Every Week: Favorite Haunts

I am pretty busy this week with projects and upcoming trips, and have also just returned from a field trip which I may blog about later. While I have time, I thought I would make a quick post for anyone wondering about my weekly routine in Athens. Here is a list of my usual activities and favorite places in the city.


On Mondays and Wednesdays I have an interactive, on-site class called Sports, Games, and Spectacles in the Graeco-Roman world. This is an academic way of saying that people are forcing me to run and do sports for credit for the first time since middle school. The first Olympics took place in 776 BC, where competitors ran the diaulos race naked, with their knees high and hands open in the correct athletic form. In later years, the combat sports of boxing, wrestling, and pankration were added, along with discos, javelin, the long jump, and the hoplitodromos race-in-armor. On an average day of class, we go to the Panathenaic stadium or the nearby gym to practice these sports as they were done in ancient times, except with fewer accidental deaths and more clothing. While Olympic re-enactments can be a little much first thing in the morning, it is also definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity to run in the actual footsteps of the first Olympians. So far, on field trips around Greece, we have also run the length of ancient stadiums in Olympia and Nemea.

the Olympic flag flies above the Panathenaic Stadium


On Tuesdays and Thursdays I have Ancient Greek and Aegean Art and Archaeology, which often takes place on site. On a typical day, I take a taxi in the morning with my housemates to the National Archaeological Museum, where we wait on the steps outside for the whole class to arrive.

After the class leaves I kill time at the museum for a while, then walk a few blocks to Caritas Hellas where I volunteer. Unlike many other countries in Europe, Greece takes in a large number of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Africa, and other areas. Caritas Hellas responds to this humanitarian crisis, as well as to natural disasters around the world and poverty within Greece, by providing food, clothing, counseling, and education to hundreds of people, many of whom are children. I volunteer at Caritas for a few hours once a week, sorting donated clothing and playing with the children of refugees.


On Wednesdays I have sports class again, as well as modern Greek language.


Thursday is the last day of classes at CYA, so that field trips and independent travel can take place on three day weekends. It is also the night that the Athens Sports Bar, part of a hostel near the Acropolis, hosts karaoke night. Our professor took my class there for a night out once, and since then I try to be at as many karaoke nights as possible.


While there are many places to buy good produce around Athens, on Fridays the street market—called the Laiki Agora—sets up right in front of my building in Pangrati. Stalls with piles of fruit and vegetables line both sides all along the street; at one end there are a few products like soap and potted plants, while at the other there are people selling fresh fish and secondhand clothing. Most of the street is taken up by people selling fruit, including huge bunches of grapes, bowls filled with different kinds of olives, tomatoes, eggplants, candy and honey, and everything else you could want. Grapes and pomegranates are in season now, so I have been buying them from the same vendor each week. I would provide pictures, but between the elderly Greek women pulling carts, vendors yelling to advertise their prices, and the general small and un-touristy feel of the market, I think I would feel awkward getting my phone out in the middle.

Other places I go on the regular:

Sometimes I go running on the path above the Panathenaic Stadium, which curves around the top of the stairs and is accessible through a small gate on Archimedous street. The track is pretty short, but I like it because there are lookouts around the stadium where you can climb up and get a nice, quiet view of the city.

same stadium, more flattering angle

I also spend a lot of time at Kekkos, a café and shop frequented by all the students at CYA. The owners at Kekkos are sweet and friendly and like to teach us new words and facts about Greece in their free time, and the café itself is great for frappes, freddo espresso, or all kinds of novelty sweets, sandwiches, pastries, and sugar donuts. This is also the place that first exposed me to free snacks in Greece: when you order and sit outside at Kekkos, the staff will always bring biscuits, or even a donut along with your coffee. Once when I was there with friends in the evening they even brought us pieces of homemade baklava. Since it is customary here to drink coffee and alcohol along with food, many bars and cafes will provide bread, olives, fruit, cheese, or other snacks to go with drinks. This is one of my favorite little things about Greece.

Week 4: Andros and Crete

I am now back in Athens after a weekend in Andros on a CYA organized field trip, followed by another four-day trip on the Island of Crete. So much has happened in the past couple weeks that I will try to be brief, and give an overview of my favorite things from the islands.

