Friday, March 17, 2006

Greece, Part I

I had a five page paper due for Lit Trad this week, so alas I wasn't able to finish writting about the Greece trip, or upload any of the photos that go with it. :( Anyways, here's the first third or so of the trip, I'll be back with the rest of it, pictures, and 10-day stories a week from Sunday at the absolute earliest.

UD is nothing without its traditions, and one of the events that always takes place right before the Greece trip is the G(r)eek Olympics. The class was randomly divided into eight teams of eleven, we donned our best bed-sheet togas, marched out on the soccer field, and the games began. I was on team six, and we failed to win the name and chant making contest, the broom-stick relay, the 3-legged race, the egg toss, the tug of war, or the gum chewing contest. Then Greener* shoved a plate full of whipped cream into Shane’s face and we earned one point for amusing the gods, so we didn’t come in last. After the Olympics we all trooped down into the Capp Bar for the traditional toga party. Technus – the God of Computers – and Caesar both graced us with their presence and shirts with rebellious slogans writ large upon them might have been worn. A good time was had by all.

One of the other events that takes place before the Greece trip is CLEANING. No one can go on the trip unless: 1.) the bathrooms are all clean and 2.) the bedrooms are at the very least not filthy. My Suite won the prize for the cleanest bathroom. ^_^v

Thursday began bright and early, with breakfast starting an hour later than normal and going 15 minutes longer. In a clear sign of God’s approval of our trip, the rain-bearing clouds which had been hovering over Rome for the past several weeks finally cleared up. The buses were loaded with a minimum of chaos and we left only a quarter of an hour late. There were 88 of us Students, all of the professors except Dr. F, and most of the Student Life staff on the trip with us, so we took up two buses. I was on bus number one, Jupiter Optibus Maxibus.** From Rome, we headed south and east across the Italic Penensula where the port of Bari was waiting for us. We stopped three times: twice to use the bathroom and once, at a cold windy auto grill which was pearched on the side of a mountain, to eat the sack lunches that the Mensa ladies had packed for us.

If Italy is shaped like a boot, then imagine where the heel of the foot would be, and that is about where Bari is located. We got off of the bus there, followed Dr. Ht. through a maze of medieval backstreets and arrived in a large Piazza which was empty except for us and a larger than life statue of St. Nicholas. Dr. M spoke a piece about the history of the area (the Normans conquered most of Greece and Southern uitaly at about the same time that they invaded England) then Dr. Ht spoke about the life of St. Nick, and why, as Bobby put it, the statue shows him holding 3 flaming peaches.*** You’ve heard of St. Nicholas. His feast day is the 6th of December, he performed a numver of miracles including calming a storm at sea, rescuing the children from the brine, and giving the three gold balls. His relics emit a fragrent smell, and exude a water-like substance that has miraculous helaing properties.

For a short time we got to go explore the Basilica San Nicola – a pretty little thing with nothing on some of the other churches I’ve seen in Rome and Greece – including a delve into the crypt to see the relics of the Saint. I bought a postcard, since there was some sort of vigil going on and it felt wrong to be taking pictures while that happening. The church has a small room full of bottles of the oil from the relics, apperantly they get about a liter of water every year.

We gathered in the Piazza again and Fr. Andrew led a prayer. Monsignor F is our normal campus chaplain, but he has a day job working at the Vatican, so he couldn’t come with us. Instead, we had the loan of Fr. Andrew a surfer from San Diego turned Benedictine Monk as our chaplain for the trip. Then we hopped back on the bus and drove around the block to the port, where we played hurry up and wait while our tickets for the ferry were fetched. We boarded the boat at last and settled in for a night on the Mediterranean Sea. It was right at dusk when we finnaly got on the ferry, so there wasn’t really anything to see until the next morning, although I know I was far from the only one who went out on deck to stare at a whole lot of nothing. We were three to a cabin, where smoking was not permited, in marked contrast to the intire rest of the ship. I spent the bulk of the morning alternately out on deck and staring out the windows.

