Monday, July 19, 2010

Farewell Paroikia!

Classmates waiting at the exit of the Ancient Marble Quarries for others to climb out

Me at the Frankish walls of the Ancient Marble Quarries

Me at the caves of Anti-Paros

One of the boats in the Anti-Paros dock was named Katerina

Dock of Anti-Paros, Summer home of Madonna and Tom Hanks

The last week was bittersweet, but mostly bitter, as our time in Greece was quickly ending. We remorsefully lamented "Its our last Monday, its our last time at the Dubliner, its our last class., our last time going to the beach." Basically, we lamented everything the last time we did it. We started talking about everything we would miss. The Greek yoghurt with honey, tsaziki, spanakopita and all other Greek food, waking up with a sea view, impromptu trips and being with friends.

When I came home to South bend, I realized how much I already missed Greece. It was sad not waking up in Paroika, Paros and looking forward to beach time and a great dinner with my friends. The gorgeous mountains and sea has been replaced with Indiana flat plains and cornfields. While Indiana has its perks, something ..I’m sure, I am already planning my trip back to Greece. I want to explore more of the Peloponnese and see Mycenae, Epidaurus, Nafplio, Monemavasia and Meteora. And of course, I want to explore more of the Islands. The islands, which are full of the breathtaking views I identify Greece with. The last week we were sure to enjoy every bit of it. Monday, I took a visit to the nursing home and was busy writing my final paper about elderly care in Paroika. Tuesday, we had morning class followed by more beach time and then a class field trip.

That evening, John Pack took us on a tour of the Ancient Parian Marble Quarries. Paros has some of the best marble in the world. Even the Italians will admit this. This marble was used to make Venus Di Milo and the Parthenon. The marble is renowned because it is so white, pure and translucent. We were able to travel into the heart of the quarries where John Pack had us all turn off our flashlights and sit in pure darkness for five minutes. And then he told us to use our sixth sense and turn to him. When he estimated we all were looking at him, he turned his flashlight on underneath a piece of marble. This was a gorgeous sight of the marble illuminated in an unearthly sense surrounded by complete darkness. He even let us take a piece of the marble. We made a steep climb out of the quarries. It seemed like an 85-degree angle of climbing rock to rock. It was quite a workout. On our way to the bus, John Pack showed us oregano, thyme and sage growing in the area. I took some of each as a souvenir for my Dad.

Later that night, when we returned to Paroikia we saw the documentary video, which the IUPUI informatics class assembled only in the past three weeks. The documentary was over agro tourism and explored the role and source of food and tourism in Paroikia. They showed the donkey man, an old man who goes through town selling fruits and vegetables off the back of his donkey, farmers, restaurants and more. The town and IU students both really enjoyed the video. It was very interesting and the shots were great. We celebrated with the Informatics class and were up until breakfast the next morning or for most of the group, the last call for pizza. After a nap, I woke up to go the beach. However, I ran into Sam and Cari going to Anti-Paros. So a bus ride and a ferryboat over, we landed on Anti-Paros, the summer home for Madonna and Tom Hanks. Our mission on anti-paros was to see the caves. The formations of the cave were pretty cool.

Thursday, we took a field trip to the animal rescue center where there were mostly birds. I never knew vultures were so big! The mayor gave us a reception at 9 pm Thursday night. He thanked us for our service hours and cleaning the beaches of the Island. He hoped that students of Greek universities could learn from us. They provided a spread of food for us. It was interesting that the librarian at the reception told us she was hung over this morning. She told us how typical it was for Greeks to stay up late, drinking, partying and this nightlife ran into the morning work schedule. Then they had siesta, really worked from 6-8 pm and started again. She commented, this must be why we are in an economic crisis! The culmination of our class was Friday morning breakfast. We presented on our non-profit organizations we studied while in Paros. I presented on the nursing home. Then we said goodbye and left on the 10:45 ferry back to Athens. We sadly waved good-bye to our new home.


Santorini, the well-known island, where Mamma Mia and parts of Sisterhood of the Traveling pants were filmed, was our destination for our last weekend in Greece. I had been looking forward to Santorini for a long time and was excited to see it as an optional trip on our syllabus. The majority of our class opted to take this trip. Jeren, our TA, arranged the hotel and ferry tickets for everyone. After staying at hostels during my trips, this hotel was a nice change. It had a shower with real water pressure and it wasn’t hand held like I had become accustomed to, good air conditioning and decent beds. We also had a large pool, with its own bridge, that overlooked the ocean.

The first thing our class did was take a quick swim in the pool. It was pretty cold, so we then hit the showers. The main event of the evening was to watch the legendary Santorini sunset. We walked up the hill to the town of Fira to observe it. The view was breathtaking and the sunset was indescribable. The viewing frame had a cliff cluttered with white buildings and a stark cliff on the right. In front of us were the caldera and other island formations. The sun disappeared into the ocean among the haze with brilliant shades of gold, pink and red. My camera couldn’t do it justice. Both nights we were there everyone clapped after the sunset.

