By Kirsten Jaqua
The first day I arrived in Athens, I left my apartment to go just down the street admire Kallimarmaro—the Panathenaic stadium beside which I have lived the past three months. There, a man who worked at the stadium brought me the brochures, told me about the stadium’s history, asked me where I was from, and welcomed me to Athens. He is one of many, many Greeks who have made me feel not only welcomed but at home in this country. The ladies who run the pastry store across the street from my apartment—Kekkos—gave me my first pastries free. The staff at CYA—before they knew me by name—gave me free bus tickets, directions to Syntagma, and a confidence boost when I was stressed about my broken Macbook my first week in Athens. A lady from Agios Philippos, the church in Monastiraki brought me a cup of coffee, and patiently struggled through her own English and my poor Greek to have a conversation with me. Those are just a few of the kindnesses I’ve been accorded here.
There aren’t many CYA students left in Athens right this week. We have scattered to the four winds—Germany, Holland, Jordan, Spain, Santorini, Mykonos and many other locations. My apartment has been completely occupied by me at this point. Books, coats, socks, pencils, chocolates are strewn all over the living room (don’t worry… I’ll clean it up before I leave ;). The only background noise is the sound of traffic on the street outside. Even my Greek neighbor has gone quiet. Maybe he left for an island too? So I’ve spent the last few days wandering Athens on my own, exploring all the places I’ve wanted to see but in the past have been constrained by time to put off. And of course, I’ve met many many strangers on the way.
On Saturday, after a visit to the Numismatic Museum of Athens, I stopped to talk to a man in the National Gardens. He is from Zimbabwe and knows seven different languages, though we only had one and a half languages in common—English of course and my scrappy knowledge of Modern Greek. Anthony, who has his own art site (see Anthony Pittaway) drew a picture of me before I went on my way again. I stopped to watch him also draw a picture of another person— a young man with his parents from New Zealand, here in Greece on vacation—and they were very curious to hear what I had to say about Athens from my three month stay.
Palm Sunday was yesterday, and I decided to take a walk, as I’d long planned, all the way around the base of the Acropolis.
The Acropolis is a beautiful place to walk, and I loved seeing the sites on a quiet, peaceful day when the city center was not crowded with tourists (that post is for another day, perhaps). But the moment that stood out to me most yesterday wasn’t any of the sites—as much as I love the Theater of Dionysus—but the Greek man selling icons on the west side of the Acropolis. I stopped to look at his stand and look at the prayer ropes. The seller showed me a couple of different ropes, and I was looking for prayer ropes and explained—as best I could between Greek and English—that I was an Orthodox student from America. And judging by the smile on his face, I think I made his day. So in addition to the prayer rope I bought, he gave me this little plaque with the Jesus prayer in Greek—the prayer all Greeks repeat for each knot of the rope: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
So to all of you strangers out there—to the many Greeks who gave me free apples, carrots, tomatoes, and the like from the market, to the man who told me the history of the stadium, to the many Greek store owners who ask with genuine interest about my home country, to all of the Greeks who tolerantly endured me butchering their language as I tried to communicate and smiled encouragingly for my effort, to the Danes I met on the Acropolis who said my Danish was very good, to the Greek man who gave me my free icon—thank you. You make my stay in Athens immeasurably better and more interesting.
And here, as a closing note to this post, is one last kindness from a stranger. Thank you also to the French tourist who stopped to take this picture for me. I hope Greece was as friendly and inviting to you as it has been to me.
Kirsten Jaqua is a Classics and Anthropology double major at the University of Colorado-Boulder and is studying at CYA for Spring 2014.
Arounder features 100+ world’s top destinations including thousands of attractions and places to see such as prestigious museums and historical cathedrals, unspoiled natural paradises and UNESCO sites as well as the most luxurious hotel and the finest restaurants all over the world.
“If you stepped here, probably the beaches of Greece are not occupying the first place in your agenda, and you are looking for a more…historical trip. Wonder what? You landed on the right place…Welcome to the cradle of democracy. Athens is either the capital, or the biggest city of Greece. Its names derives from Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, Civilization, Craftmanship and Strategy, since the city missed a patron deity and, when she competed with Poseidon in order to win it, she immediately gained the love of the inhabitants, offering them the olive tree. Athens has a long, long history, since it was first inhabited in the Middle Neolithic Era. Even though, it’s golden age dates back to the V century BC, when the city had mastery over the traffics in almost all the basin of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s exactly in this period of its history that the Acropolis and the Parthenon were built, in order to celebrate the greatness of a civilization with economical, cultural and political power that had seemed to be endless. Birthplace of Socrates, Plato and many other philosophers, the city - state was soon reduced to a province of the Roman Empire, thanks to the weakening strength of a city that was often engaged in fights against Sparta. The future lying in front of Athens wasn’t a bed of roses. It enjoyed a certain recovery from its decline under the Byzantine Empire, and - after another downfall - under the Ottoman Empire without ever playing a key role, occupied by other forces. But, in 1834, it became the capital of Greece, and the foundations for a modern city were laid, with a “Europeanization” of the architecture of the city. …”
On this page, you can check out many different panoramic views of Athens, including:
-Agios Giorgios on Lycavittos Hill
-Monastiraki Flea Market Stall
-Temple of Hephaistos
Click on the title to see more!
