The Return of the Unfinished Blog

When I was in Greece, I made myself Greek coffee (καφέ ελληνικα) nearly every morning. The one thing I wanted to buy myself before I left was a briki so I could continue to make it when I returned to the states.

 

I forgot to get one.

 

On the plane I released an audible gasp followed by a dejected sigh when I realized that somehow I neglected to buy the sole item of my material desire. I saw them being sold nearly every day and everywhere but put off purchasing until I left the country without one.

 

I recently acquired one after another year of putting it off. Rather than being handpicked from Greece, it is a find from Amazon, but it gets the job done. I tried it out for the first time today and was inspired as I recalled the long lost and greatly missed aroma and taste that greeted me each morning in my Athenian apartment. I decided to dedicate bits of this summer (among lots of reading) to finishing up the tales of of my travels while studying abroad last spring. Not for the purpose of people being able to stay up to date on my life — because clearly the following few posts will be far outdated — but because I hate unfinished projects. I once stayed in Cross Country (and I really dislike running) for my three years of middle school because I hated the idea of quitting. It might take me a while to get around to things (like buying a briki) but I refuse to not follow through.

 

So if you are still interested for some more ramblings, pictures, and sarcasm I invite you to join me in flashbacks that won’t seem at all like flashbacks to you. γεια μας!

Maiden voyage of the briki.

Maiden voyage of the briki.

“You can never get a cup of tea [or coffee] large enough or a book long enough to suit me.” ― C.S. Lewis

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: | Leave a comment

Meteora Rocks My World

Earlier this semester some of my peers visit the breathtaking site of the Monasteries in Meteora. When they returned, every single one of them said that would have loved it for three reasons:

1. Stunning landscapes

2. Religious affiliation

3. The monasteries closely resembled the Northern Air Temples of Avatar: The Last Airbender

These obviously all being convincing arguments, I packed my bags for the weekend and headed to see these wonders myself.

Meteora (Μετέωρα) means “middle of the sky” or “suspended rocks” because on top of  these land formations rest Eastern Orthodox monasteries. In the 9th century, some ascetic monks moved up to these nearly inaccessible cliffs — a pretty good choice when you don’t want people bothering you. Originally there were more monasteries, but now only six remain; two of which are inhabited by nuns.

I had taken the train straight to Kalambaka (the city where the monasteries are) instead of Trikala, where I was staying for the night because I had planned on going to one of the monasteries that afternoon. Almost immediately upon arrival two things occurred simultaneously: I realized I had no idea haw to get to the monasteries and it began raining . . . a fare amount. Being stubborn, I adjusted my scarf from around my neck to around my head and wandered around trying to find my way to the top until I decided that you actually need a flying bison to carry you to the top of these cliffs. I retreated to a cafe and tried to warm up while waiting for a train to take me back to the town in which I was staying. My hostel room and a pretty little byzantine icon of Mary and Jesus, I knew I was in a safe place.

012

Meteora path

Meteora path

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To walk from monastery to monastery takes about two and a half hours, I would say, and is stunning the entire way. The morning was quite brisk and although I am 90% sure I got on the wrong bus from Trikala, I made it to the start of the path to the monasteries. It turned out to be a beautiful day and had some prayerful and meditative time while I bounced from one place to another. I visited each monastery, with the exception of the last because it was closed for the span of time I was there. Some have more to offer than others, but the Great Meteora (as you could guess from the name) has some awesome museums. All had beautiful chapels and amazing views.
Ribbet collage

 

To really hammer home the pun of the title, here is a selfie commemorating me "rocking" among the rocks.

To really hammer home the pun of the title, here is a selfie commemorating me “rocking” among the rocks.

 

It was absolutely gorgeous and well worth the five hour train ride. Getting out of the city is always refreshing and this was an ideal place to get that breath of fresh air. I rounded out the trip with another cafe visit, although this one was dry and sunny then headed back to my dear home of Athens.

 

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
― Gustave Flaubert

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Walking with Saint Paul: Thessaloniki

This pilgrimage to a Saint Paul destination was quite different in a variety of ways:

1. I was accompanied by two friends.

2. It was a weekend trip to the lively, second largest city in Greece as opposed to the much quieter one day journey to Corinth.

3. It was also the weekend of my birthday.

4. I didn’t get hopelessly lost in the rain.

I have explained in a previous post my devotion to Saint Paul and inspiration behind “walking in his footsteps” so to save from redundancy, I will not reiterate the saga here. Instead, this is an attempt at a brief account of the weekend in Thessaloniki.

Milica, Ben, and I began our trip by hopping on our midnight train (literally, we left at midnight) with the hopes of sleeping through the trip before arriving at our destination seven hours later. How silly the thought of sleep was. Although we were in a cabin, we shared it with a strangely controlling, stiletto-heeled, aged Jennifer Aniston look alike who was a fan of conversation. And even though we were initially ecstatic when we discovered that the seats reclined the instance of joy immediately faded along with the leg space.

Little Big House patio

Little Big House patio

 

Not much sleep was had, but we eventually arrived at the Thessaloniki at about 6:00am. Unfortunately our hostel didn’t open until 8:00am so we took advantage of the time to help our tired bodies out with a little caffeine. Here comes a plug for our hostel. We stayed at Little Big House, a brother/sister-run business, and it was the BEST. It was tucked away in the twisted streets but seemed to be a little oasis. The hosts were extremely helpful with everything we asked and provided such a beautiful, homey atmosphere. Just look at this patio!

 

 

The well in the Crypt.

The well in the Crypt.

Saint Demetrius

Saint Demetrius

Anyway, after drinking some more caffeinated beverages at the hostel, we set out to explore the city.

