Monday, June 25, 2012

beyond the tourist trap

In 1973 at the Polytechnic University, located on a street once dubbed the Silicone Valley of Athens, a large uprising was held in protest to current military rule. The three day battle, ending in multiple deaths due to a military tank crashing through the university's main gate where students hung in protest, changed the course of the government's history.  That day, November 17th, became a public holiday from that moment forth. The event also became the foundational backing of a rule later instated making every university in the country a sanctuary, only allowing police to enter the grounds by invitation from the dean.

Fifty meters (165 feet) from the Polytechnic University lies Anarchist Square. Although, that's not the square's real name. Nor is the square actually a square.  The triangular area known as Exarcheia gained its nick-name after a 15 year old boy was fatally shot by a policeman after a verbal exchange. Soon after, riots broke out all over the city, lasting for days.

As Panos, a friend of mine, was showing me around his hometown, he orally debated with himself whether or not he should take me there. "Should I? ... No... Well, maybe, yeah."

I had no clue what he was talking about. After he explained, I made his decision for him.

Nearing the square, there was a group of riot police at the start of the road entering the police no-go-zone.

"They can't get any closer due to the 2008 shooting," Panos informed me.
"Then... what are those guys doing down there," I asked.

Directly across from the square, a handful of armed riot police, dressed in hunter-green colored jumpsuits, stood stone faced against a wall plastered in anarchy posters. Panos looked genuinely confused.

"I don't know," he stated, "I've never seen them so close. But they definitely won't step across the street... otherwise there will be trouble."

We later learned there had recently been issues in the area, and more rumors were spreading about potential riots.

Due to the proximity of the square to the university, it has made it easy for groups of people, 200 strong, to storm the square, let off Molotov cocktails and rush back to safety behind compound walls before police interception.

We stood on the square, the one spot outside of universities police are forbidden to enter, and a small part of me secretly craved to see some action.

(I say small, but since I'm spilling secrets, I actually meant quite a large part of me...).

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Standing majestic on a slope, dominating the area around it, lies the Parthenon in all its glory. Through the marble columns and outer walls, a golden Athena, towering at 42 feet tall (13 meters), keeps guard inside. Tourists come in droves to stare at its beauty and marvel at its odd placement in the world: Centennial Park, smack-dab in the center of Nashville, Tennessee.

Litte did I know, nine years ago, as I sat on the steps of the life-size replica of one of Greece's most prominent buildings, that I would make a journey 5600 miles away from that exact spot to admire the remnants it was duplicated from.
the Parthenon (the original)
the Acropolis Theater of Dionysos
The Erechtheion
Mars Hill
main entrance 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

room with a view

With a hotel room view this stunning, the 30 hour delay to reach Athens was well worth the wait.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

life in captivity

My flight was canceled. I realized it was better that way, but I wasn't happy. I no longer wanted to be in Santorini. Or, rather, I didn't want to be held prisoner - not on an island unable to be enjoyed, and especially not in my white and blue apartment. A white and blue apartment that had a TV that showed more static than image and wireless internet which, in the 90-130 mile an hour winds, provided a signal for thirty seconds out of every ten minute stretch. Granted, I had a book. A good one at that. But the moment I had a lasting signal on my iPod, I did what any 30-something year old girl on the verge of insanity would do: I Skyped my mom. I'd like to say her words consoled me, but hearing: "Oh, Claire, get over it. You're on a paradise island for heaven's sake," just left me feeling defensive. Then, right after that statement, she turned her laptop towards the television. "Here, what do you want to watch," she asked. For the next hour, on my little iPod Touch in a blue and white apartment off the cliffs of Santorini, I watched American late night talk shows on my mother's TV, via her laptop, in Germany.  That is true love. (Plus... shout out to modern day technology! Whoop, whoop!)

The following day, with the winds calmed a small degree, I added another check-mark to my list. I walked one of the island's black beaches.

