Thursday, May 22, 2008

Here's a big one- took me a while to write

I really think I’m ready to put some thoughts down about my greatest world travel ever. I’ve been letting my ideas incubate for about two weeks now- I didn’t have the energy to pour all my experiences out. It’s not that I don’t want to share them- the main problem I have is knowing that I will never be able to record every detail and no matter how eloquently I express my experience, you will never be able to truly see what I saw. I can show you through my words, but I can’t make you feel what I felt. That’s my dilemma. Nonetheless, I’ll give it a shot.

My travels started on a chilly Thursday night. It was 10 pm and the inky dark streets of Evangalistria gave of a menacing ambiance wet with the absence of color. My friend Yomi had flown in from London to enjoy the first week of my spring break with me and we were saying our goodbyes. Duffle bag in one hand, backpack slung across my right shoulder, I stepped out into the night dressed in black and crimson. I was excited, I was curious.

A lone taxi ignited the shadows with its blazing sign and we hailed it without hesitation. This was second nature. We casually tossed our bags into the trunk resulting in a chaotic heap that I’m sure we were charged extra for. We commanded the driver to deliver us to the train station to catch the 12:00 am train to Athens from where we would leave. In the States, train stations are not known for their high-quality clientele and Greece is no exception to the rule. All types of vagrants, transients, ghosts and ghouls lurked the terminals of the station. I was not uneasy, but I was anxious to leave. Keep in mind that Sunday marked Orthodox Easter. Everybody wanted to travel. We sat, and we sat, and we sat. When we finally realized our train was being called, it was the final warning. Our group of 12 sprung to attention simultaneously and dashed towards the correct platform pushing past ticket takers, hurdling small children and dodging pickpocketers. Girls with 60lb duffles showed super human-strength as we exploded out of the tunnel like a bottleneck and onto the platform. Visualize us leaping onto the train as it began to pick up the speed of a mild jog and having the last door close behind our group before picking up warp speed.

The train itself was nothing short of dismal. Being that so many people wanted to be in Athens for Easter, all the trains reserved for humans had been booked weeks in advance. We were stuck in what looked like a holocaust boxcar. Wooden planks were nailed together to resemble makeshift seats, moth-eaten curtains adorned peeling and decrepit walls. From the back of the train lofted the putrid smell of urine and cigarette smoke as the door opened and closed. The train from Hell. We all got through it. We are young, we put our heads down, iPods in and slept it off. After seven hours we finally slowed to a stop in Athens and I could not have been happier. It was 6:30 am on Friday.

Fast forward to 2pm that day and we were standing in Piraeus, the port of Athens. It was breezy by the water, which made it even more evident that in my haste to leave I had forgotten to bring a sweatshirt or anything substantially warm. When we finally got on the ship (I use the term LOOSELY- I was more like a big ferry) and we started eating, I was so hungry I was not quite sure if the food was actually good or not. The answer to that became increasingly apparent as time wore on. By the end of Saturday, we were exhausted and ready to sleep.

SUNDAY: it was the only day where we didn’t have any where to be. As we sailed out of Greece and into the Mediterranean, we took the time to relax in the sun, play cards and unwind our souls. It was a restless day in anticipation of Monday.

MONDAY: Israel: I never thought in my lifetime that I would be here. Besides the fact that my family is not overly religious, I never felt the need to go. You see the news reports on CNN, you read the stories in the paper. What good ever comes of Israel? Despite it’s historic and hallowed past, its present state makes it somewhere to be avoided. Sacred land will always be fought over I suppose. I had an image of dry shanties in my head. A picture of desolate poverty, but I was quite surprised. As the boat drew ever closer to the pristine coastline of Port Haifa I became excited. I saw gleaming skyscrapers slicing the ancient blue heavens and lush greenery. Much different than I expected.