Some things that happened in Andros:

  • I swam with some friends to a very small white pebble beach
  • We stayed in a pretty hotel and had breakfast in the garden. The walkways of the hotel were covered by trellises of grape vines, which tasted even better than the table grapes in stores.
  • We went swimming at another beach near Korthi, where we saw the Rock of the Old Woman (Της Γριας το Πηδημα). The site was named after the legend of an old woman who betrayed her village to the Ottoman army, and then, consumed by guilt, threw herself from the cliff into the sea.
  • I saw the olive museum of Andros and learned about the process of pressing and curing olives for oil.

Some things that happened in Crete:

  • We visited the maze-like palace of Knossos, the center of Minoan civilization in the Bronze Age. We also went to the museum to look at frescoes of the Minoan snake goddess and bull-leaping dancers. I restrained myself from buying topless-dress snake goddess merch.
  • A boat took us to the old leper colony of Spinaloga Islet.
  • We went swimming at Matala, once a popular gathering place for hippies.
  • I got mild food poisoning at a taverna and threw up off a pier in front of some tourists. Later, the pharmacy gave me liquid antacids that came plastic tubes, like gogurt.

Before I left for study abroad, many former tourists to Greece (friends, family, people in the airport) had warned me that the city of Athens was crowded and unpleasant in comparison to the scenic Aegean islands, such as Andros, Corfu, or Santorini. While I definitely miss the beaches on Andros, I would respond that Athens has its own energy and appeal which can only be found in a busy and complicated city. After being cooped up on a field trip bus for hours, (and after the Hell Taverna), it felt great to get back into the swing of classes and to be free to explore the cultural and archaeological density of the city.

On the recommendation of my music-loving Archaeology professor, I went with a group of friends to a free outdoor jazz festival in Giza, in a venue called Technopolis. The festival included a mix of jazz, choreographed dancing, and Greco-manouche fusion—a combination of jazz manouche, founded by guitarist Jean “Django” Reinhardt in France, with modern Greek musical style. The main stage was surrounded by stalls selling beer and soda, crafts, and secondhand clothes, and lots of Greek families and couples were out to enjoy the festival atmosphere. In reflecting on this night, and in reference to my earlier point, I would advise people skeptical of Athens’ appeal to walk around after dark, since many bookstores, café-bars, and restaurants host cultural events or live music. The main streets are well-lit and less crowded with cars and buses, and tavernas stay busy late, so most neighborhoods in my experience feel really safe after dark. When I go out at night, either with a group or just taking a walk by myself, I also feel much less visible and conspicuous as a tourist—people stare less, and more young people are out on the street, so it is easier to slow down and watch the city rather than rush to my destination.

In conclusion: Athens is great and the islands are great too. Here are some pictures, and also a song by Gadjo Dilo, one of my favorite bands from the festival.



Week 2: Delphi and Parnassos

The first month of classes at CYA is interrupted by field trips, which are led by Professors and staff and serve to inform us about the archaeological and cultural history of Greece beyond Athens. The first trip was to Delphi, a few hours away by bus. The lower site is the setting of the Tholos of Delphi, a circle of marble columns which are all that remain of an ancient temple to the gods. Above the Tholos, by the road, our Professor showed us where to drink and fill our water bottles from the sacred spring of Delphi, which is supposed to infuse the visitor with divine inspiration from the god Apollo. The main site begins higher up on the mountain, where monuments to Athenian victories, as well as temples, columns, and the Athenian treasury, line the path towards the seat of the oracle. The stadium is at the top of the ridge, where the Pythian games where held in ancient times.

On the same day, the busses took us to the monastery of Hosios Loukas. There are many active monasteries in Greece – this one is home to four monks, who are kind enough to let respectfully-dressed tourists visit to see the unique architecture of their home. I forgot to drink enough water (don’t do this!) and felt dizzy partway through our tour of the church, so I took a break to sit down on the wall overlooking the slope of Mount Helicon and the rows of olive trees and bushes below. Nadia, one of the lovely CYA staff, also brought me water and electrolytes, and told me stories about previous CYA students who actually converted to the Greek Orthodox Church after being inspired by their time abroad. I am not a religious or spiritual person, but it was easy to see how someone would be drawn to the calm, quiet heights of a Greek monastery. I was grateful for the chance to learn more about Orthodox religion, and the concepts sacred and the profane in relation to monastic life.

At the foot of Mount Parnassus, near Delphi, we stopped in the village of Arachova. Arachova is a scenic ski village; decorative snowflake shapes hang above the streets, and in the winter people come from all over Greece to ski on the mountain. The town is also famous for a cheese called formaella, made from sheeps milk and sold in the Parnassos area, or served grilled in tavernas with a lemon and an espresso.