Saturday, December 11, 2010

Home Again

Well, friends, I am home. The return trip was blessedly uneventful. My last night in Europe was spent at the Sofitel in Athens, in what is the most comfortable bed I have ever experienced. I was only sorry I didn't have more time to enjoy it.

Once again I transferred through Frankfurt. This time I was struck by how much closer to home it felt, in comparison to Greece. There is more English and the feel is more west than mediterranean, if that makes sense. When I passed through on my way to Rome it felt completely foreign, so I guess my point of reference changed somewhere in those two weeks.

The flight from Frankfurt to Denver was 10 1/2 hours. That's the longest single flight I've ever experienced. It was something. I happened to be sitting behind Baby Row, so was thankful that I only had myself to worry about and not an infant as well.

And what a glorious sight awaited me in Denver! Mom, driving Dora, with Rosie in the seat next to her, sporting a fetching little Christmas collar. I'm thankful for the opportunity to travel and happy, happy to be home.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Little Car That Could

Can you believe they just turned me loose with a rental car? Yikes! After my initial nerves, I had a really fun time. The hotel owner gave me a map and itinerary but of course I got lost right off the bat and ended up seeing the third place first, so after that i let go of any kind of plan and just kept driving. I don't think I've ever seen so many beautiful views in one day. This place is gorgeous!! And small, so it was pretty easy to do the tour in one day. I left the hotel at about 9:30 and got back around 6pm. I saw the sunset in Oia, which is the thing to do. Once again, I was accompanied by a cat.

There's a nice couple from Venezuela staying at the hotel. They checked in last night and had the same plan today - to rent a car and see the sites. We ended up at the same place for lunch, so that tells you how small santorini is! The beach towns had an almost eery feel to them. They are deserted. I can imagine what it must be like in the summer. Exciting, I'm sure, but for my purposes I have really enjoyed the quiet and more relaxed atmosphere.

I could say more, but I think I'll let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cats & Dogs

I just wanted to send a quick update on the stray animal situation in Greece, since i know you've all been worried. I've felt better about it since learning that people regularly give food to the animals and take care of them in a way. They don't necessarily adopt them and take them into their homes, but they commit to feeding them and looking after them in general. Kind of Ike the Adopt-a-Highway program in the states. Kind of.

There's a very nice black dog that hangs out in this area near the hotel. He made sure i got safely home tonight after I went out in search of a snack.


I didn't go far afield today but was successful in my quest for sunglasses. I also toured a small museum that has pottery pieces and wall paintings uncovered from ancient times. The hotel owner pointed me to a taverna where i had a good lunch. I need to adjust to Greek portions. I ordered a dish and a salad, which in italy would have made sense, but here it is equivalent to two meals. The main dish was pasta with calamari. Yummy, but when i took the first bite I remembered something Jan had told me - Greeks overcook their pasta.

Otherwise, I just wandered around town, browsed some of the shops and enjoyed the ocean views and the fresh air. It was i the mid-60s today which I thought was pleasant but many people were wearing coats and complaining of the cold.

The sunset was indeed beautiful, and hopefully this picture does it some justice. A little black and white kitty joined me for the viewing.

Tomorrow I plan to rent a car (!) so i can tour the rest of the island. It's only 30 euros for a 24-hr rental and the hotel owner said he would set it up for me. I would never, ever, ever consider trying to drive in Athens, but roads around here are pretty quiet so I'm hoping to avoid disaster. It's really the best way to see everything.

P.S. Just a note about my room. It's lovely and labeled the lavender room, but oddly decorated in yellow.


Lonely planet did not lead me astray. I chose my hotel based on their recommendation, and so far, it's wonderful. The owner picked me up at the airport and gave me a glass of his homemade wine upon arrival. The view from the terrace is beautiful, and apparently the best place to see the sunset this time of year.

He also gave me a map, so its time to explore! First order of business is to find a pair of sunglasses since I left mine in lecce by accident. It's sunny, clear, calm and gorgeous - like summer only not as hot and without all of the crowds. Rates are cheaper too, so I lucked out!

I'm so glad to be here but wishing i could share it with my loved ones!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Arcadia in Athens

I made the mistake of not allowing much time for breakfast this morning. I assumed it would be the usual with coffee and a few different kinds of bread, but my goodness i was wrong. There was an elaborate spread of all kinds of food - hot dishes, cheeses, cold cuts, yogurt, jams, breads, dried rut, fresh fruit, the list goes on and on. I only had a few minutes so I took a croissant and a few dates, but if I'd had my wits about me i would have taken some yogurt at the very least. I love Greek yogurt when it's in Dannon form via New Jersey. I can only imagine what it's like here.

