Tuesday: Our tip began a week ago from Tuesday. We met at the school at the early time of 7:30, to head to our first town in the Peloponnese. Our first bus ride was about two hours, however, it was broken up with bathroom break to the Corinth-Isthmos canal, which was actually pretty cool. It is this beautiful canal, which from the bridge looked extremely deep and extremely narrow (not sure how large boats got through). We then hopped back on the bus to head to the very famous site of Mycenae. For those of you who study classics and have ever taken a into art history course know Mycenae as the site with the famous Lion Gate. Once again, it was really exciting for me to see another famous site/artifact that I had only seen in art history class, or unfortunately on my exams. My teacher took us around the site for about three hours, which also included seeing the famous tholos tomb. The Mycenaean’s would burry the wealthy in what is called “beehive tombs,” which get their name because they are honeycomb shaped tombs built into the hillside (they are pretty cool if I may say so myself, at least to an art history nerd). After we finished our tour at the site, we had a picnic lunch along a cliff, which had the most amazing view. It was definitely very peaceful. We then boarded the bus for a three hour bus ride to Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympics! This was extremely exciting for me since I have been beyond obsessed with the Olympics since I can remember (began with the Atlanta 1996 games). Once we arrived in Olympia, beyond tired, my roommates and I (not my normal apartment roommates since they were on a different bus, but two really nice girls Jessica and Danielle) went to the museum of the ancient Olympic games. It was really interesting. We learned about how the Olympics started, how the athletes were chosen and how they trained, which events were a part of the Olympics back then etc. Afterwards we went on a hunt to find the best/cheapest gyros in town. We actually got advice from a local for a great place around the corner from our hotel. It was off the main street (Olympia is beyond small, think Pleasantville with only one main street, this is exactly how it is), and therefore legit, not touristy. However, I was proud of myself because I was able to grab an extra lunch bag from the picnic and therefore had a free dinner. Points for me! After eating, my roommate told everyone that she had the Disney movie Hercules on her computer. I got soooo excited, and so did everyone else. Watching Hercules after a long day in Olympia, priceless. I forgot just how great the music is, so good. After the movie, I passed out into a very deep sleep.
Wednesday: We had a wakeup call for breakfast at the hotel at 7:30 before getting a start to our day in Olympia. The first thing we did was go to the actual Olympia site (where the original track, training areas, etc. are). The great thing about southern Greece and Olympia particularly is how green it is. The town is this lush area with beautiful creeks and rivers running through it (very different than metropolitan Athens). Our teacher took us around the site explaining everything to us. We got to see the original baths and locker rooms (or what remained of them). The best part came when we finally got to see the original Olympic track. In tradition, my entire class lined up at the starting line to run the first recorded dash. It was so much fun. As I ran the l
ength of the track I hummed the Chariot’s of Fire theme in my head and I felt quite legit. After pretending we were gold medal ancient Olympic athletes (although sadly women could not compete at that time), our teacher gave us free time for a couple hours before we had to meet up at the Olympia museum. I decided to walk back to the hotel to get what I had left of my free din
ner/lunch from the day before (free lunch again, points for me!). However, once I got back to the hotel, I learned from a friend that they were going to light the Olympic flame for the Vancouver games TODAY. I flipped out; my Olympics obsession went into high gear. I stuffed down my sandwich and then walked back to the Olympia site. Between the time we had left the site and come back, the area had quickly filled up with cameras and official looking Olympic representatives. I tried to get the best viewing spot I could and then soaked up the action. We watched as the officials brought in a white dove, the torches (without the flame at that point of course), and other official knickknacks. I quickly spotted a guy in official looking Vancouver gear who I immediately guessed as the first torch bearer. The ceremony began with about 20 women (and one young girl and one young boy) dressed in traditional tunics, the last woman to walk in was carrying an empty silver torch (not lit). She woman than announced something in Greek and then bent down in front of a magnifying glass to get the “olympic flame from the gods.” After about a minute or so, the torch became lit. The women then began a dance-like procession to the ancient track. Once they reached the track they performed a dance for about 5 minutes (will post the video of the dance on my blog), and then the guy in the modern Olympic Vancouver gear game jogging up to receive the flame. Talk about a contrast between old and new. And then the guy jogged off to start the relay. I thought it was soooo cool that I got to see that, and especially lucky since they torch relay (or the start of it that is) is very rare. After recovering from my Olympic haze, it was time to meet my professor at the Olympia museum. The museum itself was quite impressive. It has some great friezes, and the very famous statue of Hermes and Dionysus, an absolutely beautiful piece of art. After the museum we had some free time, so Jessica and I decided to relax in the park (was a beautiful sunny warm day), before hoping on the bus for another 3 hour drive to the town of Pylos. We arrived in Pylos at about dinner time. It’s another very small town along the seacoast and therefore also beautiful. For the first time I actually did need to buy dinner, so Danielle and I walked around for a gyro stand. We luckily found one pretty quickly and the walked along the water for a bit. We were then quite tired and headed back to the room for showers. However, I once again got lucky in the movie department. My friend Melissa called me and asked if I wanted to watch Hocus Pocus. I got really excited because I hadn’t seen the movie in forever, and I had completely forgotten that Halloween was coming up (in is nonexistent in Greece). I knew it was probably the only thing I would do to celebrate Halloween this year. After a very guilty pleasure movie evening, we passed out once again.
Thursday: We had a breakfast call at 8 am, before heading to our first destination Methone (which might possibly be the most beautiful place we went to the entire trip). It is this old Venetian fortress along the water that is just stunning. I will post a video of how beautiful and calm it was. I took a seat on the furthest rock along the pathway and just sat there for 20 minutes totally at peace, I could have stayed there for hours. Sadly, we only had an hour there and I was quickly back on the bus to head to the Palace of Nestor. The Palace of Nestor was probably my least favorite site on the trip, mostly because it had the least amount of foundation left so it mostly looked like a bunch for stones organized into “rooms” at about knee height. However, my professor had worked at the site for many years and knew a lot about it, which definitely added to the experience. Afterwards, we bused back to the town of Pylos to have lunch. I had discovered the art of packing away breakfast food in order to have a “free” lunch, so therefore my lunch consisted of self made sandwiches and sweet bread. Yum. After lunch, we had a long bus ride to the town of Sparta (yes, just like the movie 300). Luckily, we took a bathroom break along the way at a beautiful little area along a mountainside, and the side street was filled with locals selling tea and honey, it was great. We arrived in Sparta around dinnertime. Danielle and I walked around the town (there really isn’t much in Sparta, nothing of ancient Sparta remains unfortunately), got dinner (I actually got the best gyro I have had in Greece to date, it was glorious), and then headed back to the hotel. There was a major local soccer game on tv (the entire town we noticed was watching it), so we watched it for a bit before watching a movie and then heading to bed.
Friday: We had breakfast at the hotel at 8 before driving to our first location, Mystra. Mystra is an old Byzantine monastery and fort-like structure on top of a very large hill outside of Sparta. The first thing we did was hike to the very top, which took about 20 minutes and was actually quite demanding. The path was extremely uneven and rocky, but it was totally worth it once we reached the top. It is one of those experiences that just can’t be documented in photographs.
Yes, the photos are beautiful but they can only express about a fraction of the true experience. At the top, we took pictures and relaxed for about 20 minutes before starting the hike back down. Once we reached our starting point, we split up into our classes and got a tour of the site from our professor. However, my professor is an archaeological expert, not a Byzantine one, so we mostly had free time to wander around. Towards the end of the tour we went to a working nunnery in a picturesque part of the hillside. The nunnery had a wonderful Byzantine church, which was in great shape. I love Greek orthodox churches and always find them a bit spooky, which I think adds the their appeal. We then took the bus back to Sparta for lunch, in which I enjoyed the morning’s breakfast on
ce again. Once our lunch break was over, it was time to hop back on the bus for our next destination. However, I knew the next destination just meant I was about to leave southern Greece for Athens (I had to leave the trip early, the trip actually ended Saturday evening, because I had to catch my flight to Shanghai early afternoon Saturday). So once we arrived in another beautiful town called Nauplion, I had to ask the guy at the hotel desk where the bus back to Athens was. The bus ride was an adventure, mostly because departures and which buses to where were all announced in Greek and only Greek. However, it is experiences like this that do add to my Greek knowledge, so not complaining. I just had to be listening very closely. I luckily got on the right bus, so I just sat back and relaxed for the three hour trip back. Once back at my apartment, the evening was filled with unpacking then repacking and getting things set for China!
If any of you do plan to do an extended trip to Greece, I honestly to recommend spending a couple days in the Peloponnese. The towns and scenery are just beautiful and they aren’t any where near as touristy as Athens and the islands (from what I have been told).
I miss everyone so much. I can’t believe I’m more than halfway done with my semester abroad….
-China update coming soon J