Thursday, July 03, 2008

it's all greek to me

I am home, I am home, I am home.

I actually got home earlier than planned. Some stuff came up (no worries, everything is fine now) and I sadly had to cut my trip short and come home early. What can ya do? But while I was there, I had an wonderful time in Greece.

Before I jump in and share about the trip, let me introduce you to my 3 roomates/traveling buddies and interesting tidbits about each person:

Jen - aka "Copey" (from her last name). Copey talked really quietly on the trip so we always had to ask her to repeat herself, which became hilarious. We celebrated her birthday in Greece. (Happy B-Day!!) She was also our stud driver when we rented a car.

Laurel - Laurel kept us entertained the whole time with her accents and songs that she would make up on the spot. She also had this amazing floppy white hat which we sometimes teased her about. But in her defense, she never got sunburned on her face or neck!

Jessica - aka "Ese". Poor Ese got poison oak from mountain biking right before the trip. Plus she had broken her ankle back in Feb. from snowboarding and had been in a cast with crutches for 4 months. So one of her ankles was way bigger than the other, leading us to the affectionate term: cankle (her calf and ankle melded together). Also she had this awesome Guatemalan bag she wore everywhere. It became an Ese staple.

Me (Sarah) - I went into full photography-mode for this trip, plus journal-mode and "Quote Board"-mode. My claim to fame (shame?) on the trip was buying all my traveling clothes at Ross. Seriously. Everything I wore on the trip I bought at Ross a week or two before we left. Ross Dress For Less. Designer brands at low prices. Word.

First thoughts/reflections on Greece:

* The country - beautiful. Athens is like any big city. Loud, busy, buildings, traffic. But when we got out of Athens and got to see the country....gorgeous! Green hills popping out of the earth everywhere. Little villages (with their dome-topped Greek Orthodox churches) tucked at the foot of mountains. Deep blue seas. Olive trees that grow for miles (I felt like I was back in bible times). Ruins, ruins, and more ruins. There is so much history is that country.

* The food - aMAzing. We'd hit supermarkets and grab food for picnic lunches and then go out to eat dinner at night. Everything tasted so fresh and good.

* The sounds - first off, I love Greek music. The instruments, the singing, the passion, the way it makes you want to dance and yell "OPA!!!" Other than the music, the sounds we heard most were from cicadas. Their noise was incessant and deafening. In the video from Delphi below, you can hear them. They're so loud!! I think the heat made them louder. Speaking of which...

* The weather - SO HOT. Between 90-100 degrees and that didn't include humidity. Copey LOVED it. She loves hot weather. On days we did a lot of walking (ie. every day), we would literally be dripping with sweat. Ew. And this is just the beginning of summer. I can't even imagine how hot it will be in August.

* The people - GREAT! Different, but great. Almost everyone we met was friendly, smiling, and helpful. Those who were harried or annoyed at something, didn't stay that way for long. Greeks remind me a lot of Italians. They are expressive, passionate, and use their hands when they speak. Love it.

Ok, onto the trip! First, we spent a couple days in Athens. Our first night we walked to the Acropolis. We couldn't walk to the top till the next day so instead we climbed up a hill and watched the sun set over Athens and the Acroplis. So amazing and peaceful. It was all surreal. Are we really here? Are we really in Greece??

We went to dinner at this fun restaurant that had two old guys playing music and singing. In the video, the one in the yellow shirt (Andres) waved at me a couple times because I think he thought I was taking his picture. And check out the little boy sliding around at the doorway to the restaurant. That was the owner's son. Cute!

After that, Andres came and serenaded us personally, one at a time. He gave me his address in Greece so I could send him the pictures. After he serenaded Ese, he pointed to his cheek for her to kiss him. Oh that scallywag!

Next day was "tour day" where we caught a bus and saw the main sights of Athens. First stop: The Olympic Stadium. That bad boy was HUGE! The 2004 summer Olympics were held there. It could hold over 74,000 people. Dang.

Second stop: the Temple of Zeus. (In the picture, the other 3 are the "standing columns" and I am the column that fell over) While our tour guide was telling us about Zeus and his sacred temple, a stray dog decided he was going to pee right on one of the columns. Sacreligious!!! And so funny.

Third stop (save the best for last): the Acropolis! The Greeks purposefully built their temples on that hill for protection and refuge from the Turks or Persians during war. That hill became a sort of citadel for them. Here's a video if us climbing the Acropolis.

climbing the Acropolis

We walked through the Propylaea (the gateway to the Acropolis). To our left we saw The Erechtheum (ancient Greek temple with the "Porch of the Maidens" - six draped female figures holding up the columns). And to our right...TAH DAH!!! The one, the only, the Parthenon. The temple for the Greek goddess, Athena. Again, surreal. I have seen the Parthenon in books and movies, but I never thought I'd see it in real life. And isn't the scaffolding a nice touch?

