Sometimes Feeling Small Can Be Good

I’m the type of person who obsesses over small things, or in more colloquial terms, I “sweat the small stuff.” It is my tendency to be concerned about small details of my daily life, and though I don’t like to admit it, it sometimes detracts from my experiences.

It’s good perspective, therefore, to witness things that are bigger than I am.

We’re getting into crunch time now, and the work I have coming up this week feels like a series of enormous milestones. So to put things in perspective, here are a few places I’ve visited lately that surpass the significance of my everyday tasks and make me feel small in a good way. The experiences I have had at each of these places have been extremely special individually, but together, they all have something in common: they’re so much bigger, older, and wiser then I am.

Mount Olympus, Visit date: 5/28

On our last rainy weekend in Thessaloniki, we took a four-hour hike on Mount Olympus. According to Greek mythology, Mount Olympus was the home of the gods of the ancient world. Walking through the hills and trees to encounter views of waterfalls and towering rocks under pattering rain made it easy to believe that I was standing where Zeus and his colleagues once lived, and I experienced a sense of calm that I cannot always find that easily.

Meteora, Visit date: 5/30

During our two-day bus ride to Athens, we stayed overnight in Kalampaka, a town located next to the floating monasteries that compose Meteora. The monasteries of Meteora were built on gigantic rock formations by monks during the 14th and 15th centuries and are now a popular tourist destination. We didn’t have a tour guide at Meteora, which gave us more freedom to relax, walk around, and photograph and gawk at the awe-inspiring views.

Delphi, Visit date: 5/31

Delphi, an ancient city home to remains of the Temple of Apollo and thought to be the site of a powerful oracle, was our last stop before Athens. As our tour guide regaled us with tales of Apollo’s conquests and the Pythian Games – predecessor to the Olympics – I enjoyed taking in the sights and views of the ancient city, despite the fact that I was plagued by my irrational fear of buzzing insects.

Aristotle’s Lyceum, Visit date: 6/4

On Sunday, which was our free day, I took a late afternoon walk through the National Garden, which is conveniently located less than a kilometer from our hotel. My goal was to visit the Lyceum, an ancient gymnasia in Athens where the students of philosopher Aristotle strolled and studied. What remains of the Lyceum is now preserved and surrounded by benches where visitors can relax, journal, and attempt to wrap their head around the fact that this pile of rocks was the site of Aristotle’s Peripatetic School more than 2,000 years ago.

Acropolis of Athens, Visit date: 6/5 

Cody, Alexa, Bradley, and I missed last week’s group visit to the Acropolis because we were reporting for our stories. So on Monday, we spent the morning visiting Acropolis museum and climbing to the famous site of the Parthenon and Temple of Athena. We can see the Acropolis from our hotel, but seeing it up close was well worth the sweaty hike up.

The view from the Acropolis was absolutely incredible, and I enjoyed spending a little time wandering around and helping out other tourists when they asked me to take their photo. It was the perfect way to spend the first morning of our last week in Athens.

Advertisements

Reflections During a Sudden Hailstorm

I am currently taking shelter in the Omonia metro station as hail beats down on the escalators and water rivulets begin to flood the space at the bottom of the stairs. The “caution: wet floor” sign does not do it justice.

I am surrounded by locals and tourists who are either watching the sudden hailstorm with a combination of amazement and annoyance, filming it on their phone, or bravely charging up the escalator to run to their destination. One woman takes a look at one of the ice-cube sized pellets at my feet and makes a gesture of prayer. 

Less than half an hour ago I was leisurely walking through tourist shops with Hsiang-Yu under sunny skies. How quickly things change. 

It’s reminiscent of a time two summers ago when my parents were visiting Boston. I wanted to take my mom to try her first bubble tea, which would have been a five-minute walk from where we were having lunch. As soon as we started walking, however, it began to hail. We took shelter next to a nearby nail salon and my dad literally had to cover my arms and face to protect me from the pounding hail and strong winds. It was brief but terrifying. Afterwards, we had to go the mall and buy replacements for our soaked clothes because the hotel was too far away to go back. 

