Harry Crimi ’15

Perhaps my favorite aspect about living in Rome is the exposure to the Vatican, and the renewed sense of faith and prayer it gives me. Every day when I walk around Rome, I pass by nuns, priests, seminarians, friars, brothers, and many more, all simply living in community with each other. It truly is a beautiful thing, and acts as a constant reminder to anyone who is dwindling in their faith that there are still many faithful servants to the church. This semester I was blessed with an amazing campus ministry, led by our Father Al, that organized many events that got other students and I out into the Vatican to explore our faith a little deeper. As a practicing Catholic, it is very important for me to find a community where I can grow in faith and love, and I found that here more than I ever expected. Whether it be from church crawls, adoration and praise, Holy Week activities, to even a pilgrimage to the town of Assisi, the campus ministry here at the John Felice Rome Center has blessed me with extremely meaningful opportunities for me to develop my spiritual life in more ways than I ever imagined.

Inside the Basilica, being lit up by sun rays.

Inside the Basilica, being lit up by sun rays.

Cardinals everywhere!

Cardinals everywhere!

 

The first of these opportunities that I want to mention is mass at the Station Churches of Rome.  Now, Rome has over 800 churches, meaning that obviously not all of them can function all the time because of lack of staff and parishioners, especially since some streets have three to four churches on them alone! Therefore, every Lent, each of these churches open their doors to a mass for one day each. On these days, Catholic pilgrims travel to that one church for mass. These churches are called “Station Churches”, and are mostly attended to by American Catholics living or studying in Rome. Unfortunately the masses were held at 7 am, meaning that I would have to leave my campus at 5:30 am to make it on time. Needless to say, I only went to a few of them! However, the few I went to were very special to me. I went with my friend and fellow crusader, Nik Churik, for two Thursdays in Lent. I never expected myself to be waking up at 5 am, walking around a major city during sunrise, all to attend just one simple mass. But in Rome, I did, and I would gladly do it again. The mass itself was very powerful because everyone truly made an effort to be there, and it was extremely refreshing hearing the singing and responses of such an exuberant and passionate congregation. Due to the campus ministry here, we became good friends with some seminarians from the North American Pontifical College (NAC). Both times we met up with these seminarians there for mass, and then followed them after for a classic Roman breakfast of a cappuccino and cornetto. After breakfast, Nik and I would walk back to the bus stop and go back to campus, energized and ready to start the day while everyone else was still struggling to get up. I will truly miss and cherish these mornings the most out of my time in Rome, because they are ones that I did not expect to have at all, yet have brought me so much happiness.

My favorite View of the Vatican from a bridge on the way to a Station Church at 6 AM.

My favorite View of the Vatican from a bridge on the way to a Station Church at 6 AM.

Some of my campus ministry friends with Fr. Al in the center, the mastermind behind all these great campus ministry happenings

Some of my campus ministry friends with Fr. Al in the center, the mastermind behind all these great campus ministry happenings

 

Besides the Station Churches, our campus ministry did lots of other activities with the seminarians from the NAC. We went with them on a church crawl to around seven major churches of Rome, including the church of St. Cecilia that has her remains underneath. We also went to the town of Assisi with the seminarians, who helped us experience a day of quiet reflection, prayer, and mass in the home town of St. Francis. More importantly, however, we shared with these seminarians good food throughout Rome! We would often times go out as a group to a restaurant and share great conversations ranging from funny jokes to more deep conversations about religion, which always ended with abundant wine and a glass of limoncello.

The beautiful town of Assisi.

The beautiful town of Assisi.

Church of Saint Francis in Assisi.

Church of Saint Francis in Assisi.

Statue of Saint Francis and the two turtle doves.

Statue of Saint Francis and the two turtle doves.

My friend Lauren and I with Donato, one of the NAC seminarians in Assisi for dinner.

My friend Lauren and I with Donato, one of the NAC seminarians in Assisi for dinner.

 

As for the Vatican itself, I made multiple visits inside St. Peter’s Basilica. It is by far the most amazing church I have ever seen, and remains to be the only building that single-handedly moved me to tears. I had the amazing opportunity to have mass in the crypts below the basilica, in the Polish Grotto. Shockingly, we were actually a few rooms away from the closest you can get to the remains of St. Peter himself. Throughout the semester we went to numerous beautiful churches, such as the Church of Saint Ignatius and the Gesu (the main Jesuit church), but Saint Peter’s remains to be my favorite.

The culmination of all this involvement with campus ministry was Holy Week, the week of the Easter Tridium: Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. And what better place to spend it than in Rome! Holy Week has always meant a lot to me ever since I could remember. In grade school, I remember learning about the Easter Tridium and why it is so important, and I even remember small things like my mom stopping me from using electronics on Good Friday from 12 to 3. But this year, I really got a new understanding of what Holy Week is, and that’s because I spent it in Rome. While the buses might have been extremely packed for these few days, the atmosphere was so peaceful and the amount of dedicated Catholics here was so powerful that it created a spiritual environment unlike any other.

The week started with Palm Sunday, where I had mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Florence. The events of Holy Thursday began with a mass in our school. Holy Thursday mass has for a long time been my favorite mass, especially because of the symbolism of a feast in lieu of such pain, a celebration in the church before a stripping of the church. After mass, the campus ministry and I met up with other study abroad students from Duquesne University and did a church crawl through one of the main streets of Rome, Via del Corso. We visited several beautiful churches, each with the Eucharist in repose for the Passion. This Holy Thursday church crawl is an American custom, so there were many Americans in Rome who joined us. We all held candles with red holders, and while they were all lit, the candles created a sea of light in the dark Roman night. Normally the street we were walking on is fully congested with cars and bikers, but that night it was dominated by pilgrims holding candles and entering churches. We culminated the night by going to one of our favorite restaurants (by that point we were regulars) and had delicious rigatoni with pear and cheese filling.

The Cathedral of the Holy Cross, in Florence.

The Cathedral of the Holy Cross, in Florence.

Holy Thursday candle-lit church crawl

Holy Thursday candle-lit church crawl

 

Good Friday began with a prayer service in our chapel. Afterwards we headed down to the Coliseum for the Via Crucis, the Stations of the Cross, with Pope Francis. After waiting there for about four hours, the service started. It was an unforgettable backdrop: we were all standing in front of the Coliseum which was lit up with bright lights from the inside. Next to us was the Arch of Constantine that had a huge lit up cross on it. And in front of us was the edge of the Palatine Hill, where the Pope sat next to a massive gas lit flaming cross in front of the remains of the Basilica Nova, the basilica that Emperor Constantine built after he legalized Christianity. The stations were read in Italian, with each reflection ending with the Our Father in Latin. The weather was perfect and the whole night had the soundtrack of the beautiful Sistine Choir. I simply couldn’t get over where I was, who I was with, and what I was celebrating. With the combination of the Coliseum, where many died and were persecuted for their religion, and the Pope with the Sistine Choir, it was an extremely powerful night that truly exemplified for me the burdens and trials the church has had to overcome.

Me and the Coliseum on Good Friday!

Me and the Coliseum on Good Friday!

 

The Coliseum at night for the Stations of the Cross

The Coliseum at night for the Stations of the Cross

The Arch of Constantine for the Via Crucis.

The Arch of Constantine for the Via Crucis.

 

The gas light cross with the pope underneath the Basilica Nova, on the Palatine Hill for the Via Crucis.

The gas light cross with the pope underneath the Basilica Nova, on the Palatine Hill for the Via Crucis.

 

Easter Morning finally arrived with the glorious bells of St. Peter’s Basilica. In order to get good seats for mass, we got down there and were waiting from 6 am. Although it was a tiresome ordeal, celebrating Easter at the Vatican made it completely worth it. There was such an excitement being there, not to mention beauty. The whole façade of the Basilica was lined with gorgeous white flowers, and had red curtains hanging from the main windows. The sounds of the Vatican on this special day are worth remembering forever: the bells of the basilica, the sound of the band from both the Swiss Guards and the Italian Army, and of course the angelic voices of the Sistine Choir. We ended up getting fantastic seats, and could see the mass perfectly from where we were. The mass was without a doubt the most beautiful mass I have ever been to. Besides having it celebrated by the Pope, it was beautiful for its music and use of difference languages. My favorite was the gospel reading, which the deacon chanted in both Latin and ancient Greek. After mass, the Pope drove around on his pope mobile to address the crowds before giving a small speech from the main window in the Vatican. After his speech, we left to get some Italian pastry and head back to our campus for a nice picnic.

Easter Morning in front of the Vatican!

Easter Morning in front of the Vatican!

 

Pope Francis during Easter Mass

Pope Francis during Easter Mass

 

Up close and personal with a Swish Gaurd

Up close and personal with a Swish Gaurd

 

Pope-Mobile ride after mass. Time to greet the masses!

Pope-Mobile ride after mass. Time to greet the masses!

 

Pope's address after mass from the Basilica's second floor.

Pope’s address after mass from the Basilica’s second floor.

 

The last event that I shared with the Vatican was the Canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII. Millions of pilgrims came from all over the world…and I mean millions, and they filled every corner and crevice that Rome had to offer.  Because of the popularity of the event, some friends and I decided to camp out the night before. Rome was so crowded, you couldn’t even leave the campsite for a bathroom break because there was no guarantee you could fit back into the site through the gates. By 7 pm the day before, police blocked off everything, and it became a game of jumping fences and dodging sleeping heads for me and Nik to meet up with our friends. THAT I will never forget! In fact, we even had to bribe someone to let us get past him with a box of pizza we were going to deliver to our friends! Once things settled down, there were groups of people with guitars, singing and clapping to church songs, most popular being “Lord, you have come to the seashore” and even American songs, with “Country Road” being the song of the night! While it was a powerful religious experience itself, it was also a physically exhausting one, since we had to camp out from 5 pm the day before and stand on our feet from 10 pm to the mass at 10 am. Around 7 am, with no food, water, or access to a bathroom, we decided to leave and watch the mass from our lobby. Even though we felt the need to leave, the whole event taught me that what truly matters is your personal spiritual experience there, not being there for the sake of being there. Through this semester I really developed a mature way of looking at my faith: that it is a process, a story of relationship, which only grows when you do things for the right reasons. I now have much more of an appreciation for religion and desire to learn more about it.  Being exposed to these events taught me the value of questioning things to truly grasp their meaning, and to make them your own. There will most likely never be an event like the Canonization again in my life time. The sheer amount of people and their dedication, motivation, and occasional shoving, to be present was leaps and bounds bigger than what any other event could draw. I have been to my fair share of concerts, marches, and festivals, but nothing was like this. No secular event, no president’s inauguration, no event for one single man has attracted the crowds like that of the now Saint Pope John Paul II. This is simply a testament to the fact that in this very secular world, the church still holds a good deal of influence that surpasses many others.

Our humble abode during Canonization camping. USA represent!

Our humble abode during Canonization camping. USA represent!

The crowd of millions ahead of us towards St. Peter's Square.

The crowd of millions ahead of us towards St. Peter’s Square around 5 AM.

The crowd of millions behind us in line towards St. Peter's Square. The crowd of millions behind us in line towards St. Peter’s Square.

The view of the Basilica just after sunrise on the morning of the Canonization.

The view of the Basilica just after sunrise on the morning of the Canonization.

 

Being a student in Rome has opened me up to so many blessings from the Vatican of which I am extremely grateful, and I hope to always hear those morning bells from the Vatican in my head on many Sundays to come, wherever I am.

Before coming to Rome, I knew there was one place I just had to see: Sicily. The land of my forefathers, the land of cannoli and limoncello, and the land of Greeks, Romans, and Arabs alike. Sicily, in many ways, is the cultural and culinary diamond of Italy, and I instantly fell in love with it. However, I didn’t only visit once, but twice. I had the chance to go first with my friends to see the modern day city of Palermo, and then with my school on a guided weekend touring all the ancient sites. Both were the highlights of my experience in Italy so far, and left me striving for more. I’ll go in chronological order, and share the weekend of ancient Sicily with you first.

 

Ancient Sicily

            Sicily goes much farther back than just the Romans, and is an integral piece of Greek history as well. For three days, we toured sites of Ancient Greek Temples and agoras, as well as a Greco-Roman theatre. Our travels started in the north-western city of Palermo, south down to Agrigento, and finally east past Mount Edna to Taromina. We pretty much covered the whole island, meaning that each bus ride provided countless beautiful scenes of the landscape. A few brave students and I decided to take the ferry to Sicily instead of flying. We left Rome on Thursday afternoon, took the train to Naples, then the overnight ferry from Naples to Palermo. While in Naples, we had the infamous Napolitano pizza, at the restaurant where “Eat Pray Love” was filmed. It was by far the best pizza I ever had, with the dough being the biggest difference. You know a restaurant is good when a “Margarita Pizza” is literally all they have on their menu, and the line is still out the door. The ferry was pretty empty so we had the whole boat to ourselves, and went out on the deck to wave bye to the Italian mainland as we left the coast of Naples. The next morning we arrived in Sicily at 6 AM, had morning cornetti and cappuccini, and then met up with the other students from the plane to begin our tour. We first toured a Christian basilica that had huge and beautiful Moorish arches. The Arabs had an immense role in medieval architecture in Sicily, and their art style is seen heavily in churches through their mosaics and arches.

Pizza in Naples. The best ever!

Pizza in Naples. The best ever!

Villages in the afternoon sky.

Sicilian villages in the afternoon sky from the bus.

We finally moved on to the main feature of our trip: Ancient Greek Temples. These temples date to the 6th century BC, and were built even before the infamous temples on top of the Acropolis in Athens. Now one might think this out of place since Sicily is Italian and what would the Greeks be doing in Italy. However, Italy has more preserved Greek temples than the entirety of Greece has! This is because of two reasons: 1.) Many Greeks immigrated to Italy and made cities, thus built temples to worship their specific deities. 2.) The Italians preserved these temples by making them into Christian churches. It is only recently that the archaeologists restored them to their original form. We saw tons and tons of Greek Temples. I don’t know what it is about them, but I love them so much. The monumentality of them, the antiquity behind it, the meticulous order and uniform style…these traits all combine to make marvelous wonders to behold. Now I have seen many Greek temples before in Greece, but these were different. Being in Sicily, these temples were surrounded by water and luscious greenery. Sicily is extremely fertile, as compared to the dry and arid land of Greece. Seeing the contrast of green and the pale orange of the temples really was a sight to see. We went to a site that had two intact temples, and the remains of around 6 others. These temples were in a green valley on a cliff overlooking the sea, so anywhere you looked through the columns you could see the sea. It was such a serene and peaceful feeling. We were allowed to go inside, which was a luxury I was never granted before. After taking loads of pictures, I just sat inside the temple, taking it all in. Just me, the rocks, and the gods. It was an experience I will never forget.

 

Inside a Temple!

Inside a Temple!

Inside a Temple!

Inside a Temple!

Actual size comparison. I love Sicily!

Human and column actual size comparison. I love Sicily!

The temple in the background matches the horizon of the water.

The temple in the background matches the horizon of the water.

Temples in luscious green valleys

Temples in luscious green valleys

Me and some friends in front of more columns!

Me and some friends in front of more columns!

 

For the rest of the weekend we saw many more preserved temples. We ended up in Taromina, a beautiful little Sicilian town that is right next to the huge volcano, Mount Edna…which still leaks some lava here and there. We were there on Sunday, and the city center was filled with morning church bells and bustling with people buying their weekly sweets. Of course I ate my fill of cannoli. I went to a bakery where I watched them make and fill the shells themselves, along with drizzling them with pistachio and powdered sugar…honestly the best pastry I have ever had. We finished the weekend with a tour of an ancient Greco-Roman theatre on a cliff side. The whole weekend was filled with ancient wonders, a lot of fun, but most importantly a lot of peace. Being in the valleys and cliffs of Sicily really gave me a taste of bliss, and strengthened in me the passion I have for the ancient world and all it can teach us. I firmly believe that some of the best classical ruins lie in the valleys of Sicily, and I couldn’t be more proud of my association with this amazing island and its rich history.

 

Professor Sander Evers had the pleasure of being our excellent and hilarious tour guide for the weekend.

Professor Sander Evers had the pleasure of being our excellent and hilarious tour guide for the weekend.

Still beautiful after all this time

Still beautiful after all this time

Temples mixed with Nature in Sicily

Temples mixed with Nature in Sicily

Greco-Roman theatre at Taromina

Greco-Roman theatre at Taromina

Modern Sicily

Flash forward 2,600 years and you will reach modern Sicily! I had the opportunity to spend the whole weekend in modern day Palermo, which is the capital of Sicily. Besides eating more cannoli and drinking more limoncello, my main incentive was to see the origins of my family. I am 100% Italian; my mother’s side is from Naples, and my father’s side of the family is from Sicily, which they identify very strongly with.  My great grandparents were from Messina and Palermo, but since Messina is on the other end of the island, I only had the chance to visit Palermo. After spending the weekend in Palermo, it makes complete sense that my family is from here. The way they talked, shopped, and ate is so resembling of my own family. I found it so fascinating to be a tourist in my own family’s origin. There are so many aspects of my family that I have grown to love so much, and I saw the origin of all of them here in Sicily.

First, a major part of my family is our Italian Butcher Shop. It is located in South Philadelphia, in a strip of indoor and outdoor shops called the Italian Market. This was all modeled after the outdoor markets in Sicily. I spent every morning walking around these markets, looking with pure joy at all the fish, meat, and vegetable stands. It was easily my favorite part of each day. There were meat markets that had rolls and rolls of Sicilian sausage hung on display, as well as all assortments of meats. To think that this is the inspiration for my family’s business was unreal; a simple tradition really can go a long way. I also loved all the fresh fish on sale at the markets. And when I say fresh, I mean that they still had the swordfish in whole, cut in half, and on display. Now this might creep out others, but my experience working at home has made me appreciate all aspects of fresh food…and this was certainly as fresh as you can get. Next to the swordfish were fresh octopi, squid, and shellfish of all kinds. I was in seafood heaven. However, the best part about it was all of the Italian vendors screaming at each other, haggling buyers with new prices, or arguing with each other. The noise, smell, and chaos all reminded me of home, and I could not have been happier. Now when I work back in the Italian Market this summer, I think I’ll have a bit more appreciation for where it all comes from.

 

Fresh swordfish anyone?

Fresh swordfish anyone?

Octopus and squid...fresh off the boat!

Octopus and squid…fresh off the boat!

The inspiration for my family's Butcher Shop!

The inspiration for my family’s Butcher Shop!
Outdoor meat markets

Outdoor meat markets

 

The city itself is very unique because it is surrounded on all four sides by mountains or sea, which you can see at the horizon of each street. The city has a very convenient grid, with major streets such as “Via Roma” running through it. The city is also known for its many theatres. Our apartment was right next to the main Opera House, and it was gorgeous. Although it was roughly a grid, we still got lost. But each lost encounter resulted with an Italian comedy show. I say this because every time we asked Sicilians for directions, they would argue amongst themselves not only the best way for us to go, but who among them would tell us! These bouts of obnoxious and silly bantering are also familiar to me in my family…but I won’t point any fingers!

 

A street view of a church in Palermo

A street view of a church in Palermo

The Palermo Opera House!

The Palermo Opera House!

However, what I liked most about this place was the food. Sicily hands down has my favorite food. Their cornetti (stuffed croissants) have the most delicious filling, oozing with nutella or pistachio. Their pasta is to die for because it contains the most fresh selection of seafood or vegetables. I tried specialty Sicilian foods such as “Sicilian Meatballs”, which is pork wrapped around stuffing on a kebab, and swordfish pasta. I probably had ten cannoli the whole weekend…at least 3 a day! The cream was just so different from anything else I have ever had: so sweet and so fresh. The nightlife of Palermo also surprised me! It seems like there are no rules here in Sicily, people just drink and party where ever they want to. We stumbled upon this one open area with tons of bars and clubs but surrounded by dilapidated buildings. There were hundreds of people congregated there, as well as vendors selling drinks and food in public. This is where I tried my first authentic aranchino, a very popular Sicilian food that is like a fried rice and meat ball. Back in the States, these are very gourmet appetizer foods at high end Italian restaurants, but here they are simply bar food. It’s funny how food changes from its original intention across seas.

 

The best Cannolli I ever had!

The best Cannolli I ever had!