Jan, the director of the center here, met me in the hotel lobby and said we had some complications. Apparently today is the 2-year anniversary of the police shooting a 16-year old boy. There were huge riots at the time which you may remember reading about in the news. Police found weapon caches earlier this week and expected lots of demonstrations and riots today, so were closing off the city center. The Center is in a neighborhood away from downtown, so the day passed uneventfully in that respect. When it was time for me to return, the taxi driver could only leave me a couple of blocks from the hotel, no closer, but it was a good chance for me to observe the police in the streets. There were at least 20 motorcycles lined up, each with two officers. My hotel is opposite the parliament building, and it was lined in front with police officers standing shoulder-to-shoulder, with shields. I'm not sure if anything really happened, but now it appears that traffic is continuing as usual, so hopefully it was a peaceful day.

I have a new hero after this trip. Tina, Lucia, Patricia and Jan are all exceptional women and i want to be Ike them when i grow up. They are intelligent, curious, energetic and articulate. They all have a passion for the work that they do and seem to thrive on it. They also all have brown hair so at least i have one thing in common with them. ;)

Walking back to the hotel tonight, i had a feeling of elation that I was finished with the work part of the trip and could commence with the vacation. I celebrated by taking a nap (inadvertently). Now I'm having a beer in the hotel lobby, which is the only place that has wireless.

More from the island!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sunset in Athens

It was a beautiful, sunny day when I landed in Athens. My taxi driver was friendly and pointed things out to me during the forty minute drive to the hotel. I checked in, dropped off my bags, grabbed a map and headed back out immediately. It's an hour later in Greece than in Italy so I knew I didn't have much time if i was going to see the acropolis. Unfortunately it was closed, so I didn't get to go inside, but there is still a lot to see from the outside, and since it is situated in a hill I got some excellent views of the city.

I thought it would be more difficult language-wise but it's actually a little easier than Italy. Since I don't recognize any words at all, or even letters for that matter, I'm not distracted by them. I just concentrate on finding the English. The Greeks themselves don't seem to expect any foreigners to speak their language, and are pretty comfortable with English.

So comfortable, in fact, that two different women talked me into buying jewelry from their shops. I intended to buy jewelry anyway, but they were quite persuasive. Apparently I don't look old enough to be 32 (ahem) and i need to be very careful with my bag because men will come after me. Both women waited until after the transaction to give me the safety advice. I wonder if that's only reserved for customers . . .

It's about 6:30 now and already quite dark. I feel like i could go to sleep on the spot. Once again tired and a bit travel weary. No flights tomorrow! That's a relief. I'm really looking forward to being on a quiet little island and sleeping in.

I'm not sure why but the pictures i took today wouldn't download to the iPad. Hopefully I can get them on later, and if so will post a few.

Leaving Italia

During the cab ride from the hotel to the airport, I realized that I am taking a total of 11 flights in 14 days. I'm glad I didn't do the math before I came or I might not have gone through with it. Just kidding, empty threat.

Several different airlines, too:Lufthansa, Alitalia, Blu Express, Aegean, Olympic - that might be all. Blu Express was the craziest. They don't do assigned seating so it was a free-for-all. Alitalia has taught me that you can board and get off a plane from both the front and the back. On my flight to Catania, I boarded through the front, and then as i was waiting to get off everyone turned around and suddenly there was a staircase from the back. Of course.

I've also learned that old Italian women are a force to be reckoned with. They are well dressed, they know what they want, and they seem to get it. I certainly get out of their way.

And now for Greece. I'm a little nervous about athens because I've heard it's a difficult city to navigate. Also loud, crowded, noisy, etc. But they have baklava and that's worth fighting for.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The colosseum

Today I toured the colosseum. Not only did I manage to find it, but also managed to find my way back to the hotel. Double triumph.

And speaking of triumph, my favorite part was the arc just outside the colosseum. During the tour, I learned that it was erected by Constantine in the fourth century to signify the triumph of Christianity. There was also a cross inside the colosseum - just a plain, simple one - and I'm not sure what the significance of that was. I was thinking about all of the Christians who were killed there under Nero.

As i was listening to the tour and walking through the structure, I found myself going from awe to something Ike revulsion. It's an impressive structure today even though it's only a shadow of what it once was. But the thought of all the blood that was shed, both human and animal, is so disturbing to me. It's not a peaceful place. Well, today its crawling with tourists, naturally, but even aside from that. Probably on account of all the books and movies that have been produced on the topic, its very easy to imagine a full stadium with a roaring crowd, demanding that someone or something die. For sport. It's repulsive.

