taig - derogatory term for Irish Catholic
hun - derogatory term for Irish Protestant
glibly - found in one of my textbooks. means “Characterized by fluency of speech or writing that often suggests insincerity, superficiality, or a lack of concern”.
- This may not be an Irish word but it is the first time I have ever come across it.
- such as “a wee bit”
wee’in - child
sound - civil
On the rip - are you going out tonight
pre-swall - pre-drink
film - movie
boot - trunk of a car
lift - elevator
How do they call you? - What is your name?
sesh - session
Mum/Mummy/Mammy - Mother, Mom
shag - have sex with
slag - slut
lad - guy
a while amount - a long time
treacal - molasses
grammar school/secondary school - high school (1st - 7th)
primary school - elementary school (P1 - P7)
U’ns/Yousins - You, Y’all
module - equivalent of class
lecturer - professor (many professors are called by their first names)
In It - Isn’t it
revision - equivalent of exam studying
CV - like a resume
- whats the craic?
caravan - motor home
car park - parking lot
shop/super market - grocery store
footpath - sidewalk
red sauce - ketchup
brown sauce - barbecue sauce
chips - fries
crisps - chips
Mate - friend
“We like to drink with ________, cuz _________ is our mate, we like to drink with ________ cuz he/she downs her/his drink in 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 __________ is the captain of our ship of our ship, our ship is a tanker and ________ is a wanker.”
nappies - diapers
going on for feed - going out to eat
trousers/trackies - pants
trainers - tennis shoes
nickers/pants - underwear
candy floss - cotton candy
fizzy juice - soda
camp “Stephen’s is a bit camp” - gay/homosexual/flamboyant
porridge - oatmeal
aubergine - eggplant
beatroot - beats
ASDA - Walmart
vegetable roll - sausage with vegetables in it
“They’ll think I’m a potato, a complete sprout”
Bagsy - “dibs on the front seat” “I bagsy”
cling film - saran wrap
lip butter - chapstick/lip balm/lip stick
Good luck! - Like good-bye
Poke - ice cream
curt - making out
Niamh - Pronounced Niev
Germany - Mon. 16 April - Sun. 22 April 2012
- Schweinfurt - Fri. 20 April - Sun. 22 April 2012
This is my last post about my Spring Break trip. I am sorry for the delay. This post is exclusively about my trip to Schweinfurt.
(Fri. 20 April 2012) - We arrived in Schweinfurt in the afternoon where my sister, Corita, picked us up at the train station. It was so good to see her again! We were hurrying into her car because apparently the Germans really don’t like the American soldiers being there. She told us a few soldiers had been shot while wearing their uniforms off base. The man who shot them was shot as well. I did not realize it was so hostile in Germany towards the soldiers, after all they have been there for years.
Moving on, it was my first time meeting Cori’s new boyfriend, Dan, and I was interested to see what he would be like. We decided to go to a couple bars that night to celebrate. I failed to warn Kinsley that there would probably be drinking on this portion of the trip. I also did not alert my sister that Kinsley does not drink or party. This was a big mistake on my part and I was just hoping the night would go well. The first bar we went to was pretty empty but we were trying to have a good time. Kinsley said she enjoyed herself and that made me happy. Cori’s superior’s showed up which made everyone nervous but it worked out. We left there shortly and went to a rock club. I didn’t realize how much I missed rock music until we went. We got pretty lost on the way there but I was in to good a mood to care. This club was also pretty empty, I have no idea why because it was a Friday night, but I had a blast. It was so nice to get to spend some time with Cori. We were dancing and generally just having a good time. Kinsley joined in for some dancing but after awhile she sat down for a break. I was keeping my eye on her throughout the night to make sure she was ok especially since I brought her into a setting she normally wouldn’t be in. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a guy pestering her and could tell she was uncomfortable. I immediately left the dance floor and went up to them. I was pretty inebriated at this point and my verbal skills were lacking so verbally telling the guy that he was intruding and to go away did not enter my mind. The only thing that registered was that I wanted to get this guy away from her. I proceeded to step in between them and dance towards him, leaving him no choice but to back away onto the dance floor. Of course this did not work out that well. It did get him away from Kinsley but then he thought I wanted to dance with him. Again, instead of verbalizing I just pushed him off of me. Instantly it went through my head that fighting this guy was not a good decision and I worried that we would get kicked out of the club. He interpreted the push as moshing (a form of dancing where you deliberately push/hit one another to the music). My next thought was, “oh this is great, I can hit this guy more than once and get away with it”. I was vaguely aware of pushing him several times until my sister appeared and started dancing with me. In my state of mind I became unaware of everyone but her on the dance floor which was not good because the guy interpreted it as we both wanted to dance with him. Cori had her boyfriend, Dan, step in and start dancing with me. When this didn’t work well she asked one of her friends, Clark, to ask the guy to leave us alone. He politely told him four times to leave us alone. The guy was to drunk to listen and kept trying to push him out of the way. Finally, Clark hauls off and hits him. The guy hits the ground in one hit. I was not aware of any of this going on, the next thing I know Cori is saying “Shit he just hit that guy we gotta go”. We were kicked out of the club because of the fight. We went back to base and hung out there fore awhile before going to sleep. Cori’s friend Morrison was kind enough to let us sleep in her room for the night since she had an extra bed. I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
(Sat. 21 April 2012) We woke up around 11am, showered, and had some breakfast that Cori and Dan had picked up. We then decided to go bowling. I have always really hated bowling but everyone liked the idea so I went along with it. Morrison decided she did not want to bowl and convinced me not to bowl with her. Not wanting to leave her alone, plus my hate for bowling made me agree quickly. One of the guys with us was wasted before we left and was being a big pain while we were there. Cori was not happy that I was not bowling and the guy was becoming a handful. I don’t think anyone really had a good time at the bowling alley. We were going to go into town and see some historical things but it was pouring down rain so we went to the mall and wandered aimlessly for awhile. I think everyone was hung over and Cori was trying her best to entertain us in the short time we were there. I think we all would have been content just taking it easy for the day but it was nice she put the effort in for me. We decided to get doners, a Turkish kebab on a pita, since I had never heard of them before. I finally told her not to feel like she had to entertain us and we all went back to her place and relaxed for awhile. I was easily content and tried to make the most of what little time I had to spend with her. Unfortunately, the train to Frankfurt (where our flight was leaving from the following morning) was not available that morning so we had to book a train that evening. We left that evening, I was feeling like I had not seen her for nearly long enough. I decided that Dan was not a bad guy. He seemed to treat Cori well and if he makes her happy that is good for me.
The train took us to Frankfurt and we rushed to hop on a Metro that would take us to the airport. It was the last one of the night and we were so worried because we did not have time to get tickets to ride and we did not want to get another fine. Fortunately, it was late enough at night that no one was checking tickets. We were trying to figure out the underground system but we missed our stop and it was the last one going there for the night. Some very helpful German guys started giving us advice and told us which stop to get off to get a taxi and which stop not to get off because it was a bad part of town. Another woman overheard us and asked when our flight was, we told her the next morning. She said she was going to offer us a ride but since we weren’t in danger of losing our flight she didn’t. Their hospitality was still appreciated. I don’t think I would have given a stranger, who didn’t even speak the native language, a ride at 12 o clock at night. Their kindness extended past that though when Kinsley dropped some money on the ground they politely told her that they think she dropped something. They could just have easily not told her and picked it up when we left. I love when people surprise you like that, it was very inspiring. We got off at the stop they told us and got a taxi. We told him the airport and he asked which airline we were using. He then made some phone calls to make sure it was the right airport. Again, going out of his way to help us, clearly we were being watched over that night. To our dismay, he told us that it was at another airport pretty far away and the taxi would cost a lot of money. Even if we had not missed our Metro stop the underground would have taken us to the wrong airport. We are lucky we did not get all the way to that airport before realizing our mistake. Again, I stand by the fact that we were being watched out for a great deal that night. He told us he could drop us off at a major bus station where we might find a bus that goes there. It was a rookie traveler’s mistake of mine to assume that there was only one major airport in Frankfurt and that our flight was at it. We arrived at the station, thanked the taxi driver again for his kindness. He could just as easily not made those phone calls and took us to the main airport with no questions and gotten more money for our ride but he didn’t. Another generous act of selflessness.
We took money out of the ATM when we arrived because we had spent most of our money on the cab and knew we would need it for the next plans for our travel. We then tried to figure out the bus system off the board but could not so we tried find someone to ask for help. There was no one around but some police officers. We finally resigned ourselves to asking them and I resolutely went up to ask for assistance, fully expecting no cooperation. I am continuously learning that stereotypes, like the one I was carrying of the police officers, are often incorrect and should not be used as a frame of reference. One of them immediately stopped their conversation and offered to show us the exact spot where the bus was coming and told us the next one was not until 3:30am. Our flight was at 6am and the bus took an hour and half to get there. We knew we would be cutting it close to make the flight on time after checking bags and going through security. We thanked the officer profusely for his help and took refuge in a local McDonald’s to get out of the freezing weather. The McDonald’s closed and we ended up spending 3 hours on a bench in the train station that night. We had no idea travel in Germany would be this complicated. To my surprise several people were getting on the 3:30am bus to the airport. We arrived at the airport early on (Sun. 22 April 2012) and checked our bags with no problem. It is a standing joke that at every airport security does an extra pat down of me for some reason, even when the buzzer does not go off. They are always very professional (regulations states that a woman must pat a woman down in the main checking area before further investigation) and I have gotten used to the system but when you are in a rush it is hard to keep patient. Kinsley and I have decided it is because standing at 5’ 1 1/4” tall I must be a terrorist because, after all, I do look very dangerous and intimidating. Security, true to fashion, did an extra check on me, despite this we still made it though the airport and to our gate with 30 minutes to spare! At this point we were elated in disbelief (and lack of sleep) that we had made it to the flight at all. The flight from Frankfurt to London Stansted airport was uneventful.
