Continuing in chronological order…
I didn’t do much the week after Egypt. I was sick, had an ancient Greek midterm, and had a paper to write. That weekend I went to Tripoli in the Peloponnese with Ioanna, my next-door neighbor’s sister who lives in Athens. My neighbor was visiting their mother in their hometown, so I spent the weekend with them. It was really nice – the area is gorgeous, and they fed me so much homemade Greek food. It was great to relax after two straight weeks of traveling.
The next weekend I went to Meteora with Eliza. It was about 5 hours away by train, and when we bought “no seats” we assumed they meant no assigned seats. Nope. We had to stand/sit in the doorway for 2 hours until enough people had left the dining car and we could grab their seats. The view from the train was gorgeous – the leaves actually change color in northern Greece, so it was nice to see some fall weather. Meteora is a weird geological feature, where there are 6 currently inhabited monasteries on top of the cliffs. We hiked to two of them that day. The artwork in the churches is really beautiful, but mostly it’s pictures of saints getting martyred in painful ways. We saw some nuns, and of course lots of cats. There was even a dog that hiked with us most of the way up. We stayed in a nice hotel in one of the two towns next to Meteora, and we were both asleep by 9 pm because of all the hiking. The next day we hit up the other 4 monasteries, but the last one was closing right as we got there (the guidebook lied!). There was also a crazy rock formation that we thought we could hike to when trying to get to the other town. We managed to get there, and then realized that the other side of it was a cliff. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though. We got pretty far down before calling it quits and walking around. We were pretty proud of ourselves for hiking to all of the monasteries in a day and a half. Mostly I was just proud of myself for being able to keep up with Eliza, who walks faster than anyone I’ve ever known.
The next weekend the school took about 40 of us to Thessaloniki. We were supposed to go to the site of Dion the first day (I had never heard of it before, and am still not really sure what it is…), but they closed early, even though one of the professors had called them the day before and asked them when they were open… welcome to Greece. So we just explored Thessaloniki on our own. They were going to give us a walking tour that night too, but Eliza, Melody and I all managed not to hear that they were doing it earlier than scheduled. So we went shopping instead and I bought a scarf. We met up with some of the others who did hear that the tour time had changed, and had a really great taverna dinner. And went to a sweet shop because Thessaloniki desserts are supposed to be the best. They were.
The next day we went to Pella, which I think was Alexander the Great’s capital? There were some awesome mosaic floors there. Professor Wardle knew the man in charge of restoration because her parents are both archaeologists, and she spent her childhood on ancient Greek sites. So that was pretty cool. She said her favorite part about Pella when she was little was all the snails there, which her parents had her collect when they were busy looking at pottery. We went to the Pella museum and saw even more mosaics. Then we went to Lefkadia, which is a couple of ancient tombs. They had been buried in the ground, and there was a road sloping down to them. They weren’t in the best condition, so they were temperature and light controlled, meaning they were behind a door and we couldn’t take pictures. Very cool, though. After that we went to Mieza, which is where Aristotle taught Alexander the Great. It was a network of caves, so we spent a while exploring them. One was really dark, but we were brave enough to go all the way in.
The next day we took a walking tour of Thessaloniki, saw some cool buildings and the White Tower, which was called the Bloody Tower before its paint job, after lots of janissaries were murdered there. We also went to the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, which had SO MUCH GOLD. Mycenae had a lot of gold too, but their craftsmanship was crap, especially compared to the stuff in Thessaloniki. Crowns, jewelry, everything was so beautiful. Then we went to Vergina, where there were 4 tombs dating from the time of Philip and/or Alexander the Great, one of which is probably the tomb of Philip and/or Alexander, but no one really knows. It was a really cool set up – all the tombs were enclosed in one building, and all the artifacts were displayed in between the tombs. We saw the shield of A the G, which was supposedly also Achilles’ shield. It probably didn’t belong to either, but it was still interesting. After lunch, we drove back to Athens, hitting up Thermopylae (that place in 300) on the way. It was dark, but Professor Karavas took us up to the hill where the last 30 Spartans fell, and explained the layout of the battle. It was a great end to the trip.
