjoying Grandma's absolutely delicious turkey dinner and assorted desserts, I was enjoying Greek style Thanksgiving here at ACT. I attended the dinner that the school sponsored where everyone tried to bring a small dish to contribute. It was better than I expected to be honest. ACT gave us turkey and some stuffing that was not typical stuffing but still good. I brought some corn but it was cold since it sat in the fridge all day. The student group provided the refreshments including quite a few boxes of wine. Nothing like lots of wine and techno music to make it a really entertaining Thanksgiving. They sometimes have a DJ in the cafeteria area after like 4pm playing music, and it's mostly techno because they really like that here. It was no Alice's Restaurant but it was fun. (I listened to Alice when I got home :)) Anyway it was really nice to all have dinner together and I think it helped bring the spirit of Thanksgiving to the Greeks. We even got to try and explain to them where it came from too and how it is celebrated different for each family. The picture there is a few of the girls from my building, Amy, Diana, Jamie, and Allison.

After classes on Friday we packed up our things and headed to Turkey! I think almost all the study abroad students have been there at some point this semester. It's one of the cheapest places we can get to from here and probably the best. It was only about 60 euro for the round trip bus from Thessaloniki to Istanbul, and only 8 US dollars for the hostel for one night. We decided to take the bus rather than the train after hearing from a few other people that it was really nice. They had movies to watch and you each got a two seat row to yourself so you could spread out to sleep a little. The train was more expensive and less reliable time wise from what we had heard so we went for the bus. It left at 10 pm Friday night and got us to Istanbul at 730 am Saturday morning. I don't think I can say that I slept that night, whatever it was I got it was only a few hours and was not sleep. We did have to get off the bus twice going through the border to buy a visa and get passports checked, but we knew that was coming.

Getting off the bus Saturday morning was probably the biggest culture shock ever. I was half asleep because they did not wake us up until we had stopped so we weren't really ready to get off and suddenly we were moving. When we booked the tickets the lady told us that there are shuttle buses you can take to different parts of the city from where you get dropped off. I had the directions to get to the hostel out and we stood not knowing where to go for a few minutes. None of the taxi drivers that came up to us spoke English and we did not have any Turkish money to pay them with. A nice Canadian that was on our bus came and helped us out. I showed him where we were trying to get and he said we could take the subway but that it might be crowded so we could take a bus from here to somewhere closer to the hostel and then take a cab from there. We followed him because he was going the same way and without his help I think it would have taken us an extra few hours to get there. He was only the first of the helpful people we met this weekend.

Once we checked into the hostel at about 830 or so we decided that relaxing for an hour was probably the best idea before we started exploring. I didn't sleep because I figured if I did for only and hour I would just wake up even more tired than I was. Once we got moving again we stopped at a restaurant right near by for some breakfast. Jamie, Alisha and I had pizza because it looked so good in the picture and it was amazing. Most likely because we were so hungry. From there we headed over to the Hagia Sofia area and wandered around trying to figure out what the entrance was. Instead we made our way into the mausoleum there was a sign that said free entrance, kind of hard to pass that up. That was really neat and all the mosaics on the walls are so pretty. Next we wandered into a garden that led to a museum but being too tired to concentrate on a museum we turned around and made our way to what was finally the entrance.

Hagia Sofia was absolutely beautiful, but really crowded. The size was definitely impressive. I know this was a place a few people were going to be really jealous of so I took tons and tons of pictures to give you a little taste. But of course, it does not compare, you're just going to have to go see it for yourself :)

Probably the most interesting part was being able to see the all the art from when it was an Orthodox basilica next to the art added for the mosque.

After Sofia we went across the park area in the direction of the Blue Mosque. In the park between the two there are a lot of street vendors as well as a really nice fountain. I think that the Blue Mosque was my favorite of the two, the decorations inside were so beautiful. They do close down during the prayer times but we were able to go inside, but only without shoes and with enough skin covered.

