Monday, May 28, 2012

talented friends

Colleen & Danica Rap about ACT study abroad 2012

credit: Alex Pieraccini

Sunday, May 27, 2012


I've learned so many lessons being here in Greece. But I have recently put my finger on something that I have learned, that I think is exceptionally valuable. And I would like to share it with you.

I always thought that I loved to travel, plain and simple. When I was 13, I went to Spain, France, and Germany with my Dad and I went to Jamaica with him 4 years later. Also, I've been to Mexico three times for service trips. So before my study abroad experience here in Greece, I had already had a taste of travel. And I loved it.

Now, I know.
I do not love to travel like I thought I did.

Let me explain:

The dictionary defines travel as: to move or go from one place to another. I do not like airports, the busyness, the stress, the overhead announcements about not leaving baggage unattended and the 3-1-1 rule of liquids and zip lock bags. I don't really like buses where you find yourself napping uncomfortably and uneasily. I don't like boats that slosh you around and when you get up to use the bathroom you don't walk there, you stumble there. I don't like moving from ONE place to another. The act of travel itself is not enjoyable.

I also don't like traveling to a place for a few days just to see the sites and try the traditional food and do a little souvenir shopping, buying a shot glass or a magnet to prove that I've actually visited that particular country or city.

What is there to gain from that kind of travel? What is the benefit besides seeing a few sites and eating a few thousand calories of different food and buying some consumerist "proof?"


The travel I love, the kind of travel I yearn for is the travel where you go to a country and you immerse yourself in it. When you learn the language and you make friends with the spice man at the farmers market and the cherry guy asks you out for coffee. It's when the people at the crepe stand wave to you every day when you walk by and invite you to their Sunday morning Barbecue. It's when you pick up little mannerisms without noticing because you mirror what you see in your day-to-day reactions with the locals. It's when you try cooking the local food yourself. It's when you find yourself surrounded by not a single American and you feel happy and welcome and warm. That's the kind of travel I love.

Yes, I love seeing pretty things and eating yummy food. But what's the point of going to a place if you learn nothing about the culture? What's the point?! You could look at some pictures in a book of the sites and go find a restaurant downtown with culturally different food. Although those suggestions aren't as authentic as eating greek food in Greece and seeing a Greek temple with your own two eyes, the experience of only sites&food is not authentic either. How can you love or hate or even have an opinion on a country if the only people you talked to were the waiters and the staff at hotel front desk.

That's why I love Greece. I love having lived here for almost 4 months. I love that I have made many friends, at the market, at the local restaurants, at the bakery, and at school. I have gotten to the heart of the culture and I love it here.

Yes, Budapest, Prague, London, Rome, Amsterdam, Turkey, and the greek islands Santorini and Mykonos were amazing, but I don't love them as much as I love Thessaloniki. Thessaloniki is a home to me now.

The opportunity to live in a place for months at a time doesn't come along often, that's why I'm so blessed to be here. Yet, I can still love travel without dedicating months of my life to a certain place. The countries I traveled to where I knew someone, made a huge difference in the amount of love I felt for that country.

In Prague, we had GA's friend, Honza with us and he brought his roommate, Justin and Justin's cousin Katerina out with us one night. My love for Prague expanded exponentially when I was around Honza, Justin, and Katerina. I loved asking questions about the culture and getting to know the people and learning the language from them.

When I didn't know anyone, I felt more like... well... a tourist. I felt like a piece of driftwood, just passing through a place. It's an empty experience.

I think, the lesson I learned is: travel where you know people, where you know you will have someone to show you the REAL side of the country. That's when travel becomes travel. That's when travel becomes the travel that I love. If you don't know anyone, meet some people, spend time with them, learn from them.

Stay as long as you can.
Learn as much as you can.
Love as much as you can.

That is what I have learned.

