Wednesday, July 22, 2009

One month home...

I have been home for exactly 1 months today... here is stuff I have learned:

- Reality sucks!!! It was nice to escape the pain, hurt, sadness, stress, frustration, monotony, and difficulty of real life for 6 months. It would seem being away has made me less able to handle it well... then again, who ever handles those things well?
- American money is really weird. The bills are so thin and long... and the coins are so light and small. It is strange having single bills and not £1 or £2 coins.
- When I first got off the plane in America, I noticed the distinct smell of fried food... didn't realize that was missing so greatly in Europe, but it was.
- I love having my family and friends around. You have no idea the joy it gives me to be able to text and call any friend I want to at any time
- I have missed Open Door, I have missed my church family. It feels good to know that people know me there.
- I need a job. I had a lovely first 3 weeks of visiting friends and catching up with people, but now I need to fill my hours with something as I am getting bored... and stir crazy
- Not living alone is an adjustment. I have lived on my own for several years now and upon returning to the states, I moved in with my parents. It is strange not having my stuff filling the house and not having more space that is all my own.
- free food. I love grocery shopping and buying food, but it is nice not having to spend money... and home cooking is lovely!
- DRIVING!!! I have thoroughly missed driving and the joy I feel every time I slip into the drivers seat is indescribable! I love being able to just drive wherever I want to go - not have to wait for a train or walk - I love driving and I love my car.
- I miss walking. I actually do... I love driving, but there was such a feeling of accomplishment that came from walking around an entire European city. I felt so fit!
- I have loved eating all my favorite American foods again - sunflower seeds, gushers, QT 32 oz drinks, Wild Flower Bread Company, Whole Food's sushi, In & Out, Wendy's spicy chicken sandwiches, Burger King's Spicy Chicken Crisp, Ben & Jerry's Smores, Velveeta Shells & Cheese, Lucky Charms, and all the milk in the fridge I can handle - heaven
- Visiting my favorite stores - Forever21, Target (like 15 times now), Ross, Kohls, Payless, Old Navy, Teidemann's thrift store, Dollar Store, Apple Store, etc.
- Being able to see pictures, TV shows, Movies, advertisements and be able to say I have been to such place. Walking through Target I always use to look at their art pieces of France or London or Italy and dream about one day seeing them for myself. I walked through the other day and saw a big poster of the Eiffel Tower and got so excited that I had seen it in person, and also knew exactly where the photographer must have been standing to take the picture... small joys.
- Sharing with people about my experience. I keep telling everyone I meet that they need to drop everything and do what I did... even if just for a couple weeks - but to go on an adventure. People also always ask whether I feel like God revealed stuff about me that I didn't know before - stuff I was more capable of. And I answer "no". I think the thing that God taught me while I was away was not anything about me... but EVERYTHING about Him. I learned so much about who God is and how much he deeply deeply deeply loves me. I have said in posts before that God seemed so audible there, so tangible... returning here I would have to be honest and say that it is harder to hear him and feel him in my normal life... but the memory of what I experienced there reminds me of the reality of God.

Thanks for enjoying the ride with me. I will continue to post on this blog of course, but it will soon return to the mundane adventures of a girl in her mid-twenties who is trusting God to help her figure out life, school, love, friendships, and her purpose...

Monday, July 20, 2009

Athens & Delphi (Day 12 & 13)

Phoebe and i had to get off the boat by 8am, so the day began rather early... miserably early to be honest!
When we got off the boat we grabbed a taxi to our hostel (which ended up costing an arm and a leg, but it was worth it to be dropped off right at our hostel). We were crossing our fingers in hopes we would be allowed to get into our room early (9am) and be able to take a nap, but alas it was not to be. Instead we put our luggage in the luggage room and enjoyed their free wireless internet and then at 10am we joined a walking tour of Athens.
Some of our destinations...
Temple of Zeus - where we learned that (in the words of our Greek tour guide) that the Greeks "like to destroy [their] heritage" and a lot of the columns were torn down to become part of the foundations of the surrounding buildings.

The original Olympic Stadium - which hold over 60,000 people. The original olympic games were performed in the nude, but they eventually switched to requiring clothes. At one of the games a woman disguised herself as a man and won one of the marathon races... promptly upon crossing the finish line all her clothes fell off and the secret was out. After this women's games were introduced for certain events.