However, the most meaningful part of the trip was my visit to a very special church. I found out from my grand mom that her mother was baptized in Palermo, in a church that was hard to get to and imbedded into a mountain. Luckily, the owner of the bed and breakfast we stayed in was most helpful to me and helped me find the way to this church. So, I went! It was amazing. A couple friends and I took a bus from Palermo and up into the mountains we went! Finally we reached the church, and it was a beautiful site. There were only three buildings around it, the rest was all forest and a cliff drop that overlooked the whole city. The church is called “San Rosalie”, and is the patron saint of Palermo. The building is literally built into the mountain side, and the inside is breathtaking. Since it is in a mountain, the first part of the church is like a cove, exposed to the open air. Thus, it was luminescent with sunlight and filled with the sound of trickling rain drops on the edges of the rocked walls from a rain fall earlier in the day. The second half is covered by natural rock, and contains wooden pews and a gorgeous statue of Mary with a blue halo of stars around her head. Next to the altar was a baptismal font that was filled with natural water dripping from the rocks. This is the very same font that my great grandmother was baptized in! I was overwhelmed with humility and family love and pride. I took a moment to pray for my family, both present and deceased, for their intentions and for thanks. While I was in this church I realized how much my own family has come from, and how grateful I am for them. My great grandfather left Sicily with only 8 dollars in his pocket, went to war, started a business, and founded a family. At this church, I felt called to live a life of sacrifice, love, and courage like my ancestors did, and make them proud. This is where it all started. After I took some of the holy water from the font home with me in a bottle for my grand mom to keep, I left my new favorite church to go back to the city and fly home to Rome.

 

San Rosalie!

San Rosalie!

Inside the Church.

Inside the Church.

When I left Palermo, I felt like I was leaving a small version of home. With a land of such beauty, such good food, and such exuberant (and slightly obnoxious…) people, I thought to myself “Why did my family ever have to leave this place?” It was so peaceful, especially up at San Rosalie on Mount Pellegrino. However, I guess this is my chance to bring it home with me to my family and friends. I will always have some Sicily in me. Besides it being in my blood, I now have it in my mind and heart. Sicily offered me some of the best memories I have had this year, and it will continue to do so with many many people in the future. From the days of the 6th century BC until now, this island has made such positives impacts on all peoples, and has kept its tradition and love for life strong even through its hard times. It is an island that is just as eternal as Rome, and its corners will always draw people back to its mystery and beauty.

 

This is why I am proud to be a Sicilian.

I absolutely love my life here in Italy. Sure, it definitely took some time adjusting to new living arrangements, new language, and new culture after my brief Christmas break, but now I can’t get enough of what I have in front of me. A lot has happened to make me feel so happy about my new home, and it all starts with our Orientation field trip.

Amalfi Coast: For our Orientation Weekend field trip, we all went south, past Naples, to the Amalfi Coast. It was beautiful. We stayed in a hotel on a cliff right over the beach. While the weather was too cold to utilize the beach to its fullest, I still got to take morning walks on the beach and collect these extremely unique pebbles on the surf. There were small pebbles with colorful ceramic tiles glued on them, most likely remains of a shipwreck that washed up on the beach, mixed with translucent sea glass. I collected my full, and can’t wait to distribute them to people back home.

Sunrise over the coast

Sunrise over the coast

The first day of the trip we went to a site that was originally an Ancient Greek city state before Rome took it over. There were three monumental and well preserved Greek temples with extensive remains of their ancient market place (Agora). The Greeks were everywhere! I still have loads of Greek pride in me, so I was so happy to see such intact Greek remains. Italy does not owe all its history to the Romans, the Greeks certainly had their place and influence…just something I like to remind people!

A Greek Temple near the Amalfi Coast

A Greek Temple near the Amalfi Coast

The next day we went to a Buffalo Mozzarella farm! We got a tour of the buffalo farm itself and the factory that makes the heavenly cheese.  If I had to choose one animal to be reincarnated as, I would now have to say an Italian Buffalo. They have it made! In this farm, the buffalo have three jobs: eat, get massaged, and get milked. Their routine is on a cycle that they all know by habit. Watching a buffalo get massaged was actually one of the most entertaining things I have seen. They just walk over to the massage station, wait patiently, and then just stay there for ten minutes or so in little buffalo heaven! And if that wasn’t enough, they listen to classical music while they get milked! No reason why the products they help make are so good. And I mean…heavenly delicious. After the tour we each tried some buffalo mozzarella. I died. It was incredible, the most flavorful bite of cheese I have ever had in my life. I also had a cappuccino and pistachio flavored gelato from the buffalo milk. Unfortunately, nothing else can compare to the quality of those treats. Oh well, there goes not getting spoiled on the first week!

A buffalo getting massaged. Now he is really living the good life!

A buffalo getting massaged. Now he is really living the good life!

Me and my buffalo mozzarella...a little bite of heaven.

Me and my buffalo mozzarella…a little bite of heaven.

A monastery with a hill top town in the background.

A monastery with a hill top town in the background.

The last part of the trip was going to Mount Vesuvius. We went to a winery that is on the slope of the volcano and had a tasting of their wine. The orchard itself was beautiful, because the view was simply breathtaking. You can actually see Pompeii and the island of Capri from the winery. The wine they make is called “Lacrimi Cristi”, or “The Tears of Christ”. According to Legend, when Lucifer fell to Hell, he went through Vesuvius and took the land around it for himself. God, in response to losing such a beautiful land, cried tears that are supposedly the water that started the growth of the orchard. The story is beautiful, but the wine was even more beautiful. I am not a white wine person, but this white wine was delicious. The red was very unique; you could really taste the salty volcanic soil in it. After our visit, it was back to Rome. But what made the weekend special was the bonding experience between me, my new friends, and even the Italian buffalo!

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My Vatican Backyard:

Out of all the places in Rome, the Vatican is quickly becoming my favorite. Perhaps its because it is just so easy to get to. My campus is in a suburb north of the city, so the Vatican is the first place I hit on my journey down. So, I like to think of it as my backyard.  I have spent many days walking around and exploring the area. Of course, St. Peters Square is exquisite, and much bigger than I expected. When I went for the first time, they still had all the Christmas decorations up, including a huge lit tree and a beautiful manger scene.  The Basilica itself is simply breathtaking. It is the biggest church in the world, and definitely the most moving. I have never had such an initial impression that took my breath away. Every square inch of the basilica is decorated, beautiful, and most importantly: has a purpose. The sculptures, the mosaics, the windows, the lighting…it all blends together to make the quintessential example of a heaven on Earth. You can spend hours in there. I also did not expect to see so many tombs of previous popes, including the tomb of Pope John Paul II. And of course: Latin everywhere! Seeing that made the classics nerd in me go crazy. The Basilica is by far my favorite building in the city.

The Vatican with Christmas decorations

The Vatican with Christmas decorations

So what’s better than seeing the Vatican? Seeing the Pope of course! Last Wednesday the school gave us free tickets for a Papal Audience. These are held every Wednesday in St. Peter’s square, and consist of the Pope’s greeting, a gospel, homily, and a blessing. It started at 10:30, so naturally I woke up at 5:30 to get a good seat! Now you might think that is a little ridiculous, but it all paid off when I got FRONT ROW! It was amazing; he drove by in the pope mobile literally ten feet away from me. He looks a bit older than I thought, but it does not take back from his positive energy and his smile. The square was packed with people of all different countries. The experience was very humbling. People praying, chanting, hugging; there was an intense feeling of purpose, longing, and mostly love there. Perhaps the best example of this was the group of young Italian boys (around 10 years old) who were exuberantly chanting, “PAPA, PAPA!” when he came out. It was an experience I will never forget. Papa Francesco certainly has made a mark on the world. It was great hearing him speak, and of course understanding what he was saying from the many cardinals who translated his Italian into many different languages, including Arabic! At the end, I got some rosaries and holy water blessed by him, and then sang together the Our Father in Latin. It certainly was an experience I will not forget.

Papa Francesco!

Papa Francesco!

I was so close!

I was so close!

Most exciting for me is that I am finding my favorite places to eat near the Vatican! Since the section of the city is a massive tourist trap, it is really nice knowing exactly where to go for top quality food. For gelato, I go to “Old Bridge Gelato” to get the delicious ice cream. My top flavors are: pistachio, cookies, and ricotta pistachio, and it comes with amazing whipped cream. For a sandwich, I go to “Due Cento Panini” to get delicacies like my favorite grilled combination of mozzarella, proscuitto, pesto, and sun dried tomatoes. Finally, for pastries I go to a place our school likes to call “The Secret Bakery” because it is underground and tiny. However, it is overflowing with baked goods. It reminds me of Willa Wonka only if he had baked goods instead of chocolate. I go there for the best pastries in town. So good, so cheap, so addicting.

A beautiful view of the square

A beautiful view of the square

Front of St. Peter's Basilica

Front of St. Peter’s Basilica

 

My Local Neighborhood: Balduina

Living in a small suburb is really a treat. I have easy access to the city whenever I want, but also have a small town feel where I can really get to know people. I am finally starting to get to know my way around the neighborhood, and of course where to go for food.

Last week I got a job teaching English to a 17 year old a couple streets away from me. His name is Francesco di Giovanni, and he is a ton of fun. Seeing him and his family is always the highlight of my week. I go once or twice a week and either help him study for a test or simply have a conversation in English. Then, his mom brings me food and drink half way into our lesson. It is so nice there and I always feel happy leaving his house. Doing things like that is exactly what I love the most about study abroad: making these personal connections with locals to both help them and help myself. I really feel like I am making the most of my experience when I venture off campus and go to his house. Most importantly, it’s just nice having a new friend.

A short trip from home: Inside the dome of the Pantheon

A short trip from home: Inside the dome of the Pantheon

After my first tutoring lesson, I got the confidence to find a place for me to do studio art. Since my campus here doesn’t offer a painting or drawing class, I decided to search for a studio in the city. One day after an onsite class, I found a huge art store and asked them for recommendations. I got the contacts of a teaching studio and went for my first lesson last week! It is the best feeling ever finding something that you always wanted to do on your own. I knew for a long time I wanted to take art lessons in Rome. We meet every Thursday from 5-7 for a Life Art class, meaning figure drawing with live models. It is me, three 50 year old Italians, the model, and the instructor. So, it is a small environment where I can actually improve on my skills. It is also in a different part of downtown Rome that I haven’t been to yet. This means another place I will be sure to explore and make my own! I have already found my favorite pizza in the whole city there, right next to the studio. Alas, my weekly schedule is beginning to be forged between these tutoring sessions and fantastic art lessons, and I could not be happier.

View from my dorm window of the aftermath of a rainstorm in Balduina.

View from my dorm window of the aftermath of a rainstorm in Balduina.

View of Rome from the hills of Balduina!

View of Rome from the hills of Balduina!

