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.

Last ACT SGA Party

Last Friday, May 25, was the last the American College of Thessaloniki Student Government party of the semester. It was held on ACT's campus and it was outdoor and we had a student DJ and heaps of beer for sale for 1 euro. I still can't get over school events encouraging alcohol consumption. It's awesome though.

Kelsey straightened my hair, it was the first time I've had it straight since... December. And I wore high heels (the only pair I brought with me to Greece) for the very first time all semester, for the first time since...December. Whoops. I haven't exactly been putting forth the most immense effort in regards to my appearance lately, but hey, why waste time doing hair and expecting extreme foot pain after being out from 12-5 am? No thanks.

Anyways, I wore my black dress with a fake orchid in my hair and my high heels and I felt good. It felt great to get all dolled up for the last "hurrah!" at ACT. I arrived before most of the Americans because Gogos is on SGA and wanted to arrive early and Meredith and her twin, Michelle (who studied abroad in spain this semester and finished a week ago and is staying in Greece now with Meredith until school ends), were game to go early, so they requested I go with them making a "perfect four" for the cab-ride. Yes, cabs are cheap here, and it's great you split the cost of the ride, but it's a huge bummer that they are unwilling to fit in more than the legal capacity. Back at University of Iowa, the cabs there will cram as many people in the cab as possible. The more, the merrier. Since we pay individually for cabs in the states, the same rate for each person, they don't mind more people. Here, in Greece, we split the one price so it doesn't  matter if it's one person in the cab or ten. Sucks to always have to break into perfect fours though, especially when you're going somewhere with 5 people. Argh. Arriving early was perfect because I felt confident and happy and I loved making a little entrance without being in a swarm of 50 other Americans. I was warmly greeted by my friends, who all commented on how nice I looked-- yes I was glowing from all the compliments! And I sat for awhile with Maria, Marina, Sevi, George, Alex, Daphne, etc. Then I sat with Loula,  Michael, Stelios, etc. Then I went over to see Elisabeth and danced with her and her friends for a bit. Then I wandered to the Albanian group, yes there is a distinct Albanian clique, and I talked to Jetik and the other Albanians for awhile. Then the Americans arrived and we all got to dancing. It was wonderful to float around and talk with everyone and feel welcomed and warm.

Emily, Me, Daphne, Marina (With Nikos in the back)
Daphne, me, and Emily 
After the school party ended at 2, we all headed over to Club W, their "new summer spot." In the summer, most of the clubs downtown shut down and the summer clubs open. The W was near the airport- a very far drive- and it was wild. It was a great scene, good lighting and the music was loud as hell. That's the confusing thing about Greek clubs. They pound the music louder than loud so no one can talk or hear each other, but Greeks also don't dance. Either dance to the loud music or turn it down so we can have conversations!!! It's frustrating because what do we end up doing? Yelling in each other's ears, full-on-screaming, and our ears ring until the afternoon the next day. Hello, that's not healthy for those ear drums!

Outside W is a back area, which is like a big garden that has trees and flowers and benches sprinkled throughout. It's a pretty awesome idea, a back-garden-area. Love it.

I don't think I drank at all at W. I was too focused on dancing. When my ears were throbbing in pain and my feet throbbing equally painfully, I would go outside for awhile and chit-chat with a friend or two. Once with Katherine and her boyfriend and once with Jetik. It was nice to get to get some air and some space. But soon it started to rain so we all had to head inside. We all left W at 5:30 in the morning and luckily I got a ride home with Kostjan. Kostjan is from Albania but he has lived in Greece for 10 years. He's probably the biggest, beefiest guy at ACT with big muscles and a football player body. The first time I met him, I was convinced he was a jerk so I wrote him off. Most of the Americans all thought he was an ass hole, so we all avoided him until a few weeks ago when out-of-the-blue we figured out he is a huge teddybear and is super awesome and sweet! Who would have guessed? He says that he doesn't try to make a good impression at first so sometimes he makes a bad one. That's the way it goes. Interesting outlook, if you ask me. Big bummer that we didn't all realize how great he was earlier on though. We missed out on a lot of hang out time. Anyways, Kostjan piled me and 10 other Americans in his car. I was in shotgun on Travis's lap and I was literally laying on the dashboard. Uncomfortable? Yes. Immensely.

It's strange that even though drivers in Greece are CRAZY, they ignore stop signs, red lights, and basically all traffic laws, I still feel safer in cars in Greece than in the states. Cars here drive fast, they dodge and weave and shoot out around corners and I know driving in Greece would give me a heart attack. But the thing about Greek drivers is that despite all the craziness, they devote ALL of their attention to the road and to their surroundings. They are not texting, not talking on the phone, not trying to read a magazine, not eating a cheeseburger, not fiddling with their iPods... all the attention is on the road and on the wheel. Their reactions are fast and they are ready for all the insane driving going on around them. It's pretty awesome what devoting 100% of your attention to driving does for you-- give you almost superhuman reaction time and awareness. I also like the fact that police don't really enforce driving laws. I like that cars can double park and park on the sidewalks and basically do whatever they want. Yes, it's inconvenient at times, but I like that the cops don't feel the need to jump at every single mistreatment of the law.

Anyways, I digress. We all got home safely and slept in late.