Thursday, December 6, 2012

saying goodbye

It's strange sitting here, looking at my empty room with my entire life for the last 4 months packed into a suitcase and duffel. My fan is clicking as it turns, as it always has and the sun is streaming through my balcony door. I hate seeing my room here devoid of my things, my pictures, my presence here. It feels so strange. So strange.

It's hard to imagine leaving this room and this city behind-- all the memories, all the friends, all the lessons learned. As I get on that plane in just a few short hours, I realize that I'm setting foot on it as a changed person. I am not the same person I was four months ago.

Greece has taught me many, many things. To sit for coffees and dinners for hours on end, enjoying relaxation and friendship. Greeks put family and friends first in their lives. Everything else comes second to their relationships. I've learned the value of going to small bakeries and markets, of making friends with the people who work there. I've learned to cook, I've learned to clean, I've been more independent here than I ever have been before. Again, I've learned to be myself. It's a lesson that we learn again and again and again in our lives. It's not a lesson like tying your shoe or don't touch the hot stove, the kind of lesson that you learn once. Being yourself is an art. It's not something you learn to do once and then you know it for life. You need to be reminded constantly that you are who you are and that is who you should be.

I'm leaving behind quite a trail of friendships that I truly hope are strong enough to withstand the thousands of miles that separate us. It's terrifying not knowing if I will ever see these people again. Even if I return to Thessaloniki in a few years, who knows if all the friends I've made will still be here. A lot of my friends are Albanian or Serbian, they will have graduated school here and headed back to their countries. A lot of my friends also want to go live and work in other countries because of the status of Greek economy. So who even knows if my Greek friends will be here if I return. Goodbyes have never felt so final before. When I said goodbye to my friends in high school or my friends at summer camps, I always had faith that I would see them again, it was never goodbye; it was always see you later. But here, I can't be so certain. And I hate that feeling. When I traveled to Romania a few years ago, I felt the same way, that the goodbyes had more finality to them and it was equally as unsettling feeling ripped out of people's lives so violently. But in Romania, I only lived there for 2 weeks, part of a volunteer group. It was nothing compared to 4 months of doing everything with these people, seeing them every day. It's a much stronger level of goodbye.

I know that the memories I've made here will stick with me forever. I still vividly remember arriving here in Greece and arriving to my building and my room so late at night. It's such a strong memory. Some of the memories I've made here I've actively made an effort to cement them in my mind: my arrival, dinner at Efi's, being on the beach with George and Maria, being surrounded by my Greek friends at my goodbye party at ICE. There are certain memories I will refuse to let go of.

This is more difficult than I expected. It's more difficult than I ever imagined. I'm one of the last American's to leave. There's only four of us left and two of them are staying here all summer and one is sticking around for another ten days. So, I'm the lone traveller.

After 4 flights and 28 hours of travel, I'll be home at my mother's house in Iowa with my kitties and my couch and my family and friends. I know that it is time for me to go home. I feel it in my bones. But I also feel a new tug in my heart as well, the tug to come back to Greece. Who knows when I'll get the opportunity to come again, but I think it will be sooner rather than later. I can feel it.

With Love,
With So Much Love,



Mammy's is the local crepe shop that is the most popular spot for us study abroad students. I go there at least once a week and for my last and final meal here in Greece, I'm going to go there. Gregoraki owns the shop and his fiance, Christina, works there daily. I have become exceptionally close with both Aki and Christina. I've gotten to know the other staff there, Fotis and Lila and others, but they are not there nearly as often as Aki and Christina, so I'm closed to them two. Aki means "little" in Greek, they tack it onto names or words to make things smaller, cuter. Like Dog is pronounced "Ski-los" but you say "ski-laki" to say little dog. Ergo, his name is Gregory but they call him Gregoraki or just Aki. I like it.

