Let me preface this first blog with a few things…
1. I am woefully behind posting blogs and updates, so expect a few rapid fire blogs over the next few days.
2. I have posted on this blog only a few of the hundreds of pictures I have taken. If you care to see more, please see my Facebook page.
3. Most importantly, let me warn you ahead of time about a trend you will see throughout my letters. I love art and I love food. The majority of my significant experiences revolve around these two things. And of course, the amazing people I have met during my journey.
After a harrowing flight (a 40 minute layover + Plane A lands 10 minutes late + Plane B leaving 10 minutes early + Atlanta airport = a lot of sprinting!), I finally arrived in London. For the first week of my journey, I traveled with my friend Will. We dropped our bags off at the hotel and valiantly fought through jet lag to hit a few key tourist spots. Then the pouring rain gave us a great excuse to go to sleep early.
The next morning we flew from London to Thessaloniki, Greece. At this point, I was still very anxious about traveling in Europe, especially by myself. In London, despite the common language, I felt like I was speaking a foreign one at times. I once asked for directions to Grosvenor street and it took a good five minutes for the attendant to figure out what I was saying. It is pronounced much more closely to governor than the way it looks phonetically. And if it was this hard in London, how much harder would it be in countries where I didn’t speak a word of the language?
So I arrived in Thessaloniki glad I was traveling with someone but still very nervous. I got on the bus to get to the hotel. On this 30 minute bus ride, I found my confidence. On the second stop, an old Greek man sat next to me. He couldn’t speak a word of English, but he assured me that he didn’t mind sharing the two seats with my very large backpack and me. Along the journey, he chattered at me in Greek, pointing out the sights. I was worried about knowing which stop to get off, so I showed him the street name. He waved his hand that it was further on. When he got to his stop he turned to me and said, very carefully, “Bye-bye!” He pulled out a peach from his grocery bag and gave it to me. When he stepped off the bus, he turned around and blew me a kiss.
This man showed me something very important. I realized that it doesn’t matter if I don’t speak the language, understand the culture, or even know where I am going. There will always be someone to point out the way, someone who wants to help you… and you might even get a peach out of it!
Early the next morning, I caught the train to Athens, to finally stay in the same spot for more than a few hours.
I set myself an important goal: to find my first Greek gyro. Gyros might be little more than a fast food hamburger in Greece, but that gyro was still the best one I’ve ever had. I’m afraid Hooligans would be ashamed. Here is a picture:
I thought it so strange that the french friend were served ON the gyro, but it was surprisingly tasty!
There is something amazing about seeing a city that has been an epicenter of the world for thousands of years. I know that this is the case for many cities in Europe, but in Athens, you could not escape the feeling of history. Every time I look at places like the Parthenon, I do not just see the building itself. In my mind, I recreate it, imagine how it looked a millennia ago, imagine the people who lived and walked there, who called it home.
Perhaps my favorite thing in Athens was the New Acropolis museum, right outside the Parthenon. Just before I left for my trip, I took a ceramics class. In this class I learned that you can determine, fairly accurately, the stability of a civilization by the shape of its pottery. Advanced and stable societies will often make unstable pottery – jars and pots with a very small base and most of the weight in the shoulders. This is because in a stable society, these pieces will go on a table and not move, they exist to be seen and not used. In less advanced civilizations, pottery is stable, with wide bases and most of the weight near the bottom. This keeps pottery from turning over and breaking in nomadic societies. In the Acropolis museum were many ceramic pieces found buried near the acropolis. The pieces were graceful and ornamental, with small footprints and wide shoulders.
This particular piece was nearly 2 1/2 feet in diameter with only a four-inch base, used solely to mix wine. With just the shape of one jar, I could guess at the entire economics of a civilization that existed over 2000 years ago. I believe that is the allure of art – it is often the closet thing to a snapshot that we have to past cultures.
After the museum, I had once of the best meals of the entire trip. It was called Bandit’s Lamb.
Pieces of a lamb roast, potatoes, onions, peppers, garlic and tomatoes were wrapped up in a parchment packet and roasted. The lamb was as tender and juicy as my grandmother’s roast, but the slightly gamey flavor, the fresh dill, really fragrant olive oil, and feta cheese made it distinctly Greek. In my list of dishes I will be attempting to recreate when I get home, this is the first I plan to make for Justin. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen lamb roast in Tuscaloosa… I might have to make a special trip to Birmingham just to make it!
Here are a few of my favorite pictures from Athens: