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.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I've been getting some fire on the pictures that I just posted I'm not going to take them down because I don't want to censor my trip. I want to stay truthful. A few things to bear in mind:

1.) The festival at Tyrnavos is more about FERTILITY than the actual penis. The phallus is obviously just a representation of such.

2.) This is a different culture. There were hundreds of little kids at this festival wearing penis shaped ornaments and sucking on penis lolipops. It may seem shocking to the conservative American culture, but Greece has been embracing both male and female nudity for thousands of years. So take things for what they are worth.

Look on the pictures with a light heart and try to adopt the perspective of the culture you are viewing.

Tyrnavos Phallic Festival Pictures

Ok- this definitely warrants a detailed description, but I wanted to get the pictures up first. Wow. The most interesting thing I've seen so far. Enjoy. Also, check out the short video. You can get an idea of how packed it was.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


It seems like my contributions to this online journal have become weekly rather than bi and tri weekly like they were in the beginning. Greece is still great for lack of more precise terminology. The weather becomes increasingly warmer everyday. The climate is breezy- I can feel the air swelling with the scent of fresh plant life as oxygen pulses from the mountains. The city is a thick cloud of congestion- but when I get a chance to walk by the water near the Aegean or scale the dense, rocky hills at school I can feel the earth swelling an pulsating under the pressure of my feet. It’s as if the immenence of spring radiates from every corner of the terrain. Greece is trying to tell me something, but I don’t yet have the tools to listen yet.

Everything else is business as usual- which is both good and bad. I feel entirely integrated into normal life again. But with that return to normalcy, the temporary barrier created by a novel situation is wearing off. I’m no longer immune to the stress of everyday life. Trying to find balance is stressful- knowing that my soul wants to go out, but my brain argues against it. Trying to live in the “moment” yet being forcefully reminded of responsibilities. But I guess this is life in a microcosm, right? That’s what it’s all about- balance.

I have to admit, something has been bothering me.

Sometimes I feel like I don’t do enough for myself. Friends at home are so involved whether it be as the president of a student organization, leaders of their fraternity, pageant winners, All-star students or simply participating in extra-curriculars. Some are applying for internships, some are applying to be USF ambassadors.

But what am I doing, and what have I done in college so far? I take a long pause when I ask myself that question. One thing that I’ve said before and I’ll maintain is that I will NOT join an organization or devote myself to something that I’m not enthusiastic to do. I will not do something that I’m not totally devoted to. I don’t want to do activities for the sake of resume building, solely with graduate school in mind. That’s so narrow-minded. I have a feeling that when people join organizations, sometimes they don’t ask “how can this improve my life”. Rather, they ask, “how can this improve my appearance” or “how can I appear more benevolent/intelligent/well-rounded than I really am?” Is this pessimistic? I don’t think so- I think it’s realistic. My main goal is to be real with myself first, and let the world catch up. I picked my major, communication, purely because I like the subject. I don’t know how it will correlate to grad school (a nd where/if I will go to grad school in the first place)- I don’t know how it will look and I don’t care.
Last summer I had the opportunity to become more involved at USF, but instead I chose to train for two bodybuilding shows. This was the most mentally and physically testing endeavor I’ve encountered to date. Bodybuilding has nothing to do with it- the sport or genre of activity is just the vessel that brought me closer to the true prize: actualization. The biggest battle I’ve ever fought was with myself. Before last summer, I’d never devoted myself to something so completely. I’d never gone to sleep and woken up with the same thoughts. I truly wrung the fibers of my being until they were dry and weary. I denied myself so much more than food. I isolated myself. I felt alone and tired. Discouraged and disgusted- yet I kept going. I doubted myself everyday, but I was persistent. I questioned my own integrity, devotion and self worth. But at the end of the day, the only person that could answer to my worries was me. This may sound crazy, but in a way I felt like I could channel God. Or maybe I was my own God. As if I alone was in complete control of my destiny. There were rare glimpses of character when I felt my mental fortitude so strong that I could change the course of the universe or history on a whim. It felt so good to know that I had that sort of passion for something. The point is, I don’t know where else in my life I’ll be able to have that kind of drive, but at least I know I’m capable of it. I do not believe everybody is capable of that- so I pride myself on it. I’m also an NANBF champion. The hard work paid dividends. And I was ripped to the bone. Pretty cool.
The decision to come to Greece was selfish, I admit it. Again, I passed up the opportunity to become more involved in my community to serve a greater goal: serving myself. It’s not that I intend to avoid my community. I just don’t feel like I can give back to it until I actually know what I have to give. I need to know how I react in untested situations, what I do in times of crisis, how I deal with deal with defeat. Knowing these personal aspects rather that merely speculating will make me a more solid person. I’ll be able to back up my talk and walk the walk. I’ll have evidence of my own limits/tolerance from previous situations.
Sometimes I wonder if it’s harmful to stay inside the university “bubble”. College makes things so easy. You have a schedule, there are organizations to join, you get automatic friends and for the most part, guaranteed acceptance within some subset of the university population. Hell, you even have advisors to tell you exactly what steps to take if you are confused. Is that real life? The system is set up to make you feel successful and accomplished, but not have much to base that success on. Everything seems easier when you have an entire support system at your disposal. I was just getting fed up with the fact that I really didn’t know what I would do without all that extraneous help. When I arrived in the airport at Thessaloniki, I couldn’t read the signs, nobody spoke English and I couldn’t find my ride. When I went to use the phone, I realized I didn’t have the right tender, I couldn’t understand the operator and on top of that I wasn’t sure if that annoying beep I heard was supposed to be a dial tone. I couldn’t even make a simple phone call. I consider myself intelligent- am I that sheltered? Tell me, where, in this brief crisis, does all that success training at school kick in? Ahh, I suppose since I spearheaded the Honors College fundraising drive for the American Cancer Society, this should be a breeze! Good thing I was involved with my community! Wrong. Once again, I’m not putting down community involvement. It’s essential to a positive, evolving society. I just don’t think it’s the key to self discovery. When you bury yourself in organizations that give you roles and titles, how can you ever discover your own role? How can you make your own way when you are just walking down the beaten path? I’ll tell you one thing, nothing else matters when you are stranded, wide-eyed and nervous in a foreign land. Nobody cares that your organization works for youth empowerment or put 27 turkeys on the table last Thanksgiving. How are YOU going to find your way home?