After the Blue Mosque we did some shopping in one of the higher end bazaars. No haggling allowed apparently. We were all really excited to go to the Grand Bazaar with its 400 shops and really really good deals. However, we didn't plan very well and the weekend we went was a 4 day holiday so it was closed both days we were there. That was sad, but we made the best of the shopping opportunities we did have. We took a short break back at the hostel and planned out the rest of the night which included a traditional Turkish bath and hookah. The bath was probably the most interesting experience I have ever had. It is just like it was in ancient times, all women, all naked. We were all a little apprehensive about it before hand but determined none the less. I was told my many people including my art teacher that no matter what, you come out really glad that you went. With relative confidence we made our way in and discovered that they were in fact right. We started out in our comfortable towels but those were quickly removed when we reached the bath area that was all marble with large sinks that we sat next to and for about 30 minutes just poured hot water over ourselves. One by one we were taken by our heavyset half naked host to a large marble table where she rubbed off all of our dead skin with a rough pad, then it was the soap, massage, and final rinse. My skin has never been so soft and clean. There was also a short time in the sauna and at the end she even washed our hair. We really felt like little kinds being taken care of by our mom, except the mom was a stranger. It was really only awkward for a few minutes and then we just relaxed and enjoyed the pampering because that is what it was, and I am more than happy that I went.

When we met up with the boys again outside and made our way back to the hostel and got ready for dinner. There were a lot of restaurants near by and since there are not many travelers at this time they were all basically begging us to come to eat with them. We would stop at ones we thought would be good and they would offer us free tea or dessert, or a discount on the whole meal. It got down to being between 2 neighboring places both offering us discounts of varying degrees and claiming to have the best Turkish food. A guy who was already sitting at one of them outside, clearly heard the conversation and came over to suggest that we eat here saying he's tried a lot of the other places and this was the best, and has great service. We took his word for it and sat down. Dinner was delicious, I tried a traditional dish although I cannot remember the name. It had lamb with mixed vegetables in this amazing sauce and then stuffed into eggplant with rice. Yeah, I like eggplant now, at least in small amounts.

We spent about 5 hours or so at that restaurant just enjoying the food and company. The waiter was really friendly and kept coming over with different magic tricks that we would quickly figure out so he would leave to find another one to trick us. The guy who had originally told us to eat there was with his friend outside as well and we started to talk to them too. They gave us a few suggestions on what we could do for Sunday which was really helpful. Finally we made our way back to the hostel to turn in for the night.

Sunday morning we woke up some what early to go get some breakfast. The general plan was to take a ferry over to Asia so we could say that we had been on another continent. Then we would head to Galata Tower and the pedestrian street over there that has good restaurants. We ate breakfast near by again and enjoyed some more Turkish apple tea which is absolutely amazing. I ended up buying some to take home. (sorry, I'm keeping that for myself!) When we came out of the restaurant we ran into our friends from last night who happened to be heading the same direction as us. Since it was later than we wanted, and rainy, we decided to skip Asia. There isn't really anything to see anyway so I'll save that for some other time. They decided that since we weren't familiar with the tram system they would accompany. It was really nice to have someone helping us along but at the same time I do enjoy figuring it out on my own. They stayed with us for most of the day like our personal tour guides and we had a lot of fun. The tram was really really nice and easy to use, I was really impressed by it.

Our bus left at 10pm that night so after dinner we went to figure out how to get to the bus station. We took the tram again and got there to find that it is absolutey huge. There were so many different offices and things for each tour company. Each one was based on the destination but we did not realize that. We found the one that was our bus company and went inside to get the tickets. They directed us to the opposite side where our bus would actually leave from. Finally on the bus we watched a few more movies, attempted to sleep, and made our way back to Greece. It took a little longer on the way back because when we were at border control the door to the cargo underneath the bus was left open when the driver started to move and it hit one of the booths tearing the metal. For about 30 minutes I watched outside the window while about 10 men stood looking at it and not doing anything. Finally they did something to get it back in and fixed enough to drive again and we were back on our way. We got back the Thess at about 8 am, just in time to shower and get to school for classes. Monday was a really long day but worth it.

This week has other wise been busy with school work. Classes end the 11th and a lot of students start leaving the 14th so they have to take finals earlier than the already early finals. The semester goes into January so all of us are technically taking off early. I'll be taking one on the 11th and then the rest on the 14th and 16th. After that I am free till my flight home on the 22nd! This weekend I'm going to enjoy sleeping in for the first time since before Halloween, and not leaving the city or country. Saturday morning there is another museum visit with my art teacher to a Miro exhibit and the modern art museum just up the street, followed by some shopping. Christmas gifts perhaps??