By Erika Tobin
The internal struggle is real. Much more real than I thought it would be. I feel a bit like Jesus right now, being both 100% human and 100% God. Except that I, 100% want to go back to the States right now, since I miss it so much, the people (as in my family, friends and boyfriend) and homemade cold cut sandwiches – weird, I know. But I also 100% don’t want to leave. Ever. Or at least leave without knowing when I’ll come back because it feels like in a month I’ll be leaving Greece forever. And I can’t bear that thought. I didn’t think I would want to leave Greece, but I find myself with that unexpected desire.
So many of my friends from last semester would kill to be back in Greece right now. So many others have kept their profile pictures as pictures of them in Greece or their cover photos of the beauty of the land or their love of or from their new found friends. That is for sure going to be me in a month to a month and a half. I know I’m going to be dying to be back here, where English is a second language but a very present second language (like Spanish in the states, but more so). I will be dying to be back in Greece where 68 degrees Fahrenheit is considered cold and 45 is felt to be freezing. I will be dying to be back in Greece where I definitely have not mastered the language but the sound of Greek and hearing it everywhere is strangely reassuring and calming.
I will be dying to be back so I can eat real gyros (for 2 euros), saganaki, horiatiki salad, Greek yogurt, baklava, loukoumades, karpouzi (watermelon), amazing bread (for 70 cents!), octopus, and drink wine where it’s treated similar to water in it’s importance to the everyday life (or almost). I will miss the challenge of auditory understanding since English is easy for me to understand and Greek isn’t. I’ll miss the bus ride to the airport and making friends along the way. I’ll miss walking through Thissio and striking up a conversation with a Greek/Belgian/German (Nikoli had a complex history, okay?) who then walks you to the best and cheapest taverna with a view of the Acropolis by the agora.
I’ll miss the smells of the metro, bitter orange trees, bakeries and ancient dust. I’ll miss the Romani children selling tissues and playing accordions everywhere, the street musicians around the acropolis and down Ermou street, and I’ll miss the flows of traffic that I’ve figured out and strangely fallen in love with while I’ve been here.
Greece may be struggling intensely with financial burdens but this does not detract from the durability of this angsty country. Do you know how long this country has had to fight for it’s existence? First for each individual city-state against outsiders such as the Persians and against each other, then for their nation to exist cohesively and later expand? Then defend itself from occupation, succeed for a while with only small loses but then lose completely? Do you know how many centuries the Ottoman empire controlled Greece and how they had to fight for their independence from both them and the Axis Powers/Germans during World War II? Do you know that crucial battles were fought throughout Greece, both in Modern and Ancient histories that changed the course of the entire planet’s human history? The Greek people have gone through so much over the centuries upon centuries. Yet they are still here, still fighting and still living their lives and they have been since before Jesus’s great-grandfather was even an egg in an ovary. …or something like that.
Currently there is a lack of hope amongst the people especially in the people of my generation since there is a 60% unemployment rate for the youth in Greece. But one is still given free cookies, and smiled at, and not pressed for that extra 50 cents if you can’t find it fast enough in the convenience stores. The Greeks still value hospitality and family so much so that it seems to me they believe that as long as they still love their family and are welcoming to strangers they’ll make it through.
Because of this, Greece still maintains it rugged, beautiful, simple and pure complexion, both of human personality and natural and man-made beauty, regardless the political and economic problems they’re facing. This speaks very highly of both the land and the people that they are able to push through despite the fears constantly surrounding everyone.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because I’m going to miss this quality of strength when I go home. America is almost too diverse for unified strength like the Greeks have, simply by the nature of everyone not having money, everyone not having jobs, everyone having the same fear and everyone still wanting to keep going. In America you can’t look around a public area and immediately pick out the tourists (except in Seattle on rainy days – the tourists always have umbrella’s and the natives definitely don’t) because everyone looks different, there are many different clothing styles, skin colors, sizes, hair types, and languages. Whereas in Greece, they all look either purposefully frumpy and not put together or immaculately dressed to such an extent that they’re practically dazzling with pristine perfection. There is no middle ground. Να σας πω, they either look perfect or like they just rolled out of bed and threw on boots but somehow still look amazing. Plus they all speak the same language – literally.