We pulled into the port to retrieve our passports and skipped off the boat fully aware that today we would see Jerusalem and Bethlehem: two cities that transcend yet simultaneously epitomize lore and myth with their esoteric natures. We got on the bus and began what was to be a two hour trip. We entered Jerusalem but kept driving and we pulled into a massive complex with what seemed to be hundreds of armed guards, razor wire and sniper towers. Men could be seen patrolling with visable flamethrowers in full riot gear. Then it dawned on me. I whipped out my iPod Touch to consult a map. We were headed into Bethlehem first, which is located in the West Bank- under Palestinian control. At that moment, our Israeli tour guide was escorted off the bus and my notion was confirmed. No Israelis allowed in Palestine. Everybody was ordered off the bus and searched with German Shepards. As I leaned against the side of the bus being scanned for weapons and C4 I couldn’t help but laugh. I never thought I would be here, being foricibly searched at the entrance of Palestine. Not in a million years. We all got back on the bus and drove to Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity where Jesus Christ was born. I can’t fully describe the feeling of being there. In a word: surreal. My mind and heart were full to the brim, on the edge of exploding with both scattered confusion and deep comprehension. Jerusalem was equally exciting. At the end of the day we sat down to eat a delicious meal at a 5 star hotel in Port Haifa. A perfect day.

TUESDAY: Egypt: Another place I never thought I would go. We sailed into Port Said on a clear sunny day and were ushered off the boat quickly. The plan was to go to Cairo- but something was different about today. I could feel tension in the air unlike anywhere I’d ever been before. And I was right. As I stepped onto the port, I was immediately bombarded my vendors with no regard for my personal space (I’m well aware this notion of personal space is an American concept, but still). Men grabbing at me, pulling on me, thrusting things into my hands, demanding money- any type of payment, in every language. It was highly disconcerting. This was all over Egypt. We got onto the buses for the trip to Cairo when I realized that we were traveling in a convoy. We drove down the sandy highway in a staggered formation so as not to let any cars in between us. In the front and back of the line rode military jeeps loaded with men ready to jump out at any moment, machine guns cocked. Furthermore, each bus had two armed guards. Excuse me for being naieve, but do we really need all this security I wondered. My guess is that if they were providing it, we needed it. Nonetheless, a stressful experience. We passed through Cairo and gazed on the mighty Nile before heading into Giza to see the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx. They were more than I could have hoped for. I stared at the face of the sphinx, faded yet regal, and I realized that hundreds of years ago Napoleon too looked on this face before he fired his cannons upon it (knocking off the nose). We also visited the Museum of Cairo, the only place in the world where one can see the actual tomb and sarcophagus of King Tut. We were expressly forbidden to take pictures. But when I gazed upon this jewel, gleaming with solid gold and sapphire luminence I was breathless. Even with the lights off, the glistening face seemed to give off a glow. I HAD to take a picture. I secured the strap around my wrist and tried to discretely steady myself. I raised my hand and took the shot, but not before an angry guard screamed at me in Arabic and attempted to smash my camera to the ground. I got the picture. It was beautiful.

WEDNESDAY THROUGH FRIDAY: My trips were spectacular, but impossible to recount here. Too much, too fast and my brain is exhausted. We traveled to Cyprus (a beautiful island which is divided into Greek and Turkish regions) where the temple of Apollo stands. Additionally, Cyprus is an independent country, which is interesting. We also visited Turkey as well as the islands of Mykonos and Santorini (the home of the famous whitewashed buildings and blue roofs). All breathtaking sights. All unforgettable.

And now I am back in Thessaloniki- I have been for three weeks and much has been going on. Mark came for two weeks, which was an absolute pleasure. He’s a brother to me. I showed him around and together we climbed Mt. Olympus: one of the tallest mountains in Europe (at 10,000 feet). And I’m not talking climbing up a path. I’m talking legit, cliff hopping, this-could-be-perilous, knee-deep in snow climbing. It was exhausting and for a while I wasn’t ready to call it fun. But now I can safely say it was a blast. Mark just left at the end of last week after staying for 2 weeks.

So what’s going on now you ask?

Well I’m coming to the realization that the trip is wrapping up. I leave in less than three weeks. Many things are racing through my mind. On the one hand, I will be happy to get home. I feel like I need to get the ball rolling and make some moves, but I am essentially useless here in Greece. Most things I still need to do in person. So it will be good to get home.

On the other hand, I’m scared of my adjustment back into U.S. life. I really have assimilated into the culture as much as possible in the 4-5 months I’ve been here. For one, I’m speaking the language at a level I did not anticipate. If I was here for a year, I know I would be fluent(ish). Second, and I believe more importantly, I’ve been able to slip into the Greek mindset. Let me elaborate. When I’m in the States, I’m exposed to American media through pictures, music and TV every day thousands of times. It makes me want things I can’t or don’t have. It makes me appreciate less what I do have. I’m always thinking about money. Always worrying, always stressing. My main career focus is making enough money to buy the things that TV says I should.

Here, I haven’t seen American TV in months. And my values have changed because I’ve gone without all those things on TV for months, yet I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. So in my mind, there is no longer the correlation between having “stuff” and being truly content. I’ve been told this before- you know the adage “money doesn’t buy happiness”. But I never really bought it (no pun intended). I always thought if I just had what I (thought) I wanted, happiness would be intrinsically contained in the possession of that new “something”. But what I’ve come to find is that happiness is in relationships. Happiness is in people- and that’s what I’m coming back to the States with. A whole bunch of great relationships. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

Until next time

Monday, April 21, 2008

Dear Reader,

I just wanted to make a quick remark:

It's come to my attention that some people reading this blog may feel as though I say some hurtful, controversial or downright asinine things. I'm sorry you feel that way. For all those who have sent me supportive emails and messages, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. And for all those that are left uncertain by anything I write, please feel free to comment or email me at any time so that I may be more clear.

I would love for this journal to be about nothing other than the pretty sights I see, fluffy bunnies and so on. But the truth is, my trip is more of an intellectual journey than a physical one. So do not be offended if I speak from my heart and mind. You may not agree with me, but please respect my right to speak from the soul.

To all those wondering:

No, I am not "lost". I can be found quite safe and happy in Thessaloniki with all my mental faculties in tact. I still have goals and life ambitions.

No, I'm not a drunk, getting drunk or frequently drunk. Period.

No, I haven't lost focus. Conversely, I've gained perspective.

Am I evolving into somebody a little different??- perhaps, but only in the sense that I am more critical of circumstances I used to take for granted. I know this is all very vague.

Somebody mentioned that I seem to be very selfish. Well yes and no. This is a very selfish time, but it will result in me being able to give more of myself because I have taken inventory of what I have to offer. Does that make sense?

What it comes down to is that this is simply a blog. I know it's public and I should have been more cognizant of the fact. I've been using it as more of a mental dumping ground. But I would love nothing more than to continue these entries, so try not to judge me on every thought that I express or over analyze what I say as indicative of an earth-shattering change in my personality or moral fiber. I'm writing some of my most guarded thoughts publicly, which is stupid on my part. It makes me seem scattered sometimes. But how "together" would you seem if you actually wrote down what was in your head without a filter?

Just remember:

It's only a blog. It's only a blog.

No Such Thing

My life is a dream and I don’t want to wake up. Or maybe at home in the States I was asleep and here I am finally awake. Regardless of the state I’m in now, there is no question that it will have to change when I get back. It’s too good to be true. Life isn’t meant to be like this, is it? I’m already reminiscing and it will be a tough transition.

Friday marked the first day of Easter vacation here in Greece (the Greeks celebrate on a different schedule) and I couldn’t be more excited. Yomi, my friend who I stayed with in London, has come to return the favor. We couldn’t be having a better time. Friday night was the taverna where I probably definitely drank way too much sweet red wine (let’s look at it as a lesson in tolerance) and Saturday was a quiet night at Yannis’, a local coffee shop with amazing cocoa and equally entertaining patrons. Several of my friends parents were in town- so we went out with them to laugh, play cards and exchange stories all night. Sunday was straight out of a storybook. We took the bus down the winding coast of the Aegean to the world-renowned beaches of Halkidiki. The region consists of hundreds of tiny peninsulas jutting out into the foamy blue surf. The weather was delicious. Rather than sweltering under fierce rays, we basked in a heatless sun as the warm air blew over us and wrapped us in a balmy Mediterranean gust. I laid in the cabana eating sweet oranges and tangy kiwis, watching Byron and Anthony skip flat stones five and six times into the horizon. I kept pinching myself. It was real.

