Beaches, Islands, and History in every combination

The day after I wrote my previous blog, my program took us to visit Saint Tropez. This little coastal town boasts a population of 5,000 off-season and 80,000 on-season. Apparently since there is no main road leading to Saint Tropez, during peak season, the drive from our little Antibes which took us 2 hours, will take a driver upwards of 4 or 5 hours due to traffic. This is the summer-beach-party-town of the French Riviera frequented by anyone who is anyone in the public spotlight. The views were quite beautiful, but the town was overpriced and underwhelming unless you were going boating or partying. However, they do have a local treat called tarte Tropezziene that is a sponge cake with a layer of vanilla cream in the middle. The whole thing is very light and the slices are quite large. It was very sweet and surprisingly refreshing. After touring the town and local art museum, Kristin and Silvija surprised us with a partial-return-trip by boat. This cut our total return trip time down by an hour or so, so they released us to relax on the beach and do what we wished. I got gelato and when I ordered, the put it on the cone in the shape of a flower! The trip across the bay was enough to burn my face (story of my life), so I was quickly identified along with a couple others as red. Sweet Silvija asked if I had any aloe for my face when she saw me. That being said, I enjoyed the whole experience but would not attempt a visit to Saint Tropez during true tourist months.

This past weekend was Easter. (Oh, Happy late Easter everyone!) For the holiday, we had Monday off from classes, and so that coupled with the Friday that Julie, Natalie, and I already have, gave us a golden opportunity to plan a trip a little bigger than usual. Our choice destination (and splurge…): Athens, Greece! This actually turned out to be an ideal choice since Greek Orthodox Easter is a week after our Easter. So, while all the rest of Europe was closing up for most of the weekend, Athens was still buzzing. We flew in Thursday night so we could get three full days of sightseeing and then returned at a reasonable hour on Monday. On day 1, we saw all the historic Athens sites: the Acropolis with the Parthenon, the Ancient Agora, the Temple of Hephaestus, Temple of Nike, Temple of Athena, Theatre(s) of Dionysius, Erectheion, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, etc. The great thing about being a student with an I.D. card for an E.U. university is that all of these sites let us in for free. We probably saved 40 or 50 euros in total for 1) being students and 2) being EU students. While at the Parthenon, we ran into a couple from Ohio, who of course automatically knew we were fellow Americans and had a nice conversation about seeing the world. We also discovered the incredibly low prices of food and… wait for it… souvenirs!! 😀 The Grecians seem to have one personality type: gregarious, outgoing, and accommodating. Everyone was very sweet to us all the time (except for those ladies running their rose con). For example, we went into a souvenir store run by a little lady who was excited to tell us about all of her stock (of course) and after I had paid, she was advising me to make sure I wore sunscreen, as she could see my face getting pink. Additionally, I stood up on the metro and dropped my phone on the seat and four Grecians immediately tried to get my attention to tell me, and then proceeded to tell me to keep a closer eye on my things and be careful. That day, we also visited the less historic Syntagma Square, Monastiraki Flea Market, New Acropolis Museum and had an awesome dinner at a highly recommended restaurant. At Monastiraki, women with individually wrapped roses were walking around everywhere trying to give them out to people. I say “trying” because it was an obvious attempt to get people to give them money. They would give you a flower “for free” and then follow you telling you how they needed a little money until you gave them some. Now psychologically, you are more likely to give someone something if you have received something (i.e. the flower), so it is a cunning scheme, but absolutely aggravating when they literally stick the flower into your pocket or scarf or purse strap so you have “taken it.” One girl, about age 15, approached Julie and did just this, sticking the flower into her purse strap, and then proceeded to squeeze Julie’s cheek like a grandmother. Let’s just say she wasn’t successful in her venture.

For day 2, we knew we wouldn’t be doing Athens/Greece justice if we didn’t make an excursion to a nearby island. Our island of choice was Aegina (apparently known for their pistachios) where we visited the island’s archaeological site, explored the beaches and little coastal town, and had ice cream and a very touristy lunch. The island’s UNESCO Heritage site had a small museum of stone monuments and old pottery along with a 1- or 2- acre open area where old stone buildings once stood and a beach view that for me was one of the most beautiful of my entire semester. We travelled to the island by ferry (about 90 minutes) and from the island for a slightly higher price by hydrofoil (about 30 minutes). The ferry allowed us to sit outside, enjoy the beautiful weather, and admire the other islands as we passed. The hydrofoil got us back to the mainland in time for dinner and a little extra exploring. During our wanderings, I think we may have seen more stray cats than humans… ok, maybe not, but you couldn’t turn a corner without seeing at least a stray or two (think minimum or 10 or 15 cats for the day). It was a fun and relaxing (albeit chilly) day.

Day 3, we took another excursion a few hours up the coast of Greece to the Cape of Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon. The temple was beautifully situated overlooking the entrance to the Aegean Sea surrounded by wildflowers and blue water. While waiting for the bus to Sounio, a lady at the stop struck up conversation with us, asking where we were from. After hearing our answers, she made a comment on the brutality of Tennessee’s winter and the beauty of Maryland and D.C., where Julie and Natalie are from and then told us she was from Boston. She then made sure we took the bus with the scenic coastal route to get to Sounio and made sure the driver and ticketing people knew exactly where we were going when she got off before our stop. She even stood up on the bus en route to suggest we switch sides to have a better view. When we got off at the stop on the coastal route to wait for the bus that would take us to rest of the way, we had about an hour to burn and some beautiful beaches on which to spend it. We found a lifeguard tower with a pole to slide down (naturally, we obliged) and enjoyed the mild weather. With a little extra time remaining, we went into a nearby supermarket and bought some drinks. I bought a bottle of water and a can of coke for a total of 0.76 euro. Natalie bought 1.5L of water for 0.36 euro. THAT is a good example of Grecian prices and it was lovely.

The morning of our final day, Monday, we got an early start to make it to the sites in Athens we had missed on day 1 and get some last minute souvenir shopping done. We saw the Panathenaic Stadium where the first of the Modern Olympics was held as well as the Temple of Olympian Zeus. While waiting for the train to the airport, we also ventured to try an orange from one of the trees lining the roads. These oranges, we knew, were bitter, but I at least was curious to what end. The orange smelled lovely and was very juicy, but there was little or no natural sweetness and the acidic, tangy taste was similar to that of a lemon.

In the airport on the way to Athens, we found a pack of six sticks of mentos for a low price. Feeling slightly impulsive, we made the purchase and split them two sticks each. This was so enjoyable that Julie vowed to make it her airport tradition. Naturally, going back through on our return, we made the same purchase (and got it for 0.90 euro less!) On a little side note that made me smile, they passed out chocolate eggs on the flight back in celebration of Easter.

Aegina UNESCO beach overlook

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