To me, there is not a better feeling than mastering the public transportation in a new city to really feel at home there. After a month of constantly getting lost (and I definitely still will get lost in the future!), I finally know how the metro, buses, regional trains, and intercity trains work. I have my routine, and now know how to get there. Mastering public transit makes life so much more enjoyable, and almost makes me feel like an actual Roman.

So, things are good here in Bella Roma! I had the inspiration to write this post after I came back from my art lesson, because now I have the ability to actually follow through with my Rome dreams instead of simply dreaming about them. Until next time, Ciao!

This post begins my second journey of study abroad: Rome. Ever since I could remember, Rome was always my # 1 travel destination. In fact, I recently found a notebook from grade school that had questions about what we wanted to do after graduation. My answer was, “Go to college, become an artist, and go to Rome” Well, at least I am definitely fulfilling the first and last ones! The point is: Going to Rome always was my dream, which I guess makes this semester a dream come true.

In the Philly Airport!

In the Philly Airport!

View over the Mediterranean Sea with speckled clouds.

View over the Mediterranean Sea with speckled clouds.

I landed in Rome on January 14, and had a really enjoyable flight. I did the same as I did with Greece: Philly to London, London to Rome. I even ran into one of my high school friends on the Philly to London flight, small world! When I was flying into the Rome airport, I was shocked to see a completely different landscape than anything I have seen before. As opposed to Athens, my first impression was: GREEN. Everything was so green, with tall branchless trees that lined the shore. We flew over little villages with pastel colored houses, and finally landed in Fiumucino Airport. I didn’t actually get to see the city for a little while. I booked my flight a day early, so I had to stay the night by myself in a hotel outside of the city near the university. The school that I am studying at is through Loyola University Chicago, called the John Felice Rome Center (JFRC). It is situated in a wealthy suburb north of the city called Monte Mario, about a 20 minute bus ride from Rome. SO, I actually spent my first hours in Italy sleeping! I slept the whole day and night in the hotel, checked out, and went to my campus the next morning. When I arrived at JFRC, I was really impressed. It is a very small but quaint campus, with a very impressive cafeteria and library. After being in an apartment in Athens, I forgot how much I like actual campuses. Orientation lasted for a while, however I felt very much at home because it reminded me of Holy Cross: small campus feel, lots of great resources, and helpful student life assistants. The day was full of meetings, but then after 7 pm…the night was ours. Of course, this means finally venturing into Rome!

After all of the traveling I have done this year, I have realized something: It is oftentimes very hard to compromise something that you have been picturing in your head from dreaming so much with the actual thing when it is in front of you. I am the first to admit this. When on my bus into Rome for the first time, I was actually more nervous than excited, nervous that Rome wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Well, when I actually arrived in the city center, all of these fears subsided behind both excitement and the reality that we got completely lost! I will never forget my first night in Rome. We wandered across the Tiber River, saw the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, and then got completely lost and stumbled upon…the Pantheon. The Pantheon!! I have dreamed about this building, and the moment when I so casually stumbled upon it while lost was when it hit me that I am actually here…a student living here, not just a tourist on a two day guided tour. After staring at the building for a while, we got gelato and then ventured to the Trevi Fountain, where I threw a 10 cent euro coin in. As I went back to campus that night, I realized that I also had this compromise of expectations and reality in Athens too, and that is completely normal. I became happier as I realized that the thing that makes a place better than what you can ever imagine is formed by the personal connections you make with it. I realized this in Athens, and I can not wait to do it with Rome.

I guess getting lost isn't so bad when you run into the Pantheon...

I guess getting lost isn’t so bad when you run into the Pantheon…

My first glimpse of the Colosseum!

My first glimpse of the Colosseum!

Beautiful moon with the lit up Colosseum.

Beautiful moon with the lit up Colosseum.

To describe Rome as beautiful is an understatement. It is a word that just doesn’t do it justice. The city itself is a piece of art. The city is carved with grand piazzas with gorgeous marble fountains in the center, surrounded by narrow side streets with gelaterias and pizzerias sprinkled throughout. The streets are cobble stone, the lampposts are quaint, and the horizon always contains a famous ancient site. On top of this, the city is absolutely gorgeous at night. Every monument is lit up, the piazzas are bustling with people, and the Vatican dome is always a gleaming point of reference. Rome is also a vastly different city than anything else I have seen so far. Based on my experience so far, Rome actually isn’t that big of a city, especially not compared to Athens. The sites are all roughly in walking distance, and the colors of the city as much more varied. The small buildings are sun-washed pastel, the churches and monuments are white and brown, the greenery is the deepest hue of green I have seen; all against a beautiful light blue backdrop when it is a clear day.

The Roman Forum in all its glory.

The Roman Forum in all its glory.

Me in the forum!

Me in the forum!

The branchless trees that line Rome.

The branchless trees that line Rome.

Jump Shot!

Jump Shot!

Inside the Colosseum

Inside the Colosseum

A truly beautiful and massive structure.

A truly beautiful and massive structure.

My adventures in Rome culminated that week with a scavenger hunt in the city organized by the school. It forced us to all of the sites that I, as an eager tourist, have been dying to go to. We spent the whole night running around the city, jumping from piazza to piazza, and finally ending up at the Colosseum. The night ended with my first taste of legitimate Italian pizza. All of the running around was worth it however, because my team won!  So, the first week was a big success. Here are a a few pictures from the scavenger hunt in Rome to get an introductory taste of my new home in Roma.

For our scavenger hunt...We had to pretend to have a gladiator fight in front of the the Colosseum. So, we made did a "chicken" version!

For our scavenger hunt…We had to pretend to have a gladiator fight in front of the the Colosseum. So, we made did a “chicken” version!

The winning team for the Scavenger Hunt!

The winning team for the Scavenger Hunt!

Me and my fellow Holy Cross Rome students! HC Pride!

Me and my fellow Holy Cross Rome students! HC Pride!

 

I will miss you, Greece

          Now that I have been home for a much deserved Christmas break, I can’t stop thinking about how much I actually miss Greece. I immediately had reverse culture shock when I got home, and I didn’t even know that was possible. The good shock was going home and throwing oodles amount of toilet paper down the toilet! In Greece, the plumbing is too bad to put toilet paper down the toilet, so American plumbing quickly became a much appreciated part of life. It was amazing to see my friends and family again. I spent the majority of my time at home: playing with my baby nephew Anthony, talking with my parents about Greece, and hanging out with my sister and brother-in-law Will, who I have not seen in a year since he left for Afghanistan last January. I indulged in eating Chipotle with my high school friends on a daily basis, and even had the chance to volunteer at Bryn Mawr Rehab hospital, the same place I worked at last summer in their Neuro-rehab unit. However, there were some less desirable parts of my reverse culture shock, such as not being able to stumble upon fresh octopus at the super market and the weather not being 70 and perfect all the time. As I reflected on my four months in Greece, I came up with a list of things that I loved the most in Greece, and now miss, and why.

My neighborhood. I now like to think of Athens as a city of mini towns. Although it is a sprawling city with 5 million people, it is composed of small and close-knit neighborhoods, where everyone knows each other. My neighborhood was called Pangrati, and it was a safe residential neighborhood. I had the pleasure of really getting to know the residents.

First there is Αγυρω, a lady who owns a sweet bread store up the street. I first met her because she was my neighbor in the apartment and one day offered me to come over and have a coffee. We were friends ever since. Around three days a week I would stop over and have a cappuccino with her. She would stop work to sit down with me and have a conversation; it made my day and looked like it made hers too.  I would stop over just to say hello, or to pick up some cheesy bread sticks that I loved. She eventually called me her American son, which is fitting because to me she was my Greek mom.

Next are the workers at a brand new coffee place near campus. I quickly became good friends with Alex, Gregory, and Jim by just stopping by and getting coffee. Only Alex knew English, so it was a good way to practice my newly acquired Greek language. Every single Tuesday and Thursday I had the same routine with them. I had class from 3 to 7 with a ten minute break in between, where I would always go to them and get a croissant stuffed with Nutella. Eventually they knew my schedule and always made sure they had one for me on those days. One day, I told them that I was from Philadelphia.  Jim, who doesn’t know any English, gets all excited and screams, “PHILADELPHIA 76ERS!!!”. I was laughing so hard! Apparently, he and a bunch of Greeks LOVE the 76ers, because they have a lot of Greeks on the team. Who would have thought? He cares more about the team than half of Philadelphia does. Ever since then, I became known as “Haris” the man from Philadelphia, home of the 76ers.

Alex and Gregory at the cafe near my school. I always would stop by and hear how much they loved the Philadelphia 76ers!

Alex and Gregory at the cafe near my school. I always would stop by and hear how much they loved the Philadelphia 76ers!

Perhaps my favorite person to run into was Sula. On most Tuesday and Thursday nights as I would walk home from school, I would pass a lady walking a gorgeous King Charles Cavalier Cocker Spaniel, the exact same dog I have at home. Naturally, I made a fuss over the dog, and became friends with its owner, Sula, and the dog itself, Liza. Sula only spoke Greek, so our conversations were brief, but meaningful none the less. Whenever I would see Sula she would tell her dog to go up and greet me too, it was so nice. It was great having a representation of my own dog, Boone, in Greece with me.

And there are countless others. One was the butcher in the central market who tried to sell me lamb heads when I clearly expressed that I did not want one. Another was Mrs. Kokkinaki who was in charge of my English tutoring volunteering, who was around 80 but could out walk most 50 year olds I know. My personal favorites were the instructors at the Marble Art Studio, who always insisted we have a twenty-minute break to eat grapes, cheese, and homemade wine with them. And finally, Sophie, a Greek lady who I became friends with by sitting next to her in the local Catholic Church. She would always comment, “lovely holy mass!,” after church; it always put me in a good mood.

My finished marble carving: A relief of Poseidon's head done with only hammer and chisel. I hope to marble carve again in the future.

My finished marble carving: A relief of Poseidon’s head done with only hammer and chisel. I hope to marble carve again in the future.

The Food Culture: Almost more impressive than the actual fresh food I indulged in all semester was the culture of eating around it. I so enjoyed the long dinners where if you stayed an extra half an hour, they would bring out complimentary drinks or desserts.  Above all else though, I absolutely fell in love with Greek cafes. Cafes were all over the place: each unique and pleasant. These cafes were not packed, and you could stay at a table for hours drinking coffee and doing work. So, I quickly developed a routine. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, I would go to a different café, order a cappuccino, and do my work. It was the perfect way to experience more of the culture while being productive! I also got to see more of the city; I would ride the metro to somewhere I have not been yet, find a café, and sit there for hours. Because of this, I suddenly became a coffee person, and always looked forward to my morning cappuccino with a complimentary piece of cake or cookie. I made cafes into my personal study and social zone, and mostly a place for me to relax and breathe a little.

