Final Thoughts

Hello again, everyone! Well, I’m now in Turkey, and I thought about spending this morning – my first morning off in a good long while – catching up on blog posts. But you know what, dear reader? I don’t really want to. And it’s not that I don’t want you all to share these amazing experiences, it’s mostly just that all of them seem the same now, and would even more so to someone not intimately familiar with the differences between polygonal masonry and ashlar. So, fabulous reader, I will provide you instead with an overall summary of the last ten days or so of the program, as well as some general thoughts about my experiences in Greece. Here goes…

Our last few days in northern Greece were fun. Dion and Vergina were especially cool sites; Dion reminded me very much of Charles Towne Landing in Charleston, SC – huge trees, water everywhere – it was the most verdant place we’d seen in Greece. Vergina’s museum was fascinating, not only for the artifacts it held (items from Philip II’s tomb), but also for the incredibly complex political agenda it represented. I gave my second presentation in Amphipolis, about the gymnasium, and it went well enough considering I was a bit short on time (thanks, Clem). Chris gave his second report at Philippi, which was also a cool site – a huge Roman forum and the ruins of some basilicas that St. Paul probably preached in. The absolute highlights, however, were on the last two days – we were invited into the homes of our director and then of our bus driver. The food at both was amazing and it was such a wonderful experience to be invited into their homes. It was also a very welcome respite from the relentless academic atmosphere.

Our last full day was spent on the island of Aigina, which was beautiful. We were able to spend the afternoon swimming in pristine waters, and we made the most of it. Suddenly, it was the last day, and we all ran around trying to pack, buy souvenirs, and see that one site we’d somehow forgotten. I hiked up Lykavitos, the hill on the slopes of which the school is situated, and was rewarded with the most stunning view of Athens possible. It was a fitting last-day adventure.

And now, goodbyes have been said, tears spilled, and promises to keep in touch exchanged. I left Athens yesterday with a heavy heart, not because I was leaving Greece, but because I was leaving behind 17 new amazing friends. For me, the real reward of the program was not all the sites we got to see, or the well-known scholars we spoke to, but the people in the program themselves – getting to know them, becoming friends with them, experiencing the ruthless Greek sun with them. I am not an academic and this program is meant very much so for them. I don’t feel bad saying that if it weren’t for Chris, I wouldn’t have ever thought of going to the American School, but I’m glad I did, only because of the friendships I made. I’m glad, too, that I got to see all the sites I did, but honestly, all the pottery looks the same to me, no matter where it’s from.

After a day of travel yesterday, Chris and I are now in Bodrum, Turkey, which was Halicarnassus in ancient times. Today there are no ancient sites to see, no museums to go to. Just us, the sun, and the water. ☺

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Days 30 and 31 – Museums and Walls

(7/16-17/14)

Yesterday was a bit rough. It started out well enough – we went back to the Agora and saw some ancient houses, toured the museum, and spoke to a bone expert (which was really cool, if also very grotesque). As we were walking back to the school for lunch, however, all hell broke loose. We were heading back up a very busy, crowded street, full of shoppers and tourists, when all of a sudden we saw policemen running towards us, motioning us back the way we came. People started running and the word “gun” was shouted a few times. It was all very confused and frankly, terrifying. Apparently a high profile terrorist had chosen that spot to attempt a bank robbery and ultimately engaged in a shoot-out with the police. The roads were closed so Chris and I walked a very long way ‘round back to the school, which meant that we were very late for lunch. We hastily chowed down before heading out to the next museum, exhausted but glad to be safe.

The afternoon was tiring – we went to the Numismatics Museum, interesting to me only because it was formerly the house of Heinrich Schliemann. After that we spent time at the Byzantine/Early Christian Museum, which was interesting but so big it was overwhelming. Our last stop was the Lyceum of Aristotle, and I honestly can’t tell you anything about it. A rough day, to say the least.

Today was very light, especially compared to yesterday. We spent the morning in Pireus, Athens’ harbor town. We went through the museum, which has some wonderful (if slightly creepy) bronzes and saw the remains of the Long Walls that once stretched for 22 miles back to Athens. We were back in Loring in time for lunch and are now preparing for our last trip, this time to the north of Greece. Chris and I will both be giving our last presentations there and when we return to Athens, we’ll only have 5 more days of the program. Tempus Fugit!