This is my little piece of actualization.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Surreal Life

Now seems like a good time to update what’s been going on recently. It’s been a little harder to update as of late because I’m in a strange place mentally. I believe I’m experiencing the beginning of culture shock or integration. Next week rounds out one month being across the Atlantic and I find myself having two polar opposite impressions of my stay simultaneously. On the one hand, it feels as if I have been here only a very short time. I honestly feel as if I’ve been here one day, broken up by several naps. Every event, interaction and novelty flows together to create the brilliant tapestry that I know will represent Greece in my mind forever. However, as the newness of my surroundings wears off I begin to feel something different. I feel like this is home now. I feel like I’ve been here forever. I can function in the society, I have no restrictions and long for nothing in the States. I have money and friends with whom I’ve formed unusually strong bonds. The level of trust and disclosure I have with them is unmatched. Since I’m in school (as I always am), it adds another element of normalcy to my everyday life. Sometimes it seems as though Tampa is a dream that I made up and I have awoken in Greece. I just reread that, I know it sounds corny- but it’s the best way I can describe how surreal this experience is. I can’t even fathom being back in the States right now, nor do I want to be. I might as well be on the moon. I’m glad that I did the semester-long program, not the summer. The summer is only four weeks. Which means that as I begin to have these emotions that I’m having now, I would have to go home. I would not be here long enough to see what form they take and what manifests of them. I can feel myself changing, but I cannot put my finger on what or where. I probably won’t know until I have a frame of reference back home.
The past week and a half have been filled with interesting things that I could describe in detail, but somehow I don’t have the capacity to do that right now. We go out every night. Period. It’s as if school is the buffer between sleep and excursion. The work still gets done, surprisingly enough. Don’t ask me how. I just go to class, and realize I’ve actually written the essay that was asked for (and written a phenomenal one at that). LOL. Once again, this is a surreal experience. Tuesday night was fun but a little scary. I generally try to keep it low-key on Monday and Tuesday, but around 11pm everyone decided they wanted to go out. Not clubbing or anywhere noisy. Just out for a little stroll and possible sit down to have a drink. So we walked on the seaside and stopped at a chic bar for an hour or so. I didn’t really feel like drinking, but some had no problem getting smashed on a Tuesday night. Haha! Anyway- the time rounded in on 2am and we decided to head home. Part of our group was inside the bar, part on the patio. So the outside group (including myself) decided to head out first. Shortly after we left, one of our friends had a seizure according to bystanders. She had not been drinking (excessively) and just reported that she felt really dizzy all of the sudden. She was fine when she got back to Panepistimio, but it was nonetheless scary to hear. All is well now.
Yesterday we went to a small taverna where we ate delicious, cheap food and danced all night to Greek music. It was one of the nights that truly made me appreciate my surroundings.

On a side note- I purchased some more DVDs from a Nigerian yesterday. These bootlegs are great. You can’t pass up 5 Euro!

Also, my trips are starting to take their final form. Rome for Easter is a go, I have already booked tickets. The cruise is what I am working on next. It would take us to 3 continents (Egypt, Israel, Turkey, Greek Isles). Looks like the total package will cost $1000-1100. I don’t want to pass it up. I am almost positive I will never be able to go back to Egypt or Israel in my life. We would stop in Cairo and Bethlehem. I am also looking into a trip to the Netherlands with my friend from high school, but I’m awaiting the final word on that.

That’s it for now.

Monday, February 25, 2008

New pictures- Sunday on the town!

I have new pictures up of a mini-adventure I had yesterday. The blog on the end of the week is coming. I have not been able to write as frequently as I would like lately because I'm getting a little but busier with school. Anyway, enjoy the pictures and I will update later!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

One hell of a weekend...

