Today class started at 9:30 in the morning and we had a great discussion about the Greek Revolution in 508 BC. The Greek Revolution helped birth the beginnings of democracy in ancient Athens. We had a debate on if a revolution needs a leader to be successful since it was believed that the Greek Revolution had no leader. We also discussed the difference between a civil war and a revolution and what are those defining features. Many of my classmates and I came to the conclusion that it was defined by who won the war because history is written by the victors.
After class was over, I went with some other people to a local gyro restaurant called Meat I Live For or MILF. People on our trip like it for the low prices while still being quality food. Also, the whole menu is translated to English so it is easier to order. Many places in Athens do not have menus that are translated to English which makes it difficult to order, but most of the waiters speak English so you can ask questions. At MILF, I ordered a pork gyro. I like the pork gyro because it is cheap and is authentic Greek food. It is made from pita bread, pork, tomato, onions, and my favorite sauce Tzatziki.
After lunch, a few of us hopped in a cab not really knowing where we were going hoping to get to the beach. Athens has tons of beach that run along the city, and some are better than others. Also in Athens, they have private beaches and free ones that the locals go to. We ended up finding a beautiful free beach that was mostly filled with locals. It was on the side of the city and right by a marina. The water was amazingly blue, and the beaches were relatively clean even though it was a free beach. There were many locals who were on the beach enjoying the sun, but there were still a lot of people trying to sell us tourist stuff, such as towels and woven bracelets. I was also asked six times when I was sitting in the sand if I wanted to get a massage by a massage parlor. At the beach, I got slightly burnt because the sun is much stronger here than it is in America.
After we were tired of sitting in the sun and swimming in the sea, we decided to go to a nearby restaurant that was on the water. The restaurant had amazing fresh fish, squid, and octopus. At the restaurant, I got fried squid, and it was better than anything I could get back home. Instead of taking a taxi back to the residence, we took the tram. The tram ran along the beach for awhile and then into the city streets. The tram was very busy because we were going back to our neighborhood during rush hour and the tram is heavily used by the locals who wanted to go short distances. I often noticed that a person would get on the tram for only one or two stops then get off.
Today we were supposed to visit the National Gardens, Syntagma Square and the Panathenaic Stadium, but unfortunately a subway strike led to a change in our plans. The strikes in Greece reflect an economic trend as worker pensions have been severely cut and working conditions remain difficult. Greece has faced a difficult eight year recovery from the recession that first hit their nation in 2010. A strong economic recovery has still not reached Greece, and the coming years will continue to be difficult for the Greek people.
Despite the strike, our first half of the day went as planned. We started with class at the American College of Greece, where we enjoy class every morning in an open-air classroom. Our discussion referenced readings on both modern policy challenges the Greek state faces as well as the origins of democracy. It is important to discuss how the history of Greece influences their standing in the world today. Many believe Greece is a Western country as their ancient history has heavily influenced Western Europe and because of their European Union membership. However, Greece could also be considered an Eastern country, as their economic policies rely upon a strong public sector, they belonged to the Byzantine as well as the Ottoman Empires, and they skipped the Industrial Revolution. These were all points my classmates and I discussed at length, and we came to the conclusion that Greece can ultimately be described as a traditionally Eastern country desperately trying to find its place within the powers of Western Europe.
After some analysis of modern challenges Greece faces, we turned toward discussion of how we got here and the origins of Greek democracy. The catalysts for Athenian experimentation with democracy were their small population size (250,000), their mountainous topography that allowed for natural protection, their easy access to the sea, and a lack of serious income inequality. Furthermore, the poor were dissatisfied with the aristocracy. A famous Athenian named Solon responded to Greece’s troubles with a model of democracy. The most interesting reform instituted was the abolition of all debts. I was intrigued by Solon’s selflessness and his actions that helped his city-state. I find it admirable that he sacrificed his reputation for the betterment of Athens.
All CLC students were free to explore Athens in the afternoon. Many went to beaches, hiking, downtown shopping, or down the street to restaurants. For the afternoon, my friend Lauren and I went to a local restaurant called Stars, where we enjoyed a delicious margherita pizza. The day was spent exploring the streets of Athens, which feature beautiful architecture. What amazes me about the Greek people is despite the economic hardships they are undergoing, the people here remain optimistic and vibrant. The Greek people prove that a positive outlook is always possible and that the small joys of life, not money, make life meaningful. It is a message that often is lacking within our American culture overseas.