 

First stop, the byzantine style Church and Crypts of Saint Demetrius (Άγιος Δημήτριος). The Church was originally built on the ruins of a Roman bath in the late 4th century AD but fires lead to the reconstruction of the building that now stands in 7th century AD. The Roman baths hold the site where Saint Demetrius was imprisoned and executed in early 4th century AD. Unfortunately, our weekend seemed to be plagued by youths so a clear photo of the beauty of a church was near impossible.

The Roman Forum

The Roman Forum

They are just sleeping, I promise.

They are just sleeping, I promise.

 

Next was my main attraction: the Roman Forum. Unlike the forum in Corinth, this one was smack dab in the middle of the modern city. I didn’t have to take a separate bus to find it and I definitely didn’t need to wander around in the rain trying to struggle through a Greek conversation. We found it easily and were apparently the only ones interested in it because we had the place to ourselves. While the Roman Forum existed during Paul’s time, he never preached in it. He did so in the synagogues which led to some angry Thessalonians who forced Paul and his companions out of the city.  It is because of this and the fact that the Modern city of Thessaloniki is built directly on top of the Ancient site that “walking with Saint Paul” is very difficult. Nonetheless, the experience was moving. After exploring the museum, we went to rest in the Odeion (a theater structure) where I read and Milica and Ben closed their eyes for a bit. It was quite peaceful to sit there and be engrossed in Saint Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians while the hustle and bustle of the city continued around us.

Spoiling the mood slightly, was an employee who was not too thrilled about people napping in an archaeological site. The whole situation got awkward (and entertaining due to Milica’s snarky comments such as “Am I not allowed to meditate?”) pretty quickly so we set off for a new destination, kissing the forum goodbye.

 

White Tower

White Tower

 

The White Tower was our next destination. This was constructed by the Ottomans sometime after 1430 and was used as a fort, garrison, and prison. It was nicknamed the “Tower of Blood” and “The Red Tower” because of the dark uses but when Thessaloniki was separated from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, the tower was white-washed to symbolize the purification. And so the name “White Tower” came to be. There is a museum inside as you walk up to the top. Everything was in Greek so the three of us got fancy listening devices to listen to the descriptions in English. As you can imagine, we fit in really well.

With our lack of patience demonstrated in the White Tower museum as an indicator of our hunger, we found a taverna for lunch. Tasty and enjoyable as usual. With full stomachs we head back to the hostel for nap/quiet time. Later that night we met up with our three other friends/peers (Annie, Christina, and Greg) who were in the city for a field study. After being separated for almost two days, we were all quite happy to be reunited for an evening of wandering the city.

 

Arch of Galerius

Arch of Galerius

 

The following day I separated from Milica and Ben in order to visit the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Byzantine Culture. Both museums were fabulous, however not for the weak of heart for there is a LOT of material to look at. So if you aren’t a big fan of museums, I would not suggest them back to back.

On my way through to find my comrades, I passed the Arch of Galerius. Galerius was an emperor in the late 3rd, early 4th century AD and commissioned this triumphal arch for himself in 299AD. It originally had three arches and depicted both victories and ritual processions.

ginormous meal half eaten.

ginormous meal half eaten.

After a walk up to the old walls of the city, we headed back into town for dinner. We had a classic encounter with the “eyes are bigger than your stomach” issue when we ordered far more food than we could ever consume. We had a beautiful loooooong Greek dinner filled with much laughter and capped off with a waiter singing the Greek birthday song to me. All in all, awesome.

 

Church of the Immaculate Conception

Church of the Immaculate Conception

And so Sunday came. Not only are Sundays wonderful to begin with, but it is quite the blessing when your birthday falls on a Sunday during the Lenten season. Two years ago mine fell on Good Friday; a very different kind of birthday but both great gifts. Even cooler is knowing that I share a birthday with the inspirational Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati. Milica and I headed to Mass in the morning and found our Church in the middle of the clubbing district. A shocking and beautiful contradiction.

Rotunda

Rotunda

 

We stopped by the Rotunda for a look around. This was also constructed by Galerius but had many uses throughout the ages before it came to be the empty building it is today. From temple, to Christian basilica, to a Mosque, and then back to a Christian Church.

 

Before beginning our journey home, we stopped to pick up some of Thessaloniki’s famous trigona (τρίγωνα) and some chocolate covered tsoureki (τσουρέκι). It was smooth sailing for two of us, but due to a lost ticket, Ben and I stared through the window (like in a movie) at Milica as our train moved out of the station. Don’t you worry though, she made it home just fine by bus. Thank goodness! However we did not get of scot-free as the vandals that were everywhere we went in Thessaloniki were on our train. Apparently they were on a school field trip. Somehow I made it through the hours and hours without slapping one of them.

 

Like I said, clearly a very different adventure from my last pilgrimage following Saint Paul’s voyage. The city itself was lively and Modern, but if you let yourself be guided, you are brought to the simple beauties of reading in an archaeological site, laughing with friends, and discovering the loving embrace of  Mary waiting for you in a graffiti-ed ally.

 

“To live without faith, without a patrimony to defend, without a steady struggle for truth, that is not living, but existing.” — Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

 “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” — Thessalonians 5:8-11

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Smattering of Sites in Attica

Field Study for class with Stavros, the most intense speaker you will ever hope to have the pleasure of meeting. Stavros is our professor for our course that travels to various places in Athens to have our class on site. Needless to say, it is my favorite class. This field study was separate two day trips to different locations in Attica, the region in which Athens resides. Basically we had class on a beach, climbed around some ancient fortresses, and listened to philosophy on the site of Plato’s Academy. Pretty solid, I’d say.

