Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Quick Update

Hey all!

Wow it's been such a crazy couple of weeks for me! I had my last week in Greece, which was very memorable and I'm now in Nepal... It's so different here! I have so much to blog! But, unfortunately here in Nepal the Internet connection is bad and very spotty. So, I can only type things and can't upload pictures easily! When I get back I will tell you all everything and have so many pictures to show you! Tomorrow morning I am off to trek for 2 weeks too! So exciting, and so new! I can't wait! Well, I'll write soon! I promise!
"Words cannot explain the beauty and grotesqueness that Nepal holds: on one side of the road you can see a beautiful woman and the other a dead animal!" or so says my aunt.
Just a thought to leave you with!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

New adventures! :)

Wow. It's hard to believe how fast time flies here. What seems like just a couple of days in my head turns out to be a week in reality. My time here has really just passed by! Luckily I still have some valuable time left to explore and continue my fun internship here at MEDASSET!
Going back... On November 22, I had my last day of counting (well the majority of my major counting done). It was a relief to get that all over with and to be able to start on another exciting project. The project that Konstantina and I decided upon was a project dealing with the International Volunteer Day on December 5th. This year (2011) is the International Year of Volunteers so we thought it appropriate that a volunteer come up with an event for that day. So my task started with coming up with ideas for events or activities that could happen on the 5th. It was actually really difficult to come up with ideas that combined sea turtles and volunteers into one. In the end I came up with actually a few ideas that won't necessarily work for this specific day, but that MEDASSET can use in the future! I'm glad I could help in that way at least! I'll let you know what was actually decided upon shortly.
The next day, the 23rd, I had a mission before work. Though my parents had given me that lovely bouquet of flowers for my birthday, none of us had thought of the beautiful yellow/orange stains that the pollen from those flowers (lilies) can give your clothes. So I was on a mission to go to the laundromat and ask if they could get the stains out. I was told that they open at 9am too. So, when I arrived promptly at 9:30am at the laundromat and saw a line outside, I was slightly confused. But I just joined in the line, assuming that it was for the laundromat. But, I was wrong, which I soon realized as I looked at the line. The line was full of immigrant men. So I pretended to be on the phone and walked over to a cafe across the way and asked if they knew what the line was for. A woman kindly informed me that the men are all from Pakistan (I think) and are in line for food. That meant that I could go to the laundromat. So I did and dropped of my clothes, to pick them up after work! On the way out of the laundromat I did almost get run over by a big truck though, as I couldn't see up the road, and the sidewalk was full of men in line for food. But, I'm still alive and in one piece.
After work and picking up my laundry I decided to go to the movies. Eleanna had shown me a website with a list of movie theaters in the area and what movies they are showing. So I went to a very nice movie theater (close-by) that was truly beautiful (it's an old converted theater) and saw The Ides of March, with George Clooney and Ryan Gosling. It actually was a very good movie, and I stayed awake and followed all of it, even though the movie started 10:30pm. But the strangest thing happened during the movie... About halfway through, the film got all grainy and what not (like the film was a really old one and not working). This worried me, until the screen said: "Intermission." That was very strange for me, as that is not a normal practice in the US to stop halfway through the movie for an "Intermission."
This is a poster I saw in movie theater... It's for a movie called Anonymous and it's all about Shakespeare and who he may or may not have been. It actually looks really good!

The next day (November 24) was Thanksgiving. This day was really strange for me, because it wasn't like I was going to be spending it with my family or even spend it eating turkey... For those of you who don't know, Europe (that means Greece) doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving. So I had to find my own way to celebrate (I even had my internship during the day... Something that would not happen in the US as everyone has the day off.) So I did a couple things to celebrate. When the Macy's Day Parade started (9am in New York which was 4pm here) I watched it on my laptop while I was working. Konstantina was fine with this as long as I showed her all of the best floats... Which I did. It was actually kind-of fun! I even started a new tradition, considering I don't normally watch the Macy's Day Parade at home. When dinner time rolled around, I decided that I would go out for dinner rather than cook something at home. I knew that I wasn't going to find any turkey, so I made sure that I didn't have my heart set on that... Instead I went out and had the next best thing... SUSHI! It was actually surprisingly very good. I made sure that I thought about what I am thankful for. I am thankful for all that I have: My loving family, terrific friends, amazing opportunities, and good health (among other things). So it was a relatively normal day for me, with just some special activities...
The next day Konstantina gave me the new assignment for December 5th. After discussing them, they liked many of my ideas, but because December 5th is a Monday (kids are in school) and it is winter, some of my ideas are better for a different time during the year, so they will be used then. But there were two ideas that we were going to pursue for the 5th. One is taking a wall that is (relatively) central that lots of people walk by, and getting some graffiti artists to paint a wall with a mural of volunteers and sea turtles, showing their importance. The other was putting a box in Syntagma Square (the main square), where it was clearly visible and having there be a projector inside this box projecting images to the back of sea turtles and volunteers and what not. This box was going to be a little taller than your average human and would have one place for someone's eye. When they looked in, that person would see the pictures and hopefully take away the importance of sea turtles and volunteers in the world. So my days (Friday and Monday) have been spent looking up Greek graffiti artists (their contact information and works) as well as writing up the two different proposals.

This weekend (the 26 and 27) was a relatively busy, yet relaxing weekend. On Saturday I went out and did some walking and then decided that I should probably write and send my postcards out. I did so many postcards... My hand started to hurt very quickly... And when I went to go mail them I was unaware that the post office closes at 2pm on Saturdays. So, the actual mailing of the postcards didn't happen until Monday. But it was just nice to get out and enjoy the day. Today was also Elina's last day here in Greece. So, at 8pm we met at our usual meeting place (for the last time) and went on the hunt for a nice little taverna for dinner. We found one, where the food was delicious, the atmosphere was very nice and there was live music! I think that Elina had a good send-off!
Last night together...
Our Greek musicians for the night!
We taxied back because Elina was cold. Her flight's early in the morning too, so she was pulling an all-nighter... Fun stuff...

I would've gone to the airport with her, if I didn't have big plans for Sunday. I was going Delphi, an ancient place of worship and where the Oracle was located.
After a little bit of a hassle working with a travel group (I eventually just went with a different company) I eventually found myself on a bus heading down to Delphi. Along the way I gained so much information, not only about the beautiful Delphi that I was going to see but also about Athens, different ruins and other little cities. I learned a lot on the 200km distance between Delphi and Athens! For example, Did you know:
The Temple of the Olympian Zeus used to have 140 columns... Now it has 15.
There are 11 million people that live in Greece...
5 million live in Athens alone.
Cars are allowed into Athens on every other day depending on their license number. Even numbered cars are allowed one day while odd numbered cars are allowed into the city the other day (weekends are not included).
There are four mountains that surround Athens.
Apollo is the Master of the Oracle of Delphi. It used to be Gaia (Mother Earth), Temis (her daughter) and Poseidon.
Many cities had Oracles too, not just Delphi. (Levathia had an Oracle too - Zeus was the Master there.)
Oracles aren't people, rather places that "pilgrims" can go to ask questions about the future.
The Oracle of Delphi was on Parnassos and was the "place to be."
The Pytheia (the priestesses who sat on 3-legged chairs, chewing bay leaves, above a chasm where they breathed the "Spirit of Apollo") answered the questions about the future that people asked. These priestesses used to be young virgin girls. But these girls had to live in seclusion, so many ran away or just didn't uphold these rules. The Pytheia soon became old women over the ago of 50.
The Oracle used to only be open on the 7th of February (Apollo's supposed birthday). But, the priests soon realized how much wealth they were getting, so the Oracle was soon opened on the 7th of each month with 3 Pytheia rather than just one.
Those are just some of the cool facts that I learned while I was on the bus to Delphi. I also took some pictures of the beautiful scenery.

This is a small town called Arakhova, which is close to Delphi and has the typical red-tiled roofs.