The first night Jeren then took a group of us out to a restaurant, the Argos, he had ate at last year. They even offered us free wine. The ambiance of this restaurant rivaled the Glafkos taverna. The view overlooked the rest of the town and the dwindling show of the sunset. Everything was white and lit by candles. When it got too chilly, the waiter even offered warmed blankets to the girls. The white wine there was the best wine I had during my stay in Greece. The bread was soft and warm, spiced up with oregano and rosemary. There was a tomato paste you paired with olive oil to dip the bread in. I ordered lamb kleftiko, a dish cooked for two hours in butchers paper marinated in Greek yoghurt and served with potatoes and vegetables.

After dinner we did some touristy shopping. On the way back we stopped to ask for directions at a wine shop. They offered us a free tasting of a sweet dessert wine. When we said we hadn’t had absinthe before, they offered us some of that too! This was a start to a great Island nightlife. At one place, we also got a free watermelon slushie with ouzo. We were out late that night but woke up early to do a volcano and hot springs tour. The details about that are in the previous entries.

That night we also had an amazing dinner. And it goes without saying that the sunset was gorgeous that night. We watched it from our restaurant. The waiter was slightly annoying. "Do you want menu or do you want me?" He ended up knocking a plate on a customer because he was such a clown. The food was great though. I had seafood pasta. It was full of seafood with mussels, shrimp and octopus in a marina sauce. That night we went out again and had fun dancing the night away. We woke up to take a tour of the beaches and saw the black beach, the red beach and the white beach. We ended up swimming only on the black beach due to constraints of time. To get to the black beach we needed to take a boat there. More info on the beaches and Volcanoes in the previous posts :)

Fourth of July Weekend

Me at the Fish & Wine Festival
Diamond Picture with Mary Alexa and Sam Bruni at the Fish & Wine Festival in Naoussa

Mary Alexa and Sam on the ATV during a pit stop

O, the places we went on our ATV trip!

While my Fourth of July celebration in Greece wasn’t the typical hot dogs, bratwurst, baseball game and fireworks, it was still a great time. The weekend started with hours on the beach and swimming in the Aegean Sea. After enjoying the nice water and sun, we prepared for dinner. Our class was having a group taverna dinner in Marpissa, a village outside of Paroikia. We were all excited for this class dinner since Susan ordered the spread for us.

The village even extended the hours of their museums to give us tours before we ate. We looked at a sculpture museum and a museum that captured what a typical village house looked like. The food was amazing, per usual. Several courses of tomato croquettes, tsazikiziki, mousakka, pasticcio, fried potatoes and more were brought out. We hurried back to Paroikia to meet the incoming ferry. My new friends Andrew and Mary Alexa, a Beta Eta ADPi who is friends with Sam Bruni, my ADPi roomie in Athens, came in on the Friday 10:30 PM ferry. I welcomed Andrew to the island with some rakomela. We had a great night at the Dubliner. We were Americans celebrating Fourth of July at an Irish Pub, in a Greek town, with Swedes, Brits and other nationalities that were there. The celebration did not stop until it was light again. Some of our company decided to go for a swim on the way home.

Andrew and I woke up a few hours later, around 9:30 am, for a busy day. I started out our day with a typical tourist walk around Paroikia. I showed him the old temple of Athena, the church of Constantine, the Frankish wall, the windmill and the church of the 100 doors. Then we walked over to meet Sam and Mary Alexa. From there we rented two ATVs to explore the island. That was a great way to get a snapshot of the island and gave us some amazing views. We ended up going all the way around the island and staying at Pounda beach for a swim. After our day of ATVing around the island, we along with the rest of our class went to the Fish & Wine Festival in Naoussa. The four of us watched the traditional Greek dancing while eating crepes at a restaurant on the shore. We had a chocolate, coconut and rum flavored crepe and a banana-chocolate waffle. Another important part of the celebration is the free food. We got in line and each received a pile of fried sardines, a piece of cheese and a cup of wine. Next time I’ll pass on the sardines. It was interesting to see professionals to do the Greek dances that we had learned earlier that week in class.

We continued the jampacked touristy activities of the weekend the next day when we tried windsurfing at Golden Beach. Golden Beach is the windsurfing capital of the world. Windsurfing was a fun activity even though it isn’t my strong point. It wasn’t as bad as I thought though. I managed to stay up most of the time, except when I jumped off the board after a bad turn or if I started going too fast. It is something I would like to try again.

