Friday, January 28, 2011

Wait. We have to study?!

This week we began our first week of classes. We had been warned that while this semester is wonderful, we are not excused from studying. No matter how many time people said this I'm not sure any of us truly understood their seriousness. We do, in fact, have to study... a lot. I am getting 16 hours of credit out of this semester. I am taking Christian Ethics, Humanities, Life of Paul, Modern Greek, and Photography. I will definitely have the opportunity to learn a lot out of the course of the 40 class days. These class days are packed full and end by 1:30 for lunch, which leaves the rest of the afternoon and evening to explore Porto Rafti, rest and socialize in the Artemis, or make a trip to Athens. I have had the opportunity to do all three of these things in the past 4 days.

Monday, after our first day of class and realizing that we do indeed have to study, a few of us went on a trip to a nerby town to the Greek Best Buy, Kotsovolos. Because it was a rainy day, Dr. James took a group of 6 of us to this electronics store and then to a Famous Brands Outlet Mall. It was a nice little outing and on our way back to the Artemis we took a driving tour up into the mountains of Porto Rafti. The view of the Agean Sea in the rain was beautiful, and I hope to take a bicycle outing to the same spot later after the weather clears up.

Tuesday, I had one class. Yay! After class and lunch were over for the day, a group of 14 of us made a trip to Athens for the rest of the day. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining with temperatures in the 50s, making it very pleasant. We took the two buses and train required to reach the Plaka and split into smaller groups to go shopping. The group I was with went in and out of different shops. I found and purchased a Greece Futbol jersey for 12 Euro. After a little bartering with broken Greek on my end and broken English on the shopkeeper's end, I left with my first souvenier in hand. After wandering around for a while, we made our way to The Poet Sandalmaker's shop. This place is famous. Jackie O, The Beatles, and other celebrities have been to this shop to have leather sandals handmade for them by The Poet or his son. The business is approaching its 100th year, and it is one of the many things I have been told to see while here in Greece. I purchased a pair of Olympia sandals for 27 Euro. The fit like a glove, and I have already gotten a lot of use out of them. I plan to go back later in the trip to purchase another pair. After getting our sandals we met the other group for dinner at a Greek restuarant, Sabbas. I had chicken kalamaki ( a chicken skewer, pita, and french fries). We rushed from dinner to barely make the train headed back to Karopi where we would go on to catch the two buses back to The Artemis.

Wednesday, after class day number 3, I went to the Palmi Bistro down the road. Three new friends and I walked 10 minutes down the road to the sea and had coffee in a little place on the beach. We went with every intention of tackling our homework, but ended up accomplishing very little. After a few hour of relaxing and conversing we made our way back for dinner at the Artemis.

Thursday, we did not have class. Instead we left at noon for the National Archeological museum in downtown Athens. The tour was very interesting. We saw amazing artifacts, statues, and art from places all over ancient Greece. Now, as I read a chapter out my humanities textbook, I am seeing picture of the very statues I saw yesterday in person. Wow. This is an amazing trip, and  I will only see more as this semester goes on.

Today was rainy and windy. We were pretty much confined to The Artemis. I am reading a book titled Water for Elephants, I am a little more than half way through after this day of reading. A group of us sat by the fire and read or studied whilst some of the guys played piano and guitar. A few times throughout the day we got a group together to play some ping pong. Even though it was rainy and dark; the power went out for a few hours, it was a very relaxing afternoon and evening. I am almost finished with my Humanities reading assignmet. People are scattered throughout the Artemis watching movies, studying, skyping with friends and family, enjoying tea time, or like me, blogging.

This week has been busy. We have had a lot of fun and we have learned a lot. And we have realized that yes, we do have to study.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Step up to Mars Hill
The Parthenon

Me and My Roommate, Victoria.
The view from our balcony.
The Parthenon

Me and Mrs. Beth
Theater of Dionysos

First time getting Euros.

The Parthenon in the reflection.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Athens, Acropolis, and Awesome Cheese!

Weird title of this entry, I know, but I had to include something about my new favorite thing to eat in Greece... the Feta cheese. It is so amazingly good!
Today we loaded the bus at 8am and headed to Athens. We picked up our tour guide (James) in Galfayda and we drove past where we will attend church on Sundays. The hotel where we attend is in an area of the city that used to have an American Air base and it still has many remaining American influences. We saw 3 Starbucks, a McDonalds, KFC, TGIFridays, Gap, and many other things to remind us of home. After the hour bus ride we got off at the Olympic Stadium. It was beautiful. I am still amazed at all of the buildings here that are made entirely out of marble. Today, the stadium is only used for ceremonies and no longer for real sporting events. We learned a lot today about Greek history, mythology, and word origins... way too much to relay in this blog (I did take pretty good notes in my journal for class though). Next, we went to the Acropolis. Yesterday we saw it lit up on the hill, and today we did a walking tour for hours and had the opportunity to learn about and take pictures of some truly amazing things.