When we finally arrived in Delphi (after taking a break along the way for coffee/bathrooms), we started by going through the Delphi museum. The Delphi museum was beautiful and showed lots of insights into the beautiful artifacts and items that were in the different temples and treasuries that are on the path up to the actual place of the Oracle. While touring around the museum I made a new friend named Zena from New Zealand, who was there all by herself too and we started talking. Unfortunately she's only in Greece for two more days, but we will try to spend more time together before she departs... Also, here are some artifacts that I thought were notable:
The 3-legged chair that the Pytheia would sit on, smelling the "Spirit of Apollo."
The ancient Sphinx that used to be on top of a tall Ionic column close to the beginning of the pathway up to the Oracle.
One of the rare pieces that would appear instead of the Ionic columns at the front of a treasury. This meant that the treasury owner was very rich.
A bronze/silver/gold plated bull that was an offering in one of the treasuries.
Two of three ivory sculptures found (third is below) with gold jewelry. The one with the visible face is Artemis.
This is the third ivory sculpture found. This one is of Apollo, so it is a little bit more lavish in its decorations than the other ones.
A Corinthian column of dancers.
Delphi was supposedly the "navel" of the Earth, so here is the stone in Ancient Greek mythology that Zeus petrified to show that Delphi was the center.
The famous charioteer statue made in bronze with onyx eyes.

After we finished in the museum we began the climb up the pathway to where the ruins for the Oracle were. We started by walking by this ruined temple and then saw the many treasuries and different temples on the way up.
This is one of the many rocks that is inscribed with Ancient Greek saying what the pilgrim that was coming to the temple gave in offering for their future. The pilgrims had to pay for a professional to do this as well...
The view of the surrounding area as we walked up.
This stone is carved with many Greek names. These are the names of slaves who were let free.
This is the altar where the (animal) sacrifices would happen before someone could ask the Oracle his/her question.
This is the actual place where the Pytheia were and would give the futures of the askers.
After reaching the actual Temple of Delphi we were then given some time to walk around ourselves. Zena and I decided to climb up to the theater and stadium that are up a bit of a climb past the Oracle. Both of these ruins are of the Roman style, so you will see some slight differences in the style.
The Theater
The Stadium
Theater again
Zena and I
The beautiful Oracle
The pilgrims' pathway (partially)
Where we walked to after climbing up to the Stadium. This is the spring of what used to be a stream where all pilgrims had to cleanse themselves before going to see the Oracle. The water is truly very refreshing.
After we drank from the spring, we headed back to the bus, had a nice lunch at the Amalia Hotel in the city of Delphi (which was at one point sitting over the ruins, but during the French excavation they moved it to its current location) we headed back to Athens via Arakhova. When we arrived in Arakhova we were allowed to get out and look around for a bit, so Zena and I walked around with our two new friends that we had made up on Delphi, KJ and Roman (both from Australia).
Those are all olive trees!
The cute houses of Arakhova
KJ and Roman... Being silly.
Zena and Arakhova
After arriving back in Athens at Syntagma Square, Zena and I thought it would be fun to go out for dinner (KJ and Roman had other plans). So, since Zena didn't really know the area at all (I gave her some suggestions of where to go the next day while we were on the bus) we decided that we would walk down and around, so I could show around. So we headed off to Monastiraki Square. In the end, we found a very nice taverna that was FILLED with Greeks, all talking loudly and dancing to the live music. It was so fun!
Zena's first glass of Ouzo ever! :)
After dinner we parted ways, as she was going to get up early and have a full day of sightseeing, and I had work.

