Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer 2012

It's been a while since I've posted an update, but I should really get to it again since this summer has involved so many adventures! Time for a painfully long update...

After successfully passing my first year of classes, I was off for a few weeks of traveling. 10 planes, a ferry and god knows how many trains and buses all in one summer. First, to the US for 2 weeks at home with family and friends! Then I came back to Europe for my first adventure in England! I flew to Liverpool where Sally picked me up. We saw the city at night from a bar that was 34 stories high! Then we went to Oxford, where Sally had gone to university and, among other things, experienced "punting". It's going on a long skinny boat through the canals, pushing it with a very long stick. Finally, we went to London where the Olympics were about to be held! We experienced the craziness of a city hosting the Olympics, saw the major sights, went to see Shrek the Musical and then watched the opening ceremonies on the big screen in a park. After this busy week, I flew back to the Netherlands for one day of rest before my next trip to Rome and Greece.

First, to Elena's house in Formello (just outside of Rome) for a 1 night layover, where she would then join me afterwards for Greece! Elena picked me up at the airport and brought me to her amazing house that her parents built up from almost nothing over the years! They even have a bit of land that they used to grow fruit and vegetables on and  used to even make their own wine. There was cheese from Sardinia ripening on the high wooden beams in the shed and a chicken coop where one chicken was used for our dinner, roasted on a fire. Elena's family was also great; her brother practicing a bit of English, her mom knowing none but talking to me on Italian anyway with the others translating. If there is any language you can understand slightly without any prior knowledge, it's probably Italian because of all their expressive body language. 

The next day, we flew to Thessaloniki, Greece and Fotini picked us up from the airport and took us directly to the beach! Her Mom later made us a delicious Greek meal, we experienced going out for a bit in Thessaloniki and left the next day to go to the island of Samonthraki. We arrived in the early evening and set up camp next to a beautiful clear river, very close to the sea. We would be camping here for the next 5 nights.

On the first morning, I woke up and went directly into the sea to swim with Elena! After breakfast we walked 1.5 hours to a beautiful spot with a waterfall and pool to swim. We had to do a bit of climbing over rocks to get to the secluded spot and the water was very cold coming from the top of the mountain. Then we walked back and stopped n another pool where we could climb up the rocks and to jump in! 

That night we slept on a beach under the full moon. It was a bit unfortunate, because there was a huge rave going on nearby with ridiculous music playing until the next morning around 9....but it would have been nice. nice to wake up at the sea, even though the night before was very annoying.In the morning we swam, lounged and even did a bit of bouldering!

Fotinis boyfriend and friend went gun fishing and caught 5 fish that we ate for lunch back at the campsite.

The next day we did a hike up the mountain that is 1600 meters high. It was an amazing hike, but the Greeks are crazy and brought almost no food...Elena and I bought some snacks anyway since I knew bringing nothing was silly. The Greeks told us it would take only 3 hours to go up and half that to go down, but we ended up hiking from 10 until 5...with hardly any food and almost not enough water. But the view and hike was quite amazing, but would have been better with a bit more energy! Also on the way back we made a wrong turn and ended in the village instead of the car, which was an extra 200 meters down or so... We arrived and bought tons of water and lemonade and snacks. Then straight to a small waterfall and pool to swim and clean off! Finally we went to a restaurant where we shared 1 kilo of goat, salad, potatoes and tzatziki. There are goats everywhere on the island, so the dinner was fitting.

On the last day we relaxed on the island's single sandy beach and then returned by ferry to the mainland, where we drove to Kavala to camp. We climbed there the next day, which was amazing! The routes were around 20-25 meters high with a view of the ocean when you turned around. Very cool.

 In the evening, we drove back to Thessaloniki to sleep at Fotini's parents and rest for the next day, when we would hike to the top of Mount Olympus!!

We arrived at the bottom of the trail around 4 and it took us 5:15 to get to the refuge at around 2600 meters. The path was amazing, especially when we got to the plateau of the muses at sunset. I was laughing with joy when I saw the view up there!

We got to the refuge, enjoyed our sandwiches for dinner and had some wine to celebrate Elena's birthday. We slept in the refuge and got up at 7 to climb up Stephano, on the throne of Zeus!!! It was a 200 meter route with 5 pitches...

The refuge on the right with the Throne of Zeus in the background

It took us about 2.5 hours to climb the route and then we were back at the refuge for lunch. The experience was so amazing, to be climbing from such a height with the best view I could have imagined!

Before we left the refuge to go back down, the guys working there gave us a free shot of chipero (a Greek liquor) . After the 4 hour walk back down to the car, we were completely exhausted and ready for a nice dinner out in Thessaloniki with Fotini's parents!

The next day, Elena and I flew back to Rome where I would stay a few more days while she showed me around! She showed me many major sites, many of the best ice cream places in Rome. When we went to see Saint Peters Cathedral, we realized that I had forgotten to wear long enough pants/sleeves...oops. Churches in Italy get upset when you are showing too much skin. We were turned away at the door and trying to find a solution to the problem. In a small touristy shop, we saw some very ugly and cheaply made pants that looked like they would do the trick, so Elena started speaking with guy in the shop about them. I didn't understand a thing, obviously, but eventually ended up getting the pants for free and a cheap scarf to cover my shoulders for 2 euros. After we walked out, I asked Elena what the heck she said, and apparently the guy had told her that the pants cost 4 euros. Her response (being Italian) was, "there is no way these pants are worth 4 euros, they are made from nothing!" and so, the offended shopkeeper responded "fine, take them for free." So we did. And this is how I looked walking into the beautiful Saint Peter's Cathedral:

After 2 days of city-seeing we were ready for a break... So, Elena's parents took us to Therma dei Papi. It is basically a sauna in a cave that is heated only by water coming out of hot springs in the earth! First, you arrive and go to a doctor who checks to make sure your blood pressure is fine. Then you go down to the cave, where you can also drink the sulfury egg tasting water from it that is supposed to be healthy but tastes gross. We were in the sauna for about 15 minutes and then you go straight to a bed where they wrap you up in paper and plastic layer with just your face sticking out. You relax that way for a bit, and then come out of the cocoon for a shower. Then, we went to these 2 long baths, where one is cold and the other is hot. You first walk through the hot one, then the cold one then back through the hot...and so on back and forth for 20 minutes. Apparently it's good for your legs. Then to the swimming pool!!  The pool is filled with the warm water from the earth's so awesome. After drying off and showering, we went to a small nearby town that is still the old medieval buildings with everything from the 1200s.

After all of these wonderful adventures, amazing food and great people I finally flew back to the Netherlands. Now, a music festival in Belgium this weekend before starting my masters thesis on Monday :)