Have a great weekend, until next week.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Give Thanks

I am thankful for a lot of things this year including all the support from my family and friends. I am also thankful for the opportunity I have had here in Greece to experience another culture and travel to all these incredible places. I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving with family, friends, and lots and lots of good food! I also want to say thank you for all the e-mails and messages many of you have sent. It's meant a lot to me and I will be thinking of you. I won't be celebrating the holiday completely alone. There is a pot luck dinner at school that Jamie and I are going to. It's not Grandma's perfectly mashed potatoes and sticky buns but it's better than nothing and I am thankful just to be here having this great experience.

Thank you for following me on this crazy adventure! I really like sharing it with you. It's winding down but it's not over yet, I've still got 26 days to enjoy. This weekend is the last of my planned trips. I'll be going to Turkey with about 5 other students. Yes we did plan to go to Turkey for Turkey day! Sort of. Until next week.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Rockin' Monasteries

So last week I mentioned that there was a film festival in Thessaloniki. Thursday night I went to see a movie called St. Nick. It was about a brother and sister probably about 10 and 12 years old that run away from home. You don't know that to start with and you think that their parents have died. They kids are just living off anything they find, like an abandoned house that they start to make their own with anything they find in the trash. It was a rather odd movie because they were really the only two characters and they never really talked, we just sat watching them. Then finally at the end his sister gets sick and he tries to steal some medicine for her but gets caught which leads to them being sent back to their parents. That first night home the boy leaves to run away again and this time alone. Jamie and our friend Pierce, who is a big film buff and has written two screen plays of his own, both hated it. I didn't think hate was really the right word, but I wouldn't go see it again. After the movie the director came up to speak about it and answer any questions the audience had. This is when I started to not like it even more because he had nothing good to say about the movie. He didn't have any good answers and seemed like he had no reason for even making the movie other than he was bored.

On Friday we went to see a second movie hoping for better results and we found them. It was the premier of the movie Creation, directed by Jon Amiel and starring Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly. It was a really great movie, and I do hope to see it again mostly because I missed the first 15 minutes. (I'll get to that in a second) It was a partly fictional account of Charles Darwin and his experience and struggle to write his findings on discoveries made in the Galapagos. Very interesting and well done. Now on to the side story. We learned from previous experience and made sure we purchased our tickets ahead of time. When we got to the theater it was packed with a line out the door before they started letting people in. 10 minutes before it was supposed to start they opened the doors and it was a mad rush to get inside. We were told to go to the 5th floor so we did, then when we got there they told us no its the first floor. So we run back down the stairs and find out they are already full but we can stand in the balcony if we'd like. Confused and annoyed we followed their instructions to stand in the balcony during the presentation and then check back downstairs just before they start the movie. By the time we got back to the door there was a small crowd of people all waving their tickets and yelling in Greek. We found a friendly intern that spoke English and she tried to help us but it turns out that there were just no seats left at all and we weren't being allowed in even with a ticket that says in English on the back that we are guaranteed a seat. Another woman standing with us over head and turned to say oh hey, welcome to Greece. She did have a point, it was pretty much to be expected with the way things tend to run here. Still, we wanted to see the movie and to fulfill the American stereotype we were pushy and relentless, and by the I mean mostly Pierce. They finally offered to give everyone a refund for the ticket, at least it was something. But when they came back instead of giving us all money, they said we could sit in the isle and watch as long as we kept clear of the doors, that is a fire hazard of course. We accepted, and finally got in and enjoyed the movie! It was even worth sitting on the hard floor, I suggest seeing it if you get the chance. Not to mention I do think my patience has improved in the past 3 months.

Saturday morning I left on the school field trip to Ioannina and Meteora. Ioannina is a city on the western side of Greece right on a lake. (the only region of Greece I haven't been to yet!) It was a beautiful drive through the countryside to get there. If we had tried to take this trip a few years ago it would have been close to 6 hrs when it only took us 3. They've made improvements to the road by doing what was done in the Peloponnese, cutting tunnels right through the mountains. If it was me, I think I'd still probably take the scenic route, it was too pretty to pass up. When we got to Ioannina we went to a wax museum that had about 25 scenes reenacting events of the Turkish occupation in Greece and the Greek's subsequent fight for independence. Wax museums are always pretty cool but this one was definitely different. All the walls were made to look like we were in this old stone building from the same time period. Also, a lot of the scenes were pretty gruesome seeing as it was basically about war and destruction. I think I could have done without the skinning alive and be-heading.