Parliament of Greece - where we saw the "changing of the guards"... the Greek guards are ridiculous looking and their changing ceremony is silly as anything I have EVER seen

The guards' uniform is very specific in its meaning... the number of the pleats in the skirt is 400 to represent the 400 years of oppression of the Greeks. The puff balls in their shoes are to hide the daggers in the toes of their shoes... very clever to hide daggers with something so very subtle and inconspicuous... haha!
A main street in Athens... the good shopping street

After roaming for a bit around the city learning things about the Greek Royal Family which was not in fact originally Greek and therefore were not liked and when they fled the country in fear of a war, they were refused back into the country for all time it would seem. We also learned about how one of the Greek Prime Ministers introduced the potato into the country rather recently in its history and therefore changed the face of greek food. We then began our ascent up to the acropolis with fresh strawberries and bananas bought at a fruit stand in town. We walked up the hill and sat ourselves down on a hilltop just below the acropolis and took in the best view of Athens.
The Ancient Greek Agora - the ancient main market place in ancient Athens


As the story goes, the tale behind the name of Athens came from 2 propositions presented to the city elders from the Goddess Athena and the God Posidon. Athena offered the city in return for them naming the city after her, wisdom, education, art, culture, and justice. Posidon wanted the city named after him and in exchange he offered the city victory in war, ships, trade, and safety at sea. The elders went with Athena and as a result Posidon sent a great flood to destroy the city. Athens consequently built a lively temple to the god of the sea at the shore.
You also may be wondering the name of the hill on which we were sitting, or you aren't wondering at all, but I'll tell you anyways... the hill in Greek is called Areopagus and translates into English as "Mars Hill". So if you haven't caught on already Mars Hill is the mountaintop on which Paul preached to the men of Athens in Acts 17!! It was awesome to stand there and think on that passage.
It was there that our tour ended and Phoebe and I decided to continue on up to the acropolis from there.

The acropolis in Greek means "farthest point in the city" It is known to be the most significant ancient archaeological site in the world.

This is the theater where Yanni played his "live at the acropolis" concert

Theater of Dionysus

The erechtheum also on site

After the acropolis Phoebe and I walked down to the Ancient Agora to explore the site

For lunch we went into the market and got a gyro - SO DELICIOUS!!! We then set about shopping... we had pretty much seen everything in Athens we wanted to as far as historical sites. Surprisingly a lot of the famous sites can easily just be walked by and you don't have to pay to get in. So Phoebe and I shopped YAY!
Along the way through the market Phoebe and I were joined by a stray dog... Athens has TONS! of stray dogs everywhere! This dog we named Raul and he was awesome.

By this time it was close to 3:30pm and we were exhausted, so we headed back to the hostel for a nap before dinner. Our room wasn't air conditioned and it happened to be 94 degrees out, so it wasn't the most comfortable, but it was restful. After our nap we headed to the roof bar to check it out... had a drink, met some people, and then we ventured out for dinner.
Our hostel was literally down the street from the acropolis, so I caught this picture on the way to dinner

We also had a chance to walk by the new Acropolis museum which was going to open the following day! Currently most of the Parthenon interior and other big statues are housed in the British Museum (which I had seen of course), but Greece is hoping this museum opening will be a step in the direction of Britain returning the pieces... I am not seeing that happening soon.

So with our incredibly productive day in Athens, we found ourselves with little left to do in the city and so we decided our second day would be spent on a day trip to Delphi in the north. Delphi is of course known as the hope of the Oracle of Delphi.
The bus ride was 3 hours and I was able to doze for a little bit... accept there was this painfully loud minnesota man who I don't think truly grasped the volume of his voice. haha.
We finally arrived at Delphi and it became apparent we were in for a VERY hot day.

Delphi was at one point thought to be the center of the universe because Zeus sent out two eagles in opposite directions around the world and they collided at Delphi. (As you may have guessed the line between mythology and Greek history is very blurred). So at the center of the universe they placed a stone with magical powers and called it "the navel" basically just like your belly button which is essentially the center of your body. The rock is believed to give you strange dreams when you touch it... this is interesting for me since my dreams are always weird

hugging a column

This is foundation of the Temple of Apollo which is where the Oracle was housed. The Oracle was basically some young girl strung out on Laurel leaves who had spies everywhere who fed her information to make her predictions somewhat accurate.

So basically the Oracle was just an ancient flower child hippie

Delphi was a full fledged city and therefore had a theater

and a stadium - which you cant run in anymore cause someone tripped and subsequently sued the site for their injuries... stupid people

Delphi also has a museum with some smaller artifacts in it. It's not a very popular place and appeared to have more people working there than people visiting. They also had a rule that fully allowed you to take pictures of the artifacts as long as you didn't have people in them... strange. Our tour guide let us go in alone because she is banned from the museum. She doesn't exactly have her tour guide license, which you need by law in Greece, and so all throughout the site we had to act as though we were just friends and she wasn't allowed to explain things to us very loudly. She was awesome though!
Before we headed back to the bus we had a lovely picnic provided by the tour. We sat in the shade which was nice.

