Home at Last

In the last few weeks I have had to say goodbye to all my friends in Greece, finish up my classes, and make my way back home to America. Along the way I stopped in Edinburgh, Scotland to see the city and wow it is a beautiful place. Edinburgh is known as “The Athens of the North” so it was cool to see some similar architecture as in Athens.

Edinburgh Castle from my hostel

While reflecting about how the last 3.5 months have been for me, I can confidently say that coming to Greece was a fantastic experience. From the many places I traveled to, the friends I made, and the things I experienced it was overwhelmingly positive. I have been home for a little over a week now and I miss my friends and professors so much. I miss the amazing coffee, food (especially gyros), and the relaxed vibe of Greece.

The 4 Americans at Perrotis: Erin, Leah, me, and Korianna

 

With that being said, I am glad to be back on US soil. It has been a long time coming to see friends and family from Minnesota and from Iowa State. It has been cool to see some new changes in different towns and even how some people have changed. It has also been very nice to see the cattle again, see new calves, and earning some money again working!

Happy friends greeting me back in Ames!

 

Overall, going to Greece was a life changing event for me. Seeing many different cultures, people, and customs was amazing and at times frustrating. It definitely has opened me eyes to other parts of the world outside of the US. My biggest take away is that people everywhere around the world are ultimately very similar. We have similar aspirations to do well for ourselves, have friends, have fun, and be happy. If someone is interesting in studying abroad, I can not advocate enough how good of an experience it is! Unfortunately, this is the end of the blog. Thank you to everyone that read it the last few months, I hope you enjoyed hearing about my little trek to Europe!

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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

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.

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!