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!

 

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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!