Sunday, July 25, 2010

Athens, Greece

Well helloooo! I’m a bit behind on my entries, so let me BEGIN at once ☺

 Day One: (July 14, Wednesday)

As soon as we ported in Piraeus, the port of Athens, Lee, Lindsey and I were on the go for the ferry station. We really wanted to check out times to catch a ferry to the island of Santorini. We walked down the streets of Piraeus and just followed the water, and found the ferry kiosk. The morning wasn’t too eventful, since all we did was go to the ferry station, but then we headed back to the ship (oh, we went to Starbucks. Yesss we did) for our field trip to go to the Archaeological Museum and the New Acropolis Museum in Athens. Athens is only 6 miles away from Piraeus (the port) so we just took a bus. Both museums were very interesting; the New Acropolis Museum was really sweet – it just re-opened this spring and was built on top of some Greek ruins. The lobby and outer “deck” area is made out of glass so you can see underneath; it’s like your walking on top of the ruins – so cool! Anyway, we were shown around the Acropolis Museum and our tour guide and the teacher in charge of the field trip getting into small fights along the way about different points of views on what the tour guide was telling us… it was pretty entertaining. The museum layout is built as if you were in the actual Acropolis. We wish they had left all the artifacts and statues on the real site, though – how cool would that be to see it as it really was?! But I guess they took out all the cool stuff so it wouldn’t get ruined even more by the weather. But you could see the actual Acropolis from inside the museum -on the hill above us. BUT our field trip didn’t actually take us to the real thing; we were slightly disappointed, but just decided to go on a different day! After the museums, we headed back to Piraeus and were on the mission to buy our ferry and plane tickets to Santorini. We had just looked up times earlier, but we knew for sure that we wanted to go to the island! Greece has TONS of islands along its coast, but Santorini is one of the larger ones and is supposed to be sooo beautiful and not as touristy as some of the others, more traditional feeling. The only slight problem with Santorini was that it was further away than Mykonos, Syfnos, etc. But we had to go to a Greek island, and Santorini it was! We bought an overnight ferry ticket that left at midnight two nights later (Friday)  and that got into Santorini at 8:45 AM the next morning! WOO, an almost 9 hour ferry ride! We also bought plane tickets (MUCH cheaper in Europe than they are in the US) for Saturday night at 11:10 PM- the latest flight back to Athens. I was pretty nervous about buying all these tickets, because Greece/Athens is having so many debt problems right now and TONS of spontaneous strikes with their ferry/airline companies. I was worried about missing the ship, since it was scheduled to leave on Sunday at 6 PM, and if we didn’t get a flight back the night we planned, we didn’t know what we would do! SO- basically, that first day in Athens, we planned for our trip to Santorini! We walked around Piraeus that night and had amazingly delicious chocolate pancakes (crepes) at a local restaurant. We had to be up in the morning and in a bus for our scheduled field trip to DELPHI and METEORA by 7 AM, so we called it a pretty early night.

Day Two: (Thursday, July 15, 2010)

Lee and I scrambled out of bed, had breakfast in 7 minutes flat, then ran to the Union to meet our group for our SAS field trip to Delphi and Meteora! The bus ride took about 4 hours to get to Delphi, but once we got there, it was awesome! We spent the day looking through their pretty small museum, then climbed up all the stairs to look around the Greek ruins. Delphi was a major major political and religious site for the ancient Greeks and you can still see the archaeological site and the ruins there. It’s known for having the Temple of Apollo and being the site of the important oracle of Apollo. The ancient Greeks viewed Delphi as being the center of the universe! ALSO, Delphi is a UNESCO World Heritage site…pretty sweet. The view from way up there was breathtaking too, of course (Delphi is way up in the mountains of northern Greece). Our tour guide was an older Greek man, and he said he hadn’t been to the very top of Delphi in years. But- he told us we could walk up all the steps (there were lots of them) to the top if we hurried – and met back down at the base in like 20 minutes or something crazy like that. So me and Lee did it! We trekked up the top, saw the very top temple and what looked like a chariot racing arena (we don’t know exactly what it was, haha, our guide wasn’t there to explain it to us and the rest of the SAS people!) and took some pictures, and then realized we had to meet our group to leave for dinner in 7 minutes! So we literally ran down to the end! Haha! It was fun and a nice little workout. Good thing we had our chacos on that day! So good times in Delphi. That night our trip went to this awesome little restaurant and had some traditional, authentic Greek food. Greek salad, bread, olive oil, and some chicken dish. We headed back to our hotel in the small town of Kalambaka, which is right at the bottom of Meteora. Kalambaka and Meteora (our destination for the next day) is also in Northern Greece, in the Thessaly area. YES, we did pass Thessalonica/Thessaloniki, like in the Bible! AND we passed Thermopolis; so, our tour guide recounted the story of the battle of Thermopolis (300, anyone?!) on the bus for us. I was glad that I’d seen the movie 300 after that, since now I can say I’ve seen Thermopolis! Anyway, we thought they had put us up in a ghost town when we got to Kalambaka, but after getting situated in our hotel rooms, Lee and I and a few other girls from our trip explored the town on foot. It turned out to be a pretty cute town, actually! (Once we walked far enough down some streets, that is.) There was a fun fountain in the middle of this square and tons of cafes and bars. We sat down at one and talked for a few hours and just people-watched. It was a good night!