We spent the day at the beach and later went back to Naoussa. Sam and Mary Alexa went to a birthday party so it was Andrew and I exploring the town. Andrew was a good sport and we both went shopping at the little boutiques. At my favorite boutique, the shop owner picked out a dress for me to try on that he said was made for me. It was an adorable dress but a 400-euro Dolce & Gabana dress! Andrew had fun looking at polos and I enjoyed trying on Burberry and Dolce & Gabana outfits but we didn’t end up buying anything. We decided to break to enjoy a seafood dinner. We made our way to the Glafkos taverna. We heard of this place from our friends. It is an unexpected spot, you walk through several streets until you hit a dead end then turn into a kitchen and walk through that to get to the restaurant. The food we had was spectacular. We had mussels saganki and octopus boiled with vinegar. The ambiance was incomparable and indescribingly amazing. This restaurant was on the water, with the waves almost rolling up to our table. The candles on our tables and soft music in the background illuminated the dark night. If you go to Naoussa ever, I definitely recommend seeing this place. The night ended with our friends leaving on the 1:30 am ferry and us continuing onto the Dubliner. It was definitely an eventful and memorable weekend.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Floor is Lava: Santorini Volcano and Sulfur Springs

Lays Chips in Greece have so many different flavors. Oregano is good, but I don't think I'll try Prawn Cocktail.

This is red beach of Santorini.

View from Santorini

The sunset at Santorini is breathtaking. This picture doesn't do it justice.

The view of Thira, Santorini.

Here is Rachel on her donkey.

Me in front of a donkey.
This a picture from the boat of the sulfur springs. It smelled bad and the water was so opaque!

Me at the Caldera
A picture of our pirate ship in the bay of the Caldera

The first day of Santorini we decided to check out the volcano and hot springs of the island. After putting down 17 euro, we had tickets to take the tour. A hike, bus ride, and climb down a cliff later we reached a boat. Some of the class skipped the climb down the cliff and took cable cars down instead. I saved the four euro and went on foot. Then the boat, reminiscent of a pirate ship, took us over to the caldera and the sulfur springs. It was an enjoyable ride. Our first stop was to the caldera, the remnants of a volcano eruption. It was interesting to see the volcano crater. I had seen Mt. Vesuvius at Pompeii so I knew what to expect but I still looked forward to seeing the Santorini volcano. It was pretty neat. The geography was incomparable as we looked from the caldera back to the mainland. After hiking up the caldera, in the most insensible shoes, we went back to the boat. Then we stopped at the sulfur springs. They were unmistakable from the boat. The water was an opaque rusty red in sharp contrast to the clear sapphire waters of the Aegean Sea. I didn’t have any qualms about jumping into the sea and then swimming into the red. The brownish red waters were so thick that you couldn’t see the bottom. And it was quite shallow so you could stand up and feel the mud squish in between your toes. The water wasn’t as warm as usual but was still warmer than the sea. The current and winds were quite strong so the temperature was significantly lower in the hot springs. Apparently the sulfur is good for your skin. Crowds of people were rubbing mud all over their bodies. And we followed suit. I did a little bit more enthusiastically than the other girls and just went right ahead with the mud. A group of French girls were really getting into to it and even giving themselves facials. A tinted bathing suit and a couple days of smelly hair were souvenirs of this extraordinary experience. It was interesting since there were so many people from all over, Greece, France, Italy, America, all crowded in this cove area, rubbing themselves in sulfur. It is not something I would make a common experience, but definitely entertaining. Once we reached the shore again, the long hike up still faced us. It was either the hike or the five euro donkey ride up the hill. I decided again to save the money and walk up. Since I have never ridden a horse or anything else, I decided riding a donkey up a steep cliff would be too advanced for my novice riding skills. Plus I saved more money to splurge on our extravagant dinners. I was the paparazzi for everyone else and took pictures of them on their donkeys. Retrospectively, it is a good thing I did not take the donkeys because it was a scary ride. One of the donkeys fell and caused one of the boys in the class to have some scratches and a bald spot on his legs. Although, the hike up was definitely more exercise than I expected and tougher even than climbing up Mt. Lycabettus in Athens or to the track at Delphi. I recommend taking the cable car up if I was to do it again.

Whats black and red and white all over? SANTORINI

Me on the wall in Thira, Santorini

The coast of Thira, Santorini. This is where we watched the sunset. My camera doesn't do the sunset justice so I will wait until I can get someone elses's sunset pictures before I post any.

This is what Santorini looks like when you first see it from the ferry.

See those little, tiny buildings at the bottom of the picture? That is the port where the ferry unloads. The buildings on top of the cliff is the town where we took a long, winding bus ride to Thira.

As I mentioned in my previous entry, Greece is full of new experiences for me. Few people I know can say that they have done most or any of them. But through all these weeks, the singular, outstanding place I would recommend everyone going to is Santorini. When we arrived there, you could tell it was different from any other island. When you arrive to other islands, you come upon a port that is part of the city. But in Santorini, the first and really only thing you see is a cliff and huge rock formations. Then you take a bus up the winding roads up to Thira, where we stayed.

I fell in love with Santorini the first night. Paros is wonderful, and another must-see spot in Greece, but nothing can compare with the Santorini sunset. I had chills when I looked out over the bay and saw the sun start to turn. The sight is literally incredible. In the actual and full sense of the word incredible, as in I couldn’t believe the beauty! Both nights we were there, my classmates and I enjoyed watching the sunset. And both nights we watched it, everyone clapped as the sun disappeared. It seemed like the town stopped for those few minutes in order to relish the last few minutes of the day and to watch the pink sun set and fall into the ocean among the harsh rocks and crowded cliffs of the island. In America, it is rare that people stop to take the time to enjoy the nature around them. In Santorini, it is inevitable. You can’t ignore beauty like that. The second night we watched the sunset we saw a couple taking wedding pictures in front of the sunset. This is a testament to the romanticism of the island.