Next stop was a prehistoric cave. It made me think back to South Dakota and going in the cave with the lanterns. We didn't have lanterns here though but it was a lot of fun. We did get to one spot where we could take pictures so I'll give you a little taste of what it was like. This was in the largest opening of the gave, or as they so accurately call it, the Great Room.

Our guide told us about the only two kinds of animals that live in the cave, besides the bats that visit it. Creepy spiders with really long daddy long leg style legs that and jump like a kangaroo, (make note of the exaggeration) and a non poisonous scorpion. We got to see some of the spiders but not the scorpion. Darn! When we left the cave we got a nice view down to the city and lake. After checking into our hotel it was free time the rest of the day. My art history teacher from school was the guide for the trip and told us that Ioannina is know for their jewelery and silver so we should check out the shops down by the water for some quality shopping. We took her word for it and headed down to find a nice spot to eat and shop. The food was delicious as always. I even tried some fried eggplant. I think they fry more things than we do, regardless it was delicious. After dinner and shopping we found a nice cafe by the water to be super Greek and sit drinking coffee in couches for hours. We didn't actually make it more than an hour, but hey, it had been a long day and we had another early morning.

Sunday morning we drove to Meteora which is in central Greece, my favorite part of the trip hands down. Meteora is high in the running for most beautiful place in Greece in my book. The ride had less tunnels this time and more of the scenic road which I enjoyed. As we got closer we could start to see the rocks that the monasteries are built on. Now many people come here for rock climbing. It was really amazing. The monks first started living in the rocks where there were natural holes, eventually they built the second largest monastic community in Greece. The largest is Mount Athos which its restricted to male visitors only. The sandstone rock pillars are all natural and there are 6 monasteries in total, one of which is a nunnery and was our first stop. Most of them only have about 10 inhabitants now a days but are still very much functional. So, we had to make sure we dressed appropriately which meant skirts only. Or even better, wraps that they provided for all of us that didn't think to bring a skirt, or in other words our entire group. Once inside we got to see around to the residences and then the church itself. It was absolutely beautiful. The walls are completely covered with frescoes of bible stories. Greek Orthodox style of course. It was amazing. Outside again we made our way to the edge to check out the view of Kalampaka, the city below. Very impressive, and in addition to the view we got to enjoy some of the best weather we've had here in a while.

Next stop was the Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron, the largest of the 6. This one we had a small hike to get up to. With them being built on the top of the rocks, they used to get up using a net that would lower them down. Now they even have a short zip line, but we only got to take the stairs. Much of the room is not used any more since there are only 10 monks, so the extra space has become more like a museum to show off all of their rich history. There is a display of the old kitchen with its pots and pans and of course the barrels from the wine. Slightly morbid, but they also allowed us to see the ossuary where all the skulls of previous monks are kept. I'll let you see that picture for yourself in the album if you're interested. We spent a lot of time at this one going through all of the museum parts where they had examples of the different dress and how it changed through the years. The church here was not as beautiful as the one at the nunnery in my opinion, but just as impressive with the frescoes and decorations. At the end of the tour we got a little more free time for pictures and gift shop. Then it was back on the bus and another 3 hour drive home! Here is a few more shots for you, to see the rest click here. (it's lots of scenery, just so you've been warned)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Walk like an Egyptian

I still can't really believe that I just spent a weekend in Egypt, but I did. When I came to Greece I never thought I would be traveling to Africa, especially being able to go in just a weekend! It was incredible I don't really know how else to describe it. My pictures look fake and photo shopped but I swear they aren't :)

So I'll just start at the beginning, bear with me this might get long. We flew out very early Friday morning, 6am, and had a short layover in Athens which is now my favorite airport. Having been there about 6 times now I am quite familiar with it. We got to Egypt at noon so as far as flying time is was just about 3 hours which isn't bad at all. When we got to Cairo we were met by someone from the tour who helped us get our entry visa (very cool looking!) and then through customs. It turned out to be very good we had him there because the hotel that we were staying at had recently changed names, so the guard almost didn't let us through because he said it did not exist. He only let us go when we called our guide over and he was able to explain it to him. We had no idea that it changed names, all we had was what the tour had sent us with the name. Once we got through we met our tour coordinator and discovered that it was not exactly the tour we expected, it was better. We asked how many people were in the group and he said it was just us! A private tour! Did not see that coming. It was great because we got to go at our own pace and had a personal guide the whole time.

