Thursday, August 13, 2009

Moroc and Casablanca

Our visit to Morocco consisted of 4 days in the country. On the first day I did a city orientation trip of Casablanca (our port city), then I went on an overnight to Marrekech and the Ourika Valley, and on the last day I had a field trip for my International Business class to the Coca Cola Plant.

The city orientation was a really good trip. Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco and is the second largest city in Africa behind Cairo. There are 3 million people that live here and is much more modern and clean than I expected. The movie Casablanca was not actually shot here, it was filmed in Hollywood, but there is a replica of Rick’s CafĂ© in the city. During the orientation we visited the Hassan II Mosque which is the world’s third largest mosque. It was built in 1993 by the president Hassan II and is gorgeous.  The minaret is the tallest in the world and stands 689 feet tall. There is a sliding roof that opens on nice days to allow for air circulation throughout the mosque. Half of the mosque lies over the Atlantic Ocean. As is stated in the Qur’an “The throne of God was built on the water” so Hassan II wanted the mosque to replicate that statement. Part of the floor is glass and allows for 25,000 worshippers to actually pray over the water. There is a large courtyard and 80,000 additional worshippers can worship outside the mosque. The mosque has about 3 levels under the area of prayer. Theses floors have baths and wash rooms for the worshippers, similar to the Turkish baths.

The religious breakdown of Morocco has mostly Muslims, but there are 7% Chrisitians and 2% Jewish people. However, there are 200 mosques, 8 synagogues and only 4 churches throughout Morocco.

After the mosque we drove around Casablanca. We drove past the area of Anfa where Churchill and Roosevelt met for the Casablanca Conference during World War II, as well as the Ain Diab Corniche which is the beach road where all the clubs and restaurants are. There are also public and private swimming pools on this road that go right up to the ocean. We visited a few palaces and the mechouar bazaar in town.

The first night I went out to dinner with Amanda, Lucas and Matt. We walked around town and finally found a French Restaurant. The primary languages in Morocco are Arabic and French and there is still a heavy French influence from the days of colonization.

The next day I had my trip to Marrakech. It was a 3 hour bus ride south of Casablanca. When we got to the city we had lunch at a local restaurant located in Djeema el- Fna Square. This square is the center of activity for the people. There is a market with fish, fruits, spices and goods that is the center of people’s lives. The square also has snake charmers, henna tattoos, acrobats and monkeys. After lunch we visited the Bahia and Dar Si Said Palaces and the Majorelle Gardens. The Gardens were absolutely gorgeous. It had bamboo and desert plants everywhere and there were brightly colored pots and buildings within the garden.  We also visited a spice place that was a tourist trap the tours bring you on. They showed us many different spices and oils that help with different ailments etc. I did buy oil that is supposed to relax you and help you sleep.

That night we went to a Moroccan dinner with a folklore show and horse fantasia at Chez Ali. It was a much touristier spot than we expected but we had a great dinner. The horse show was a lot very cool and they shot off fireworks at the end. The horses and their riders were doing tricks throughout the evening.

The next day we visited the Ourika Valley and a Berber village. The village was nestled among the Atlas Mountains and we had a short walk throughout the village. The visited a Berber home and the lady of the house made us mint tea. It was a very neat experience that I wouldn’t have gotten without being on an SAS trip.

After the Berber village we went back to the Square from the day before.  I got a henna tattoo on my ankle which I think is really cool, and we went back to the same restaurant for lunch. I walked around the square with Lindsey and Rachel until it was time to head back to the bus.

On Wednesday I had a field trip to the Coca Cola plant. We got to see the process of making Coke and then the bottling process for glass bottles and plastic bottles. After, we went to lunch with local business owners from America that had been living in Morocco for many years. It was interesting to hear their perspective on American businesses in Morocco and how the business worlds differ.

One of my best friends Julie left us in Morocco. She will be graduating in December and doesn’t need the credits from SAS classes and decided that she didn’t want to be on the ship for the next 9 days across the ocean. I knew she was thinking about this the night before but it was still sudden. It was really hard to watch us pull away from the dock and we are going to miss her a lot. It did get us all talking about where our reunion is going to be though.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Egypt: A "Pharonic" Experience

On day 3 of my travels in Egypt I took an SAS trip to the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. The pyramids are located a few miles away from Cairo on the Giza Plateau. The Pyramids of Giza are the only remaining wonder of the ancient world. The Sphinx is said to be standing to protect the tombs of the great pharaohs of Egypt. We were able to go into the tomb of one of the wives of the pharaoh. After the visit to the pyramids we took a jeep safari through the Sahara desert. Then we rode camels through the desert and back to the restaurant where we had a typical Egyptian meal. After the camel ride we visited the tomb of Mere-Ruk. His tomb was robbed of his jewels before it was discovered by present day archeologists, however, the robbers were not able to find the actually mummy of the pharaoh. The mummy was found after the excavation and was the first actual mummy to be discovered. It is on exhibition at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Next we visited the Step Pyramid which was the first pyramid to ever be built. It has 6 levels and was built for King Zoser in 2800 BCE. My day in Cairo was very fun and I was amazed at the grandeur of the pyramids. We could see them from the road before we were even close to them and they were just absolutely magnificent. I still can’t believe that I got to see them and I am still in awe of their size.

That night I went to Chili’s with Amanda, Dan and Lucas. We had a lot of fun and we hung out and ate for almost 2 hours. We ordered so much food and it only costs the equivalent of $65 dollars for the 4 of us. The waiters loved us and gave us free chips and sodas. Lucas likes to think they thought we were from corporate headquarters lol. On the way back our cab driver tried to weasel us out of more money for the cab fare even though we knew what our agreement had been. We handled it well and ended up casually walking away from him.

I hung out on the ship during the second and fourth days in Alexandria. There really didn’t seem to be much to do in Alexandria since I had seen just about everything on the first day, and Cairo was a far trip it seemed. Amanda and I took a break from doing homework and visited the shops that were in the port. I bought a cartuge bracelet with my name in hieroglyphics which is pretty cool. Supposedly it is silver and only cost $20. One thing I have found, especially after talking to our tour guides etc, Egyptian prices are extremely cheap compared to the prices in the United States. Their standard of living is much lower and their monthly income is obviously much lower, but compared to the conversion rate of the Euro, the Egyptian Pound is a dream. My tour guide told us that Egyptian government workers only make about $150USD a month and workers in the private sector can sometimes make almost 10 times that much, which is still nothing compared to most Americans. The rent on a 2 bedroom apartment is about $60USD but that still means working as much as possible in order to survive. The school system is mandatory and free for children starting at age 6 and they usually continue schooling until around the age of 16 or 18. Children in the cities are encouraged to attend University. I was amazed that my tour guides (all of them women) had 2 or 3 children and all had their Master’s degrees and were about to finish their PhD’s in Egyptology. Egypt is comprised of 85% Muslim followers, most of which are of the Sunni origin. There are also 15% Christian Orthodox.

On my last day in Egypt I visited a Children’s Cancer Hospital in Cairo. I also got to see the Nile River which flows from south to north. The Nile is a very large river (larger than I expected) and is the main source of survival for the people of Egypt. In fact, Egypt is only inhabited in 8% of the countries land because the rest is desert. The government is building canals in an attempt to move water into more rural parts of the country and spread out the population. There are 20 million people in Cairo alone, but the people really have nowhere else to go. Overpopulation is the most threatening thing to Egypt at the moment.

On my trip into Cairo for the hospital visit we stopped at Kerdassa which is where many of the rugs, scarves and galabiyyas (long dresses worn by muslim women) are made. Then we visited the Saqqara area where we visited harraniyyah, a tapesty workshop. The workshop was started by an architect named Rames Wissa Wassah in the 1950’s as a sort of socio economic project. He wanted to bring a trade to the people of the village and taught them how to weave carpets. The workers are able to work as often or as little as they wish and the rugs are made completely of their own desires. They can weave whatever pattern comes to mind and when they finish the rug they make 1/3 of the profits. There is also a pottery section of the workshop and I bought a plate. Next we had lunch on a floating restaurant on the Nile. We had traditional Egyptian food again and then we went to the hospital.

Kasr el Aeni is the largest Children’s Cancer Hospital in the world. It is called “57357” because that is the bank account number where people can donate money. It was modeled after St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and can give as many as 100 children chemotherapy at one time, and the waiting room can hold up to 500 people. The hospital was built by an American architect and is mad of mostly glass. The design of the building is meant to resemble a ship and the world, a sign that the entire world is welcome at the hospital. Anyone can come for treatment, no matter religion or where they are from. The hospital runs completely off of donations and treatment is 100% free for all patients. The Egyptian government donated the land where the hospital was built, but otherwise no money is received from the government. The in-patient section of the hospital has 179 beds, more than any hospital in the world. They have the most up to date technology, donated by Siemens. The technology includes the latest machines for brain scans, MRIs etc. as well as muscle and rehab centers. The chemotherapy area is also equipped with comfy chairs for the patients, and private chemo rooms for older patients. Since many of the patients and families that visit the hospital are illiterate, the architect used many colors both to put the children at ease and for easy directing through the hospital. For example, if a family needed to visit radiology and they were illiterate, then the nurse could simply tell the family what color hallway to visit. We did not get a chance to visit with patients as we were originally intended to which was disappointing. We did see many sick children in the chemo area and waiting room though which was extremely sad. I am very glad I visited the hospital. I was expecting a run down, rural hospital but I was pleasantly surprised by how new and up to date the hospital was. As run down a city as Cairo is, the people of Egypt are gradually starting to try and raise the standards of the city.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Discovering Egypt

We are in Egypt- I can’t believe I am in Africa. I have wanted to visit Africa since I became involved in Invisible Children back in high school. I took a really great SAS tour of Alexandria yesterday. Our tour guide was a young woman and she was the sweetest tour guide. She gave us so much information about the city and things to do. The tour took all day but was probably the best SAS tour I have taken. Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BCE. The city is 22km along the Mediterranean Sea and has a population of about 8 million. During our tour we drove past the statue of Mohammed Ali, the founder of modern Egypt. We also drove past the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Pompey’s Pillar, Qait Bey Fort, Abu El Abbas mosque, and the Montaza Gardens where the summer palace of ex- king Farouk is situated. We visited the Catacombs of Shawqafa which were really cool. It is a three- level underground funery. They had a pulley system for lowering the bodies into the catacomb and there was an area where dinners and receptions were held for the dead. Then we visited the National Museum of Alexandria where there are underwater pictures of the excavation of Cleopatra’s sunken palace. They are thinking about building an underwater museum as opposed to trying to actually excavate the palace and bring it to the surface.

We visited the Citadel located on the Mediterranean and had lunch at a local restaurant where we tried a mix of Greek, Middle Eastern, and Egyptian cuisine for lunch.

 Next we visited the Bibliotheca Alexandria which is built on the same site that the Library of Alexandria was once located. The previous library burned down centuries ago, in 48BCE. The only remaining manuscripts and books from the library are located in Austria. The current library can hold 8 million books, however there are only one half million there currently. The library consists of three buildings- the reading room, conference building and a planetarium. The main building which holds the reading room has 11 floors. The main source of light in the reading room is natural sunlight so the roof has windows that are meant to be an eye- the outside has a lip that is the eye lash and the inside has a dip that is the eye lid. The configuration whisks rain water away from the windows and provides as much sunlight as possible. From the outside, the roof is meant to be a sun rising out of the water. On the outer walls there are letters and symbols from multiple different languages to signify the convergence of languages and the learning that goes on inside the building.

Throughout the day we saw a lot of women who were completely covered in Muslim attire, and then we also saw many women who only had their heads covered or nothing at all. Our tour guide explained that women were allowed to wear whatever they wanted; no one was forcing them to dress traditionally and be completely covered. She explained that since Egypt did not have a Muslim government then there are no restrictions for anyone no matter gender or religion. Most of the shops do close on Friday in order for Muslims to observe their holy day and sometimes shops close on Saturday to make it a 2- day weekend.

After we got back to the ship Dan, Lucas, Amanda and I took a taxi to Carrefour, a local shopping mall. We found a taxi driver whom we named Jimmy, for no reason, and he took us both ways to and from Carrefour. He waited for us while we hung out in the mall. We wanted to see a movie but they were only showing movies in Arabic so we just walked around and hung out. We found a Fuddruckers and the boys had never been to one so we decided that we may as well go. It was just like at home, which was fun and funny at the same time. Evidently there are 22 Fuddruckers in the Middle East. After that we walked around and got ice cream from Baskin Robbins- we had a true Middle Eastern experience of course. Actually, most of the stores in the mall were either American or European.

So far Egypt has been a great experience. The country itself is very impoverished and that was what I was expecting. It is refreshing, yet eye opening, to finally visit a country that does not look like an older version of the United States. I am hoping to be able to visit an orphanage on Monday and get that service visit experience as well. I wanted the eye opening and cultural experiences during this trip and I think I have finally found it. Tomorrow I am traveling to Cairo on an SAS trip of a camel ride and jeep safari. We will see the pyramids and sphinx while in Cairo. It is about a 3-4 bus ride into Cairo and it will be a long, hot day.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


We have just finished our third day in Bulgaria. It is a gorgeous country and took most of us by surprise it seems. The people are very friendly and a fair amount of people speak English, or at least we are able to get by with motions and such. On the first day I took an SAS tour called Highlights of Varna. We visited the Archeology Museum, a church (the second largest in Bulgaria) and the Roman Baths. The tour left much to be desired, but it gave us a nice taste of the city and helped us to get our bearings. We tendered from the sea into port on the first day and that was quite an adventure. As my tender boat was going back to the ship the seas became very rough. At one point our boat was literally on its side and then back onto the other side from the motion of the waves. There was another boat in front of us that was trying to get onto the ship. Only 3 people got off the boat before they aborted and send the boat away from the ship because it was too dangerous to let people off. The gangway was on a platform and the seas were too rough for it to be safe for the crew or the students. We had to wait in the water for an hour while they switched the gangway to the port side in hopes that it was calmer on that side. The seas kept getting worse and a lot of people on both tender boats were sea sick. A few more minutes and I probably would have been as well. Finally we were able to get off the tender and they made an announcement on the loud speaker on the ship welcoming us back. A lot of people, including the captain, were watching us get tossed by the seas- even the crew seemed nervous. We decided that should we need to abandon ship we would rather take our lifejackets into the water than be in those boats again lol. That evening I went out with my crew and we found a strip of restaurant, bars and clubs. It was a lot of fun and everything is on the beach and pretty close to the ship.
On the second day I took an SAS trip to Nessebar, about 2 hours south of our port city of Varna. Nessebar is an old medieval town located on a peninsula. It was a very quaint fishing town with a lot of old family churches. There were a lot of tourist shopping and back streets that we walked around. We had about 3 hours of free time so I got lunch with Cory and Emma at a cute restaurant on a cliff that overlooked the water. Emma and I shared a local wine and we got pasta. We walked around and got gelato as well. We had a lot of extra time at the end of the day so we found a bench overlooking the water and I took a snooze for a little while and we all enjoyed the sunshine and a nice breeze. A local merchant told us that the temperature was 40 Celsius which is 104 Fahrenheit.
Today I walked around with Dan and Julie. We started off looking for a post office but we got distracted. There was a beach volleyball tournament a few blocks from the port so we stopped to watch. We saw Germany and Bulgaria play and then we watched Latvia and Brazil. It was a lot of fun and I’ve always wanted to watch Brazil play volleyball because they are one of the best teams in the world. We continued to walk around town later and we got lunch at a local restaurant. I think Julie and I have become obsessed with iced coffee, they are so good here. We found a strip of shops and I got a few shirts for Egypt and because I’m sick of the clothes that I brought- you can only wear things so many times lol.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


My original intention of this blog was to act as a journal for myself to look back upon, as well as a way to communicate my travels to friends and family. When I get home I hope to make it more into a journal and print it out with pictures and decorate it with other memories I have acquired on my trip such as tickets and such. I want to be able to look back on the blog and reread my stories, both personal and in general. This being said, I have some memories of my travels in Turkey that have not always been comfortable and fun. I do not mean to scare the readers of my blog, but when I look back on these blog posts I want to remember my real experiences in these countries. As much fun as the trip has been, and as comfortable and safe I have felt in most situations, not all have been. Italy was the first country that I did not feel perfectly safe, but knowing bits and pieces of the language seemed to lessen the shock of situations such as being approached by men and cat called. Turkey has been a different story.

Istanbul is a huge city and a relatively nice place. I arrived here with no expectations, which was nice for a change. Upon arrival in the city I found it to be old and dirty, like most of the cities we have visited, but I wasn’t immediately put off or surprised by that discovery. I have traveled around the city via walking, taxi, tram, bus and trolley and aside from the usual taxi driver ripping off the tourists, I have not found transportation nearly as scary as the taxis in Italy. The first few days in Turkey my friends and I (always with a few guys) have wandered around the city. We visited the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market, and Taxism Square where most of the restaurants and entertainment is. We also went to a soccer game, as I mentioned earlier, which was a lot of fun. However, at his soccer game is where most of my reservations about Turkey and the people here were proven true. At our Semester at Sea pre-port meeting we were cautioned about visiting places of high tourist volume and events with large crowds etc. We were also informed about terrorism and bombings that have happened in the last few years. As westerners, and females, we were cautioned continuously about being safe and mindful of where we were and what we were wearing/doing.

During the soccer game my friends and I were the first few Americans to arrive in the section we were sitting. Of course we chose to sit with the locals who were constantly cheering (mostly men) and we wanted to be a part of the action.  When the Turkish men saw the American girls they wanted us to sit up front with them and cheer. For some reason we decided this would be fun and we went to sit with them (the guys came too thank goodness). In the beginning, the few of us that were there had a good time and everyone was really nice, asking us about America and where we were from and things like that. Then a lot of drunk SAS girls showed up and things started to get out of hand. The girls started flirting with the Turkish men and all of a sudden everyone thought it was ok to basically start harassing us and trying to ask us out places etc. During all of this, some of my friends were intentionally fallen upon by guys that were sitting above them and hands started going places they shouldn’t be. It became very uncomfortable and towards the end of the game a few of us moved back to the upper section of the stadium.  I was very put off by the way these men changed from when all of us were sober, to the way they reacted when the other girls were drunk.

My second experience was when we were leaving the Grand Bazaar. On our way to the tram we walked through a very busy section of town with cars, taxis and people everywhere. From out of nowhere two men started running towards each other and attacking the other. All of a sudden men from everywhere were running towards these men (who were maybe 200 feet from us) and it became a huge fight with people trying to pull each other off. It only lasted a few minutes but after that everyone was still gathered and we had no idea why. We couldn’t go anywhere because we needed the train and we were very shaken and didn’t know what to do. There was no obvious reason to us as to why the fight started and that made it even more uncomfortable for us.

Last night I encountered by third and fourth occurrences with Turkish people- one was intentional, one was not. The first occurred as we were walking through Taxism Square after seeing Transformers. There were about 10 of us walking through this huge street of shops and the trolley came through on its tracks down the middle of the street. The group got split up as we tried to avoid the trolley, and all of the guys were on one side and me, Julie and Amanda were on the other. As the trolley drove by, Julie was standing a few feet away facing me and I was watching the trolley. There was a Turkish boy, about 11, on the back of the trolley and reached out to Julie and scared her. As I was watching this I was sure he was going to take her purse (which he might have had it not been across her body). It was like I was watching this in slow motion and I couldn’t even warn her he was reaching out to her because I didn’t have time. My heart started to race as I saw his hand reach out and my mind instantly brought an image of Slum Dog Millionaire when the India kids are stealing everything from the tourists. I had no idea what I was going to do had he taken her purse, but the trolley wasn’t moving too fast so I guess that would have had something to do with it. I don’t really know if I would have, or should have done anything, but it was a very scary thing to think about and then witness the boy reach out and scare her.

After that incident I guess I was on high alert. We walked a bit more and about an hour later a trash truck came up behind us ( I didn’t know it was a trash truck at the time). Again, we got split up and it was me, Julie and Amanda on one side. Julie was walking ahead of me again, not even 10 feet away. As the trash truck approached us and was next to me I saw the trash man jump off of the truck in my peripherals and ended up crossing paths with Julie. In that instant I had no idea what was going on and all I saw was this man jump off the back of the truck and it looked like he was going to grab her. I was so scared, and even though I had no reason to be, my heart would not stop pumping for a while. As soon as I saw him jump off I grabbed her and pulled her to the other side of the street. I know that this instance was probably intensified by my other experiences that day, but it was still frightening.

I like to think that we have been pretty safe and smart while traveling. We always go in groups, dress conservatively and I always wear my purse across my body with extra money and such in different places, but Turkey has been a different country than the rest. Spain and Italy were easier because we kind of knew the language and we looked more like the people there. Croatia and Greece were very friendly places and a lot of people spoke English, we also fit in more there with looks as well. I guess I have come to the realization that we are starting to enter a harsher part of the world, where women don’t have as many rights and things are more taboo. I know that much of this is probably a stereotype but it doesn’t stop us from thinking about it all. I have no idea what Bulgaria will be like, but I know Egypt and Morocco will probably be similar to Turkey. Both are also considered Muslim countries, which Turkey is not, and that will change things as well. They will be stricter about women and I think the men will be more aggressive towards women than even Turkey was because of the stricter rules they have for the women that live there.

I have enjoyed my time in Turkey and I am glad that I visited, but I have reached a point where I am ready to move on.  Istanbul is a grand city and there is much to be explored, but I feel as if I have done enough for now. I saw a lot of the downtown area of the city, the mosques, Haigia Sofya, the Jewish Quarter, Taxism Square, the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market. We have also wandered around by the water front and walked a fair amount of the area close to the ship. I am thankful for this experience and I suppose it is eye opening as to things that may lie ahead. I promise to enjoy the next countries that we visit, but I know that I will have some reservations. Again, this is not meant to scare or make the readers of my blog uncomfortable- I don’t stay in situations where I am uncomfortable- but I wanted to be honest. I want to look back and remember everything about my voyage, not only the easy and fun experiences, of which there have been many.

We leave Turkey tonight and we will be in Bulgaria on Friday. I have started to read about Bulgaria in my travel books and have become a little more excited by the visit. I hope to be pleasantly surprised by the country.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Turkey: City Orientation and Turkish Bath

We arrived in Croatia yesterday morning, I got up at 6am to watch us pull into port. Istanbul is the largest city in Europe and is the only one to sit on two continents, Europe and Asia. Istanbul is on the Bosphorus Strait and is surrounded by many bodies of water. It has a population of around 14 million people and is the largest city in Turkey but is not the capital. My City Orientation took us around Istanbul yesterday. We saw the Golden Horn (body of water), Patriarch of Istanbul for the Greek Orthodox religion of Turkey (similar to the Vatican), Rome Aqueduct, Balat (Jewish Quarter), City Walls, Crown Prince Mosque, Blue Mosque, Haigia Sofya, Hippodrome and the Basilica Cistern. The mosques were gorgeous and huge. They were really strict about women covering themselves because the mosques are still in use. The Haigia Sofya is the 3rd to be built upon the land where the current one stands. It was first built as a church and was later converted into a mosque. The Blue Mosque is known for its 6 minarets and the blue- tiled interior. The minarets are built towards heaven and have a spiral staircase in them leading to heaven.

Last night we walked around Taxism square and had appetizers and drinks and then just walked around all night. The street with a ton of shops is miles long and there is a ton of stuff to do. We got ice cream from a man who twirled the ice cream and did tricks while he was putting it into cones- it was pretty cool.

Today, Tessa, Elissa, Mckinsie, Carly and Juliana and I decided we would find our own adventure. We started with a traditional breakfast in a local restaurant. Elissa and I shared a plate of assorted items including a rice patty, cheese sticks, potato sticks, salami, cheese and a few other things. It was very good and the waiters were very friendly. It was a deli where you pick your own items and then they had meats hanging from the meat counter. It was like a small market I suppose. After that we decided to try out a Turkish Bath- It was the coolest thing. It is separated men and women and you go in and everyone is naked (they give you underwear/bathing suit bottoms) and a towel and it is just a big sauna room. You can lay on the hot stone in the middle of the room and then a lady attendant takes you to the edge and she scrubs your body. She pours cold water on you and then a ton of soap bubbles and scrubs everything and anything off of you. Then you go into a hot and cold pool and just lounge until you are ready to get out. We also paid for a facial and oil massage. The lady took us into another room (still a sauna) and put white cream on our faces which we washed off when it was dry. Then I had the most amazing massage with warm oil and she also gave a face massage. All of this was pretty inexpensive compared to the States and it was a blast. We were there for about 3 hours just lounging around. The cool thing is that this wasn’t necessarily a tourist trap, there were locals there too and evidently the locals go to these baths all the time. It was the most tranquil and relaxing experience.

After we left we went to Taxism Square where all the shops and restaurants are. We found tickets for a soccer game tonight between Italy and Turkey (we think) and then got some munchies. We are very excited for the game, a lot of kids from the ship are going.

Tomorrow I am doing an SAS trip about Jewish Tradition in Istanbul and then maybe going to the Grand Bazaar either tomorrow or Tuesday.

Friday, July 17, 2009

On the coast of somewhere beautiful: Stories from Greece

We are departing Greece tonight. During this trip I did 2 days of SAS trips and 2 days of finding adventures on my own. On Monday I took an SAS trip to see Athens and the Acropolis. The Acropolis includes the Propylea, Pinakotheke, Parthenon, Erechtheion, and the temple of Athena Nike. The Parthenon is a temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, it was built in only 9 years which is amazing for how immense of a structure it is. It has 8 columns on the ends and 17 on the sides. Because of the optical illusion that the eye plays on our vision with distance, the columns are slightly skewed so that they look straight when we look at them, otherwise if they were truly straight our eyes would tell us that they were crooked. The Acropolis has an amazing view of the city of Athens as well as a view of the Temple of Zeus a few miles below. Monday night I went out into Piraeus, our port of call. A group of friends and I found a restaurant/bar near the harbor and we were able to enjoy the company of a few locals without any other Semester at Sea kids around which was a nice change.

On Tuesday I took a trip to Delphi with SAS. It was a 3 hour bus ride and we hit traffic because of a strike that was going on. Strikes are pretty common in most of the countries we are visiting and they wreak havoc on the cities. Our first stop on the way to Delphi was at a Greek Orthodox Monastery. The Monastery was gorgeous and set on top of a hill overlook the valley of the mountain. Delphi was constructed as a place of worship and was known as the center of the world to the Greeks. People visited Delphi once a month, 9 months out of the year, in order to consult the gods on what course of action to take both in their public and private lives. We visited the Sacred Precinct which includes the Temple of Apollo, the theater, Archaic Treasures and the stadium. We saw the Oracle from a distance but unfortunately did not get a chance to see it up close.

On Wednesday, Julie, Elissa and I took the ferry to the island of Aegina. It was a gorgeous island and relatively small. We did some shopping along the main strip and then walked a little ways to the beach. It is a rocky beach, as is most of Europe it seems, and the water was very warm. We noticed a small restaurant around a bend of the island that we could see from the beach and we decided to find our way there for lunch. The restaurant was a perfect scene from a movie. It had white couches and comfy chairs and canopies everywhere. It was literally right on the water and there were only locals there when we had lunch. It was absolutely gorgeous and we all agreed that it was what we had been waiting for in terms of our expectations of Greece. After lunch we shopped around and wandered around the side streets. We found really friendly shop owners and everyone loved to talk to us about where we were from and our adventures in Greece. The people here are incredibly nice and most of our encounters with people all over Athens and the island were very pleasant. We stayed on the island until the late afternoon and then took the “Flying Dolphin” (hydrofoil ferry) back to Piraeus. While we were waiting for the ferry we ran into a group of high school students (probably 100 kids) and one of the counselors saw us and yelled to us asking if we were on Semester at Sea. She had gone on the Spring 2007 voyage and was now a camp counselor for American- Greek high school students. The counselors stay in Greece all summer and they get new campers every 3 weeks and take them around Greece. She had just given a presentation to her campers about SAS and then one of them told her they saw one of our students wearing a SAS shirt. She was so excited that the voyage had stopped in Greece and she wanted to go see the ship. We talked to her for quite a while about her voyage and compared it to ours. She told us what a life changing experience it had been for her and she said she hoped we had just as amazing a trip as she did. After we got back to the ship we met up with friends after everyone did their own thing during the day and we found a little restaurant on the water for a late dinner.

Today (Thursday) Julie and Elissa and I took the metro back to Athens and visited the Agora (bazaar) in downtown Athens. I bought a painting of the Greek islands and a sun catcher to hang in my window at school. We hung out downtown for a few hours and got gelato. While we were walking around we ran into one of Elissa’s professors from the ship. We were talking to him when a Greek shop owner approached us and asked if we were on Semester at Sea. We told him and we were and he pulled us into his shop to tell us how much he loved America. He had business cards from probably more than 50 Greeks who had gone to America and started their own businesses and restaurants. His father had immigrated to America when the shop owner was a boy and he started his own company there. He was very friendly and he knew all about our trip because he had met so many students from SAS over the past 4 days. He gave us a “lucky penny” and said it would bring us back to Greece

Overall, Greece has probably been my favorite port thus far. It was a very friendly place and we all felt very comfortable walking around town. The islands are amazing and I really hope to come back and visit them someday.  We have one day at sea and then we will arrive in Turkey on Saturday.

Here are pictures from all over Greece:

And here are random pictures that I keep accumulating. Some are from the bridge tour, Sea Olympics and a few leftovers from Spain.