April 2, 2009

Athens, Day 8: I don’t want to move.

Yesterday we took our first excursion to Euboia, which is northeast of Athens and across a small canal. The first stop, still in Attica, was the Shrine of Amphaireion. It’s the ruins of a temple complex celebrating a sacred spring. The sacred spring was unfortunately infested with not-so-sacred mosquitoes, but it did have some pretty cool stone chairs in the theatre. As we continued on to Eretrea (not the country in Africa), Nina (the Athens Centre guide who accompanies us with all the proper permits) announced that we would be taking the bus on the ferry. At this moment I believe I did a double take; I had assumed we were going on, you know, a normal ferry where you get on, the wind messes up your hair, and you walk around on the other side and later return to your tour bus. But no, this was a big shipping ferry which we DROVE ON TO. After it started moving (and it was indeed the smoothest ferry ride I’ve ever taken), we were allowed to leave the bus and go to the ferry café, which had sodas and snacks and coffee. I had a long discussion with Nina about traveling – she’s from Norway, spent her childhood in Africa, and now lives here – and archaeology. Eretrea was quite a big site with a nice museum, although all of the signs were in Greek and French. It had some really impressive houses (they were absolutely huge) and well-preserved mosaics, although we spent most of the time trying to “not fall in the lava”, aka keep walking on the walls. It also had an unusual theatre that was built up as a mound instead of being built into the slope of a nearby hill. We reasoned that this was because the ancient Greeks were very lazy and didn’t want to walk all the way to the hill to go to the theatre.

After this we had lunch in the modern town, where we interacted with some Greek children. It seems that English classes here feed them stock phrases to repeat to Americans like “you are very beautiful” and “you have very sexy eyes”. These phrases are known to all Greek men and have now been told to me by small children and kiosk men alike.

[Interruption/fun fact: The official name for Greece is the Hellenic Republic. It has always called itself Hellas or Hellada after the “mythical ancestor” Hellen (not Helen of Troy, a different one). “Greek” was a name imposed by the Turks and derives from the Turkish word for slave, according to Ianna.]

After our very interesting lunch we went to a not-very-interesting site at Lefkandi. I was totally psyched for it because I had borrowed Eric’s book and read all about the warrior cremation burial and the wealthy woman inhumation burial, along with a double horse burial all in a long apsidal structure. There was really nothing there, not even a little plaque with a map. The most interesting thing was a cute salamander I picked up.

When we got back I went shopping, and what I had planned to be a shared dinner with Anna (my room-mate) turned into an impromptu dinner party. I used a recipe Max sent me and accidentally made paella with a spice I got in the flea market called “like saffron”. It was quite good. Also featured were a chicken-pasta, garlic bread, roast potatoes, and sundaes. Afterwards we decided to go out to bar and on the way were followed by some Greek teenagers in hoodies. As we got to the bar, one of them ran up and jumped John and started trying to beat him up – they each threw a few punches before the kids ran away. (Apparently this group of kids hangs out in Varnavas Square and targets groups of Americans. It’s been an on-going feud, and apparently the answer is just to travel in smaller groups and be less conspicuous. They weren’t even trying to rob him, to to start a fight.) He has a black eye, but is otherwise fine; we’re all glad that they picked the biggest, most muscular and athletic person in the group to try to beat up. (That’s probably why they picked him, though.)

Sometime during the day (must have been between the field trip and dinner) I decided to join Anna in her daily exercises. She’s a basketball player and needs to keep up her fitness, so she works out almost every day and is looking for somewhere to run. The exercises consisted of hopping around, jumping jacks, crunches, and core strengthening lifts. Needless to say, I couldn’t figure out this morning why it hurt so badly to move until I remembered that I had voluntarily done jumping jacks in my apartment. I would very much like to lie down and not move again for a very long time. However, I did figure out how to not have the mattress spring poke me in the back, which was to fold a blanket and put it under the bottom sheet. I still have another blanket, though, as Anna gave me hers; she’s too tall for the bed and didn’t want it. Laundry this morning was painful.

Class in an hour and a half and then skype; Priya and I have plans to watch this week’s episode of House later.

Weather: 70s and very sunny (Saharan sand is gone!)

Currency: 1.32 dollars/euro


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