Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Oh My Gosh, Oh My Gosh You Guys!

While falling asleep last night I realized that I was living in Athens. This whole trip has been so surreal, I cannot believe that I am here. Yesterday, I went for a walk up the hill and watched the sunset. Watching the sun set over the city was one of the best experiences of my life. The city of course is so busy and constantly moving, but high above it on the hill it looked so peaceful and calm.

Tomorrow our group leaves for Turkey. It is so weird saying that I am living in Athens and leaving for Turkey. I am still in shock that I am in a foreign country and soaking up another culture. I am so excited to go to Turkey! We are taking a plane there, seeing about everything there is to see, and four days later taking a train back into Northern Greece. From there, a few of us are going to climb Mount Olympus. I, of course, will be taking a TON of pictures to document my travels!

For right now, I am slowly realizing I am living in a city, in a foreign country.
Keepin' It Classy In Athens!

Erica out :)



Thursday, September 16, 2010

Observations from Athens, Greece

Over the past 20 days I have observed a lot about the culture and atmosphere that surrounds Athens, Greece. Here are some things that I have found interesting while studying and living here.

1.) Death Sidewalks- BE CAREFUL!
Most of Athens is on an incline. Walking uphill and downhill can both be equally dangerous. Why would the sidewalks be dangerous? Sidewalks in Athens are made of individual tiles that are placed side by side to make a surface to walk on. These tiles can get VERY slippery, especially while walking uphill or downhill. Also, just because it is a sidewalk does not mean that only pedestrians will be on it. Often mopeds, bicycles, and stray dogs take up large parts of the sidewalk. Just because it is a sidewalk, does not mean a moped will not run you over. You always have to be cautious while walking on the sidewalks.

2.) Stray Dogs
Before coming to to Greece, I read that there are stray dogs everywhere in the city. I expected to find some dogs, but not the amount that I found when I got here. There are huge dogs everywhere around the city. There are huskies, labs, and boxers throughout the city, whether it be at the Agora, the flee market, or the metro station. There is a group that goes around the city putting collars on the dogs, feeding them, and tracking them. If a dog is found without a collar it is simply put down because there are just so many stray dogs in Athens.

3.) Small cars
The roads in Athens are mostly one-ways with cars parked on both sides with a narrow line in between for driving. Whenever I take a taxi I have to hold my breath the whole time we are sliding past the cars on both sides. It is so scary to someone who is not from here. The people just drive like it is no big deal. The cars have to be compact in order to squeeze through the streets and take the corners. So far the longest/biggest car I have seen was a jeep liberty. What I consider to be a short car in the United States, stands out as a big car in Athens.

4.) Everyone here smokes
There are warnings that take up the entire pack of cigarettes, yet everyone here still smokes. The second day we were in Athens, the government actually passed a law banning smoking in bars, restaurants, etc. Much like when the law was initially passed in the U.S., people are not following it. People smoke in restaurants, cafes, bars, the beach, the metro stations, concert halls, nightclubs, EVERYWHERE! It is so weird to go from a country were smoking is not widely accepted to a country where you are not accepted if you do not smoke.

More Observations on the way!

Second Week in Athens

The second week in Athens has been jammed with classes, homework, and field trips. I have been taking classes with other Franklin Pierce students at Hellenic American University in the heart of Athens. It has been very exciting to go to an actual university with international students. There are issues students cover here, just like they do at universities across the United States. On the days we have class, we have had to walk through peace demonstrations against the current government and policies of Greece's government. One of the more popular groups has been the youth communist group. Instead of asking students to join their cause when you walk by, the group members simply ask that you attend one of their "festivals." When I first heard it was a festival, I was a little skeptical, but one of our professors at the university said it is exactly what it sounds like. There is music, entertainment, food, and of course discussions about communism for Greece. We will see if I ever make it to one of them. They are about a 30 minute tram ride, but maybe I will go to see one!

On Wednesday, day 9 in Athens, I encountered my first protest. The protests here are not like the news outlets portray them to be in the United States. Our professors, guides, and locals here insist that the protests are hardly ever violent, or even heated. One of our professors has lived in Athens for 10 years, but has visited here most of her life. During this time, she has only seen one protest that turned into a riot. Other guides and locals say they have never seen a protest turn violent. They all assure us that Athens is the safest place to be, and it has the lowest crime rate in the world. After discussing the protests with the locals, I feel reassured that they are more about the issues than trying to incite danger.