Monday, May 21, 2012

halkidiki with the greeks

I was invited by a Greek friend of mine, George, to go to his home in Halkidiki with a couple other Greeks for the weekend. Once again, I was elated to be invited, the only American, and to get to spend some time with Greeks. Before I left for Greece months ago, my friend Akemi told me to try to make friends in the country I’m in and not to stick to the Americans even though it’s so much easier to do so. I told her: It’d be silly to go all the way to Greece to hang out with only Americans.
I said that, and I meant it.
So I went to George’s beach house this weekend which is in between the first two legs of Halkidiki. Marina, a Greek friend of mine from school came with us, along with one of George’s childhood friends, Giannis, who goes to an athletics college in Thessaloniki for basketball.
Meet Giannis
The drive was over an hour and we listened to only american popular music like Katie Perry and Kesha. It’s strange that the whole world seems to be obsessed with American music. Why are they not prouder of their own culture’s music? Why is American music considered the best? Is it because it gets the most press and publicity? Is it because we have the biggest industry? Is it really because it just appeals to the masses the most? Is it because English is one of the most well-known languages of the world? I don’t understand it. It is kind of adorable that these big, tall college guys are totally happy humming along to J-Lo and Katie Perry, most guy sin America stick strictly to Snoop Dogg and Wiz, because J-Lo is just “chick music” to them. I feel like European guys aren’t as concerned with putting on a “man-front” as guys in America. American guys are extraordinarily concerned with being a “man” and with everyone recognizing their “manliness.” Here in Greece, guys put more thought into what they wear and into their personal hygiene, they have no problem listening to “stereotypical girl music” and evening making jokes about being gay. If anyone even sarcastically jokes around about a guy being gay, the guy get’s all defensive and flips out. Why are American men so uncomfortable with femininity and sensitivity? Guys I’ve met here have no problem owning up to their sensitivity and to any emotional problems they have or have had in the past. It’s refreshing. I love that men here are more comfortable with themselves and their emotions. I wish men everywhere were like that.
Anyways, before we reached George’s house, we stopped at the meat store and picked up 15 chicken slouvlaki, a greek sausage, and four chicken fillets. That’s a whole lot of meat for only 4 people. A little overboard. And we got potatoes and tomatoes and onions from the grocery store. They all refused to let me pay for anything. I felt awful letting me treat me like that to all that food, but it was so very kind of them.
George’s house was beautiful, absolutely gorgeous. It’s a two story house with a nice basement too and a handful of rooms with an outdoor gazebo and gardens and it’s a 2 minute walk from the beach. It is lined with olive trees and is more beautiful than I would have imagined. Enjoy the pictures below.

Not only did they not let me pay for anything, they also didn’t let me lift a finger in regards to the cooking. Marina handled making the greek salad and the potatoes and Giannis helped Marina and George handled grilling the meat. I kept George company and enjoyed being the documenter. It’s amazing how independent the Greeks are. Most of my friends, girls and guys alike, would rely on their parents for the cooking. But not here. The parents aren’t even around, we had the entire house to ourselves and they did all the cooking with confidence. I was very impressed.

And it was delicious, of course. After dinner I did all the dishes. Since I hadn’t lifted a finger I knew it would be a good gesture to do the cleaning. After the dishes were done, we walked down to the beach and sat in the sand for awhile and played racquet ball. There were so many beautiful rocks all around so I spent some time finding pretty rocks. Apparently, Marina, Giannis, and George all don’t really appreciate the beauty of rocks, they think they all look exactly the same. So, I took it as my duty to educate them on the beauty of rocks! I found a rock that looked like a puzzle piece and rocks that were creamy smooth white and rocks that looked like old cheese. They all made fun of me for  liking rocks but I was so happy being enthusiastic. I love rocks and I was so happy finding pretty ones. I was comfortable being so ecstatic over something so trivial too, I wasn’t embarrassed or anything at all. Yes, they were making fun of me but it was so lighthearted that it didn’t bother me at all. Once we went for a walk, I noticed that everyone’s eyes were downcast-- searching the beach for pretty rocks. Occasionally one of them would bend down and pick up a rock and hand it to me. It was so sweet that they took an interest in something that I liked, despite the fact they didn’t fully understand it and that they made fun of me for it, they still showed me that they cared about me. It was a beautiful moment. I know I’m not expressing it very well, but it was so sweet, so very very sweet.

We found a play structure and we all got on the swings and then on the teeter totter. It was a blast just acting like a kid and goofing around.