I would have liked another day to enjoy the beaches and to check out the archaeological museum, but I am more than thrilled with my time there. Nevertheless, Paros still takes my vote on the best beaches though. I haven’t been to Naxos, but I heard that it has nice beaches too. The Santorini beaches get points for being unique. Where else can you find black, red and white beaches all on the same island? The black and white beaches were only reachable by boat. We took a boat over to the furthest beach and made our way back. The black beach was neat because it was full of black lava. We had fun throwing it at and aiming at the umbrella stands to make them cling. But I am still a fan of the gorgeous golden beaches that Paros has to offer like Farangas, Golden and Pounda beaches. Another interesting point was that there was no real boat schedule to the beaches. It came every one or one and a half or two hours. The boat didn’t come back for us at the black beach for two hours. This is very different than in America where everyone has a strict schedule and couldn’t just go with the flow like that. Let alone go without the cell phone! There was no signal on the beaches either. The complete relaxation and release of reality is ubiquitous in Greece. I am going into my eighth week of not having a cell phone, and it will be interesting to have the use of it again. Either I will use it a lot or have grown out of my reliance on the immediate accessibility of everyone. The loose sense of time in Greece has also grown on me. I can’t think of when I last looked at the time. I don’t have a watch and am usually dependent on my cell phone instead. Therefore, since I don’t have a mobile here, I am completely oblivious of what time it is most of the day. The easy going lifestyle is something I have gotten used to and will be an interesting transition speeding life up once I get back to school.

The Fat Lady and Sea Urchin Gonads: A Snorkeling Adventure

This is the cove on the southern coast of Anti-Paros where we first went snorkeling. The water was amazing and so clear. A few people who were adventorous went cliff jumping off the other side of the arch.
The cliffs of Anti-Paros, you can see a cove on the side.

Here is John on the boat. Look at how clear the waters are!

The guys being men and pulling the boat to shore before we embarked.

My time in Greece has been full of self-reflection and broadening my horizons. I have decided to embrace new experiences even if it is outside my comfort zone. This includes eating sea urchin gonads. I have marked that off my Eurotrip list, but have concluded they are a bit too salty and slimy for my taste. I don’t think I will ever be trying those again. Trying sea urchin was just one of many of the highlights of last Wednesday.

Our class went on a boating trip around Paros and Anti-Paros. Anti-Paros is known for being the summer home spot for Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks and Madonna. This was a remarkable experience. I am a fan of being on a boat in the first place and getting to explore the coast by snorkeling was an added bonus. Our tour guide was Peter Nicolaides of the Aegean Diving College, who dove with Jacques-Yves Cousteau

We boarded the double decker boat around 10 am and set sail until later that evening. I rode on the bottom deck for part of the ride, but enjoyed the view of the upper deck for the most part. It was fun when the boat hit the rough waves and salty water splashed in our faces. Our first stop of the boat trip was Saliagos where we swam to shore. This is an important Neolithic site and the place where the fat lady statue was found. On this island, we saw an abundance of obsidian stone and a dead logger head sea turtle.

We kept on sailing along the east coast of Anti-Paros to this cove on the southern volcanic coast of Anti-Paros. We were able to swim through the arch of the cove to the other side. A few of the bolder students in our class jumped off of the top of the arch into the water. Our third site we snorkeled at was an ancient well. It was remarkable to see and touch antiquity. Other discoveries along the way included a sea slug and a conch shell. Following all of our swimming and exploration, we were treated to a lunch on Anti-Paros. A second smaller boat took us from our double decker boat to the dock right near the restaurant. On the way into the restaurant, we were distracted by a group of six puppies. After playing with them for a bit, we were treated to an amazing array of seafood including sardines, octopus, small fish, tsaziki, bread, fried potatoes and other items. I along with a couple others ignored the thirty-minute grace period after eating and decided to forgo the ride back to our boat. Instead we jumped right off the dock and swam back to our boat. This boat ride was a memory of a lifetime. I will always remember looking at the cliff formations, snorkeling and gorgeous scenery of the islands. But hopefully, I won’t remember eating the sea-urchin so much. Yuck!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Greece, Where 20% of GDP is from Tourism.

While waiting for the ferry that carried two friends from Athens to Paros at the windmill, Sam and I were approached several times by hotel employees making conversation with us. They asked us where we were from, what we were doing in Paros, what we studied in school and of course where were staying. They were very friendly and inquisitive. They also complimented us a lot. It seems like the Greek style to offer so many compliments. It is a general consensus among my friends and I that Greeks are much more likely than American males to be prone to flatter you and be very forward. In return for all of their questions, I asked the hotel employees about their occupation. They told me how competitive the hotel business is in town. This makes sense since such a large part of the island’s revenue is from tourism and there are many hotels.

