9 days in…

Thur. May 16, 2013

This trip has been a whirlwind. We spent the last several days on a cruise throughout the Greek islands. We visited Mykonos, Patmos, Crete, Rhodes, and Santorini. The cruise also stopped in Kusadasi—a part of Turkey that is actually in Asia. Here, we went to the House of the Virgin Mary and Ephaseus. At the House of the Virgin Mary, some of the students added their prayers to the impressive prayer wall.

Here, the hopes and dreams of visitors from all over the world are mixed, mingled, and tied together in this sacred space. Today, we spent the afternoon and early evening on Santorini where some of us took a bus to the gorgeous cliffside Oia village.

Although it was cloudy and overcast (and we weren’t able to stay for Oia’s famous sunset), the views were stunning. Over the last few days, we’ve had the opportunity to visit churches and mosques, old fortresses and 2000 year-old ruins, a volcano (on Santorini) and beaches, and shop at each lovely port town. We’re all a bit exhausted, but tomorrow we disembark and stay the next leg of our journal.

Friday, May 17, 2013

We arrived in Napflion yesterday. The town is beautiful. 

Our hotel is centrally located in the new part of town and it’s right on the water. The students ran around town yesterday and wore themselves out! Most of them were asleep by 10:00 PM! Today, we met up with Marina again (our tour guide from Athens) and she took us to a local church. We sat inside and listened as she explained the history of the church along with its architecture and rituals. Then, we climbed the 999 steps up to the Palamidi fortress. Some of the students went straight to the top of the fortress, but others meandered up the steps and took their time (or took the bus). But, the view from the top was beautiful. Now, students are napping or shopping or playing at the beach. Tonight, we’re going to head downtown to have a nice dinner with the whole group at an outdoor café. The Nutella crepes are so delicious that some of the students never want to return to the United States (and, quite honestly, I can’t blame them).

Sat., May 11, 2013

Today, we visited the Acropolis (which literally means the highest point in the city).

Our tour guide, Marina, was wonderful. A native of Athens (or “Athena” as the Greeks call it), she gave us every imaginable, intricate detail of the historic site.

We started at the bottom where she gave us a 20-minute lesson about the history of the Acropolis, and then we climbed to the top and took in the splendid views all around us. 

The tour ended after Marina took several photos of the entire group, (she was a one-stop tourist shop!), and then we headed back to the hotel for some well-deserved R&R.

Stateside

 

We’re back, safe and sound and forever changed by our time in Greece. This morning started out a blur. It was a 3 a.m. wake up call for us, and I can hardly believe that I’m actually sitting on my living room couch right now.  The past few days have mimicked the hectic verve of Athens, the country’s capital.  With a population around 5 million people, the city has offered the group a new take on Greece. The energy was palpable; the shops of the Plaka opened up early to meet the sun and with it, the thousands of tourists and people milling around.   It was here that we finally viewed the funeral mask of Agamemnon, something we’d been waiting for all semester long. And of course, there was the glory of the acropolis and the majestic Parthenon that not even ugly scaffolding could detract from.

At the airport, Professor Renfroe and I read through the last of our students’ remaining journal entries.  I was touched by how well this group bonded with each other, and at the risk of sounding corny, we really did become a little family of eclectic sorts by the end of journey.  As I read through the commentaries of how this trip changed our students, I was reminded again of the whole purpose of these JBIP trips; it’s summed up nicely on the back of the fabulous shirts we rocked all over Greece: expand your universe.  It’s obvious these students did, and I was transformed with them.

A final goodbye,

Professor Bowers

The Navel of the World

We eventually found the center of the world, but it took some help from the Oracle...

Crete seems so far away in time, and as we near the end of our trip, it feels like it’s all been a dream.  Delphi in particular, holds a magical charm. Cozied up in the mountains, this town (which was literally picked up and resettled just down the road during excavations) is so easy to fall in love with.  While there is no fortress to stare out of from our hotel windows, our balconies open out to the beautiful mountains. This place, by mythical standards, is believed to be the center of the earth. You might expect the Navel of the World to be bigger in scale, but this place seems perfect to me for the bestowed honor.  To make pilgrimages to the famed Oracle, housed in Apollo’s Temple, meant to pick your way up the steep mountain, and even though it’s a pagan tradition, it seems in line with many religious rites of passage.  If the journey was easy, what would there be to sacrifice — what cost would make the trip worthwhile?