My parents have not yet arrived in Athens, so I am alone in the metro station. I do not feel scared or lonely, though, as I am surrounded by others who are having the same experience. It is strange to share this moment with strangers who I will probably never meet, but it is also  nice to know that I am not alone.

I can relate to the fury of sudden storms because sometimes my emotions change in ways I have difficulty controlling. One minute everything is fine; the next I feel like a terrible person. It’s not unlike the sudden change in the weather. Sometimes my changes in sentimentality aren’t in the forecast, but happen anyway. Sometimes it hails when it’s only supposed to rain. 

I can only take shelter inside this metro station for so long, just like I can only mope in my room for so long when I am upset. It is therefore time to join my fellow train riders in ascending the escalator into the next phase of the day. Despite sudden changes, we have no choice but to move forward. 

Update: I am now safe in the lobby of our hotel. 

Blue Skies and Gorgeous Sunsets

Yesterday was our third full day in Athens. So far, my impression of the city is that it’s much larger and more bustling than Thessaloniki, but in a good way. Every time I turn a corner I see a cute coffee shop I want to try.

I have really enjoyed my time in Athens so far, but very little of it has been spent in the city. On Friday, I took the tram one hour from the downtown area to Glyfada, where the ARCHELON Sea Turtle Rescue Centre is located. During the very crowded tram ride, I listened to music as we passed by some lovely beaches that hopefully I will get to before the end of the trip.

The reason for my trip to Glyfada was to film and take notes on the release of a sea turtle, Angelliki (Greek word for “angel”), back into the ocean. Angelliki was found with a head injury and rehabilitated for about seven months at the rescue center before she was declared ready to resume her life in the ocean. The release was amazing to watch, and I also really enjoyed talking to some of the volunteers at the rescue center – who come from countries all over the world – about their experience so far. Stay tuned for my upcoming story about sea turtle research and conservation in Greece.

IMG_8761
Two of the volunteers at ARCHELON just before releasing sea turtle Angelliki into the ocean.

The trip to Glyfada was also a great opportunity to see a couple of different beaches here in Athens. The release of the sea turtle took place in collaboration with the Aqua Divers Club, which is about a 45-minute drive from Glyfada. I’m really glad I had the chance to visit such a beautiful place, and the drive there was absolutely breathtaking. Not to mention the brief but exhilarating boat ride.

IMG_8726
The beach at the Aqua Divers Club.

My ocean tour continued yesterday when we took a group field trip to Aegina, one of the closest islands to the mainland. We took cabs across the island to visit the Marina Beach, one of the largest beaches on the island. Lying on the beach and swimming in the ocean provided some much-needed relaxation, and by the time we left around 6p.m., everyone looked sun-kissed and happy. I also got to try some of Aegina’s famous pistachio ice cream!

IMG_8775
Enjoying the ferry ride on the way to Aegina.
IMG_8789
Marina beach on the island of Aegina.
IMG_8792
Aegina is known for its delicious pistachios, as Pavlos Tsaros, rescue network coordinator at ARCHELON, told me during our car ride to the Aqua Divers’ Club on Friday. I’d say the pistachio ice cream lives up to the hype.

The best part of the day, though, was the ferry ride back to the port of Piraeus. Our timing on the 7:30 ferry was perfect, and we got to witness one of the most incredible sunsets I have ever seen. Watching the sun set over the Aegean Sea is an experience I will never forget.

IMG_8838

IMG_8850

IMG_8852
Not pictured: dolphins also enjoying the sunset in the distance.
IMG_1410
Pure happiness. Photo by Suma Hussien

I know we only have about a week remaining in Athens, and I think that by then, I will be ready for a vacation. But moments like the sunset last night help remind me just how lucky I am to be here.

Bus Rides are for Sleeping, Reflecting, and Going to a New Place

As I write this, I’m sitting on a bus that’s rapidly leaving Thessaloniki behind. I usually reserve bus rides for staring moodily out the window, but I’ll make an exception in this case.