On Thursday our group took a trip to Poseidon's Temple. The ruins were beautiful, but the trip there was a little less exciting. We walked about 30 minutes to the bus stop. When we arrived there around 1pm in the scorching heat of a summer afternoon in the city, we climbed aboard an un-air-conditioned bus with no windows. After waiting for about 25 minutes on the bus, the bus driver boarded, turned on the air conditioning, and we were off. We drove about 10 minutes to another stop that happened to be a short walk from our apartment. If this was not disappointing enough for our sweaty and exhausted bodies, this stop picked up more people than there were seats. I was squeezed between the window, and a very loud woman who apparently just went on a shopping spree. Her bags were on my lap, her lap, in the aisle, and her friend's lap. Although this seems like a terrible experience, it was all worth it about 2 and 1/2 hours later when we arrived at Poseidon's Temple. We walked up to the temple and then explored the rest of the island. I went with a few friends down to the beach and we found an onion growing in the brush on the way down. We have not eaten it yet, but we are going to include it in our next pasta dish. While waiting about 40 minutes for a return bus to pick up our group, a few of us discovered a unique water vending machine. The vending machine sold over-sized water bottles that often got stuck. If your water bottle got stuck, you were able to make another selection, in hopes of the machine dispensing the water. After perfecting the art of the machine, we were able to predict which row would drop 2 water bottles. After about 30 minutes of predicting which row would drop 2 water bottles, we got some change and loaded up on 50cent EURO waters for the 2 and 1/2 hour bus ride back to the bus stop by our apartment.

On Friday we did not have class, so we headed back to the beach. A group of us found a beach that had sand and a DJ on the beach. The sun was strong and the water was clear! It was such a great day at the beach.

On Saturday I took a trip up the hill. After many flights of stairs to get to the base, and I then tried to walk briskly up the zig-zag inclines to get to the top. It was totally worth it when I got to the top. At the top of the hill, you can see from the villages in the mountains, to the boats on the coast. It is such an amazing view! After the trip up the hill, I went to the local market to pick up some fresh produce. I was able to snag some grapes, peaches, tomatoes, lettuce, and a cucumber. Everything was very cheap and VERY fresh.

The fun did not stop on Sunday. I was able to get into a club in downtown Athens to see David Guetta perform. I made my way to the front early in the night, and was in the front row for when David Guetta performed. The club was sooo full and the show was so amazing!!!

Monday was a day for homework and recovery from the weekend.

On Tuesday we had classes at Hellenic American University. At night all of us students got together for a family dinner at the Z apartment. I hosted and made broccoli, chicken alfredo with thick noodles. Every student brought an appetizer. We had dinner on the balcony while watching the sunset against the coast line. It was such a great night.

On Wednesday we met our new professor and took a field trip to the Benaki Museum in Athens. Our professor talked about almost every piece in the museum and was very articulate in Greek history. It was so exciting to learn so much about such a large span of history in about a 2 hour tour. It was great!

Thursday, our 17th day in Athens we had our first test. It definitely brought me back to the school setting, but not for long. After our test, we went on a trip to a local rug store. At the shop we were able to learn about how authentic Greek rugs are made and how long it takes to craft each one. I was contemplating sending one back home until I learned the average rug costs about 1,900 EURO.

Athens has been so exciting and we have another busy week ahead of us. We tentatively have a trip planned for Turkey next wednesday. After we get back, a few of us are going to climb Mount Olympus and film the climb for a documentary. I will not be able to shower for 3 days, but I think it will be worth it!

Keepin' it classy in Athens

Erica :)
Videos from my adventures!!!

Monday, September 6, 2010

First week in Athens!

So much has happened these past few days! On Thursday night, our group took a trip to see traditional Greek dance. The theatre was on Filopappos Hill, about an hour walk away from our apartment. We decided to take a taxi because it was so far away, and our driver ended up getting lost! This was one of the many times in the last few days that I wish I spoke Greek! We eventually made it to the theatre and found the rest of our group. There was a live band, singers, and so many dancers. It was cool to see the different traditional costumes and dances, as well as the more modern dances. The people sitting behind us were singing the words to every song. Most dances consisted of the performers holding hands different ways and waking in circles. It was interesting to see the different combinations of steps and the different styles of music. The crowd and our group really enjoyed the show!

After the show we headed back to the apartment and some of my roommates ordered Dominos. It took about 2 hours for the pizza to get delivered. Athens is very laid back and it was such a change from the "you've got 30 minutes" American slogan. Also, the delivery was made on a moped with a basket just big enough for a pizza box on the back. It was so funny.

On day 4 in Athens, teams of 3 students competed in a scavenger hunt around Athens. We were given a list of Greek terms and sites, had to translate them, and then had to go take pictures of them in a 3 hour window. My team came in second with 11 out of 13 items found. During our travels around Athens, we were able to see the changing of the guards outside the Parliment Building, find a local outdoor cinema, and even visit the U.S. Embassy. We were able to see so much of the city in one day! After we finished
running around the city, we met our guides from
Hellenic American University. Claudia and
Barbara (our Greek guides) explained the basics of Athens living, as well as some of the more prominent Greek traditions and mannerisms. Many of us had questions about the Greek culture and our guides were willing to answer questions about Athens and the culture.

Day 5 in Athens has been the most exciting so far! Our group took a trip to many local markets including the produce, meat, fish, spice, and flee market. We are started our day by heading a few blocks down the street to a local produce market.

The entire street seemed to shut down to house the massive amounts of fruit, vegetables, and nuts that were for sale. I bought a melon and some peaches, and was able to use my very basic Greek. We then made our way to the meat and fish market. These two markets were like nothing I had ever seen before.