When we tried to go through check-in however the passport check did not want to let me back in the country! He wanted to see the letter from my school saying I was a student because apparently the visa on my passport was not stamped correctly. I told him I didn’t think I needed it because I had already done that the first time I went. Kinsley’s school had warned her this may happen and to always travel with the letter so luckily she had hers with her. He gave me the run around for awhile and asked for my student ID which I gladly gave him. Even with the student ID he said there wasn’t enough proof that I was a student at Queens! Why would they give me a current student ID if I am not actually a student there?? He finally let us go on the grounds that since Kinsley had her letter he would let us through. I checked my visa stamp after we got through and it was correct, it was a little hard to read but still clearly said that I was in Ireland for six months and did not have the visa to work. It was another rookie traveler mistake that I definitely will not be making again. Kinsley and I said our goodbyes and went on the last legs of our journey’s back to school. I rushed through the airport to my next flight, having been held up an extra hour by the passport area and luggage claim. The flight was also uneventful and I took the bus to city center with no problem. It was a Sunday and before 1pm so everything was closed and the buses were minimally running. I needed to take the 8B but it didn’t run on Sunday’s so I took the 8A. Now, I don’t know if you remember but I have gotten lost on this bus before. I was prepared this time and tried to keep a look out for the right stop that would get me closest to Elm’s Village. Much to my horror I fell asleep and missed the stop all together. It is ironic that I made it though all of spring break with various forms of traveling and did not miss anything major like a train or a flight. I make it all the way back to Belfast and miss the bus stop on the way home. The bus driver reached the end of the line before I realized and asked me where I was going. I told him and he said he would drop me off close by on his next loop back, free of charge. This was very kind of him and put a smile on my face. It was a very eventful way to end my Spring Break trip of 2012.
Today, (Tues. 10 May 2012), I had a conversation with some of my male hallmates. They were talking about a girl one of them had “shifted” (means made-out with) the night before at a party. They were talking about her being a dirty girl. I asked why she was a dirty girl. They said it was because she is 19 and has a child. This shocked me that they were calling her nasty because of this. They then proceeded to say it was nothing against her and the boy said he had enjoyed shifting her.
I then asked, “Well which is worse, having an STD or a baby?”
One of the guys told me he thought he had an STD once because he got a rash after having sex unprotected but that it turned out not to be one. I asked him if he had it checked or if he just waited until it went away. He told me he just waited until it went away but that it was fine. This blew my mind. I know their religion still strongly affects their views on sex, making them more conservative, at least in conversation, about the topic but not having adequate sex education on health matters is another thing. He told me he would much rather have an STD. I pointed out that some STD’s never go away. He said, “Oh you mean like Herpes?” but he said it in a tone that implied that he did not think herpes was that big a deal…. He then asked one of his mates which he would rather have, an STD or a baby. The guy immediately replied, “Pshh of course an STD” and laughed. I pointed out to him about some STD’s never going away. He simply said, “Neither does a baby”.
I remembered a conversation I had last week with some of them on abortion. They said it was not a big thing in Northern Ireland and that if you want an abortion you have to go over to England. I did some research and the United Kingdom does have the 1967 Abortion Act that made abortion legal under certain circumstances but this act does not apply to Northern Ireland even though it is part of Great Britain. Women must indeed go over to England to get an abortion. Below is a link to more information on the topic.
I think that the strong religious background of the Northern Irish people influences abortion and the upholding of this restriction on abortion. Granted people have tried to get the Abortion Act carried over to Ireland and many have protested against the restriction against abortion. The fact that having a baby outside of marriage has such strong negative connotations is very different from home. My family was very opposed to having a baby out of wedlock but that is mostly attributed to my Greek heritage. It is strange that abortion or adoption was not even considered by the boys when thinking about having a baby.
I have also started to wonder whether it is cultural differences that makes me stand out here or if I am just as different in the USA. It is not even important things, it is little things that are different that they think are unique to me. I never thought they were unique or even out of the ordinary. For instance, I cannot do homework in my room, not here or at GC or at home. There are to many distractions like the Internet or a comfy bed or cleaning. I went into the hall to do some work and you would have thought I was the next big circus act. They thought it was the strangest thing. Sometimes when I can’t sleep I go for a walk/run…also a scandal apparently. Then there is the subject of my eating habits. I feel that they are pretty normal, maybe a little less restricted than most, but overall not that strange. Half my meals are questioned here. For example, take tonight’s meal of cocoa snaps w/a cut up banana in it (I was scared my milk would go bad so it was a breakfast for dinner night). The boys walked in and stared but did not say anything. A few minutes pass with other conversation until the loudest one brings it up and the others confirm that they thought it was new as well but that they think it would taste good. Still, they are all eighteen years old and they have never once seen someone put a cut up banana in a bowl of cereal? Hmm? Plain spaghetti with butter and cheese was also a huge uproar. One guy, the loud one, even offered me his tomato sauce. These are not great ideas or novelties and I usually don’t understand the uproar.
Germany - Mon. 16 April - Sun. 22 April 2012
- Berlin - Mon. 16 April - Fri. 20 April 2012
Kinsley and I arrived in Berlin on the afternoon of (Mon. 16 April 2012) and hopped onto the U-bahn (UG) to get to our hostel, the Heart of Gold Hostel. Usually finding a hostel is an art and takes a significant amount of skill. This one made it idiot proof and we found it with little to no effort. The hostel was modeled based on the book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Each room was painted to have some meaning with the book. Below are some photos. The two mirror ones are a mirror made with computer parts (spray painted gold) and a mirror made using a bicycle tire. Very creative.
I was immediately in love with the hostel. The first impression with the receptionist, who was helpful and had a great sense of humor, was a perfect indication of the type of hostel we would be staying. It was in a great part of town, the people were relaxed, and many young people were staying there. The stay included free breakfast and tea/coffee/water 24 hrs a day. Towels and locks were provided with a deposit that you got back when you returned them. The hostel was clean, had a bar, included free wifi in the lounge and printing. I would definitely stay there again.
We settled in to the hostel and then decided to get some dinner at an Italian place. We spent some time hanging out in the lounge at the hostel and planning for the next day and then went to bed.
Unfortunately, after being in Greece, the weather in Berlin was not thrilling. It was still coat and scarf season. However, on one day it was so hot that we could take off our coats and walk around in t-shirts so overall the weather was nice.
(Tues. 17 April 2012) - I woke up at 8:30am to get ready for the day and enjoy the free breakfast at the hostel. We then headed to the Brandenburg Gate for an 11am free tour of the city using Sandeman’s New Berlin Tour (the same company that I took the tour with in Amsterdam). This tour guide, named Lewis, was not as skilled as the Lee (the one in Amsterdam) but he still was informative and helpful. The tour was 3 1/2 hours long and we got to see the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag (the German house of parliament), the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe, the Berliner Dom, the Memorial to War and Tyranny (buried under it are the remains of a unknown German soldier and victim of a concentration camp), the site of Hitler’s former underground bunker (a parking lot), Luftwaffe Headquarters, Gendarmen-markt (where the German and French churches are), Bebelplatz (where the Opera house, St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, the Catholic church, and the book burning memorial), and Humboldt University (Einstein taught there and the Brothers Grimm studied there). My favorite spots were the Memorial to War and Tyranny, the Brandenburg Gate, Humboldt University, and this mural we looked at near the Luftwaffe Headquarters.
The Memorial to War and Tyranny (pictured below) was made by a local artist named Kathe Kollwitz. She lost her first son in WWI and her husband and grandson in WWII. The memorial shows a mother with her dead son in her arms weeping. Buried under the memorial are the remains of an unknown German solider from WWII and a victim of a concentration camp. It was a very moving memorial.
Another cool memorial that showed a large print of propaganda for socialism on the wall. Everyone looks happy and well nourished in the mural. A large protest happened and over 100 people died so in memorial they placed blown up pictures from the protest right by the mural to show the fantasy and the reality of the situation.
The Brandenburg Gate is Berlin’s only remaining city gate and is known as the symbol of the city. When Germany was divided the Brandenburg Gate was in no man’s land behind the Berlin Wall and symbolized the separation of the city. After the wall fell the Gate symbolized a united Berlin.
After the tour Kinsley and I decided to split up for a bit and I went to revisit Checkpoint Charlie and the Topography of Terror (former SS headquarters) while she went to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. Checkpoint Charlie was a checkpoint in West Berlin that faces East Berlin and was a crossing between the two. Charlie meant checkpoint three and coincided with “C” in the alphabet. They also had a Checkpoint Alpha and Checkpoint Bravo.
The Topography of Terror is sitting at the spot where the old SS Headquarters stood and shows different stories and tells about the propaganda used during the time. Remains of the Berlin Wall also stand at the spot. Both sites were free and worth going to visit. I met back up with Kinsley and we decided to get Italian again that night for dinner because we could not find something we both liked to eat. Luckily, with the free buffet breakfast I was able to skip lunch and save for dinner. One of my cousins, Pavlos, recommended I try Weissbier while in Germany. I had been searching for it on all the menus hoping to get to try it at dinner. I started to wonder why none of the places seemed to have it. I reconciled that I may not get to try it as we sat down at the Italian restaurant. I went to the bathroom and asked Kinsley to ask for Weissbier for me if the waiter came before I was back, just in case they had it. I was very excited to see that they did have it. When it arrived I started to laugh because it was Weissbier (pictured below) when during my search for it I had been looking for VICE beer (the pronunciation), no wonder I couldn’t find it on any of the menus!
We hung out talking and planning for Wednesday in the lounge again. I was feeling rather sick still so I took some medicine but it had some bad effects on me and I ended up crashing very quickly that night in bed.