My friends and I utilized our free Sunday by taking a plane to Santorini, a Greek island that features iconic white buildings with rounded edges and arches. Greer, Jenn, Taylor, and I planned out our activities in advance, making sure each of the four of us included experiences to fulfill our interests.
Santorini is the epitome of a breathtaking Mediterranean island. Its eccentric vibe and welcoming residents made me feel right at home. We began by having breakfast at Apsithia in a neighborhood called Oia. We had a view of the Aegean Sea while enjoying decadent waffles and omelets.
Then, we walked around Oia to sightsee and visit the shops selling everything from abstract canvases capturing the structures of Santorini to the culturally praised evil eye keychains. We walked down a path that led to a boat dock to admire the vibrantly blue Aegean Sea even more.
We then walked down to the Aegean Sea on a path of 250 steps. We climbed over rocks and balanced on a slim rock path along the edge of the Aegean Sea to reach a perfect spot for Greer and Taylor to cliff dive and swim to a little island of larger rocks. Jenn and I took photos of them and the perfect landscape and watched the tide roll into the large rocks. After stopping by a shop to ask a local woman for beach recommendations and spotting some octopus tentacles hanging to dry, we stopped for lunch at Blue Sky to eat lamb, pasta, potatoes, zucchini, and carrots. Next, we found Kissing Fish, a unique spa where we got pedicures by dipping our feet into a tank full of tiny fish that munched the dead skin right off our feet.
Lastly, we took a taxi to Kamari Beach where the sand consists of all black pebbles. We swam and lounged under the sun until it was time to return to the airport for class on Monday. This excursion was planned just by my friends and me, which allowed us to seek a cultural experience as young adults. The sense of treasure resonated by Santorini comes from its optimistic people, Cats, and dogs and its natural charm including the palm trees, cacti, colorful flowers, mountains, volcanic rocks, and endless sea.
Today we were able to experience the breathtaking landscape of Meteora – gigantic, one-of-a-kind, vertical rock formations located in the central region of Greece. The Greek word Meteora means “suspended in the air,” and I thought this perfectly described the remaining six Eastern Orthodox monasteries perched on the top of these large and picturesque rocks. From our tour guide, Dafni, we learned that the monasteries that remain today are still active and are home to a small group of monks and nuns. Because of their vertical nature, one might wonder how they used to get to the top or let alone how they even built the monasteries – well for centuries, they actually used to rock climb! They then gradually transitioned to using nets and ladders to climb, then utilized baskets to transport materials, and now thankfully have stairs and roads. Imagine if we had to do a little rock climbing today – I’m not sure SPEA would approve.
After driving the tour bus up the winding road, we finally made it to the top of these rocks which are over 400 meters above the town of Kalabaka. From the six monasteries, we visited two – one which was one of the largest and the other a convent. I was amazed by the sheer grandeur of the views, the size of these byzantine monasteries, and the inside of the churches. The insides of the churches were extremely elaborate and featured intricate paintings of biblical figures and themes. The walls were covered in frescoes, and the rich icons of the Eastern Orthodox church made the sites feel especially holy. To think that monks and nuns actually live and pray there today on the top of such substantially large rock formations seems baffling to me, but such a way of life would be captivating to learn more about – here we are visiting for a brief time, yet for thousands of years they’ve been a site for religious worship and monastic living.
After exploring the landscape we were in, we rode the bus back down and stopped for a quick photo op that showcased the beauty of the site we had just visited. We then trekked back down the slopes of the winding road for a traditional Greek lunch, and then had free time to explore the town we were in. I thoroughly enjoyed this time to roam around a little and get a glimpse of a normal Greek town and a simpler way of life. I couldn’t stop thinking about the sheer magnitude of the rocks we saw today though – they were the highlight of the day, and I’m excited for more of what’s to come in these next few weeks abroad.
Today we embarked on our first weekend excursion to Delphi on Mount Parnassus. The bus ride there was beautiful for those of who could stay awake. Being from flat Indiana myself made the endless mountains even more breathtaking.
As soon as we arrived, we came across the ruins of the sanctuary of Apollo. It still amazes me that the marble is so well preserved. You can even see texts that were carved into the stone centuries ago. Another thing that I found very fascinating about this site was the “omphalos” or “navel” stone. This stone was said to mark Delphi as the center of the Universe (the Greeks were rather humble if you can’t tell).
