Friday, August 31, 2012

Welcome to Corfu.

My final outing in Athens, only for now I hope, was spent with my two new wonderful friends. The night was full of constant laughter about everything and anything while three different accents were exchanging language lessons, teaching each other random, yet helpful, phrases. This night out was followed by a negotiation of payment with the hostel staff to pay for just a few hours of sleep, leaving me feeling a bit like a call girl trying to get the best price for a bed. A few very short hours later after tossing and turning while trying to stop sweating profusely, the alarm buzzed at me and it was time to get up. There was a brief misunderstanding with my makeshift ladder while crawling down from the top bunk and I almost suffered from a broken leg, but after surviving the fall and quickly brushing my teeth, I threw on my backpack and headed out the door. The metro ride was spent trading stories with a new friend from Canada, her adventures were ending as mine were continuing, and now I was leaving with some new information about places to see and ideas of things to do. We said our goodbyes at the airport and I waited for the puddle jumper plane to escort me to my new home. In Greek fashion we boarded the plane 20 minutes after the scheduled departure time, with no real explanation as to why. My hopes of taking a brief nap were squashed by the untamed toddler that decided my chair was the beginning of his kick box training, but as soon as we were up in the air we were heading back down and I had arrived on the island of Corfu.

After wandering around the tiny airport looking for anyone that vaguely resembled the woman from the email exchange and finding no one, I began convincing myself that this opportunity may not actually exist after all. I approached a rowdy group of Australia's that were on my flight and were still waiting for a pick up as well. When I asked where they were headed I was relieved to hear them say "The Pink Palace," and I stuck close by them until the van arrived. Climbing our way up and down a mountain side, while the driver redefined my definition of wild driving and windy roads we eventually reached the location of my new home. Greeted by the spunky staff and a shot of hot pink ouzu, I was apprehensive about what I may have gotten myself into, but the positive atmosphere of this place and the breath taking view was enough to keep me interested.

Since then I've met people from all over the world, and have been welcomed in as the newest staff member, that will be here for as long as she can hack it with the job placement, since my employer has had over 40 staff cycle through just this summer. My days have been spent laying in the sun and enjoying the warm ocean water as well as taking care of an adorable little girl and doing various chores around the house. The nights are spent making new friends that I'm not likely to remember the names of the next day, enjoying the night life, and late night swims. My schedule allows for a decent amount of sleep while I watch everyone else zombie there way through the day, until the festivities of the night begin and then they are in full swing of it again. There is a lot of exploring left to do of this island, and I'm planning to use my time off to see as much of this beautiful island as I can in my short time here.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Παγκράτι, σπίτι μου.

This past week has been a great walk down memory lane. Staying here in the apartment that was once occupied by two of our friends, while passing by our old apartment building daily on the way to our favorite coffee shops, gyro restaurant, and markets is all so comforting and familiar. We visited the Athens Centre, our old school, where have spent so many hours in class, studying, chatting with friends, and killing time in between classes. Some of the staff has changed, but the atmosphere remains the same, supportive and welcoming. Having a place to stay in an area we know so well has been such a positive way to start this adventure, and every day I think to myself how difficult it will be to leave this amazing city. For me there are still so many things unseen, and there will never be enough time for it all. Although, new adventures will be found anywhere I travel. Tomorrow begins a new experience on Corfu, and I'm excited to see what this Greek island has in store for me!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Reunited and it feels so good.

This city is full of amazing people, but there are a handful of individuals that stick out in my mind, connected to the memories that made my first experience here so great. Being here with Sarah this past week we've had such a great time soaking in all the nostalgia from four years ago, and having our memories triggered every time we turn a familiar corner. 

We had the chance to spend some time with our favorite residents of this great city. Katja, who works at the Athens Centre school, took an evening to have dinner with us, at a taverna in Psiri. Dining out is always a great experience when you do it like the Greeks, but having some one that knows the best items to order makes it even that much better. Hours went by as we shared a delicious meal and gossiped about the happenings from our study abroad trip, and exchanged stories about our lives since. 