Something has been bothering me lately. Is unconditional support from family and friends too much to ask? I don’t think so. While I’ve been here I’ve realized a couple things. For one, I don’t fit into a traditional mold. I can’t see myself walking the beaten path. You know which one I’m talking about. Go to school, go to harder school, get a job, get a life. Die. It’s just not me. Don’t think I underestimate the importance of education- far from that. And I do realize I am fortunate to even have the opportunity, because on a world scale most people do not. However, I feel like school is part of an institution meant to keep the blinders on and keep us in line. Think about it. School keeps you occupied, forces you to pick from a list of life ambitions called “majors” and then sends you on your merry way. At what time do personal choice and conformity intersect? Simultaneously, this institution builds within us a complex of fear. So much so that we are terrified of non-conformity. We fear not being successful, but more importantly, we fear uncertainty. It is much easier to follow the beaten path, get the credits and make the transfers. We read all the books but can’t find the answers. So in the end, where does all this get us? Seems to me like we have a few options: 1.) take the “safe” route like our parents want us to and risk accruing a list of unrealized dreams. 2.) Wallow in the fact that we are institutionalized, yet do nothing to change it or 3.) Take a blind leap, knowing full well that nothing in life is certain, but willing to sacrifice that certainty in exchange for the power of personal direction and individual choice. I think it was John Mayer who reminded us that there was no such thing as the "real world".

“They love to tell us stay inside the lines. But something’s better on the other side.”

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Todas las Preguntas del mundo, pero ningunas respuestas....

The world has been quiet lately and it’s a mixed blessing. On the one hand- I can hear myself think. On the other hand- I can actually hear myself think. Ask yourself when the last time was that you got to consciously reflect on your thoughts. It happens less often than you may realize. You’d assume that thought, in its purest form, would be done more often. I mean hell, it’s free. Just add water.

Sure, our heads are information superhighways. We process information as quickly as we absorb it so that we can spit out an answer and move on to the next problem. But that backwards way of thinking is what clouds our minds. Do we ever really focus on one thing…or are we doomed to be a generation of multi-taskers (of course we take pride in our ability to do 1,000 tasks at once. But since when has quantity equaled quality?) I can hear myself. That’s fine. I can deal with it. But I can’t bear listening to myself. When I listen, I hear what I already know but can’t say. What a burden. I’d rather be ignorant to my own devices.

Another thing: those of us lucky enough to have supportive parents were told that we could do anything we wanted. We were told that out grasp was measured in terms of our reach. We could be anybody, accomplish any goal. But how many people still believe this- and if you don’t anymore, when did you stop believing you had limitless potential? When did you decide that your potential, in fact, had a limit- and it was staring you in the face everyday at 8:55 on the way to your depressing day job shuffling papers? When do you resign to the inevitable? Which is more disappointing: failure or comfort?

Questions and no answers. Not yet.

Have you ever wondered, “is this all?”

I hope I never do.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Coming back, then going again!

Here's where I'm going this weekend. Meteroa- "the suspended rocks". Said to be one of the most beautiful, mystical places on earth.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


You may know what happened. You may have heard. Maybe you didn’t.

I woke up on Thursday morning feeling drowsy. As I laid in bed staring at the ceiling I was confused. The metal shutters on my balcony shielded even the faintest ray of sunshine from grazing my visage- and I was disoriented.

What time was it? Was today the day?

And as I rolled over to check my clock, my assumptions were confirmed. Today was the day I would leave for Rome. I was excited, but I felt apprehension in my heart. Not apprehension with regard to my intent---rather, I had that sinking feeling in my stomach. The feeling that something wasn’t right.

Instincts are rarely wrong.