Travel is such a mixed bag of highs and lows - or at least it is when you're alone. I don't know any other kind of travel, actually. Finding the colosseum and also finding that i was just in time for the last English tour of the day were both affirming and satisfying experiences. Even the fact that I found the right line for the right group. I learned from last year that you can't just rely on signs, you have to be pushy and ask around until you're absolutely sure you're in the right spot. Anyway, i felt fortunate to get in on one of the guided tours and all of that was fine (and funny at times, to see the poor tour guide fight off old Italian ladies who insisted on joining our group). But at some point during the tour, and when walking around afterwards, I started to get tired and hungry and couldn't help but notice that everyone else seemed to be with someone. I wanted to talk to someone about what i was thinking and get someone else's perspective. But anyway, still grateful to be there. The low point of the evening came when my plan for dinner failed. I wanted to return to the place where i had aperativo with Tina and three DU students last Monday. It was only ten euros for a drink and a fabulous spread and I knew that I wouldn't have to wait until 8:30 to eat. Since i skipped lunch, i couldn't wait that long. I found the place, went and got a seat, and proceeded to be ignored. For a long time. I must have done something wrong, but I was so overwhelmed by feeling tired and alone and helpless that i didn't have it in me to attempt to talk to someone and figure things out. I just got up and left. It felt defeating, but a cannoli helped (the beauty of Italy). And sleep will change everything. It's a good reminder, though, of the difficulties of being foreign. They're easy to overcome when you're with a group, but when you're on your own it's not always so easy. I think about all of the immigrants all over the world and what they must experience on a day-to-day basis and I admire them for persisting. I've got it easy, I'm only here temporarily and I'm white. But i remember what it was Iike in costa rica when i knew i was there for the long haul and didn't have any resources of my own. Just the opposite - because I was living with a family and in an area with very little, I was the privileged person, except i didn't feel that way. I felt disadvantaged in every respect except that, ultimately, I knew i was leaving and had an education and country and situation with promise. Not just a dead end.

But anyway, back to the present. I am back at the same hotel where i started, reunited with my suitcase and preparing to leave early again for the airport. I'll write from Greece!


I have to admit that i was not expecting the impressive, elegant city that is lecce. I think i was tainted by my visit last year, which was exclusively in the north. When you are in the north, everyone says it is the best part of Italy - much better than the "primitive south."

Lecce is known as the Florence of the south. It has forty churches to just 100,000 people. Many are in the baroque style, mostly because the area has a lot of limestone which is soft and lends itself to intricate carvings. Almost all of the churches are catholic although a few are Greek orthodox. One of the churches has a dome-shaped, tiled roof which is a sign of Turkish influence.

The city has a lot of students and is very lively. The old part of the city has a lot of high-end boutiques but also stores from Africa and a lot of local artisan shops. Dora explained that the city has a history of embracing immigrants and that they are well integrated into the community. I was surprised to see as much diversity as I did. Store hours reflect a more traditional custom of opening from 9-1, closing from 1-4, and opening again from 4-8.

People in Lecce dress very well, and according to Dora on Sunday mornings especially turn out in their very best to go to church. That was funny to me because it's similar to the south in the states in that respect. And yet so very, very different.

Part of me is tempted to buy a shiny, puffy coat with a fur-lined hood and tall black boots with pointy toes so i can strut around Ike an Italian. But I know the desire will wear off as soon as I'm home, and I'll go back to being happy with my conventional GAP wardrobe.

I'm surprised I haven't mentioned the food yet. The problem is it gets repetitive, because once again it was all very good. I ate many things that are typical of the region (Puglia) and of Lecce. My favorite was s simple snack called a rustico, which is puff pastry filled with mozzarella, tomato and a white sauce. The wine from the region is also very good - Primitivo and negroamaro are the main grapes.

Oh, I have to tell you about something called burrata. This is taking decadence to whole new heights. It's a big ball of fresh mozzarella filled with a mixture of butter, creme, and more fresh mozzarella. And then they bring olive oil to the table so you can add that too!! I could not bring myself to eat more than a few small bites. It was delicious, but kind of like eating cheese ice cream. I don't know, I guess even I have limits.

Today I have the afternoon free and am hoping to see the colosseum. Will post pictures if I make it!

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Today is a travel day. I'm flying from Catania to Rome and then from Rome to lecce. Fortunately, I get a travel partner for half the trip. Dora from the Arcadia Rome office is going with me to lecce. I'm going to meet her at the airport in Rome. I'll be glad for the company, especially since she will be able to explain to me what's going on.