Our coordinator, Mohamed took us to the hotel and gave us some pointers on the way about getting around and dealing with the locals. We stayed in Giza which is pretty much Cairo but not because it is on the opposite side of the Nile River. It took over an hour to drive from the airport to the hotel and we got our first look at Egyptian driving! Mostly there is just mass amounts of traffic. We thought the driving here in Greece was bad but we were way wrong. The rule in Egypt is that there are no rules. People drive where ever and however they want to. There was three lanes painted on the road but probably about 4 or 5 lanes of cars and not really an easy way to distinguish which direction they were trying to go. Trying to cross the street is like playing Frogger; no joke. You have to just start walking and make it by one lane then hope you can get a break before another car comes. It is amazing too because I did not see a single accident the whole time we were there. There were a few close calls but that was it they were always just really close and would then go back to being very aggressive drivers.

All the women are completely covered almost head to toe since they are primarily Muslims so we stuck out like sore thumbs. The men stared and smiled at us where ever we would go. The good thing was that they do like Americans there unlike in Greece where they don't like us because of our government. The Egyptians say leave the politics to the government and therefore they don't hold that us against us. There are also tourism police everywhere and they are there to protect us and ensure our safety. Our hotel had security at the entrance that we had to go through each time we went in, and whenever we left the hotel the police needed to know where we were going, when we were coming back, and took down the contact info of our tour coordinator, Mohamed, only the most common name on the planet, he told us to just call him Mo. All the security worked at making us feel safe, but we still avoided going out on our own too much. When we did go out we just had to make sure that we didn't answer everyone that would try and talk to us, and certainly not follow them anywhere.

At the airport, we had changed a bit of money while purchasing our entry visa. They use the Egyptian pound there but will pretty much accept anything you give them. Everyone expects to be tipped, even in the bathroom where they don't provide toilet paper or paper towels. A woman will offer you some but expects a tip in return. Even if she doesn't do anything for you because your brought your handy dandy Charmin to go! (probably the best thing I packed). The whole weekend we were thinking in three currencies, Dollars, Euros and Pounds. Talk about a headache. The conversions got pretty confusing. Mo would tell us what the price was in Dollars but then we would try and pay him in pounds by converting enough Euros. Ugh. I'm glad to be back to just Dollars and Euros.

When we got to the hotel and checked in we were offered a complementary drink (this was a 5 star hotel mind you...we really hit the jackpot with this tour) of hibiscus juice which is really big there. It was really good and we got to have it a few times over the weekend. Since it was only about 2:30 we asked for suggestions on things we could do that night before the tour started the next morning. Mo offered to take us out to dinner and a boat ride on the Nile. It was not really easy to get around from where we were by just walking so we accepted his offer and decided to meet him in the lobby at 9. We took a nap and settled in and then got ready for our first taste of night life in Egypt. He got us a cab and took us to a restaurant for some authentic Egyptian food. It was really good. I ended up being the brave one of the group and tried everything to let them know if it was good or not. The only name that I remember of what they gave us was the felafel which was on thing that we all liked. They gave us so much food, the picture here is just the appetizers and then we got a main meal which was various meats and french fries. There was even dessert! A custard and very delicious.

After dinner we made our way to downtown Cairo and the Nile river. We walked along for a while and got a taste of the craziness going on over the big soccer match the next day against Algeria. Egypt is still in the running to qualify for the World Cup and they needed to win 3-0 on Saturday. Everyone was outside with drums and flags cheering and honking. Kids were selling flags everywhere and cars would driver by with it hanging off the back or out the door of the bus. It was a great show of national pride and Mo kept telling us how great a time it was to come and be able to see this. Saturday night when we were back in our hotel we heard the crowd outside celebrating the win!! They only won 2-0 though so there will be another match today to break the tie. In fact it may already have taken place, I will have to look it up.

