Monday, May 24, 2010

The final trip

5 am on Monday May 10 came quick. Before I knew it we were leaving the El Greco hotel and I had a long day ahead of me taking me all the way back to Boston, MA. I was full of both excitement and dread. I was not looking forward to the 22 hours of traveling I had ahead of me but after 4 months, I was ready to return home.

So we hoped in a cab from our hotel to take us to the Santorini airport where we would all fly from Santorini to Athens before many of us parted ways for the last time. I had a plan: sleep through the flight to Athens. Mission Accomplished.
Then we arrived in Athens where Katie, Becky and Avery had flights to Atlanta, GA, Paris and Madrid. So Hannah and I left them and made our way through the airport just in time to board our next flight, Athens to London, the plan again was to sleep. This time, mission was not quite as successful. With a breakfast served on board and a free movie, we watched television, talked and slept a little. Then we were back on familiar grounds at Heathrow. London for the last few hours, what did we do? Went through passport control, who discussed the bars we went to rather than the classes we took, got our bags and went through customs and then found a pub to enjoy one more fish & chips. Then I was on my own again, which was weird because I hadn't flown alone since I first arrived in London.
So I went underground to go from Terminal 1 to Terminal 3 so I could get on my final flight from London to Boston. So I arrived at the Terminal and went to check in, which is what brought on trouble. I walked up to the counter to check in and the not-so-friendly employee helping me informed me that my flight was cancelled. Oh god. Volcano strikes again? But I had JUST checked my flight online and it was on time. So I asked how that was possible. Then she realized I wasn't on that flight...idiiot...but that my flight would most likely get cancelled as well. Great. But she took my bag anyway and told me that my gate would be posted by 2:30 and that it may be later than that and that of course my flight could get delayed up until the minute its supposed to leave the gate. Then she took my bag and she told me my bags would be checked through to Boston. Needless to say, I did not like her. Then I called my mother freaking out and crying that I would not get home before sitting down just infront of the screen which posts the gates and sat there watching for the remaining hour I had before it was supposed to board, very very anxiously. By 2:45, my flight had a gate and I was checking in to again wait for us to board, which did not happen until 3:30. The flight attendant told us to be quick as we had a 4:00 runway time...which we didn't make so we again had to wait until 5. By that time, I was ready to go still convinced this flight would never take off. But, it did. I got lucky being on the only flight out of 3 American Airlines flights to Boston that day to get out. Only took us an extra couple of hours and got a few interesting views of the Volcano. I hate that volcano, can't say I'm upset to not be under its shadow anymore. Then from a distance I saw it, that familiar coastal town, the colorful water tower and the runway always seemingly too close to the ocean. Boston was on the horizon and I was finally home.
Before long, I was going through passport control, picking up my bags and going through customs for the final time. I was greeting my mom on familiar soil, who had a french toast bagel with honey walnut cream cheese and a bottle of water ready for me, she knows me well and yes, I felt like it was real, I was actually home., We then made the trek to the car then the quick drive up 93 to Andover. Exhausted, I hung out with my family before passing out in my own bed...I felt as though I might sleep forever...maybe I did.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Santorini

You know that island you think of when you think of the Greek Islands? It's beyond beautiful with all sorts of white buildings lining cliffs and beautiful blue topped churches. Or it's the one in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, 1 and 2. Well that's Santorini, probably the most picturesque place I have ever been. 

Upon arrival, after a quick 25 minute flight, we arrived in Santorini. Eager to grab our bags, although Hannah's took a little longer than usual, we headed to grab a cab to take us to the hotel, where we planned to hit the pool or beach or just sun, whatever our hotel had. So we headed to the cab line, where I told them we needed two cabs. He answered 5 people? And I said yes, 2 cabs and he showed me to his small sedan and said 1 cab. It was like a clown car, like when the Holsteins and Swartzs used to try and fit all 8 of their family members, their 2 large dogs and luggage all into Beth's station wagon. Our cab driver put 4 of us in the back, 1 in front, 3 bags on the top fastened in with rope and 2 bags in the trunk. It was unbelievable. Then before we knew it, we had arrived at our hotel, El Greco Hotel. The hotel did not disappoint either. With beautiful vilas, 3 pools, 1 pool bar, 1 restaurant and a lot of comfy chairs, we were pleased. Then quickly got into our rooms and out by the pool, with snacks, to discuss what we wanted to do with our final 4 days in Santorini. Oh and did we have plans. Within an hour, we spoke with the conceirge and had our 3 days planned.