One way to get clients is to stand by the dock in front of fences with signs that feature the name of your hotel and sometimes pictures. Some hotel owners have been doing this for years, maybe even decades, and have good experience at being able to lure tourists fresh off the boat to come talk to them. One of our new acquaintances was from Slovakia and had only been advertising the hotel for a couple of days. He let us help him advertise the Hotel Polos. He said we were pretty and bound to get a customer. Then he gave us the sign and led us behind the bars so we could stand there and wave to tourists to beckon them. It was interesting to observe the assertive attitudes of the hotel employees vying for tourist attention. Some of them get into fights and are very argumentative. Our acquaintance said he has seen many fight but he hasn’t been here long enough to have been involved in a fight himself. Also, you are not allowed to tell the prices to get a customers attention. You are only allowed to tell them prices once they take your brochure, walk past the bars and talk to you. It is a rule you don’t break. I accidentally said the price and was reprimanded. An employee from another hotel yelled at me and told me "Hey, Blondie get out. " Unfortunately none of us were able to get a customer, but the employee got one. We also learned that Scandinavians are one of the greatest percentages of tourists right now according to the hotel owner. The Germans come a little later in July through September. This experience was interesting because it revealed to me an aspect of Greek tourism I hadn’t seen before. Coming to Paros was the first time I encountered a swarm of hotel employees trying to flag me down to stay at their place. It was a slightly intimidating experience, although I just walked straight past them. In America, the hotel industry doesn’t work this way. In the States, most establishments operate on reputation. You don’t try to haggle with the Hilton or the Olive Garden, you come for what the TV ad or the menu shows you. In Greece, deals can be made and haggling is ubiquitous. The positive of this type of advertising is that you are able to live spontaneously and get a hotel room easily without planning ahead.

Monday, June 28, 2010

My Big, Fat, Greek..Bachelor party?

My travels in Greece have taught me, a very Type A, organized person, who likes to make to-do lists and organize calendars, an important lesson. In the relaxed world of the typical Greek lifestyle, I am embracing my downtime. Time without homework, studying for the next exam and extracurriculars is a welcome change. Life with this new laid-back attitude has also brought spontaneity into my life. Three of my friends and I embarked on a ferry from Paros to Syros on Friday night. Vacationing from one island to another is such a hard life. Before departure, I didn’t know much about Syros or what it had to offer. I didn’t have a list of attractions to see or even the name of a hotel to stay the night. However, yet again the hospitality of the Greeks arose to the occasion. Arriving on the island, we were greeted by groups and groups of hotel and hostel owners trying to vie for our attention and our euros to stay at their place. After getting an offer of $12.50 euro a night at a hotel, we agreed. At the hotel, a woman settled us into our room. As a woman aged no more than 30 years, she knew we were here to have a fun girls’ night. So she brought us a radio from her own house next door to our room to accommodate us. Then after we complimented her nails, she told us she went to cosmetology school and offered to do ours the next day. This proved to be a good start to a great night. Then a taxi driver drove us back into town to his favorite taverna. There, I indulged in amazing lamb chops with a side sauce of mustard and a taste of my friend’s grilled octopus. We toured the shops and the square before looking for a taste of the nightlife.

As we passed a bakery to use the WC, the employee stopped us to ask us where we were from and what we were doing in Greece. After answering his questions, he offered us something sweet. We didn’t even buy anything, but the native Athenian, relocated to Syros, wanted to extend his welcome to the Americans visiting his country. This is just another example of Grecian hospitality. After this pleasant surprise, we continued on to explore the town and find a bar. Little did we know, what we entered was a bachelor party. The interesting thing about this bachelor party was that it included multiple generations. There were both men and women from both families (the bride and the groom) from the ages approximately 18 to 80. The people were enjoying food and drink at a local bar near the port. Furthermore, not only was the party open to women of the family and even the bride, but as strangers, my three friends and I were invited to stay after we realized we unknowingly crashed their pre-wedding celebration. Throughout the night, they motioned us to join the circle to dance with them. And they also gave us shots to partake in shooting Yamas to the couple and their new life ahead of them. This experience as well as the fire-jumping at the Midsummer Night’s Eve celebration showed me how celebrations in Greece are not about exclusivity but inclusivity. The Greeks I have met like to include everyone, even non-Greeks, in their celebration. It is about community and sharing. The welcoming attitude keeps the people together. In America, if you had crashed such a family affair, even accidentally, it would not be taken well. You would be at least kindly asked to leave and given a “look.” However, in Greece, it was just more people to celebrate with and taken with a more the merry the attitude. Not only did they let us stay, but they even welcomed us to celebrate with them. It was also surprising that the wedding was at 7 am the night after the celebration. Despite the early start of the wedding, the Greeks, of all ages, continued to party until 3 am. This showed me another interesting aspect of the culture. Greeks tend to stay up later, start their day later and compensate with a siesta. It also showed me the Greeks know how to have a good time even as they get older!

