Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Greek Odyssey: part three.

You are joining a story already in progress. We have just landed at Piraeus and have disembarked from the ferry. Then it was straight to Mycenae.

Ah, the Mycenean civilization. One of the major cultures of ancient Greece. You know all that jazz about Olympus and the gods and whatnot? Yeah, they originated that. Which is pretty cool.

The first thing we saw in ancient Mycenae was the Treasury of Atreus. It’s a humungous tholos tomb of an ancient Myceanean king. Just… WOW. Seriously. It is massive. Just awesome. It’s built into the side of a hill and stands over fifty feet tall, though it looks much taller thanks to the Myceneans’ tricky architectural skills. They didn’t even use mortar to construct this thing and it’s still nearly completely intact – not to mention, when excavator Heinrich Schleimann discovered it, it was still largely untouched, filled with precious goods. That’s why he incorrectly identified it as the Treasury of Atreus, attributing it to one of the mythological royal families of ancient Greece. I really can’t put into words how awesome it was, and I was unable to capture the interior on camera. Google it. Or visit it yourself if you’re lucky!

I wish I had been able to capture the rest of the mountainside so that it was evident how large this structure is!
Marin, me and Alyssa.
Holly atop the tholos tomb!

The rest of ancient Mycenae now lies across a highway from the aforementioned structure. The ruins of the city sprawl all over a mountainside. Honestly, though, lest I launch into a lecture: I don’t have tooooo much to say about it other than a) the Myceneans must have been buff if they trekked around their town daily; and b) beaaautiful views.

This is the entrance to the ancient city called Lion Gate.
The view from Myceanae.

After that, it was off to Epidaurus, which was absolutely sweet. It was built in 350 BC and is renowned for its perfect acoustics. My presentation was on this site, so obviously I know my stuff. Ish. It was just as epic in person as I thought it would be, and all the raving about its acoustics turned out to be completely true. If you stand in the center of the stage and then speak, somehow, not only is your voice projected to each and every seat, but it also amplifies back to you as if you’re hearing yourself in a monitor. If you so much as strike a match in the center of the stage, everyone in the theatre will hear it. If you’re lucky enough to have an opera singer with you when you’re there – hey, we did! – you’ll hear her loud and clear, too.

Epidaurus and the butts of some friends.
The "comfy" seats were reserved for VIPs!
The theatre originally sat around six thousand audience members.
The Romans expanded it during their occupation, as you can see in this photo, to accomodate fifteen thousand, all while maintaining the marvelous acoustics.
Random, but we stumbled upon a litter of puppies!

What I consider one of the high points of the trip, by far, however, is the town of Nafplion. Apparently this is where the Greeks go to vacation, and I can see why. It’s a coastal town – maybe coastal is not the right word. That makes it sound beachy. It’s less beachy, more… boaty? Regardless: AMAZING! I mean, just seeing our digs brightened the mood. No big deal, but we could see an ancient castle from our balcony. NO BIG DEAL. Perfect was made more perfect by the fact that this hotel had a real shower, which is actually hard to come by in Greek hotels.

The view from our hotel room!
To the left, to the left.
To the right, to the right.

We ventured out for dinner that night and turned down a small alleyway while exploring. We just happened to spot our Professor and Teacher’s Assistant eating in a restaurant there. It was not so much a restaurant as some tables and chairs in the middle of a narrow street, which completely added to its charm. They invited us to sit and we proceeded to have the most delicious meal! We also enjoyed some great conversation. Both the Professor and TA live in Europe and work in Florence, so they were able to give us some insider insight into life abroad.

The adorable restaurant.

Afterward we all went to a nearby gelato place before they left us to walk along the pier in the perfect weather. Fun fact: weather is only ever perfect in Greece after sunset. Otherwise, it is too darn hot.

And then… we slept. :]

Just a little something from one of our bus rides. ;]

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Greek Odyssey: part two.

After so much traveling, it was nice to finally be able to have a place to lay our heads – and by that I mean, it was nice to be in a clean bed as opposed to an airplane or bus chair or a ferry cabin bed littered with hair from an unidentifiable source. Creepy.

We went out to dinner and tried an amazing Greek specialty… Pizza. Okay, so we weren’t too adventurous, but we were flipping tired. Check us out.

Once we headed back to the hotel, we realized we could buy internet access minutes from the hotel. Um, YES PLEASE. Going from seeing and talking to my parents and Ethan everyday to not seeing or talking to them for two days was pretty killer. At some point, I was joined by an adorable fuzzy friend.