The weekend after that was Thanksgiving, and we had class off on Thursday. I went to Istanbul, which is probably my favorite city ever. I was expecting it to be a little more like Cairo, but it seemed more European than Greece does. Our hostel was within 5 minutes of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, both of which are breathtakingly beautiful. Leigh Ann and I took an earlier flight, so we took it easy the first day and wandered around all day until our other 3 friends got there. We went to the Grand Bazaar, which was nothing like the market in Cairo. It was all one building – covering 76 acres – and the stores were really nice. We had dinner at a place right across from the hostel, then the others got there and we had Turkish baklava – better than Greek baklava – while they had dinner. We went back to the place we had eaten to smoke hookah, and called it a night. The next day we went to the Blue Mosque, which is gorgeous inside and out, and the Hagia Sophia, which was also amazing but not as cool. We also went to the Cistern, which was not what I expected. It was a huge underground chamber with hundreds of pillars eerily lit up. And of course we headed back to the bazaar to do some shopping. That night we went back to the same restaurant for hookah and drinks, and the owner let us have the whole top floor to ourselves. Some of the other CYA kids joined us and we had a dance party.
Saturday we went to Topkapi Palace, the seat of the Ottoman emperors. I have never seen so many jewels and so much gold. They took tacky to a new level, but it was really impressive all the same. There was also a room full of relics of prophets, which was absolutely hilarious. They claimed to have Moses’ staff, which was very well preserved for a piece of wood that’s thousands of years old, among other ridiculous items. Some of the people there were really into it – like praying before so-and-so’s beard clippings. After the palace, we walked to the Spice Bazaar, and saw a really pretty mosque on the way. The Spice Bazaar was much smaller than the Grand Bazaar, and was really crowded, so we didn’t stay long. We headed to a cafe for some dessert, then went across the Golden Horn to Galata Tower, where we could see the whole city. It got kind of cold, so we left to get dinner at the base of it. There was a man working at the restaurant who came over to talk to us about how he loved us even though he hated the American government. He was an atheist, a humanist, a socialist, pretty much everything you don’t expect from a Muslim country. His speech was really profound, but he stopped in the middle because he got too frustrated with his poor English vocabulary. Things like that happened to us a lot – the Turks we met were really nice and always wanted to talk to us about their opinions. We really enjoyed it though, because everyone was always so friendly. After dinner we went back to our now-regular hangout near the hostel. We sat around talking to the owner until almost 3 am, when we figured we should let him go home. Not being too tired yet, we wandered around near our hostel, and stopped to pet a kitten. The kitten must have been pretty cold, because it climbed onto Rich’s lap and into his jacket. He couldn’t get it out without us helping him get his jacket off, and even then it was reluctant to leave. Then we realized it was 3 am and went to bed.
The others had an early flight Sunday morning, but Leigh Ann and I weren’t flying out until that night. So we took a ferry to the Asian part of Istanbul. There wasn’t a whole lot there, but it was worth the $2 ticket to say we went to Asia. We went to a mosque, and some people there gave us candy left over from the service. The mosque was almost completely empty, only 3 men praying. We took the ferry back, found lunch, and tried to find the Hippodrome. We knew we were in the right place, but just couldn’t find it. That was kind of a bummer, but mostly we were just confused. To make up for it, we went to one of the billions of sweet shops near our hostel and got the best baklava I will ever have in my life. We wandered around for a while, then decided to leave for the airport a little early. Good thing we did, because the immigration line was ridiculous. Security, of course, was nothing. But the immigration officer took forever, and the flight was boarding when we got to the gate. We had a short flight back, and they even fed us.
Since then, it’s mostly been crunch time for the last couple weeks of class. I had three archaeology papers due one right after the other, so I spent most of last weekend writing the last one. But I also got a haircut, and had a very Greek day by eating a pomegranate, going to a taverna for dinner, and then going to Gazi, which is the hip club area of Athens. And then I lounged around in my sweatpants for the rest of the weekend writing about archaic Greek sculpture .
Yesterday was our last day of class, and today was my modern Greek final. It went pretty well. I have three finals next week, and I’m done on Wednesday. Tonight I’m going to a taverna again for dinner – the same one, since apparently every Friday night they break plates and we didn’t stay late enough to see it last week – and there’s a CYA party at a club. Then this weekend will be full of studying and shopping at Christmas bazaars! I can’t believe there’s only a week left. I’m going to miss all the friends I’ve made.