The days of Syros consisted of two days of complete relaxation. We walked to the beach from our hotel and stopped by the mini market and bakery for snacks. Then Dora, Amanda, Rachel and I had lunch at a restaraunt overlooking the water. The last dinner I had in Syros was a pork gyros and a greek salad on the water at the port. After we paid, the water gave us free vanilla gelato and brownies! We returned late at night to Paros. I was suprised at 11 pm on a Sunday the shops were bustling! Earlier that day, when my friends and I came back into town early to shop in Syros, nothing was open. Suprising how the Greeks schedule the shop hours. Off to class tonight, stay tuned for more on island life later!

Fire Burning, Fire Burning on the Dance Floor

Yea, I jumped this fire. No, seriously, I did! I went right through it.

The men in the boats bringing in the fire to light the bonfire.
My shrimp pasta had the WHOLE shrimp including the head.

The girls at dinner. Our table was on a dock over the water.

The sunset at dinner on Midsummer Night's Eve.

Today, we did service learning on the beaches picking up trash. This class so far is basically a tour of all the best beaches in Paros. We travel to each beach, pick up trash and take swim breaks. This helps the community and we have a great time. Later we’ll work on the marpissa paths.

Every time I think I have had the best dinner or seen the most gorgeous sights and beaches in the world, Greece surprises me with something even better. The Ferangas beach today was gorgeous. My new favorite sound is the crystal clear waves hitting the pebbles and rocks on the beach. The foamy waves crash onto the shore, roll the rocks back into the ocean and create a soothing rattling sound. At the Ferangas beach, the bartender gave us free frappes in appreciation of us cleaning up the beach. At another beach, a woman stopped and asked questions about who we were? Where we were from? Was this our countries idea to send us here on our holiday to help clean Greece? The hospitality and generosity of the Greeks continues to surprise me.

We returned to the aliki beach, where we cleaned earlier, to celebrate Midsummer Night’s Eve. All over Europe, there were celebrations. On Paros, they celebrate wth fire jumping. You jump the fire three times for good luck in the next year. The celebration started out with a traditional Greek dance. The first one was a syrtos. This dance is in a circle. The person on the end has their hand on their hip. The second type of dance was a ballos. This is a “couple’s dance.” The circle breaks up and groups dance together.

After the dance, there were boats that carried red, shining torches onto the beach to symbolize it was time to lit the bonfire. After the bonfire was lit, the real festivities began. All of the kids were very enthusiastic, and crowded around the fire. There was no hesitation as the little boys hurried to jump the biggest fire. After a good amount of the younger boys went through, my classmates and I gained the courage to try. I was slightly worried looking at the flame (see above) but it was an adrenaline rush! It wasn’t even overtly hot. It felt like you walked by a fireplace. I continued jumping my three times for good luck and cheered on my friends. Also at the celebration, in typical Greek fashion, was food and drink. They even handed it out to the people free. There was the best octopus I have ever had. Granted I have only had it once before, but it was pretty good. I also had a dish of shrimp spaghetti at the restaurant nearby. Also at the festivities was soma, a type of Greek moonshine. After experiencing the night’s festivities, I felt like I was beginning to get a view into the real Greek lifestyle.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

First Day in Paros

The entryway to Hotel Aegean Village. My new home for four weeks.

Patio to the apartment. Check out those grapes!

This is a typical street in Paros. The streets are gorgeous. The stones on the sidewalk are lined in whitewash to catch the moon light and reflect it at night.

Arriving in Paroikia, Paros, I was greeted unexpectedly by a crowd of hotel owners flailing to catch me as a customer. I kept walking by them looking for Susan Sutton, my professor. After meeting at the windmill, she led us to Hotel Aegean Village, where I am staying for the next four weeks. The island is quite a throwback from living in the big city. Athens was dirty, marked with grafitti and full of stray dogs, cats and people. There was water dripping from the upper balconies and puddles on the street. You couldn't make it half a day without having to wash your feet.

Paros seems more like fantasy than reality. Quaint streets of white washed buildings, none over 3 stories as mandated by law, are highlighted with blue shutters and doors. Occassionally, you’ll see red and once even a hot pink door. The streets are all made of stonework, which is traced in whitewash to catch the moonlight at night. The Hotel Aegean also is accented with grapes over the terrace, as well as olive trees and other fruits. The apartment is much smaller than the one in Athens, but the courtyard and the building itself is charming. It is also nicer to be closer to my classmates. A good number of them are also in the Hotel Aegean Village. After a brief orientation, we were treated to a feast.