Michael, our monuments professor and the greatest archeologist you will ever know, also spent a day with us in the city catching up. We had arranged to meet him for lunch, which we expected to last a few hours in typical Greek fashion, and the rest of the day was left unplanned. From the moment we started chatting away, Sarah and I were both entranced once again by his amazing ability to tell stories and teach us about any topic. We drilled him on all the monument trivia that we had forgotten, just to hear him drop knowledge on us once again. His charisma and dry humor had been missed so much. Our meal was followed by a few hours spent sipping on some delicious raki and whiskey, and followed up later with pagato (ice cream) and frapes (coffee) to conclude our eight hour day with this wonderful man. As we walked him to the bus stop he couldn't help himself from leading us past a few archeological sites along the way, determined to leave us with as much information as he could in one day. He is a true educator at heart. 

From our visit to the Centre we were able to catch up with Rosemary, the school director, and hear about how things have been going for her and the Centre. The atmosphere there is still as welcoming and comforting as it ever was. Kia Maria, who is truly an angel, was there and remembered us fondly, even from so many years ago. The language barrier between Kia Maria and I still remains as strong as ever, but we do our best to communicate with gestures and constant smiles. There is no doubt that she is still the most kind person I've ever come across and she continues to take care of everyone around her. 

Late nights at our favorite bar, Spirit, were revisited as well. We set up camp at the bar to chat the night away with Socrates, the bartender and owner that provides the best place in Monostiraki to have a guaranteed good night. Socrates took exceptionally good care of us, as he began to remember us as his loyal customers from the last time we were there. He played us music from all over the world as new friends were strolling in to join the fun, and we danced to every type of music until the early morning. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Street life.

Walking down the street, whether it's in the city center that is full of people and constant movement, or in a small quieter neighborhood, you never know what sort of street life you will encounter. 

Trying to dart across the street while motorbikes, cars, taxis, bicycles, and various animals are crossing your path and potentially running you over is always a challenge. As some one said to me the other day, in Athens you can cross a one way street when the pedestrian light is green, but you still better look not just one, but both ways since the rules of the road are not really created to be followed. Cars will often be found in the lane restricted for tram use only, and motorbikes travel down the paths created for pedestrians. When I asked my new friend about whether people get in trouble for these kinds of things, he so simply shook his head and said, "Nothing is illegal in Greece." 

Staying in Pangrati this week, the neighborhood has a quieter atmosphere, but you can still wander down the street in the afternoon and cross paths with a talented musician just wandering the streets playing his accordion to bring some life to the area. In the busy tourist areas of the city you are constantly bombarded with street venders trying to sell you flowers, watches, bags, or anything that they believe you might pay for. In the same way, musicians also wander through the restaurants serenading you right at your table, in hopes that there will be compensation. The neighborhood accordion players on the other hand, are simply enjoying an afternoon stroll with their instrument only with the intention to create beautiful music. 

Athens being an ancient city, full of ruins every where you turn, it is so easy come across something as beautiful as Hadrian's Arch, when you had no intention to. Walking through the Plaka, full of shops that sell anything you would or wouldn't need, you might just look down and realize that you are standing over an ancient ruin protected by a sheet of glass. Some ruins are well preserved, and can be seen just from walking around the city centre, and it is obvious that you are looking at something remarkable. Other ruins that you will come across may not be what they appear. Just the other day, while exploring the city with my old professor, he stopped us in front of a chain link fence, and pointed down into what essentially looked like a giant hole with over grown weeds, and various pieces of trash that had been thrown in. To the unknowing it's simply an eye sore, but come to find out it was actually what archeologists believe to be the original ancient Agora (marketplace) of the city. 

While the economy of the country is suffering the people are still full of life. In the street squares, musical groups get together to entertain everyone passing by. Every combination of musician can be found playing in the city squares. The other night we watched as a brass marching band in formal uniforms paraded around the Monostiraki square while the people cheered and stopped to watch. Late night buskers will combine their skills, and suddenly you have a make shift orchestra consisting of African drums, electric guitars, a xylophone, didgeridoo players, a back flipping dancer and jugglers on the side. Everyone is in good spirits and enjoying the entertainment provided by the talents from the street. 

The stray cats (yatas) and dogs (skilos) that populate the city, are found on any street you wander through. Though, compared to four years ago I do believe that the overpopulation of animals has improved, and more often the animals that you see actually have a home, and are on a leash or have a collar so you know they are being cared for. There are many great organizations that are educating the people about how to care for the animals and reduce the stray population. More often than not, street dogs are spayed or neutered, given their shots, and released back to the streets where they are fed by shop owners and various people in their area. The dogs will befriend you as you walk late at night and escort you home, barking at any shady characters or other dogs that they do not agree with as if to say "back off, this is my human." 

The street markets travel through out the city all week, a different neighborhood every day to try sell as much of their fresh produce and various consumable items as possible. Purchases are made in bulk so the families have enough to last all week. In the super market, if you were to buy a bag of produce it would costs at least twice as much as an equally full bag from the street market. Venders can be heard from blocks away as they yell out in Greek about their special deals, and encourage buyers to stop at their stand rather than some one else's. All kinds of people from the neighborhood come out to collect bags and bags of delicious fresh produce, stacking them up in their rolling carts, exchanging in brief conversation with their acquaintances on the street, and continuing back home. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Acropolis, Round 3.

The first time I visited the Acropolis site I had only been in Athens a few short days, and was still adjusting to the whirlwind of time change, raging heat, and general life in a completely foreign place. Trying to take in everything my incredible professor was throwing at us that day was near impossible, but I remember my amazement of how completely massive and beautiful the Parthenon was, and the setting was not comparable to anything else I'd ever seen. Countless pictures were taken with my new friends that I had just barely begun to know and of everything I saw, afraid to miss a single detail. 

The second time I took a hike up that hill I was playing tour guide with my sisters and their friends, trying so hard to remember any details I could about these beautiful structures, and why they were built in such a way, what they represented, timeline of the creation...anything really. I must admit that my knowledge from an archeological perspective was not impressive, but again, countless pictures were taken and this ancient city's ability to amaze me did not fall short the second time either. 

Four years later, my third trip to the top of the hill, still battling the raging heat while taking countless pictures, and once again it does not fail to blow me away. The sky was perfectly blue, but the winds at the top made it possible to sit in the sun for hours and look up at the beautiful Parthenon in all it's glory.  We were surprised by how many facts we could pull out of our memories about different parts of the structures, and spent the afternoon reminiscing about our three months abroad while taking in the sites all over again. As an added bonus, the new Acropolis Museum, that was still under construction the last time we were here, was open and full of so many new pieces to be admired. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

θεατρο βραχων

Yesterday, Alessandro showed me the view from the Theatre Vraxon. We climbed up to a look out point while the sun was setting over the city and it was beautiful. The actual Theatre was closed at that time of night, so we were unable to see it, but it is inclosed by rocky hill sides and used for concerts, theatre performances, and movie showings mostly during the summer. 

On our journey up there, we found this, which I can only assume is the Greek attempt at a crosswalk. It is the first street marking for pedestrians I have ever seen in this city, and it will probably be the last. 

θεατρο βραχων = Theatre Vraxon

Gorgeous view from the hillside. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Kindness of strangers.

While keeping up with the chaos of Athens there always seems to be some one looking out for me where ever I go....

Like the two Greek women that were sitting behind me and a new friend from New Zealand on the bus, while we were adventuring to find the beach with really no clue about which stop to take. They heard our concerns and helped us exit the bus when it was the right stop. After getting off the bus, they pointed in the direction of the entrance and said "no fee." They had led us to one of the few beach locations with no entrance fee. Such a simple gesture, but it guaranteed that our beach adventure was a success.

Again, kindness was shown by the travel agent that sold my friend her ferry ticket on the hottest day of the week. We were exhausted and thirsty, only to be showered with good conversation, ice cold water and a nice place to rest while eventually the subject of purchase came up. Even more than that, when the transaction was finished he then took a worry bead charm from his drawer for each of us and told us to take it where ever we go because it will provide us with safety and protection against anything bad.

George, a kind man who serves delicious food late at night, who wants to know where you are from and give you all his best advise about the city and traveling. I remember him from the last time I was here and he only had a traveling cart to sell his food from, but now he has his own restaurant location. When he has finished wrapping up the food and we have finished our conversation, I tried to tip him for all his help. He frowned at me and turns down the tip and when I protested he responds with, "you can not tip me, but we can share a hug." So I gave my new friend a hug and thanked him for his advise and good food.