We arrived in Patras, on the Peloponesian Penensula at about 12 local time (Greece is an hour ahead of Italy) hopped back on the bus and continued on our merry way, with much turning to each other and saying in shell-shocked voices “We’re in Greece.” We drove over the bridge spanning the Gulf of Corinth, which was built**** for the Olympics in 2004 using EU money and might be the longest suspension bridge in the world, but Dr. Ht wasn’t exactly sure. He also said “You really shouldn’t miss it, and since you’re on the bus, you don’t have a choice.” We continued along the cost for an hour and then stopped for lunch in a beach side restaurant. I had some good squid. ^_^

Then it was back on the bus for a few more hours to the town of ITea where we stayed for the night. The school provided dinner for us in the hotel, and the food was OK. I wandered around town with the Doppelganger, Mr. Boy, Nick, Bridget, and Shannon, saw the coast, played on a nifty jungle gym and a chess board large enough for us to pretend to be the pieces. Unfortunatly, other people took the pictures, so I’ll have to wait a while before I can get my hands on them. That evening, Mr. Boy, as part of his campaign to get into the local culture, tried Ouzo.***** The Doppleganger has a priceless photo of his expression that I mean to get from her soon. Nick also has a video that I’m planning on grabbing – it’s dark, but you can see Mr. Boy shudder and hear the rest of us laughing at him.

Itea is a quaint little town, and today it has the same attraction that it did in ancient times: it’s a good stopping point on the way to Delphi. So Saturday morning the group checked out of the hotel, we loaded into the buses and started driving. I tell you now, you have not known fear until you have gone around hairpin mountain turns in a bus, on a road with no guardrails and a two thousand foot drop on one side*.

The first stop in Delphi was at the lowest point in the site: the Temple of Athena. Dr. Ht talked for a little bit about where the ancients would go on their way to visit the oracle (they’d begin at this temple for one) and the history of the shrine. We had ten or fifteen minutes to explore the site, and then we moved on. We climbed up the hill, or should a say, part of Mt. Parnassus. The paths are well maintained and well marked, but as I have said before, Dr. Ht walks at about warp factor 6, and if you want to keep up with him** you’ll get quite a workout. Next we went to the Castalian Fountain, which is where pilgrims would wash themselves before continuing into the site. It’s fenced off – one of the few things we encountered in the whole trip that was – and Dr. Ht. talked a little more before moving on. Also located near the shrine was a small statue of Our Lady of the Soda, or some such.

Next we entered Delphi proper, hiked through the site and up to the Temple of Apollo. Dr. Hd spoke a little about how the oracle changed the life of Socrates, and of other Greek notables who consulted her. I got to see where the crack in the earth that the oracle supposedly sat above supposedly was: the area is earthquake prone so archaeologists debate where in the temple Pythia would actually have sat. After that, we were given an hour before we had to be back down the hill to see the museum, so most of the group, my self included, continued uphill to the stadium at Delphi. The Delphic games were part of a cycle of sporting events along with the Pan-Athaneic games, the Olympic games, and others that were a major part of ‘the world of Sport’*** for the ancient Greeks. I concluded that the stadium’s location was actually part of an ancient crowd control mechanism: you have to be in pretty good shape just to get to the stadium. It is a long way up.

We were given about 45 minutes in the little museum in Delphi, which was really all we needed because it’s a tiny little museum. If you have ever heard of anything in the museum it is probably either the omphalios, which the ancients believed marked the center of the world (or maybe it was the center of the world, as with most myths, the details are fuzzy around the edges) or the charioteer. The story with the statue is that when the French were beginning the first excivations here in the mid-19th century, there was a small town on the site. They took the obvious solution of relocating the whole town to a spot a few miles down the road, but naturally there was one little old lady who did not want to move. Repeated attempts to plead with the lady were rejected and it looked like the French were just going to have to dig around her house when she came to them an offered to move. Apperantly she had a dream the night before, which she took to be a sign, of a young boy, trapped below water asking her to free him. She sold the house and moved to the new town with everyone else, and this statue was found buried underneath the house.

-Till later, wish me luck on 10-day. I'm going to Budapest, Warsaw, and Prague.

*Or at least I think that’s who did it, I was on the other side of the crowd taking pictures when it happened.

** The other bus created a name for themselves that was some sort of sad attempt to rhyme the words ‘ouzo’ and ‘bus’.

***They’re three balls of gold, which are on fire for some reason. You won’t be able to look at a picture of him again with out thinking about peaches.

****The bridge, not the gulf.

*****It’s a Greek liquor made from Aniseed. In other words, it taste like black liquorish with alchol added. If you are ever offered this stuff, pass.

*Although there is a great view of the sea in the distance as you ponder your impending falling-bus related death.

**and you do want to keep up with him

***if I may be so bold as to steal the BBC’s phrase there

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