Today started off well. Before I recap last weekend, I'm going to take a short detour into today's circus act known as public transportation. As of late, I've been trying to get "in sync" with the weather patterns, but to no avail. The Greek climate is violent and dramatic. Saturday it snowed (more on that later). So when I burst outside my apartment expecting the cold wind to whip me in the face, I was pleasantly suprised. Today it is almost 60 degrees outside. Nothing makes sense. However, I was slightly annoyed because in my attempt to stay one step ahead of Zeus, I had donned warm clothing and a skull cap. Now I was just hot and I was waiting for the bus what seemed an interminable period. When Human-Sardine-Box # 58 rolled up I had the fleeting notion that maybe we could economize some space if we cremated everybody over 60. Or perhaps just the children. I know, it's sick. I'm working on my issues. Alas, I jammed my body into the mosh and left my soul on the curb (to save space). The bus seems to stop every half mile, yet nobody (read: no body) gets off. Instead every stop is an additional surge of 3 people at each one of the 3 doors that brings me exponentially closer to my neighbors. I was smashed against the folding doors with such pressure that when they creaked open for the next surge half of my body exploded into the open air of the street as I gripped the ceiling handles like an ape in the jungle. Eventually, so many people got on the bus that I had to get off in order to let them on and then scurry back in before I got left behind. Occasionally the door that I exited became full and I had to run the length of the bus in order to hurl myself into another opening that was less crowded (or atleast filled with smaller people). By the time I finally got to school I was achey in places I hadn't even touched and I was stressed out. That was my ride to class. Gotta love Greece!

The weekend was fantastic. Friday my friends and I found ourselves at a rather large taverna in the center of town. There are endless possibilites for food and drink in the city. I know that I could eat or drink somewhere different everyday while I'm here and not revisit any of the same places. We really stumbled onto a great deal. The resturant was only 9 Euro per person for unlimitied food and drink. We had chicken, pork, beef, shrimp and well as several different varieties of salads, vegetables and potatoes. We had 3 different types of bread and as a group of about 15 people, we probably consumed 8 liters of wine. It was a great night. The price was so low because during the weekend rival resturants compete for tourist dollars. We literally had someone rush up to us on the street and usher us into the resturant promising rockbottom prices. Initially they charged 12 E/person (which is still VERY fair)- yet in true european style we were able to bargain them down to 9 euro. By the end of the meal the waiters were sitting with us (much more drunk than any one of us, ha!). While we were there we met up with a group of students from Spain and Germany who were studying at the other university, Aristotle University. As the night unfolded we combined our tables and broke into song. Banging glasses, breaking some dishes and pounding the table to the chorus of Bob Marley's "One Love". It was hysterically fun. Like something out of a movie.

Saturday was equally as intriguing. Initially, Byron and I had solicited one of our Greek friends Besi (short for Elisabeth) to take us to the movies. Sure you can do that anywhere, but I figured it would be a nice change of pace. She arrived at the door banging frantically screaming about the cold. I thought she was just being sensitive, but when I opened the door the winter wind penetrated through my thin cotton T-shirt and I felt the icey hands of the elements gripping my neck and face. As I stood in the paraysis of shock, snow billowed into my face and danced on my lips where it was immediatley melted by the steam from my nose. I was terrified. Must I remind you that I'm from Florida? None-the-less, Bessie was decked out so to speak. The skirt with stockings, the stylish European-cut coat and the contrasting scarf. I thought to myself "this is no time for fashion, I'm freaking freezing". So Byron and I put on layers, several layers. I had jeans, my green hoodie, covered with my red Team Klemczewski jacket and a beanie cap. Not high fashion, but definitley high heat. As we ventured to the theater (on foot of course) the snow dissapated and we stopped into some bakeries on the way. Just to gander. When we finally got to the theater, we were informed that the movie was sold out. Very strange. You don't typically think an American movie (we went to see Sweeny Todd) in it's 2nd month would be sold out in Greece. Oh well. We decided to stop into a resturant to get some food. As we walked to the strip, each resturant appeared to have vacancy- yet the "bouncer" at the door informed us that they were in fact full for the night. This happened three times until we decided to stop into a favorite bar of ours called Seaside, where we were able to sample wine, cheese and fruit. We must have talked for about two hours when Besi informed us that the reason we did not get into the movies or the resturants was because we were not dresses nicely enough! I was astonished! She made the point that in Greece (and all of Europe), businesses are just as concerned with attracting "beautiful" people to their establishments than they are about making money. Thus the reason you typically don't see too many Greeks underdressed. You must always overdress. This was like a cultural slap in the face and I thought it was very interesting and funny. At least we know for next time. After we were done at Seaside, Besi (who is half Albanian) invited us to a party that some of her Albanian friends were having to celebrate the liberation of Kosovo. When we got there, I was at first hesitant to talk (being that there was alot of Albanian flying around). But eventually I loosened up and got into some pretty interesting conversation. I met one Kosovo Albanian named Jeton (pronounced YEH-TON) and he made a toast "To Kosovo and Barack Obama". I was suprised to hear that he followed American politics so closely and when I asked him about it he said: "My friend, America equals the world". It was a heavy statement, but lately I've been wondering if it is in fact true. Could it be? I think it would be quite arrogant to assume so. Nonetheless, everybody at the party seemed to be counting down the days and crossing their fingers to go to the States. Very interesting. He seemed to think that America was the ticket to complete freedom. Is he right? Cleary the "American Dream" lives on, even if it is currently a dream deferred. Interesting stuff. Sunday and Monday can be summed up in two words: Slow, Unevetful.