We walked back to George’s house and it was unfortunately cloudy so we couldn’t appreciate the sunset. When we got to George’s we all plopped down on the couch and watched the soccer championship, Chelsea versus Bayern Munich. It ended at 1:20 in the morning after an over time and then PK kicks ending in Chelsea winning. It was a fairly intense game and it made me miss soccer all the more. It also really made me miss being in shape! Gosh I wish I was playing soccer or doing yoga or playing tennis or just exercising regularly! I’ve been through a bunch of minor injuries lately that have made me unable to work out. It suckssss. And I feel like a piece of crap. But, I know, that once  I return to America and go to a chiropractor and get a massage I’ll be fine and I’ll exercise every day and work off all the weight I’ve put on. Yes, it’s not an immense amount of weight, I’m still the same jean size and all, but I feeeeeeeeel heavier and less fit. This needs to change. STAT.
I also changed my plane ticket to June 4th instead of June 14th. It’s just time to go home. I keep getting little flashes of memory of driving to Pizza Ranch or setting my mom’s table or laying in the hammock at my grandmother’s  house. It’s strange, these memories flash at moments completely unrelated to the memory flash. When I think of the pizza ranch parking lot it’s when i’m walking outside of George’s door looking at the olive trees. There is no correlation. I think my mind is just pulling up random little memories of home because it’s on my subconscious and it’s on my heart. I can’t wait to go home and cuddle up on my couch with the kitties and a bowl of soup AFTER coming home from the gym. I can’t wait to lay on my dock and go wake boarding and see my friends and have a Big Bang Marathon with Lyndsey. Home will be great. 
But until then, I’m living it up here in Greece. So, I have gone on a tangent. But after the soccer game, I went straight to bed and everyone else stayed up until 3 am or so. We all woke up around 10:30 am and got ready. Marina got her period, a fact which she had absolutely no problem announcing to the whole group and she had terrible cramps so our initial plan of a day laying on the beach and exploring was changed to a day driving up the second leg of Halkidiki (there is 3 legs) and checking out it’s natural beauty from the car. It reminded me a lot of the Calistoga grade, it was steep and windy and full of “S” turns. But instead of vineyards lining the roads, it was olive orchards. Very, very beautiful. We stopped at a white sand beach for a little bit and sat on the swings. Giannis and I went for a walk and talked about our families and about his love of sports and my love of art. We got back in the car and drove straight back to Thessaloniki, arriving around 3:30 pm. It was a peaceful ride, we all were enjoying the views and shutting our eyes periodically because it was warm and the drive was smooth and we were all calm. It was a really cool weekend.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

dinner at dafni's

On Wednesday night my art professor, Dafni, invited my modern art class over to her house for dinner. She lives in Kalamaria, which is the pretty town that is close to us that I had coffee with Ilias in awhile ago and Efi also lives over there too. My Modern art class only has 6 people in it, 5 american girls and 1 greek guy, Michael. Michael had a big marketing test on Thursday so he was unable to come to the dinner with all of us.

Anyways, Kelsey, Karen, Josefina, Megan, and I all grabbed a bus and headed on over to Dafni's around 7:30 pm. We stopped by a flower store and bought her a bouquet of lilies, daisies, and roses to show our appreciation for Dafni hosting us and for her just being awesome in general. Dafni is a firecracker. She's super openminded and openhearted and is full of life, love, and energy. She has no problem telling us exactly, and I mean exactly what is on her minds. Sometimes when she looks at a piece of artwork she'll say: how do you think this would look if you were drunk? how about if you were high? She's just open and doesn't tip-toe around her students. She's just like a friend who happens to know a hell of a lot about art. All of her students love her and love that she just tells it like it is.

meet dafni!
Dafni has a beautiful home, an apartment in Kalamaria that is decorated like you would expect an art teacher's home to be decorated: filled with art and artistic things. She also has a love for souvenirs and little nick-nacks so she has a whole candy-cart filled with snow globes and she has a collection of old cookie tins in her kitchen. Despite it being slightly eclectic, it doesn't feel cluttered or overwhelming. It's very Dafni.