We saw the Odeion of Herodes Atticus (an ampitheater-type area), The Parthenon (the temple to Athena), The Temple of Erechtheion, The Olympian Temple to Zeus, Mars Hill, the Theater of Dionysos, the Areopagos, and the Athens Museum. All of these places were beautiful! It was wonderful to be in a place of such history and significance. Even though my feet were tired, I was hungry, and we had one student pass out, I am so grateful for the opportunity see and experience all of this!

We returned home back to the Artemis after a long day and had an hour to relax before dinner. I use the hour to call my mom and dad on the phone in the lobby that connects to US phones for free. It was so nice hearing their voices. I loved sharing with them all that we have done so far. I am so thankful for this amazing trip and the support of my parents.

We headed to dinner at 7pm at this Taverna right down the street. I had some delicious bread, olive oil, feta cheese, and chicken kalimaki (a chicken kabob)... it was so delicious. I will definitely never have to worry about going hungry here :) After dinner we went to YEGOS the local supermarket. I bought some lotion and other people bought some other toiletries or snacks. Then we walked back (with our street dog escort) to the Artemis where we are settling in for the night. I think we are about to watch a movie in the family room.

Today was a great day. I will never forget it! I thought I would share with you some of the different things we are getting used to while here in Greece...
- We can not flush toilet paper.
- Yes is said "Nae"
- No is said "Okie"
- Stop signs are only suggestions
- Cars do not stop for anyone... we just have to take a bold step out into the street to stop traffic.

Friday, January 21, 2011

γειά σου

γειά σου!

This means hello. It is pronounced "ya-sas". I know know how to say hello, hi, thankyou, sorry/ excuse me, so-so, bathroom, and the names of many of the nearby towns. I can't believe the amount of new things I learned today. I am starting to understand the Greek alphabet and it is getting easier to sound out the names of shops and signs.

This mornign we slept in (I'm tols it's one of our last opportunities to sleep late so I made it count). I got up in time for lunch and then after we headed on our first trip to Athens. We took a bus from Porto Rafti to Markovolo (1.40 Euro) then got on another smaller bus to Kariopi (1.60 Euro). Once there, we got tickets for the Metro bus (.50 Euro with a student ID). This train runs through a mountain and into the heart of Athens. We waited a very long time on the platform, but it gave us a good opportunity to talk and practice some of our Greek words. After riding the subway to the center of Athens we unloaded and walked out into a bustling station and then a beautifulthriving city.

With my rain jacket and waterproof shoes on (it was rainy and in th 50-60s today) we walked around Athens for a couple of hours. Here, we are warned, that there is a high risk of being pick-pocketed. I kept my bag infront of me with my hand on it the whole time, and I felt very safe. After finding our meeting place, we waled around the Plaka (an amazing street market with tons of cool shops). I can not wait to go back and get to explore all the shops! We walked for a while and even got to see the Acropolis lit up on the hill in the distance. We will be going there tomorrow for a more educational guided tour ( we will take notes for class). Then we headed back to the meeting place, Starbucks, and made our way back to the Metro station and back to The Artemis. It was so good to get off our feet and have lasagna for dinner. After dinner we set out tea and coffee, and some people watched a movie.

Tomorrow promises to be a very full and long day! We are set to leave on a bus at 8am and spend the whole day in Athens seeing the historical sites. And tomorrow night I will be eating at my first "Taverna" (No, it's not a tavern. more like a street vendor with gyros.)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It's all Greek to me... Literally.

I did not sleep Tuesday night. My parents and I drove to the DFW Airport at 4am. We went through the checking in process and then tearfully said our goodbyes. With no lines at security, I made it through in a little under 5 minutes from passport scan to pat down to putting my shoes back on. It was so easy and stress free, and for that I am thankful. I got to the gate with 2 hours to spare before loading. Believe me, with all the nerves consuming me that 120 minutes crawled by. I met my plane mate, Zack. We got to know each other, I got some breakfast, and then we boarded to plane to Newark, New Jersey. I slept for a few minutes on the plane and spent the remaining time talking to a nice woman from New York who kindly pointed out the Manhattan skyline through the fog during our landing. So now I can officially say that I have seen New York... This is the beginning of seeing so many new things!

When we landed in Newark at 10am we found our next gate and met our sponsors, the Thompsons. We were the second and third students to arrive in Newark, and all that remained to do was wait for the next 29 people to arrive. During the layover I had the opportunity to meet and get to know several new friends. I immediately hit it off with a few people and we had a great time talking about all the random things that come up in long airport conversations. I am very thankful for the bonds we formed in those hours sitting in New Jersey.