Just when I think that I have had the best meal of my life, I am yet again surprised. One gift on being on an island is the seafood. An advocate of sea food by early exposure to sea food on the east coast, I am always eager to have good sea food. Living in the Midwest now makes this a rariety. The dinner started with tsatziki and bread followed with Greek salad. Then they brought out their house salad. It was topped with gold fish just like at mother bear’s! It also had a sweet vinagrette that tasted like a mix of raspberry and vinagrette. We were then treated to these tomato puffs, meatballs and French fries. It just kept coming with a dish of sautéed mushrooms, that were perfectly flavored and covered in butter. Then eggplant dish was brought out after being marinaded in a sweet balsamic. For the sea food component, we had a type of fish salad, which was cooked and served with a mustard sauce on the side. Also, we had deep fried calamari, which was perfectly complemented by the tsatziki dip. It was a dining experience of a lifetime. Eating all these gourmet food, overlooking the Aegean sea. Although, it is not the Greek way to have sweets after dinner, we were served honey puffs, dripping with honey and cinammon. Despite this smorgasboard which most likely is gaining on my waistline, it is said that the Mediterranean diet is one of the healthiest in the world. This could be attributed to the use of olive oil, a monosaturated fat.

This first dinner won me over on day 1 that life on the island was going to be good. Later that night, Rachel, Amanda and I went out on the by the shore. The waves were hitting the rocks harder at night and the moon shone over the waters. We shared a pineapple drink. We enjoyed our tropical drinks seaside in the company of a Los Angeles fellow, a guy from Finland and a Paros native. The Paros native who sported eccentric red and green hair was an interesting character.

In our first class we learned some statistics that put Greece in perspective. I included the following from our lecture if you are interested: Greece is 1 ½ times the size of Indiana. It has 10 million residents, of which 1/3 resides in Athens. There are 13,000 residents in Paros year round. Greece is in the South East corner of Europe on the Balkan penisula. Paros is one of the Cycladic Islands of Greece. Cycladic is a reference to the circular formation. This island has the charm of the old world. Cars are not allowed in the “old part” of the town and are relatively scarce overall. Susan also lectured on the natural setting of Greece and three components of the climate: sun, mountains and the sea. In the Mediterranean climate, there are cool, rainy waters and hot, dry summers. The average summer temperature is 80s and winter is 40s. The terrain has 80% mountains. The coastline is 9,000 miles and 2,000 islands of which 170 are inhabited daily.

The second night we went out to watch the Greece V Argentina game. It was great since we were so close to the water edge we were practically on the rocks. Everyone got snacks for the game. I had a great crab sandwhich with oregano chips. Most other people got crepes or beers and nuts. Aliza got a great chocolate-strawberry crepe. The others watching the game were mostly natives. We were surrounded by enthusiastic Greek men fans cheering the team on. Unfortunately, Greece lost the game. It became very quiet everywhere when Argentina scored the two goals. No one even kept up the conversation. The night finished off with a peaceful night in the courtyard with my new friends.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

I'm on a Boat

The view from the back of the Ferry.

The view of an island from the ferry.

The last night in Athens was a good way to cap off my four weeks of experience in the city. We found a picture perfect taberna two streets up from our apartment. The owner as usual haggled our group of five girls and one guy into the restaurant, but this Greek man was the most persuasive salesman. He offered us the college student dinner. As a father of two daughters also studying abroad, he had empathy for us in a foreign country. He said he wants his daughters to be treated like this so he was going to feed us right. For 10 euro, it was all you can eat of a variety of foods! The waiters, despite their lack of English, proved to be as sweet as the restaurant owner. We were served bread, tsatziki, garlic bread, spring rolls (phillo with ham and cheese inside), zucchini balls mmmm, breki mezdes, saganki, Greek salad, and watermelon and melon plate for dessert. The wine they gave us was very sweet and strong, so we didn’t have a lot of it. However, the waiters kept pouring more into our cups so we would stay longer. The dinners here are so integral to the culture. That, combined with my affinity for food, explains why almost every post includes something about our meals. One aspect of the food culture is that they eater later. When we are finishing up eating, is about the time that the native Greeks begin eating. Their meals also last longer and involve hours of conversation, mingling and lingering. The abundance of food at dinner makes up for their scant breakfast of frappe, cigarette and maybe a pastry. I trade that in for a fredduccino and spanakopita if I get breakfast. Most of the time I hold out until our lunch at the school cafeteria. The hospitality of the restaurant owner was a good end to my experience with native Athenians. Sam Southworth and I walked Andrew back to his apartment. After such a huge dinner, a walk in a cool Athens night was just what I needed. A long walk made the nights rest more like a nap before Sam Bruni and I woke up to catch our ferry in Piraeus. I was surprised at how smoothly and efficiently catching a taxi to Piraeus for 15 euro was as well as buying my tickets, storing our luggage in cargo and finding our seats. We had nice travel companions sitting next to us. There was a language barrier between a middle aged Greek woman and a stereotypical Greek grandmother but they managed to strike up a conversation. For a conversation based mainly on gesticulations and my limited Greek, it was fairly successful. We covered that I am from Chicago, a student studying in Paros and I like food. My favorite part when they pointed to my ring finger and asking about if I had a boyfriend/significant other. This was pretty amusing. The grandmother was sweet and cut me pieces of her apple and gave me candy. Sam didn’t accept it, but the grandmother tried to insist. The view from the ferries is gorgeous as well. The islands are gorgeous, the water is a shade of blue incomparable to any other shade I have seen and the skies are clear. I land in an hour in Paros and look forward to my anthropology class. I look forward to gaining even more insight and knowledge of the food, islands and people.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hot town, Summer in the City: Last Weekend in Athens

A picture of the guards marching to Syntagma for the hourly changing of the guard. I love watching them march in their uniforms and wooden shoes that they clack together.

