Even Greek Roads Lead to Rome

Once again, I have managed to put off writing for going on a month. Every week just seems busier than the last and with a rush of end-of-semester assignments, it has been easy to procrastinate. But if I put it off any longer I’ll be back in the States! Anyways, here’s what I’ve been up to the last few weeks.

First of all, I got some visitors! After snacking on some specially delivery American junk food, chicken and pasta from room service was a mandatory first meal. After 2 long months, it was great to finally see my parents and show them where I’d been living. I would have loved more  time with them but we’d both scheduled lots of trips and were off on our own adventures within a few days.

 

2 weeks ago I finally did what I came here to do. After walking for 2 days, 19 miles, and 2,648m up, I made it to the top of Mount Olympus. It was a long, challenging climb to the top but it was entirely worth it. The views were unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. There were times when we were walking along a ridge that split Northern and Southern Greece and we could see both sides from where we stood. We could see the mountains, forests, countryside, cities, and all the way to the ocean. The first day was a shorter, less demanding hike that was only a few hours. We reached the lodge and warmed up by wood stoves heating each room. After dinner, we went outside to see the little lights of the cities below twinkling in the distance and the stars that had been missing for the last 2 months shining up above. After enjoying the nighttime views, we bundled up and headed to our bunkbeds to get some much needed rest for the next day.

Our alarms started going off one by one around 6:30 as sleepy-eyed hikers shuffled out onto the roof to catch an amazing sunrise. Wrapped in wool blankets, we waited until the whole mountain was splashed with a golden light and then headed down for breakfast and pack our gear. We started off around 8 and hiked through forests, open field areas, and rocky slopes for the next 4 hours. The air was thinning and the wind had picked up quite a bit, which didn’t make an already difficult climb any easier. A few times I thought about turning around. At that point, though, my only options were to find a donkey and trust it with my life or hike all the way back down on my own and neither were any more appealing than sucking it up and making it to the top. And I did exactly that a few hours later. We got to the second lodge, a much tinier and cramped one, a little after noon and had lunch. Lentils have never been my favorite, but I couldn’t have been happier to see a bowl of them that day. After an hour or so, we started the long hike back down. We all thought this would be easier than going up, foolishly dismissing the warnings from our friends who’d gone before us. They were right. Going down was MUCH harder physically and all my blisters and soreness came from that part of the hike not going up. Mentally, though, we were headed home with a major accomplishment under our belts and that made it a little easier. Even though at times I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the top, I’m so glad I did. It was an experience of a lifetime and one of my goals for this trip. I wouldn’t have felt right not going for it.

 

Once I was back, I had another adventure to look forward to. Thankfully, my sore legs got better just in time for my trip to Rome the next weekend. After a delay due to heavy fog, we headed to Italy for our 4-day weekend. I can honestly say I didn’t think I’d enjoy Rome even half as much as I did. From the second I got off the plane, I’d fallen for that city. I had a grin on my face the entire cab ride to our apartment and I couldn’t wait to throw my bags down and go explore. Our very friendly cab driver warned us that Italian drivers were crazy and to be careful, as he played the better half of a Phil Collins CD to “keep him calm” while he was periodically cut off and sped past. That was the last I really saw of the notorious “crazy drivers” though because just respecting pedestrian laws was enough to make me feel safer than in Greece (for those of you who don’t know, pedestrians do not have the right of way in Greece and drivers rarely stop for you unless there’s a light). Jasmine, Nina, Luke and I freshened up and headed out to find our first Italian pasta dish. It didn’t disappoint. After dinner, we walked around the city until we turned a corner and saw the beautiful (and packed) Trevi Fountain. Later on, still hungry, we went to get pizza at a quiet little restaurant near the apartment before heading back for some much needed rest.

The next day was a checklist of sightseeing. We found a cute breakfast restaurant advertising “American breakfast” (which turned out to be more common than we’d thought) and then went to see the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and Roman Forum. We also saw the National Monument of Victor Emmanuel II, where the Tomb of the Unknown soldier is found. It was quite the impressive building for sure. We watched a protest go by from the top of the stairs there and although it is still unclear what exactly it was about, we think it had something to do with a member of the Mafia. After that, we got more pasta and headed back to the apartment to rest up a bit. That night, we walked past the now beautifully lit monuments to a restaurant for EVEN MORE PASTA and then to an ice bar. Overpriced drinks go down much easier when you can convince yourself you’re doing something unusual.

The next morning we got on an early train for a day trip to Florence. All I can say is it’s a good thing I had budgeted some extra money with Italy in mind, because I went through the better part of it that day. Florence, aside from outfitting me head to toe in new leather, was beautiful even on a cloudy day. We didn’t have much of a plan and might have missed out on a few  sights but it was just the right amount for one day and I would love to go back and see more.

Monday was our day at the Vatican. We slept in a bit and grabbed lunch (guess what I had) and then headed off. We took our chances on a “skip-the-line tour” of the Vatican Museum and were surprisingly satisfied. Our tour guide was very friendly and entertaining and she offered a lot of insight into things we never would’ve been able to learn on our own. We ended at the Basilica, which also didn’t disappoint. We had one last delicious dinner and then sat by the Trevi Fountain again for a while before saying a final goodnight to our new favorite place. Everything in that city was over the top gorgeous and I can’t wait to go back. We had to leave at 5:30 the next morning so, naturally, instead of going to bed early like a normal person Nina and I just stayed up all night. We were sad to leave but I was happy to see my parents for a bit before they left and swap stories about our week.

I would be leaving out a crucial part of this trip if I didn’t mention that we were in Italy when the tragedy in Paris happened. I will always remember where I was when we found out and how unsettling it was to feel so close to everything going on and so far away from home at that time. However, I have seen so many acts of solidarity and kindness since then and I have learned you don’t have to be at home to feel safe. You can be anywhere in the world and there will always be enough kind-hearted souls to drive out the evil ones that are trying so hard to destroy our world. I am incredibly fortunate to be able to say that all my classmates and friends who are or were in France are safe, but my heart goes out to all those who were deeply affected by the attacks in Paris and around the world.

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After my parents left on Wednesday, I had a short, 2-day week and then the entire Queen Olga hotel was off to Athens. Our painfully long bus ride left at 8am and we arrived around 530. Our hotel was a big step up from Olga, complete with comfy beds, a delicious buffet dinner, and a view of the Parthenon all lit up. We had a tour of the Acropolis museum and then went back to our rooms and enjoyed a relaxing night in. The next morning we went up to the Acropolis and saw the Parthenon in all its glory, had lunch at a cute Greek restaurant and then shopped around in the flea market for the afternoon and evening. We had one more night in our swanky hotel room and got some sleep for our early departure. On the way home we stopped in Delphi to see the archeological site there and eat lunch.

Back in Thessaloniki, I am now looking back over the very eventful last few weeks and wondering how time went by so fast. I only have 18 days left here and as much as I miss home, I will miss it here just as much. I have had so many amazing opportunities here and I will continue to have more over the last two weeks. Next weekend I’ll be rafting and the weekend after that I’ll be going to the hot springs. Somewhere in between finals and fitting in last minute adventures, I’ll find time for another post before I leave. But until then, ciao!

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* Due to the unfortunate demise of my phone right before we left for Rome, photo credit for a number of these photos belongs to Nina Rossiter.