A street market vender that simply waved me off with a smile, and refused to take payment from me when I tried to purchase a single peach from his stand. Now, I'm not sure if he just couldn't be bothered to ring up only one peach while others are filling bags and bags of items, but I would like to believe that the peach was a kind gesture from him to an obvious outsider.

Most of all, the family that has taken me into their beautiful home, to let me stay here for the week and experience life as a Greek resident. They are patient with my inability to speak Greek, and teaching me new words and culture every day. Without my new friend Alessandro's help I would have been lost in the city many times by now, since we are staying in an area that is completely new to me. They have a beautiful rambunctious dog, Zizou, that he rescued from the streets, and eats up any attention you give her. I have been able to relax, and settle for a while because of the kindness that they have shown me by opening up their home.

Friday, August 17, 2012


From the moment I left the airport, I have been flooded with memories from my first experience in Athens, and all the details of this ancient city that I had forgotten to remember. Walking along the familiar cobblestone and broken marble streets I am pleased about how easily it all comes back to me. Stepping off the metro station after the familiar voice over the loud speaker guided me to my favorite spot, Monostiraki station, the heart of it all. Climbing the stairs from the metro, the smell of the city fills up my nose and I look up to see the Acropolis directly above, lit up in all it's glory, and I have to stop to catch my breathe both from exhaustion and awe. It feels like I am seeing it for the first time all over again.

As I continue to re-explore this place, there are so many memories that come back to me. The constant chatter of noise from the city that keeps you up all night, but comforts you at the same time. Passing by our old hang outs where so many good nights were spent, it's impossible not to smile. The regular pack of street dogs that escort you where ever you go, barking only at questionable strangers. Constantly being asked where I'm from, since I reek of tourist, and when I answer "Washington state" the consistent response of praise for Obama.

I also remember the smells of the city, both good and bad. As you walk down any street you smell the hot thick air, full of car exhaust and always a faint smell of olives which you can never quite figure out where it comes from.  The Slovaki skewers can be smelt from blocks away and still make my mouth water. A strong wave of fish and raw hanging meat comes from the street markets that are busy with Greek chatter and bargaining.

Some parts of the city have changed, many of the shops have closed, and the ones that aren't closed advertise 50-70% or more discounts just to stay afloat. The graffiti on the streets has multiplied everywhere, representing so much about the people of this city. Police roam the streets two by two on their motorbikes, keeping a much closer eye than before. Walking down the streets you will see many tourists, enjoying the night life and best restaurants, but never will you see a Greek enjoying this fine life style. As my new friend explained, there is no such luxury for the the locals any more because no one can afford it.

Many people come here and all they see is a big, dirty, congested city full of beautiful ruins and good food. They aren't completely wrong, but until you have truly taken the time to appreciate the details, both good and bad, you don't truly know how incredible this place is. I remember all the places I visited and the things I have done here, but I had forgotten how great this city makes me feel.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


Change is ahead and happening all around me. In a few hours I'll start this adventure, and the reality of what is about to happen has not even begin to set in. Just over a week ago I was fully employed in a stable position that I could have stayed at with great support, fabulous co-workers, wonderful boss, stability, etc. all in a town that is full of nothing but comforts and people that I know and love. But for now I've decided to move on (not from the people of course) and start a new adventure. I've quit my job and moved out of my apartment after two years of living alone for the first time ever, and purged my life of almost all clutter to reduce my life to a hand full of boxes. Knowing who I was a few years ago, I could have predicted that this type of radical life change would send my head spinning in a million directions, leaving me a complete mess. Surprisingly enough, it hasn't at all. I feel calm and collected, and ready for this adventure to begin.

These last few weeks in Bham have been incredible to say the least, the summer is truly the best time to live in the Pacific Northwest. Summer heat, lake days, music festivals, baseball games, beach house, weddings, farewell gatherings, catching up with great friends, and probably too much has been a great send off.

So here I am, kick starting this traveling adventure, and could not be more pleased with this decision and excited to take on whatever comes next.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. " 
-Mark Twain