Eastern Attica:

Gulf of Marathon

Gulf of Marathon

In 490BC the Persian War began with the Battle of Marathon in efforts to stop the Grecian sea monopoly. 2500 years later my peers and I sat on the beach of the Gulf of Marathon as Stavros animatedly explained to us the Athenian strategy that lead the mere 10,000 soldiers to victory over the 55,000 Persians. To sum up how much the Athenians rock: they had trained warriors while the Persian army consisted of untrained slaves, they freaked the Persians out by screaming and running at them, they lead the remaining Persians into a hidden marsh and slaughtered them. Pretty insane. Then comes the part we are familiar with. A man is sent to Athens to deliver the message of victory and word of warning to the city of Athens. Instead of taking the long, flat way around, he ran through the mountains for 26.2 miles taking few breaks until he reached the city center delivering the message “We are victorious!” before dying (how/why this has turned into a good idea to people still baffles me).

Thorikos

Thorikos

Silver Mine with symbols of hope.

Silver Mine with symbols of hope.

 

 

Next stop, Thorikos. This was a wealthy town occupied beginning in the 6th century BC. There is a small, early theater here but there is also the ugly truth that is revealed on this sugar-coated site. The vast wealth was a result of the rich lead and silver that was mined by child slavery. Sadly, this continued even into the 3rd century AD. Contrary to popular belief, the Classical world was not just democracy, philosophy, and togas. It had a dark side just like any other era. However menacing this may sound, we can always be reminded of the hope that perpetuates this terror. The hope that there is always something greater at work. As we looked at this mine that once held sick dying children, we saw two doves; the presence of hope manifested in the symbolic bird.

 

 

Western Attica:

Phyle

Phyle

006

Eleftheres

Eleftheres

This rainy day began with two fortresses, Phyle and Eleftheres. To be honest, I don’t know very much about these two because my hands were too chilly to take notes and I mostly just wanted to climb on stuff. But they were both 4th and 5th century BC constructions and were in invade by and from the Spartans. Eleftheres was also said to be one of the mythical birthplaces of Orpheus and Dionysus Eleftheres (the identity that means “bringer of freedom”). These two locations sort of functioned as giant playgrounds for us (the more we travel as a group, the more childlike we become). We all felt pretty cool climbing trees, rocks, grassy hills, and scaling walls.

 

Eleusis

Eleusis

Eleusis. This is the religious center of the Ancient Greek world. When Demeter’s, the goddess of harvest, daughter, Persephone, was kidnapped by Hades, she wandered around the world mourning her loss.  Demeter eventually came to Eleusis and became a nanny for a mortal boy. She taught him the ins and outs of agriculture and boom, the Eleusian mysteries were born. Well, not exactly, but it’s a mystery so stories are all we have to go off of. No one knows what happened during the initiation into these religious mysteries, but they had a heavy focus on dying to the material world and dying to yourself symbolically in order to truly understand and live life. That, at the very least I can get behind. Even though the Ancient world is filled with ridiculous, mythical stories, they still hold whispers of truth. Even when you are in search of a lie you are confronted with undeniable truth.

Plato's Academy

Plato’s Academy

Our last location for our two day adventure across Attica was the site of Plato’s Academy. The few foundations left don’t look like much, but it is pretty incredible to have class where the first ever university once stood. Founded by Plato in 387 BC, it brought thinkers from around the known world such as Aristotle in order to collaborate on ideas and have access to research. It is ground that has been dedicated to growth, creation, and cultivation of the human mind. So yes, this plot of land is kind of special.

“The Study of philosophy is not that we may know what men have thought, but what the truth of things is. ”
― Thomas Aquinas

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Private Paradise Paros to Nearly Neglected Naxos

Because studying abroad is such hard work, we had a break in the middle/end of March. I took this opportunity to visit two islands in the Cyclades (group of islands in the Aegean), Paros and Naxos. Initially planning the five days for a solo trip, I was pleased to be joined by the company of Miranda who had a last minute change in travel plans. Setting off early in the morning, we began our five day bonding adventure.

Part I: Paros

026

Upon arrival, we realized that March is not a popular time to visit the islands as we were given the strangest looks by locals as they questioned our presence. Nonetheless, we enjoyed our surprisingly vacant island. The three days we were there consisted in both exploration and relaxation.

Church of One Hundred Doors

Creeping on Miranda in the Church of One Hundred Doors

 

Day one included some wandering through the main town we were staying in, Parikia, with a trip to the Church of 100 Doors (Panagia Ekatontapyliani). I didn’t count them, but it did have many doors. This Byzantine church is said to have been founded by Saint Helen when she stopped here on her quest to recover the relics of Christ’s Passion from the Holy Land.

We then climbed out onto some rocks to enjoy the sunset and exchange life stories. Important Note to Those travelling during a Greek Spring: It can get real hot during the day, but don’t be deceived because once that sun goes down, it gets surprisingly chilly. Pack layers!

Paros sunset

Paros sunset

Based on the aforementioned information, Miranda and I went back to our little studio to put on virtually all the shirts we had packed before finding a place for dinner. We ended up at a charming restaurant called Ephesus where we shared an amazing meal in true Greek style: sharing multiple dishes, drinking wine, and talking for hours.

Cheese stuffed mushrooms, salad, baked eggplant, red wine, and wood-oven bread.

Cheese stuffed mushrooms, salad, baked eggplant, red wine, and wood-oven bread.

 

Day two was a bus trip to Naoussa. Although my motion sickness made the transportation a little touch and go at times, it was well worth it. Once again, we were lonely travellers as we explored the quaint town. The main theme was “Not until April”. We asked if they had sunscreen, “Not until April”. We sought out a boat rental place in hopes to find a kayak or canoe, “Not until April”. However, the lack of activities available in March didn’t stop us from enjoying every bit of our days. Just look at that water!