Anyways, everyone at Mammy's speaks perfect english and they are all Greek so it's great to have them understand everything I say but to also push me to speak Greek and to answer all of my questions about the language as well. I usually get White Chocolate, Strawberry, Banana, Cookie, and Coconut crepes but sometimes I get savory crepes as well, with Chicken, Gouda, Corn, Green Peppers, and Red Pepper Feta spread. I don't know why I capitalized all of those nouns, but I did. The crepes are amazing and are definitely worth the 3.20 euros they cost. But I don't go there every week just for the crepes, I go there for the friendships as well. Whenever I get a crepe, I sit there for around half an hour just talking with Christina and Aki. I learned all about how Aki and Christina met and about their relationships, about where Christina went to school, about Aki's brother. It's been great to be part of their lives. They invited me to go to their weekly Sunday morning BBQ's with them, but I never was able to make it. I was supposed to go with them to the Exploritorium with them this Sunday morning but I had already made plans to go to Halkidiki so I had to decline. They are such great people. They are planning a trip to NY to visit some friends they have made from a previous group of ACT Americans. Since their crepe shop is a 3 minute walk from PAPAK & because they give us a student discount, and because they speak english, it's quite quite popular.

Mammy's held a "going away" party for the Americans & all 50 of us went over and feasted on delicious crepes. There's a picture below depicting the feast.

I got really close with Christina and Gregoraki, they became wonderful, wonderful friends of mine and cried the hardest saying goodbye to them. I miss them very, very much.

The amazing staff at Mammy's!

How was I EVER that tan?

the owners -- Aki & Christina -- oh how I love them

a giant tub of Merenda #typical

crepe ingredients

mammy's crepe party 

my schedule from greece

I just stumbled across this in some long-lost folder on my desktop. I think it gives an interesting look into just how busy every weekend is for a study abroad student.

Weekends in Greece

Feb 4-5 - Trip to Vergina/Castra Walls
Feb 11-12 - Relaxing weekend
Feb 18-19 - Ioanna and Meteoria
Feb 25-27 - ISTANBUL

March 2-4 - Shoo and Taylor and Andy Visit (arrive at 1:45 pm on the 2nd and leave at 15:10 aka 3:10 on Sunday) Archaeological museum visit
March 9-22=Documentary film festival
March 10-11 -  Trip to Portaria 
March 17-18 - Relaxing
March 24-25 - Jenna and Emily Visit & Dinner at Efi's on the 25th
March 30-1 - Trip to Athens and Delphi

Spring break - April 7-22 to Rome--> Amsterdam--> London--> Prague-->Budapest
April 28-29 - Halkidiki

May 2-6 - ISLAND TRIP! (Santorini & Mykonos) 
May 12-13 - Daphne's pool party
May 19-20 - Halkidiki with George & friends!
May 26-27 - Study for Finals 

June 4- Fly home!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

my going away party

On Friday night my parea threw me a going away party at ICE BAR. It was so kind of them and I loved being surrounded by my closest Greek friends. A couple times throughout the night I teared up but I wouldn’t let the tears spill over. It wasn’t time to cry yet. George and Marina picked me up at 11:30 and we stayed at ICE until 3.

We had a table outside and we were drinking vodka with lemonade and orange juice. Around 2 am the bar brought out complimentary champagne, which is always such a treat. George, Thanassis, Marina, Maria, Sevi, and Nikos all came along with one of Niko’s friend and one of Marina’s friends. Unfortunately Alex and Daphne had already left for their houses in Halkidiki so they were unable to come :( But I was very, very glad that those who were able to come did come. Do you realize how special I felt to be the sole American there, the closest American friend they had all made? I am fully a part of their parea. I was talking with an ACT american the other day and he said: “You’re always with your greek group.” Yeah, Yeah I am. I love them. They’re so kind, warm, funny, appreciative, joyful. I am so happy when I’m around them. I know it was my goodbye party, but I don’t think any of us really consider it a goodbye, more of a see-you-later. 
Luckily, we got lots of good pictures.

our table
maria, me, sevi, & marina
free champagne! Yeia Mas!
After we left ICE at 3, we headed to a small Crete party. Nikos is from Crete and apparently it’s a huge source of pride and there is a large crete student community here in Thess. The party was held in a swanky little run-down room and it was put on by students. There was probably 40 people there, all sitting in chairs and chatting and drinking Rackia and smoking. There was a circle of guys singing and playing some sort of guitar. I got a little video of it so you can see what I was made a part of. It was fascinating, I felt privileged to be included in such a crack-in-the-wall-gathering. It was so intimate and relaxed. Now that was cool. 