Day 1:
Our first day, we walked the 10 minute walk to Fira, the capital city, and found our way to the tram, which was to take us down the cliff, with beautiful views, to the Old Port. From there, we then planned to ride the donkeys up the cliff. Now, I really wanted to ride the donkeys. I felt like it was a must-do for Santorini. However, if you know me at all, you might know about my fear of undomesticated animals, and by undomesticated I mean anything about dogs and cats, and yes that includes strays, those scare me too. I have no idea why. It's not rational. Nothing I do or think or say is. Anyway, we decided on our order, Kate then Avery then Hannah then me then Becky. I figured it was good, I was near Hannah who is good with animals and in front of Becky who rides horses. So we were off to a good start. Up until we go to the first curve and the donkeys ahead of me had gotten off to a quick start. But Becky caught up to me and I was fine for a few minutes. Then my donkey got confused. He slowed down and somehow lost Becky's donkey. Mind you, these donkeys don't really have a system. One donkey has a bell attached and he leads and the rest follow the bell. No guides go with you. So when my donkey lost becky's donkey, it lost its bell and had no idea where to go. So she yelled to me different ways to get him to move and he slowly did. But then it got worse. He stopped again and again and would not move. He was lost and then he sensed my fear. Thus I sat in the middle of this cliff with no one in front of me or behind me, SCREAMING. HELP ME! Oh god, it was terrifying. The man up above saw it too. Then the donkey began to HOWL, it was a noise I hope to never hear again. And then he continued to do it until 3 Greek girls came down to path and decided to help me. However, their help turned into the donkey RUNNING down the mountain, at full speed. I've never seen a donkey move so fast. So one of the Greek girls had to find a way to stop him and help get me off. As I heard the man above yell, that's not supposed to happen. So my new friend, the Greek girl, helped me navigate the path and find the man who worked at the bottom and translated what had happened. He wanted to put me back on a donkey, I wanted my money back. We compromised and he put me back on the donkey and then attached my donkey to another donkey, which he hoped on, and led me up the mountain. In the end it was okay, but after my experience with a hostile donkey, I dont think Im rushing back to ride the donkeys anytime soon!
After the tramatic event, we got to the top, bought the photos, yes I wanted proof I had done it, and decided to walk around Fira. With so many cute shops we spent the rest of the morning before getting lunch, which had the most beautiful view I have ever seen. Then we headed back to the pool to start tanning, and yes, we did get more tzatziki as a snack. That night, we planned to go to Oia, the town on the tip of Santorini, which is known for the most spectacular views. So we went for dinner and enjoyed it.
Day 2:
On Saturday, we had arranged to spend the day on a private Catamaran. The Boat took us by the black and white beach and showed us the island. It headed out to the volcano islands and allowed anyone who wanted to swim to go into the hot springs. It was a little cold for my liking plus I was still feeling fine and not sea sick so I didn't want to push it. Note to self: bring dremamine. The boat included drinks and food so after the swimmers got back on the boat we headed in between the two volcano islands for lunch, where we served a delicious barbeque of tzatziki, eggplant spread, greek salad, chicken kebabs and the most delicious lamb sausages. Then we headed back to the port enjoying apples and cinnamon and wine for dessert and, when we were back on land, homemade ice cream bars. We then spent the remainder of the day sunburning at the hotel and ended up eating dinner in comfy chairs at the hotel pool, perfect. And yes, they had dolmas and tzatziki.
Day 3:
Our final day in Santorini was also my final day in Europe, sans that whole travel day I had ahead of me...yuck. So we spent it relaxing, snacking, swimming at the hotel. And again, ate dinner in the same comfy chairs before packing up everything and preparing for our 5am departure for the airport the following morning. Oh was that Monday going to be a long day. But more on that later.