Dinner with my Ancient Greek professor. By the end of the semester, all of my professors took us out to their favorite tavernas!

Dinner with my Ancient Greek professor. By the end of the semester, all of my professors took us out to their favorite tavernas!

The Warm Culture: I always felt at home in Athens. People were always smiling, and even strangers made positive impressions on me. I still remember one of my first dinners during orientation week, one of the staff members said something along the lines of, “We Greeks might be going through a lot, but we can always remain happy with smiles and food.” That is so true, because every smile and plate of food I had was worth so much more because of how genuine it was. Nothing can take that heart away from Greece, and now I am happy to say I have really benefited from it.

Greek pride: A beautiful blue flag against the eternal marble of the Parthenon.

Greek pride: A beautiful blue flag against the eternal marble of the Parthenon.

My Faculty and Staff: I can talk about the CYA program forever. Just covering logistics first: The academic building was right next to the first ever modern day Olympic Stadium, ten minute walk from the Parliament building, and a fifteen minute walk from the Acropolis. So, life was extremely convenient. I could just walk to the Acropolis whenever I wanted, show my student card, and stay all day next to the Parthenon reading, drawing, or just taking it all in…all for free. I couldn’t feel more blessed to have this experience. And even though I certainly think I took advantage of it, I still don’t think I got enough of it.

Greek sculpture inside the National Archaeology Museum, a 15 minute bus ride from my apartment.

Greek sculpture inside the National Archaeology Museum, a 15 minute bus ride from my apartment. 

The Caryatids of the Acropolis. It only takes a 15 minute walk to see their smiling faces!

The Caryatids of the Acropolis. It only takes a 15 minute walk to see their smiling faces!

Beyond this, I could not have been happier with my academic experience over there. Contrary to popular belief from both my family and friends back at home…I DID in fact do work!! I surprised myself by really improving my Latin, and formed good bonds with both my Latin and Ancient Greek professors. My modern Greek class actually left me with decent language skills to communicate with Greeks and to get around easily. I really miss speaking Greek, the language is fascinating and super fun to write! My Aegean Art and Archaeology class was onsite, which meant that I spent class in the Ancient Agora, the Acropolis Museum, the National Archaeology Museum, and most importantly, the Acropolis itself. The instructor was amazing, and by the end of his class I really felt like I knew Ancient Greek archaeology and the important sites really well (…kinda the reason why I went over there in the first place). However, most surprisingly was my love for the Economic class on the Crisis in Greece and Europe. I  learned about modern Greek history, the economics behind the current recession, the logistics behind the euro and the European Union, and possible scenarios for the future. I even got to attend the 25th Annual Greek Economics Conference and hear current economic proposals and evaluations. Through this class, I felt like I became a modern Greek and not only an Ancient one; for now I can better understand what the people were going through now, and could relate to current events and politics instead of just the ones that happened in the 8th to 5th century BC. Academically, I got a lot more of out my experience than I thought I would, and I couldn’t be happier.

And then there is the staff. I have never met a group of people that cared about their students so much. I loved going up to the 3rd floor and chatting with them all, they always without a doubt made my day better. People such as Nadia, Vasso, Theoni, Lida, and Joanna quickly became my Greek mothers. I absolutely fell in love with the chefs in the cafeteria, especially Meni. I would look forward to seeing them everyday. And even though they only spoke Greek, I still managed to connect with them and tell them how good their food was.

My roommates and I with Vasso, who planned all of our amazing school trips. Her office was always open to stop in and chat.

My roommates and I with Vasso, who planned all of our amazing school trips. Her office was always open to stop in and chat.

 Farewell

The last Thursday was a Farewell party. All the staff, faculty, and students were there. It was one of my favorite nights the whole semester. We laughed, we danced, we cried…and suddenly it became harder than I thought to leave Greece. I am so blessed to meet everyone that I did. The friends I made, both young and old, will hold a very special place in my heart. I am writing this with such a big smile, because I can’t imagine my semester going any other way. I am so lucky to have had this chance, and I definitely am a better person because of it.

Some of my fellow classmates in my Latin class. Latin won't be the same!

Some of my fellow classmates in my Latin class. Latin won’t be the same!

The farewell dinner party with my good friends.

The farewell dinner party with my good friends.

Good bye for now Greece, I will be back soon!

One minute I’m relaxing on the island of Rhodes, the next I am watching an opera in Vienna, then taking final exams, and finally eating Christmas dinner…in America! Wow, a lot have happened in the past 2 monthes, and I haven’t had the chance to share it with you! Let me begin by saying this will most likely be a long entry to capture all that actually happened. On Christmas morning, I came down the stairs to find a huge wrapped present under the tree for me. It was a framed map of the world, with the engraving of “The World Travels of Harry Crimi” on it. I loved it, it was the best present I could have asked for. The map came with red pins so that I can pin down every place I have traveled to. As I was pinning the places down in Europe, I realized how lucky I was to go to the places that now have my red pins stuck in them. Although I am no where near the status of this blog title “World Traveler”, I am much more than what I ever thought I would be. Since no one in my immediate family has ever left the country, I grew up thinking it was an impossible feat, and that the land on the other end of the Atlantic was so foreign it was alien. Now looking back on the places I was able to go to, and the fond memories I have of them, I can’t help but feel so lucky…and excited for any future trips. So here is why I feel this way:

A Very European Thanksgiving

            My school gave me a week long fall break, and it just so happened to fall over Thanksgiving. Since I was in Greece, I wanted to venture to places in central and eastern Europe. Around late September, three of my friends and I planned a trip to hit three major cities during this week long break. The breakdown was: Vienna, Prague, and Budapest. I was extremely surprised to see how easy it was to travel in between these cities. We used Euro Line, a bus company that has inexpensive and convenient bus routes throughout major European cities. Unfortunately, the European bus system does not go to Greece (hooray for Greece being inconvenient!), so we had to get flights to and from Athens. We started out trip with a flight to Vienna.

Vienna was by far my favorite of the three cities. If I had to describe it in one word, it was magical. First off, everything was so efficient, so clean. The buildings were all neo-classical, and the weather was just cold enough to make it truly feel like the holiday season. Since Europe has no Thanksgiving to wait for, the Christmas spirit came on early…and strong. Everywhere I went there were Christmas decorations, but the thing that stood out the most in Vienna was the infamous Christmas Market. A German Christmas Market is a very popular festivity in the holiday season. It is a huge outdoor market with small wooden houses that sell trinkets, homemade souvenirs, and even local food and drink. Since it is so cold up there, all the markets sell hot spiced wine; it is their winter drink instead of hot chocolate. In Vienna alone, there are around 14 markets, but we went to the most popular one in front of the gorgeous lit up city hall. We spent each night in there, where I ate sausage, bread bowls of Goulash Soup, and drank hot wine. My favorite of the wines was what they called the “Mozart Punch” (everything in Vienna is Mozart themed), it contained hot wine spiced with cinnamon and clove, with a shot of whiskey in it, finished with whipped cream…to die for. The best thing about these wines, is that once you purchase it, you can keep the mug! So I ended up coming home with four different mugs from different Christmas markets! After experiencing all this, I have to admit that the Germans and Austrians really do Christmas right.

Vienna's city hall, with Christ,as Markets in front of it.

Vienna’s city hall, with Christmas Markets in front of it.

A fine example of the treasures sold at each wooden house at the Christmas Markets!

A fine example of the treasures sold at each wooden house at the Christmas Markets!

The very grand walking center of Vienna.

The very grand walking center of Vienna.

When we weren’t shopping, eating, and drinking in the Christmas Markets, we were experiencing all the rest that Vienna had to offer. It prides itself as the classical music hub of the world, since it is the origin of famous classical composers such as Mozart and Beethoven. We went to the Museum of Music, the Grand Library, and then Mozart’s House, where he wrote “Figaro” and “Don Giovanni”. I culminated the weekend with a trip to the Vienna State Opera House to see Mozart’s “Magic Flute”. It was my first opera, and certainly one I will never forget. The music so spectacular that I went home that night and downloaded half the album. My experience in Vienna really got me interested in classical music again, and all I wanted to do was Viennese Waltz along the Danube River…one reason why I really miss my Ballroom Dance Team back at home. After having the classy experience of listening to a Viennese Opera, and the Christmas filled spirits at the markets, I would say my break had a very good start.

The Vienna State Opera House!

The Vienna State Opera House!

Erika and I seeing "The Magic Flute" by Mozart!

Erika and I seeing “The Magic Flute” by Mozart!

Prague was a long bus ride away. It was really interesting seeing the countryside of central Europe, and how it oddly looked similar to some of the countryside I am used to seeing in Pennsylvania. My first impression of Prague was that it was a very colorful city, with connected buildings with all different pastel colors. We walked to the old town square, and that’s when it set in: the cold. I have never been that cold in my life. It was a such a bone chilling cold that my face turned purple in a matter of minutes. It also didn’t help that I was extremely unprepared. Foolish Harry fell into the trap of believing that just because Greece is always advertised as a sunny paradise means that no jacket is needed for Europe…at all. I had no jacket, nor gloves, nor a hat, just lots of layers and a sweater. Oh well, lesson definitely learned! After eating the most delicious but also most expensive ham I have ever had, I quickly bought a pair of gloves and we went into a café to warm up. The cold pretty much was a common thread in these two days, but it certainly didn’t stop us from walking about. We walked across the famous Charles Bridge to Prague Castle, a huge castle on the other side of the river with a breathtaking cathedral. Something interesting to me was all the catholic symbolism over the city, for this area used to be part of the Holy Roman Empire. Now, after Soviet occupation, these religious icons seem to be simply lying in the shadows ever since the country became less and less religious. We then went back to the city square to see the big astronomical clock chime in the new hour, and finally ate some Prague food. I had duck with tons of dumplings; the heavy food seems to be a trend in this part of the world.

Prague's Christmas Market.

Prague’s Christmas Market.

 

Colorful buildings of Prague.

Colorful buildings of Prague.

 

Prague's old city square...like an Eastern Fairy Tale.

Prague’s old city square…like an Eastern Fairy Tale.