She has a wonderful balcony filled with plants and pretty lights and we sat out there for quite a while eating appetizers: spanakopita (a greek philo dough and spinach appetizer) and drinking sweet red wine and mastika, which is a greek liquor which is made from the resin of the mastic tree, which only grows on part of one island in greece. It grows absolutely no where else in the world. It's very sweet and tastes like trees. I don't particularly like it, but I like that it's a greek tradition and it's a special kind of drink.

For dinner, Dafni prepared a feast of pastitsio, which is similar to lasagna, it's a creamy, cheesy, baked pasta dish with ground meat. The seasoning is what makes it different and usually they don't use flat pieces of noodles, they use macaroni noodles. Dafni also made greek salad and a BUCKET of tzatziki. She knows how much us Americans love tzatziki, so she had promised us a bucket of it. And she delivered.

Dinner was delicious, of course! Luckily she hadn't prepared mounds upon mounds upon mounds of food so I didn't feel pressured to over-consume. I had a good sized meal, very very filling, but I didn't over-stuff myself. Phew.

Dafni had also made homemade baklava! It was d-elicious! She swears it's a super easy recipe and she promised to email it to all of us. I can't wait to give it a try at home.

After dinner, we all sat around the kitchen table laughing and swapping stories. Did I mention how funny Dafni is? Well she told us a lot of jokes and brought out old photos and let us all look through them. She's a diva and has taken some pretty awesome photos in her day. We left her place, exhausted and full at 11:30 pm. None of us wanted to leave but we all needed to get home because Kelsey had a quiz in the morning and we were genuinely tired.

How awesome is that? Going over for dinner with a professor? Looking through her old photos and swapping stories? Isn't that more like how the world is supposed to be?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

lightening & thunder

Last night there was a huge lightening storm. 
It's been raining on and off for the last few days with the occasional roll of thunder or flash of lightening. But last night was the first true thunderstorm. 

I fell asleep to the sound of the rain. 
I had left my window and balcony door cracked open-- 
the sound of a storm is both comforting and thrilling. 
I woke up on and off throughout the night.
Sometimes for only a few minutes but sometimes laying awake for an hour at a time, 
just enjoying the sounds. 

It has been a long time since I've been able to soak up the sounds of a storm. 
Last night, I was able to do that-- 
and it was truly soothing. 

I was bundled up in a blue blanket and my white sheets: 
it was a little chilly from the winds rushing in, 
but I let my thoughts passively wander and I just listened. 
I just listened.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

young wild free

A few days ago, Daphne walked up to me outside and told me she was having a pool party and she wanted me to come. I was completely elated. I was so excited to be included and to be invited to an "all Greek" pool party. Only 2 other Americans were invited, and I felt truly privileged to be invited. Not that the party was only for the "ACT elite" or anything, it just feels really wonderful to be included in a Greek gathering, to feel like part of the group. Daphne is part of my "Greek parea" that I have at school, which Thansis, George, Alex, Marina, Maria, Sevi, Stratos, Nikos, etc are all a part of. So it wasn't completely wild that I was invited, Daphne was even surprised at my surprise, but I was happy happy happy nonetheless.
So, yesterday, Saturday, was Daphne's pool party. I took the 8 bus to IKEA where I met up with Sevi and Maria to get picked up by Alex and go to Daphne's. Daphne lives quite a ways out of town, but she has a gorgeous house with a tennis court and a pool with a diving board, a pool house and bar area, and a few that looks straight out over the sea-- a truly beautiful home. Daphne is actually from Brazil but she's lived here in Thessaloniki for 5 years now and her Greek is perfect. She's truly amazing.

The weather was cloudy and windy and it rained for awhile, despite the fact that the weather pan predicted sunny and breezy at 82 degrees. It was still warm, warm enough that we all got in the water and jumped off the diving board and swam around for awhile. But it was a bummer that the weather man was completely off base. So, most of the day was spent in the pool house or by the pool side bar, drinking, eating, dancing and whatnot. They grilled chicken souvlaki and lots of other meats along with pitas of course. There was vegetable dips and vegetable salads, brazilian cheese, brazilian rice, and brazilian inspired alcoholic drinks.