Naoussa Shore

Naoussa Shore

Back in Parikia we enjoyed another sunset and met a group of college guys that were travelling from Germany.  A bad call on my part of showing directing them to where we were staying so they could rent their own room (the Aegina incident apparently didn’t teach me anything after all)  ended up working out in the best possible way. We enjoyed some wine and conversation with our new neighbors before calling it a night.

Lefkes

Lefkes

Day Three was a day spent exploring with our German friends. They generously offered to give us a ride on their rented four wheelers to a town in the center of the island that Miranda and I wanted to hike from. We walked in the scenic hills as they explored Naoussa and then we met up on a beach to make our way back around the island making stops and beaches and on top of hills, and concluding the night with some star gazing and a delicious meal cooked for Miranda and I. We couldn’t have asked for much better (or caring) company for the day of exploration to cap off our time on Paros. DSCN2019

from Saint Anthony

from Saint Anthony

 

Part II: Naxos

I will spare you of the blow by blow account of our two days in Naxos but will provide the general overview. Miranda and I pretty much just ate our way through Naxos. This included pancakes (REAL pancakes. a little different, but still) and delicious fruit and yogurt by the seaside, mulitple coffee breaks, and full dinners. When we first arrived we instantly noticed that there were far more people on Naxos than on Paros; however apparently they were all just in the main town because when we ventured on a bus deeper into the island to visit two town on the request of our hostel host we encountered a very underpopulated locations. We did see a lot of sheep though.

002

There’s those white buildings of the Greek islands

In Apeiranthos we enjoyed the gorgeous sceneray on a walk followed by coffee drinks. In Filoti we ate some gigantes (giant beans) and fried potatoes and chatted then walked across the street for some hot chocolate in the biggest mugs as we waited for the bus. I also forgot to put my memory card back into my camera this day so I have few pictures. Like I said, lots of food and drink. I also found my way to the surprisingly only archaeological destination of the vacation, the temple of Apollo that you see as you enter the port of Naxos.

021

Temple of Apollo

 

 

 

 

These five days were a true vacation. I ate well, slept well, laughed well, learned well, talked well, and listened well. Not only did I get to experience some island life, but I got the unexpected opportunity to grow in friendship with a lovely woman.

Miranda and I loving life.

Miranda and I loving life.

 

 

“Truly it is a blessed thing to love on earth as we hope to love in Heaven, and to begin that friendship here which is to endure for ever there.” ―St. Francis de Sales

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Aegina: The Land of the Lotus Eaters

It has been a while, true. Give me a break, I have been exploring some Greek Islands! But really, that’s what I have been up to the past two weekends and now that I am back and sun-kissed, I am ready to share all the strange, beautiful, and unexpected happenings.

photo curtesy of Miranda.

photo courtesy of Miranda.

 

First we travel back to last Saturday when I went with three other ladies from the program (Annie, Milica, and Miranda) to the nearby island of Aegina. We arrived with zero plans other than the intent to explore as much as possible. After sampling some of the island’s famous pistachio nuts, we rented four-wheelers to cruise around the island. After growing up in Wisconsin, it was pretty crazy that this was my first time driving one! The man giving us directions observed my newness astutely as he stated “No driver, no driver” but nonetheless allowed us to drive away. We caught on quite quickly and soon were making our way across the island.

Apse

Apse

Saint Nectarios

Saint Nectarios

 

Our first stop was the Church of Saint Nectarios. This was initially a monastery established by the Saint himself in 1904. As we wandered the outskirts of the Orthodox church I found a lovely nun who pointed us in the right direction of the entrance to the actual chapel.  Something you notice after visiting many Orthodox churches is that they spare no extravagance; chandeliers, carved wood, tapestries, painted ceilings, icons, and absolutely stunning apses and tabernacles. Sadly, there was scaffolding taking up the entire middle of the church, a view up the aisle was near impossible.

Monastery of Agios Nektarios exterior.

Monastery of Agios Nektarios exterior.

 

We set off again to find (literally. because we took a few wrong turns) our way across the island. Through some detours and nature walks, we eventually found ourselves having a little picnic before checking out the Temple. While enjoying our snacks of almonds and apples, a middle-aged woman starting making conversation with us. A friendly local who used to own a shop by the shore and now lives elsewhere on the island. After recommending another location to visit on the island she invited us over for lunch followed by outrageously complicated directions to her home (“back the way you came . . . a left, and then a right, then it goes sort of up a hill, there’s a bakery, then a white van, then two bins, that’s my street . . . ” etc). Greek hospitality, right? Well, we will put a hold on that story for now.

With our student-discount tickets acquired we entered the ancient site to see the Temple of Aphaia. Although this temple was erected around 500 BC this site has evidence of cut activity since the 14th century BC. Not much is actually known about this strong Archaic Temple.  it was originally thought that it was to Athena because of her appearance on the pediment reliefs but inscriptions indicated that it was to Aphaia, a fertility goddess. 113A sweet temple, if I do say so myself, and a pretty spectacular view.

Temple of Aphaia

Temple of Aphaia

 

Next was our trip to a monastery per our new friend’s recommendation. This was the Monastery of Agios Minas. Saint Minas was an Egyptian martyr in very early 4th century AD. We arrived at the same time as a large tour group so, allowed or not, we followed them in. The courtyard was beautiful and the chapels, of course, were as well. I was reprimanded for attempting to take a picture so I resort to stealing a sneaky photo of Miranda’s of the beautifully painted iconic ceiling.

monastery

 

Between the lovely weather, fabulous company, and the gorgeous landscapes we wanted to stay on Aegina forever. It is here that we return to the strange and complicated tale of our friend from the temple. It is quite a saga so here you will receive a very much abridged version. We set off to try and locate this woman’s house and through much trial, error, and eventually her happening to pass us on the road, we found it. Long story short (for those of you who know me, making a short story is quite the feat for me), we made a delicious lunch, hung out with her visiting aunt who was awesome and decked out with self-crocheted clothing, talked, ate, then she got strangely and subtlety bossy/controlling, invited us to stay the night, and we left . . . quite quickly.

mixed rice, stuffed pepper, mussels, and salad.

mixed rice, stuffed pepper, mussels, and salad.

fleeing the scene.

fleeing the scene.

