Yesterday’s flight felt endless (was it yesterday? or maybe two days ago? I’ve lost count.), but the thing about traveling is, suddenly you reach at your destination and it feels miraculous. All of the travel is totally worth it.
As my roommate and I unpacked our suitcases in our appropriately tiny studio apartment, though, the fact that I’m finally in Greece didn’t really sink in. After a short walk around the neighborhood, a trip to the nearby Discount Market, and a bleary but delicious bleary pizza dinner, I was ready for a night’s sleep – or a late afternoon to midnight sleep as it would have been at home.
This morning, I woke up feeling surprisingly well rested and much more like a real person. This was good, because it was a jam-packed, info-filled, food-filled day. It would take hours to gather all my thoughts from the day, so I’ll just share a few highlights.
“Don’t forget that Thessaloniki of the past is asleep underground”
During our walking tour of Thessaloniki’s historic district, tour guide and professor at the American College of Thessaloniki – where our Greek culture elective will be taught – Daphne Lamprou guided us through the Rotunda of Galerius, a circular church covered in resilient thousand-year old mosaics that was built during the Byzantine Empire and later converted to a Christian church; along the sea shore to Aristotle Square, one of Thessaloniki’s busiest areas where peaceful demonstrations frequently take place; and finally to the Agora, where the ruins of Thessaloniki’s historic city – everything from the open-air theater to the spa – are visible to pedestrians.
While Thessaloniki’s historic buildings are certainly an important part of the city – work on building an underground subway system has been repeatedly stalled due to the presence of historic artifacts – Lamprou informed us that Greece’s current economic crisis has meant that many current restoration projects have been postponed. This not only means that the jobs associated with archaeological restoration are not available, it also jeopardizes the city’s ability to maintain its historic identity.
However, that doesn’t seem like it’s likely to happen anytime soon, especially since the buildings and historic sites serve as a constant reminder that the daily lives of Greeks thousands of years ago weren’t so dramatically different from those of Greeks today. “[The city’s] heart has been beating in the same places” for thousands of years, Lamprou told us. The tour certainly made me feel a little closer to the history of the city, even on the very first day.
Rebecca Fong is a total badass
Our second activity of the day was a visit to the U.S. Consulate of Thessaloniki, where we had a Q&A with Consul General Rebecca Fong. Her talk offered an extremely interesting window into the life of a U.S. diplomat – a career path I knew essentially nothing about before today but which sounds like a mish-mosh of crazy, rewarding, and exhausting experiences. Before coming to Thessaloniki, Fong worked in Bahrain, Iraq, Paris, and Afghanistan, and has much more international travel in her future.
In addition to telling us about her life, Fong spent nearly two hours answering student questions about everything from the refugee crisis to environmental initiatives (hint: that one was from me and apparently there aren’t any). It was an exciting and intriguing way to get to know the country a little bit better from someone who embodies global citizenship, especially since I’m hoping to become a better global citizen on this trip.
Becoming a foodie in a new country
I have a tendency to second-guess myself when it comes to ordering meals, especially when I get to a new place. Today went pretty well, though – I had chocolate cereal from the nearby market, pork souvlaki (which is basically just a kebab), and dinner from a Mexican restaurant called Habañera – not exactly authentic Greek food, but getting lost in the pouring rain on the way there made it a memorable bonding experience. I also discovered that tzatziki is an exception to my lifelong dislike of yogurt, knowledge that I’m sure will come in handy over the next few weeks.
It’s been an exhausting but rewarding day, and I’m ready to clock out. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds.