Earlier on in our trip, we spent a few nights in the city of Heraklion, on the island of Crete. This location was not a top favorite for most people, but I really enjoyed the creative, youthful, and slightly angsty vibe. There was a lot of graffiti and interesting art shops to explore.
There was also an interesting art exhibit taking place at the Saint Mark Basilica monument. The show was called MORFOGONIA (not at all sure of what this means, sorry), and it was a display of diversely styled masks made by different artists. Unfortunately, I found very little information in English explaining the series. However, online I found an anonymous quote advertising the exhibit (perhaps written by one of the artists or the person who put together the show). It reads, “Masks have always been part of my life and probably of everybody’s life – maybe without noticing – as they can hide and show very well emotions and feelings.”
I hadn’t every really pondered “the mask” as a concept before. I found it interesting to think about the roles masks have played in my own life. I think there are masks that I have chosen or wished to wear and ones that I have tried desperately to take off.
Being on this trip, my group mates and I are exploring new cultures and new ways of living, trying on masks and taking off the ones we wear back home. Before experiencing this art exhibit, I think that I considered the mask to be something you use to hide who you truly are. But now I wonder if it can be a tool that you use to discover who you are or want to be.
One would think that in a society surrounding tourism, beautiful ocean scenery, late night dinners outside, and plenty of alcohol, there would be an enthusiastic dancing scene until the wee hours of the morning. At least that’s what some of us where expecting to experience when we decided to make an appearance at the local beach restaurant/club. Sadly, we were left for want. Greeks don’t dance!
Here’s how the night went down… The group had a late dinner (by US standards) that ended around 9/9:30. We made our nightly trip to the gelato stand and then a large group of us decided to meet in the hotel courtyard at 10:30 and depart for the beach club for a fun night of dancing. It was, in fact, the last night this beach club was open before shutting down for the close of tourist season, so the party was going to be extra big.
We arrived to the beach a little before 11, surprised to hear only slow, background music playing. One student decided to go ask what time the party would begin. The approximate time given was 2AM — three hours later! We were all a bit discouraged. Some suggested we walk back to the hotel, sleep for a couple hours, and then come back when the party was up and going. However, we all the knew the likelihood of wanting to go back out after a long nap was slim, so we decided to wait it out. We hung out by the beach for about an hour, and then went and asked for a new approximate start time for the party. It was bumped up to 1am. Still another hour to kill. At this time, people at the beach club were still eating dinner! Normal for Greeks on a warm summer evening — unheard of for Americans.
Seeing as it was already midnight and there were no signs of the party starting, about half the group left for the hotel — the sound of their bed too good to resist. The other half of us decided to walk around town. We went out to the water, enjoying the beautiful evening and smell of the ocean. Still, there were plenty of restaurants with people happily eating their late dinners.
Finally. The clock struck 1. We made our way back to the beach club, our group only 6 people strong. To our delight, the music had been cranked up and the DJ was playing some great dancing tunes. The tables had been pushed away and the colored lights were flashing. Excited, we wound down the steps to the beach and joined the masses on the dance floor, only to be disappointed once again. Out of roughly 200 people present, not a single one was dancing.
Now if you’ve ever seen the the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you’d be under the assumption that Greeks love to dance! But clearly, this party indicated otherwise.
Our group shamelessly began dancing away, happy and carefree. We fully expected that within the hour, the locals would loosen up and join in the dancing. However, we finally came to the conclusion that Greeks simply don’t dance. Rather, they prefer to stand around, drinking, smoking cigarettes (as we learned almost every Greek does), and attempting to talk with one another over the loud music. By the time we left around 3am, we were still the only attendees dancing. Although the night wasn’t exactly what we had anticipated, it didn’t stop us from having a great time! And, we gained new insight into Greek night life that we wouldn’t have otherwise.
During our time in Greece I have made an effort to explore every new area, not by walking, but by running. My early morning runs have always rewarded me with a fresh and in-depth look into what makes each city different.
A city is always raw in the early morning. Not many tourists are up at 6 am which gives an individual a unique look into unrefined Greek life. All the individuals who run the businesses are preparing for another day. You see the jewelry stores putting out their cases full of bracelets, rings, and earrings, the farmers dropping their fruits and vegetables off at the market, and the bakers flooding the narrow streets with the smell of their fresh chocolate croissants.
Weaving up and down the empty streets gives you a great sense of a new city. You quickly find where the best shopping streets are, the best waterfront areas, and which restaurants look most appealing. Getting a quick understanding of a city and its layout really helps you strategically plan where you would like to wander later that day. It also allows you to give recommendations for where to eat and what gelato places look the most promising since you have been down the main and side streets. It also allows you to get a great cup of coffee early in the morning at the best looking cafe!