 

 

 

Day 29 – Rhamnous and Marathon

Caught up again, if ever so briefly! Today was actually a pretty pleasant day – we went to Rhamnous in the morning then Marathon in the afternoon.
Rhamnous is a small site with two main temples, one to Nemesis and the other to Themis. There is also a fortified town there which overlooks the sea. The position is very strategic because you can see straight across to Euboea, so enemy ships would have had a hard time sneaking up on them. The view is spectacular, and we had a great time scrambling over the ruins. Our visit was cut short, however, by a huge storm that rolled casually in over the mountains. Luckily we got back to the bus in time, because the town is rather difficult to get to, with a small path full of loose stones – it would not have been easy to get back in the rain.
It really began to pour as we approached Marathon, though we had a bit of clear weather – just enough time for our guest speaker to give us an overview of the battle and the plain we were looking at. We then hurried to the museum where we spent most of the time marveling at the force of the rain pounding on the roof.
We were scheduled to go to the beach but obviously because of the rain we simply came back to Athens. This wasn’t quite as bad as it sounds, though, because I had to finish working on the presentation I will be giving when we go north on Friday. Not as fun as the beach, but work that had to be done (and now is done!)

Day 15 – Eleusis, Eleutherai, and Aigosthaina

Today was a day trip out into the western part of Attica. We went to Eleusis first thing in the morning to see the site and the archaeological museum. The site was pretty cool, but really confusing. It is a huge jumble of stuff dating back to the Mycenaeans, though most of what can be seen now is Roman. Eleusis was the site of the Eleusinian Mysteries, which, frankly, we don’t know anything about (thus the whole “mystery” thing). It was really cool, though, to see the place where such a secret ritual took place. It’s also amazing that a secret like that could be kept for a thousand years while the ritual was happening. People nowadays can’t eat a sandwich alone without telling someone about it. Anyway, we roamed around the site for a bit and also wandered around the small but nice archaeological museum. Then it was back in the bus!

Our next few stops were basically all Greek walls with defensive towers. It was cool to drive up into the mountains and see the remains of these huge walls, and easy to imagine an enemy coming straight for it. The highlight of the afternoon for me, however, was the swim at Aigosthaina – the water was so cold and it was perfect after a long day of trekking through the ubiquitous thistles and brush.

Now the real challenge begins: can we stay up until 1:00am or so to watch the whole US vs. Belgium match? I really want to, but as the clock ticks closer to 11:00 pm (when the game starts), the more I just want to crawl into bed. Swimming after a day in the sun really takes a lot of of me! We’ll see if I can make it…

P.S. I know that I need to post a ton of pictures, but unfortunately it takes forever on the internet here for them to load, so I’m waiting for an afternoon where I don’t mind just sitting around. There will be some soon, I promise!

Day 14 – Jewish Museum, Propylaia, National Museum IV

I wrote this post while sitting on the bus on the way to Eleusis – I didn’t get to post last night because there was a garden party at the director’s house that we were all invited to, and of course we were there later than expected.

Anyway, yesterday we went to the Jewish Museum in the morning. It’s a fairly small museum, but well put together, so it was nice to continue learning about Jews in Greece. After the museum, we met Tasos Tanoulas, a prominent Greek scholar, at the Propylaia. He spoke very well about it and we were able to once again go behind the ropes to get a closer look at things, which, as always, is pretty freakin’ cool. After lunch, we headed back to the National Museum for a lovely (and very well-timed!) talk about bronzes, mostly small votive figures.

The highlight of the day, however, was in the morning at the Acropolis. If you’ve never been there, picture the mall on Christmas Eve or Black Friaday. Masses of people, all standing around not paying any attention to others around them, all trying to move through the same space. Since the Propylaia is the actual gateway to the Acropolis, this space that everyone was trying to move through was pretty small, and there was much jostling to get through as well as large groups of people just standing around. Because we were meeting Dr. Tanoulas at the Propylaia, we were one of these groups just standing around. We did our best to get out of the way, and there was plenty of space for people to move around us. One tour guide, however, did not seem to think so. She yelled at us to move out of the way and then forced a group of young boys next to us out of the way so that her group (of five or six) could sit (“I have to work in the shade; you need to move because I have to work in the shade.”) She then engaged in a 5 to 10 minute argument with a guard standing near us, trying to get him to get us to move, which he staunchly refused to do. The battle was epic, the Greek words flying back and forth almost violently. She finally gave up just as we were beckoned up the Propylaia to meet our own guide, but she had one parting shot: “Get a guide if you want to learn something!” We all stood there, dumbstruck for a moment before dissolving into almost hysterical laughter. I guess getting a Ph.D. in Classics doesn’t quite cut it for this lady.

