A for Athens

Hey all, I know I’m a little late but I plan on churning out another post in the next few days. Last weekend, Perrotis College arraigned a trip for us study abroad students to Athens for 4 days. This was the first trip that I stayed in a hotel and first time flying a “non-budget” airline since arriving in Greece. Being the only guy from our group, I was able to have a hotel room to myself! So it felt pretty luxurious to say the least for me.

The Roman Agora


After getting settled in to the hotel we were off to explore the city with our city guide/host Kim. Over our time we explored the historic sights, newer parts of the city, and every food place we could with our limited time. Athens is not lacking in the history or food departments. We saw many Greek and Roman temples with the best obviously being one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Parthenon. The Parthenon was even better than I could have imagined and pictures don’t do it any justice. It was amazing to see something almost 2,500 years old still kicking today. There were also many beautiful Greek Orthodox churches all over the city as well, you couldn’t go more than a few hundred feet before something built over 500 years ago pops up.

Herodes Theater


I was very excited to get to Athens because I had done a lot more research on the city compared to other places I’ve traveled to. For Christmas I received a book that was 400 pages of just the history and architecture of the Parthenon. Now, I admit that it went a little too in-depth for me, but I definitely felt that I had a better understanding of Athens from the book and my own independent research. There is a lot more than just the Parthenon as well. There is the Roman Agora, Hadrian’s Gate, The Panathenaic Stadium, 2000 year old theaters still being used, and the changing of the guard at the Greek Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Parthenon


One thing I didn’t expect in Athens was the views. By law, every citizen of Athen is guaranteed the right of having a view of the Parthenon from their home. It is awesome to always be able to look up and see this huge part of history. Roof top bars/cafes also had even better views of the Parthenon and we hung out there at one called “A for Athens” multiple times, thus the title of my blogpost. 

The Panathenaic Stadium, all made of marble and fits 64,000

Roman Emperor, Hadrian’s Gate


In summary, Athens was a lot more of what I expected in a Greek city before coming to Greece. There were many big pillared buildings from ancient history and more recent times, but still many modern buildings that you would expect to see anywhere else in the world. The city really was electric and had this special vibe that I had not experienced before and it is definitely a place I would like to visit again.

Sofia

Hey all, I’m going to keep this one short because I procrastinated until 3 am my time to write this. But since last time I’ve checked in with you all I’ve been busy with school lessons and also traveled solo to Bulgaria to the capital city of Sofia.

Tallest cathedral in Bulgaria

For my trip to Sofia, the trip almost didn’t come to be. I arrived at the correct general area for the bus 3o minutes before departure, but couldn’t find exactly where it was until after the bus already left by just a minute. One of the workers ran me around a few streets and we managed to run right in front of the bus so I can get on before they left the city! I am very glad I caught the bus just to sit for the next 5 hours on my way to the city.

Sofia’s main theater

Fun fact about Sofia is that it not pronounced like the common girls name, there is less emphasis on the “fia” part and more on the “so” part. In Sofia, I went on a walking tour around the city and saw the main sites. There is a lot of cool variety in the city concerning architecture from Byzantine, Greek, Slavic, and Soviet influenced buildings. There were many things similar to Greece as well. If there weren’t so many Soviet buildings, I could easily believe that I was in Thessaloniki. My favorite activity in the city was sitting at a park with an ice cream people watching. I also had the pleasure of playing chess with old Bulgarian men and wow they are way better than I am! It was a really cool experience playing with them, even though we didn’t share a common language.

 

 

Well that’s all folks. I’m heading to Athens tomorrow and will be there for four days! I am really looking forward to explore both the ancient and modern parts of the city. Will keep you updated and as always hope everything is well back home.

 

Meteora

Hello all, hope everything is going well back home, because I’ve been up to some really cool stuff! I had a three day weekend with Monday being the lenten holiday of Clean Monday which is a pretty big deal in Greece.  With the extra time, I decided to head on over to Meteora, Greece. I bought a train ticket to leave Thessaloniki at 10 am and was planning on taking the bus to the train station. But my alarm didn’t go off in time so this trip almost ended before it even began. Fortunately, I was able to get a taxi and had 15 minutes to spare when I arrived at the station.

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View from Kalabaka

After the four hour train ride to Kalambaka we finally arrived! Kalambaka is a town of about 17,000 at the base of Meteora. Even from the train station we could see how crazy Meteora is! After staring up at the cliffs for awhile we quickly got settled into the hostel and then did the 45 minute hike up to the nearest high point. I really enjoyed the hiking even though it was not an easy trail. We rarely saw anyone else on the trail and it was so serene. Just looking up to these massive cliffs on the way up gets you a lot more excited to get to the top than driving a car like the vast majority of tourists there.