(Wed. 18 April 2012) - We had decided to go to Charlottenburg Palace that morning at 9:30am, after our free breakfast of course, and then go to a movie theater where Tokio Hotel (one of Kinsley’s favorite bands) played and end the day with some shopping. We went to get on the U-bahn (UG) and after seeing the security checking tickets we determined we needed to get tickets. We went to the machine and since I only had a 10 euro bill on me I put it in and tried to get a ticket. It ate my 10 euros and did not give me a ticket. Now I am a very frugal person and was very upset by this. I was ready to just get on the UG and forget the ticket I was so mad. Kinsley convinced me to try to get help and get my money back. I was doubtful but agreed that she was right. We tried calling the help center but could not get it in English and of course all of the security checking tickets had already left the platform with the last UG. The next bus came and I, still bitter about my 10 euro, decided I was going to get on and not risk having more money taken from me. Kinsley reluctantly agreed. The very next stop security got on and of course we were the very first people they asked for tickets from. We tried to explain our situation to them after they took our IDs and made us get off at the next stop with them. They did not listen but told us that you can buy tickets on the machine in English. We had tried to do the right thing and get tickets and then tried again to do the right thing and get help but neither had worked. They wrote us each tickets for 40 euros! Stubbornly, I resolved not to pay this fine and just let it be on my “German record”. Kinsley convinced me we needed to pay them so we paid the security (who could have just as easily pocketed the money) and grudgingly got back on the UG. I felt absolutely horrible for getting Kinsley a ticket because of my stubbornness not to mention being extra bitter for now losing 50 euros to the system, even if 40 of it was my own fault. Below is a picture of my ticket.
Charlottenburg Palace was absolutely beautiful and after the walk through, that true to German fashion was very organized, we went for a nice walk through the gardens there. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures inside the Palace. The Palace is the largest in Berlin and was built at the end of the late 17th century. A lot of reconstruction was done after WWII. The palace was originally built for Sophie Charlotte, the wife of Friedrich III. We only visited the Old Palace not the New because we did not want to pay admission to both especially after the ticket we had just gotten. Sophie really loved philosophy, art, music, and drama and devoted much of her life to the arts which is evident in the Palace. One room was called the Porcelain Cabinet where literally thousands of porcelain pieces decorate the room. I really loved the ceiling paintings in many rooms that showed what the room was used for, like her bedroom and dressing room.
After leaving the Palace we set off to find the place where Tokio Hotel had one of their concerts (on the roof of a movie theater). It took us quite a few stops on the U-bahn and S-bahn (and a couple stops to get tickets to avoid another fine) and some walking before we found it. We had almost given up but at the last minute we found it. I was very happy we could find it and Kinsley got a few pictures before we headed to the shopping mall. Another thing worth noting about the day is we kept running into apples. For instance, at the Charlottenburg Palace in one of the garden fountains there were several apples just floating around in the water and then later we saw at least 4 or 5 sitting on the top of a trash can. Not sure what this means but I want to remember it.
We headed to city center to go shopping. To my delight when we were going through the tunnels in the UG we found a to-go Chinese place that had the Vietnamese spring rolls that I love. Remember, it is the little things in life that you have to be thankful for and enjoy. (Note: I did not take the picture below and do not own it.)
We spent some time shopping and took some pictures especially with the bears that can be found all over Berlin. We had some dinner in the UG strip so that I could get Chinese and Kinsley got some chicken. We also got some ice cream, mine was mango (Mmm), before heading back to the hostel.
(Thurs. 19 April 2012) - We decided to go to the Tiergarten, a preserved part of the Berlin Wall, the Neues Museum, shopping, and to the train station to get tickets to Schweinfurt for the following day.
I loved the Tiergarten, it was beautiful and the weather was nice so we had a great walk through them.
There is also a memorial to gay Holocaust victims, a box and the inside of it has a video with same-sex couples making out. Unfortunately, we did not find it on our walk. We did find the Global Stone Project by a German artist named Wolfgang Kraker von Schwarzenfeld (and I thought my name was hard). The project incorporates 5 stones from 5 continents that the artist personally went to get himself and polished them so that once a year, on June 21st, they all reflect straight line lights. The artist left 5 “sister” stones in the countries of origin of the 5 stones in the Tiergarten and arranged them so that on this day they will reflect light that travels around the world and connects to the pentagram of light created in the Tiergarten, representing the connected-ness of the world and of the world to Berlin. The five stones each have a word written on them. The five words are: Awakening, Forgiveness, Hope, Love, and Peace. Below I am sitting on top of the love rock. Other people were taking advantage of the good weather on some of the other rocks as well.
After leaving the Tiergarten we walked to the train station to buy tickets to Schweinfurt, where my sister Corita is stationed with the army. The trip would take 5 hours (12:30 to 5:30pm) and the tickets were expensive at 82 euros each even though we picked the cheapest ones. :( I will be glad to be back to North Carolina prices. Below is a picture of their impressive train station.
We then walked to the Berlin Wall Memorial to see how the Wall looked when it was being used to divide the city. It was a startling memorial to read about how many people were killed trying to get across no man’s land to the west. The wall was built in a matter of days without warning to the people which meant that some families were torn apart and many people lost their jobs. Below is the section of the preserved Berlin Wall with the two walls, no man’s land, and the guard posts.
We ate hot dogs at the post and then headed to Museum Island. We visited Neues Museum where we got to see the bust of Nefertiti which was pretty cool. The museum included the Egyptian Museum and Papyrus Collection and the Museum of Prehistory and Early History. It was only 5 euros to get in which I thought was a good price. We were not allowed to take pictures of Nefertiti but below is a picture I found online.
On the free tour we heard we could get very cheap tickets to the opera if we went on the night of and asked if they had any left. We left the museum and tried to go but they were sold out. We went shopping for awhile and Kinsley got some German chocolate at this store that had chocolate statues in it! It was really cool. That was my favorite store by far in our shopping escapades even if I felt a little like we were intruding and that the store workers didn’t think we should be there. Kinsley assured me that was not the case and her confident manner made me feel more comfortable. Below is a giant chocolate bear in the store. :)
I wanted to try some traditional German food and even though Kinsley was not a huge fan of German food she told me we could go anyway and try it. We went to a restaurant called Nanteckt where I got a dish that included pork knuckles sausage, smoked sausage, grilled sausage, sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes. I also got an alcoholic drink called a snake bite. The meal was delicious and I really enjoyed it. I was not to fond of one of the sausages but overall I loved it. I have always been a huge fan of sauerkraut and they made theirs taste exceptionally good. I am not sure why they called all the meat sausage because the pork was not a sausage.
Some other things I feel are worth noting about our visit to Berlin are the fluorescent ambulances which I personally think is a great idea.
There pedestrian walking signs are pretty cool as well. Below they are pictured. While I did get my own pictures of them these are zoomed in better and I claim no ownership to them. Notice the hats! :)
All of the trees in the city are numbered, just another sign of German efficiency. We found tree number 9! Number 9 is one of my two favorite numbers :)
(Fri. 20 April 2012) - Friday we got up early and packed and enjoyed our free breakfast which I should mention was really good. They had cereal with chocolate in it and toast with nutella and jam. :) We arrived at the train station with plenty of time to get some food for the trip before our departure at 12:38. I think it is worth noting that openly drinking was perfectly acceptable (or at least I saw several people doing it). I decided to take advantage of this and bought a beer for the trip, a Berliner Kindle Weisse (grape flavored). Another interesting thing to me was the soap in the WC was powder soap. I have never seen powder soap before until then. The ride was a very beautiful trip and since my camera was full Kinsley has graciously let me copy her pictures from parts of our trip, including the ones below.
That ends my trip to Berlin which is followed by our short stay in Schweinfurt. I thoroughly enjoyed the city and learning about its extensive history (I really love history) but determined that it is not a place I would want to live in for an extended period of time. For more pictures go to the link in the next post. :)
Greece - 31 March - 16 April 2012
- Sun. 15 April - Mon. 16 April 2012
After arriving back from Sparta, Georgina and Angel decided we should go out to celebrate for my last night in Greece. We rushed to get dressed and I spent an extra hour with Georgina at her house before we got on the bus to go to the club with Angel and Nicos (his cousin). The clubs were closed for the holiday and we were disappointed but they wanted to do something since it was my last night there. We ended up buying some drinks and went to the primary school again to hang out. After a couple hours we realized we were just cold and bored and called it an early night. I said goodbye to Georgina but it was not so bad because we were able to hang out that day. Ironically, my last night in Greece was the first night there that I went to sleep at a normal hour and actually got a full night’s sleep. I ended up rocking the toddler (Angel’s sister) to sleep when she woke up crying which made me miss home and putting my goddaughter to sleep. I fell asleep smiling, thinking of home and how continuously blessed I am and slept wonderfully.
(Mon. 16 April 2012) I was woken up at 8:10am to go to the airport for my 11:55am flight to Berlin, Germany. I said my goodbyes to Johanna (Angel’s sister) and Angel, promising to facebook them both. Efi was kind enough to drive me to the airport. She had decided to take me the previous night and shortly after she won 200 euros with the lottery. I met Kinsley Greer in the airport so we could travel in Germany together. We had a layover in Belgrade, Serbia and arrived in Berlin with no problems. This ended my two weeks in Greece. I am very glad I decided to spend two weeks there instead of one and really enjoyed my time there.
Greece - 31 March - 16 April 2012
- Sparta - Fri. 13 April - Sun. 15 April 2012
Having no other ideas for how to get to Sparta I decided that I would leave Friday on the 8:15pm bus and stay the night at the church until the service was over and then a club since the clubs stay open until 5 or 6am. I figured I either go to the morning service at 7am or just wait for my cousin at the bus stop after that. I knew this was a shaky plan from the start but I saw no other way and was determined to spend Easter with the Komnenos family. Efi was kind enough to drive me to the bus station in Athen to get on the 815 night bus so that I did not have to manage the bus and metro lines on a holiday. The bus (19.50 euros) took 3 to 3 1/2 hours to get to Sparta so I arrived at 11:30pm. Unfortunately, I was unable to sleep on the bus despite trying very hard in anticipation for my long night.