This is Tommy (toe-me), a little stray cat informally adopted by the hotel. Stray animals are all over Greece, but cats in particular cover the country. It's actually really sad. It warmed my heart to see Tommy so well cared for.
He was a little skittish, but once he took a liking to me, he climbed up onto my lap.
Then this happened, and my heart exploded with joy.

Alright, so, the next day we visited Gortyn and Festos Palace. Gortyn was pretty sweet in that there is a temple there. This temple is actually where Titus (this dude from the Bible) served as bishop after being appointed by Paul (this other dude from the Bible – maybe you’ve heard of him?). That was actually really crazy, especially because even the ruins of this temple are gorgeous.

The temple in all its grandiosity.

A doorway in the temple.

View from the window.

Tons of birds all up in herr.

I will be honest with you. Ruins are ruins. At times it’s hard to get past that fact. Sorry, ancient Greeks. That plus our lethargy led to some less than enthusiastic feelings on our part. However, things started to look up. We visited a little town called Matala.

A few of us walked into a restaurant we selected at random and, upon asking for a menu, were taken upstairs. We were seated next to a window with the most breathtakingly gorgeous view. We only had a short time to eat, so we were super adventurous and ordered… pizza. Don’t hate.

After lunch, we met up with the Professor and the rest of the group for presentations. Before the trip, we were each assigned a topic around which we had to form a presentation that would eventually serve as the basis of a final essay. The Professor told us we had to walk to the presentation site, which was situated on some “sea cliffs.” Well, that kind of sounded like no fun, but I was wrong. We followed and found ourselves sitting in a quaint restaurant literally, like one hundred feet above the most beautiful water you’ve ever seen. The weather was perfect – warm with a sea breeze. That’s when we decided: Greece ain’t so bad.

One of many perfectly situated restaurant tables along the cliffside.

Lovely Alyssa and me.

And again.

Alyssa and me with the fabulous Marin.

Alyssa, me, and Zoe!

Just a taste of just how beautiful the ocean was!

The view of the town from the cliff.

Too bad all good things come to an end! It was back onto the bus and then back onto the dreaded overnight ferry to Athens…

But at least the sunset was gorgeous!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Greek Odyssey: part one.

Back on August 28th - it seems so long ago now - I left California and took the redeye to New Jersey. I spent several glorious (read: lonely and tearful) hours in the Newark Airport before meeting up with the other kids who were embarking on the ten-day journey throughout Greece. We chatted until we boarded our flight to Rome, Italy - which, incidentally, was delayed due to a broken airconditioning system. We left the USA a little sweaty but ready for Europe! We landed nine hours later only to board another flight to Athens, Greece. In short, I basically spent about two days straight either in airports or on planes. Grand. Once in Athens, we loaded ourselves onto a bus toward Sunio, the site of the ancient ruins of the Temple of Poseidon.

My first glimpse of Greece as seen through a bus window.

Sunio from the bus.

And again.

The Temple of Poseidon.

The view of Sunio from the hill upon which the temple sits.

And again.

After that, we were off to Piraeus, the port city of Athens. From there, we boarded an overnight ferry to Heraklion. If this seems like all travel and no play, that's because it really was. We were all less than enthused, what with the nonstop movement and the time difference. There's always a silver lining, though: the constant activity gave us no time to feel the effects of jetlag. We just felt tired all the time. That's a good thing, right?

On the way to Piraeus.

The exterior of the ferry - it looked a lot nicer from the outside, but let's not get into that. There's nothing pleasant about finding hairs that aren't yours all over your cabin.

The awesome thing about a place like Greece is the omnipresence of ancient ruins - they are everywhere.

The view of Piraeus from the sea after dark.

We woke up the next morning and disembarked from the ferry in Heraklion only to board another bus. This one took us to the ancient site of Knossos, which was essentially the capital of Minoan civilization. It was largely reconstructed with creative liberty by excavator Arthur Evans, so there is debate about the site's integrity. All I remember was that it was extremely hot and that our tour guide was extremely quiet, both of which were annoying. Lunch in a nearby town was a welcome respite from the heat.

Minoan ruins at Knossos.

More ruins.

The first of many lunches that looked exactly like this. Chicken souvlaki with fried potatoes, assorted vegetables and tzatziki sauce.

This is my friend Alyssa with an adorable stray dog. Stray dogs and cats run rampant throughout Greece. They're all dirty, but all very sweet in temperament!

The whole group! There were about thirty of us on this pre-semester seminar.

That's all for now, but I still have about a gazillion photos and memories to share, so stay tuned!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

To whom it may concern...

I survived the trek throughout Greece and am, in fact, alive and well in Florence! I will be updating you on recent events soon, but until then - off to meet my roommate and host family! ♥