Day 13 – Acropolis Museum II and National Museum III

Today was, in a sense, a bit of a lazy day. We arrived in Piraeus, the port of Athens, at 6:30 am and were back in Loring Hall by 7:45. We didn’t have to be anywhere until noon, which meant that we had a nice stretch of time to relax (I spent that time unpacking, uploading blog posts, and trying to organize all my pictures). It was nice to have some time to ourselves, especially after a week long trip spent almost non-stop all together.

Our afternoon was spent in museums, and I was so exhausted by the time we got to the National Museum, it was as if we hadn’t that lovely morning time to relax. At the Acropolis Museum, however, we were led around the third floor, the Parthenon floor, by Jenifer Neils, who did an excellent job of hitting the highlights and balancing general information with more of her own specific arguments.

I mentioned before that I thought the Parthenon floor of the museum would more emphasize what it didn’t have rather than what it did, but it actually wasn’t as explicit as I thought it would be. There are plaster casts of everything that Elgin took, and those are placed alongside the actual sculptures with no difference other than color (the plaster casts are much whiter/newer looking than the actual sculptures). The floor is arranged as if the temple itself is in the middle, with the friezes arrayed in lines on the outside of the room and the pediment sculptures arranged on each end. It was really, really cool to see them all arranged this way and Dr. Neils did an excellent job of walking us through them. I did end up having a great conversation with Chris this evening about repatriation of the Elgin Marbles, but, to avoid any feather rustling, you’ll have to talk to me privately about that. 😉

After a veeeeeery long time at the National Museum talking about Hellenistic and some Roman sculpture, we met up with Sabina, a lovely lady who is a year behind Chris at UC. We had a great time hanging out and watching the Netherlands vs. Mexico match, though I am very upset that Mexico did not pull through. Anyway, now it’s off to bed so I can function tomorrow!

Day 6 – Panathenaic Stadium, Olympieion and Arch of Hadrian, Roman agora

Finally, some Roman stuff! Day 6 was focused on Roman Athens. We started off at the Panathenaic Stadium, which was built for the first modern Olympic games (though finished in 1906) on the site of the ancient stadium. It was neat to be there and learn a little bit about Olympic history. From there, we headed over to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, also known as the Olympieion. It has a long and uncertain history, but the ruins that are visible today are a mixture of Hellenistic and Hadrianic. Basically, Hadrian, a Roman emperor who loved Greece, came to Athens and decided to either finish the temple that had not been finished in the Hellenistic period or rebuild it on the same site. The columns are HUGE and the entire complex is really impressive. We were told, however, that after Hadrian had the temple renovated/built, it basically went out of use. C’est la vie, I suppose.
From the Olympieion, we walked through the Arch of Hadrian (probably put up by the Athenians as a sort of welcoming gesture; it’s a poor example of a triumphal arch) to the Roman agora. There, a student presented the Tower of the Winds – it’s a cool tower that acted as both a weather vane (each of the eight sides had a different wind carved into it with a weather vane on top to show the direction) and as a water clock (scholars have no idea how that worked, apparently). We also poked around the rest of the agora, discussing the layout, the types of columns, why it was oriented the way it was. It was fun to be talking about the Roman world, with which I am much more familiar, though I still don’t really know much about the Romans in Greece. We also saw the Library of Hadrian, but I can’t really say much about it because it site itself is very confusing, with many layers of history overlapping and interweaving. It was really difficult to get any sense of the site, but that in a way was neat simply because it showed how the area had been used over and over again.
The afternoon was spent getting information on and packing for our trip to Crete – we left Athens that evening on an overnight ferry, arriving in Iraklion at 6:00am the following morning!