Running has allowed me to feel a more intimate connection with any city I have been to, whether that city be Springfield, Illinois or Nafplio, Greece. I look forward to all the cities that I am going to get to experience through running in the near future.
We arrived in Crete after a nine hour overnight ferry from the port city, Piraeus, to the port in Heraklion. When we docked at six in the morning, we loaded our heavy backpacks in a couple of taxis and hiked uphill to meet them at our hotel. Since we weren’t able check into our hotel until the afternoon, we found a nice cafe to eat breakfast at where we befriended our waiter. We ordered fresh donuts which he hand made in front of us while telling us about his passion for playing the violin. We had so much fun joking and talking with him and the owner of the cafe. He was a great example of how personable the people of Greece are. The servers at the restaurants are always so friendly and happy to chat with our group.
Our visit to Heraklion was pretty short, but in those two days we were able to visit the Archeological Museum of Heraklion and the Minoan Palace at Knossos, both of which gave us great insight into the ancient Minoan civilizations that used to live on the island. We learned that the Minoans were a mercantile society that participated in a lot of trade with other local islands and even Egypt (since Crete is the southernmost Greek island). The ruins of the Minoan Palace at Knossos were so fascinating to explore, draw, paint and photograph. It was incredible to think that we were walking in the same place as King Minos, the first king of Crete, and his people. It was so cool to see the evidence of previous occupants scattered around the island. During the 13th century, Heraklion was occupied by the Venetians, who built a fort and walls around the city that still remain today, and many of us seized the opportunity to go explore the Venetian ruins.
Heraklion had many streets with great stores and the group enjoyed doing some window shopping in the evening. Some people found a great fish pedicure spot for only 3 euros and others shopped for jewelry or clothing, but we all had to stop for some amazing gelato in colorful sprinkle cones at DaVinci’s. Luckily, it’s a chain store, so we are looking forward to having DaVinci’s again in Athens!
Chania (Friday 9/14 – Monday 9/17)
Our next destination was Chania, the second largest city on the island of Crete. We took a beautiful, three hour bus ride from Heraklion along the northern coast of the island. Chania is located northwest of Heraklion and is comparable in population but felt much more touristy. The town had a lovely coastal charm with restaurants and shops lining the water. The first day in Chania was ours to explore; our only assignment was to photograph the most colorful and decorative doors and windows. The group met for a traditional Greek dinner on the water and took in the beautiful evening scenery.
Day two in Chania we were tasked with creating a large painting of one of the doors or windows we found the day before. Many of us also took part of the morning to visit the local laundromat to refresh our limited supply of clothing. The majority of the day was spent working on our paintings and preparing for a group critique. Many of the girls also found time to take a glass-bottom boat tour to a nearby island where they jumped off the boat and snorkeled in the clear blue water.
In the late afternoon, the group met for an instructional critique of the art we had produced. For dinner, we had our second “date night” which included random pairs enjoying a dinner alone with the intent of getting to know each other better. After dinner, many of the dates met up for their nightly dose of gelato and then trickled back towards the hotel on their own time.
Our third day started with a 5:30 AM walk to the bus stop to catch a two hour bus ride southeast to the Samaria gorge for a big day hike. The Samaria gorge was formed by a river running between the White Mountains and Mount Volakis and became a national park in 1962. Today, it attracts many hikers for its spectacular views and beautiful beach at the bottom. Samaria gorge is the largest gorge in Europe with a 16km hike from top to bottom. We began the hike above 4000 feet and ended at sea level, a 5-6 hour downhill journey. Fortunately, we were rewarded with a refreshing beach and several hours of hangout time to enjoy the view. In the evening, we took a short ferry to our bus pick-up location and rode two hours back on a winding mountain road to Chania. We arrived back at our hotel around 8:30 PM, a bit worn from the hike and hungry. Many grabbed a quick gyro and some went out for a longer, late night dinner. Because the hot water in our hotel is solar powered, many opted to wait until the next day for a shower rather than suffer the freezing water. Nonetheless, the group loved our day hiking through the Samaria gorge and the beach time that followed.
Our last day in Chania began with a church service by the water before we were set free to soak up our last few hours in town. We met up after lunch to visit the local Maritime Museum which included great descriptions of the naval history of Crete, including the invasion and occupation by the Germans and Italians during World War II. The museum also had very impressive scaled models of the war ships used in the various naval battles. We had one last group dinner in Chania and then prepared for our early departure the next morning.