Athens

We arrived in Athens on Monday afternoon with just enough time to check in to our hotel, take naps and then head to the small town near our hotel, we stayed outside the city near the beach thus making our walk to dinner each night filled with sand, water and if you have facebook, jumping pictures on the beach! Anyway, the first night, eager for Greek food, we headed in to town searching for the first Greek restaurant we could find. We had already determined that we would eat Greek food and only greek food for the following week...and at that, we were pretty damn successful. However, on that first night, we seemed to be walking down the International Street walking by Italian, American and Mexican Restaurants. You name a non-Greek type of cuisine and we probably walked by it. However, we did persevere and found a cute Greek restaurant where we sat outside and ordered ourselves some pita, tzatziki (you'll notice that was consumed a lot), a warm goat cheese dish, beet salad, greek salad and chicken kebabs. It lived up to every expectation.
The next morning, we woke up early to get a jump start on our first day in Athens, which we planned to spend seeing the sites. We climbed the Acropolis and saw the Agoras. Enjoyed Greek Salads, Tzatziki, Dolmas (also a trend you'll notice, although this one was the best--served warm in my favorite greek soup broth) and Spanikopita. Then continued on to see the Olympic Stadium. We got lucky as with the strikes in Athens, everything that day was closing early around 3ish. Thus, exhausted, we went home for naps then headed out to one of the restaurants we spotted on the beach the night before.
Our second day in Athens, we planned to spend exploring the Plaka. DING! DING! DING! For those of you paying attention to dates or current events, we were in Athens on the day you probably saw it on the news filled with riots and strikes in downtown. However, we planned ahead and decided we wanted to go into the city center so we left bright and early, before the taxis joined the strike and hit the plaka for some shopping. Then enjoyed a long lunch, yes there was tzatziki, before trying to find a way to get home. The hotel had told us we could probably find a cab but we were out of luck so we did as they told us and called them to see if they could get us a ride home. They directed us to the tram, which was conveniently located near Parliament. DING DING DING AGAIN! Yes, Parliament is where the strikes and fire and bombs and riots you saw on TV were happening. What kind of hotel tells you to go to the strike? Luckily, we didn't listen to them and continued to look for a cab, which we successfully found! By then, of course, we managed to be hungry again and went to dinner again in the town near our hotel, a Mediterranean place, yes there were more dolmas and tzatziki, and grabbed some gelato for our walk home on the beach.

By Wednesday night, I couldn't believe the next morning, I'd be boarding a plane to my last destination on our extended semester vacation. However, Santorini was next and there's nothing bad about that.

Barcelona

It's been too long for an apology so instead of wasting time with one, I'll get right to telling you about the end of my semester abroad a la Barcelona, Athens and Greece and maybe I'll even dazzle you with some kind of conclusion, you know what I learned over there or something like that. However, this might be coming to you in installments seeing as its already 12:20. And with that, I quit procrastinating.

BARCELONA--
We last left off on Friday morning as my friends and I journeyed to Barcelona. Arriving smack dab in the middle of siesta, we spent the afternoon in the hotel. To be honest, I was bored, really bored. However, by 830, Siesta was over so we headed over to the the tapas bar across the street, which we had conveniently been watching all afternoon and it looked good. Upon walking in, we immediately befriended the waitor who was quick to bring over the sangria and his English speaking self to help us decipher the menu and direct us on what we should order. Within 15 minutes, different plates of delicious tapas, which Hannah correctly taught me to pronounce, were slowly being placed in front of us: Goat Cheese in Philo, Fried Calamari, Eggplant Crisps, Grilled Scallions with a delicious sauce, croquettes and more. While it seemed almost unimaginable, we consumed it all and loved every bite of it. 
The next morning, we slept in. With not a lot on our agenda, we left the hotel around 12 to get some lunch and walk around the port. We went to a restaurant down near the port, which the hotel suggested. While on the pricey side, Paella was on the menu and this was a must-do for my Barcelona Agenda. We then walked home via the port stopping for pictures and market stands and of course street crepes (this one had white chocolate...my favorite!). We then were back in time again for siesta where we hit the roof top of our hotel for naps then again via window watching picked another restaurant for dinner, an Italian restaurant across the street.
After a not so busy day, I was antsy for adventure. So we decided to head down to Las Ramblas, where we conveniently bumped into 2 of the boys from Palace Court, who joined us for lunch, more tapas, and to explore Barcelona. With their map, and Hannah's friends studying abroad in Barcelona, we were on the subway and off to Parc Guell, Sangrada Familia and more of the Guadia Architecture. We had certainly earned our siesta today but planned to meet up with the boys again for the light show and the infamous Barcelona club scene. So, after our naps, we were off again to Bar La Pepa, our favorite restaurant across the street with our favorite waiter. Then hoped in cabs to take us over to the Magic Fountains, a light show which is done to music, both classical and modern. We sat in awe and also wondering, what does one major in to become a magic fountain engineer? designer? who knows! Then we were read to hit the Dow Jones Bar, a bar suggested to us by others studying abroad with us in London who made it to Barcelona before us. This bar was of course set up to resemble the stock market, as demand changed for the drinks--so did the prices! Also, Hannah would probably want me to tell you, she took a shot on fire.