We took a million pictures and then walked to the edge of the hill. It was so neat looking out over all of Athens. I could see the Olympic Stadium and Zeus' temple. The sun was shining over the city so the tops of all the houses were sparkling. It was so windy at that height so we just stood there and took it all in. Remarkable.

The next day we wanted to go to Delphi and were planning on taking a tour bus. But we had run into a sweet mom and her 6 kids in the airport in Philadelphia and she recommended renting a car and driving ourselves. I'm SO glad we did! It was way more fun. Poor Copey and Laurel had to do the driving because they have the most experience with stick shifts. And let's just say Greek drivers are some of the worst I have ever seen. (I believe Greece has the highest car accident rate in Europe)

But man oh man, car rides were such a highlight. Talking, laughing, asking fun or hard questions, driving by the Gulf of Corinth, trying to find radio stations, getting lost, seeing the countryside, taking pictures, all the pit stops. Awards for the car rides: Copey wins Best Parallel Parker. Ese wins Best Navigator. And Laurel wins Best Questions. As for me, I guess I could win Best Loud Laugher or something.

Ok, so the city of Delphi. Home of the Delphic oracle (most important oracle in the classical Greek world) and a major site for the worship of the god Apollo. Mount Parnassus looms over the ruins there - quite breathtaking. Here's a vlog from when we arrived in Delphi.

Delphi, Greece

We first hit the nearby Delphi Archaeological Museum so we could get more background. Then we headed up "The Sacred Way". The Temple of Apollo and the Ancient Theater were very cool. We could look down and see the whole valley below us. I feel like the whole time we were there, we had to keep pinching ourselves. We're in Greece!

The last place we got to visit before I had to come home was Meteora. HIGHLIGHT! Oh my gosh, way better than I could have ever thought or imagined. When I first received my tour book in the mail, I saw these pictures of monasteries perched on top of pillars of rock. "That can't be real!!" I thought. But oh yes. In Meteora (northern Greece) outside the villages of Kalambaka and Kastraki, there are huge, tall mountains (that are more like pillars) that seem to shoot straight up to heaven. There are 5 monasteries and one nunnery (convent). Monks and nuns still live there today, but they have opened them to the public.


We drove to the biggest and most popular one first: The Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoron. Here's another vlog right before we entered (and I'd like to take this moment to apolgize for the weird face I am making in the video still...I

Meteora, Greece

The sound of chanting and the smell of incense greeted us as we walked in. We went through all the different parts of the monastery: the museum, the library, the gardens, the kitchen, the wine cellar, sanctuary, the prayer rooms, etc. Woot!!

Our second stop was the convent: Holy Monastery of Rousanou/St. Barbara. This one was VERY small. The rooms where the nuns slept, a garden, and a sanctuary. There were nuns greeting us and running the tiny bookstore. (We found out there were 14 nuns who lived there) The bookstore was full of things they made. Laurel had bought a bookmark that said "Meteora" on it, and a lady nearby (who didn't speak any English) came up to us beaming and showed us her basket of thread and needles. She was making them right then and she was so glad to see people liked them and were buying them.

Our third, final, and favorite monastery was The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas (or we called it: "St. Nick") This one was on top of a super steep cliff. Plus it was a bit out of the way from the other monasteries. Because of those two deterrents....we were some of the only ones there. That was so nice after being to the first 2, which were more crowded.

We hiked up and up and up (hot...melting...need water...) and finally got to the top. We saw MONKS! We were in the prayer room and a couple of them came in. They greeted us warmly (in Greek) and then set about doing some tasks. One of them was about to head into the kitchen but he stopped and asked us in English where we were from. He was so kind! We walked to the rooftop of the monastery and met a sweet couple from Germany. After we chatted, we made sure to tell them we would root for Germany in the Euro Cup (it was going on while we were in Greece and it was what everyone was talking about).

Our hostel co-owner, George (btw, every male in Greece is named George or Demetrius) told us about this "look-out spot" in Meteora. So after our third monastery visit, we drove to it. The road was closed off for some construction, so we parked our rental car and walked about a mile up. We walked out onto some rocks and BAM! We had a breath-taking birds-eye view of 4 of the monasteries and the villages below Meteora. Magical! The wind was blowing so hard (which felt lovely since it was so hot) so we just stood on the edge and took it all in. Ahhhh...

I did not want to leave. That was such an awesome place. That evening we headed into the center of town and ate at this fun outside restaurant with a fountain to our left and the mountains to our right. The men nearby were setting up a TV on some crates so everyone could watch the Russia vs. Spain soccer game (Euro Cup 2008). With the sun down, the weather was perfect and the food was delicious. What a day!

I am going to post all my pictures from the trip on MySpace and Facebook, so you can check them out there if ya want. And if you ever get a chance to go to Greece, go for it! OPA!!!

1 comment:

rené said...

SO sad you had to leave early, but i'm so glad you got to go AND that you posted the photos and videos :) can't wait to see the rest!!