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View of the town from halfway up the trail

When we finally did make it to the top… WOW, is all I was able to say. This place is absolutely incredible. Being able to see for miles and miles and also how dramatic the cliffs looked with the surrounding environment.  The views were amazing, the atmosphere incredible, and the sunsets literally picture perfect. Words don’t really capture how great this place is so I think I will just post some photos for you now.

Holy Trinity Monastery

View from inside a monastery. Well worth the 3 euros

Perfect sunset

The only unforunate thing that happened for us was that all day Saturday was rainy, cloudy, and had no visibility in the afternoon. But the views from Saturday, Sunday morning, and Monday made it all worth it. See the difference between Sunday and Monday below.

Before buying my train ticket, all I knew about Meteora was that it was a nature area with some cliffs. But after spending three days hiking over 25 miles, Meteora is by far the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in my life. Pictures do it no absolutely no justice, but it is definitely a place worth coming to.

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This nice dog joined me for the sunset, absolutely magical

Back to class for me, been working on some of my papers and will be staying in Thessaloniki this next weekend. Hopefully will be able to explore the city a little more. Have a good rest of your week everyone!

Differences

It has been a pretty quiet week for me here in Greece. Tsiknopemti (Greek Halloween + Fat Tuesday) was Thursday and I enjoyed it by eating lots of smoked meat and dancing traditional Greek dances with classmates at the college. Now these Greek dances are pretty much polka, but it sure seem a lot more fun then polka is. Saturday morning I walked to the nearby town of Thermi and walked around their farmer market and city center. Overall, a pretty uneventful time recently.

Instead of talking about what I’ve been up to, I am going to highlight some of the most obvious differences I’ve noticed between the USA and Thessaloniki/Greece in general.

Shopping – Super Market vs Open Market: Here in Greece there aren’t any Walmarts, Targets, or even Shopkos. No place that you can get literally everything, so going to individual stores for each thing you need is a lot more common. Also, there are massive open markets in downtown Thessaloniki where you can essentially get everything you need in a small area. It’s pretty strange to see fish, squid, meat cuts, and actual pig heads out in the open but I guess the system works here.

Lifestyle – Everything in Greece is much more laid back for both good and bad. Everyone goes out to cafe’s and will drink one cup of coffee over 2,3, or even 4 hours just chit-chatting with no real aim in mind. I’ve also found that if class is supposed to start at 11, it might be closer to 11:15 or 11:20 when everyone shows up and the lesson begins. Deadlines are maybe not as prioritized as in America.

Food – I have not ate one cheeseburger since I’ve arrived in Greece and American food is probably the thing I am most homesick about. I have had the opportunity to eat lots of gyros, souvlaki (kinda like a kebab), spinach ‘pies’, and surprisingly, french fries. Greece has the whole Mediterranean diet going on, but its not so much a diet compared to the norm here. Seriously, can not wait to get home and have Chick-Fil-A and a nice steak dinner.

Agriculture – Being at the American Farm School – Perrotis College, I have had a lot of opportunities to see how Greeks do agriculture compared to Americans. On campus we have several olive groves, 100 dairy cows, a few thousand chickens and turkeys, and lots of smaller garden plants as well. In the nearby countryside there are a lot of grapes and olives, with smaller corn, tobacco, potato, and horticulture farms. These operations are usually no bigger than 200 acres and it is much more common to see less than 100 acres. For animals sheep and goats are common, and chickens are also becoming more normal for many farmers.

Weather – The weather hasn’t been below freezing since I’ve arrived and has consistently been about 55-65 degrees Fahrenheit as of late. I have been wearing a t-shirt to class these last few days and it has been fantastic. As Minnesota is looking at potentially a foot of snow this weekend, I’ll just end with that.

Smoking – Everyone and their mother smokes cigarettes in Greece. Also, it is allowed inside restaurants, bars, clubs, and pretty much everywhere except at the school. The first week was definitely an adjustment to seeing pretty much everyone smoke after being bombarded with how bad smoking is in America.

Crisis – The Great Recession in 2008 was a big deal for the whole world, but for the most part it seems like the USA is over it. In Greece, they are still heavily feeling the impacts of the economy tanking. The unemployment rate is 25% and Greece owes between 200-300 billion euros to the EU from their crash. It is still a really big deal here and most people have a very bleak outlook for the foreseeable future.

Strays – The crisis leads to my next point, stray dogs everywhere. In the middle of the city, at parks, on the side of road, in the middle of nowhere, there are big stray dogs everywhere. With the crisis, Greece can’t afford to neuter stray dogs so the population keeps growing. Fortunately, they don’t bother anyone but it is also pretty sad. I’ve gotten used to falling asleep to dogs barking at each other every night.

