The Beautiful Beaches of Athens

I remember waking up on our last day in Greece with a little knot in my stomach, because I could feel our wonderful journey coming to an end. Endings and separation are always difficult for me (I was a little teary-eyed before I wrote this after parting with my family at the end of Thanksgiving break), but I tried to keep a cheery mood!

Many columns, much Greece

On our last day in Greece, we drove about an hour outside of Athens to visit the Temple of Poseidon at Sonuion along the coast. In all honesty, this was one of my favorite ruins in all of Greece. I mean, check out that crystal blue water! It served as a marker for sailors leaving Athens or returning to Greece, sort of like a modern “Welcome to Pennsylvania” sign.

When Lord Bryon visited the site, he was so impressed with the temple he carved his name into it! You can read more about this famous poet’s obsession with Greece here. Unfortunately, many not-famous visitors followed suit. Older generations oftentimes criticize our new tech-saavy society, but at least with snapchat we can only virtually carve our names into ancient historic sites.

After ten days of historical tours, my brain was in information overload mode. I was beyond excited to hit the beach after our tour!

It was a Saturday, however, so everyone and their grandmother had the same idea we did. We couldn’t even get a chair to sit in at the beach we were at! Once we were all settled under a leafy palm tree we were ready to relax. We went to this beach because it was relatively close to our hotel, however, I would definitely recommend lounging further out from the city if possible.

A lovely but crowded beach in Athens

The real excitement of the day occurred traveling back to our hotel. Our tour guide had left us because he had to take some other tourists back to the hotel, so my school group and I had to follow his instructions to ride the tram back to the hotel. He basically told us we could take any tram going into the city.

We quickly got onto the first metro going into the city. It was super crowded, people were literally crushed up against each other. Some creepy Athens natives were making kissy sounds at my friend and I, and we avoided eye contact as much as possible. About halfway through our ride we realized we were on the wrong line! We had to get out and regroup. We had to back track and find the right line. It was stressful and chaotic, however, we finally got into the right tram and were able to relax. Only for a few moments, however. A father on our tour realized he couldn’t find his wallet! My friend and I realized that the men making kissy noises at us were trying to distract us while he was being pickpocketed! Unfortunately, this is a relatively common occurrence on Athens public transport. You can read more about pickpocketing tactic in Greece and how to protect yourself while travelling here.

By the time we got back to the hotel, we were all exhausted beyond belief. I hate flying, but I was excited to spend the next day being able to sit  on the plane and just watch movies.

Just when we thought we were on the home stretch, our flight in Athens was delayed. We actually ran to try to make our connecting flight from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, however, it was too late! Our group really couldn’t catch a break.

Unfortunately, four people in our group (shout out to Mrs. Farley, Mrs. Eades, Mrs. Phares, and Riley!) had to stay behind because there was not enough seats on the next flight to Pittsburgh. I never thought I would be so happy to return to Morgantown, West Virginia!

This wraps-up my ten day adventure in Greece. While it had its highs and lows, I would not trade this experience for the world! Greece is where our modern society as we know it began. I think it’s a place everyone should visit before they die, to understand the roots of our modern civilization and admire its Mediterranean beauty.

My heart belongs to Greece

Delphi: Heaven on Earth

Today, I get to describe to you one of the most incredible places on earth: Delphi. Before we arrived, my teacher described it as “heaven on earth,” and I am happy to say she was right.

On our way to Delphi, we got to see the beautiful mountainous countryside of Greece.

We made a pit spot and I had one of the best gas station coffees in my entire life. Next to the gas station, there was a tiny but beautifully decorated chapel. While I love a good Sheetz, this holy gas station pretty much put them to shame.

Fanciest gas station ever

Before reaching the Temple, we made another stop at an olive orchard to taste Greek olive oil. I was apprehensive to taste the olive oil at first, because I was expecting the orchard would have a grand tasting building, but instead we were met with three guys, a tent, and a table on the side of the road. Once I tasted the olive oil, however, I was instantly hooked. My family is not usually big on buying souvenirs, however, we bought ten bottles so can we live off this olive oil as long as possible. Even though I have spent hours searching for this olive orchard online to buy even more bottles, I can not find it. You can find what the Internet says are the best olive oils, however, at this website.

After filling ourselves with as much olive oil, bread, and goat cheese as possible, we loaded back onto the bus to reach Delphi. The view as we passed by the ocean was spectacular.

            The sound of locusts filled the air once we reached the Temple of Delphi. The sun beat down on our backs like the previous day on the Acropolis, however, it was hard to concentrate on the heat when surrounded by such tranquil beauty.