This is a close up of the "winds" of the Tower of the Winds. This monument is a water clock decorated with figures representing different winds. The colder winds have on shoes and jacket, but the warm winds, like the south, have no shoes and are dressed lighter.

I love this picture. This is a column from the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens.

This is one of my favorite monuments. This picture features the temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens with the Acropolis in the background. This temple was finished by Hadrian in Roman Imperial fashion with Corinthian style columns. It is even bigger than the Parthenon!

The view of the Acropolis from the Pnyx, where the Athenian Assembly met.

Heart mosaics that I saw in the Roman Agora.

A herme at Olympic Stadium. There was a young man's face on one side, and an older man's face on this side. This is a symbol for the god Hermes. They were placed on crossroads and country borders for protection of travelers.

This is me sitting in the regal seats in the Olympic Stadium with the view of the Olympic Symbols in the background.

This is me in letters, standing at the pnyx, with a view of the acropolis in the background.

Time flies in the big city. The past four weeks feel like they have gone by faster than I have ever felt time pass. There has been so much to do and so much to see, the days and nights run together. I haven't been diligent in keeping up this blog because I have been so occupied and therefore its been almost a week since I have last written!

There is so much that I have learned and observed that it is hard to record it all or even recount everything that I know now. From the small things like the social nuances, reading the signs in Greek, learning how to use the public transportation system to the academic things like learning the history of the agora and the construction of the Acropolis, I have gained so much experience from this time in Athens. But as much as I liked Athens, I am ready to go spend my time in Paros and see the islands. I think I will like the island life better. Athens is nice, but it is a bit dirty and sketch in some areas. As my friend Ben said in his facebook status," goodbye Athens-monuments, hagglers, hobo dogs, brotos, 1.80 E. gyros, CYA, cars that'll wake you up at any notice, and peeps that I met."

There were a couple things I was suprised about being in Athens though. It seems like the people here are very nice and really promote the idea of xenia, a host relationship that treats those who are far away from home as friends. The natives are very helpful to tourists. Even if they don't speak English, they attempt to draw pictures to help us find our destination. Some Athenians even bought us wine and prepared us food. There may be a lot of hagglers, which I am not a fan of pushy salesman even in the States, but sometimes you can get a good deal. Although, the waiters and shop keepers are more pushy than I'd like. Some of them are pretty clever though. One waiter had the line "this table is for models, this table is for supermodels, you girls sit with at the table for supermodels." Once the boys got free water, wine, bread, dessert and 10% off! I have not gotten any deals that good but I have gotten my fair share of desserts and drinks. The other thing I was suprised about is that I encountered some examples of racism. They are not too fond of some asians, like my friend Ben seemed to be treated a little less well than us. And even more blatant racism was when a restraunt owner turned away a black people from eating there, winked at us and said we don't serve them here.

It is also interesting how the unions operate here. The metro system has been down since Thursday and will be through Tuesday of next week. This is really inconvenient because then it is difficult and a lot more expensive to get around. If you can't take the metro to Piraeus, the port city, you need to take a taxi. The taxi isn't cheap but I need to go to Piraeus Monday to catch my ferry to Paros.

In terms of class this week, we visited the Olympic Stadium, Lysicrates Monument, the slopes of the Acropolis, the Pnyx (where the Athenian assembly met( and did a tour of Roman and later Athens. Then we also toured the Numismatic Museum (Heinrich Schliemann's House) and the Benaki Museum. The Olympic Stadium was neat because we could sit in the seats. We also walked around the track and in the tunnel where the athletes came out. It is pretty cool being able to say my apartment was right next to the Olympic Stadium. The Lysicrates Monument was erected by the choregos patron Lysicrates for the first prize play judged in the Festival of Dionysus around 334 BC. The rich persons could be exempt from taxes if they sponsored plays in the festival.

The slopes of the acropolis we saw the theater of Dionysus. Here the plays of Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus were performed. That was pretty awesome to sit in the same seats as the spectators of those original plays. The pnyx was interesting to see because it had a great view of the acropolis. The last couple days were spent writing my term paper and preparing for the final exam. After that, a relaxing weekend ensued. My friends and I went to Lake Voliagemni Beach and spent the day. Sadly, I am extremelllly burned. Turns out a pale, swedish blonde + only 15 spf sunscreen + mediterranean sun =burn kate :( Nevertheless, it was a relaxing day. Tomorrow, I will be packing and departing for Paros! stay tuned for life on the islands and check fbook for more pictures.