 

Prague Castle

Prague Castle

The last three days of the break was spent in Budapest! Did you know that Budapest is actually two cities, separated by the Danube River? On one side is “Buda” and the other is “Pest”. Considering how the trip was going so far, naturally the first thing we looked for after checking into the hostel was a Christmas Market! We went to the main market and were amazed by the amount of food, Hungarian a-cappella groups, and even the occasional flame thrower! I have never seen food like this before: whole pigs being roasted for pork sandwiches (sorry Vegetarians…), huge potato pancakes, bread bowls stuffed with pork and cabbage, and of course hot spiced wine! Apparently, Budapest is known for their thermal springs. They have several Turkish Baths that use the thermal water for pools and spas. So, we went to one! We spent the whole morning there, and it was so relaxing that I easily could have spent the whole day there. These same thermal springs caused a 27 km cave network under the city as well. That night, we went with a guide and navigated through these caves under the city. It was actually pretty challenging and not recommended for anyone claustrophobic since the majority of movement was crawling or sliding!

Budapest at night! On the left of the river is "Buda" and the right is "Pest"

Budapest at night! On the left of the river is “Buda” and the right is “Pest”

 

Pork anyone!? Delicious food at the Budapest Christmas Markets!

Pork anyone!? Delicious food at the Budapest Christmas Markets!

 

Me squirming through the underground caves of Budapest.

Me squirming through the underground caves of Budapest.

The next day we toured the main attractions: the monumental Buda castle, the charming Fisherman’s Warf, and the stunning Parliament Building. It was almost half way through the afternoon when we remembered what day it was: Thanksgiving! Since we couldn’t cook our own turkey with our families back at home, we all decided to share a small meal in our hostel. With no turkey to be found, we made a meal of goose legs and potatoes while sharing a bottle of hot wine. We all went around the tables saying things we were grateful for, it was truly a humbling Thanksgiving. I will never stop feeling grateful for the people that made this year happen: Holy Cross for setting it up, CYA for taking me in so warmly, my friends back at home for granting me so many fond memories to reminisce, and most importantly my family for both giving me the confidence and foundation to live abroad and for letting me go. I felt a lot of love and thanks that day that I hope I will always hold on to.

Fisherman's Warf

Fisherman’s Warf

 

Parliament Building

Parliament Building

 

Happy Thanksgiving from Budapest!

Happy Thanksgiving from Budapest!

We spent the last hours of the break in the airport! We slept in the Budapest airport over night, and then flew to Milan, Italy, for a layover to Athens. This was my first step on Italian soil! It was so great. Every one spoke Italian and all the trashcans said “Grazie”! I liked it so much I could’ve studied abroad in the airport! Good thing I am going to Rome soon. But after all the traveling, it was so nice going home to Athens: somewhere that we knew where to go and what to do…and most importantly somewhere where we could sleep!

A Tale of Two Continents

          As if we didn’t travel enough, the very next weekend we went to Istanbul, Turkey! Ever since I arrived in Athens, Istanbul was the trip that every one, professors and students alike, was raving about. I can see why. The city is massive: around 13 million people, and spans both Europe and Asia! I immediately felt at home with all the skyscrapers and glass buildings; it felt much more like an American city than Athens does simply because of the building designs. Our hostel was in prime location: right in the neighborhood of the prime tourists sites: the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Basilica Cistern. Although I learned a lot about classical history, my knowledge of Byzantine history and all things to do with this part of the world was pretty much inexistent. My friends and professors gave a crash course throughout the semester, and now it is something I find fascinating. The story of how Roman Emperor Constantine founded Constantinople, it’s rise to power as a major center for the Eastern Orthodox Church, the tragedy of the Crusaders sacking the city in the 4th crusade and destroying huge remnants of classical history, and finally the struggle of power with the Ottoman Turks that eventually led to city’s change of name to Istanbul by the victorious Turks: all history, all still very prevalent, all here in Istanbul.

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

 

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

 

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

We also went to the huge markets that they call Bazaars. The Grand Bazaar is an indoor market that is equivalent to the size of a huge mall. Inside you find quality items local to the area, such as pashmina scarves and handmade lamps at every wall in the market. The Spice Bazaar was my favorite however, because it had the best aroma of thousands of different spices, teas, and sweets piled high in every store. Overall, I found the food to be very sweet, but not overpowering. Turkish coffee is the way to go, which is unfiltered and usually in silver cups. The tradition is that after you are done drinking the coffee, you turn the cup over to let the remaining filter make a fortune. We ate traditional Ottoman food, and sat at one restaurant where the floor was of glass to see the ancient archaeological excavations underneath; history everywhere! Finally, we decided to leave Europe and head over to the Asian side!…which really isn’t much different. We walked up and down the main street, which was lined with clubs, bars (where I discovered how nice Turkish vodka is), restaurants and sweet shops. It was a late night, around 4AM, and everyone was still out and about! Apparently Istanbul doesn’t sleep either. We tried the baklava to compare it to the ones in Greece, and I dare say that the ones in Istanbul take the cake. Unlike in Greece, these baklava had pistachios in them, and were not overpowered with honey. A perfect combination! After a late night like that, I slept through the flight back, and all of a sudden I was back in Athens. This time, to stay til the end: Dec.21.

Shops at the Grand Bazaar

Shops at the Grand Bazaar

 

Spices galore at the Spice Market

Spices galore at the Spice Market

 

Baklava Tower!

Baklava Tower!

After looking back on my map, I am just stunned at how many red pins there are. However, although all those places were stunning, new, and exciting, nothing can replace my real home sweet home: Havertown, PA. My trip back home concluded my Fall Semester, and it was indeed a very sweet home coming.

Of all the islands in Greece, Rhodes holds a special place in my heart. It is home to one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World: the Colossus of Rhodes. According to my family, I was born a rather big and plump baby, with a serious and somewhat agitated expression on my face. My Aunt Cathy and Uncle Angelo found this amusing, and would always call me the “Colossus of Rhodes”. Well, even after I thinned out and gained the happy face I often wear today, the name just kind of stuck. Every now and then, I would hear that name addressed to me, and I always wondered, “What does that actually mean?!” Ever since then, I’ve had a desire to travel to Rhodes and go full circle with this childhood nickname of mine. Finally, I was finally able to go there two weekends ago with my friend Salpi and her friend Ansgar, and the experience was….well, pretty colossal.

The dogs of Rhodes. My personal favorite picture of the weekend.

The dogs of Rhodes. My personal favorite picture of the weekend.

As I quickly discovered, there is a lot more to Rhodes than just the history of its Colossus. Rhodes is actually home to the best preserved Medieval town in the greater area. Rhodes’ “Old Town” is surrounded by huge fortress walls built by the Venetians and used by the Knights of St. John. It is comprised of narrow corridors of cobblestone floors with traditional lanterns lighting the way. We strolled through there on Friday night, and were amazed at how massive the walls were, and how heavily fortified the Old Town was. There were dozens of canon holes and openings for shooting arrows. Normally in the summer these cobbled streets are lined with crowds of tourists going to local tavernas or souvenir shops, but since we went in the off season, we had the whole place to ourselves. Unfortunately, this also gave us a lot of trouble trying to find a place to eat dinner, We eventually got lost and ended up at a seafood restaurant, where I ate the best, and most expensive, seafood I have ever had. On our plates that evening were: freshly grilled octopus (of course), stuffed calamari with feta and tomato (AMAZING), and a local fish called ‘”Dentrix”. To celebrate our Rhodes arrival, we decided to indulge and get a bottle of delicious local white wine. We made friends with the owner and eventually got desert on the house. After the dinner, we wandered around the harbor and got some more desert…who can resist real Greek frozen yogurt with gobs of nutella?

The fortress walls of Rhode's Old Town

The fortress walls of Rhode’s Old Town

One of the entrances to the Old Town, with a hint of Autumn through the middle.

One of the entrances to the Old Town, with a hint of Autumn through the middle.

Then we found it: the bases for the Colossus. Unfortunately, nothing remains of the actual statue, just the bases on which it is believed he stood. According to some experts, this massive bronze statue stood at the entrance of the harbor, most likely to highlight Rhode’s increasing economic success from sea trade in ancient times. It is said that his feet stood on two bases that line the harbor entrance, forcing ships to cross beneath him. However, the statue only lasted for 50 years due to an earthquake that sent him tumbling down.

The bases of the Colossus!

The bases of the Colossus!

Me imitating how the Colossus supposedly stood. I think I still got it even though I am no longer a chubby serious baby!

Me imitating how the Colossus supposedly stood. I think I still got it even though I am no longer a chubby serious baby!

The next day we walked around the city to catch a glimpse of the basses in daylight. Rhodes’s symbol must be a deer, because on each base there is a deer statue, and all over the streets there are deer mosaics. Apart from the Old Town, Rhodes is also known for its city of Lindos. Since it was the off season, most of the buses were shut down, so we made friends with a taxi driver, who was actually from Lindos, and got a discounted rate to and from the city. Like every other male in this country, his name was Costas, and told us that before the crisis he was a professor in restaurant management, where he taught how to treat tourists as actual human beings and not just walking dollar bills. His positive outlook on Greece and tourists was very refreshing. Lindos is a quaint city that rests below a massive acropolis that dates 50 years before the acropolis of Athens was built. On the Lindos acropolis, there are remains to a temple to Apollo, which we were able to go inside since we were the only ones there; technically that’s illegal…but oh well!

Salpi and I inside of the Temple to Apollo!

Salpi and I inside of the Temple to Apollo!

We took full advantage of sneaking into temples.

We take full advantage of sneaking into temples.

The view from the top of the Lindos Acropolis

The view from the top of the Lindos Acropolis

Of course most of the restaurants were closed since it was November, so we wandered around until we found one taverna that had lights on inside. Much to our surprise, the old man who owned it decided to open up four hours early for us (I forgot it was Siesta time where everyone is napping)! After lunch, we called Costas to pick us up, and we went back to the Old Town for drinks and calamari with the owner of the fish restaurant. We seemed to make a lot of new friends that weekend in Rhodes! We then did our normal nightly routine: get fro-yo and eat it next to the Colossus bases. Not a bad way to spend my weekend nights.

The moon over the Acropolis at Lindos

The moon over the Acropolis at Lindos

Lindos during sunset. The picture has all of the typical island characteristics: A city full of white houses on a cliff side overlooking the water.

Lindos during sunset. The picture has all of the typical island characteristics: A city full of white houses on a cliff side overlooking the water.