The tour guide in Delphi was one of the best I had listened to in my entire life. The way she framed the importance of Delphi in ancient society shifted my entire perspective of Greek culture.

Delphi was a place of worship for Greeks as well as those from other nations that were traveling. All of these people came together to worship their gods, which are in many ways similar to our modern saints. These gods embodied what the Greeks strive to be or do, whether that be wise (Athena), to love fully (Aphrodite), or to be a strong warrior (Ares). Apollo, the patron of Delphi, was the god of the sun as well as wisdom. Many times in art, he is contrasted with the God Dionysus, who is the God of partying, embodying the balance Greeks strived for in their lives. Delphi was not just a religiously sacred place, however, it was a place where people from around the ancient world could share art, philosophy, and news as well.

The oracle of Delphi was supposed to hear messages from the God Apollo and relay them to man. Years later, archaeologists and scientists discovered there had been fumes in the Temple of Apollo during the years the Oracle was active. Interestingly, once these fumes stopped because an earthquake closed the fissure to the ground, people stopped visiting Delphi and the city soon died. You can read more about the debate about what specific fumes the oracle was inhaling here. Centuries later, people built their homes on this very land which was once so sacred.

It is interesting to learn that “legends” oftentimes have a truth and scientific basis to them. Even though we know the oracle wasn’t really listening to a god, those fumes were conjuring something wild in her brain. And although the Greeks lived thousands of years ago, they strived for something that humans have tried to find throughout time: how to live a full, balanced life.

I couldn’t help feeling sad leaving this beautiful place, because I could sense our travels were coming to a close!

The Amazing Acropolis

Although I believe the islands are the most beautiful part of Greece, I was sure ready to stay on land for a while. After sleeping in that tiny cabin for a few nights, it is suffice to stay I will not be on another Celestial Cruise anytime soon.

Once we got off the ship, however, there was no time to rest. We had to embark on our journey up to the Acropolis, which I was anticipating in excitement as well as dread. We took a quick stop at the site of the first modern Olympics, and I had a cute picture taken with a man in classical soldier uniform. It is less cute in hindsight, however, because he asked us for money after we took the photo so I am now out 2 euros.

I have established this is another blog posts, but I think it needs to be resaid: Greece is HOT. If you stand in the sun, you will become drenched in sweat. The shade feels much better, however, there is no way to escape the stickiness of humidity. The climb up to the Acropolis, we were told, was pretty much directly in the sun. With water bottle in hand and two layers of deodorant on, I psyched myself up for our climb.

With only a few slips along the way, we were soon at the top of the Acropolis. For a moment, it didn’t feel real. Throughout my entire life, I had seen pictures of the grand structure, however, it felt surreal to see it with my own eyes. Humans had to be stronger back in the day, or at least had higher pain tolerance, because even though I was the only girl on my high school track team that could do a proper push up there is no way I could have helped drag those big pieces of marble up a massive hill. You can watch the amazing methods that the Greeks used to build this massive structure here.

Once I got past how large the Parthenon is, my first thought was “wow this is great but this structure is somewhat plain.” When the Ottomans controlled Greece from 1452-1821, many of the great marbles of the Parthenon were taken by British Ambassador Thomas Bruce Elgin, under the claim he was concerned that the Ottomans would destroy them. These marbles, now known as “Elgin Marbles” are mostly located in the British Museum. The controversy whether the British Museum should return the Elgin marbles to the Greek government still exists. You can read more about the “Bring Them Back” movement here.

Even though it is lacking the Elgin marbles, the Acropolis Museum still hosts several interesting artifacts, and is definitely worth seeing. My favorite piece was probably a bust of a very handsome man pictured below.

After a jam packed day in Athens, I was definitely ready for a change a pace. Next week, I will take you to Delphi, one of the most beautiful places on Earth!

 

Captivating Crete and Sightly Santorini

My fifth day in Greece was jammed pack for sure. Up early again, we spent our morning in the island of Crete.

While walking to the city’s center, our tour guide told us we were on the “bypass mile.” Before World War II, Greece was on the “poor man’s diet” of fish, olive oil, vegetables, and bread. There were no processed, prepackaged foods. After the war, however, Greece gained access to these unhealthy foods and obesity rates dramatically rose. Doctors told overweight Cretans to walk the “bypass mile” everyday to try to improve their health. (Just another example of American consumerism making people’s lives better!)