I have class now, more to come so stay tuned.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

New pictures up

Just a quick update- new pictures!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Some semi-sophisticated banter

It’s 2:39 AM here, but I’m wide-awake. I’m alert. I’m restless. Life has been going on like “normal” lately- but I find that “normal” is a fluid concept these days. I expect the unexpected- therefore surprise is the norm. For example, on Tuesday there was a bus strike. That’s right, public transportation stopped. Highly inconvenient having to hail a cab (due to the significant price difference)- but still, Thessaloniki makes due. I’ve come to find that most of the major public service providers go on strike a few times a month here. In the ten days that I’ve been here I have already seen a taxi strike, a bus strike and a police strike. The unions alert the press of the date they will be on strike weeks in advance and the press releases the information to the public in a calendar format. Way to plan your month! However, the strikes here aren’t designed to devastate an industry like some American strikes (see the current WGA strike). The strikes here are meant to highlight employee rights and raise awareness of grievances. Once these issues have been addressed, it’s back to work. Hellenic society is based on ancient values of collectivism, not the individualism of the modern era. Greeks realize that by ceasing to work, they hurt many around them- thus they try to keep things relatively succinct. The primary assumption behind protest is that everybody should have a voice. It is not based solely on receiving extra compensation or benefits. I guess this philosophy makes sense in the land that is essentially the birthplace of democracy.

Everybody has been picked on at least once in their life. It’s inevitable. Maybe you were smaller than someone; maybe you were a “geek”. Maybe you were bad at sports or you were just disliked for no reason. Either way, it’s happened. And when you came into the house downtrodden and dirty from sometimes quite literal mudslinging, what did your parents say? “People only tease you out of jealously. If they don’t like you, you have something that they want.”
I never believed that crap. I always thought it was a load of BS- a euphemism meant to appease me in a situation that had no right answer. I operated under the assumption that some people are just viscous regardless of motive. However, I’ve recently been able to draw a real-life parallel that has allowed me to examine more thoroughly the idea that hatred is fueled by jealousy. It’s no secret that Americans abroad are viewed as arrogant, overconfident and materialistic. It’s a fact that we get a bad rap for being greedy and manipulative. Why is this? Is it because we really are all these negative characteristics that people describe us as? Or is this broad generalization of American culture linked to envy in some way? In the short time that I’ve been here, I have met people from all over the world: Greeks, Albanians, Bulgarians, Poles and Nigerians. They of course ask me if I’m from America, and when I say yes they proceed to tell me how lucky I am. They tell me that they wish they could live in America. They express an interest in my stories about home and seem willing to do generally anything to get into the states. And this phenomenon can be seen on a worldwide basis. Mexican citizens jump fences, hide in trucks and stow away on ships to get into the US. Cubans paddle to the shores of Florida in tiny Styrofoam boats that often capsize and are usually turned away jut to have a shot at living in the States. It seems like many easily criticize the “American Way”, yet many want to live the fabled “American Dream”. If people are willing to die to come to the US, there most be some virtue they see that they can’t find elsewhere. Of course my view is biased based on my nationality, the time I have spent in the states and the media I have been exposed to- however I can’t help but get the impression that America is envied, especially since I have gathered corroborating evidence overseas. Of course, not everybody wants to live in the US and undoubtedly millions of people are happy in their country. But maybe, just maybe some of the hatred for the US is fueled by jealousy. It’s just a thought.

Wednesday was an interesting night. We all wanted to go out to this reggae bar, but I wasn’t drinking. Before hand, my friends decided they wanted to “pre-game” which means to basically arrive at said location already semi-drunk. Their beverage of choice: cheap white wine. Bad choice I thought, but whatever. So we arrived at the bar, talked, played some cards- had a good time. But by the time we got back to the apartment, my roommate was so sick he could barely move. He spent the whole night throwing up. I hate to say I told you so. Tonight we are going out again for Valentine’s Day. It’s entirely possible to go out every night here. The classes are so ridiculously easy and slow paced I feel like I’m in 9th grade again.

A little update on my voice- it’s back! I would say 85%, but that’s good enough to scream “Help!”, “Rape”, or “Pickpocket”- so I’m happy. Today I went to the φαρμακείο (pharmacy) to conquer this cough/runny nose because it’s gotten a little worse. My general policy on sickness is to always get medication within the first 48 hours. I know, I’m a wuss. Yes I know my immune system is probably weaker for it- but here’s my philosophy: if there’s a medicine that can fix my problem now, I’m going to use it. If I can feel better now, why shouldn’t I? So any way, I headed up to the pharmacy armed with phrases from my Greek phrasebook such as “it hurts here” and “cough”, but by the time I got there I had completely forgotten everything. One big blank. So I relied on the tried and true standard: “Milate Agglika?” (Do you speak English). Thankfully the pharmacist did and I described my symptoms- nasal drainage, light cough etc. Then she proceeded to write me a prescription on the spot and give me prescription antibiotics and nasal spray! That’s right, walk in, cough, get prescription drugs and walk out. This is definitely not America.