We got onto our own little boat and went for a short ride along the Nile. All the boats are lit up with ridiculous neon colors blinking all sorts of ways. It was really fun and the boat played music so naturally dancing ensued! When we got back to the shore Mo wanted to give us a gift and took us on a short horse and buggy ride over the bridge again where we were meeting our cab to take us back. As we were getting into the buggy, a group of young guys cheering with tambourines and drums noticed us and started cheering to us. Mohamed translated and said that they were appreciating our beauty, saying how sweet like milk we are, and how lucky he is to be with us. As soon as they made any advancement in our direction a tourist police officer came and pulled them away. It was so unexpected to see such a quick reaction. Then when we got off on the other side of the bridge, we stopped to take a few pictures and low and behold they same group was right behind us and came over singing more. Our driver and Mohamed got in an argument with them and we thought for a minute there might be a fight. They finally continued on their way and we made our way back to the hotel to rest up for the Pyramids in the morning!

Saturday morning we woke up and had a nice breakfast at the hotel before meeting our tour guide, Dahlia. She was going to be with us for the 2 days and was very knowledgeable and friendly. When we needed to pay for an extra ticket or the camel ride and all we had were large bills she covered it for us so we could pay her later. We started at the Pyramids of Giza which were really close to our hotel. I don't know how to describe it to you because there aren't really words. It was breathtaking to stand next to them and we even got to climb up a bit. The blocks were bigger than us and then you look up and see how many there are and you're even more amazed. We spent some time at the Great pyramid and then went over to the second one where we were able to go in. The passage way is really small so you have to crouch over the whole way down till you get to a long passage where you can stand for a min. Then its back to crouching as you make the final steps to the room inside where the king would have been buried. These pyramids are all empty because the thieves looted them well before we came around but it was still really cool to see what the room looked like. it had a high ceiling and was pretty plain looking but then we stopped and thought hey, we're in a Pyramid right now! Very cool.

Then we went up to the plateau where we got a view of all three of the Pyramids, including the smaller one. Our guide helped us get a camel ride. Its a lot higher than riding a horse and much calming. The camel man, as they are called, lead us around towards the pyramids and took a few pictures for us and then led us back to where we started. It was really fun and something totally different, just like the donkey in Santorini. The last stop in Giza was the Sphinx. We spent some time taking our pictures and making our way through the temple to get closer to it. It was really crowded around there but still impressive.

Next stop was Memphis, an outdoor museum which was pretty small but it has the second largest sphinx. But on the way we stopped at a shop to see how papyrus was made. One of the men in the store showed us the different steps from the full plant to peeling it apart, then soaking it in water, laying it in a woven pattern and finally pressing it and leaving it to dry in the sun. It was really impressive because the paper is re-usable and can hold water. It doesn't rip and the papyrus has a lot of starch in it so you can peel off a strip then just wet it and let it dry back in place and it will be good as new. After the demonstration we browsed the store to see all the different paintings they had made of ancient scenes or symbols. A lot of them you can even have names written on in hieroglyphics. We spent more time than expected in that store because they were quite the aggressive salesmen but we finally made it out and back to our guide to continue on to Memphis. Besides the Sphinx, Memphis also has a giant statue of Ramses II that was found standing straight up in the ground which leads them to believed that there is still more undiscovered there. Our guide explained to us about why they showed him the way they did, not just for this sculpture but for all their statues. The beard, if it is straight means that it was created while the person reflected was still alive. If it is curled then it was made after their death. Also the fingers were believed to be very fragile so they would always be shown with their hand holding something to keep their fingers curled and protected. This also meant that the arm would be flexed and showing the muscles. Also displayed somewhere on the statue are his names as a prince and as a king. The cobra on the headdress is meant to signify royalty because it was believed it would protect them.

After Memphis we drove out a bit more to Sakkara to see the step pyramid there. The temple there is also still mostly together. It was cool to see a different kind of pyramid but unfortunately this one is really crumbling so they are doing a lot of restoration work to keep it from falling apart anymore. There was hardly anyone around it either so we took the opportunity to take a few shots, I mean, when in Egypt right? Sakkara was the last main stop of the day and we headed back to the hotel. On the way back we stopped again but this time at a store that makes the perfume oils from the lotus flowers and other flowers. We got to try a bunch of different scents and learned how they used the oil to fragrance the whole home. Since the oil will never evaporate, jars of it have been found in many of the tombs. We may have made a few purchases there as well, who knows. After a quick stop to grab our jackets from the hotel we went to the sound and lights show at the pyramids. It sounded like it would be really cool, but it wasn't. Don't get me wrong, seeing them at night was really amazing and I'm glad we got to go, but the show itself was really cheesy and overly dramatic. So much so that we had to try to keep from laughing out loud. I think they just tried way to hard and it showed. Oh well, at least the pyramids still looked as impressive as ever. As we turned in for the night we heard all the cheers of the people out in the streets celebrating Egypt's win!