There were cases and cases of meat and so many butchers trying to get you to buy their stuff. Many had a wooden table in front of their section where they cut the huge chunks of meat with giant knives. It was truly a unique experience. After the meat market, we walked through a hallway that led to the fish market. There were all kinds of seafood, dead and alive. There was about an inch or two of water and guts on the ground. Next time I will leave the sandals at home and wear rain boots like the Greeks. Not a fan of seafood, I moved on to the spice area. There were so many stalls and shops with spices stacked from the ceiling to the floor.

Many of the spice vendors spoke English, and I was able to buy a few things for the apartment. After we left the spice district, we made our way to the flee market, which wasn't a flee market at all. Instead it was a street filled with organized shops and vendors selling clothing, sandals, jewelry, and souvenirs. It reminded me of the mall because all the stores had their music up really loud to attract people into their store, and every store seemed to have a greeter at the door folding clothing. I quickly realized that this is a tourist spot, more than a local one.
We spent about an hour walking through the flee market, and then we moved on to the Agora.
The idea was to start our journey in a local market and meeting place of the city, and then move to an ancient market/meeting place. We were able to walk through the museum and see artifacts, walk through the Palace of Giants, and even see one of the god's temples. It was a very exciting day, but it did not end there.
Later that night a group of us went to the 3rd
annual Athens Hip Hop Festival. At the festival we saw MC battles, breakdancing, local DJs, as well as popular Greek performers. It was such an amazing experience!!!

Day 6 happened to be Sunday, so we did as the Greeks do and headed to the coast for the day. We took the tram to the beach and spent the day swimming in the ocean and talking with the locals. I discovered that you have to pay an admission fee to get into many of the beaches. At the free beaches there are men that walk around selling beach towels, sunglasses, inner tubes, watches, beach umbrellas, goggles, and just about anything else you could imagine. They crowded around our towels and would not leave until people from our group bought things. Next time we will pay the pricier admission fee and go to the private beach ;)

Day 7 was Sheila's birthday so we had a family dinner. Colin made spaghetti sauce from scratch, homemade meatballs, and chicken parmesan. Logan made crab legs, and Ahmos made a Mediterran salad. After dinner I did the dishes :)

Today was our first day of classes! Only 102 more days to go, and there is so much to do :)

So far I have had such an amazing time! To see more photos from my travels visit

Keepin' it classy in Athens
Erica out :)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

First Days in Athens

So we made it!! After so many months of planning and anxiously awaiting the trip 16 Franklin Pierce students have arrived in Greece. When we arrived at the airport in Athens, our group was greeted by 3 VERY Greek men who took us in taxis to our apartments. On the way there we listened to a lot of techno and surprisingly some popular American tunes as well. Before we even had a chance to adjust to Greek driving, our driver tapped the bumper of the car in front of us telling the other driver to move over. Once the car in front of us moved over, we proceeded towards our apartment at 180kpm. Throughout this whole trip, the driver was drinking coffee, smoking a cigarette, and talking on the phone while his passengers were freaking out.

Anyways, we made it to our apartment and it is beautiful. There are wood floors, high ceilings, and chandeliers in every room. There are 7 students living in my apartment. We have taken trips to the grocery store to stock the refrigerator and buy the basics for the apartment. At the grocery store we were made fun of in Greek for buying certain items. The cashiers held up our items to the other cashiers and made comments in Greek and then everyone in the immediate area began to laugh. So, we are trying not to be the "stupid Americans" that everyone assumes we are, but it is difficult at times.

That brings me to the next topic, we are slowly learning Greek. Although it has been a little tricky, we have learned some common Greek phrases from our local bartenders, and we have taught them some English. We have learned that if you tip your bartender, they will talk to you like people and not refer to you as "magas americanos" (stupid americans).

This is our third day in Athens, and it is such an exciting city. There are shops, markets, and people everywhere. There are cars and mopeds too that drive on the streets and the sidewalks.
Also, on every building and on every column is graffiti. It truly is a free city! Greek people accept the expression of others and are not bothered by the graffiti that covers the walls of every building.

Last night we climbed the hill by our apartment. The actual climb of the hill was not too bad, but the 25 flights of stairs we had to take to the
base of the hill killed me! When we reached the top we could see all of Athens, from the mountains, all the way to the beautiful beaches. We saw the Acropolis, the Olympic stadium, and we even able to find our apartment. We saw the Greek flag be taken down from the top of the hill at sunset. We were also able to see the inside of the chapel at the top of the hill. The climb down the hill was definitely much easier, but I will be in great shape by the time I leave Athens!

Today a bunch of us went exploring around Athens! We got very very lost, but everything was so exciting! We came across a fish market, produce market, as well as an Athens China town. There were so many little shops that had knock off sunglasses, purses, and ties just like in NYC. It was so cool. There was also a small shop with a sign in Arabic that had so many hookahs in it. Some of the people in the group actually bought one and it was so cheap.To find our way back, we asked one of the policemen dressed in riot gear. Unfortunately we were all too busy staring at his awesome sunglasses to listen to the directions he was giving. We eventually found our way back.

Tonight we are going to a play at an outdoor theatre. It should be a very interesting look into Greek culture.

Check in often! I will try to keep everyone up to date on everything that is happening!
Also check out pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ericatomaszewski

Keepin' it classy in Athens!
Erica out :)