The bypass mile is marked by a gold line that eventually leads to the city’s center. This gold line represents Ariadne’s thread, Adriane being a beautiful Cretan princess who fell in love with the hero Theseus. Theseus had to defeat the Minotaur in the King Mino’s (Ariadne’s father) labyrinth. It was believed to be impossible to get out of the labyrinth, but with Ariadne’s help Theseus defeated the minotaur. Ariadne and Theseus escaped the island to get married, but then Theseus abandoned her on the trip home (typical player). But then the Greek god Dionysus fell in love with Ariadne and married her, so in the end she upgraded.

Crete City Center

Once we got to the center square, my family and I went to explore the island’s museum. And let me tell you, the things in that museum were old. Objects from Jesus’ time were among the most modern objects. It’s funny to think in the United States our country is so young that the things in our museums are barely 300 years old. It made me realize how insignificant my life is in the grand scheme of history of time, which can be disheartening but also helps me contextualize the importance of homework the “small stuff.”

The true event of the day, however, was visiting the island of Santorini. Santorini is one of the most famous Greek islands, notorious for its beauty and for being one of the locations the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants II was filmed!

Santorini

As we approached the island, I was surprised that the village was located on the side of a cliff and not immediately next to the ocean. While you were in the village, however, you felt like you were right next to the water!

This island was even more packed than Mykonos. The crowd was overwhelming, and I would recommend if you want to visit this island you do it in the off season. The island was still beautiful, and I will never forget the beautiful sunset that marked the end of my Greek island hopping.

Such a beautiful place <3

Running Around Rhodes

I never thought I would see a Medieval castle in Greece among the likes of those in Spain and France. But that is exactly what happened when our cruise trip made a day-long stop in Rhodes.             From 1309 Rhodes was the home of the Knights of St. John. In the early 14th century, they converted a Byzantine citadel into the Palace of the Grand Master (“Rhodes’ Palace of the Grand Master” ).  Because the island was surrounded by pirates and other invaders, the palace had many fortifications, including 3 water less moats! In the 20th century, when the island was occupied by Italians, the inside of the palace was renovated. At one point, it was a summer home for Benito Mussolini! Today, the palace serves as a museum to allow the average person to imagine themselves living in medieval times.

This island is rich in myth and religious history. On Mount Zambiki of the island, an icon of the Virgin Mary sat behind a cypress tree. Although the icon was moved three different times, it kept reappearing on the top of the Mount. Today, the Holy Monastery of Panagia Tsambiki (another name for the Virgin Mary) protects the icon, and is a frequent destination for those having trouble bearing children. The tradition is to walk the 292 steps up to the monastery (sometimes barefoot) and to pray to her. Many mothers return to the site once their child has been born to have the child baptized at the monastery (“Panagia Tsambika”).

Mount Zambiki

One of my favorite parts about visiting Rhodes, however, was learning about the statue of Colossus, one of the seven wonders of the world.

Colossus of Rhodes
Image Courtesy Of Ancient History Encyclopedia

Thirty-three feet tall, the metal statue of Colossus, which depicted the sun God Helios stood at the harbor of Rhodes from 280 BCE until it was toppled down by an earthquake sometime between 228-226 BCE (Cartwright). Eventually, the broken pieces were melted down for scrap metal, so we have no concrete evidence of what the statue looked like. Current depictions of the statue are based on traveler’s writings.

America’s Statue of Liberty was inspired by this grand monument. Beyond the physical similarities these two statues have, such as sun beams emanating from the subject’s head, the statues also share a similar purpose: to show their state’s prestige. Collusus was constructed after Rhodes had successfully resisted a siege from Antigonus I, one of Alexander the Great’s successors (Cartwright). This statue showed off the power and wealth of Rhodes. This is just another example of how Greek culture inspires American culture.

The real show stopper of Rhodes, however, is the Acropolis of Lindos. Before visting this island, I didn’t realize each large settlement in Greece had their own Acropolis to please the Gods. This acropolis was built in antiquity, but it also has a medieval wall that was added later.

The walk up was stimulating, to say the least. The path was very smooth due to the high influx of tourists, so besides heat exhaustion I also had to worry about falling off the edge of the stairs to certain death.

Once I reached the top, however, I saw the view was worth all of the micro-aneurisms I had suffered on the way up. When looking at this view, all you can think, this is Greece.

A beautiful pool of water I thankfully did not fall into

That afternoon, we swam on a beach right outside the Palace of the Grand Master. I never thought I would swim in crystal blue waters right next to a medieval castle. I could almost feel the knights rolling in their graves over my bathing suite attire.

Sources

Cartwright, Mark. “Colossus of Rhodes.” Ancient History Encyclopedia, Ancient History Encyclopedia, 14 Oct. 2018, www.ancient.eu/Colossus_of_Rhodes/.