In America, on the other hand, there are more clothing styles than just these two and while I value that and so much more and love it all so much, it definitely feeds into the different dynamic that the States have. This dynamic is of individualism and is present even in the least individualistic areas of our country. We are not all together in the same black pit of recession where we can party together with strangers because you don’t need to know their story to know what they’re dealing with, you can just connect instantly because you know what the other is going through, you’re both there, you’re both still happy and you’re both afraid – except for in that moment. In America you’d have to either be really drunk to have that instant connection or spend an hour or so just talking and figuring each other out: where they’re from, what they’re about, what they want to do, where they want to go with life, and so many other questions before you can connect. There are merits to both ways of life however.
I find it so fascinating that Greece which in the Roman and Biblical times was a very high context society (meaning you didn’t need much context to understand what someone is talking about or where they’re coming from with a new conversation) and that even today they are in many respects still a high context society while America has always been a low context society. (Thanks to wikipedia, if you want to learn more about high and low context societies you can [and it’s a good article]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-_and_low-context_cultures)
I have a very recent example of modern day high context humor which I will not explain at all at first since in this culture it would not need to be explained at all apart from setting up the location of the joke.
Setting: Coming through customs upon landing in Greece.
“First name, ma’am?”
“Not this time”
I love this joke. It encapsulates a lot of Greece’s history and present day issues as well as concerns. Now I will explain.
On October 28, 1940, Mussolini uttered an ultimatum to Greece, basically (I think) saying “surrender or you’re ours” the Greek Prime Minister Metaxas said “No” and now Greece has a national holiday called “Oxi (No) Day” on October 28th where they celebrate each year the fact that they said “no” to the Axis powers of WWII. However, in April of 1941 they were invaded anyway and fell under Axis occupation till October of 1944 (however some islands i.e. Crete, still remained under German control till June of 1945). Since the Germans were leading the Axis powers the Greeks have always harbored resentment towards the Germans for invading them.
This past Friday (April 11, 2014) Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany came to visit Greece. I don’t know why but I’m assuming it’s something to do with the economy or politics since the European Union Presidency is in Greece for six months. Fun fact: lots of Greeks blame her for the situation they’re in (even though I’m not sure it’s really her fault).
Now you know the older and present histories behind this joke. When Merkel arrived in Greece on Friday the Greeks shared this joke with a play on words and many others around as testaments to their refusal to fall under German “occupation” again. It was an interesting day to say the least! If you weren’t from Greece, had this background knowledge somehow or didn’t have this long winded explanation, I think most people wouldn’t get the joke, so let me know if I’m wrong!
And now you’ve had a history lesson and cross cultural break down and maybe some other things too. This post was not going to be as intense as this, my apologies! If you made it this far though I’ll give you five Turkish Lira’s! But actually I won’t, because I don’t have an Lira left! Sorry. Anyway, I will desperately miss Greece despite my not wanting to be here right now and I’m working to live it up while I’m here and truly appreciate the opportunity and blessing I have to study and LIVE in such an amazing and rich country. Prayers are welcome although I think I’m doing decently well! Tomorrow it’s off to the islands of Leros and Patmos for the rest of Holy Week and Easter!
Καλό Πάσχα και σας αγαπώ!
Erika Tobin is a Religion and Classics major at Pacific Lutheran University and is a current College Year in Athens student for 2013-2014!
FOR WALKS & WILD FLOWERS: HALKIDIKI
Wild flowers abound on this pretty peninsula during April when temperatures hover at a balmy 20C. See rose geraniums and wild rosemary on a six-mile walk through wetland and along the clifftops from the beachfront Sani Resort on the Kassandra Peninsula to Siviri village.
For even more flora head to Mount Athos. A Unesco world heritage site, the area boasts thousands of plant and flower species from heather to wild olive, as well as crumbling monasteries (including the 10th century Megisti Lavra).
On Easter Saturday don’t miss the huge midnight fire in Chaniotis village square on Kassandra’s north coast. The following day tuck into a traditional Greek Easter Sunday lunch of kokoretsi (lamb) on the spit, accompanied by traditional live music at Sani Resort.
FOR CULTURE: ATHENS
Easter’s a great time to explore Athens as thousands of city dwellers head for the islands and the milder temperatures make sightseeing more pleasant.
While the city’s ancient sites such as the Acropolis, crowned by the Parthenon, the largest Doric temple ever completed in Greece, are a must, you should also don your gladrags to see the acclaimed Perseus And Andromeda play at the Michael Cacoyannis Foundation (mcf.gr) until April 30.