Bathrooms – The pipework for toilets in Greece are made much smaller than in the USA. This means that you can’t flush toilet paper in the toilet unless you want to unclog it yourself. There is a garbage can next to the toilet meant for everything you can’t flush. I’ve forgotten that multiple times and have got pretty handy with a plunger. Also, public toilets are not maintained by the city. Most public toilets cost something like .10 to .25 cents to get in. Definitely not the most convenient when you really gotta go!

Classes – My classes here are set up pretty differently compared to the states. At Iowa State, I am used to having class 2-3 times a week and having homework, quizzes, and then a final at the end. Here, we meet for class 1-2 times a week and have big essay and maybe a final or presentation at the end.

Well hope that helps you get a little insight into my life in Greece as a whole. It’s a long weekend coming up and I am heading to Meteora to see the cliffs and monasteries!

Back to the cold

Hello all, everything is going well here in Greece and I even got sunburnt the other day! Anyways, I’ll jump right into what I have been doing over the last 10 days. I spent my week going to my normal classes, so nothing too crazy there. For our Greek Culture class, the four of us Americans here are also taking traditional Greek dance lessons. The dances we have learned so far are kinda similar to polka in the USA and is apparently still popular for festivals, especially in small villages. I also have been going to some Greek cooking classes to make traditional Greek food. I won’t even attempt the Greek names, but we have made a pie with philo bread with spinach and feta inside, rice wrapped around grape leaves, and a dessert that is similar to donuts. I also had the opportunity to learn how to artificially inseminate cattle, which was pretty interesting but I don’t think I have a real desire to do it back home.

Flying out to Berlin!

This last weekend I took a trip out to Berlin, Germany. The rationale to why we went to Berlin over anywhere else in Europe was simple, it had the cheapest flights from Thessaloniki. 50 euros round-trip to fly 2 hours was a pretty good deal for booking the tickets three days before we left. I went there with two other Americans also studying at Perrotis College. First thing we did once we made it to Berlin was check in to our hostel pretty close to the middle of the city. In my two days in the city we saw most of the major monuments such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag building, the Berlin Wall Memorial, and the Murdered Jews Memorial. The two memorials were pretty sobering in just how much difficulty the city has had in the not so distant past. I also had the opportunity to have some traditional German food and drinks. I much prefer the burgers, bratwurst, and beer from Germany than some of the traditional foods I have had in Greece. My favorite place to eat in Berlin is called the Berliner Republik. All of the drinks change in real time to reflect the demand for each product and there were screens all around the restaurant to show the newest changes. It was kind of like a stock market but for beverages. Our group was able to get a 1.5L pitcher for 2 euros less than it’s original price, so we are basically ready to take on Wall Street now.

The Spree river in Berlin

The only downside to Berlin was that we left nice, sunny 50 degree weather in Greece to be in a windy 25 degree coldness in Berlin. It was fantastic getting off the plane back in Thessaloniki after being back in the cold. Our flight was supposed to get back at 10:10 am Monday morning and we had class at 11 am. In reality, we didn’t even land till 10:30 Fortunately, we didn’t have to go through customs and a taxi ride was less than 10 minutes to campus from the airport. We cut it close, but made it with 5 minutes to spare!

At the Berliner Dom

From the sports side, I was able to find some website that streamed the ISU vs Kansas game. It was pretty fun to watch the Cyclones beat Kansas at the Allen Fieldhouse, even if none of the Greeks I was with cared at all. Tomorrow (Thursday) is Tsiknopemti, which is Greece’s version of Fat Thursday. Lots of grilled meats and everyone will be downtown in the city celebrating. This also happens to coincide with a huge futbol match played in the city between PAOK Thessaloniki’s best soccer/futbol team and German team, Schalke for a European League match. I’ve been told by my professors and peers that if PAOK somehow wins, the celebration will be insane. If they win, about 50,000-60,000 people by the White Tower in downtown and lots of futbol hooligans, doing hooligan things. So hopefully all goes well, but I will let you know next week!

Class is in Session

Hello all, so I have successfully survived my first week here in Thessaloniki. Since I last wrote here I have been able to make it to every class and see what the American Farm School – Perrotis College is all about. The classes I am taking here are Current Issues in Greece, Olive Production Systems, Livestock Management & Production, and Greek Culture. My classes are very different than at Iowa State for two reasons: 1. My biggest class has 22 students and that would be about the same as my smallest class at ISU 2. I don’t have any homework, just one big essay due at the end of the semester.  I also have a two-pronged Service Learning Project focused on assisting refugees in the Thessaloniki community and helping Perrotis College students with conversational English. Hey Mom and Dad here is the proof that there will at be a little “studying” in studying abroad.