When Nikos introduced me to a few guys I introduced myself as “loula” because it was fairly loud and Greeks tend to struggle with “Lily.” Vagellis at school calls me loula because you can tag -oula on any name for the feminine version of “little” like “gat-oula” would mean little cat rather than “gata.” Thus, Vagellis took my name, and tacked a “oula” on it, and since Loula is a greek name, I decided to use it here at the Crete party. That didn’t go over so smoothly with George. He was like “whaaaaaaaat?” Apparently, he hadn’t connected the “oula” dots and thought it was too far of a stretch for my name. It was funny the look of shock on his face. It’s not uncommon to use fake names in America, sometimes I introduce myself as Joy or Stacy, just for kicks. I guess they don’t use pseudonyms here. 
We all were wiped so George, Marina and I headed home at 5 am. Vicky was leaving at 5:30 am so I stayed up with her and cried with her. I love that girl! Watching her leave was heart wrenching! I was very glad that I was there for her though, as she was leaving. That was a special moment we shared, crying on each other’s shoulders and holding her hands as she walked down the steps of PapaK. 
I went to bed at 5:45 am and woke up at 11 am for Halkidiki....

Monday, June 4, 2012

the last few days...

My last few days in Greece were absolutely amazing. Yes, I had to study for finals but as I mentioned in a previous post, my finals weren’t to difficult and last-minute cramming could still get me an “A” on the exams so I was set. All of us Americans became expert crammers if we weren’t already crammers before. See the pick below, 10 minutes before a Greek exam:

Anyways, besides studying for exams, I had some fun little excursions and whatnot with friends. Kelsey and I went to the Museum of Photography here in Thessaloniki that’s right on the water at the port near downtown Thess. The museum was very small but we still enjoyed looking around at contemporary local photographs. One artist had taken old antique cameras and changed them into other objects such as a turtle camera, a boot camera, etc. She had just glued or taped other found objects to the camera and then photographed them with a normal camera. Interesting. There was also some video art. Kelsey and I sat and watched three videos that were all playing at the same time next to each other. One was of a guy trying to start a four-wheeler, one was of a port worker standing by the sea, and one was of a guy in a parking garage getting his dog to “sit and stay” despite the big bone a few feet in front of him. Kelsey asked me what I thought they were about, since they all seemed random but they were purposefully played at the same time and placed in sequence, so they were obviously in conversation with each other. It thought that it had to do with being unable to move, with feeling forced to be at a standstill. Not sure about the port worker though.. maybe stuck in the crisis, unable to move forward professionally? Who knows. Anyways, it was a nice day and after the museum, Kelsey and I laid out on these super comfortable bench/chairs outside by the water and relaxed for a bit. We had walked all the way from PapaK to the museum so we were tired and we enjoyed the sun and each other’s company. Kelsey walked back to PapaK by herself and I stayed downtown to wait for my dinner plans which I had made with a couple of people in my English class. I sat on a bench in Aristotle square all by myself and reflected for a while. I’ve been working on my Fulbright proposal and personal statement and man is it hard to write in such a manner, raw and real, vulnerable yet strong, honest yet not over-the-top. It’s a difficult balance and I’ve been working on draft after draft. Ergo, I decided I wanted to use my hour downtown to write and reflect. I got 2 sentences down before I was approached by an African man selling bracelets. Africans and Moroccans are everywhere in Greece, soliciting goods such as sunglasses, bracelets, wallets, purses, etc. I was thinking earlier about how I write them off quickly and say: “oxi oxi oxi” (no no no), yet I know that if I was traveling with my father, he would have conversations with them and would give them warm smiles and chat with them. I decided I would pull a “dad” move and talk to this man who had approached me. I asked him where he was from, what he was doing in Greece, etc. I ended up asking him if he was happy. He brushed the question off saying, yes yes. But I said, tell me more. We ended up talking about how he’s not that emotionally happy here, he can’t find work and he is frustrated with what he was doing. It felt good to have such a conversation with a stranger. Those are the kind of situations I love, when strangers open up to me and seek comfort and/or guidance from me. I endeavor to be approachable and available for solace advice. Thus, such a situation as that which occurred in Aristotle Square made me very happy. After a 30 minute conversation, he tied a bracelet on my wrist and said, a gift for you. I was touched and thought he was giving me a gift since we had bonded and had such a great conversation. But no. I was wrong. He then asked me for a “donation for a festival” as he looked from my eyes to the bracelet multiple times. Obviously, the “donation” wasn’t optional. I was bummed, I thought he was genuinely grateful for our discussion. Maybe he was, maybe he just needed money that badly, who knows. I gave him 2 euros and headed off to my dinner.