“Panagia Tsambika- Miracle Monastery for Conception.” Greek City Times, Greek City Times, 8 Sept. 2016, greekcitytimes.com/2016/09/08/panagia-tsambika-miracle-monastery-for-conception/.

“Rhodes’ Palace of the Grand Master.” Greece Is, 1 Aug. 2017, www.greece-is.com/rhodes-palace-grand-master/.

“The Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes: A Medieval Castle Turned into a Museum.” The Vintage News, 16 May 2017, www.thevintagenews.com/2017/04/06/the-palace-of-the-grand-master-of-the-knights-of-rhodes-a-medieval-castle-turned-into-a-museum/.

 

 

 

Pleasent Patmos: Where God Spoke to Man

Even though we had a pleasant morning/afternoon in Samos, our day was still not over! After a short ride on the cruise ship (which consisted mostly of napping in the Mediterranean sun), we arrived in Patmos.

Patmos is an important sight for Christians, and is currently a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Saint John was exiled to the island by Roman Emperor Domitian. In the Holy Cave of the Apocalypse on Patmos, it is believed Saint John heard the voice of God and wrote the Book of Revelation somewhere around 95 A.D. The Holy Monastery of the Apocalypse was built in 1088 to honor Saint John.

The Holy Monastery stands on what feels like the top of the island. From the outside, it looks more like a fortress than a holy site, however, after the tour guide told us a monk had to abandon the island because of pirate raids I understood the aesthetic.

The Book of Revelation tells the story of the apocalypse and governs how Christians believe the world will end. Even though I went to Catholic school for all of my elementary and middle school years, I still find this narrative interesting but extremely confusing. When I asked my local priest, he compared the Book of Revelations to the Lord of the Rings.

Some claim the signs listed in Revelation have already appeared. While a good apocalypse would break up the boredom of everyday life, considering all of the work I have put into my education I rather get my degree before the four horsemen arrive. You can read an “enlightening” article about how apparently the world might end in 2025 here.

What makes Patmos unique is that it is the only island that is explicitly said to be the place of writing in the New Testament (“Patmos” [Bible Places]).  Whatever your beliefs may be, in this location you can see where part of the best-selling book in the world was created. Apparently, the rock the cave is made of is a rare type of volcanic rock that would have taken 100 years to cool. There is a crack in the rock that splits in 3 directions. This is believed to be the exact spot God spoke to St. John (“The Historic Centre “).

Looking at the small cave Saint John lived in for eighteen years (“Patmos” [Sacred Sites]) was extremely humbling. It made my 10×10 overcrowded dorm room look like a palace. I am Catholic, however, I am also glad that according to historic trends my gender makes it much less likely I will be writing the Book of Revelations 2.0.

At the monastery my parents bought a handmade door knocker of a lion, as we are now a proud Penn State family. I am glad that now everyday they go through the front door, they think of our wonderful vacation as well as crippling college debt.

I’m not sure if St. John was too busy to enjoy the beauty around him, but I hope he did. As we sat and watched the sunset, Patmos did seem like a place God would talk to man.

Sources

“The Historic Centre (Chorá) with the Monastery of Saint-John the Theologian and the Cave of the Apocalypse on the Island of Pátmos.” UNESCO World Heritage Centre, UNESCO World Heritage Centre, whc.unesco.org/en/list/942.

“Patmos” BiblePlaces.com, www.bibleplaces.com/patmos/.

“Patmos.” Sacred Sites, sacredsites.com/europe/greece/patmos.html.

 

 

Sublime Samos: My Favorite Place

On my third day in Greece, I discovered what would become one of my favorite Greek islands: Samos.

Our tour company, EF Tours, does not let their customers go into Turkey, so we had to depart the boat at 4 o’clock in the morning. The ocean at such an hour was beautiful in the darkness, however, its hard to appreciate aesthetic when you are on day three of sleep-deprived mania.I was able to reflect on Samos’ beauty, however, as we ate breakfast as the sun rose. We sat next to the harbor, the sunrise awakening the small village (Samos, Samos) we were in.

During the first part of our day, I got some more background information about the island’s beautiful Greek Churches. Specifically, the meaning of the Eye.

If you ever go to Greece, you will find the Eye everywhere: in every tourist shop, every museum, every church. Most of them are bright blue, but in the churches they are made out of gold and silver.

Our tour guide told us the Eye is called “the evil eye.” From ancient times, it supposedly wards against evil. It is a classic example of pagan tradition mixed with Christianity in Greece. So basically this tradition argues all people with blue eyes are evil. As a Type A blue-eyed blonde, I can say with certainty this is accurate.