The past three weeks have been chock-full of stimulating experiences both professionally and personally. I’ve met refugee families, interviewed university professors about recycling and sea turtles, and shot and produced a feature story in video form. I’ve also celebrated birthdays of friends I didn’t have a month ago, tried countless new foods, and hiked Mount Olympus.

Living in Thessaloniki didn’t feel like a whirlwind, though. I think that’s because the city itself isn’t hectic: aside from the daily protests, there’s a certain tranquility I have felt during my quieter moments there. Thessaloniki is active but calm, and its small size makes it easy to navigate. It’s definitely a city I’d consider coming back to.

To that end, I’m a little nervous about Athens. It marks a major transition point in our trip, and I think will require a level of adjustment that we just don’t have time for. I am looking forward to getting to know a new city, but there’s also a lot more work to do. It will be a different kind of international reporting. While Thessaloniki felt like home, I expect to feel like more of a spectator in Athens. I’ll see it, but there may not be time to choose a favorite bakery or a favorite bar. Then again, maybe there will be time.

There are a couple of things that have made my experience in Thessaloniki particularly special. Actually, there are a lot of things, but I’m going to focus on three.

First is the boardwalk. Everyone is writing about the boardwalk on his or her departure blogs (and by everyone I mean Asia and Isabelle) and I promise they’re not overselling it. The boardwalk is different every time I walk – sometimes wavy, sometimes busy, sometimes cloudy – and I think it’s part of the reason we’ve made it through the past few weeks without losing our heads. As Asia put it in her blog, there’s something calming about being in the presence of a big body of water. It’s something I learned when I was living in Woods Hole, Massachusetts last year, and it has been reaffirmed here.

IMG_8451
A cloudy and calm day on the boardwalk.

Second are the people, both my travel companions and the locals I’ve met while reporting. I thought I would find it difficult to navigate this group dynamic, but the reality is that I appreciate and am happy to spend time with every single person here. There’s a certain closeness that comes from being in this environment together, not to mention sharing local food and drink, and I’m really glad to be a part of this supportive group of people.

18765685_1302312593151907_8909318348595042816_n
Our team on our last day of class at the American College of Thessaloniki – that’s our Greek culture instructor, Maria, in the center back.

Furthermore, I’ve been blown away by the kindness of the people I’ve met here in Greece. All three of the refugee families we met last week were so quick to invite us into their home, offer refreshments, and tell their stories. Even the restaurateurs who don’t speak English are always happy to see us and serve us food at the wrong time of day. And our hosts Maria, Kristina, and Theo have been continually sweet and helpful as we have navigated the city these past three weeks, and have made my experience that much easier and more pleasant.

The last part of our stay in Thessaloniki that has been particularly special is our balcony. When I picture living in Europe, I always picture having a balcony to step out onto every morning and mentally prepare for the day. I’ve gotten to do that every morning so far on this trip.

Tsiang-Yu and I were lucky enough to get an apartment on the fifth floor of our building, and our view is literally of a wall, but I have loved it so much. We’ve both spent hours out there working, eating, talking on the phone, and yes, occasionally crying as I mentioned in my earlier post. There are many things I’ll miss about Thessaloniki, but I think I’ll miss the balcony the most.

18835438_10209711752332671_1693967272_n
I took this shot of our balcony as we packed up our things on our last morning in Thessaloniki.

So, here’s hoping there’s a balcony in our room in Athens, the people are equally friendly, and I find a way to walk by the water. Even if that doesn’t happen, I’m sure that there will be moments that are equally special.

Spot the Domestic Cat

Coming across street cats in Thessaloniki never fails to make me miss my own furry one at home in Michigan. Giovanni, the Schanker cat, is as adventuresome as the next feline, but since we adopted him last year I think he’s become too domesticated to adapt to life on the streets. See if you can spot him in the slideshow below! Hint: he’s cute, highly photogenic, and far more spoiled than the cats I’ve encountered in Thessaloniki.