The next day (Monday) was a relatively uneventful workday as there were only three of us in the office, myself included. Lily and Kostis had left for a conference in Strasbourg on Sunday and the others were sick or had other things preventing them from coming into work. After work I met Zena at the corner of Syntagma and Square, where we decided what we wanted to do. She had yet to be to a typical Greek bakery, so I took her up to the bakery up near where I live. After we stopped at the post office (so I could mail my postcards) and then walked down to find a nice taverna to eat in. Eventually we went to Plaka and went up to the street where I had my first meal and took a picture there, because the setting really is so beautiful (also, on one of my postcards there is a picture of this exact place, with someone sitting exactly where I am in the following picture and where I did my first night in Athens).
In the end we ended up going to a cute little restaurant that actually was very deceiving. It said it had "the Most Traditional Greek Food"outside, but those are normally tourist traps. What pulled me in was the fact that they had Taramosalata (made with fish roe), which is something that Zena had never tried. Surprisingly the food was delicious and it truly was like a traditional Greek meal.
After the meal I dropped Zena off at her hostel and then continued home. That night was very fun and I'm glad that I had the opportunity to meet Zena. She is a globe-trotter like me and I can't wait to swap stories with her when we both get the chance.

Then the work week started again, and I've been working on various projects, finding graffiti artists being one of them. This weekend I'm planning on going to Meteora, which is where there are 6 different monasteries that I will visit. I'll be sure to post lots of pictures!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Holidays, Birthdays, and "Fun-days"!

Wow. So another week has passed (well a little over a week). It's been so crazy over here! That's why I haven't been able to post! I've actually been trying to post this for the past 3 days or so, but I always get distracted or caught up in something else and didn't get around to actually posting it! But, now it's posted and done with! This post is full of pictures and a whole week's (and two weekends) worth of fun!!!!
Well, on that first weekend (November 11 and 12) I had a fairly relaxing weekend. I didn't go really much of anywhere. On Saturday Elina and I walked down Ermou Street (the big shopping street) and did some shopping, as she needed some things (a winter coat, boots, etc) and it's cheaper for her to buy the items here in Greece than it is in Sweden. It was actually more fun than you would've expected. It must have been the company and conversation that I had to keep me occupied (as I wasn't buying anything!). Today was also my first encounter with "rain" or what I know as sprinkles. It was actually refreshing to have the light rain!
The next day we went on another adventure. Although it was raining again (really it was just sprinkling in my book) we still met and went at 11am to see the "big changing of the guard" that happens every Sunday at 11am. Little did we know that when it's raining, the "big change" doesn't happen, just a normal, everyday changing of the guard happens. I will have to go on a sunny Sunday and check it out!
Afterwards, we headed over to the metro so we could go to the airport. There's an IKEA near the airport, and as I've never been to one, Elina insisted that we go (which I was happy to do). But, when we finally got there, we were told that not only was the bus back to Syntagma Square not running, but IKEA was closed. We knew that most stores are closed on Sundays, but we had been told and saw on the website that IKEA is open 7 days a week. I guess they were wrong... So we headed back to Syntagma on the metro. Once we finally got back we went for a coffee at Starbucks and sat outside for a little bit drinking our coffees and talking. It was very relaxing! Elina also showed me a nice little supermarket on the way home, which is very small, but has some good items at good prices. It even had some things that my big supermarket doesn't carry (like Dolmathes).
Then it was Monday again, and work began again. Today everyone seemed to roll in at various times starting around 10:15am. It seems that they all had a relaxing weekend though! Monday was a typical day, but I learned something new! Giannis and Konstantina are going to do a school program on Wednesday and I was going with them! I was so excited!!!! I might even be playing the flute or xylophone/vibes for the kids if we can find one that we can borrow. Today we also lost power for about 3 minutes or so, where everything was pitch black, and there were alarms going off all over the place (not in the office but outside). It was very strange...
Well Tuesday came around and all I could think about was Wednesday and getting to see the kids! I was so excited!!! It was kind-of hard to believe that I would be going tomorrow to a school and teaching kids all about sea turtles! One thing I've noticed about my routine, is that I know how to stretch my sleeping time to the very last minute and yet I still manage to get up before the alarm. That was one of the things that I was worried about before I came to Greece. I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to wake up to my alarm. But, there seems to be no problem here! It makes me very happy!
Finally Wednesday, November 16, came and it was the day to visit the kids! I was very excited, while Konstantina and Giannis were their normal selves. So we started by walking to the metro (Giannis looked like a Santa Claus the whole way because of the size of the sack where the "Niretta" (turtle mascot) costume was kept), hopping on it when it arrived all the way to the last stop. After exciting the metro area we got into a taxi and traveled through this small township on the outskirts of Athens. It was very cool to see this little township and watch the people on their daily rounds. We soon arrived the school, which is a small school, with just two Kindergarten classes (we were going to visit both). In Greece, Kindergarten school is separate than all other school for the Greek children. It was so fun to see these kids and to hear the questions they were asking Konstantina. We start them out by watching a short DVD all about sea turtles and the importance of them and preserving their nesting grounds.