I’d like to say one final thing. I’ve come to realize how non-homogenous America really is. It’s not like that here. There isn’t a spectrum of colors and cultures here. Maybe in the university (as many universities have)- but in general the country is one big Hellenic race. It’s strange.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Back to school, the bus fiasco and how I lost my voice.....

Well let’s recap the last few days:

Sunday was a pretty decent day- I finally felt “at home” here in Greece, or at least at home ENOUGH. Pretty uneventful as everyone was pretty tired from the non-stop partying the week before. Nonetheless, we still decided to go out Sunday night. Not everybody’s heart was in it, but we felt like we should since it was the last day we could go out without worrying about homework. We went to a club called “Velvet”. Very Americanized- it looks like somewhere in Tampa or Miami the only difference was the people. It was pretty loud, but still fun and we went home relatively early by our own standards (2 am, ha!). Then we had to go through the joy of hailing a cab again- but this time we were wise to it. The cabbie did not speak English, but luckily for my friends, I’m a genius. I spoke like it was my native tongue and got us home without a hitch. After he dropped us off, we stopped at a local bakery and got crepes. I had chicken, cheese and veggies in mine. The combination of the chicken and the cheese with the mildly sweet, thin pita makes the crepe delicious. The texture is doughy, yet crunchy at the same time. When I got home I passed out. I had school at noon the next day (Monday).

Monday came so fast. I literally got in my bed, blinked and got up. I went into this day knowing that it was going to be a challenge simply because I had never ridden public transportation yet. A taxi is one thing- but navigating a bus route when you can’t read the signs or understand the intercom is tricky. The first thing that I noticed when I got up was that I couldn’t speak. That’s right, my voice was completely gone. As the sun crept over the shade, I opened my mouth to say a few obscene words and nothing came out. Just a raspy, wispy semblance of a voice. I tired to curse in English, I tried to curse in Greek. Still nothing. On top of that, my throat felt like it had been burned with a blowtorch overnight. No other symptoms, just those. My self diagnosis is this- the combination of the cold weather, the wind, the massive smoke inhalation, the screaming at the clubs and the late nights have done me in. Still don’t have my voice back as of today. But hey- talking is overrated. So we (meaning myself and 10 others) scurried out to the bus stop about ½ a mile away. Just getting to the stops is a near death experience, but I digress. All we knew is that we were going to Anatolia (the name of the larger campus which contains ACT). But we didn’t know which bus to take and they were driving by at lighting speed. There are 3 doors on the right side of the bus- the front, middle and back. The doors spring open for 7 seconds and people exchange places rapidly- some dashing onto the street and others cramming into the bus. From a bird’s eye it must look like a swirling ant mound. As the busses drove by we had to quickly scan the destinations which were flashing across the grainy screen in orange, pixilated Greek font. Luckily we spotted “Ανατολία” on bus 58 and recognized it to be “Anatolia”- we crammed on and held tight packed like pimentos in a Greek olive.

On the walk to the bus, we purchased tickets at a περίπτερο (or kiosk) for 50 Euro cents. But when we got on the bus everything was so quick and there was nobody checking out tickets. It made me wonder if we could in fact just ride for free and get away with it. What a silly American idea. Luckily, I saw there was a ticket puncher in the corner of the bus and I stamped my first Greek bus pass with pride. My roomie on the other hand decided to be slick and keep his ticket unstamped. Things were kosher until about 8 minutes into the ride when two ticket regulators (who appeared out of nowhere) confronted him about his unmarked ticket and started berating him in a flurry of what I’m guessing were not nice words. I let him take it for a little while because it was funny, then I stepped in and explained that it was his first bus ride and he didn’t speak Greek. They relented. Finally we arrived at Anatolia, pushed the stop button and were all too happy to get off the hell bus. The downside about Greece’s healthy eating is the fact that they can fit 3 million people on one bus.

I stumbled into class at 12 on the dot, but then I realized the professor was on Greek time (not all that different from CP time). She was 15 minutes late. That’s the cool thing about Greece. Time is more fluid- not static and definitive. 12pm can mean anywhere from 11:45 – 1:00. It has give and leeway. The pace of Thessaloniki is much slower than Chicago or New York, even though it is a major metropolitan city (the 3-5pm siestas for example). I took 2 classes yesterday- Greek ethnography and Greek Language II (which became increasingly hard as my voice got worse and worse). Now I’m getting ready for class at 3:30 and I’m heading up to the gym to finally check it out. I really am missing training. I’ve lost some weight and I’m looking a little smaller/flatter. Not much muscle loss, I have visably leaned out. But I’m trying to gain weight right now, so that’s going in the wrong direction. I’m still having difficulty with the sleeping patterns. Primarily because I am in need of at least 10-11 hours of sleep lately. I assume my body is still adjusting and whatnot- but when you sleep for so long you waste the day. It’s 1 pm now and I’ve just eaten breakfast. More updates as they become available- hope I can talk today.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Slow saturday

Nothing of note today. Since I went to sleep around 6 am this morning I didn't wake up until the day was over (3pm). But I did go to the mall to buy a Greek cell phone. I didn't really want to, but it's pretty much a necessity in order to talk with other people in the program and make emergency calls that don't cost $70. Of course everybody is going out again tonight but I'm not. I have some reading to get done and a thesis to think about. Since everybody usually leaves around 11pm, we won't get in until at least 4- which is OK sometimes, just not every night. And also, I've had something to drink every night here and while I haven't gotten drunk, I just don't want to drink every night. It's not a good habit. I want to be up early so that I can check out that gym tomorrow. Everything is closed on sundays in greece- but I atleast want to find it again. I haven't seen it since the first day.