Sunday morning Jamie work up feeling really sick, probably from something she ate the day before but we weren't sure what because we all had the same things. She took some medication she had brought with her from home and decided to stick it out not wanting to miss anything. Dahlia, our tour guide, told her that anything from the states wouldn't work for her so she went to a pharmacy and bought her something that is specifically for travelers to Egypt. Told you she was nice :) We started at the Cairo museum, no cameras allowed past the garden unfortunately. The garden was really pretty, papyrus and lotus plants right in the middle and a lot of statues all around. It was a really nice day too so that just made it better. The Museum was amazing! 60% of the treasure from King Tuts tomb from the valley of the kings is on display and it is some of the coolest things I've ever seen. During the mummification process the body is put on three different beds all of which were completely together and looked like they had been made a week ago. One of the small beds even had metal hinges that looked like they were from Home Depot. There was also a display of jewelery and then two mummy rooms. I saw 25 mummies including Ramses II. I'm still amazed.

After the museum we went to the Muhammad Ali Mosque in the Citadel. It's not the most famous mosque in Cairo but it is the most beautifully decorated one. We made sure that we were dressed appropriately so all we had to do was take off our shoes to go inside. It was really crowded but once we got our free time we just sat on the carpets and looked up and the beautiful ceiling. Outside the mosque you got a nice view of the city as well. From there we made our last stop of the day at the market. Dahlia had warned us that the attention we already experienced would be worse in the market and that we might not want to stay too long. She offered to take us for a drink in a small cafe toward the center of the market in honor of the Egyptian's win the previous night so we followed her lead and sat for an hour having some nice conversation. She was able to answer a lot of our questions about life in Egypt and the Muslim culture. The topic of arranged marriage came up and she informed us that she had attempted marriage 34 times so far! Either she has said no or he has. But apparently that is fine and that's the whole idea of it, you aren't really forced, you get to say yes or no.

We headed out into the market with what was left of our money and her predictions were correct. We pretty much just walked straight through only stopping at one place. Most of the men would just hold out things for just to look at like scarves or replicas of the Sphinx. But then there were the ones that told us we broke his heart, or that today he would call us his wife. They also asked “how many camels for her?” in reference to a dowry and trading camels for one of us. By the time we made it out again we were quite happy to head back to the bus and the hotel. We planned on taking an extra excursion for a dinner cruise on the Nile with traditional dancing but since Jamie was still not feeling well we decided against it to not leave her alone. It was a quiet and relaxing night resting up for another day of traveling. I was actually happy to come back to Greece, back to something at least somewhat familiar. It was a lot to do in just one weekend but I would love to go back and see more than just Cairo. Maybe someday.

There has been a lot going on in Thessaloniki this week as well. Tuesday was Polytechnic day so schools were closed and we were advised to stay indoors to avoid being caught in the riots. Its a day in remembrance of events in the 40's in Athens when students protested the government at the time and it turned into a rather bloody affair. Every year on the 17th of November though, students will continue the protests. We did venture out later in the evening to try and go see a movie because till Sunday there is and International Film festival! One of my friends here has a volunteer position there through and independent study he is doing so he has kept is up to date on whats going on. Most of the movies that are premiering the director and main actors have been present. Unfortunately I won't be able to go to any of the big ones because of classes but we are going to one tomorrow and another on Friday. I don't remember the names off hand but I'll write about that later.

Anyway, the movie we tried to see was already sold out, so we started walking back to our building and on the way passed through the remnants of tear gas and wound up at a police barricade a block from our dorm. They were all dressed in their riot gear waiting for the students to come out of Aristotle University, the main college here. We didn't stick around too long because nothing was actually going on because it happened earlier in the day. Our RA told us that this year was pretty calm compared to others in the past which is good.