After the movie the kids made masks, that Giannis and I helped cut out, and attach the ribbon to, which they were going to use to approach "Niretta"! It was such a ball helping the kids into their masks too!
Once "Niretta" entered, the fun began! Now, "Niretta" doesn't speak and doesn't like other animals except for fellow sea-dwellers. So the masks were: sea turtles, dolphins, penguins, and orcas (killer whales). And the kids had to approach "Niretta" doing their animal's movement and noise.
After being introduced, the kids and "Niretta" danced all around the room and had fun saying hi to each other!

And then we did it all again with the second class...

After finishing up with the classes we headed back for a taxi and the metro. Upon arriving back to the office, work began again. But, at around 6:30pm or so I called Elina and we decided to go out for dinner. This was to be my birthday dinner, as tomorrow was to be a pretty crazy riot-filled day! So, we walked around for a while and then ended up at a restaurant fairly close to the Acropolis with a great view of it. As tonight was the night before my birthday (I'll explain in a bit why we didn't go out on my birthday night) I was to try my first beer, kind-of as a right of passage. This beer is called Mythos beer, a traditional Hellenic beer. It was actually really good. I did drink it all!

I have discovered that I don't mind the taste of beer... Or at least Mythos beer that is!
The next day, November 17th, was my birthday, but I wasn't expecting anything special, especially considering what this day means in Greek history. I don't think I have all the details for the story about the importance of November 17th, but the gist of it is that years ago, when Greece was ruled by a dictatorship, on November 17th, the dictator was overthrown, which was very favorable for the Greek people. But, on that same day about 10 people were killed at the University of Athens, creating a big uproar. So every year on November 17th, people get half-days (or even full days off), streets are closed and there are lots of marches, strikes and riots all over Athens. So, on Thursday, my birthday, it felt like they were celebrating me, with my half-day of work and all!
But, I did get a big surprise in the morning, when I was told that there was someone at the door for me! I go to the door, and a delivery man hands me this HUGE bouquet of flowers! I didn't know who they were from!!!
They were from my parents. :) And they smell beautiful in my room!!!
About 10 minutes after that, Konstantina and the others in the office came over to me and said that they would like to take me out to lunch and that I should be ready by 2:30pm. Of course I said yes, and was ready on time! When we finally left it took us some time to get there, as many roads were closed, along with the metro and buses. It was fun to watch Giannis drive (they all insisted that I sit in the front seat of Kostis' car) and having the other three women in the back seat all backseat driving, telling him where to go. It was stressful to say the least! We eventually arrived at the restaurant, which was very nice and I really like it! The food was delicious traditional Greek food as were the drinks. I tried for the first time "Tsilili," which is similar to Ouzo, but a little different... It was good! But, I was just content with my Mythos!
That's my cake! It had sparklers and candles lit too when it came in!
In order from left to right: Giannis, Katerina, Konstantina, Kostis, Elvridiki, Eleanna, Me! That's my office crew, minus Liza and Lily!
The party was a blast! I was very happy that I went and I had lots of fun! In order to get back to the apartment, Elvridiki's friend gave me a lift (with her) to right outside the Olympic Stadium, and then I just had to walk for maybe 15 minutes to get back to apartment. It was a nice walk! But, when I was walking I noticed that (not only was the road closed) a lot people were walking down the road, some carrying large megaphones, others large banners. They all seemed to be heading to Syntagma Square... So, I decided I would check it out. I just peeked over to the strike. There were a lot of people and lots of megaphones and banners, and lots of police men, all with gas masks on for tear gas. When I saw them I decided that I would head out and go home. I got home perfectly safe and sound too!