On Sunday, the Old Town was suddenly bustling with tourists and open stores because a cruise ship rolled into the city that day. To the shop owners of Rhodes, this meant all hands on deck! We went window shopping and came across some boats on the harbor that were selling local shell trinkets. The experience was something that reminded me of my family vacations to the beach, so I felt right at home and knew that this is somewhere I want to take my family one day. We then decided to go swimming! Yep, I’m still swimming in Greece, even in mid November! The Aegean actually was pretty cold and rough that day, but failed to prevent us from jumping in. Later, we saw the sun set into the hills of Turkey on the horizon. As opposed to all the other sunsets, this time the sun turned a bright pink that lasted in the sky a good hour after it went down. It was the perfect way to end our stay. The whole weekend was such a joy to me, and I thought of my aunt the whole time. I am so happy I had the chance to have such a personal trip, and I can’t wait to show all the pictures and videos to my family.

The sunset with the hills of Turkey in the background.

The sunset with the hills of Turkey in the background.

The pink sun...something I have never seen before.

The pink sun…something I have never seen before.

Against all odds, the small city of Athens defeated the massive Persian army at the Battle of Marathon in 5th century BC. One sole Athenian ran the distance from the town of Marathon to Athens. Upon arrival, he exclaimed their victory, and dropped down dead. The distance was 26 miles, and the marathon was born.

Now centuries later, people still commemorate this test of human strength and mental will in the race we now call the “marathon”. On November 10, Athens held its annual Classic Marathon, and it was nothing short of incredible. Since my running training is pretty much non existent, I didn’t participate in the running of the race. However, I made the most of the experience by volunteering for it! That Sunday I woke up at 4:30, met the head of the marathon volunteers at 5 AM, and drove with him to the very start of the race in the modern city of Marathon. Once there, we set up “runner stations” at every 5 kilometer stop. Each station had restrooms, water tables, and lots of recycle bins for plastic cups and bottles. The whole race took place on one street, Marathon Street. As I was going down the street towards Athens setting up these stations, I passed by several busses going the opposite direction shuttling the runners to the starting line, all 11,000 of them. While the hilly terrain of the route certainly didn’t look easy for the runners, it was indeed a beautiful one, with the high mountains of Attica surrounding the horizon. We got into the city and he dropped me off at the site of the 5K race, where he left to run it and I to pass out water.

Marathon Street!

Marathon Street!

The day consisted of three races: the 5K, 10K, and the marathon (lots of Ks). By far my favorite was helping the 5K. My job was to pass out opened water bottles and Gatorade to runners as they ran by. To the inexperienced marathon volunteer as I was, I didn’t think this task would be too hard. But as experienced runners know, when you’re running and want water, there is no stopping to get it, its simply a grab and go deal. Therefore, there were many times when runners failed to grab the water out of my hand, sending water all over me and the people behind me. It was actually really amusing, and truly put my water-dodging skills to the test. The 5K was such a fun environment, filled with a mix of focused runners, determined speed walkers, families with little kids, and just plain out goofballs. My favorite experience was when a runner, all decked out in USA gear, stopped at my water station and asked, “Hey, what’s all the rush for?!” Leave it to us Americans to say that! After the last runner passed, we cleaned up, and took pictures in front of a massive Marathon runner sculpture. I have no idea what the sculpture is made of, but it was one of the most fascinating ones I have ever seen. Planted on Marathon Street, the sculpture depicts a runner dashing towards the finish line in Athens.

The monumental sculpture of the Marathon Runner.

The monumental sculpture of the Marathon Runner.

Me and fellow CYA volunteers!

Me and fellow CYA volunteers!

All the volunteers behind our bundles of recyclables!

All the volunteers behind our bundles of recyclables!

The next task was working the 10K: a lot more Ks, a lot more runners, and definitely a lot more water bottles to clean up! After the runners finish drinking, they throw the bottles to the side of the streets: making a sea of plastic bottles that lined up the whole block. As I was cleaning up (and dodging flying water bottles), a random lady, who was neither a  running or a volunteer, came up to me and helped me pick up bottles. We got to talking and she said she was from Sparta, and told me that my name is considered to mean “happiness”. After we were done, I thanked her for helping me, and she responded in broken English saying, “No, thank you, this brings happiness to me, you brought happiness to me today.” So down to earth, she didn’t need to help me clean up thousands of dirty water bottles in the hot streets of Athens, but she did. Simply another reason why I love Greece.

Runners galore.

Runners galore.

Now came the time for the runners of the actual Marathon to pass by. At this point, I was stationed at the 40 kilometer station. The marathon started at 9, and the first runner flew by at 11.

The first runner of the Marathon to pass by! I have never seen such focus and drive on a runner.

The first runner of the Marathon to pass by! I have never seen such focus and drive on a runner.

Then, little by little, a sea of runners began to cross our station. Besides the volunteers, many locals came to cheer on the runners, and cheer loudly they did. Every time a runner passed by, cheers of “μπραβο παιδια! Παμε Παμε!” (Good job guys! let’s go let’s go!) filled the streets. At this point, I waited to see my own friends pass by. My friends Andrew, Will, Julie, Josh, and Cydnee all ran the race, and seeing them pass was definitely the best part of the day.

My friends Josh and Cydnee power to the finish!

My friends Josh and Cydnee power to the finish!

There was indeed a Batman in the Marathon race!

There was indeed a Batman in the Marathon race!

USA pride!

USA pride!

The proud Marathon runners with their medals!

The proud Marathon runners with their medals!

When the last of my friends passed, I ran with them for a little while for a morale boost. In that leg of the race, we were running straight to the Acropolis. How amazing the feeling must have been to be running 26 miles to finally see the acropolis as inspiration to finish the last 2 kilometers! However, most powerful was the encouragement of the Greeks. There were hundreds of them all lined up upon the last leg, all holding signs and cheering as loud as they could. The atmosphere is something I could never re-create. Both the passion I saw on every single runner’s face and the pride of every Greek onlooker inspired me. Today seemed to be sort of a holiday; every Athenian came out and supported runners both from Greece and abroad. There was a special solidarity that day among all Greeks.  Although the onlookers were technically the ones giving the support to the runners, I believe the runners were the ones giving support to the crowd. The runners represented the heart and soul of Athens, and espoused the ideal that man can do anything they put their mind to. That day, I felt extremely proud to be a temporary Greek, and the race certainly reminded me that Athens has a lot of heart to offer.

An older runner with an "ΕΛΛΑΣ" (Greece) sign. This represents the sense of Greek pride that was so strong that day

An older runner with an “ΕΛΛΑΣ” (Greece) sign. This represents the sense of Greek pride that was so strong that day

Never stop running, Athens.

For our second mandatory school field trip, we spent the past week in the Peloponnese! Now, when you think of beautiful Greece, all attention always goes straight to the islands. Granted, they are beautiful, but I was blown away by the beauty and majesty of the Peloponnese. We went to all the major ancient sites, while getting a taste of their quaint modern cities.

The Corinth Canal...Officially making the Peloponnese an island!

The Corinth Canal…Officially making the Peloponnese an island!

 

Mycenae: We first visited the ancient site of Mycenae, which was the head of the Mycenaean civilization, which survived from the 16th to 12th centuries.  The city is just as impressive now as it must have been back then. We went to numerous Mycenaean gravesites, including the famous Thalos Tomb. In my book, this is one of the most impressive stone structures in all of Greece. It is massive, and not a single stone of it is reconstructed. It stands today the same way it did the day it was built. Next, we went to the citadel of the city, on high bedrock with some of the fortification walls intact. We walked under the Lion Gate, perhaps one of the most famous artifacts from the ancient world, and certainly one that everyone sees in Ancient History textbooks. This was certainly a monumental civilization and the architecture remaining certainly proves that. After all, this was the civilization that launched my favorite war in all history: the Trojan War!

The massive Mycenaean Thalos Tomb...perfectly intact

The massive Mycenaean Thalos Tomb…perfectly intact

Us re-creating the Lion Gate. My friends Salpi and Markella are the flanking heraldic lions, Davida is the base, and I am the column in the middle!

Us re-creating the Lion Gate! My friends Salpi and Markella are the flanking heraldic lions, Davida is the base, and I am the column in the middle.

 

Epidaurus: This ancient site was the most important healing sanctuary in ancient Greece. According to Greek mythology, Apollo’s son, Asclepius the god of healing, is said to have been born here and started a healing center. Greeks would come from all over the Aegean in hopes to be healed here from their infirmities. While now it is a compilation of ruins, there is still an air of peace potent here that most likely added to the idea of healing back in antiquity. However, my favorite part of the site, and actually the whole trip, was the Greek Theatre at Epidaurus. It is the epitome of ancient Greek theatre: mathematically perfect to account for perfect acoustics. The seats are set in a cliff of bedrock with a circular stage in the middle. Naturally, we did all of the typical tourist things to test the acoustics, such as someone going to the highest row and another dropping a coin on the stage, and you bet you could hear it from the top! It didn’t take too long for me to get my theatre bug going. Before I knew it, I was singing in the stage for the rest of my group in the audience: both to test the theatre and to simply put on a good show! I sang “Go the Distance” from Hercules (very fitting), followed by “Look Down” from Les Mis with my friend Davida. However, with some encouragement, I got on the stage and sang my solo song from my high school’s production of Les Mis, Empty Chairs at Empty Tables. It meant so much to me. I was stunned I did it, but now I can say that I belted my heart out in an ancient Greek theatre! I ended the song to applause from a new bunch of German and French tourists who came mid-way through. If I had to choose the most rewarding and fulfilling thing I have done so far in Greece, I would definitely say that was it. I dare say it was the pinnacle of my musical career; I was beaming.

Full view of the Theatre of Epidaurus. It is mathematically and acoustically perfect.

Full view of the Theatre of Epidaurus. It is mathematically and acoustically perfect.

Shot of the theatre from the highest seat.

Shot of the theatre from the highest seat.

 

Nauplio: Nauplio isn’t an ancient city, but it sure as hell is one of the most beautiful modern ones I have ever seen in my life. Nauplio sits on the water and has a monumental fort on top of a hill in the city. The Venetians built it to protect Nauplio as one of their last port cities before the Ottoman Turks took it over. Also, after Greece gained independence, this was the capitol before Athens. Nauplio is such a quaint city, and I swear has the best ice cream in all of Greece! We spent two nights there, where we ate dinner in tavernas next to the water and drank wine on the docks. On the last day there, we went up top the fort; you can see the entire city and of course gorgeous views of the water. In addition to the high fortress, Nauplio has a fort in the middle of the water that now is a small island to make it even more picturesque.

The Venetian Fortress of Nauplio.

The Venetian Fortress of Nauplio.

The floating fort in Nauplio

The floating fort in Nauplio

Shot from a canon hole of the Aegean.

