Wrapping Up

Hello all, I’m back again with a quick post about what I’ve been up to and what the future holds for me. I spent last weekend in the Tzoumerka region hiking up and around mountains. Now I’m back in Thessaloniki working on all the papers I’ve been neglecting the whole semester! Fortunately the NCAA championship game is on tonight at 4:20 am Greek time and I’m getting a lot of work done while waiting for that to start right now.

I leave for Easter break this Thursday night. I have 16 days and am planning on jumping around Europe for a little bit. Right now I’m planning on being in Dusseldörf and Cologne, Germany for a few days then jumping down to Milan, Italy. I’ll be in Northern Italy for about a week split between Milan, Florence, and Venice. After that I’m splitting my last week between Amsterdam, Netherlands and Prague, Czech Republic. I’ll head back home to Thessaloniki and only have 3 days left before I head back to London for my flight home! It’s crazy how fast everything is ending right now and I still can’t believe it is almost over!

I’m leaving my laptop in Greece, so it will be a little while till I send another update. I will have MANY pictures though, so it will be worth the wait! Ciao!

P.S. here’s a map of where I’m all heading if you weren’t sure where I’m going:

http://www.travellerspoint.com/member_map.cfm?user=ConnorCB&tripid=1013803

All roads lead to Rome

Ciao! Over the last two weeks I’ve been in Rome, Athens again, and spent time running around Thessaloniki. I’ll primarily talk about Rome and the Vatican City here, but I’ve been crazy busy running around as of late. Back in the USA, many schools were on their spring break and my girlfriend, Jenna, took advantage of her time off to come visit me in Greece. But, we also were able to explore some new places for both of us, so onto Rome.

The Pantheon

We flew to Athens then to Rome last Saturday, and took the train/metro to the apartment we got an AirBnB for the weekend. It was a very nice place with a huge bedroom, living room, and kitchen. It was a little overkill since we spent most of our time running around the city, but it was a cool place. It was also located just north of the Vatican City and about 15-20 minutes from the city center, so definitely in walking distance.

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Trevi Fountain

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Rome is a crazy beautiful city that has a mix of ancient, renaissance, and more modern architecture. I personally liked the ancient Roman architecture the most, because I have learned a LOT about the history behind it. I’ve been listening to the 200+ podcast episodes of “The History of Rome”  by Mike Duncan for quite some time now and it was cool to see some of these places I’ve only been listening about. Some highlights that come to the top of my head were Saint Angelo’s Castle, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps. One thing I didn’t expect was just how many people visit Rome and how many sketchy street vendors are there catering to their selfie stick and laser pointer needs.

 

The next day was spent exploring more of the true ancient part of the city. Jenna and I walked through the Roman Agora, up Capitoline Hill, and on over to the Colosseum. Even though it is mostly ruins today, you could imagine just how wealthy and powerful the Romans were 2,000 years ago.

Vittorio Emanuele II

On our 3rd and last day, we headed on down to the Vatican City. We opted to get a tour guide to help explain the significance of various buildings, objects, and paintings that we saw inside. The tour was about 2 hours and we saw some of the Vatican Museums with a large amount of paintings, statues, and lots of art in general. The highlight at the end of the tour was easily being in the Sistine Chapel. It was amazing and honestly difficult to even see and comprehend every scene on the ceiling with our limited time. If I were to ever go back to Rome, I think I would need a lot more time at the Vatican City than 2-3 hours.

Last but not least was the food! I am not exaggerating that every meal I ate had pizza, pasta, or gelato included somehow. And wow, it was hard to find food that didn’t taste good there! I would recommend going to Rome just for the food, eating with views of the Colosseum and Vatican City are just nice additions.

Jenna and I outside the Colosseum

We had a few issues at the airport in Rome, unfortunately.  Our flight was delayed by about four hours due to a strike by the airport workers. We finally made it to Athens for our connecting flight, but that flight back to Thessaloniki had left an hour before we got back. Fortunately, we were flying with Aegean Airlines and not a budget airline. Aegean set us up with a complimentary hotel room in the luxury hotel across the road from the airport and gave each of us a free Aegean flight to be used in the upcoming year. This worked out pretty nicely for us, so we used the free flight to visit Athens this past Saturday. Overall, not too bad of an experience.

The Ancient Colosseum

What I’ve been up to besides all this traveling you ask? Well, I managed to get a haircut from a lady who spoke absolutely no English and it worked out alright. I learned how to treat mastitis on cows and been working on some papers. This week I’ll be helping AFS with their broiler processing and visit a cattle finishing operation. Stay tuned for my last few weeks in Greece!

 

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 arranged 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!