I did learn some interesting Greek curse words today, and then I saw them in action on the street when a biker almost got SMASHED by a huge bus. I also saw the Greek version of flipping the bird- which uses 5 fingers. Interesting. The cars travel so fast here, and the vehicle (not the pedestrian) has the right of way. Another thing I learned is that you have to be aggressive when flagging down a taxi. They won't actually stop for you. You literally have to jut out in front of them, bang them on the hood and open the door. My friends and I realized this after standing in various spots with our hands up. Then I used my brilliant Greek skills to relay our destination and pay the fare:

Me: Signomei, Katalavenitei Agglika? (excuse me, do you understand english?)

Cabby: Oxi, Katalevenitei Ellinika? (No, do you understand Greek?)

Me: Neh, ligo. Then milow, alla katalaveno. (Yes, a little. I don't speak it but I understand)

Cabby: Endaxi (OK)

Me: Theloume Cosmos Mall ( We want the Cosmos mall)

Him: blah blah blah in greek for 10 minutes

Me: Nod, smile.

We pull up to the mall:

Me: Stamata etho para kalo (Stop here please)

Cabby: Neh (yes)

Me: Poso Kanei (how much?)

Cabby: Pente evro kai ikosi lepta (5 euro and 20 cents)

Me: etho einai theka, ehete pesta (here is 10, do you have change?)

Cabby: Neh, etho (yes, here)

Me: Kala! Afgaristo poli querieh. Yassas. (Great, thanks very much sir. Bye)

I've only been here a week, but it's getting easier.

Last day of orientation

3rd and final day of orientation today (Friday)- we journeyed to the tombs of the Macedon kings. There were three tombs and the entire excavation site was encased in a modern museum so that once inside the building, we were viewing the actual tombs not just the artifacts within it. Original frescoes had been restored with precision and the whitewashed stone columns were still in place- standing strong after thousands of years. Of the three, Phillip II had the largest and most ornate tomb. Much like Egyptian lore, Greeks believed that when someone made a journey to the afterlife, they needed all their essential earthly possessions. The tomb is actually arranged as a house with two chambers. The first being the living quarters and the rear chamber being the burial site with the ashes of the deceased and other personal effects. The tombs were originally covered below 40 feet of dirt, forming a large hill structure called a tumulus. The mound has two purposes- 1.) to mark the burial site of prestigious figures and 2.) to protect the site from intruders. Even so, tomb raiders have desecrated several tombs throughout Greece. In order to enter the tomb the thieves go in through the roof through a special stone called the keystone. It’s the only stone (and smallest) that can be removed from the roof without damaging the integrity of the structure and caving in the entire structure. Phillip’s tomb is the only tomb to be discovered untouched in 1977. To know what you are physically in the presence of ancient warrior-kings is a rush. To touch the stones they touched, to view their armor, to know that Alexander the Great once buried his father here before returning to his campaigns in Asia puts you in a mental time machine. This museum is not just a collection of artifacts. It is the burial site and actual tomb. Great leaders of antiquity stepped foot here. I took a small rock from the tomb- no doubt thousands of years old. Don’t tell! Of course no video/photography was permitted in the museum- it’s something that has to be seen and felt anyway.
After that we went out to lunch- the last lunch courtesy of ACT for the entire program to enjoy. Salad, light pasta, pork with potatoes and a rich cake to finish. The food was good as usual. On the way back to the apartment, the buses took us on an extensive tour of the city. We saw the great walls erected in 300 BC to keep the Ottoman empire out of Macedonia and ornate Byzantine churches. Certainly breathtaking. Then we went back to the apartments to rest up- we knew we were going out again tonight. Around 11pm we went to a bar called “Seaside” in the heart of Thessaloniki and is literally adjacent to the magnificent waterfront. The moonlight reflected an eerie, calming glaze over the water that shimmered across the surface. The coolest part was that we were so close to the sea, yet there were no walls or guard rails. One could jump right in. I elected not to. LOL. I had one beer- that’s it. One thing that bothers me immensely is the apparent dependency some people have on alcohol to have a good time. People are drinking 5-6 shots before we even leave the house and then starting all over again when we get to the bar. It’s insane. I hate drunk people- it’s really unattractive. If you’re drunk I think it’s a sign of weakness. It means that you can’t control the drink, the drink controls you. Also, I like to know what’s going on. After that we went to this three-story club. It just sucked. No room to dance, poor music, felt like a sardine being crushed with creepy Greek guys. So glad I didn’t pay for that. Couldn’t ger my groove on. Although I must admit, Thursday really spoiled me. It was one of the best times of my life- the dancing was great- but not every night can be like that.
The weekend looks promising. I’m going to find that gym that I saw again and hopefully I can get some headway on the reading for my USF class and my Honors thesis. I’m plan to write on the infamous “self-fulfilling prophecy” it’s link to self sabotage and tie it together using theories from psychology as well as interpersonal/internal communication theories. I need to finish my 2-5 page prospectus by the end of the month. Monday I start real classes (I haven’t been to class since December 13th!).
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my first week and look forward to the months to come. One thing that really made the transition easier for me was finding someone very similar to myself. I have always been raised to be “color-blind” but the truth is that’s always been impossible for me being of mixed race. It’s one thing to be with my close friends and family- with them race truly is a non-issue. But in social scenarios it’s a big issue. I’ve found since elementary that whether you like it or not, you are either with the majority or you are with “everybody else”- in most cases the majority has been white. I’ve always been more comfortable with Blacks and Hispanics in social situations. It’s just a vibe or a feeling. It has nothing to do with dislike of other races. It has more to do with the comfort of mutual understanding coming from a fellow minority. If I’m in a social situation with all white people whom I don’t know well, I can have universal appeal without a doubt- but at the same time I feel like an outsider. I feel like a “token”. I’m sure everybody has felt like this to a certain extent. Also, Blacks are a rarity in Greece. Like a delicacy or commodity- you don’t see many of them (and if you do, they are selling CDs- go figure). I’m even more comfortable around Black or Hispanic girls. I find it easier to flirt and get along with them. Anyway, what it boils down to is that I am one of three black men in the entire program (and 2 girls) out of over 100 students. One in particular is mixed just like me, looks just like me, has similar experiences/attitudes towards life, identical tastes in music and women. It’s very comforting to have someone that you can relate to when A.) you are in a country where you can’t even read the signs and B.) You are the minority in a large group. All in all the first week is exceeding expectations.