While maybe it's because I've never taken a single spanish class and I never really had any interest in Spain, I wouldn't call Barcelona my favorite city. While beautiful with architecture so unique, which I've decided is beginning to probably sound not unique to all of you, because what city did I not find so different than everything else?! The things we did see did have that wow factor, there was just a lot of down time and if you know me, you know I dont do well with down time. Anyway, our time there was short and by Monday morning, we were on yet another plane headed this time to Athens.

More later on the land of Dolmas, Feta and more Dolmas, really I think we ate half the dolmas in the country!

Friday, May 14, 2010

I'm writing this on a piece of paper

Hello again from 10,000 fee, Although this time I'm writing on real, even lined, paper. Thanks Becky! Currently I'm sitting on my way from Prague to Barcelona, Spain, another place my parents have never been (+1 pt Carly!) The past week has gone by so fast!

Prague--
This city was unlike all the other cities I've been to. While the narrow cobblestone streets and bridges reminded me of Florence, the architecture certainly did not. While walking across the Charles Bridge, the Town Hall, with its spires seemed to almost transport me back to Disney Land circa 1993 and Cinderella's Castle. 
For the past few days, the family and I spent the day exploring the city. Upon arrival, we checked into our hotel and headed over to the Charles Bridge to meet my friends for dinner. Dinner was amazing, however, not what I later learned is characteristic of Czech food, although I did find that food surprising like good. Anyway, we enoyed it and the view, which looked over the water and at the bridge. The clear sky, wasnt so bad either.
The following morning, we began our exploration making our way towards the Prague Castle stopping along the way at various places before hiking the way up the hill til we finally arrived at the Caste. Exhausted, it was time for lunch and we stopped for traditional czech cuisine, goulash, dumplings, the gamut. By the way, bread dumplings are kind of weird. They're kind of like the middle of a bagel but a little moist. Conclusion: go for the potato dumplings. Then we made our way back again stopping again along the way. By then, my legs were tired and desperate for a nap.
And of course, before long it was time ot eat again. We again went to a traditional czech restaurant. We shared appetizers of sausages, beet and roast beef salad and had roast duck, prok, cabbages, sauerkraut, schnitzel, etc. The men next to us couldn't stop staring at my meal, which kind of freaked me out a little...
The following day, we spent the ENTIRE day in the Jewish Quarter--seeing all 6 temples, the cemetery and of course the jewelry stores. Midday, we did stop for some Greek Food, a nice preview for what's to come (HANG IN THERE: GREECE POSTS COMING SOON!!). But by the end of the day, I think I was jewed out. So again, we went back for naps, something I think I did everyday on every trip I took. Then we made dinner reservations to eat at the top of the Dancing Buildings, Celeste. It was beautiful and was one of those restaurants that gives you a little treat from the chef before your meal. I'm a big fan of those, note: if I ever open a restaraunt, I'd like to do this. However, this restaurant even did it after the meal and the home-made bonbons may have been the highlight of the meal! Anyway, the food was delicious. Then we headed back, stopping for some gelato, anything to delay packing...again.

So now I've left my family for a week, dont worry I'll have plenty of time to see them this summer. (Yes, for my Boston readers, I've decided to take a job at home). Now, I'm off with my friends (Hannah, Avery, Becky & Kate to Barcelona then Athens and Santorini. But more on those later...off to the land of Sangria, Tapas & more Sangria.