.

At the world's belly button....

The Doric columns of the temple are imposing and austere, but one must imagine them painted and ornately adorned with gold; sometimes it’s hard to remember that archaic Greek architecture wasn’t stoic white and automatically old to begin with.   I try to conjure up Socrates and Plato, but sadly I know I come up short. Still, it’s been a treasure to see the world through the lens of Plato or Homer.

Student Take: In Her Shoes

LA stretching, second from the left, as the runners line up!

Walking to the Museum of the History of the Olympic Games in Antiquity, I could barely contain my excitement. The ancient Olympic site is what I had been looking forward to since I stepped foot on the plane. I carefully read each plaque explaining the history of the Olympics sure not to skip a single word. As the words sunk in, I couldn’t help but smile with pride to not only be an athlete, but a runner.

The butterflies in my stomach only fluttered faster as we neared the ruins of the Olympic site. While our tour guide described the months of training people would endure to have the honor of representing their city in the games, we stood in the gymnasium where the wrestlers and long jumpers trained thousands of years ago. With each turn we took, the ruins became more and more incredible: the Temple of Hera with its few intact columns and the Temple of Zeus, where the almighty statue used to stand and where each athlete would recite the oath which verified that he was indeed Greek citizens and had no intentions to cheat.

The integrity of the games was taken so seriously that anyone who dared to cheat under the watch of the gods was sent home and their names were engraved on statues of shame for everyone to remember. The games even stopped wars for its duration in honor of Zeus.

We ascended to the stadium through the same archway as the athletes did thousands of years ago, and my heart beat faster; this was it, the moment many running enthusiasts can only dream of — the chance to run on THE Olympic track. There is nothing grand about this track, 200m in length of dirt, yet the sight of it took my breath away. I sat on the grassy hill beside it to strip off my Nikes and run the track barefoot, as it should be done.

The entire experience was humbling. Here I was running on the same track that so many champions had before me. Here I stood at the same site where the Olympic torch is lit every four years. Although I have personal reasons for loving the Olympic ruins it does not take a running geek like me to appreciate these grounds.

Yassas,

Lesli-Ann

Where’s My Medal?

If we’re in Olympia, that makes us Olympians (if even only for a couple of days), right?  The town is a quick three-street parallel stretch that seems to literally start at our hotel and end some six or so blocks later in the Olympic Archaeological sites and museums.  The four hour bus ride here took us through mountain passes with stunning views, and I can’t imagine how the athletic heroes of yesteryear made their trek to this place, because that in itself is a heroic deed as far as I’m concerned.  And yet, every four years the tradition is brought back to life, as the flame is rekindled (in the remains of the Temple to Hera, roped off from humans, but where dogs are allowed to siesta) and always begins its journey here.

To walk among the ruins now is living history textbooks can’t provide.  As with everywhere else we’ve been, stones, pillars, and columns leave impressions of what life was like, but here a different picture is drawn. The life of a Grecian athlete was a unique one, and we walked around where they trained both bodies and minds mere steps away from the Temple of Zeus. The massive statue of the big daddy of gods that was once there (but sadly destroyed) is one of the seven wonders of antiquity.

Runners at the Ready

Another wonder: me, beating out a student in a race. Truth: I started early. Cheating was as serious offense in the ancient games as it is now (hopefully, my false start doesn’t merit an Honor Code violation).  In those times, cheaters had their names shamefully inscribed on the bases of bronze statues made in the likeness of Zeus.   The athletes in our group loved this site particularly, and it’s a special honor indeed to say we ran where the ancient greats did.

Kalinichta (goodnight),

Professor Bowers

Taking Center Stage

The theater at Epidarus is so impressive that even the plundering Romans didn’t have the heart to tear it down, so it remains pretty much intact.  Ms. Renfroe demonstrated the perfect acoustics by dropping a Euro on stage and ripping paper. Even from the top seats (the theatre could hold some 14 thousand), we could hear perfectly.  It didn’t take long for the group to come up with some crafty ideas, and since they aren’t ones to shy away from the spotlight when the opportunity to shine presented itself, our group lept at the chance to lay in the sand.  We wanted to reenact Mama Mia, but the workers shushed us.   Instead we spelled out our favorite acronym.  I think our little performance deserves a standing ovation!

Caroline strikes a pose!

Yassas,

Professor Bowers