Elafonisi (Tuesday 9/18 – Sunday 9/23)
After a wonderful four days in Chania, it was time to travel to Elafonisi. Our last morning in Chania, we woke up to a beautiful sunrise over the harbour and had our breakfast in the quaint street below our hotel. Once we were finished eating, we picked up our tightly packed bags and headed for the bus stop on foot through the streets of Chania, saying our last goodbyes. We were split into two public coach busses and started our two hour journey to Elafonisi. We drove through the narrow mountain roads, twisting and winding our way there. For parts of the trip, the view from the right side window of the bus was a rock wall and the view from the left was a daunting hundred foot drop. We finally arrived at sunny and beautiful Elafonisi, but unfortunately our bus driver dropped us off a long way away from our hotel and we did not want to walk up the dusty hill in the heat with our heavy backpacks. We decided to bribe our bus driver with 20 euros to drive us up to our hotel. We then ate lunch at the nice hotel restaurant with a distant view of the world famous Elafonisi Beach, ranked as one of the top 10 beaches in the world. We were then given our rooms which were quite a big step above the accomodations in Chania. Our rooms were bright, spacious, comfortable and homey — perfect for our 6 day stay.
Our time in Elafonisi consisted of a lot of studio time. On our first day, we sat down as a group and went over the tasks we had to complete by the end of our time. Our assignments included drawings, paintings, journaling, blog posts, reading, editing photographs, and more. We also each had individual meetings with Dan and Tracy to discuss the trip so far; what has been going well, what could be improved, and a review of our journals. A typical day for us in Elafonisi consisted of breakfast in the morning followed by a work period and then free time to go to the beach and have lunch. After lunch we had another work period followed by some more free time before dinner at 7:30pm. After dinner the time was ours to continue working on assignments, enjoy the stars at the beach, and call family and friends.
Throughout the week, we were astonished by Elafonisi’s natural beauty — it truly is paradise. Next stop, Santorini.
Have you ever asked someone how they have felt about a trip, a job or any experience that you are about to go on just so you have some sort of “heads up”? Well… on Sunday the 16th of September 2018, I woke up at 5:00 am and prepared to leave for Samaria Gorge which was an hour drive away. I slept part of the way up the windey road to the top of the hill. This was the point at which all of us would begin the hike down to the gorge. I had asked my friend about what to expect on the trip and how long it would take till I would get to the beach which was at the end of the hike. We began the hike and I felt pretty confident knowing that three hours would pass by in no time and I would be at the beach ready to swim and bask in the sun. The first hour was on a winding path that was very steep and I gradually began to break away from the group that I was with as I tried to go at a steady pace that I was comfortable with and would take pictures of the gorge and the beautiful streams that carried the clean drinking water. After about two and a half hours, there was a mark that read 11 which meant that there were five kilometers left till the end of the hike. I knew that there was no way I was going to do 5km in less than half an hour. Had my friend lied to me? The hike made me have some time to think deeply about the trip but also on how life was like a hike. Even though someone else has gone through a job, or school, or trip, each and every person has a different experience. The coolest part is that we often have more control on how to view an experience than we think. The last 5km of the hike were definitely my favorite as I took each step knowing that I was so blessed to have been among those who have hiked on one of the highest points of the world but also the sense of joy that I could see the most beautiful rock patterns and view that I have ever seen.
Helena is a wild and fabulous woman who owns an eclectic clothing shop in Nafplio. Each customer that comes in is personally attended to by Helen herself whose favorite thing in the world is to play dress up. Marie, Luci, Laura, and I were wandering the streets our first full day in the city when the items outside her store caught our eye. We made it to the fitting room and Helena was next to us telling us to try on what I am calling my pants dress (Luci is wearing a bright green one in the pictures). She found one for each of us and proceeded to run through her shop pulling scarfs, belts, and sweaters to show us all the looks you could create with this amazing garment. We were in stitches, doubled over, near tears while she dressed each of us.
Helena took us in and treated us like daughters talking with us about the importance of confidence in life and how to be effortless. She is one of those people who is doing exactly what they are meant to do in life. We had such an amazing time we brought all of the girls back to meet her and they got to experience what a fantastic character she is. She brought something different to each interaction and the more we came back the crazier her stories got and the fuller her life seemed. On my third visit to her shop, she told me she used to dress celebrities like Jackie O. She runs this little shop now because she just can’t stay away from fashion. If you are ever in Nafplio, you simply must stop in, get the royal treatment, and tell her I send my love.
On the travels thus far I have been blessed enough to have made many friends and not all of them are humans. Yes, your first inclination would be to then jump straight to the idea that I am making friends with extraterrestrials… sadly not that either. The friends I’ve made have been dogs! The large amount of stray dogs that I have seen on this abroad so far is incredible, and being the animal person that I am I want to take them all with me. Each dog has a story, some sad, but most of them happy. If you show one dog love, it’ll follow you for days. Our abroad always has had dogs along for the journey, because we just radiate that love that’s essential for them to keep thriving. They’re constantly given love by the most unexpected of people, that to me is the beauty of it all. All of the strays are taken care of in a lot of ways, and all of the dogs have their own little gang’s that they roll with from time to time. I love to study the way they all interact with each other from place to place in Greece. I look forward to spreading my love to all of the strays that I encounter in Greece, Italy, and Turkey. Here are a couple of pictures with the strays that we name, and have tried to steal….