Day Three: (July 16, 2010)

After spending the night in our barely-there air conditioned hotel room, our group got back on the bus and drove up the mountains that were looming over the town of Kalambaka: Meteora! Meteora is the site where there are a handful of monasteries (24 to be exact- only one is a nunnery) on top of these natural, tall “mountains” that they call rock pinnacles, or spires. – they were really tall and narrow and really smooth rock! And they weren’t connected to each other, either, they’re all standing individually, and there’s one monastery or nunnery on each one. We only went inside two monasteries on two different spires; we could drive to the first one and we had to walk up a bunch of stairs and trails to get to the second one. They were eastern orthodox Christian monasteries, and very beautiful. The monasteries were built in the early 1400s. Inside the chapel, the walls were covered with frescoes! They were awesome; all of them depicted heaven and hell, judgment day, different parts of Jesus’ life, crucifixion, and resurrection. Our tour guide was very interesting and knowledgeable, so it was great listening to him explain everything. On our tour of the first monastery, we all walked out onto the balcony to look around. They have this huge cross on the balcony, and behind it is this awesome view of the countryside of Greece and the small town of Kalambaka. Naturally, we had to take pictures in front of the cross ☺ I had a sweet little experience up there on the balcony, though. First, let me explain something: in order to look around the monasteries, girls have to wear long skirts covering their legs and they have to cover their shoulders. I forgot about this detail when packing for my trip, so the only shirt I brought that covered my shoulders was my pajamas shirt, which is my Vertical Ministries shirt from school! For those of you who don’t know what Vertical is, it’s aweeesome! It’s a ministry (but not a church) that students can go to (Baylor, MCC, whoever) on Monday nights in Waco, and we have an awesome speaker, Afshin, who talks about Jesus each week…anyway, it’s just a great way to plug in each week and worship for almost an hour (Jeff Johnson Band leads us each week – we are soo lucky! He’s awesome, look him up!) and listen to a good message. Anywayyyy, so I was wearing my Vertical shirt, which says, “I’d Rather Have Jesus” on the back of it…and this British/Scottish (I couldn’t tell which!) lady got all excited when she saw me and took a picture of the back of my shirt with the monastery’s cross in the background, haha! And then when she got her picture, she grabbed my arm and said, “I’d rather have Jesus, too!” hehe, it was just so sweet! It made me happy ☺ So that was my sweet moment of the day!

Anyway, Meteora was beautiful. They said that before the monasteries were built, monks would come to these huge pillars seeking isolation, and would just live in the caves/crevices of the pinnacles! And before they had roads paved up the mountains, they had these huge woven baskets that the monks would sit in and they would pull up via thick ropes. (They still had some old ones that you could see-I don’t know if I could EVER do that, they are so high!)

After we were done looking around Meteora, we ate lunch in another small town at the bottom of the mountains – Kastraki! We went to this old old woman’s little restaurant, who everyone called “momma” haha! She was your typical Greek woman/momma! She had been making ALL of the food in this restaurant for like, 50 years, or something crazy like that. Probably more. Who knows. But we all got in line and filed into her kitchen and got to point at what food we wanted –she cooked tons of different stuff in all these HUGE pots…and the food was amaaazing. I had this delicious lasagna, others had chicken dishes, beef, pork, other noodles, etc. SO GOOD.