I gripped the blinds cord and pulled open the shades tentatively, applying just enough pressure to peek between the thin white metal curtains. As the light streamed into my room I slid onto the balcony. I sensed it. Chaos in the air. To be completely honest, I didn’t need a sixth sense to tell me that unrest was gripping the city. People spilled onto the streets, large stacks of trash dotted the forseeable future in a multitude of colors. Cars swerved and stacked on the sidewalk, an unruly braid of metal and glass.

Today was the culmination of weeks of protest- Greece’s workers are in unrest over pension disputes. The buses are on strike. Herds of people are walking in the street hoping to find a taxi that’s has enough room to justify one becoming a temporary contortionist. Good thing I did my yoga yesterday.

Personal space or a ride to work? It’s your choice.

It was 12 pm and the airport is 15 minutes away. Our flight was at 3 pm. Plenty of time on a normal day. Every taxi we hailed (the ones that bothered to stop) rejected us.

“ Tha ithela pame sto areodromio para kalo” (We would like to go to the airport please)

“Ohee, then pao sto aerdromio” (No, I’m not going to the airport)

x 20

By the time we actually found a taxi to drive us, Byron and I were squeezed in the back seat of a fuel-efficient mini cab between two decrepit Greek ladies who insisted on talking to one another through us. They shouted right though our chests as if we were transparent. Let’s not even mention the old man in the front seat who kept turning around and bridging half of his body into the backseat to tell the women to SHUT UP. He was on edge. A little bit too much Greek coffee this morning?

For a brief moment all was silent until the crackle of the radio injected unintelligible Greek into the cab, igniting conversations again.

Try to keep up- there are six people in the cab including the driver who is dead silent (and who I’m sure is pretty much just charging arbitrarily at this point). Not only was traffic the worst I’ve ever seen it in two months, but so was the tension level. A chorus of off-color horns rattled and echoed off the pavement like improv jazz. Everything would have been mildly entertaining if we were not becoming increasingly late for our flight. Not only did we have to drop off the odd trio, but we still had to get to the airport ourselves.

I was getting nervous. I had never missed a flight before.

Well long story short: I did miss it. By six minutes at that. I was distressed because I lost out on the $350 ticket to Rome- they couldn’t refund me since it was a discounted flight. Well that was that, no complaining. Nonetheless, I had a very long weekend and I was determined to travel somewhere rather than sitting at home all week. Byron felt the same way. So I immediately started searching prices and found a ticket to London for just under $500. Obviously this blew my budget to hell, but considering they were last minute tickets, the price was reasonable. Here’s the clincher: I knew I would have free lodgings in London. A good friend of mine from high school, Yomi, just happens to be studying abroad in central London this semester. So I Skyped him in the airport. The conversation went like this:

Dan: Hey Yomi, we’re coming to London Gatwick tomorrow at 4:30 pm. You have room right?

Yomi: What….? Uhm, yes,

Dan: Good, see you then.

Yomi: Ok, bye.

Fast forward to the next day (Friday) and I was in London. I couldn’t believe it. I was actually in London on a Friday night. Consider this: I live in another country by myself and I fly myself around the world at my leisure. Sometimes I really feel that I have absolute control of my own destiny.

London is so cold. And windy. And wet. When we arrived I felt the chilly air stabbing me through my thin cotton longsleeve. Bear in mind that I was actually hot wearing this in Greece. It is always nice to see Yomi. We have known each other for 6 or 7 years now and we are on the same wavelength. We’ve gone through a lot of the same experiences during our formative periods so there is naturally a myriad of things to talk about. Lo and behold, Yomi and some of his roommates had prepared sort of an Easter weekend feast. We came just in time. It was the best eating since I’ve been in Europe- mostly because I’m barely eating in Greece. Everything was homemade: Fried chicken, barbeque chicken and curry chicken. Mashed potatoes, rice, shrimp, veggie stirfry and fresh baked brownies. Oh and Bacardi. LOL. The meal was great! What a great welcoming gift. Then we headed off to Picadilly Square to check out the club scene. The Square is beautiful at night, thousands of people and just as many glittering, glowing lights contrasting the traditional Gothic architecture. Quite a sight- definitely reminded me of Times Square, but with a distinctly English feel.