Lots of alcohol was consumed but only one person got a little too intoxicated. I'm lucky that I know my limits and I don't like pushing them. However, I now completely understand why my parent's were such sticklers for no swimming/diving and drinking because having a diving board and a pool when that much alcohol is present and when that many people are present only spells for disaster. Ergo, Daphne had to go to the hospital. She slipped on the wet tiles and hit her chin on the ground and sliced it open and bruised her jaw, she went straight to the hospital and got four stitches. Another source of worry and stress was that as the night progressed, people decided the diving board was the perfect stage for dancing and one by one a person or two would head up just to dance, at such great height a little slip of the step would end up with broken bones and other damages. Every time someone went up there, my eyes locked on them and my palms did not stop sweating until they came down. Adults were present, Daphne's parents and a couple of their friends, but their either not big worriers or too shy to say anything. I'm not sure which, but I was terrified.
Despite the hospital drama and diving-board-stress, I had a wonderful, wonderful time at the pool party. The food was delicious and the company was amazing. I brought my good canon camera out with me and snapped over 400 photos. I knew that it would be an amazing day and that having my camera always at the ready would be a solid idea. Greek's aren't huge on bringing camera's everywhere with them and they tend to only have 100-200 photos on Facebook compared to the average college girls 3,000+ photos. So, I knew they would be very appreciate for me playing the role of photographer and adding 100 photos of them to Facebook. And I definitely got some great shots. Hopefully a new profile picture or two will be found among the 400.

George brought his camera too and the coolest thing about it is that it can take underwater photographs. I've never had access to an underwater and it was sooo cool too play around with but it's pretty difficult to take the picture because you're blindly trying to figure out where to point&shoot it.

Pretty cool huh? Well, it was fun to play around with and fun to use in and out of my water. People struggled with my camera and one guy who I didn't know (who was friends with Daphne and didn't go to school) thought he understood how to use the camera but he messed up all my settings and it took me 5 minutes to figure out how to set them all back correctly.

Let me introduce you to my greek friends:
part of the group
Me, Sevi & Marina
Thanasis & Me
Alex & Me
George & Me
Alex, George, Statos, Nikos, Nikos, and Thanasis (from right to left)
So, there is most of my Parea. They are such amazing, kind, fun people. I'm lucky they have welcomed to their party and into the group. As you can see in the group photo, there was about 20 people at the party and I didn't know a handful of them because they are Daphne's friends from other circles, they all were very nice though.

After swimming, eating, taking lots of photos, and just goofing around, the dancing really began as night fell. It was all goofy and fun and there even was some traditional dancing busted out. I wish America had some traditional dancing that the youth enjoyed learning and performing. It's so cool to watch traditional greek dancing and how people get so so into it. They really enjoy dancing and performing and even though it's just certain steps and certain arm movements, it's considered very sexy and cool. I love that. We threw napkins and clapped and all that jazz. How Greek, How Fun.

Nikos dancing
The pool party felt very similar to an American pool party, grilling, blended drinks, swimming, loud music, dancing. There wasn't anything except the type of food and the type of dancing that felt really Greek to me. The people though, that was the most amazing part of the whole day. Sevi & Maria & me laughing endlessly and bonding more than we ever had before. Playing chicken on George's shoulders, fighting Sevi to a draw, a tie. Diving off the diving board with Kostas. Watching Nikos do his traditional dance and Marina doing the traditional dance for girls. Keeping Alex company as he grilled the food. Taking shots with Stratos. Daphne telling me to "make myself at home." Taking underwater photos with George and Maria. Sharing Brazilian cheese with Sevi. Tangoing with Thanasis and salsa-ing with Daphne. It was an amazing day all around. I felt so at home and so happy.