The best way I can explain it is by providing the analogy of the Land of the Lotus Eaters in the Odyssey “They started at once, and went about among the Lotus-eaters, who did them no hurt, but gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home, and did not even want to go back and say what had happened to them, but were for staying and munching lotus with the Lotus-eaters without thinking further of their return”. For some reason while the whole series of events were unfolding it did not seem strange. Only as we were speeding away on our four-wheelers mush like Odysseus’ men fleeing on their ships did we realize the craziness of it all.

 

I am happy to report that we made it safely back to the port. We returned the bikes, and shopped for some of Aegina’s famous pistachios. Yum! Then we rested on the port, and watched the sun set over the sea-green water and admired the full moon as we recapped literally the strangest day of my life.

Farewell Aegina!

Farewell Aegina!

 

None of us would have guessed that we would have such an adventurous day when we set out at 6:00am to visit our first Greek Island. Aegina will always hold a special (and weird) place in our hearts that only the four of us will truly understand. A valuable lesson was learned that day of walking the line between being open to new experiences and staying logical and prudent in decision-making.  I’d like to say I have since mastered this skill, but alas, I am still a work-in-progress.

 

 “Prudence is the footprint of Wisdom.” ― Amos Bronson Alcott

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Athens Loving and Letters from Sir Arthur Evans

This was a week full of love for Athens. From class spelunking adventures, to quality time with the roommates, to archiving letters dating from the 1920’s, Athens had me wrapped around her finger.

My favorite class that is spending the semester essentially exploring Athens had an extended class this past Thursday. Completely unaware of our destination, I hopped on the bus in the morning to be blindly lead. I (and everyone else, I would venture) were quite pleased to end up at the Pentelikon.

The cave from the entrance.

The cave from the entrance.

The cave from the inside.

The cave from the inside.

This is a mountain range from which they quarried marble for the Parthenon and other buildings of antiquity. This artificial cave and quarry was active from the late 7th century BC through the late 3rd century AD and is now protected by law and only used for the Acropolis Restoration Project. Deep within the cave was a place to worship the ancient mythical god of wild nature, Pan, who came to resemble the Christian devil. We tried to find it, but no matter how many holes we crawled into there was no avail.

The thing about caves is that they are pretty dark and thus impossible to capture in a photograph. However, they are also incredibly fun to explore and explore we did, emerging slightly muddier than when we entered (or maybe that was just me who may or may not have had a less than graceful slip).

When cut, the marble has a yellowish tint that glows almost golden in the sunlight, hence it’s coveted nature. Once quarried, the marble was partially worked before being transported about 15 kilometers to the city by means of a roadway you can still see today!

Ancient roadway

Ancient roadway

In the 5th century AD Christian hermits built a hermitage into the cave-side. This location was chosen for it’s remoteness but also to purify the area from the past pagan rituals. When I say “built into the cave-side”, I mean it. This construction used the sides of the cave for it’s own, becoming one in the same.

Byzantine Hermitage.

Byzantine Hermitage.

Byzantine Hermitage interior.

Byzantine Hermitage interior.

The door was wide open, so we poked around inside. I was surprised to see that there were small pictures and incense from modern times displayed throughout among the hundreds of years old wall paintings that you could run your fingers along. Pretty beautiful!

An unexpected adventure, for sure, but simply amazing.

 

 

 

The weekend in Athens consisted of plenty of quality time with two of my roommates, Milica and Annie (the third’s father is visiting!).  Friday included a trip to the open air market, fresh bread and homemade tzatziki, life stories, and a semi-Mexican dish before heading out to get a drink in a new area. However we got a little turned around on the way (my bad) so Milica decided to ask two policemen for directions (on the first day we were specifically told “these are not the friendly American policemen that you ask for directions”). Although they didn’t understand where we were trying to go, we ended up having a good half hour conversation with them! We exhausted our knowledge of the Greek language (of which we were also critiqued), deducted our way through confusing stories concerning Patrick Dempsey and the Elgin Marbles, and got advice on a new destination. After bidding “καλο βραδυ” we ventured to the suggested bar. Shortly after sitting down, we decided we would rather have food than a drink so we walked to a nearby cafe and ate a snack, ending the night with a cab ride home. We didn’t even come close to fulfilling our night plans, but instead let Greece lead us into a new, fun adventure!

Annie and Milica on Saturday somewhere in Monastiraki.

Annie and Milica on Saturday somewhere in Monastiraki.

Saturday’s main happening was our journey through uncharted (for us) Athens. We had no other goal but to wander the city and explore whatever interested us. I am convinced that this is the best way to experience a new city. Of course, along the way we stopped at a cafe to get some hot drinks on what was a chilly day for Greece (about 50 degrees Fahrenheit). Somehow our conversation about how friendly Greeks are in their general hospitality transformed into “story time with Emily” as I told them the long and short of the Trojan War and how it all goes back to Xenia. I stand by the idea that this concept has perpetuated time and is still demonstrated today in modern Greece. From there we continued our journey saying many expressions along the lines of “Wow, this (indicating almost anything) is what I love about living in Athens!” “Greeks are so friendly!” “I love living with you guys!” “How amazing is Greece?!” Needless to say, we are quite happy about our decision to study and live here.