Elisabeth is from Canada and is about 40 years old and goes to the American College of Thessaloniki with me, she’s in my Women in Literature class. She is a fascinating human being who lived in more countries than I can remember. I love listening to her stories about partying in Chile or driving around northern africa. She’s wild. We had planned this dinner and she brought her 16 year old daughter with her, Alex, who is gorgeous and very intelligent: she speaks 5 languages fluently! Meredith, a fellow American, also joined us for dinner. We ate outside at a quaint little restaurant and had lots of delicious food and swapped stories. But mostly we all just sat and listened to Elisabeth. She really enjoys talking and sharing her stories and we all enjoy listening. I hope I live a life half as interesting as Elisabeth. She has so much “know-how” and is so adventurous and takes a million bajillion risks! I can’t even fathom attempting to do some of the things she has done! Wild, wild, wild. She ended up treating us all to dinner, which was far to sweet! And she even dropped us off back at our flats. So kind!

The next day, Melissa, Adrienne, & I all went to the White Tower and hiked up to the very top of it. The White Tower is the supreme hang out spot for night and for day. But it’s also a big-deal historical monument. Every floor of the tower is dedicated to an area in Thessaloniki history. I learned about water irrigation and churches and the ottoman rule and lots of other interesting things. And even though it was an overcast day, the view from the top was still beautiful and I loved being up there. It was on my “bucket list of Thessaloniki” so I was happy to check that one off the list!

After the White Tower Melissa and I got Chicken Souvlakis and did a little last minute shopping and then headed back to PapaK, only to turn right around and come back downtown a few hours later to go on the Reggae boat. During the summer months, lots of the clubs shut down and the summer clubs open. Not only do summer clubs open, but the party boats also start running. The party boats are boats that are themed and sit on the water by the white tower and go out for half hour rides. You’re welcome to sit on the boat as long as you like though, sipping coffee or cocktails. Me, Melissa, Katherine, Meredith, and Michelle all went on the Reggae boat. We all ordered mythos and enjoyed some reggae jams and watched a guy with dreads rock out in the corner and wondered if they paid him or gave him free beer to be there to give it a more “authentic” feel or if he just really liked to be there. Maybe a mix of both? Anyways, the boat was sweet. We chose between the Reggae boat, the Viking ship, and the Pirate Ship and I definitely think we made the right choice. The Viking ship looked more..intense and less up-beat and fun and the pirate ship wasn’t running that night so that one was taken straight outta the running. I might have cast my vote for the pirate ship if it had been an option though.

The next day, Thursday, was the last day of finals for me and for a lot of people so 20-30 of us Americans headed to Halkidiki for a beach day! We went to Kalokratia, which is the closest beach to Thess so a round trip bus ticket is only 7 euro compared to 15 euros roundtrip to Alex’s beach house that I visited a few weeks ago. It was a gorgeous day and the water was warm enough to swim in. For dinner, we had a huge family dinner at Olive and Lemon, a good last dinner for all of us. We had dwindled from 50 Americans to 30... people leaving every few hours. It was getting pretty emotional. The dinner was awkward, we all feel like we’re just waiting to go to the butchers and we’re in this limbo state of being in Greece but mentally being back in America already. It’s a strange feeling to be pulled in two places at once. The food was delicious though, as always. We all drank lots of wine and cheers our cups again and again and again. I was very happy to return to Olive and Lemon one last time, all together.