Thursday, May 10, 2012


We arrived in Mykonos at a reasonable hour around noon. We stayed at “Mama’s Pension” and Mama’s daughter-in-law picked us up from the ferry. The ferry was an uneasy ride, I wasn’t feeling so hot (not sea-sick) but just unsettled, so the 3 hour ride was a little tough. Unfortunately, I forgot my ferry ticket at home in Thessaloniki and they refused to print me out another ticket, so I had to buy another 50 euro ticket. So frustrating. So incredibly frustrating. 
Anyways, Mama’s pension was a darling little hostel and Mama was one of those traditional Greek grandmothers who wear only black. Our room had a beautiful view of the sea and was just a couple minute walk from the water. After setting our stuff down we headed straight down to the beach to lay out for a few hours. It was a public beach, filled with locals and only a couple tourists. It’s not peak tourist season, so it was fairly empty. I’m not a huge fan of crowded beaches, so I was a fan of it being small and unpopulated. The sand was soft, traditional, beach sand (no hot black pebbles or shiny red rocks). The water was shallow, never going higher than my belly button. The water was traditional aqua colors that grew darker and darker as it receded to the horizon. It was salt water, so salty that I’ve never felt so buoyant. I laid in the water, peacefully floating for quite some time. I have never, ever found it so easy to be weightless. I think it was the salt. The water was cold though, quite cold. Small grey and white fished gathered around our ankles, dead jelly fish floated at our waists. We were calm.

We all got dinner on the beach at the only restaurant that is open within a twenty minute walk. Since it’s not the season yet, everything is closed. I bought the cheapest “dinner meal” on the menu-- pasta with red sauce. And, of course, we all shared bread with tzatziki. We watched the sunset as our meal came to a close, it was not an epic Oia sunset, but it was beautiful nonetheless.

We went back to Mama’s and showered and then we got ready for our “big night out in Mykonos” which is the island that is infamous for it’s crazy party scene.
“During peak tourist season in Mykonos you can’t lay on your towel, you have to fold it and stand on it to dance.
Since it’s not peak season yet, we knew it wouldn’t be super crazy, but we were going out regardless. We played some drinking games before we left, up and down the river, chinese poker, and a kind of “rock paper scissors” game that I’d never played before. 
We called cabs and headed downtown around 10:30. It was a fifteen minute cab ride and we found a bar quickly and ordered tequila shots in honor of Cinco de Mayo. The first bar was fun, but kind of empty. So we wandered to another bar after about an hour in the first one. The second one started off a little slow but ended up getting packed. A greek guy bought me a drink, a full glass of tequila, but I didn’t really trust it or want it. So I “went to the bathroom” and poured it out. No thank you, mister. We all were dancing and having fun and enjoying a great night out. 

I didn't sleep well, so I woke up early at 9:30 and headed straight down to the beach. Everyone except for Colleen headed straight to the airport. Colleen and I had a later flight, at 7:35 pm at night, so we had the luxury of enjoying another day in Mykonos. We spent the entireeeeeeeee day in the sun. 

Colleen joined me on the beach around 11:30, so I had a couple hours to myself to enjoy the sun. I ordered breakfast on the beach-- a full breakfast. 

I met a small boy, around 3 in age, who was Greek. He was only half, as his mother later told me in full-blast-Greek-language. She thought I was fluent in Greek, which was a huge compliment but also not true in the least, I don't know how I convinced her... Anyways, the boy's name was Vagelis and he wanted to play games with me for over an hour. It started off by him handing me pretty rocks and then progressed to him finding big rocks in the water, pointing to them, and I'd pick them up and he'd throw them to make a big splash in the water, which he called "Bloom." It was adorable, his satisfaction after splashes and his joy at handing me little stones. His purity and innocence was refreshing and reminded me of the greater things in life-- wonder and joy and authenticity. 

When Colleen joined me, I got at reading by book, My Name is Memory, which I started on the plane ride to Santorini and finished that day on the Mykonos sand. It was a gripping romance, and I loved every page of it. Too bad I didn't realize it was going to end on a cliff hanger and continue into a sequel, which has yet to be written. GAH. So frustrating.

I got a little sun-sick, from the high, high levels of sun exposure so I waded into the cold water for awhile to lower my body temperature. I drank 2 full liters of water throughout the course of the day and I peed only once in 7 hours. Whoops. I let my body get wayyyyy too dehydrated. But the sun felt so good, I was getting so tan, and water was 1 euro for a half liter bottle, ergo, Lily got dehydrated.

Anyways, we had a safe and relatively fast journey back to Thessaloniki, arriving around midnight to our rooms. What a wonderful long beach weekend in two paradises.