About two weeks ago I started volunteering at the British School at Athens, a school of archaeology. I worked in the library (which is absolutely beautiful) with the archivist, organizing and recording information from letters that came in and out of the BSA from 1928. Sometimes it is a little tedious, but with the right tunes, you get into the letters as if they are a story. I also am a big fan of the way they sign there letters “yours very sincerely” or “yours faithfully” or “Believe me, yours very truly”. It sounds pretty intimate for a business letter, but I love it.

Letters from Sir Arthur Evans.

Letters from Sir Arthur Evans.

Anyway (λοιπον), the other day as I was jamming to some soundtracks, I happened upon some letters from Sir Arthur Evans. I do not know much about archaeology or names of archaeologists, but him, him I have heard of. Sir Arthur Evans is known for excavating the famous palace of Knossos on the island of Crete and developing the concept of the Minoan Civilization. It was pretty cool to hold his casual letter to the BSA secretary about a meeting knowing that he was discovering amazing things at the same time. His handwriting, however, was a challenge to decipher. Note to those with troubled handwriting: If you are planning on being a big deal sometime in the future, be kind to archivists and work towards having more legible penmanship.

 

As you can tell, I kind of like living in Athens. I read somewhere recently that Madison is the “Athens of the Midwest”. I am not really sure where that came from, or what it means exactly, but I love the connection between my two homes. As always, I am loving Athens, but always always sending my love and prayers back to Wisconsin!

 

“There’s a lot of beauty in ordinary things. Isn’t that the point?” — Pam Beesly-Halpert (The Office)

“It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us; it is the very sign of His presence.” ― C.S. Lewis

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Walking with Saint Paul: Corinth

While the majority of the students in my program packed their bags for more distant travels, I decided to spend some quality time with Greece over our extended weekend. Among the coffee, souvlaki, walks,  and brunch with remaining peers, I took a day trip to the ancient site of Corinth. As a big fan of Saint Paul, visiting the places he traveled and spread the gospel are quite near the top of my list of dream destinations while abroad. I already got the chance to stand on the Areospagus where he spoke to the Athenians, but this was my first little solo pilgrimage!

To classify the the success in the realm of transportation as “rough” is a gross understatement. I asked for so many people for help I can’t even count; however thanks to kind people and many Hail Mary’s I somehow made it (eventually) to and from the site. Important note to those traveling to ancient Corinth/traveling in general: If you even have a shred of doubt as to where to get off/any sort of worry,  do yourself a favor and ask for help. Just grow in that humility and do it. Otherwise you will end up in a city about 20 minutes further than your original destination and then have to back-track. Not that that happened to me or anything . . .

Anyway, with the literal “struggle bus” experience aside, let’s move closer to the main point: Saint Paul and ancient Corinth. Like I previously mentioned, I have a special devotion to Saint Paul. Allow me to elaborate a smidgen. One of the many beautiful things about the Catholic Church is that we have hundreds of men and women each with their own unique story and personality who have devoted theirs whole lives to serving God that we can look to for guidance and encouragement. Individual devotions, for me at least, rise up with the feeling of connection to a specific Saint’s writing, life, or patronage; whether out of similarity or differences. Saint Paul made a couple appearances in my life before making his way into my personal litany. The church I attend (and where two of my older siblings frequented while attending UW) in Madison is named after Saint Paul as well as the city where my sister went to college which created a little bond of our family. Then I somehow landed myself int a Religious Studies class about Saint Paul’s letters where I was in way over my head but ended up falling in love with his writing. You can locate his letters in my bible just by finding the page-edges that are the dirtiest from use. Saint Paul lived during the 1st century AD, a Hellenistic world. It is easy to think of the words in the bible as something completely separate from what you learn in history books, but the truth is that they coexist! Not the most revolutionary thought, but it was a realization that blew me away. As a Classics major I read a lot about the ancient Greeks, Constantinople, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. As a Catholic I read scripture about the Prodigal Son, the life of Christ, the troubles of the citizens in Ephesus and Corinth. But for some reason I had never really tried to work the two loves of my life together by putting them in context. I began looking at Saint Paul as Hellenistic man living as an early Christian and since then he has been dear to my heart not only as a Saint but as a symbol of the marriage between my studies and my faith. 

As my hope of reaching my destination decreased with my lost-ness increasing (an unfortunate inverse relationship), I arrived much to my surprise. My tear-lined eyes finally landed on the site of ancient Corinth and I released a sigh mixed with relief, peace, and wonder coming straight from my heart rather than my lungs. I made it. It was a rainy day so, as expected, I had the site almost to myself which was lovely. I did not expect, however, to be greeted by a very nearby school blasting jams including the Macarana and La Bamba. Happy Carnival?

The site has a long history and includes many constructions (stores, stoas, statues, etc) but I will only mention a few.

Fountain of Glauke

Fountain of Glauke

First you are greeted with the Fountain of Glauke. This is a large limestone block that had four reservoirs for the water but was not a natural spring. It was originally built in the 6th century BC and has a little myth to go with it! Story time. Glauke was a princess of Corinth who was promised in marriage to a hero, Jason, who also happened to be married already to a sorceress. Medea was less than thrilled about being tossed aside and poisoned Glauke’s wedding dress, causing her to burst into flames. In effort to extinguish the flames, it is said that she threw herself into this fountain. It didn’t work. Medea followed up that gruesome act with the murder of Glauke’s father and her two children then exited the scene on her dragon-drawn chariot.

Temple of Apollo

Temple of Apollo

Next is the Temple of Apollo.  An archaic temple built in the 6th century BC with it’s strangely majestic monolithic (“one stone”) columns is the most prominent in the site. Of course it was altered from it’s original state over time, especially when the Romans gained occupation. Let’s just give a brief shout out to Pausanias who wandered around and documented a bunch of monuments in the 2nd century AD.