See two mythical heroes take the audience on a “tour” (in English) through the depths of Greek culture.
On Easter Saturday attend midnight mass at Mitropoli, the largest Greek Orthodox cathedral in Athens. The Easter flame is passed from person to person, followed by a fireworks display outside the church.
FOR WINE LOVERS: SANTORINI
Learn about this isle in the Cyclades and its winemaking history with Santorini Wine Adventure Tours (winetoursantorini.com). A four-hour guided tour includes top wineries such as Gaia, built inside an old tomato processing plant in Monolithos.
It should also be warm enough in April to take a dip in the sea at beaches such as Kamari, renowned for its distinctive black volcanic sand.
On Good Friday, thousands of candles line the streets, rooftops and 15th century castle of the mountain village of Pyrgos. The epitaphios (an intricately embroidered cloth which depicts Christ) from the local church is also paraded through the streets.
FOR HISTORY LOVERS: CORFU
Be transported back in time on a trip to the Unesco world heritage site of Corfu’s Old Town, one of the most romantic and fascinating places in Greece. Stroll the Spian¡da, a giant plaza home to the Liston, an arched colonnade built in 1807 to resemble Paris’s Rue de Rivoli. Pause for a coffee at one of the cafes tucked under the arches before visiting the elegant 19th century Palace of St Michael and St George, which houses the Museum of Asian Art of Corfu.
From here, cross the moat to the old fortress. Built by the Venetians in 1546, it boasts panoramic views of the mountainous Albania coast. Best of all, the summer crowds have yet to appear, so you’ll have many sights to yourself.
On Easter Saturday night, attend mass in the 16th-century Duomo cathedral, filled with thousands of candles. As the clock strikes midnight, the resurrection of Christ is celebrated with drums and a firework display that lights up the night sky.
As tourism to Athens finally appears to be picking up after several years, it is becoming all the more apparent how backward the Greek capital is in selling itself. And, no, I don’t mean in terms of promoting Athens as a destination and advertising campaigns, areas where there has been some progress in recent years. I’m talking mainly about souvenirs, a huge market for all countries that rely on tourism and one which Athens seems to have overlooked almost entirely, or even looked down on, as it remains stuck back in the day when a Greek souvenir meant a plastic doll dressed as a presidential guard in a foustanella skirt.
An effort launched a few years ago by the City of Athens to introduce a new philosophy with innovate products signed by one of the country’s most prestigious design firms, K2, headed by Yiannis Kouroudis, did manage to shake things up quite a bit, but a stroll in the old quarter of Plaka proves that there is still a very long way to go.
In this sense, the Only in Athens project, a joint initiative between architectural firm Point Supreme and the Blanco team headed by poet Stathis Kefalouros, is making some headway by presenting alternative souvenirs for Athens.
The idea started in 2009 when Constantinos Pantazis and Marianna Rentzou of Point Supreme started experimenting with ideas based on the concept of Athens, creating a line of stamps, posters and other items. Meanwhile, Blanco was doing its own thing to promote Athens life with the photography exhibition “Athens Will Surprise You.”
“We met around that time and decided to do something together; that’s how Only in Athens came about,” Pantazis told Kathimerini recently.
The Only in Athens campaign is different to anything we’ve seen before in the Greek capital and is inspired by the characteristics that make the city unique, both in a good and a bad way.
“Foreign visitors to Athens are instantly aware that the sights of the modern city stand apart and are almost exotic. They comment on them, laugh about them, ask questions and ultimately remember them well. Even if some of its traits make their lives difficult, they don’t get exasperated because they don’t have to live here and everything that happens is part of the adventure of travel. The new souvenirs are inspired by these paradoxes and will remind them of Greece and Athens in particular once they get back home,” explains Pantazis.
Pantazis is right when he says that Europeans are especially curious about what is going on in Athens right now.
“All the things that seem to happen only in Athens today, combined with the classical tradition, have created a new identity for the city. And that is exactly what we want to represent with our Only in Athens products, which, for example, include an Athenian apartment building,” says the designer.
The Only in Athens products – mostly T-shirts and other cloth items stamped with emblematic images – went on display at a store in Athens in March and will be on sale at the next Meet Market bazaar this weekend (April 12-13) at the Technopolis complex in Gazi. The creators hope that their products will soon become more broadly available at major tourists hubs such as Plaka, the islands and Athens Airport.
“The tablecloth that depicts Athens as an island and which is the first we created for the series will hopefully finds its way onto tables at tavernas in Athens and along the city’s southern coast,” says Pantazis.