The rest of the day was hazy for me. We took the bus back to the ship- it took about 5 hours, yikes. But that night, after showering and packing, Lee and I walked to our ferry that was scheduled to leave at midnight that night for the island of Santorini! It took us about 30 minutes to walk there, and then we were astounded by our “ferry”. It was huge- almost as big as the MV Explorer! HA! We boarded it and found our seats, which were just like an airplane, pretty much, except for more leg room ;) It was actually a pretty fun experience, looking back. Everyone was camped out on the floor, it was fun. Lee and I didn’t get very much sleep, just because it wasn’t comfortable and the lights never turned off- I got more than Lee, though! She was more worried (Rightly so) than I was about people stealing our backpacks and purses! I should probably be more cautious ;)

Day Four (July 16, 2010)

The ferry got to Santorini at about 9 in the morning. Lee and I got off the boat and got on a pretty cheap bus to go to Fira, the capital of Santorini. Once we got there, the trip was sooo worth every worry and every speck of planning! Fira is so cute and traditional and GREEK! We loved it! Santorini is every bit what you imagine when you think of a Greek isle; it has all the white houses and buildings on the coast. Santorini is individually known for its white buildings and blue doors, too, so we saw that everywhere. It was amazing. Santorini was one of my favorite days of the entire trip so far! Lee and I just walked up and down the small streets and alleyways, shopping. We ate lunch right on the water, looking out over the whole Aegan Sea! We were glad to sit down whenever we could, because we were backpacking it up that day; we had all our clothes/toiletries, money, swimsuits, etc, everything was in our backpacks on our backs. And it was flipping hot there too! Basically, we walked around all day looking at everything there was to see, and we took a couple buses to Kampari and Oia. Kampari was where there was a nice, black sand beach, and Oia is the best place on the island! It’s known for its traditional feel and best restaurants and the best place to see the sun set. So we spent the last half of the day there. We only had 14 hours in Santorini, but we made the best of it! Oia is also where the movie, “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” was filmed- we walked down A MILLLION steps to get to the bottom pier (where Alexis Bledel met Costos or whatever that Greek guy’s name was in the movie) and we had a glass of wine and salads and bread and olive oil right next to all these small fishing boats/the SEA! It was amazing!! After that, we walked around the rocks there for a little while, and then we were so hot and tired, we didn’t want to walk all the way back up those stairs that we had come down. Seriously yall, they were so steep and so many. We were just not having it. GOOD THING they had DONKEYS there to take us back up to Oia!!! Haha! This man who spoke no English pretty much threw us up on top of these donkeys and smacked their butts, and without a word, the donkeys were trotting up all these steps! It was hilarious and so much fun! They kept getting so close to the edge, and we were so high up, so it was a little thrilling, even though they weren’t even going fast! Sooo, that was a fun experience. Lee and I found this little house/cottage building thing, and sat on its roof and just talked and chilled there for awhile. It was such a good day. After having chicken and pork gyros (which were so delicious, by the way) for dinner, we watched the sun set over the sea. I haven’t watched the sun actually set like I did that day in such a long time; it was so beautiful and made me so thankful for this trip!
We had to take a taxi to the airport in Santorini, which was only about 10 minutes away. Our plane left on time at 11 that night, and we got back to Athens around 11:30. (9 hour ferry or a 30 minute plane….hmm..) But the airport in Athens is an hour and a half away from the port where our ship was, so…we took a public bus back that only cost 3 euros! Sweet! The bus ride was fun, though, because there were about 6 other SAS girls on it, so we all just talked and had fun. We also sat by a girl who was our age who had been traveling through Europe for 6 months ALREADY- she is from Australia, and was going home in about 2 weeks, she was so excited! Half the fun of traveling is just meeting the different people along the way, for real! On our plane, we had also met these 2 girls who were our age and who were friends from Montreal, and they had spent a few days in Santorini, and were going to Israel that very night! Isn’t that amazing?! They were just traveling just them two that summer! They were really interesting.
Needless to say, we crashed that night when we finally got back to the ship (around 2 am.). It felt good to take a cold shower after being so dirty and sweaty ALLL day! Haha.

Day Five (July 17, 2010)

We slept in a little longer than we meant to our last day in Greece! But we eventually woke up, put on running gear/slouchy clothes, and Lee and I took a taxi to the Acropolis. We climbed up to the top of the hill and walked around the Parthenon and took pictures. It was pretty cool. We were still kind of tired; we wished we had gone there with a tour guide so we could be learning more about it while seeing it, but hey, it was still awesome! ☺ We left Athens that night around 8 PM, headed for ISTANBUL, TURKEY!
-which will be my next post! Right now, It’s almost 8 PM, and I’m on the ship. We left Istanbul last night around 8, so yes, I am a little behind on this blog ☺ sorry! We had class today, have class tomorrow, and then the next day, we arrive in Alexandria, Egypt! I AM SO PUMPED!! Woohoo!
Anyway, thank ya mucho for reading: I miss everyone so much, can’t believe I only have two more countries to visit. Where has the summer gone?! ☺

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