The Bema or Rostra

The Bema or Rostra

Now for my main attraction: the Bema. This is the place where Saint Paul would have proclaimed the Gospel to the citizens of Corinth. Wow. Even though a worker thought I was a crazy person as he watched my like a hawk as I inspected this monument, I took my time. It is a raised marble platform that was probably close to brand spanking new when Saint Paul stood on it. A gift from God came in the form of a school bell ringing releasing the children from school and ceasing the crazy music.

To my great delight, I was surprised to find that you could actually walk on top of it! Saint Paul didn’t wear socks and even if he did I doubt that they would have had Christmas pigs on them, but I felt it was appropriate to document my dream moment of standing where he stood.

"In the footsteps of Saint Paul"

“In the footsteps of Saint Paul”

 

When the brief moment of shock passed, I joyfully found a place to sit on top and settled in and flipped open my Interlinear Greek-English New Testament to read some of Saint Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. It was so beautiful to picture the city as it was and imagine these letters being read to the public in Paul’s absence.

 

I then headed into the museum to see the numerous artifacts belonging to the site. After having my fill of beautiful sculptures, mosaics, and pottery (of course) I headed back out to pray my rosary. Two decades in I realize that I am being yelled at in Greek to leave because they were closing. Or at least that’s what I assume she was saying based on purely context clues and the close to zero Greek that I know.

111

 

Although I would have preferred to make a real pilgrimage to Corinth, setting out with nothing but sandals and a walking stick, as Saint Paul did, my bus/metro/taxi adventure was a pretty crazy journey within itself. I am so thankful to have made it to Corinth on my mini retreat; growing a little closer to God with the aide of my friend Saint Paul.

 

 

But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2Corinthians 12:9-10

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mount Lycabettus and the Lion Gate

In true, sporadic Emily fashion, here is a brief account of last weekend’s happenings (in my defense, twice I tried to write but the internet would not allow it). From a leisurely walk up one of Athens’ hills to a field study to see archaeological sites that were occupied over four thousand years ago!

On a beautiful sunny Saturday afternoon (sorry to rub it in, Wisconsin friends), roommate Christina and I decided to journey up Mount Lycabettus, Athens’ highest point. We wandered along the path surrounded by wild flowers and giant aloe plants, taking a break halfway up to re-hydrate, soak in the sun, and enjoy some “girl talk” before continuing. Waiting for us at the peak was the beautiful little Chapel of Saint George. Saint George is super hard core and is said to have slayed a dragon . . . maybe not. But he was a soldier under the Roman Emperor Diocletian who eventually ordered all of his Christian soldiers to be arrested resulting in Saint George’s martyrdom.

012 015

From the peak, courtesy of Christina insisting on taking a picture of me.

From the peak, courtesy of Christina insisting on taking a picture of me.

From the top you could see the Acropolis, the Panathenaic Stadium, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, and the sea! Sadly all my pictures are awful in which you can’t even see what anything is, so none will be found here. After our journey back down, we stopped at a cafe to enjoy some crepes. The menu had a “build your own” option followed by another section that included basically every combination possible. A indecisive person’s nightmare. Eventually (after about ten minutes of mulling it over) I decided on dark chocolate and orange. A tasty choice.

Indecision. For anyone that has tried to order anything with me, this is a familiar sight.

Indecision. For anyone that has tried to order anything with me, this is a familiar sight.

Because that wasn’t quite enough walking, the next day began bright and early with a bus ride to walk around some Mycenaean sites! But for real, this was a trip that I had been waiting for. Our class studying Aegean prehistory has been recently focusing on the rise and fall of the Mycenaean Culture. This ranges from about 1600 to 1100 BC. Just take a second to let that sink in. We got to walk on the ground and touch the walls that people constructed thousands of years ago. crazy.

Mycenae from afar.

Mycenae from afar.

Our first stop was Mycenae. This is the largest of the Mycenaean palaces and is the home of mythical King Agamemnon who lead the charge against the Trojans. It was was at it’s height around 1400 BC and has some pretty impressive construction including it’s massive fortification walls said to be built by the cyclopes (also a myth), thus receiving the name “Cyclopean Walls”. These walls were anywhere from 4.6 – 6.7 meters wide! They were pretty defensive people. I could tell you about the grave circles, throne room, and tholos tombs, but let’s just jump to the highlight: The Lion Gate.

 

THE Lion Gate.

THE Lion Gate.

The Lion Gate is another one of those things that you see in all Classics textbooks and an obvious point on the sight-seeing checklist. Since the walls were  so heavy, making doorways proved a challenge so the technology of a “relieving triangle” was invented to displace the weight from the typical post and lintel construction. This specific triangle includes a relief of two female lions with a column implying some sort of cult practice (but that would go too far to explain). As you can see, the heads are missing. This is most probably because they were constructed out of another material (most likely precious) that was taken in one of the numerous lootings over time.  Still just as majestic as ever.

Grave Circle A and other ruins.

Grave Circle A and other ruins.

Quite the view the Mycenaeans had.

Quite the view the Mycenaeans had.

 

We wandered the site everywhere we were allowed (and maybe where we we might not have been as we were lead under ropes by our professor as she says “Now that they aren’t watching . . .”) and enjoyed the view of the Argive Plain. We even explored the secret cistern which definitely should be blocked off as you walk in complete darkness down the limestone stairs to find a pit of mud. Still worth it.

 

 

 

Next stop, Tiryns. Constructed a bit earlier than Mycenae, Tiryns follows the typical Mycenaean Palace layout including storage rooms (this time inside the walls), throne room, residential areas, workshops, etc. Way back when this palace would have been located right on the edge of the sea but since the sea has receded.

Just the class milling about the Megaron (public meeting area).

Just the class milling about the Megaron (public meeting area).