Last thing! I hope you enjoyed the little quiz I left you last week. As promised here are the answers. Hope you did well, and if not, don't feel too bad its not like it counts for anything :)

1. C
2. A

For the pictures you can follow the links to see them on Facebook. I'll add a few to this post tomorrow. Album 1 Album 2

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How do you order a Greek Salad in Greece?

I always wondered, if you order a salad in Greece do you get what we know as a Greek salad? Or do you have ask for it specifically as a Greek salad? If you have ever wondered the same thing, let me clarify for you. Even in Greece, a Greek salad is called a Greek Salad. Just asking for a salad actually gets you cucumber and tomatoes with the oil and vinegar dressing and seasoning. To get the best salad there is with the feta, olives, peppers, and onions you still have to say Greek salad; just a fun factoid for you!

My midterms are done finally, and I think they went really well. Just in time because I am off to Egypt tomorrow morning! I'm traveling with Jamie and Diana again, and when we get there we are joining a tour so we will have a guide with us. We fly back Monday evening and are off of classes Tuesday for a Greek national holiday.

This past weekend was the ACT trip to Athens. With 3 buses and 150 students we made it through safely. Despite the traveling in large group pains that I expected, the trip turned out really well. The only thing I didn't really see when I was in Athens before was the new Acropolis museum and we got to take a tour of that on Saturday.

The museum just opened up this year and has gotten a lot of good reviews. The building itself is really well designed to represent how the monument itself was built. The floors are all clear and you can see the ruins below you because it was built over an archaeological site. The only way to enter the Acropolis is up a steep slope, so the museum slopes up as well. The top floor is the most impressive. It is the exact dimensions of the Parthenon, and from the outside the museum it looks like it is even positioned parallel too it, but I don't know that for sure. The frieze that runs all around the Parthenon is now in mostly pieces but they are shown in their original locations. The pieces that are still at other museums, mostly the British museum, are shown in casts. On the Parthenon itself the frieze is replicated and you can see it on the inside just past the columns.

The Pediments, what filled the triangular shape under the roof cornice on the front and the back of the building, are also displayed. Many of these pieces are fragmented or are not in the museum because they have not been returned. The best part of that collection was getting a feel for the size of the Parthenon, and being able to have a view of it while you walk around because the walls are all glass.

My favorite part of the museum, and my favorite part of the Acropolis is the Erechtheion. It is a smaller temple with multiple purposes and honored multiple gods. The South porch is the most well known because of the six maidens, the Korai, that support the roof. The ones that you see at on the acropolis are only replicas. The museum has the original 5, the 6th is unfortunately at the British museum. The Greeks hoped that if they had the museum, dedicated to only the Acropolis they would be able to gather all of the pieces back together, unfortunately that has not happened. Still, it was really nice to see the real ones, they are still in really good condition too. I would have taken pictures but it wasn't allowed. Here is what it looks like on the Acropolis.

The south porch.

The north porch.
The front of the Parthenon.

After seeing the museum and the Acropolis we had the rest of the day to ourselves. We spent most of the time enjoying the flea market and shopping. The weather stayed nice and the rain stayed away. It was a lot warmer than it is in Thessaloniki, it was like we were back to the end of summer weather. I still find it strange to be this warm in November.

Sunday we saw the changing of the guard at the Parliament building in the morning and then had more free time until the bus left at 4. After another 8 hour drive we were back in Thessaloniki and ready for another week of school. On the ride back, we had a small quiz given to us by our guide to see how well we had been listening to him. The best scores would get a prize. I was one of 6 that got the highest score but there were only 3 prizes so they randomly picked names and I won! It was pretty exciting because I usually don't have good luck with that. I thank my history class because that is really how I knew the answers. So, lets see how much you know about Athens! I don't have a prize for you so you'll just have to do it for fun. I'll put the questions at the end here and give you the answers next week.
Until next time!

1. Athens was named after the goddess Athena because of her gift of an olive branch. What other god presented a gift to the city that they declined in favor of Athena?
a. Apollo
b. Hermes
c. Poseidon

2. Who was the Parthenon built to worship?
a. Athena the patron of the city.
b. Zeus the lord of the gods.
c. Aphrodite the goddess of beauty.

Shouldn't be too hard, and do me a favor...try not to just Google it, that's just cheating.