I boarded the plane for Athens at 5:45pm Eastern time. My new plane buddy, Jill, and I watched the Social Network as soon as the plane took off. During the middle of it we were served a chicken and rice dinner with a side salad and roll. I will not knock the airplane food, because I was starving and too tired to even care it it was good. As soon as the movie was over I fell asleep. According to my plane buddy, I fell asleep in the embarrassing way: head back and mouth wide open. Attractive, I know. No matter, it was worth it because I slept through the entire 9 and 1/2 hour flight. I woke up 30 minutes before landing feeling much more rested than many of my fellow Huggers (Harding University in Greece... HUG). We landed in Athens at 10:15 (we are now 8 hours ahead of y'all in Texas). We breezed through the passport stamping line, baggage claim, and customs. No one was searched and we had no problems. Once outside then airport we were greeted by the directors of the program, Mike and Beth James. It was so good to see them! I am definitely going to enjoy this semester with them. After boarding a charter bus and driving a quick 15 minutes to the small port town of Porto Rafti we pulled up in front of our home away from home, The Artemis.

The Artemis is the property that Harding bought in the 90s. It used to be a hotel for the tourists who flock to the area in the summers. After the economic downturn Harding bought it and changed a few things to make it a beautiful mini-campus. I am on the third floor living in an apartment with Victoria. Our balcony (yes we have a balcony) looks out over the front entrance of our campus. We settled in and unpacked everything. Then Fofi, our HUG cook, made the group lunch. We had a short info meeting about how things work around here and the rules. Then we had another info meeting about job opportunities. I signed up to be a Tea Time helper. My partner, Amanda, and I set out tea, coffee, snacks, fruit, and sometimes baked good every night at 9pm. It is fun and easy because we get to hangout with everyone in the dining room and play card or just chat. I have a feeling I will love having this time every night. After our meetings and tour of the Artemis we took a walking tour of the town of Porto Rafti. Everything is in Greek! It is a bit overwhelming to look around and not recognize anything (except the Ikea right by the airport and the Shell gas station down the street from us. We have learned several basic Greek words for common phrases. If I read them now I wouldn't be able to recognize them, but I do know how to say a few things... To say hi and goodbye you say "ya-su", thank you is "effhharisto" with the emphasis on the "sto", my name is spelled Really weird because they don't have a B in their alphabet. I will download the pictures I took later when we have some free time tomorrow. The best part about the walking tour was seeing the Agean Sea. It is the most beautiful place I have ever been, and I am looking forward to seeing so many more things! I can't even describe the beauty. Another cool thing about our tour is that there are street dogs that roam the area, and whenever HUG students are here they act as guard dogs. They walk along side of our group and protect us from other dogs, cars, and anything else they deam a threat. Right now they are sleeping at the entrance to the property and we are told they will stay there until the day we leave.

After exploring for a while and eating some delicious ice cream at a shop just down the block we went back to the Artemis for dinner, and a relaxing night watching a movie and playing cards. After tea time I headed up to my room where I am now writing this entry and I just got off of skype with The Mallorys :) It is 12:15am Friday morning as I write this. I am about to go to bed and rest up for a great day tomorrow. We will head to Athens in the afternoon and see the Parthenon and Mars Hill. Wow, I can't believe this is what the next 3 and 1/2 months will be like.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tomorrow, I leave...

Tomorrow, I leave for an amazing adventure abroad. I am starting this blog so my mom can follow my travels, stories, and pictures, yet I know a few others will stumble upon this and I hope you can enjoy something from my experiences. I am new to this type of forum, so please bear with me (also I may not have the best grammar on the planet, so forgive me). 

For the next 108 days I will be spending the second semester of my Sophomore year in college on a semester abroad in Greece. Our group will live and study (yes we will have to study) in Greece just an hour outside of Athens. We take several trips, including a jaunt to Egypt, Israel, and the Mediterranean Islands. I have been looking forward to this trip for over a year. This Spring semester has consumed my plans (I am a major planner... OCD at times), it is all I talk about (sorry if it got old), and now that I leave in a little over 24 hours, I am still amazed by how blessed I am to have this opportunity. I know our itinerary, I have the packing lists, I have prepared and planned, and yet I don't know what lies ahead of me. Whatever happens, I aim to enjoy the journey, have too much fun, and learn a lot about myself along the way (and if I happen to meet a handsome Grecian man in the process so be it... just kidding... sort of). 

I am finished packing except for a few minor things to be thrown in last minute, and believe me, it was a process. One 50lb suitcase, two carry on items, three trips to the store, a quadruple-checked packing list (yep OCD), and five hours later  I am almost packed and ready to go on Wednesday morning at 4am... here is a picture of my packing process from start to almost finish.