*Lastly- I’m trying not to judge- it’s my new year’s resolution. But there are people here who I don’t like and I can’t help it. I hate fake smiles, fake laughs and sneaky punks. I hate aggressively annoying/arrogant pricks. Hope I didn’t just describe myself. Hope it doesn’t come to blows. More on that later as the plot develops.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Friday Feb 8th 2:25am

A lot has happened in the past few days. So much in fact that I feel as if I’ve been here for a whole month, not 4 days. The biggest adaptation I’m having to make is realizing that this is not a weekend trip or a short vacation. I actually have to live here and to a certain extent, I have to adjust to the Greek culture in order to survive. The people that I’m with are great and I believe this is because we are all here with a common goal- exploration. Those who study abroad have a certain adventurous spirit and creative mentality which is the reason that we’ve decided to branch out. On Wednesday orientation started and I came back to the crashing realization that I’m still in school, which frankly sucks. I don’t start actual classes until next Monday (I’m taking Greek II, Anthropology and International Relations along with my 2 internet classes at USF).
Wednesday after orientation ACT (American College of Thessaloniki) took the whole program of 100+ students out to lunch to eat local cuisine. The first thing I noticed was the place setting. What a small plate! Probably 1/3 of the size of a typical American dinner plate. The courses were served family style and there were no less than 4 courses of vegetables to begin with. Different types of salad meant to fill you up before the main course of chicken/lamb. The dessert was a delicious cinnamon cake- but by the end we were too full to eat the whole thing. I have yet to see an obese or even overweight Greek- their eating habits are superb. On the downside EVERYBODY smokes. I’m probably going to get second hand cancer here.
The city is alive and bustling but definitely different than America. The cars don’t stop for you, little old ladies shove you and the national nap time is 3pm to 5pm, so don’t expect to get service anywhere- the Greeks are SLEEPING! LOL. On the other hand, like I mentioned before- everybody is so nice and willing to help if you show them that you are willing to learn a little Greek. Just basic respect.
Yesterday we went to the Cosmos Mediterranean mall. This thing is huge- only 2 years old. Every store conceivable from IKEA to Macy’s- but everything is in GREEK! DOH! Lot’s of interesting people and things. My roommate and I even met two WNBA players. Pretty sick man! Today was the second day of orientation- more boring explanations, but some interesting lessons in Greek dancing which I used at the club tonight. Once again, ACT took us out. This time to the club. They bussed us out and paid for an open bar for over 100 people! What university do you know that buys an open bar for their students. I’m not a big drinker- it’s not my thing. I had a beer and some tequila. I was just buzzed, but others were getting completely smashed. I guess that’s to be expected with an open bar. There is so much going on that I can’t even remember half of what’s happening and the pictures that I take don’t do any of the sights justice. The Anatolia campus is located on a mountain and when you climb it to enter the school you can see the green/brown peaks of Greece splitting the fog, simultaneously blurry yet breathtakingly clear. What and awesome sight!
Tomorrow we are taking a field trip to Vergina located in northern Greece, it’s the burial site of the kings of Macedon including Phillip II, Father of Alexander the Great. Should be awesome. I’ll take pictures. Much more happened but I can’t remember. Until next time!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I'm here- where's the OUZO???