Upon arrival I tried to ask another passenger where the closest church was but she didn’t speak any English and did not respond well to me at all. By the time I finished talking to her everyone else had left so when her taxi arrived I tried to ask the driver. Unfortunately, he didn’t know English either and she thought I was trying to get in the same taxi as her and her two small children. She started cursing about me in Greek to the taxi driver like I was going to rob her. Unfortunately, I did understand those few words. The taxi driver was trying to help me but I was so mad at her and upset at my lacking language skills that I left them both talking and walked off in a huff, almost in tears.
I found the church with no problem but despite the service lasting late into this night of the holy week it was already over and the church was completely empty and locked. I was disappointed but still determined to make the night work so I went to a bar I had passed that seemed nice and not overcrowded, I had all of my things with me, and settled in with a beer. It was a slow night with only three people at the bar and about twenty people playing pool. I ordered my second beer and the barman treated me to it. I thanked him for his hospitality and asked what time the bar closed. Much to my dismay, this bar closed at 2am. I left around 1:30am so as not to get asked questions by others leaving. A guy followed me out and asked me something in Greek anyway. I apologized (in Greek) and told him I didn’t speak Greek (in English) and he looked disappointed and left. I know God has a sense of humor because it rained the rest of the night. I walked to the center city square and stayed there for awhile until a couple of guys told me it was not a safe place to be at night. It seemed safe enough to me, it was well lit, open with lots of space to see people coming near you, a club was nearby as well. Nevertheless, their warning worried me and I started walking aimlessly. In hindsight, the safest and smartest decision would have been to go to the open club but by then I was tired and not in the mood and I would have had to change clothes.
I started looking for an all night diner when I noticed a man catch sight of me and get out of his parked car and start walking. At first I thought I was just paranoid but when I stopped and pretended to look at street signs he stopped and pretended to look in a store window and when I turned he turned. Now I was genuinely scared and at my wit’s end. I was ready to give up at this point so I went into the first hotel I saw and asked how much a room cost. The receptionist told me they were full. I later wondered if he was lying or not because it was quite a large hotel. I left and found a diner right down the street and thankfully it was a 24 hour diner. I was still pretty shaken up about the guy following me and ordered a chocolate, banana, and honey crepe even though I wasn’t the slightest bit hungry just so I could stay in the diner for awhile. I sat there for awhile watching the crappy soap opera on the television and seriously pondering all I had learned during Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week. At least I was getting real world experience even if it was not exactly the same which reminded me yet again about my feelings on coincidences. When I had stayed awhile and dried off some I asked what the phone number was for the police just in case I may need it later, I found the number was 100. This prompted me to ask what the number was in Northern Ireland when I returned. I found it was 999 there which surprised me to think I was there for 3 months and never knew it. I knew I did not have a phone even if I need to call but I felt better being informed anyway. One of the kind women working at the diner was very concerned about me but our language barrier caused us to spend a large amount of time reassuring her all was well.
I headed back to the church and waited awhile there until 7am when the morning service started. I figured I needed to start my day off right because I had ended my last one so badly. I was not dressed well for church and was painfully aware of it but went in and only saw a few old women there so I relaxed and started to go sit down. I was stopped at the candle desk by a lady cleaning icons who got very upset at me for some reason, maybe my book bag I had with me and threw up her hands in exasperation when I did not speak Greek. Strangely, she then patted my cheek and walked off. Tired and confused I sat down determined to focus on the service. Throughout the service I kept falling asleep standing and then waking up to hear things in English which disturbed me because the service was completely in Greek. To my surprise the church was entirely filled up by the end of the service. I felt somewhat self-conscious and did receive some weird looks but was just happy to be there and tried to ignore them.
After church I headed to the bus station to meet my cousin thinking that finally my crazy night was over. However, this was not the case because on my way there a man on a bike starts talking to me. I gave him the benefit of the doubt and politely responded but kept asking me to go out for coffee and with the language barrier could not understand that I was going to the bus station. Finally he goes to give me a hug goodbye but then tries to go in for a kiss on the mouth while he is doing it! I was in utter shock and moved away just in time and started telling him “no, no, no!” (in Greek). He then tries again and I start using the few curse words I know in Greek and walk off. In astonishment I see he is still following me trying to talk, I ignore him and keep walking until I reach the bus station and lose him and his bike with a flight of stairs.
My cousin, Ilias, finally picks me up, thinking I took the morning bus into town. When he started asking questions about the bus I tried to be vague so I would not have to lie to him but I did have to eventually when he asked if it arrived this morning. On the way to Xirokambi, the village where the family lives just outside Sparta, I fell asleep while we were having a conversation. This was embarrassing and I immediately apologized saying something about having a long night and tried my hardest to stay awake. The house is at the same location where my great-grandmother lived before her emigration to America. As soon as we arrived we sat down to eat a delicious meal with the family at which I presented the holy leaves I got from church that morning to my hosts to thank them for letting me stay in their home. After the meal Ilias suggested I take a nap which was not funny then but is pretty amusing now. I fell asleep instantly and slept for over six hours until 11:30pm. I woke up very upset because I was missing the special midnight Easter church service. It is a very beautiful service and I almost slept through it! Lucky for me Ilias, his brother, Dimitri, and their mother (the last to leave the house) were just about to leave so I jumped into church clothes and went with them. I did not think we would make it but we made it just in time for the candle lighting and singing of Christos Anesti to celebrate Christ’s resurrection. I was amazed to see that everyone from the entire village was there with at least 100 people standing outside of the church because the church was so full. Plus, unlike in America, after the candles are lit a bunch of young people start setting of fireworks during the service! It was a whole new experience of the Resurrection service. After the service we went home and ate a traditional meal of lamb as celebration after fasting for so long during Lent. The older people went really traditional and ate the inside of the lamb. Afterwards, the young people, Ilias, Dimitri, and I went to the club to celebrate. Apparently this is quite common and the club was full to the brim. We met a couple of their friends there when we arrived. Dimitri worked at the club and was working that night so we got free drinks all night or Ilias paid for mine, I am not really sure what happened. I was feeling pretty sick but Ilias had convinced me to go and I am glad he did. I had a lot of fun with them and the music was great and left the club feeling tipsy. Ilias had sobered up so that he could drive us home. We got home, in true Greek fashion, around 6 or 6:30am and I slept until 10:30am. I woke up (Sun. 15 APril 2012) and went to see if they needed help preparing the Sunday feast. They did not so I ate breakfast with one of the aunts (her name escapes me at the moment). I secretly wondered if she had been a teacher while we ate. I was clearly underfoot in the house so when she suggested a walk up the mountain I gladly agreed. The view was phenomenal! We started talking and I found out that she had been a teacher which made me really impressed with myself that I had guessed correctly. I really enjoyed the morning walk and by the time we arrived back to the house it was time for lunch with 23 of the family members!
Most of them did not speak any English but all of them went out of their way to make me feel welcome despite the fact that I was a distant relative. Sitting at lunch that day all of them made me realize that my first night in Sparta was definitely worth all the trouble because it enabled me to spend Easter there in Xirokambi with them. I was fed an unreal amount of food that day and true to Greek hospitality was served multiple servings while my protests that I genuinely was very full fell on deaf ears. The roasted a lamb on the spit and had several dishes at the table of salad, bread, meat, etc. I ended up trying three different desserts as well. It did rain but they did not let this bother them at all and thankfully it passed quickly. I was able to take some pictures of the house my great-grandmother, Eleni, grew up in as well and Illias’ father promised to email me our family history.
My bus was leaving at 5pm that day which felt like it was to soon and I was sad to be leaving so soon. When I said my goodbyes they gave me a big bag with cookies, bread, and cake for my trip which was very sweet of them. The bus ride back was uneventful and Efi said she would be waiting for me at 8:30pm. When I arrived in Athens much to my surprise and delight Efi and Georgina were there to pick me up! I did not think I would get to see Georgina again in Greece and was very excited to see her. Unfortunately„ she would tell me later I did not look surprised at all. I will have to work on showing my emotions better so that I don’t keep offending people. :/ Overall, this has been the most unique Easter I have ever had.
I am still catching up on my blogs from my travels during spring break but here are some immediate thoughts about the last day that I don’t want to forget.
1. I am super nervous about my Needle Exchange interviews coming up this week.
2. I have a ton of work to do in the coming weeks, most pressing is a paper due Tuesday.
3. I went to Lagan Meadows yesterday during my run. I had planned to go last Sunday afternoon with Serpil but it was bitterly cold so we didn’t. I just happened to see a sign for it during my run and ended up spending over an hour and a half there exploring. It was great. The view was wonderful, there was plenty of space, and it was wonderful exercise. Even when it started raining I was so elated to be there that it didn’t phase me. Here are some pictures below, I did not take them and do not own them. It was a spontaneous visit and I hope to get pictures of my own next time.
4. I watched Ghosts of Rwanda (12 part series) on Youtube last night (after a professor recommended it to our class). It was startling and terrifying to see how easy it was for neighbors to pick up machetes and just start killing each other in modern times. It was a good documentary and I would recommend watching it. Here is part 1 of 12.
5. I came across an artist this morning named Vincent Castiglia who paints his artwork only with blood and water. I researched him and it is clear he puts a lot of meaning/symbolism into his work. The paintings are thought provoking. Why and how he uses blood was talked about a lot on the web. He is clearly very smart and innovative. I am struggling with whether I agree with his method or not because I think about how he could be donating his blood to people who desperately need it but then I see the work and research it and I am not sure. Either way, he has caught my attention and I would encourage others to take a look at him and his work.
5. Also, potato farls are where it’s at. I LOVE them! They are soo good! (What is a post by me without some inclusion of food?)
Greece - 31 March - 16 April 2012
- Crete - Mon. 09 April - Fri. 13 April 2012
- 3 days, 2 nights
- Left on the ferry Monday at 8pm arrived back to the mainland Friday at 5:30am
We arrived an extra hour early Monday night at the dock in order to get a couch in the lounge on the ferry. It costs extra to book a room so many people just sleep in the hallways or lounges. Despite our efforts all of the couches were already taken. Angel was very upset and stressed about this. He is new to travelling alone and will hopefully learn to just go with the flow. At least we did not miss the ferry all together! We found a couple chairs and settled in. I had brought some extra napikins expecting toilet paper to be scarce but to my surprise the bathrooms were well stocked the entire journey. Unlike, Ukraine, I have always been able to find toilet paper in Greece thus far. I am extremely thankful for this and am reminded to be thankful for the little things as well as the big. The ship was unusually crowded and the cargo area was immensely full as well because there will be a strike on Tuesday and Wednesday by the ferries. We arrived in Souda Port at 6:30am with little to no sleep. I told Angel we would need to get a bus to Chania but he didn’t listen to me so we started walking. It ended up being a 8 km walk! He was bitter about this at first but eventually came to terms with it and we enjoyed ourselves singing and playing games.
I still have no voice and sound horrible when I talk but at least my throat does not hurt and I am not sick. The hostel did not open until 12 so we got some coffee to kill time. I fell asleep in the cafe while Angel was talking. I apologized when I woke up but he assured me it was fine. I had directions to the hostel but Angel ignored them and insisted on asking for directions. This bothered me more than a little because I felt he was insulting my intelligence. I verbalized this to him and he assured me that was not the case and that he did trust my directions but I am doubtful. We arrived at the hostel around 11:30 am. It is called Morfea’s Nest and is located in the Old Harbour of Chania. It was a beautiful hostel with a great location and view. The price was excellent at only 12 euros each a night for a double bed room and private bathroom! It had a open rooftop that guests could relax on as well. The only cons were that the first night it was cold, there was no Internet or computer when the website said there would be, and the bathroom had no window or shower curtain so we had to rig one so no one would see us showering. Also, the owner was not very helpful on places to go or things to see either. Overall though, I would definitely go back to this hostel. The location and set up made it well worth it.
We slept for a couple hours then went out to a bar the hostel owner recommended. It was a nice bar but we were looking for a place we could dance so we asked some people there and went to a club called Senso. We arrived around 11:30pm and after being carded for the 2nd real time in Greece (many people asked about my age but I was never carded at an establishment) we were told it was to early and to come back around 1 am so we went back to the hostel and played some Egyptian Rat Screw (ERS, a card game) until 1am. Senso was above and beyond what we expected. It had good quality technology and lighting, an attractive looking bar, and most importantly a skilled DJ. I wish Angel would relax though. He is nervous around me and on edge. He has broken up with his girlfriend and I imagine he was nervous about making a move on me but I couldn’t be certain. He did try to make a move later that night but I ended it rather quickly, hoping that the rest of the trip is not tense.
(Wed. 11 April 2012) We woke up early and went to get crepes for breakfast. Mine was a banana, chocolate, and peanut butter crepe (I call it the Elvis crepe). I have never been let down with a crepe and that morning was no exception. We at them in the park in the glorious sunshine and then headed back to the hostel and got ready to go to the beach. The beach was very close to the hostel but Angel obliged me and we walked further up to another area with less people and a better view plus the walk there was relaxing. On our way there a family was walking ahead of us and the woman put a card in the sand and left it there. Curiosity got the better of me and I went to get a better look. It was the six of spades. My favorite suite is spades and Angel’s lucky number is six. I do not believe in coincidences and Angel thought it was strange as well but does believe in coincidences which later sparked a lively debate. We stayed on the beach for quite awhile relaxing (I was reading) until a few persistent clouds hid the sun and it became chilly. The walk back was nice as well and we both enjoyed a souvlaki dinner. I noticed that our hostel had a gardenia plant by the door. My family has two huge gardenia bushes at home and it is one of my favorite flowers. This made me smile and remember to be thankful for the little things.
Since it was Holy Wednesday of the Greek Orthodox Holy Week leading up to Easter I had previously asked Angel if we could go to the church in Filaki (a small town outside of Chania) that my great grandfather helped start. He said this was fine with him. The day we arrived in Chania I asked our hostel owner where Filaki was and which bus I needed to take. He tried to convince me it was not a real place saying, “Well I have lived hear my whole life and never heard of it”. I have been to Filaki with my family once before and knew it was not a fictional place and was determined to get there. We asked a few people while out around Chania but no one knew where it was. Finally we figured out a bus that would take us to a town near Filaki by using a computer in an Internet cafe. We figured we could just get a taxi from there. We got on the bus and Angel starts talking with the driver in Greek. I can see from his face that he is worried and panicking. He explains that the bus driver doesn’t think we can get a taxi there and offered to take us back free of charge when he finished his round. Angel was all for going back at this point but I am far to stubborn to give up that easily and told him we needed to still go and that it was very important to me to make it to this church. The bus driver graciously drove us an extra few miles from his last stop to a gas station where he said we might be able to get there from. This was no coincidence that he dropped us off at this particular gas station at that particular time. Just as we arrived there was a woman sitting in her car with two small children. When we inquired about getting to Filaki they pointed to her car and told us to ask if she would take us there since she lived in a neighboring village. After some explaining in Greek by Angel she said sure she would take us there which was a miracle in itself because we are to young strangers and she had two small toddlers in the car. On the way there we picked up her friend. They both thought it was hilarious that we had come all that way just to go to a small church in the middle of nowhere. She even said the priest might not even be there tonight being that the congregation is so small. This again sent Angel over the edge. He was panicking worrying about what we would do to get home and what would happen if the church was indeed closed. I was strangely calm though and confident that it would all work out. He was not comforted by my faith though. One of the small children was very taken with me and spent the whole ride smiling and staring at me. This warmed my heart and made me smile despite all of Angel’s worrying. We arrived at the church and found the priest’s pickup truck in the drive. The woman who drove us there was kind enough to offer us a ride back to the gas station where we could get the bus if we wanted her to wait. Angel explained this to me in English and though I was upset we could not stay for the whole service I was thankful for her kindness and accepted her generous offer. I went in to the small church and lit a candle and stayed a few minutes to say a prayer. We did not get holy unction that night and I still wonder if I made the right decision. Angel assured me it was the only choice I had. We stopped for awhile at the woman’s hometown at a bar with a few elderly people in it playing card games. We were offered sodas as she retold our story to the people in the bar. They thought it was comical as well and until that point I did not even think it was not something any normal person would do but apparently it was not especially for a young person. When it was time to leave we tried to pay for the drinks but they insisted that they were free and just a welcoming gesture to the area. Greek hospitality again had touched my heart. The woman drove us back to the gas station and bid us farewell, I am still amazed at her kindness towards us. Angel’s worrying continued however, despite everything up to that point working out. He now worried that the bus would not come even though it was due to come back at a certain time. I spent a large portion of time calming him down and of course the bus did come to our stop. I think Angel’s fear can be attributed to the fact that he was not accustomed to being in a town that small and it was new and foreign to him. He is very much a city boy and loves the fast life even though Agios Stefanos is a small town it still has a lot of city things to do in it and is close enough to the city to make Filaki seem dangerous. Filaki ironically means jail which made asking for directions to it very entertaining. Upon arriving back in Chania I knew that Angel wanted to go back to Senso and see a famous DJ that would be there that night so I suggested we take a nap and go back that night. To my dismay I still had no voice but felt fine otherwise. My nap ended up lasting all night and Angel did not wake me up because he felt I needed my sleep. I was disappointed that we didn’t go out and wanted to enjoy the night with him but he did not seemed to upset about missing the club that night but I wonder if he was.
(Thurs. 12 April 2012) We woke up Thursday and packed and went to get crepes again for breakfast. Mine was a bacon and cheese one. We then did some shopping to get gifts for family and friends. The weather was brilliantly warm so we walked to the lighthouse and relaxed there but Angel was quiet and again things were tense between us. We went for some coffee and after a long uncomfortable silence we got to talking and relaxing around each other. After coffee we agreed I would continue shopping and he would spend some time in the Internet cafe. I finished my shopping getting a small present for Efi, Angel’s mom, who would be letting me stay in her home my last night in Greece. I also got some postcards for family and a present for Georgina. I was impressed with my finds and met Angel at the cafe feeling content. We arrived early at the ferry and left the port around 9pm after dinner. We were able to get spots on a nice couch this time but we were waiting in line with some gypsies and Angel and I got into a heated debate about them. He pointed out matter-a-factly that they were a low class bunch of thieves, or something close to that effect. I told him that not all of them were this way and maybe it was just a stereotype put on them. He strongly disagreed and we ended up letting the conversation go knowing we wouldn’t agree. We played several games of ERS and I lost two bets when he beat me two rounds in a row. I then began reading while Angel watched a movie in the lounge. When he returned he slept some but I was unable to and finished my book. We arrived back in Piraeus at 6:30am on (Fri. 13 April 2012).
We arrived home around 8 or 8:30am and I tried to contact my cousin to visit them for Easter like we had planned (we had been emailing all week). I was having difficulty finding a bus going to Sparta because over the holiday only one ran in the evening on Saturday. There were plenty leaving Friday but my family would not be in town until Saturday morning. I tried booking a flight, seeing taxi prices, looking for hostels and hotels but nothing seemed to work. Not being one to give up easily I decided to go that evening and stay the night at the church or a club and meet my cousin at the bus station in the morning. Since it was Holy Week there were church services every morning and night. That story and the adventure that goes with it is for my next blog. :)
I noticed in Agios Stefanos that they can be very judgmental of what you wear and are very willing to express their opinions which is better than not letting you know I suppose. The weather is very nice in Greece this time of year so I mostly wore tanktops or spaghetti strapped camis. I wore a sundress one day and on several occassions adults stopped to ask if I was cold. This was a constant means of entertainment and amusement for me as I had already decided that I would rather stick out a little and be comfortable in the weather than try to fit in and layer like everyone else was still doing. It gets much hotter in the summer months so they had not brought out their summer wear just yet. I was surprised that strangers would ask so openly if I was cold, hinting that I should put more clothes on. The teenagers/young adults were not so comical being that they were not so verbal about their disapproval rather they just stared and glared so I just politely smiled back.
I have also come to the conclusion that I hate most Greek television shows. Even not being able to understand them the woman always seems to play the stupid, self-absorbed, emotional, loud and/or talkative bimbo while the guy is needy, a baby, arrogant, and always thinks he is right. In hindsight I think this may just be the time of day the television was on in the house. Soap opera time. I have never watched a soap in America but I imagine they are probably similar to these. Many of the movies and some of the television shows are in English with Greek subtitles which surprised me just as much as the English music in the clubs. They do not have a large movie making business like Hollywood is for America.
Another thing that is very striking is their National pride. I do not think you see this enough in America but even with its economic and administrative problems the people are proud to be Greek. Governmental rules are completely disregarded in Greece though. Your small child can go into the store in town and buy cigarettes or alcohol for their parents with other groceries. My first time buying alcohol in Greece the teller said something I couldn’t understand and I automatically assumed she was asking for my ID. When I handed it to her she laughed, shook her head no, and indicated that she was asking if I wanted a plastic bag. When smoking was banned in public establishments it only lasted for a couple weeks. Now all the bars and cafes have decorative fake flowers or jars that people put their ashes in. They are cleaned out on a nightly basis, if not more. The first time I saw Georgina putting ashes in the flower pot I wondered what in the world she was doing that for and wondered if the flowers were real. I later touched them to check, they were fake. I later learned of this new way to break the law and couldn’t help but laugh. Driving laws are a complete joke as well and if no one is coming it is common to drive in the middle of the road. I was completely and utterly terrified the first time riding in a car on a rural road in Greece. I joked that maybe I should move to Greece because then I would look like a good driver.
Greece - 31 March - 16 April 2012
(Thurs. 05 April 2012) - I spent Thursday trying to rest and figure out the rest of my stay in Greece. It rained for the first time since my arrival which I feel is worth noting because it rains almost daily in Northern Ireland. I also visited Angel at his work this day (he works at a small cafe called Fun Time owned by his aunt and uncle).
(Fri. 06 April 2012) - I had planned to go to various places close to Agios Stefanos by train but instead went to the mall with Georgina in Neratziotissa. We shopped for awhile and I got a new bathing suit for my trip to Crete and she got somethings as well. I had a very good time with her and really enjoy her company. She is openly and honestly materialistic and loves shopping and doing her hair, makeup, etc. but she also has a passion for math and aims to be a mathematician. She is so in tune with knowing and expressing her emotions which I really admired in her. She is very meticulously organized and seems to make decisions based on how beneficial they may be to her (kind of like the people in Amsterdam). She fully believes in experiencing all of life with no remorse because you only live once. This seems to be a recurring theme in my time abroad; that I connect very well with girls and make several casual guy friends but most of the people leaving an impression on me are female. Not all of them, but the vast majority. After the mall she went home and I went looking for a gift for Efi and Zahos but has no luck.
I relaxed at the house for a couple hours then went to Georgina’s to get ready for the night out. She did my hair and makeup and nails and had fun doing it. Her friend Dassa joined us and we had a nice time talking and getting ready. We also got great takeout (delivery) souvlaki. I got mine “opola” which means with everything on it: tomato, onion, fries, pork, and tziki sauce. We left to go see Angel DJ at a place called Grid. He was a great DJ but I was less than impressed with the crowd of high school students who were there for the night. They were very judgmental, especially to Georgina, and did not seem to be there simply to have a good time. It was a full moon that night and Grid had hookahs for the night. I had not smoked with a hookah in over a year and was excited about it. The combination of the moon and the hookah reminded me of Danielle which only put me in a worse mood by remembering our recent disagreement. This combined with the attitude of the people and the cold weather not to mention my lack of sleep put me in a very grumpy/bitter mood. We were there to support Angel so I tried to be in a good mood but then they wouldn’t let me leave after he got off work. I was not happy about this and let them know I just wanted to go home and sleep and was more than capable of getting there on my own. I realized that Angel would have insisted on walking me home if I had left so with this thought in mind I resigned myself to staying up. We ended up having a couple more drinks then going to the primary school playground with Angel, Georgina, and Christos. Maybe it was good that I stayed because we did have a good time and I was able to have a serious conversation with Angel about life and relationships. We did not get home until 6am.
(Sat. 07 April 2012) I was up early again because I could not sleep so I went for a walk then hung out with Zahos, Efi, and the kids for the afternoon. We watched TV and hung out and had a really good time. Later that afternoon I went to Georgina’s to get ready for another night out. She cooked crepes for us that night and though I said I wasn’t really hungry she insisted that she cook something for the both of us, just another example of Greek hospitality. We left to go to a house party then Angel was DJing at for the night. The atmosphere was much better at this party than the previous night and I had a good time. The party ended like most club music in Greece, with Greek music and dancing. I love this part, it is so fun to watch everyone get excited and start dancing. At the end of the party around 2 or 3am we left with a group of people to go to a bar or club. I had surprised Georgina with some strawberry daiquiri mix earlier that day while we were getting ready to go out and we decided to stop at her house to drink some more daiquiri before going to the club. A bunch of us went together to a place called The Town Hall (in English) for karaoke night. Angel’s mother took us there and hung out there with some of her friends. My voice was completely gone at this point, I think I was getting sick so after awhile of drinking, watching and taking pictures of karaoke night Georgina and I went outside with a couple of beers to talk. I was a little bummed I could not sing karaoke that night but greatly enjoyed getting to talk to her some more. I had a good time but apparently we were expected to be a bit more sociable and stay inside with the others. Neither of us really cared about this and did not let it bother us.
(Sun. 08 April 2012) I got up and went to church late from 9:30 to 11am. It was Palm Sunday and I enjoyed it much more than the previous Sunday’s service. However, I am continually disappointed in the lack of practiced faith by the young people in Greece. Mostly only the elderly go to church or practice their religion. I was almost encouraged not to go to church and was told numerous times that young people don’t really go to church. After church, I had a fish lunch, cooked by Efi, with Efi, Zahos, and Efi’s parents. It was delicious, as Efi’s food always is.
That evening I went ice skating at a plae called Kosmopolis with Angel and Georgina. We had to take a bus and metro to get there which we have to do to go most places from Agios Stefanos. Georgina did not skate much but she met a guy who worked there so we all had a good time. Angel tried to teach me to skate backwards but I never really got the hang of it. We went and got crepes afterwards. Mine was a chocolate, banana, and cookie crepe and was absolutely delicious. I have decided I could eat crepes every day if I knew they would not make me insanely overweight. Later that night we went back to the primary school outdoor basketball courts to drink then later headed to their high school’s soccer field to drink. I was amazed that this was not a big deal and fully expected law enforcement to stop us at the primary school because it is right by the main road and we were in clear sight but no one came or seemed to care. Only four of us hung out that night, Angel, Christos, Georgina, and I. We had a good time and Georgina and Christos started dating. It is aggravating that none of them seem to understand why I refuse to fool around with Angel. He had a girlfriend, which does not seem to be an adequate excuse to many of them and I am really just not attracted to him like that. What’s more, I think his main attraction with me is that I am American or foreign which bugs me a little as well. I am slightly concerned because we are leaving together for 3 days and 2 nights in Crete. I really don’t want him to make any moves but I believe he will try and Georgina seems to think so as well. We will see. We ended Sunday night much like we ended Friday and Saturday nights, heading home around 6am just before sunrise. The only difference is that I cannot seem to sleep despite my lack of sleep and when I do sleep it is fitful and for short periods while the others can catch up on sleep the next day. I am sure it will hit me sooner or later. On the way home, right before we turned to enter the house a black cat crossed are path. I alerted Angel of this and he scorned me for believe in such superstitions but I couldn’t help wonder what the cat meant.
(Mon. 09 April 2012) I woke up early to pack, go buy my planned gift for Efi and Zachos to show them how thankful I am for their hospitality, and to do various preparation tasks before leaving for Crete in the evening. I was ready in no time and did some pleasure reading (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson) for awhile and then gave Efi my gift. I was very sad because today was the last day I am going to see them because as soon as I arrive back from Crete they will already be on the ferry to Crete. We said our good byes and luckily Zachos made it home in time to say bye as well.
Angel and I then headed to Grid to have some coffee with Georgina. I won’t see her again either since she is going away as well for Easter. She is going to her family’s hometown and won’t be back until after I leave for Germany. I was very excited to see her again and had became surprisingly close to her in a short time. I usually do not form connections like that often or quickly and I realized I am going to miss her a lot even if we are very different. To my complete surprise she pulled out a small orange pouch with a heart bracelet on a black string and a note in it. I instantly wished I had thought to give her something and I was very touched by her gift. She had brought her new jean jacket that she got on our trip to the mall and some paint pens so I could write on the inside pocket (where she could see but no one else could so it didn’t look tacky or mess up the new jacket). Too soon it came time to leave and we said our goodbyes, promising to Skype one another. I hope this will happen and not be empty words that fall through.
Angel and I left on the bus and then got the Metro at Kifissia and took it to Piraeus, a major port. We never once paid for a ticket, another slack rule in many places in Greece. We boarded the ferry, or ship rather, at 8pm after dinner, and headed for Chania, Crete ready for another adventure.
Greece - 31 March - 16 April 2012
A recurring theme throughout this whole trip is my lack of sleep. I arrived in Greece on (Sat. 31 March 2012). I wrote my blog almost a week later. Here is the exert written on Thurs. 05 April 2012.
I have been in Greece since Sat. 31 March 2012. I arrived at 5:30 pm on Saturday in Athens and was picked up at the airport by Zaxarias Theodosiadis (Zahos). He is Kostas’ brother. Kostas is a member of our Greek Orthodox Church back home. He and his wife, Amanda, and I are the godparents of my niece. They graciously allowed me to stay in their home while I was in Greece. Zahos picked me up from the airport and drove me to their home in Agios Stefanos, just outside of Athens. I am staying with Zahos and his wife, Efi, and their two children, Theodore and Maria (10 and 7 years old). They live in a big house where each floor has a different flat for his family. Many of his siblings and his mother live there. The night I arrived I went out with Zahos’ nephew, Aggelos (Angel) to a night club called Suite. WE went with his two friends Georgina and Vaggelis. Greek clubs are loads more fun than Irish clubs but still very different from American clubs. For starters, the club was open until 5 am - 6 am. You do not go and dance with anyone you want rather you go with friends and dance with them. I miss this about American clubs, how you can go and just dance with complete strangers and not worry about giving out your number or ever seeing them again, no strings attached. This different style in Greece is nice to socialize with friends and relax. It was strange that American and British music was played throughout the night until very late when the club started playing Greek music. The crowd went absolutely wild when the Greek music started. They loved it so much and everyone started dancing. I preferred the music was much more than the Irish clubs. We left the club at 5ish and arrived at Georgina’s house at 6 am where we waited to go back to Agios Stefanos for church. On the way back to her house we remembered that Sunday was April Fool’s Day and since it was technically Sunday we decided to play a prank. I have played an April Fool’s prank every year of college and was excited not to miss this year. We could not think of anything really great on the spot so we settled on a prank call. We called up one of Angel’s friends and pretended that I had been his with a car. They panicked and said that we would all go to the hospital as soon as they said they were on their way we yelled “April Fools”. Not my best work ever but it was fun to carry on the tradition even while travelling and reminded me of home. I was determined not to break my Lent promises despite travelling and had told Angel of my desire to go to the church on Sunday morning. To the surprise of all his friends he said he would take me to church in the morning. I assured him that I could go alone if he did not want to go and that I just needed directions. He insisted on taking me, Greek hospitality is something I became very impressed with during my stay. Here is a prime example of it. We decided not to sleep and stayed at Georgina’s until morning so we could go to church. Her father woke up and not only made us breakfast and was very hospitable despite the early hour but he also drove us back to Agios Stefanos so we didn’t have to take the bus. When I arrived home early that morning everyone was asleep, they had given me a key to get in, and I was worried that Zahos and Efi would be mad that I came home so late but apparently it was alright and Efi just asked if I had a good time.
Church was definitely culturally different from the church I have gotten used to in Belfast (The Antiochian Orthodox Church of Saint Ignatius) and the Greek Orthodox churches I have attended in the USA. I blame myself for a lack of sleep which I am sure played a role in my opinion. Some major differences I noted include: this church had no choir, only male chanters. The congregation was overflowing but only because of a memorial service that day. The other people were mainly elderly women and some men. The service was close to three hours long and I feel asleep twice, once while standing. Angel went because I wanted to but he seemed to be having trouble staying awake as well. It was not an enjoyable experience. We went home and I slept for three hours.
Efi has fed me very well since I have been here (Greek hospitality again) and I am very thankful. She feed me good meals and large amounts. I feel guilty because I know they are tight for money and I was under the impression that I would provide my own food because they are letting me stay in their home for free as well. When I woke up I went out with the family and their friends, Christos’, his wife, and their two sons. We went to a nearby mountain and lake to enjoy the nice weather. We played there for awhile and walked around a bit so the children could see the animals in the pens (deer and rabbits!) then we went to the abandoned Tatoi palace of a former king named Constantine II who was exiled from Greece in 1967. The palace is located in Varibobi. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera but the grounds and house itself were extensive and elaborate. It is strange to think of a modern day palace abandoned and locked when it was fully inhabited just 40 years ago. We walked the trails and land there for several hours and left around 8:30 pm. It was very beautiful and loads of fun. That night my father called me from Kostas’ house. It is a seven hour time difference with Greece being ahead so it was very late here. It was very nice to talk to him though. I fell asleep as soon as I hit the bed that night but have still been dreaming badly for sometime now.
On (Mon. 02 April 2012) I slept in until 11:30 am. It was so glorious. I did not do much Monday except relax and try to plan the next week and find my cousin, Ilias Komnenos. I did not have much luck finding him through the Internet but when Efi arrived home she was able to make two phone calls and have his phone number for me! :) Several people have told me how lucky I am to have found him at all especially so quickly. I do not think it is luck I think it was God working everything out for me. I went out with Angel that night and hung out with him and his friend, Vaggelis again just talking and chilling until around 11pm. The next day (Tues. 03 April 2012), I woke up at 10 am to a knock on the door. I meant to get up at 9am but did not. I ran to answer the door. It was Efi, Zahos’ sister and Angel’s mother. She asked if I wanted to go out that day with her since it was her day off. Another example of Greek hospitality and trying to make me feel welcome. I told her I would love to go. We went for a coffee, which I quickly learned is a very common social norm here and then headed to Marathon Lake and the famous dam there. This lake is the source of water for the people of Agios Stefanos and was the source of water for Athens for awhile. It was very beautiful but I was shocked to find out that some people had burned a large portion of the land in protest so all the treed that had been there were gone. It was a sad sight especially after seeing the dam, which although it was built in the late 1920s was meant to symbolize the Battle of Marathon. It is made completely of pendelis marble and was huge success for Greece when it was built because it showed they were modernizing, it being the largest thing built during that time.
We stayed for a bit and then headed to the spot where Spyros Louis started his Marathon run and where the Olympic runners start. Spyros Louis is the Greek who won the first “modern day” marathon in the Olympics in 1896. Spyros Louis and other Greek runners run marathons from Marathon to Athens to historically remember Pheidippides who made this run after the Battle of Marathon to tell the Athenians they had defeated the Persians. Unfortunately, Pheidippides died directly after delivering his message. The traffic was heavy when we went to visit so I could not get a picture. We then head to Loutsa, a small coastal town where Efi’s ex-husband lives. They had gotten in a fight that morning and he didn’t know we were coming. We had a cold drink and walked on the beach since the weather was beautiful. She is still very much in love with him despite acknowledging his controlling nature. She says she will not remarry him though because she likes making her own decisions. When I met him he was polite to me but reserved and noncommittal to her in a almost masked rudeness. She seemed desperate for his attention but despite driving there to see him we only stayed in his company for 15 to 30 minutes. I wonder how many people I know that are in relationships like this with one being the manipulator and the other being desperately in love. After leaving him we had a absolutely phenomenal seafood meal at a restaurant right on the ocean. I had a wonderful day with Efi seeing Greece and soaking up the warm weather.
On (Wed. 04 April 2012), I had arranged to meet my cousin in Athens because he lives and works there as a lawyer. I rode with Zahos and Efi to their family business , a shoe repair shop, in Athens. I borrowed their son Theodore’s phone for the day and set off to explore Athens before my evening meeting with Ilias. Zahos, Efi, and Angel all called to check up on me throughout the day which was very touching to me. I did not really like Athens the first time I visited but I was determined to enjoy myself this time and live in the adventure of it all. I went first to Acropolis by the Metro (UG). I had never ridden a Metro before alone and it took me awhile to figure out how they work but after a few wrong stops I got the hang of it. I was ridiculously proud of myself for this and felt it a major accomplishment of my day. Arriving at the Acropolis it cost 12 euros to get in. Since I had all day before my meeting I took my time and took in every ounce of sunlight I could get. I had forgotten how much I missed the sun in Ireland until I arrived in Greece. It was very nice to see even while they were still doing a lot of reconstruction. I was very surprised at how many classes were on field trip there that day. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and spent a large amount of time seeing everything there at my own pace.
Next I headed to the Ancient Agora just down the street. I took the long way through a nice historical area with many trees and small footpaths. When I reached the entrance I found the entrance guard pacing back and forth muttering the few curse words I had learned in Greek along with a steady dialogue to himself. I did not want to get stopped in a conversation with him so I tried very carefully to sneak past him but unfortunately he was not so involved in his conversation with himself and he stopped me in my tracks. He immediately asked how old I was. More than a little annoyed by constantly being asked this question I defiantly raised myself up ever so slightly and told him I was 19. This never gets the reaction I want and consistently gets an incredulous look of disbelief. I tried as politely as I could muster to ask him if he wanted to see my I.D. He said yes so I fished out my NC drivers license and handed it over. He scrutinized it for a while though I very seriously doubt he could read it and then he handed it back to me and let me on my way. I think the appearance of his coworker is the main reason he let me go at this point. I haven’t the slightest idea why I was carded for entrance to the site being as there are not even nude statues and the site’s relics are not heavily guarded. I suppose he was just bored at work. His coworker headed off somewhere as I left and he then resumed his pacing and began talking to himself once more! Very strange… After walking around there for awhile I went back to the Metro.
On the way to town Zahos had suggested I visit a small suburb with historic buildings and beautiful architecture as well as places to stop. Unfortunately, I did not write down the name and inevitable forgot it. I remembered only that the name started with an M so I guessed a place on the metro lines map and went there hoping I was right. The ride there took 25 to 30 minutes on its own of which I spent seriously questioning my decision. I arrived in Marousi, ironically where Spyros Louis was born, only to find it was a small town with literally nothing worth visiting at it. Stubbornly, I walked around for awhile in the hope that I would stumble on something of importance. I ended up eating spanakopita for lunch there… an hour’s worth of travel (round trip) for one piece of spanakopita. I did get to catch up on my pleasure reading while on the metro and got a couple pictures of the graffiti that seems to cover a vast amount of Athens so I suppose the trip was not a complete waste.
I then proceeded to Athen’s city center to wait for my cousin. He took me to a fascinating place, for coffee (remember the social norm), that was set up between two office buildings. I immediately thought it looked very much like a monkey’s den that you see at the zoo and kept myself entertained with this idea for many minutes.
I was absolutely thrilled to find my cousin and get to talk with him. He could not provide the family history I wanted but said his father could. He did however tell me about the Komnenos line over several centuries. I love history and was fascinated to hear the story. He also invited me to the family home for Easter which I thought was very sweet. I accepted his offer and was excited to meet the family again while hoping to get more family history there as well. Since we weren’t eating dinner I ordered a beer to keep my hunger at bay. He graciously paid for the drinks and I had a lovely time chatting and catching up. When we were done he walked me to the Metro and waited until it arrived (Greek hospitality). I took it to the Larissis station and then got a train back to Agios Stefanos. I handled this traveling well and was surprised to find how cheap it was to take the train. Another excellent day in Greece.
While in Greece someone told me that a teaspoon of olive oil before drinking will prevent you from getting drunk since the oil coats your stomach the alcohol just slides off. Apparently you will just feel like you have to pee a lot. I am not sure if I believe this but I would like to know the truth.
It makes sense since it is high in fat and food high in fat and carbs helps absorb the alcohol that it would help with getting drunk but when I googled it I saw mixed answers. I am not sure why someone would do this, it kind of seems like a waste of money on the alcohol. Thoughts on this??
All things that intrigue me during this trip go in the blog.
Amsterdam and the Netherlands - Wed. 28 March - 31 March 2012
The next day (Fri. 30 March 2012) six of us went on a countryside special tour to see the Dutch countryside. Included in this group was Melissa, Becky, Sherry, Eve, me, and Jillian. Jillian is the eighth bed in our hostel room. She is a librarian from Glasgow on vacation for a few days. She was nice and was happy to go on tour with us. The countryside tour was expensive but very much worth it. Sherry and Eve kept treating us to tours and food so I ended up only paying for the 28 euros for this tour and the fee for a couple of tram tickets and our last night out. This was very good for my stay there. On the country tour we went to Zaanse Schans, a windmill village with cheese making, Volendam, a fishing village, and a boat trip to the former Island of Marken, where clogs are made. The trip was five hours long and loads of fun. I only wish I had brought more money to buy gifts. Zaanse Schans was quite windy but very beautiful and we got to sample several different types of cheese.
On the Island of Marken we saw a pair of clogs that was traditionally given to a women when a man asked her to marry him. Imagine getting a pair of wooden shoes instead of an engagement ring!
That night we ate takeout in the hostel and saw Sherry and Eve off to the airport. Their beds were taken by two Spanish speaking guys. I was excited about how well I could understand and communicate with them. Becky, Melissa, and I went out to explore the town that night but we were back pretty early in order to pack and shower. We had to get up at 5:30 am to catch the bus and be at the airport on time. I wish I had gotten to see more of the intriguing city but overall the trip was a great success and I had loads of fun. Now if I only knew what that black cat meant…
Random things worth noting (in my opinion):
This brings a whole new meaning to fast food. This is a vending machine for food like cheeseburgers, sausage, etc. Very interesting concept. It looks like something straight from the future to me or rather something you see in sci-fi and futuristic movies. :P
Take note of the the caramel waffles… they are heavenly.
Life size chess game! Impressive!
Hard core recycling system at the grocery store. It seems many countries our ahead of us in recycling techniques or at least ahead of North Carolina. The grocery store also had an escalator that led down to it. It also had….
Shopping baskets that you roll on the ground. I have seen it all. Also, I want noted how difficult it was to get a picture of one of these in action without the user being aware. I count it as a great success.
Amsterdam and the Netherlands - Wed. 28 March - 31 March 2012
Some places I had preconceived notions about which I learned on this trip are pointless. Admittedly, the first thing that came to my mind when I thought of Amsterdam was the red light district and the coffee shop laws. I was pleasantly surprised to find Amsterdam was so much more than that. The following is an exert from my journal on my visit to Amsterdam. I have put in things that stuck out to me or that I found especially interesting.
(Sat. 31 March 2012) I am awaiting my flight to leave the Netherlands today. The hostel, Inner Amsterdam Hostel, was the nicest hostel I have ever stayed in. The beds were extremely comfortable (maybe because I only had my bed in Belfast to compare them to) and the shower was clean, big, and never ran out of hot water! The best part was that they had a complimentary breakfast! Despite the beds being so comfortable I did not sleep well any of the three nights we stayed there but I was unable to remember any of my dreams or figure out why I kept waking up. Part of it was definitely hearing the other people and being in a new setting. The first full day in Amsterdam (Thurs. 29 March 2012) we went on a free tour of Amsterdam using Sandeman’s New Amsterdam company. The tour was a three hour long walking tour. Our guide’s name was Lee, she was an excellent guide and the tour was very fun and informative. We walked through the red light district, which has a kindergarten in it! We also saw the Anne Frank House, the Old and New Churches, the WWII National Monument, Multatuli’s Giant Heat, the smallest house in Amsterdam, the Royal Palace, and the highest point in Amsterdam (which involved climbed a whopping six stairs (Amsterdam is an extremely low-lying city)). I learned, during the tour, that Amsterdam has more canals than Venice and 60 percent of its inhabitants use bikes as their main mode of transportation! We saw bikes of all types, old bikes, new bikes, bikes with car seats in the front, bikes with wheelbarrows on the back, and bikes with baskets and buckets. Apparently only 10 percent of the locals use marijuana on a regular basis but 1 in 3 tourists come to Amsterdam to use marijuana. I am not sure if I believe the first half of that but that is what our tour guide told us. People use the argument that if it is legal people will lose interest in it. My counter-argument to this is then why haven’t the Irish stopped drinking. Moving on, I learned that Amsterdam is a very accepting city and is all about business and making money. This statement, iterated throughout the whole tour, may very well have influenced my entire stay there. This notion was reinforced by evidence from the previous day when we went to visit one of the giant “I Amsterdam” signs that are all over the city.
I admit it is a clever idea and effective at getting its point across. The sing is supposed to imply lack of discrimination and prejudice and overall acceptance of everyone through the “I am” part of the sign meaning we are all included as part of Amsterdam. The sign is life-size and had several people taking pictures around it. The signs are usually in a park and the one we visited was no exception. It was in a huge park with a skate park in it, a playground, and the sign. It was surprising how beautiful the city was with the architecture, canals, and cobblestone roads. The canals are completely filtered three times a week which is why they do not stink. Thousands of bikes are pulled from the canals and have created a bike graveyard where a huge mountain of bikes has accumulated. There are special bike lanes on ALL the streets and bikes have parking decks like we would in the USA for cars.
Since the city was built on marsh land the houses were originally built on wooden stilts. This is now a problem hundreds of years later as the houses lean and slant. Windows have to be redone in crooked positions so the glass doesn’t break and eventually a new foundation has to be put in. Here is an example of crooked house.
Another interesting detail about the architecture is during WWII there was no food and no source of heat for the homes. Since the Jewish Quarter was empty (80 percent of the Jews from Amsterdam died during WWII) people went there and tore apart the houses and furniture for fuel. After the war when this section was to be rebuilt they used architecture students and as a result much of the Jewish Quarter is rebuilt in a cubist style that is not as attractive as the rest of the city. When it was first redone by the students the officials came to look at it and thought it was so innovative and new age that they wanted to incorporate the style all over the city. Luckily, historians prevented this from happening.
We also learned about the decriminalization of marijuana in 2000 and the first accepted autopsies in Europe through the surgeon’s guild in this tower below. People would come from all over to watch these autopsies because autopsies were not an accepted practice back then. Artists would also go observe these autopsies to learn about the human anatomy in order to draw it better.
We were told that the Old Church was purposely put by the Red Light District. This was because back in the day it was a major port and many sailors would come to the Red Light District after a long bout at sea. Afterwards they would want to be forgiven of their sins in case they did not make it through their next sailing escapade so the Church was smart enough to plant itself right near the Red Light District and charge for forgiveness of sins. This of course earned huge profits for the church despite being morally wrong. This is a good example of how Amsterdam is driven by business and making money.
We also learned a lot about people’s methods of protesting and the government’s response which I found extremely interesting. Two protests stood out to me as clever and humorous. The first, is about a monument that a unknown artist placed in the cobblestone near the Red Light District one night. People woke up to find this strange work of art in the ground and wondered how it came to be there. The government wondered the same thing and did not appreciate people altering their cobblestone without permission and had the piece removed. By this time people had gotten used to the new alteration to their walkway and stormed the governmental building protesting and demanding that the piece be put back! The government listened to the people and respected their wishes and put the artwork back in its place where it stands today. The artist is still unknown but his or her artwork was still defended by strangers who shared this unknown artist’s sense of humor.
Another effective protest was when the government installed outdoor toilets to curtail the problem of drunken public urination in the street. Apparently, since you have to pay to use toilets in much of Europe, many people would stumble out of the bars in Amsterdam and pee on the street or straight into the canal. The government built these outdoor toilets for men all around the city and the waste goes through pipes to the canal (remember the filtration system so thank God no smell!).
We were lucky enough to see this part of the tour when an unlucky male happened to be utilizing the facility. I felt it would not be polite to take a picture of the outdoor toilet when it was being used even though you cannot see anything it still felt like a gross invasion of privacy. As a result, I did not take this picture, I have found it online. This sparked an uproar with the women of Amsterdam in the late 1970’s because they were still having to pay to use toilets. They demanded the government accommodate them as well. The government did not want to spend the funds so to get their attention the women thought of means of action. On a hot August day 200 women showed up on one of the many bridges in Amsterdam and all simultaneously started peeing on it! They threatened to do this to every bridge in the city until they were given public bathrooms. The government got the point and spent a large amount of money on these female public restrooms which look like large cylinders, shown below.
Sadly, this new installation did not last long because in the 1980’s with the sharp rise in heroin use came the abuse of these secluded buildings for shooting up and raping women rather than using the bathroom. As a result, the cylinders are now locked up and used solely for advertising.
I learned so much about the city that day on the tour and got a good feel for the city since it is so compact. Later that day our group split up and four of us went on a canal cruise that lasted an hour. That was also fun and informative but not as good as the walking tour. I was also surprised that everyone knew English. I guess because they have such a big tourist population. We finished off the day by visiting the Red Light District at night. Pictures are not allowed and the working girls would get very mad and throw questionable liquid at any tourists that tried to get pictures. Respecting their privacy was important and thus I have no pictures of the area. It was a busy, exciting first day in Amsterdam.