Hagia Sophia of Thessaloniki main entrance

I have also went in to the city just about every day last week. It was pretty tiring, but I feel like I have a pretty good handle on the city now. Campus is a 15 minute taxi ride from the city center and about a 40 minute bus ride. Taxi’s usually run between 15-20 Euros, while a bus ticket will get you there for 1.20 Euros. The buses are pretty similar to the CyRide back in Ames, but way more crowded and run much less often. The city is working on a metro system, but apparently hasn’t been able to get much done in the last 8 years since it was announced. There is a lot of construction going on for it, but it is slow going because they are always finding archaeologically significant sites from ancient Roman and Greek times. Apparently some private apartments will do construction during the night time so they can’t “see” the ancient finds in the ground. It makes doing construction in America seem quite a bit easier and straightforward.

View from on top of the White Tower

Thursday night I met up with my friend Maddie who is from Eau Claire and also studying in Thessaloniki for the semester. I joined her group to listen to a Greek band play downtown and also to go to a Waka Flock Flame concert later on in the night. Waka came to Ames earlier in the fall but I was unable to catch him there, so I jumped on the opportunity to see him live in Greece. On Friday, I had class and then my roommate, Nico, took me shopping downtown to get some basketball shoes. I’ve been playing pickup 3-4 nights a week at the gym on campus and desperately needed them. I got an okay pair of Nike’s for only 30 Euros so it was quite the deal. Saturday and Sunday, one of my professors took me and the other 3 Americans to see some of the cultural landmarks around the city. First up was the Hagia Sofia of Thessaloniki, which is the oldest standing building in the city. It was built in 1205 and was used to entertain the Byzantine Emperors when they were in town. Next up was the Hagios Demetrios. St. Demetrius is the patron saint of Thessaloniki and became a martyr and saint when defending Christianity from the Romans in 300 AD. Lastly, we walked the coast and saw the White Tower. The White Tower was used as a prison/torture zone back when the Ottoman’s held the city. It used to be red from all the blood of the tortured, but the last prisoner was told he could be released if he painted the whole tower white. That was over 100 years ago and it is now one of the most iconic landmarks in the city.

Cheesin’ by the White Tower

Thanks for reading and hoping all is well in the US, this week will definitely have some interesting stories to come back with!

It’s All Greek to Me

I have made it to Greece! Since I last checked in here I spent a few days running around London, flew to Thessaloniki, and have been extremely busy here the past three days. I rounded up London by seeing all the big tourist sites such as Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. Also, I took a day trip out to Rochester, UK which was a little different than Rochester, MN. This Rochester had a 700 year old castle and a nice more relaxing environment compared to London. Overall, I had a great time in the UK but I was ready to move on to Greece by the end of my stay.

Big Ben in London

My flight took off from London Gatwick early Friday morning and this time I did not make the mistake of taking a taxi. Instead I got an Uber at 4:30 am and it was less than $15 total which was pretty good compared to my taxi experience. The flight to Thessaloniki was about three hours and I was with mostly other students from Cardiff Metropolitan University in Wales. They were coming to the American Farm School as well for a week-long program. I would end up spending a lot of time with them this past weekend.  Friday, we walked around Thessaloniki and got a little better grasp of the city. It is very beautiful and is nothing like what I’ve seen in America. I guess to describe it, it has a mix of Turkish and Baltic influences. I’m looking for a photo now, but I guess I forgot to take any pictures of the city! I will add some soon. On Saturday, we took a bus out to Mt. Olympus and climbed in the foothills. It was a really cool hiking trail, but also pretty rough with ice and snow.  My study abroad director here has said that we will take a 2 day hiking trip all the way to the top later in the year when the weather is nicer. We also visited a few traditional Greek villages. From the villages we had a fantastic view of the Aegean Sea.

Mount Olympus from the foothills

Sunday, we visited two different vinery’s. The first was a wine producing vinery and made different Greek varieties of wine. The second made everything but wine from the plants. The primary product was the grape leaves. They used the grape leaves to make traditional Mediterranean foods that were very different than American foods. That night I went to Aigli, which is this 500+ year old Turkish bath house that was converted into a Cafe/Club and the inside was absolutely amazing. It was a fantastic venue and it was really cool to see the ancient architecture on the inside mixed with more modern aspects of a Cafe. So far this week I have had a tour of campus, orientation, and my first class. The classes are very different than at Iowa State. My first class (Livestock Management and Production) there were only two students! It is going to be a little different than the 300+ lecture halls at ISU.

Next week, I should be able to tell more about campus and the classes in general. I also know I will be in the city a bit more, so stay tuned!