And now the last and smallest stop, Lerna. Lerna was occupied not only during the Mycenaean era, but also has evidence of habitation from the Neolithic times stretching  overall from roughly the 5th millennium BC to 1600 BC! That makes it a pretty important archaeological site. Here we find the House of Tiles which is well known in the Archaeological sphere even though we don’t have a whole lot of conclusions about it. It was a public building, maybe for merchants to sell, or possibly a sacred place? There were also two graves found. You can see why there was confusion in deciphering the purpose.

House of Tiles/Corridor House.

House of Tiles/Corridor House.

 

This site was surrounded by orange trees which we were invited by our professor to sample on our way out while being instructed “Guys . . . try and be more discrete”. Who knew Demetra was such a rebel?!

071

We then dined at nearby Nafplio, our old friend from the first weekend here, before heading back home to Athens. Quite the extensive weekend of city and site exploration, but well worth the lack of sleep and tired feet.

 

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ― Marcel Proust

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Living the Dream: The Long Awaited Visit to the Acropolis

This day was just too good not to share ASAP. Greece found it’s way into my heart when I was first exposed to Greek Mythology in third grade and has since been my number one desired destination. I have always felt well traveled because of the time I spent reading about the world and specifically the Mediterranean but I hadn’t even left North America until landing in Europe a little over a month ago.  Anyone who has spent more than fifteen minutes with me knows how much I LOVE what I study and how much I crave to witness the beauty of what I have read about (even my peers here knew how much I was looking forward to this trip). But I am HERE! Most times I can’t even believe I made it to this country with all the chaos and freak-outs and close calls that lead up to my departure, but it’s real! I am living in Greece. Living my dream. I am so incredibly blessed.

The past several days of one of my classes have been a tease. We would start exploring the eastern slope of the Acropolis and then end for the day. Then we would go a little farther, having class in the Theatre of Dionysus but again ending class without venturing to the top. Today was the day that we FINALLY made it to the Athens’ main attraction and one of the world’s wonders. Acropolis means the top or edge of the city and they exist in many ancient cities.  And the Acropolis of Athens is an exceptional example. Last night we received an email from our professor stating “Tomorrow there is 24 hours strike of the guards working in the archaeological sites. I hope that there is no strike taking place at the Acropolis. We meet at 9.00 am, at the Acropolis Metro Station. Wear comfortable shoes, please.” Needless to say, I was worried that the trip would need to be saved for another day. Obviously it wasn’t, much to my great (understatement) pleasure. We had completely clear blue skies and about 68 degree weather, gorgeous.

I could go into emphatic detail about the following monuments, but I will restrain myself and keep to few words. Disclaimer: No words nor pictures could ever do justice to the beauty. Trust me. I know from experience now.

The Propylaea

The Propylaea

Most remains on the Acropolis are from the Classical Era (5th and 4th century BC) and were commissioned by Pericles and his sketchy source of funding. While in antiquity everything but the columns you see was painted colors of dark blues, greens, and purples now we have just the pentelic marble ruins. At one point in time the marble would have appeared golden in the sunlight, but now it is a strange yellowish hue.

The Propylaea is the monumental gateway to the Acropolis. Here Athenians would process once every four years during the Panathenaic festival (a dedication to Athena) where they would only be able to peek inside.

Here we have the Erechtheion. An elegant building constructed in the Ionic order during the late fourth century BC. It is built on the ground where the mythical king, Erechtheus, was buried and is dedicated to Athena and Poseidon.

The Erechtheion

The Erechtheion

Can't not have a picture of those fine caryatids.

Can’t not have a picture of those fine caryatids

This is the location in which Athena and Poseidon had a contest to win the name of patron over Athens. Poseidon is said to have produced a spring by striking the ground with his trident (the three holes can still be seen today) and Athena gave the first olive tree. Athena came forth victorious, hence the name of the city.

One of the three sections of the Erechtheion. Very uncharacteristic for a Classical temple. also, note the olive tree.

One of the three sections of the Erechtheion. Very uncharacteristic for a Classical temple. also, note the olive tree.

Balancing the Acropolis in classic “metron” style, is the Parthenon. Constructed in mid 4th century BC, this doric style temple is more masculine (by architectural terms) and consists of not one straight line creating magnificent optical illusions. It was dedicated to Athena Parthenos (Maiden Athena) and once held a cult statue that was made with marble, wood, and ivory until it was stolen and probably dismembered for dispersal of the precious materials. This temple actually maintained pieces of it’s original wooden roof made from the Persian ships defeated at the Battle of Salamis up until it was bombed in 1687 when the Venetians “liberated” Greece from the Ottomans.  Welcome to the world of angles.

015 016 029 054

Way back when these temples would have been surrounded by statues of minor gods. Just imagine! Looking around from the Acropolis was another kind of beautiful as well.

084

terrible picture of the Agora

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

080

Panathenaic Stadium, Temple of Olympia Zeus, and Hadrian's Arch.

Panathenaic Stadium, Temple of Olympia Zeus, and Hadrian’s Arch.

Thankfully we had a healthy amount of time to spend at the site and weren’t rushed. Think about how magical it was to visit Disney World (if you have ever been); the lights twinkling in the trees as you wandered with a sense of wonder through the parks. I don’t know about you, but as a somewhat of a Disney fanatic, I was breathless. Well that wonder and magic is similar (in a different way) to how I felt as I walked the ground so many people of the past have tread before me and seeing the sights of which I have literally dreamed. And I surprisingly only teared up once.

Upon my return to school to find letters from friends and learned a song in Greek class. It’s hard to beat a day where your childhood dream is fulfilled.

For a period of time last year I debated whether or not I was going to study abroad. Everyday I am reaffirmed in my decision; and I am beyond thankful to have been placed here.

024

“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Blog at WordPress.com.