The club was disappointing. Besides paying an arm and leg for drinks, the music wasn’t that good. Techno. It was awkward to dance to, although the Brits seemed to be enjoying it. Oh- I should add that we got rejected from the first club because I didn’t have an ID with birth date/. I had my international student card, but my passport and license were in the bags back home. I’m not used to carrying them because there is no age for..well…anything in Greece. The club was ok, but we were all tired and cold. By the end of the night we were sitting on the benches waiting for Yomi to close the deal with some girl and get the number. 45 minutes later I found him back on the floor dancing and I was pretty pissed because we were ready to get home. So I gave him the stink-eye that said, “Get your shit together and let’s GO”. Haha.

I have to say, his apartment is SO nice. I mean genuinely nice for a 30-40 year old, not a student. Hardwood floors, crown molding, a huge panoramic view of the city, three bedrooms, stainless appliances and two huge marble-layered bathrooms. I felt pretty bad about my unmistakably student quality living in Greece, but on the whole London is a much nicer city than Thessaloniki in terms of housing, so I can’t complain. I also want to say before I forget that Yomi cooked for us every day, several times a day and he’s a damn good cook. Different types of meats, really good veggies, rices, pancakes and eggs for breakfast. The works everyday. I tried to warn him that when he comes to Greece my lack of cooking isn’t for lack of love, it’s just that we don’t really have the means in terms of space and lifestyle factors to cook like that. Greeks basically don’t eat anything but pastries, and the grocery stores reflect that for sure.

Saturday was exciting- we knew we were going to do the whole tourist bit. Yomi helped us navigate the intricate (but surprisingly well organized) London subway system known as The Tube. We visited Buckingham palace, Picadilly Square (which is equally beautiful in the light) and London Bridge. We also saw Big Ben, the River Thames and Trafalgar Square. It was surreal, I couldn’t believe I was there. I have always dreamed of going to London- I dreamed so hard that I thought maybe London WAS a dream. But there I was, standing in the flesh, looking at these beautiful and ancient monuments. The pictures can’t do justice, but they are interesting. The link will be posted at the end of this blog.
One thing that I can say truly changed my life forever was the Dali Museum. It cost 12 Pound to get in, but it was so worth it. I realized he is one of my favorite artists. I realized that if I had real wealth, I wouldn’t buy stupid jewelry or cars, I would buy art. There are pictures of that as well. It was a good night- we went to the club again that night. This time it was much better. The club was called “TigerTiger. It was huge- about 6 floors with different themes. Much better than the first night.

Sunday was Easter and we got up early to go to Yomi’s uncle’s house- the trip was abouth an hour and a half away on the tube. It was nice to be with a family, anybody’s family for Easter. We ate Nigerian food- it was really good. Stewed tilapia, rice and sweet plantains. I enjoyed it. When we rode back late that night we were exhausted.

Monday and Tuesday.What.A.Blur.

We got lost in the London underground, sipped coffee at quiet cafes in the heart of the city and generally enjoyed ourselves. I couldn’t have asked for a better time.

As I look back on the experience (although it is in the very recent past), I can say with conviction that although England was nice, I definitely made the right decision to study in Greece. Besides the beautiful weather of the Mediterranean, I must confess that the people are generally nicer in Greece. And while London certainly has a rich history and a deep past, it lacks culture in general. I feel like it is a superfluous extension of the States. And the accent gets old. Quickly.

Now I am on the plane back to Thessaloniki. London was amazing. I can check it off my life’s “To-Do” list. But I will be happy to go home. Or, “home”.

EDIT**Pictures to come soon!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Looking back on the last 12 months, I've certainly done alot of travelling. Stepping on and off planes, meeting new and interesting people. Encountering new situations. Whether it was last summer's trek trhough the midwest, the Thanksgiving visit to New York City or the spring trip to Europe, I'd say it's been a pretty restless year for me. Thursday marks my departure to Rome and Hungary for easter. Should be a blast. The trip to Egypt and Israel is in full swing now, I've made a downpayment to signify my commitment.