During my time in elafonisi I’ve really been able to focus on my artwork and what I can do to improve myself. My independent studies have helped me improve on my accuracy drawing from a reference, and working on my projects has taught me that I can improve much faster when I’m uncomfortable trying to draw something. In one case, my project had a few scenes where I didn’t have all the references I needed. Usually I’m good about preparing myself for these things, but this time I had a few ideas that I couldn’t find anything for. It was up to me to draw through my imagination.
It was a struggle for sure. I was frustrated trying to create scenery from my mind while making the perspective look natural. I had to take breaks to look at the project at a whole and see what it needed. After several hours I finally had an outline I was satisfied with. Next I had to redraw everything in pen which for me has always been satisfying because I tend to rethink from my outline as I’m drawing and instantly get results, which can be good or bad but leaves me with the satisfaction of being done either way. In much less time I finished the pen work, and looked at all the erasings and chicken scratch that was left behind all the black pen lines. All of that work and what I’m looking at as the final product isn’t that complicated at all.
It can be difficult to visualize the final product, but with continued practice, my mind has adopted these sketches and helped me recreate similar ideas with ease. If I had to do what I did today in high school I simply would have looked for reference pictures because of it being too difficult to visualize. From this practice I will continue to challenge my brain with more and more tasks like this one. Doing so will open up drawing as a way to express more and more complicated ideas in the future.
Strangers are everywhere. We haven’t stayed in one place longer than a week, and each new place comes with new people. We have had the opportunity to become familiar with hotel and restaurant staff, yacht crew, shop owners, and other tourists (from Europe primarily). Hotel owners, their employees, and restaurant staff have, for the most part, been as friendly and accommodating as their means extend. Those that haven’t been friendly to begin with turned out to be very friendly and only bonded with our group more.
Several times now, while in a smaller group, I have encountered other tourists – some here on vacation, others studying or working – and each experience has been thoroughly enjoyable, often ending in some shared experience that would not have been available otherwise.
One night we ran into two guys from Denmark who were in Chania on vacation. It turned out that we had been at the same place the night before, though our experiences there were very different. We spoke to them in the street for a while before they told us about a Greek club they had found. Most of the clubs play American pop and rap that we are all familiar with, but this place played nothing familiar to us. It was packed to the door, and we had a wonderful time dancing with the crowd. Another group there pulled us in and had us dancing with them before we were unfortunately asked to leave if we did not order drinks.
A waitress here in Elafonisi started out with a dour demeanor, the language barrier making interactions with a large group difficult. After just a day or two of us figuring out how to be more helpful to her when we ordered and her becoming more familiar with our strange American ways, she greeted us at each subsequent meal with a beaming smile and Greek salutations that she taught us – a great example of the power of Love.
I have found myself more outgoing on this trip than I have in any other environment, and I plan to continue making friends of strangers.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, there was a custom for young upper-class Europeans to go on a “Grand Tour”: an educational rite of passage to expose oneself to classical and renaissance culture when they came of age (usually around the age of 21). These trips would last from a couple of months to several years, in which the participant would study the art and philosophy from what is considered the birthplace of western civilization. These trips would cover thousands of miles, and involve exploring Greek ruins throughout Greece, walking down the canals of Venice in Italy, and conversing with the locals about the smallest of things such as the differences in food or the grandest of philosophical ideas. Sound a little familiar?
I am a physics major. I have not had any experience painting or drawing except what I learned in elementary school. I have not taken any philosophy classes either. For the past three years I have been spending all my academic time in the Science Center at Principia College working on physics and math problems. Some would say that this abroad is the exact opposite of what I have been studying and is not applicable to my current education. However, I would like think of this journey as my “Grand Tour”.
The plethora of experiences and ideas that I have been immersed in for the past two weeks has been nothing short of enlightening. At a base level, I have learned that I may actually have a knack for sketching but should absolutely not be allowed anywhere near a paintbrush. I have learned that gyros are the cheapest and most delicious way to eat in Greece, but if you want a salad, the Caesar may not what your expecting (It tastes like mustard). However, on a deeper level I have learned about the emotions art can elicit, the inspiration one could achieve when pondering philosophical ideas, and the beauty I can find in the world beyond the base knowledge of how the world works. I have enveloped myself in the Grand Tour mentality, looking to return home with an education beyond that of the classroom. I just hope that when facing a quantum physics problem when I return, my answer of a piece of abstract art and a philosophical idea will suffice.