The next day, Friday, Konstantina had been nice enough to give me off. So, I got some nice uninterrupted sleep! When I did wake up (around 11am) I got ready and headed off to Omonia Square to a laundromat to get my laundry done! I had never been to Omonia before, so it was nice to see that part of town and take the metro again! While I waited the three hours for my laundry to be done, I did some sightseeing of the Ancient Agora, one of the ancient burial areas and temple clusters (not the biggest burial area though, that's Keramikos).
I was about to head to the Temple of Hephestaus, which is part of the Ancient Agora, when I was called and told that they were closing and I'd have to come back another time. How disappointing, I told myself I would have to go and see it again. So I headed around, trying to see where I wanted to go. So I went up to the Cathedral and took a picture.
After walking by the Cathedral I realized that I still had about an hour to spend until my laundry was ready. So, I decided to head to one of the many museums in Athens... The Benaki Museum. The Museum is in Mr. Benaki's old (now renovated and expanded) home and houses 36 exhibits, some from his personal collection that are all about the history of Greece and how it has changed!
I really love the ancient Greek pottery!
Those are neat bracelets! I wish I could find those on the street to buy for my friends!
This is a funny statue... It's a statue of an "Unknown Action." I thought it was funny.
The rest of my day was uneventful, as I just picked up my laundry and went out with Elina for a bit afterwards!
The next day I decided I would see the other historic monuments/ruins by Monastiraki Square. So I started by going to Hadrian's Library, the ancient library, which is now a set of ruins that are being restored.
Even dogs need their rest, ancient monument or no...
I then took some pictures of the surrounding Monastiraki Square and headed up to the Temple of Hephestaus.
Temple of the Giants
While I was up at the Temple of Hephestaus, this nice couple, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, from Maryland, US, stopped me and asked if I could help them point out on their map as to where we were. I did, and then we got to talking, and eventually, after giving them some suggestions of where to go, we went together up to the National Observatory and had a very nice conversation!
After parting ways we said that we meet up again on Sunday morning for the large changing of the guard at 11am to do something!

So, Sunday morning, I knew that there was going to be a large crowd for the 11am changing of the guard, but I didn't expect there to be the huge crowd there was. I didn't get the vest view I wanted for all my pictures, so I will have to go again before I leave to see the 11am changing of the guard! But, these are some of the pictures I did get!
After the Johnsons and I found each other, we decided that we would go up Lycabettus Hill (the hill behind where I live) and look at the Church of Saint George. We had a lot of inclined road to climb up before we even reached the base of the hill... We decided to cablecar up to the Church too.
There are so many beautiful lemon and orange trees!!!
When we finally reached the top, the view was beautiful! It was a little hazy, but beautiful all the same! And the church... The church was absolutely perfect!
The "horseshoe" in the distance!
The Acropolis (Kind-of hard to make out.)
The Ceiling of the Church
There was this crazy sink in the bathroom at the top of Lycabettus!
We decided we would walk down, which was so much better. The view was so great all the way down!
Our small taverna where we had lunch.
After we climbed down and had our small lunch, we decided to walk around some more and ended up walking by the National Observatory again, but it was nice to see the Acropolis during the night again.
We then parted ways at the New Acropolis Museum, where the Johnsons went in and I headed off to my apartment. But, while I was on my way back home, I saw this small tiny kitty on the street. I felt so bad for it. I have seen other cats around, but never a kitten this small. It was so hard for me to not just pick it up and take it back to the apartment with me. (And I probably would have if I didn't think that Konstantina and the office crew would be mad at me!
Well that's all for now... I wonder what's in store for me this week!