After Delphi we headed to a small town to do some shopping. I forget the name of the town, but it was small and charming and nice to roam through. Some rain clouds also came in and drizzled on us a bit which was really nice after the heat.

We boarded the bus on the other side of the town and were ready to set off back to athens (after of course we found a missing member of our group who was lost for a good 20 minutes).

Once we were back in Athens Phoebe and I went out for some food and one last shopping trip. It was our last night in Greece, our last night in Europe and our last night together! Once we returned to London the following day we would go our separate ways only to meet up on monday at heathrow before I boarded my plane home to America. We ate at this lovely restaurant right below the acropolis. It was great food and we totally splurged. There were two guitar players serenading the restaurant, which was almost empty but for us. The host, who was awesome, asked for them to play a song especially for us and they began to play "Let it Be" by the Beatles... It was one of those moments where everything hit me... the amazing trip, the perfectness of this spot, this moment, and to have experienced it all with my dearest friend Phoebe!! I totally burst out crying. It was just such a perfect moment!
This is me and Phoebe trying not to completely lose it

Our guitar players

It was a delicious meal and then for dessert we got watermelon on the house... AWESOME!!
Afterwards we went to look through the stores. One such store I went into I began flipping through their shirts and all of a sudden the lady who owned the store starts following me. When I finish flipping through a rack of tshirts, she promptly shoves in between me and the rack to begin to fix it... she begins muttering under her breath how I am a "stupid American chicken!" EXCUSE ME!!! I had no idea what happened... I promptly left the shop thoroughly confused and only after I had left did I realize how angry that made me... I had NO IDEA what I did to deserve that!
We shopped some more and we even walked by the Museum to catch some of the grand opening festivities. They were projecting cartoons of mythological tales on one of the outside walls so we stopped and enjoyed the show for a moment.
Back at the hostel we packed for our return to england and had quite a fun time throwing out clothes, shoes and toiletries we would not be using again... I love throwing out unneeded things.
One last picture before bed of Phoebe and I... post showers

So this is Goodbye Greece... this is goodbye continental Europe... the adventure comes to an end and I return home wiser and in more awe of your amazingness. Thanks Europe for being awesome!!!

Rhodes, Crete, Santorini (Day 10 &11)

The day we anchored in Rhodes was a very lovely day! We are scheduled to be at the island of Rhodes the entire day unlike previous days where we hit up 2 islands in one day. So since we didn't have to rush off and on the boat, it was a very easy and lazy day. Phoebe and I loved the fact that our room on the boat had no windows, so the only light to stream within our walls at night was the crack at the bottom of the door. So come morning time we were completely oblivious to the hour. We slept in this day and it was heavenly!! We actually slept so late that housekeeping almost walked into our room to clean.
When we finally disembarked we were met with the lovely medieval island.

Rhodes island holds the Knights Palace... the town is very medieval in style and has ruins scattering it's landscape

Phoebe and mine's first stop before exploring and shopping was lunch. I LOVE greek food and we were so excited to order greek salad and calamari

These restaurants are rather tricky for you see they put out bread on your table that you would assume is complimentary, but instead you are charged for it. Also Coke in the bottle is twice as expensive than if you had them pour it into glass... LAME!
Phoebe and I discovered on Rhodes a rather interesting feeling, which we affectionately termed "boating." It is when you are NOT on the boat and yet feel like you are swaying back and forth, this can also lead to you swaying when you stand and swerving slightly as you walk. It is awful and greatly affects your appetite.
Phoebe and I had a lovely time shopping and exploring though. The markets were so pretty

Lots of medieval photo ops at the knights palace

The mediterranean is the most gorgeous color blue! In fact Phoebe found a ring with a blue opal in it that was the exact color of the water... SO gorgeous!