Before I leave Sicily, I want to record the rest of my time here. Yesterday was a full day. In the morning I met with suzi again as well as ramzi, the student services person at mcas. They told me about the trip they take students on to tunisia halfway through the semester. I never knew or understood all of the connections between Sicily and the Arabic world. I'm learning that, while Sicily is very much part of italy, it is better understood as the center of the Mediterranean.

Suzi took me on a walking tour of ortigia, which is actually a small island next to Siracusa. It's the old part of the city, rundown and nearly vacant only 20 years ago but today a thriving area and desirable to live. Just like everywhere else, the slow economy has hurt real estate sales, but it's still by no means cheap to rent an apartment. Some of the streets are narrow and from medieval times, while others were widened to accommodate cars (barely - it's nerve wracking to feel the side mirror of a car brush your bag as you are walking down the street, hugging the wall).

Lunch was small and simple, thank goodness, followed by a long conversation with an archeology professor who is working on a project to create 3-d scans of artifacts in order to recreate the past. I sat in on a class and watched a woman make an old Sicilian christmas treat called torrino. Almonds, sugar, and honey - like most Italian food, simple and delicious. They do not believe in adding lots of ingredients to anything, but the ingredients they do use are local, fresh, and full of flavor. Even here, though, there is a growing interest in "slow food." the professor of the mediterranean diet class, who is also a photographer, just wrote a book on the topic and asked me to read it and give him an honest opinion of the English translation before it is published. Considering there is a local market every day with fresh produce and seafood, i was surprised to learn that there is a market in Sicily for slow food. What they are doing seems close enough, but apparently not for everyone.

I was left to my own devices for dinner. After wandering around for a while i found a little takeout pizza place and got a pizza norma. That's right, same as the pasta but in pizza form, with eggplant and salty ricotta. I also picked up a 2-euro bottle of wine and returned to the hotel feeling quite pleased with myself. But also wishing I could have shared it with one of you.

This morning, Lucia took me to an archeological site. Both a roman and Greek amphitheater sit close to one another, apparently the only case in the world where the Romans allowed the Greek version to exist rather than building directly on top of it. Those Romans were a domineering bunch. She explained how even the architecture of the amphitheaters is indicative of the different cultures. The roman style is fully enclosed, a world unto itself, whereas the Greek style is a half-circle, opening the view to the surrounding scenery and incorporating the natural setting into the stage.

I would love to return to Sicily and see the whole island. Ideally, I would first take a year of Italian. There's not nearly as much English spoken here as there is in the north of Italy.

Once again, this flight is leaving an hour later than scheduled, yet mysteriously arriving on time.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Today I went from grumpy to elated. I'm really struggling with jetlag and that is making everything more difficult than it would be otherwise. When i compare this trip to last year, it's been a breeze. I haven't even had to break out a map. Arcadia has taken care of everything. This morning they sent a driver to pick me up from the Hotel in Rome and take me to the airport. He wouldn't even accept a tip - gave me a rather fatherly pat on the shoulder when I tried to slip him a few euros. Then when i arrived in catania, there was a sign with my name on it! I felt very important. Once again, i was swept off in a black Mercedes, nothing to worry about.

Arriving to ortigia was like stepping into a fairytale. My hotel is right by the water - I can hear the waves now - and there is a beautiful soft breeze blowing all across the island. No rain or horns or heavy traffic. It's magical.

There's also a laid back pace here that I am enjoying. My schedule has been fairly loose. As soon as I got in today I had lunch with Lucia, the director, and suzie, an art history professor from Scotland. Yet another huge and delicious plate of pasta, downed by yours truly. The conversation was fascinating. I learned a lot about contemporary Sicily and yet we also talked a lot about human universals - those traits and characteristics that seem to be common to people at all times and across cultures.

After lunch lucia discussed the courses with me, and I had a terrible struggle to stay awake. Not at all because I was bored, but the combination of the huge meal and jet lag hit me like a Mack truck. I'm hopping she didn't notice how many times my eyes closed. My notes are indecipherable. Then, blessedly, I was allowed some free time before dinner so after catching up on email i went back to the hotel and took a nap. At 8pm, Franca came by and we had a wonderful seafood meal right by the water. A stray cat came by begging for food and after Franca gave him a scrap I felt i had full license to continue to feed him. We walked for a while after dinner and i noticed several other cats running around.

This city is beautiful, the people are warm, friendly, and interesting, and I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I just hope i can sleep tonight so I can fully appreciate it!!