Five Things (Part 2)

This post is a continuation of Five Things (Part 1) which you can read by clicking this link: Five Thing (Part 1)

6.) Excellent service. Eating out in Greece is not just a chance to eat delicious food, but to spend quality time with your friends and family. Similar in other European countries, you are never rushed to order or leave your table after finishing a meal. At cafes and bars you are usually brought the bill with your drink in order to keep tabs of what you’ve ordered over time, but at almost all other restaurants it is up to you when to receive and pay the bill. In addition to the leisurely meal service, you are almost always given some sort of a “freebie”. At restaurants, sometimes this could be a small glass of Raki (an unsweetened Turkish alcoholic drink) or a dessert on the house. Go to a bar and glasses of water are always first brought to the table first perhaps along with some snacks ranging from popcorn to full on veggie trays after you order. Finally, at cafes you usually get a sweet treat to accompany your coffee. All this excellent service comes with no additional cost as tipping is not the norm in Greece despite the occasional rounding up of the bill.

7.) All the outdoor space. From patio seating at Tavernas, street side cafes, and Polykatoikia style housing, the Greeks love to use their outdoor space. Even when we first arrived in January, space heaters were placed outside almost all restaurants, bars, and cafes so that their outdoor space could be used by customers. Many restaurants have their main building location with the kitchen and a few tables inside but with the main dining area across the street under the protection of the trees and some umbrellas. Almost all apartments in Greece are considered polykatoikias. Based off of Corbusier’s Dom-ino system of housing, these buildings have simple skeletons that can lead to multiple uses. All of these polykatoikias have balconies that look onto the street below. Having these street viewing balconies results in a neighborhood watch as people have their meals, hang their laundry, and take care of their plants. Whenever there is a loud noise outside on our street, half the people are looking out from their apartments balconies to see what the commotion is about. The result is an overall safer neighborhood at the expense of dealing with nosey neighbors.

8.) Not overridden with tourists. With the exception of the Acropolis and Syntagma areas, most of Athens is full of Greeks. I didn’t appreciate this until visiting Barcelona where it felt that everything there was made for tourism (Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, the built up waterfront areas, even the main pedestrian street was lined with tourist shops). I felt like the only locals were those working at the shops and restaurants. This compares to the currently less popular tourist destination of Athens. Especially in our neighborhood of Pangrati, avoiding the tourist clogged streets can be easy. While these congested places do exist (Acropolis, Plaka, Syntagma) and are getting worse as the weather warms up, we more or less can decide when we want to venture into these areas or stick to our local neighborhood.

9.) The ever present Acropolis view. No other city can boast the same grand view of such an ancient site. With limited high rise buildings, the Acropolis can be seen from throughout the city. Our academic building has a fabulous view from the 3rd floor library and some students even have a bit of it in view from their apartment balconies. One CYA administrator said that she felt herself constantly closing her office’s blinds that reveal a view of the Acropolis reasoning that whenever she looked at it, her work felt miniscule in comparison. At the same time, it is hard to not be inspired by these great works of architecture that always keep you company as you wander around the city.

10.) Greek kindness. Amidst the economic and refugee crisis, the Greeks remain a joyful group of people that celebrate every day of life. Overall, our experience has been a welcoming one with many willing to go out of their way to help us out. Greeks are eager to talk to you to practice their English (at the expense of me learning Greek) and appreciate it when you attempt to use simple greeting phrases. While some Greek habits remain peculiar, most have good reasoning behind them that makes them a convivial bunch. If searching for a country filled to the brim with hospitality, look no further than Greece.

 

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Poet Sandal Maker

Before I came over to study in Greece, there were two things that I knew I would purchase during the semester: a Turkish rug and hand made leather sandals. Well, I left Istanbul with my carryon stuffed with two Turkish prayer rugs and I think that I will have to pay another visit to Melissinos before my time in Athens comes to an end. Melissinos the Poet Sandal Maker of Athens is a historic shop established in 1920 by Georgios Melissinos who passed the business to his son Pantellis, graduate of Parsons School of Design, who currently runs the workshop. Located off Ermou near the central Monastiraki Square, the shop makes tailor-made sandals and has attracted thousands of tourists, not to mention many celebrities.

I walked over to the shop with a friend on a Sunday to finally get myself a pair of these highly desire sandals. The shop was filled with about ten other customers including one of our classmate’s family who was visiting from the states. We were handed a brochure that showed pictures of about 25 different pairs of sandals ranging from €35-50 and we were asked which ones we would like to try on. After guessing my correct shoe size, I tried on a pair of the “Aeolian 2.” I immediately liked them and decided that this was the pair I wanted to get. The straps were then adjusted (similar to how Chaco straps are pulled tighter or looser) and then nailed down so that the sandals fit me perfectly. The straps were punched with holes so that they could be fastened and then the excess was cut off. The whole process took about twenty minutes even with the store being filled with other customers. We both paid in cash (paying with a card is not a thing in Greece). It is worth noting that both the Poet and his helper speak some of the best English that I have heard at a store or restaurant. Overall, a wonderful no-stress situation. Hopefully these sandals will hold up over the next month and I will be back in May for another pair.

Marble Carving

This semester I have been lucky enough to take marble carving classes on Tuesday evenings with some other CYA students. The studio is located in Pangrati about a 5-10 minute walk from CYA and my apartment. We began our first session admiring previous works completed in the studio. Some were carved by first timers, others by those that work in the studio full time. Regardless, all were beautiful. Afterwards, we sat down to books filled with images and previous projects so that we could start to get an idea of what we might want to carve. Subjects ranged from Athenian owls to more contemporary designs. I decided on a stylized version of an antefix, inspired by my Greek architecture class. An antefix is an upright adornment which terminates the tiles of the roof. In grand buildings, such as the Parthenon, these antefixes could be extremely large and elaborate. We worked on drawing out precisely what we wanted our carving to look like on paper and then traced this onto carbon transfer paper. From this we taped the transfer paper onto a slab of marble that roughly fit the dimensions of our carving. Finally, we traced over one more time so that the lines were transferred onto the marble itself. From there we were able to start carving.

I began carving my slab at the start of the second class. We were told that it would take about two full sessions to get the hang of using the hammer and chisel. Seven sessions in and I am still no master but I did eventually get the hang of using these two tools. The hammers are relatively all the same with some having larger or smaller handles. You can use whichever one fits your preference. As for the chisels, we work with about five different types. Some were used for removing large chunks of marble to create a high relief while others carve the finer outline details. My favorite one to use comes to a large point at the end so that you could chip away large pieces at a time. Completing the details can be strenuous so it was nice to get the chance to simply hack away.

Around 9:30 our marble carving session comes to an end and we are treated with wine and delicious food. Everybody eats standing around their carvings blocks chatting about the difficulties of our sessions (how we think we might be getting carpal tunnel, all the dust we are inhaling, chips of marble flying into our eyes) but we all enjoy ourselves, our class, and our wonderful instructors. With only one class left of our eight sessions, I am almost done with my carving with just some tidying up and smoothing out of the surfaces. I think it goes without saying that this class has taught me the true talent needed to complete all those ancient statues and carvings in the architecture that I am studying.

Five Things (Part 1)

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One of the cafes we frequent that is right across the street from my apartment

Now that midterms have (almost) passed, we are coming to the realization that we have crossed the halfway point and have about two months left studying in Greece. In the time that I have spent here many aspects of this country and its people have stood out to me in a positive manner. While life in a foreign country will always have its quirks (which I will touch on later), I want to use this post to talk about some of the things I love about Greece.

1.) The abundance of quality cafes/bars and restaurants. Half way through the semester and I have not tried even all the places in my neighborhood of Pangrati. It seems that there is always a cafe close by, each with their own unique character. The restaurants always serve fresh food, usually noting if something has been frozen (such as seafood). Even simple dishes like pasta taste fresher due to the higher quality of ingredients. The best part? You can get a full taverna dinner for about ∈10.

2.) Animals everywhere. If you have a fear of cats or dogs, then Athens is not for you. Stray animals here are treated like pets. People will place food out for cats and dogs are tagged to show that they are up to date with their shots. Walking around the gardens or later in the evening when the streets empty up, you are sure to find a friend that will guide you on your walk in exchange for a head pat.

3.) ∈2 Grill and Pita. Ask any CYA student what their go to meal in a pinch is and they will most likely guide you to our beloved G&P. For roughly the price of a metro ticket you get your gyro meat (I prefer the pork), tomatoes, lettuce, fresh tzatziki, fries, and some spices all rolled up into a pita. Perfect for on the go or really any time for that matter.

4.) The walkability of the city. This was one of the things that pleasantly surprised me before coming to Athens. From our relatively central neighborhood of Pangrati, it is about a ten minute walk to the city center of Syntagma Square. For my Monday/Wednesday Greek Architecture class on the Acropolis, it takes me about 20-25 minutes to walk all the way to the western gate. The metro is convenient in addition to being extremely well kept, but often times it is easier to walk to your location. Another option are the taxis which despite some students initial bad impression with overcharged airport rides, are generally very cheap (∈5 range).

5.) Stumbling upon ancient ruins. Athens is truly a gem for ancient monuments (duh), but there is not just the Acropolis. Simply walking around the city to go shopping you can pass the Temple of Olympian Zeus, Hadrian’s Arch, The Theater of Dionysus, not to mention the excavation sites that are covered by glass allowing pedestrians to look down upon the ancient city. The first time we took the metro we joked about how difficult it must have been to initially construct the underground system with so many archeological sites below street level.

Like I said, these are just a few of the things I love about the city of Athens. I hope to do another similar post since there is most to this city than cheap gyros and dogs, but this was a quick peek into all the perks I am experiencing as a study abroad student in Greece.

 

Classroom Views

One of the main reasons I selected College Year in Athens was for the opportunity to take courses that extended beyond the classroom and into the city. While my Economics course (Crisis and Recovery in Greece and Europe) and Modern Greek class takes place within the academic buildings, my Ancient Greek Architecture and Contemporary Urbanism classes are planning on holding many sessions at sites throughout Athens.

Today I went on the first walking tour of Athens with my Contemporary Urbanism class. We ended up walking for over three hours as we circled the Acropolis and crossed through many of Athen’s neighborhoods that I had not visited yet. We ended our tour with a sunset view of the Parthenon from the Filopappou Hill.

EΔEM

While brunch does not exist in Greece, a sunset “lunch” might be my new favorite meal of the week. Today myself and six other girls took the tram from Syntagma Square out to Edem. The tram is the equivalent of the subway except it is completely above ground. The ride is slow with many stops along the way which gave us a tour of southern Athens before arriving at the coast. €1,20 gives you a ticket valid for 70 minutes which you validate before getting on the metro/tram/bus/trolley. Rather than feeding your ticket into a machine or giving it to the driver, you validate your ticket so that the time and date are stamped onto it. By not validating your ticket you risk being fined 50 times its worth if you end up being randomly selected. Naturally, many Greeks don’t bother having their tickets validated if they are going a few stops on the tram, but we figured we weren’t about to risk it for such a long ride. Although the beach is on a five to ten minute taxi ride from the city center, the tram took about 30 minutes due to the many stops it makes (17 for our destination).

The tram itself was new and clean as they typically don’t allow food or drinks on public transportation. Almost all public transportation in Athens is from when they hosted the more recent Olympic games in 2004. Most of the people riding the tram did not speak to one another which is different from the usual chatter heard on the streets and inside cafes. Instead, people seemed to take the ride as a time to themselves, contemplate their day, or perhaps decide on what to eat for dinner (haha).

Our stop at Edem was the first one that let off RIGHT AT THE BEACH. We did not even have to cross the street. We picked out a beachside cafe and enjoyed our sunset “lunch” which included Greek salads, calamari, and tzatziki. In the harbor area we could see a variety of boats, a few brave swimmers (it was low 60’s at the time), and mountains in the background. We are hoping to take the tram all the way to the end of the line another day to seek out the best local beach for when the weather warms up, but I’ll take our sunset beach lunches without the bathing suits for the time being.