Get ready for a long post. This picks up where I left off- the flight.

Let me first start off by saying British Airways is the most comfortable ride I've ever flown on and the staff bends over backwards to make you comfortable. As soon as I stepped on the plane, I was amazed by the massive size of the Boeing 777. 3 rows and 4 cabins- I was in coach of course. The First Class cabin literally had recliners. Each seat on the plane was equipped with a TV that had what was essentially TiVo. 20 channels. There was also a GPS that allowed me to see exactly where I was, the speed (top speed on the trip was in excess of 700 mph), time at the origin and destination, ETA, distance and other cool flight related information. Anyway- that flight was about 7-8 hours but I didn't sleep. Combination of nerves, excitement and the fact that I was literally travelling forward in time. Your body can sense that stuff. I arrived at London Gatwick around 8am Monday morning (2 am Eastern) and was elated to find that the Giants had won the Superbowl. Wish I would have seen that.
Now I went off to security- which was laughable. You have to understand- there is no TSA in anywhere except America- that's a homeland security thing. In London they just swiped me down and sent me through. Once I got on the flight (another, smaller BA plane) I was able to catch a few Z's- but it was only 4 hours so I didn't get to make up for lost time. As I flew in over Greece, I could see the beautiful terrain change. Lush water, looming snow-capped mountains and rocky terrain. Very mediterranean. When I touched down, I have to say it was a little chillier than I expected. We're probably looking at low to mid 50's here. That's all well and good, because I have jackets right? WRONG!
I was waiting at the conveyor belt and the typical fear set in. One bag, two bag, where's the third bag???!!!! WHERE'S THE THIRD BAG!!!??? Come to find out it was left behind in London! Beautiful! But luckily it was the most non-essential bag. It had all my supplements, weightlifting stuff and my jackets. I still have all my clothes and money- the most important stuff. The other suitcase will be here weds.
So I collected all my bags minus one and headed to the apartment. Let me just tell you, Greek is a hard language to read, and since I don't know much vocab I'm basically taking in thousands of letters a minute while only comprehending 2% of what I'm reading. It's very unsettling. But that 2% makes all the difference, trust me. On the ride in I passed tons of shops and residences. Thessaloniki is a young, urban enviroment with all the ammenitites, but it's harder to find them when you can't read signs! LOL- I did see a MET-RX store on the way though. The apartment is nice, relatively spacious with a balcony overlooking the streets (pictured above to the left). My roomate is awesome- lots in common. The building is set up similar to a Manhattan flat on the outside with a spiral staircase on the inside that leads to individual rooms. Walking around yesterday and today I was able to find basic essentials. Grocery store, gym, babershop. My ability to have basic conversation puts me lightyears ahead of my group. My training is behind right now. Today I woke up a 430 PM due to the jet lag- which is actually 10 am eastern (my average time). It makes sense- my body is still in shock. All in all I've proabably had 3-4 meals while I've been here consisting of either gyros, souvlaki or ouzo. LOL. Man, that ouzo is no joke. I only had what.....half a shot and it almost knocked me out. I'm just not a big drinker. So when I get my supps tomorrow and start school I can get into a routine and back into the gym. It won't be hard to gain weight here...the carbs are everywhere. But any type of meat is expensive as all hell. The American dollar is crap here- the Euro destroys it. At Sam's I can get 10lb of chicken for $30. Here I can get less than a lb for about $12. Uggh! Anyway- I'll post some pics and update the rest later.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Ready to go

Got the visa yesterday. I guess it was worth the wait. It has 47 colors, 10 different embossments and had 10 languages. It's a Schengen visa, which allows me access to all the "Schengen" countries including greece, italy, spain, germany, the netherlands. Basically all of the EU except the UK. If I didn't have the visa, when I leave Greece for travels I wouldn't be permitted back into the country. Anyway- I have it now, so I leave Sunday at 12pm. It takes 2 hrs to get to Orlando, then I'll get there in time for the recommended 3 hr early arrival time for international flight. I fly out to London and 6pm, then from London to Thessaloniki, Greece and will arrive there Monday afternoon. I'm getting pretty pumped!

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Packing packing packing

Alright- it's the first post and I'm still in the states. I'm getting all my stuff together and it's taking so much longer than I expected. Is there anyway to pack light when you're moving your life to another continent for half a year? I don't think so. It's been so incredibly hard to get this trip together- on paper it looks so easy. I've had trouble every step of the way- internally at USF, with the bank securing my loans, with the U.S. government regarding my passport and with the Greek Consul regarding my visa and immigration status. Getting rejected at every turn- thinking it would be so much easier to just give up and study here. But something is pulling me overseas- I'm meant to go there for a reason and I can feel it. I hope I find what I'm looking for. I'll update later- as for tomorrow, I have to secure my student visa downtown (finally) and check on the status of my funding. Sheesh! I originally planned to leave tomorrow, but it looks like saturday at the earliest or monday at the latest depending on the status of my visa processing.