Sunday, March 7, 2010

Nothing But Good Ideas

Ok so it only makes sense that two weeks later I finally get around to updating my blog about my fabulous trip to Greece. Because there is so much to tell and probably a lack of attention span on the part of my readers I am going to try to hit on the highlights of the trip as well as discussing my impressions on some aspects of the Greek culture. I’ll start with our weekend trip to the islands:

The day after we arrived in Athens we hopped on a ferry at the port of Piraeus in Athens at around 7am and arrived at the island of Syros by noon. Syros is a tiny Greek island located in the chain of islands known as the Cyclades. The largest city on the island, which was also where we were staying, is called Ermoupoli and also happens to be the capital of the Cyclades. We decided to find our hostel first but since the directions on the internet were altogether extremely vague we set off into the streets of Ermoupoli. The streets, just like the streets of Athens, are composed of slabs of white marble and the buildings are mostly white, rectangular houses with terra cotta roofs which was very different from the blue-domed buildings I was expecting (which it turns out are native to the island of Santorini). We tried to follow our first direction “go to the center of town and take the seventh narrow street on the left to the market” but the altogether vagueness of the direction “center of town” made the first clue immensely difficult to follow so we decided instead to just wander around for awhile (Syros isn’t that big) and just ask for directions when we got tired of wandering. Surprisingly after about 20 minutes of window shopping while kind of looking for our hostel we managed to stumble upon a market. Our next direction was to “find the clock by the street Chiou and take the third narrow street on the left.” After establishing that we were in fact on Chiou Street we began to look for the infamous clock that would lead us to our next clue. Seeing no clock in sight I then decided to play the tourist card and ask a local vendor for directions. I asked in English in course because I know zero Greek and I was met with nothing but Greek responses and confusing hand gestures (apparently the Greeks don’t learn much English). I made a few confusing hand gestures of my own to indicate that I was looking for a clock but none of this produced any results so we kept walking. Not even five minutes later we saw the street we needed and then saw our hostel (aptly named) “Paradise.”

Now as I said, Ermoupoli is the biggest city on the island but there are a few other small towns located on the island so our first day there we decided to head to a small town we found on the map called Kini. We were surprisingly able to find the bus stop we needed and were even able to decipher the timetable which was written completely in Greek! The bus took a twisty road up to the top of the island and then descended an equally twisty road on the other side of the hill and dropped us off. We saw a very small sandy beach and took a bunch of pictures and after basking in the beautiful sunlight as it reflected off of the Mediterranean we decided to look for a place to eat only to discover that every restaurant, market and place of entertainment in Kini was closed. Clearly Kini was not an off-season kind of town. We eventually did find one place that was open and sat down to watch the sunset while we sipped Greek coffee and frappes. The Greeks, unlike the rest of the world, have this kind of coffee poetically known as “Greek coffee.” What makes the coffee different from coffee in most other places is that the Greeks leave the coffee grounds in the coffee and then mix a lot of sugar in and drink it like that. While this is not actually as bad as it sounds, it is still hard to get used to sipping up large chunks of grounds when you are used to the smoothness of normal coffee. The other Greek national drink (besides ouzo) is a frappe which is quite a bit like the frappes we have in the states except that there is a large portion of delicious foam on the top of the drink. However, we were instructed by our host/guide Molly, that it is socially unacceptable to drink the foam. Deciding it was too good to pass up; we abandoned all pretenses and drank like barbarians.

Most of our time on the island was spent exploring. We took up this motto “Nothing but Good Ideas” that worked something like this:

Molly: Let’s climb up to the Greek Orthodox Cathedral today.

Martha: Great idea Molly, let’s do it!

Erin: And after we should stop and get some frappes at a cute café.

Molly and Martha: great idea Erin!

I know it sounds stupid but it actually turned out to be one of the best ways to travel. When you have decided that there is no such thing as a bad idea, it is very easy to be relaxed and just go with the flow. And seeing as we usually had nowhere to be at any particular time we basically just did what we wanted when we wanted.

Now this weekend happened to be the last week of Carnivale (something we don’t really celebrate in the states). Carnivale is the week leading up to Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday and officially culminates on the Monday before Mardi Gras which is suitably known as “Clean Monday” by the Greeks. We had heard that Saturday night there would be some sort of festival at the town square so after dinner we wandered out to the square only to find hordes of children running around and screaming and throwing large piles of confetti at each other. Apparently the festival was meant for kids so we wandered around awkwardly for a little while throwing the occasion chunk of confetti at each other and dancing with people dressed in strange costumes. At one point I even danced with a strange man who remotely resembled Elton John. . .

Earlier on Saturday the three of us had gone to a café and decided that because Erin was turning 21 the next day we had to come up with a list of 21 Things for her to accomplish over the next 24 hours. I got the idea from a girl named Kate who is studying with us in France and decided that just because we were in Greece didn’t mean we could cop out on Erin’s 21st. We began assembling the list among which was “get a picture with a Greek Orthodox priest”, “touch the Mediterranean,” “eat a large Greek taverna dinner,” and “fine a natural blonde Greek.” At night we went to a bar to officially ring in Erin’s 21st and we finally found all the people our age who we had thought to be mysteriously missing from the island.

The next day we set about to accomplish our task but as it was gray and a bit chilly, our motivation wasn’t quite what it should have been. We did however; spend most of the day eating, which is once again, always a Good Idea. For Erin’s birthday, Molly and I took her out to lunch at a Greek Taverna which is essentially a restaurant owned and operated by a Greek family. We ordered stuffed burgers, squid and lamb and it was all incredibly delicious! We continued our hunt later in the day but feeling exhausted by the gray sky and discouraged by the lack of naturally blond Greeks walking around, we decided to take a nap.

Now we had heard that on Sunday night there was some sort of Carnivale celebration so not knowing quite what to expect we took a taxi up to Anos Syros, the old town, which is the highest point of the island. The town was completely different from Ermoupoli in that its streets were much twistier and there were many arched passageways. It was really cute and I wished we had come up during the daytime to wander around a bit. The streets were already beginning to fill with people dressed up in all variety of costumes. Still not really knowing what was going to take place (political demonstration, wild party, and marathon around the island were all decent possibilities) we wandered around for a bit. All that we could gather was that something was happening at 8 o’clock pm (which can mean 9 o’clock pm Greek time) and by the looks of people lining the streets we guessed that it was probably a parade.

We took our place on the parade route among the crowds of children running the streets and shooting candy at each other. Sure enough, around 8:30pm a really informal parade began with random costumed people making their way through the parade route. Some of the people were dressed up with groups of their friends in themed costumes while others were in much larger groups that had some sort of theme. We saw swine flu (pigs with doctor’s clothes on), some sort of group with bananas on their head, and yet another group dressed as rain droplets that we think represented some sort of water conservation group. It was all very random and didn’t seem to be that organized at all except that there was an announcer that was filming the event for live television. After the parade was over we weren’t sure what to do because we had heard a rumor about some sort of mock wedding but it looked like everyone was walking in different directions so we figured it was mostly over. We found some kind people passing out free wine and soup and then began our long decent down the mountain and back to our hostel.

While Syros was probably not the most exciting island we could have gone to, I still had a really good time. We were probably the only tourists on the island (besides a group of Filipino boat workers we met at the children’s party) which provided for a really authentic experience. We ate really well (ok really really well), saw all the sites we wanted to see (except a blond Greek), and generally had a really relaxing weekend. But by the end of the weekend I was definitely ready to move on to the excitement of Athens.

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