Shot of the Aegean from a canon hole.

I love the Peloponnese!

I love the Peloponnese!

Venetian storage cave in the top of the fortress.

Venetian storage cave in the top of the fortress.

Yellow pastel sunset over coast of Nauplio.

Yellow pastel sunset over the coast of Nauplio.

View from behind the cactus plants that were so prolific around the Nauplian coast.

View from behind the cactus plants that were so prolific around the Nauplian coast.

 

Sparta: THIS IS SPARTA! While it certainly was Sparta, there unfortunately was not have a lot of archaeological artifacts remaining. The damn Spartans were too concerned with war to consider leaving behind impressions of petty things such as art or architecture around for future generations to behold (note my sarcasm?). Besides the statue of Leonidas, the majority of my time was celebrating Halloween! Yep, I spent the night of October 31 in Sparta. First off, Shea and I have a Holy Cross tradition of dressing up as an Egg and a Bacon for Halloween. Unlike Shea, I forgot my part of the costume in America, so I had to do my best and make my own bacon! That was part one, part two included dressing up as…SPARTANS! A bunch of us downed our togas and had a classic symposium. With such authentic costumes and epic setting, it was certainly a Halloween to remember.

The hills surrounding Sparta

The hills surrounding Sparta

Statue of Leonidas

Statue of Leonidas

Bacon and Egg in Greece!

Bacon and Egg in Greece!

Spartans in Sparta!

Spartans in Sparta!

Olympia: This ancient site is not only the birthplace of the Olympic Games, but the home of honor and competition in the ancient Greek world. Athletes from all over the Aegean traveled here to compete for the sole sake of competition. What was the prize? An olive wreath. That’s it. Ancient Greeks didn’t compete for money, or gold, but simply honor and pride. Looking over these games is the Temple to Zeus, who as the god of Justice makes sure all is in order. The statue to Zeus that was once in the temple won its way into the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Inside the Olympia museum, we saw the original pediments of the temple, breathtaking sculptures that conveyed the difference from chaos and order. Also in the museum was the original sculpture of Hermes holding the baby Dionysus. I sat in front of this statue for a good ten minutes just gazing at it. It was so perfect, and evoked so much emotion and sense of peace.

Remains of the ancient track at Olympia, along with CYA students about to run on it!

Remains of the ancient track at Olympia, along with CYA students about to run on it!

The statue of Hermes carrying the baby Dionysus.

The statue of Hermes carrying the baby Dionysus.

 

Delphi: Delphi is by far one of the most important sites in all of Ancient history. Known for its oracle, it achieved fame by being the source of a common desire amongst all humans: telling the future. Thousands of Greeks from all over the Aegean made pilgrimages to this site to get their questions for the future answered. It is not an easy one to say the least: it must be reached via boat, and once there must be climbed to since it sits on the side of sheer mountains. The god behind the magic is Apollo, who founded the sanctuary and is known as the god of reason since he known to always work from afar (why most images of him are with an arrow). The remains of the Temple to Apollo are still there, in addition to many treasures. Due to the importance of cult activity, Delphi had the most wealth in all the Aegean. The trend went like this: ask the oracle what you want, when things go according to plan come back to Delphi, give thanks by offering gold, sculptures, or treasuries, then go home and tell your friends. Delphi worked like this for a long time, and even today it still seems mystical. Delphi was a great way to end the trip, and it left me with a little bit of magical desire to come back again.

The remains of the Temple of Apollo.

The remains of the Temple of Apollo.

The mountainous setting of Delphi...very mystical.

The mountainous setting of Delphi…very mystical.

Now that I have been to all of these cities, I can’t help but feel like I have achieved so much since I have been here. I have seen and studied all of these sites that I have always wanted to go to. I really feel like I’m making the most out of my semester in Greece, and I owe it all to the amazing program of CYA. Now that I have seen what I wanted to of Greece outside of Athens, I am very eager to stay in Athens and soak up the culture and history of my new home.

The road back home: A beautiful bridge connecting the Peloponesse to Attica.

The road back home: A beautiful bridge connecting the Peloponesse to Attica.

So last weekend in Greece was a national holiday! Just a shy three days before our Halloween, Greeks celebrate OXI Day! “Oxi” means “NO”, and it memorializes Greece’s resistance (their “Oxi”) to Mussolini in WWII, who offered that Greece either allow the Axis powers to occupy the country or face war. The Greek Prime Minister at the time, Ioannis Metaxas, responded with “Then it is war”, and on that morning of October 28, 1940, the Greek population rushed to the streets to defend their home country screaming “Oxi!”. Now, it is a public holiday…and also a reason for me to have a long weekend and do lots of things I wanted to do around Athens!

The Oxi Day Parade! It consisted of the boys and girls from the Athens' elementary and middle schools, marching and holding flags followed by bands playing Greek tunes.

The Oxi Day Parade! It consisted of the boys and girls from the Athens’ elementary and middle schools, marching and holding flags followed by bands playing Greek tunes.

 

FRIDAY: Friday morning, a bunch of us went to the National War Museum, which outlines all of Greece’s military history: including the Persian Wars, Occupation of Alexander the Great, Roman Occupation, Greek War of Independence, Grecko-Turkish War, WWI, WWII, and the Greek Civil War. After the museum, I fell into a domestic mood and decided to cook! I went to the outdoor market, and bought peppers, tomatoes, and rice for stuffed tomatoes and peppers, one of my favorite traditional Greek dishes. However, what really caught my eye was the fresh squid, only 2 euros for half a kilo! Yup, that means that a coffee in Greece is more expensive that half a kilo of quid. Hmm…seems like they have priorities set right here, it’s easy to eat well! The night turned into a dinner party, with homemade food, friends, and of course wine! After cleaning and gutting the squid (watch out for the beaker and the ink pouch!), I fried them up. The tomatoes and pepperw were stuffed with rice, chicken, and seasoning. It was my first time cooking for people. Regardless of how everything tasted, it was certainly an enjoyable night and I can’t wait to cook again!

Fried Calamari goodness...still cheaper than a coffee!

Fried Calamari goodness…still cheaper than a coffee!

Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers!

Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers!

SATURDAY: We went to the home of my favorite god, the father of Ariel the little mermaid (my childhood crush), and hands down the coolest of the siblings of Zeus: POSEIDON. The Temple of Poseidon is located at Sounion, the lowest tip of Attica and about a 2 hour bus ride. It was well worth it: I can honestly say this is my favorite place in all of Greece that I have been to. It is PERFECT: beautiful well preserved temple to my favorite god, beautiful view of the Aegean, a beach right next door, and fish tavernas! The temple is on the edge of a hill that is over wide open sea. Something that really impacted me was the colors: It was the perfect nautical mix, the marble of the temple was very white and bleached from the sun, the sky was a light blue, and the sea was a deep greenish blue. It all seemed like surreal pastel colors, so beautiful. After looking around the temple, we went to the beach where I found some shells in the deep sea bed as souvenirs. Yes, I went for a nice swim in late October, and it wasn’t cold. Only in Greece! Next, we ate fresh seafood at the taverna: fried sardines and octopus…I can literally eat the fried sardines like french fries, so good! Then, the moment everyone was waiting for: the sunset. After I quickly hiked back up the hill, I saw the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. It was so powerful, and the colors of blue, red, and purple permeated everything to add to the perfect balance of soft pastel colors. The bright red sun set right into the ocean…I never saw anything like it, it was as if the sea just gobbled up the sun. The colors of the sky for the next hour turned a deep reddish hue of purple before the god Helius spread his cloak of nighttime darkness. This trip was the quintessential experience in Greece that I expected coming here…and I will definitely be back.

Me in front of the Temple of Poseidon!

Me in front of the Temple of Poseidon!

Fried sardines. They were so good I could eat them like french fries.

Fried sardines. A healthy and tasty alternative to french fries!

Greek sailboat with the sunset over the beach at Sounion.

Greek sailboat with the sunset over the beach at Sounion.

Sunset from the view of the Temple on the cliff.

Sunset from the view of the Temple on the cliff.

The most beautiful sunset I have ever seen: the deep red Aegean sun literally melting into the soft blue water. I sight I won't forget.

The most beautiful sunset I have ever seen: the deep red Aegean sun literally melting into the soft blue water. A sight I won’t forget. 

My favorite picture. It shows all of the pastel colors: the light blue from the sky, the white from the bleached marble, and the light red orange and purple from the sunset.

My favorite picture. It shows all of the pastel colors: the light blue from the sky, the white from the bleached marble, and the light red orange and purple pastels from the sunset.

SUNDAY: Sunday started with a Latin mass at St. Dionysus Church near the Parliament building. I then traveled to the Ancient Agora, the Roman Agora (built by the Romans when they conquered Greece), the Temple of the Winds (used by the Romans to tell time), and the Temple of Hephaestus (the best preserved ancient Greek temple). Sunday ended up with more cooking, this time pasta, beef, and rice…I love having my own kitchen!

 

The Temple of Hephaestus

The Temple of Hephaestus

MONDAY: ACROPOLIS…all day long. I am ashamed to say that I have not ventured to the Acropolis until this Monday. I guess I was waiting for the right time, but I made up for it today by going both in the early morning, and in the evening for the sunset. Having awaited this moment for the majority of my life, I was in Harry heaven, and actually walking in its presence surpassed all expectations. I think my favorite part is that I can so easily access it anytime I want to, it is only a 20 minute walk from my apartment! When you actually stand in front of the Parthenon, such a feeling of awe and humility sweep over you. The acropolis, to me at least, symbolizes the birth of democracy and the beacon of light in the ancient world whose light still burns today. Why does it still burn?  It still burns because all present day buildings of importance, whether governmental or academic, are replicated from the architecture that sits on top of this Acropolis. It still burns because of the pride of its Greek people and hundreds of visitors every day. But most importantly, it burns because the small hope and experiment of democracy, started in this ancient city, has surpassed the test of time and has not yet been abandoned. The small hope of freedom and equality that the Athenians dreamed of seems to have beaten all odds, and has now made its everlasting mark on the entire world.  This is why I love living in Athens, and I feel so blessed to be here.

The best gift ever: Finally seeing the Parthenon in person.

The best gift ever: Finally seeing the Parthenon in person.

Harry Heaven

Harry Heaven

Sunset over the sprawling city of Athens.

Sunset over the sprawling city of Athens.

 

 

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Harry Crimi '15

  • Studies: Double major in classics and psychology
  • Hometown: Havertown, Penn.
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  • Greece and Italy
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