After passing the stone, we came across the temple to Apollo where people all over Europe would journey to consult the Oracle. This priestess of Apollo was said to be intoxicated by sulfur gas fuming out of the rocks, which made her start spewing out crazy prophesies to those that asked her questions. Although there were oracles all around Ancient Greece, this one in particular was the most popular and well respected among the Greeks. It appears in many ancient texts as it was consulted by people like Croesus, the King of Lydia, who asked the Oracle’s advice on their war against Persia. Because I took a class on Ancient Greek Culture previously, it was so thrilling for me to see the place I had heard about so many times in the texts we read.
After our trip to Delphi, we had a rather late lunch that seemed very typical of the Greek meals I have had here. I have become very fond of the family style dining which allows everyone to dish up their own servings from big plates in the center of the table. As usual, the food was delicious, and of course there was more than we could finish. The dessert in particular, which was a traditional yogurt with orange peels, was perhaps one of my favorite dishes I have tried so far. The orange production here must be vital to the Greek economy because I continue to see the bright fruits everywhere from the Spartan orange juice in our fridge to the orange trees lining the streets of the American College of Greece. Today was incredibly taxing with the long bus rides, but it was worth it to see the beautiful views and rich history.
The weather was beautiful today when we made our first stop at the Temple of Zeus. What amazes me the most about the ancient ruins that we have visited so far is the enormous scale of the temples. It is incredible how they were able to build such grandiose structures without a trace of modern technology. The Temple of Zeus was built 7 centuries after the Parthenon, and still has many pillars that are intact. Although the Romans had built this temple after conquering Athens, you can tell by the architecture and the Corinthian capital pillars that the Romans were in many ways inspired by the Greeks. Many of the pillars from the Temple of Zeus were actually removed later on to build other things, which is a reason why only parts of it remain.
After admiring what remains of the Temple of Zeus, the group went and visited the Agora. In Greek the Agora is based off of a verb that means to assemble or deliver a speech in public. The Agora used to be the most important site of Athens where daily life happened. Since the Acropolis was solely a religious site, the Agora was the place for everyday activities. This can be seen in the ruins of the marketplace, churches, and other structures where people could gather. While we were wandering around the Agora, our lovely tour guide Dafni pointed out that Greece used to have 10 artificial tribes. These divisions were made to make democracy last as each tribe included people of all classes who were equally represented. She also shared was that once a year there was a huge assembly in Athens to vote for one politician that would be ostracized or expelled from Athens if people believed they had too much power. I found this particularly interesting because ostracizing a politician from a city is non-existent in modern democracies.
Following our exploration around the Agora, our group walked over to the heart of Athens: Plaka. Plaka is a quaint neighborhood that has very picturesque buildings colored in a range of different hues. Many of us ended up wandering around Plaka more after lunch to admire its beauty a while longer. Prince Charles was actually staying in Plaka while we were there, but we did not end up seeing him. Nevertheless, we had an incredible time admiring the beauty of the neighborhood. Hannah, Claire, and I also ended up exploring a nearby flea market that sold a wide variety of souvenirs and trinkets. After a long day of exploring and learning more about Athens and the origins of democracy, I was ready to get some rest for our adventure tomorrow to Delphi!
Today we visited the Acropolis itself as well as the Acropolis museum. It was the first time that I had left our neighborhood and really gotten to see the metropolitan area of Athens. It was such a different experience than I was expecting—it was metropolitan, but still compact. The closest comparison I can think of is Washington, DC, because the buildings seem to go outwards instead of upwards like they do in Chicago and other American cities (not one skyscraper). This is especially visible from the Acropolis, which overlooks the entire city.
Driving through downtown also made me realize how strong the consumer culture is in America. There aren’t advertisements and all the background noise or huge department stores, but instead lots of smaller shops and bakeries. It had a smaller, local feel without losing the feeling of being a large city, which was such a unique thing to experience. In general, the people are incredibly friendly as well. In our neighborhood a friend and I walked to a small local bakery and bought pastries—the woman who owns the bakery was very kind and has gotten to know previous Civic Leaders from other years.
Experiencing being at the top of the actual Acropolis was amazing. To be that high up and surrounded by ruins that old is mind blowing. So much of the ruins are preserved and you can see where the details of elaborate decoration are left. It’s crazy to think that people actually spent the time to do all of that work without the existence of modern technology. Being there put time in perspective-if you think about it, it wasn’t really all that long ago, and even then what the Greeks were able to accomplish without modern advances, is amazing.