As we wondered around the island we became rather lost in the wandering side streets and medieval passage ways... luckily we weren't lost long and it was kind of fun straying into the less touristy parts of the town.
That night back on the ship, it was the formal dinner. Since Phoebe and I were in the middle of backpacking through Europe, we were without super formal attire, luckily Phoebe had brought a dress by accident, but I was without. So I bought a cute summer dress on Rhodes to wear. At the dinner some people were rather fancy (satin, cocktail dresses, etc), while some were less elegant (polo shirt and kakis), Phoebe and I fell somewhere in the middle.
A photo of our reflections in the dining room ceiling

Sadly we didn't a better picture of our outfits - ah well.
The dinner was rather fun and for a surprise at the end our serving staff sang songs and ran around with our dessert - baked Alaskan lit on fire! They sang traditional greek songs and we all waved our napkins in the air and many of the drunk American teenagers on the ship started a conga line. Good times.
Our day ended with us in our room listening to the gossip through the wall coming from some teenage boys. I had really no idea that boys were no better than girls when it came to gossip and "girl talk". It was thoroughly entertaining to get all the dirt on Emma (who would seem to have a questionable reputation) and Brent (who we actually didn't learn much about, but they all seemed to keep yelling out his name).

Our last day on the cruise began with a stop in Crete... there is absolutely nothing to share about Crete as it was not at all exciting. We were at the city of Heraklion and it is the supposed birthplace of Zeus himself. Unfortunately the notable sites of the city were a rather long walk uphill and the map was thoroughly confusing as it was in English, but the street signs were in Greek. So Phoebe and I began our walk to the center of the city only to have to turn around before reaching our destination in order to make it back to the ship on time. Granted, we had a late start because we slept in a little bit more than we should have.
Once we returned to the ship we just relaxed and chilled on the boat. We had a fancy 3-course meal in the formal dining hall - have I shared with you the delicious cheese plate that I absolutely could not get enough of and as a result ordered it EVERY MEAL! Phoebe and I also enjoyed a LOVELY nap before we were to reach Santorini.
Santorini was very awesome! Phoebe and I bought an excursion to explore the volcano of Santorini and a sailboat ride around the island with a dip in the hot springs. So excited!
The first part of our tour/excursion was a walk around the volcano. Sadly, the description of this said "walk" was rather a strenuous hike! Non of us on the tour were well prepared with our flip flops and swimsuits with light swim suit covers. It was also incredibly hot and really not fun. However, Santorini is a rather fascinating place. It is in fact a collection of about five islands. It all use to be connected, but the multiple eruptions of the volcano at the center have broken them all apart. Also of note: the legend of Atlantis was inspired by Santorini's volcano.

Interesting facts about the volcano:
1. it erupts every 50 years or so... it has been expected to erupt since 2005... so any time now.
2. we came upon a hole dug about a foot deep into the ground and when you stuck your hand in it you discovered that it was approx 95 degrees Centigrade.
3. You are not allowed to take rocks from the volcano, but I did... and I don't feel bad
View of Fira on the Santorini's main island

After a miserable hike we boarded a cute sailboat to sail around the island

We sailed until we reached the hot springs. This is a section of the sea where lava and sulphur is bubbling up under the water therefore making the water quite warm and lovely to swim in. The mud is also said to have healing properties and of course great for the skin. In order to get to the actual hot springs we had to jump off the boat into the Aegean and swim a little ways to the springs.
Me swimming in the Aegean!

The above picture was taken right after I swallowed a lot of the sulphur/salt water and so the excitement on my face is shielding my strong urge to throw up. While we were in the springs we enjoyed the tiny bubbles coming from beneath our feet, the wild goats roaming the mountainside, and the entertaining graffiti on the surrounding rocks. One such message read "Call my mobile if you need help - ###" It was great.
After our swim we sailed back to the main island and took a bus up the hill to Fira - the main city in Santorini.
We had a very short time to explore the city, but I was able to find a necklace of the blue opal that was almost identical to Phoebe's ring!!! SO PRETTY!
The views from the city were breathtaking

Phoebe and I then joined the queue for the cable car down to the tender boats to take us back to the ship. Unfortunately it was INCREDIBLY long and there were high tension amongst those in line that they wouldn't make the last of the boats. It wasn't helped though when a HUGE tour group of French people joined their tour guide who was ahead of us in line making up 50 more people back in line!!! A bunch of people started arguing with the group... everyone started yelling at them - even us, but the argument afforded enough of a distraction to allow Phoebe and I to bypass the entire group and move up in line. Victory!!
The cable car was quite an experience because you are basically sitting in a glass box dropping quite swiftly straight down the side of a cliff. It freaked Phoebe and I out considerably!

Phoebe's face is priceless

We happened to make the last boat to our ship luckily and we quickly made it to the buffet for dinner.
To celebrate our last evening on the ship Phoebe and I headed up to the dance club at the top level, ordered some cocktails and attempted to enjoy the dance floor... unfortunately it was already inhabited by silly 15/16 year olds and them grinding on each other... ugh! We did get in a couple dances and a couple drinks and then called it a night.

The cruise was the absolute BEST thing I did in all of my Adventures on the European continent!!