 

10 Things We’ve* All Done in Thessaloniki

*”We” in this case refers to the students on this trip, not everyone in Thessaloniki.

We’re approaching our final days in Thessaloniki: this is our last weekend here. Fortunately, there are still two more weeks of the Dialogue to go. We’ll be spending the night in Meteora on Tuesday and then arriving in Athens Wednesday.

I’m glad that I have more time to spend with these people and explore international reporting, but I’m also sad to be leaving a city that I’ve – predictably – fallen in love with. I mean, it’s on the water. I hope that I get to come back here someday, but for now, it’s nice to have a chance to look back on some of the Thessaloniki-specific experiences I have had, and that I suspect other students have shared. So, like this post if you’ve:

  1. Cried on the balcony.
  2. Spent an hour agonizing over where to go to eat and then just went to the gyro place instead. You know the one.
  3. Stayed up late not because you were working on a story or because you were out having fun, but just because.
  4. Played ding-dong-ditch with another apartment’s doorbell by accident instead of turning on the light.
  5. Sprinted to the bakery before boarding the bus.
  6. Walked the boardwalk pretending to think deep thoughts, but really just thinking how amazing it is to be here.
  7. Suddenly felt like you were lost when you were only two blocks from the apartment.
  8. Mispronounced a Greek word to the point that it’s unrecognizable.
  9. Wondered whether anyone actually liked ouzo or whether they were just pretending.
  10. Simultaneously felt stressed about stories, that the trip was going by too fast, and unbelievably glad you’d decided to come.

We’ll miss you, Alexandrias!

Sundays are for Soccer and Smoothies

Today I attended my first international soccer game during one of the worst days of weather we’ve had since arriving in Thessaloniki. Intermittent drizzling – and later, pouring rain – didn’t stop hundreds of fans of Aris, Thessaloniki’s local team, from showing up at the stadium in their trademark black and yellow and chanting, jeering, and stomping their feet with enthusiasm while the score stayed stubbornly at 0-0.

We arrived around 4:30, bought tickets for only five euro and found our seats. The moments leading up to the game were exciting, and we watched as across the stadium, fans waved enormous black and yellow flags and released small fireworks as well as clouds of colored smoke which gradually wafted over the field. Some avid fans even climbed up on the fence in front of us to more loudly catcall the other team. Brandon, Danny, and Bridget’s yellow jerseys that they’d purchased at last week’s basketball game – you can read more about that in Brandon’s story here – created a pop of color on an otherwise dreary day.

IMG_8270
Danny, Bridget, and Brandon watch, enraptured, as one fan stands atop the fence and other Aris supporters release clouds of orange smoke across the stadium. 

At first, I enjoyed sitting with my friends and watching the game. No one would call me sporty, but I enjoy loud chanting and stomping feet as much as the next girl. When it started raining harder at halftime, however, I decided it was time to go. It was kind of a lame move and I was disappointed to miss the rest of the game, but my denim jacket was getting damper by the minute.

Fortunately, Hsiang-Yu and Alexa agreed with me, and the three of us started walking back towards our apartment building. When we were about halfway there, Hsiang-Yu spotted a bar across the street where they were playing the game on TV. We decided to detour there and watch the rest of the game in a place where we had the comfort of a roof overhead.

The bar didn’t have food – many places specializing in coffee and cocktails simply don’t here – but they did have delicious and photogenic fruit smoothies. We spent about an hour sipping our colorful fruit blends and watching as, even in overtime, neither team scored a point. Even though it wasn’t the authentic method of watching an Aris game, it was a fun way to spend a rainy afternoon. I’ve mentioned before how this trip is all about balance. Today I struck a balance between energetic sports fan and grumpy college student, though I definitely leaned more toward the latter.

IMG_8278
Hsiang-Yu and Alexa enjoying their smoothies as the Aris game plays in the background. If you’re curious, the flavors were – from left to right – kiwi, apple, and strawberry.