It must be said, though, I was giddy with excitement to reach the airport for my flight that evening. Excitement which waned each hour as flight representatives announced yet another delay in the departure time.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

One hell of an island

When Greeks go on holiday, they rarely leave the country. Those living abroad return home for the majority of their vacation hours. "Greece is a vacation spot," one Greek friend told me, "why should we go anywhere else?" And when speaking about Santorini, most locals get a glimmer in their eye as they fondly recount the memory of their visit(s) to the island and gush about how beautiful it is.

But even paradise isn't perfect. Oh, no. Not even a Greek version of it.

I planned a two and a half day visit to the island, arriving early afternoon on a Monday and leaving early evening on a Wednesday. To be quite honest, I was more than ready to leave Tuesday evening, but figured I could make the most of my last day by taking a quick visit to one of the island's black beaches, something I had wanted to see since the dawn of (my) time.

Come Wednesday morning, though, the shutters on my windows rattled so loudly, they beat my alarm clock to its job by a solid 2 hours. And as hard as I looked, I couldn't find a snooze button for the wind. Instead I got up, still determined to see my plans through before my flight.

The winds did more than howl though. They whipped around at hurricane forced strength: 90-130 mph. Tops of trees bent so far they nearly touched the ground. Tiles flew off roofs. Open doors were ripped off cars. Most shops never opened for fear of broken merchandise. Cruise ships couldn't navigate the waters. Planes couldn't navigate the skies. With winds so strong, no one in their right mind ventured outdoors... which is why I walked the streets alone.

I clearly didn't make it to the beach.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Lost City of Atlantis

"According to Plato, Atlantis was a naval power lying 'in front of the Pillars of Hercules' that conquered many parts of Western Europe and Africa 9,000 years before the time of Solon, or approximately 9600 BC. After a failed attempt to invade Athens, Atlantis sank into the ocean 'in a single day and night of misfortune'."  (Wikipedia)
Legend has it, the lost city of Atlantis is the sunken, underwater, caldera of Santorini.

Whereas most calderas are the highest point of a volcano, Santorini's caldera (12 by 7 kilometers or 7.5 by 4.3 miles) mysteriously, and quite suddenly, collapsed. Coincidence? I think not.

Along the 300 meter high (980 foot) cliff leading into the caldera, is an 11 kilometer (6.8 mile) path that stretching from the capital city of Fira to the northern most city, Oia. I had a 2.4 kilometer (1.3 mile) advantage, since my temporary resting spot was in Imerovigli, which, coincidentally, is the most picturesque of all the spots on the island.

The hike, leading me up, down and around giant hills, was beautiful and completely relaxing. Wildflowers dotted the landscape. Churches were placed sporadically along the cliff's edge, overlooking the caldera, and standing as lone beacons amongst an unpopulated stretch of land. My leisurely pace brought me to Oia three hours after my departure. But I swear they must have seen me coming-  why else would they have rolled out the marble roads, except for my arrival?

It was no wonder why top Blockbusters hits such as "Laura Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" and "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" (parts 1 and 2) were filmed there.  It's an incredible location and completely photogenic... which was why I spied at least 3 Asian couples posing for engagement photos. But, it didn't keep my attention for too long. I enjoyed Fira more.

After a nice wander around the city, and lunch with a view, I headed for the bus - as enjoyable as the hike was, I felt no desire to repeat it. While standing in front of the stop, looking at the bus departure times, a taxi driver approached me. "Want a taxi to Fira?" he asked me. "No, I'm waiting for the bus," I responded. "For you, I'll make a good price... that way you can leave right now instead of waiting." I looked at him suspiciously, "How much?"  "10 Euros," he stated. I gave a half-hearted chuckle, and put on my game face. "5," I challenged. "8," he played back. "6, final offer!" I exclaimed. He laughed, draped his arm over my shoulders and said, "OK, you win. 6 Euros it is." I felt victorious... even though, at that price, I was still, most likely, swindled.