Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mykonos, Greece

Mykonos was what everyone pictures I their mind when they think of Greece.  White-washed buildings with bright colorful doors and trim.  Located in the Cyclades Islands in the middle of the Aegean Sea, Mykonos could not have been more picture perfect.
These are the octopi that they catch, let them dry in the sun, grill them, and serve them with a good bottle of ouzo.
Our tour guide told us that pelicans usually can be found in Mykonos because it is in their migratory pattern, but we probably wouldn't see one that day.  But lo and behold we saw one chilling out beside a restaurant.
It was HUGE!  I couldn't help but think that Finding Nemo didn't do an honest job of depicting how big they were.  This guy almost came up to my shoulders! And he wouldn't budge.  Tons of people were trying to take pictures of him, and he just took it all in stride, not disturbed by it in the least.
The best part of Mykonos was actually having the time and freedom to explore on our own for a while.  I was worried that we would get lost because there were so many alleys and sideways that all looked the same!

The town was very well taken care of, and it was just as colorful on the inside as it was on the outside!

It was really windy and a little chilly that day, but we still wanted to go swimming!  It was the Aegean Sea and I wasn't going to pass up the chance to swim in it.
It was freezing cold in the water!  And sharp rocks were covering the floor of the sea, but for those of us that braved it out, we had a blast!!  Us four in the picture below were the ONLY people in the water, it was hilarious.
We decided to head back to town, and on the way we met an older American couple who was walking that way also.  We asked them where they were from, and they were from Marietta!  It was the craziest thing!
Back in town we grabbed some dinner and sat down to watch the sun set.  Every day in Mykonos many, many people gather in the square to watch the sun set over the Aegean Sea, and after it does, everyone gives it a round of applause.  It was so much fun to sit their admiring and conversing with everyone.
This was a little Greek boy that came out with his parents and was throwing rocks into the sea; he was so cute!
The town was filled with hundreds of tiny Orthodox churches.  There are actually 365 of them, one for each day of the year they say.  The story goes that most of the Greek men had to go out to sea to fish and make money, while their Greek wives stayed at home.  So each woman would have a church built personally for her so that she could go in at any time and pray to St. John for her husbands safety.
This was the sidewalk that you walked along to get to the square.  I was fun to walk on because the waves would crash against the side and splash up onto you.  Just before and after sunset, the tables you see were filled with people there to watch the sunset.
The best part of Greece is something that I found in every single city that we visited, and I'll probably repeat this several times in the next blogs I post.  Living in Greece is about living as a community.  You treat people you don't even know like you've known them their entire lives.  Free time is spent gathered around a table conversing about life's pleasures and pains.  Time isn't wasted on meaningless frivolity, but it is used to build and keep relationships with those around you.  

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Athens and Istanbul

So I realized that I never actually posted anything about my trip to Greece and Turkey.  We went to several, several different places.

We landed in Athens and made our way to our hotel.

It was more like a hostel because there were four beds to a room...

And the shower was SUPER tiny.....
But I can't help but love it as part of the authentic Greek experience. 
The next day we climbed the Acropolis, which was simply amazing.  I think my favorite part of the Acropolis was being able to people watch.  Because not only were there foreign tourists there, but there were also Greek tourists and Greek school children.  They are a fiercely independent nation, and you can tell in the way they talk, walk, and interact.  You can even sense the pride and individuality in each and every Greek child.  I think the hardest part of seeing Athens is the way that the city is run down and not taken care of.  Graffiti covers the walls of buildings, and the smog pushes out any ounce of fresh air in the city.  Despite it all, I could still feel the history surrounding me.  
Later that day we boarded our cruise ship to head to Istanbul, Turkey.  Right after we docked, we set out to the Grand Bazaar, which was just as big of a climb as the Acropolis.
It was so very busy, with shop owners enticing you to buy their items and restaurant owners pestering you to eat at their businesses.  I was beginning to feel very overwhelmed, like many others in the group, and we were all very tired from all the walking. So we decided to rest for a bit, and ended up walking into one of the many mosques that line the streets in Istanbul.  It was like stepping into a different world.  
There was a lone woman washing her hands and feet in reverence before entering.  It was so quiet and serene,  vastly different from the scene we had just left.  I walked back to the ship with a different mindset;  my opinions of Istanbul had been severely wrong.  
The next day we first visited the Agia Sophia, which was first an Orthodox church, but during Ottoman rule was changed into a mosque, the paintings and mosaics covered and hidden.  It now serves as a museum. 
As we were exploring someone noticed an etching in the wall, and it appeared to be Greek letters.
We realized it was ancient graffiti and asked Dr. Harper to translate it for us.  It says "Honor God's House."

They have brought people in, trying to restore some of the old paintings from the Orthodox, and some have faded through the Muslim paintings.  It makes this kind of ironic effect.

We also were able to visit the Blue Mosque.  It was packed with people who visited from other countries to pray, residents of Istanbul who were there to pray also,and people like us who were just there to watch.
We also visited Topkapi Palace, but it was so huge and beautiful that I couldn't pick one single picture for it.  But they are up on my Facebook.
I think my favorite part of Istanbul was the call to prayer.  It happens five times a day, and each of the hundreds of mosques have speakers on top of the spindles that project it across the city.  I have a video in which you can hear it and how loud it is.  I'll try and post it to Facebook later on.
Oh and here is a picture of our pretty ship!

Mykonos is next!