The last few weeks here have certainly been interesting. Whether we were at a carnival celebrating lent, a festival celibrating the phallus or just chilling at a taverna I am continually shocked by the caliber of people that I come across. But now, I am ready to unveil the most startling revelation thus far. I am ready to tell you the most interesting thing I have learned while living among Greeks. When I came here, I thought that the feeling of euphoria was temporary- perhaps a side effect of the excitement caused by a new enviroment. I thought the differential I felt in the ebb and flow of time was percieved, not actual. But gradually I started to become more aware of my surroundings. It's not that I percieve time to be slower here- it is slower. It's not just my opinion that the culture is more carefree- it actually is. And the evidence is everywhere. When my friends and I go out to a Taverna, all of Greece is with us without a care in the world. When I am liesurely walking outside by the waterfront at 3 am on a thursday morning, and decide to stop in for pastries, I immediatley find I did not have a novel idea. All of Thessaloniki is behind me. Of course there are things that must be accomplished, jobs to be done. But this truely IS a parallel universe. I question if the words "deadline", "expedience"or "bedtime" are even part of the Greek vocaublary. It's the most bizzare thing- especially coming from a culture of urgency.

Case in point: there have been many strikes recently, but two main strikes are holding strong: the bank strike and the sanitation strike. I know, I know. Probably the two worst types of strikes to have. The Greek National bank has been closed for 2 weeks. Some select private banks still function, but this is like shutting down Bank of America. It's a big deal. Iron mesh gates and barbed wire fences seal off the teal-green glass doors to all the major branches. The ATMs are on, but will not dispense cash except for a 2 hour window during the afternoon- which makes it increasinly difficult to get money. Normally, this would not be an issue in the States. However, in Greece the infastructure is not so well equipped. Let me be more clear: NOBODY TAKES CREDIT CARD.

Want to go shopping? Better have cash.
Want high end electronics? Bring hundreds or euros.
Want to buy a bus or train ticket? Cash only, sorry.
Going to a resturant? It can be a hassle.

Being without cash never alamed me at home. It was normal in fact. I'll swipe some shoelaces and a pack of gum on my debit card for $2.00. Here, no such luck. Being without paper is the same as having no debit card at all. So now you can see why the bank strike is such a big deal. Factor in the issue that everything is expensive and you have a catch-22 of sorts. You are always spending money (whether is is a taxi to get home, or paying for a shopping cart at the store. YES, you have to RENT a shopping cart). On the other hand, this money goes quicky, but due to the shortage, you don't know when you will be able to get more money out. It's a real headache. But we deal with it and work out way around it. Let's call it a lesson in finance.

Then there is the TRASH strike. I've never seen a more absurd problem. Imagine a world where you leave your trash out at the curb, yet nobody comes to pick it up. So you pile more and more. And then more. Still nobody comes. Imagine that problem in a city with the population density of New York City..and you have big issues. And compound all this with the fact that every human being smokes. My lungs hate me. The trash is getting out of hand here while sanitation workers negotiate for new salaries. Every block is a miniature mountain of trash. The funny thing is, it doesn't smell. Well, I'm sure it does. But we're all used to it. I'm actually grateful to get up to school in this instance so I can breathe that fresh mountain air.

Lastly is the electricity strike in which power may go out for hours at a time without warning or reason. The good news is it doesn't affect my neighborhood because I am 2 blocks away from a hospital- which leads me to believe we are part of a main power line on the grid which they cannot disconnect. Although I have to admit, that hospital scares me. Every person I see limp out of those dilapidated, decrepit doors makes me sick to my stomach. They are always horribly bandages and bloodsoaked. The property is frequented by the seediest Thessaloniki has to offer, and their one converted-hatchback ambulance is hardly suffice. It's like a bad horror movie. It's the hospital for the uinsured. I will say this though, I think they have running water.

Ok, done painting pretty picutes for now.