On Friday Afternoon I met Maja downtown to get coffee on the water. And while I was waiting for her at the white tower, I heard some voices behind me through my headphones that were speaking english. I turned around and saw two girls sitting in the grass, after .8567 seconds I recognized them! It was Jay and Rosie!!! The same Jay and Rosie that I met in Prague! SAY WHAT!?!? They are the two girls from Australia that are traveling europe for 5 months by themselves and I met them in Prague and Jay came out to dinner and went out with all of us a couple times. But how in the hell could I bump into them in Greece, when I met them in Prague, and they are from Australia. The world is just far too small and far too amazing!

After hugging and talking and all that jazz, we parted and Maja and I got Freddo Cappucinos on the water and talked and talked and talked. I'm so comfortable around her. She is so warm and wonderful. She has such great energy, very bubbly and talkative. She's a great listener too. She loves disney movies (Ariel is her favorite) and she loves techno music and jazz music too. She's one of a kind and I love her to death. We sat drinking our coffees for the proper 2.5 hours and then we walked around downtown window-shopping and going into a handful of cute (but expensive) boutiques. It was great to get some girl-time in with her :)

last family dinner

For our last family dinner here in Greece, we all headed back to where it began. We went to the very first restaurant we all came to together back in February. This time, we sat outside because the weather was beautiful and there was no tzatziki and potatoes. There was live music again, but no dancing. We were not in the mood for dancing.

It was a wonderful evening of celebrating the amazing four months we all shared together. I made an active decision to bring my Canon camera out to be the photographer because I knew that this would be a special night.

Some of our close foreign friends also joined us for the dinner: Alex, Juliana, Ibrahim, Kostjan, Gledi, etc. It was great to share our meal with them, for our time here has not been spent solely with the Americans.

Speeches were given and toasts were made and tears were shed.
But other than that, I'll let the photographs speak for themselves.

the meal begins
Yeia Mas!  
Juliana (From Skopje)
Riley-- We got some wild memories, I'll never forget
My closest friend, Kelsey.
The RA's (Gogos & Tanya)

My travel planner & Spring Break buddy, Steph
Alex, "The Greek Volley Ball player"
One of my first Greek friends, Eleni
My "thinking" friend, Meredith
saying goodbye
this sums it up, we love Greece.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Vicky's 21st Birthday

Vicky's 21st birthday took place in the midst of finals. Yes, these finals are no where near as difficult as those back in the states and they require not even a fraction of the same amount of studying, but still finals are finals. Thus, we were unable to truly go out and celebrate Vicky's awesomeness, so we went out and got margaritas and burritos instead!

We went downtown to a restaurant I have never seen before, there was ten of us girls or so. The decor of the restaurant was awesome. Bright, bright colored walls and vintage fabrics on the chairs. Very fun energy in this place!

the birthday girl!

I had a mango margarita and we all had complimentary dessert shooters of chocolate mousse for dessert. We also had "banana burritos" to supplement a birthday cake which we thought was served over ice cream, but it was greek yogurt, of course. Greeks do love their greek yogurt!

Vicky is such a sweetheart. She's from Maryland and is down to earth and warm and an all around great girl! We had a bonding experience the other day going to the bakery and coming back to my room and laughing at random noises we made and at her gestures for "zero" chances. It was awesome. We also had a heart to heart talk in the Bissel Library bathroom during a class I had. I simply went in to use to bathroom but she was in there too so we just talked for 10 minutes, catching up on each others lives. It was awkward to re-enter my classroom after being gone for 10 minutes but it was worth it. Vicky and I have had some awesome moments throughout the semester that I'll truly treasure.

Last night, June 1, I had to say goodbye to her at 5:30 in the morning. I started crying, she started crying. It was rough. I walked her all the way out of the building, holding her hand. I know it's not a forever goodbye, but I don't like not knowing I can go with her to the bakery and bump into her in bathrooms. Sad, sad.