Six months into our nine-month Italian adventure, our entire class (around 30 of us) took a nearly two-week trip to Greece. It was, according to our ancient history professor Santo Sammartino, the peak of our careers as classical scholars.
Having returned from the trip, I won’t argue with that description.
Our trip began aboard a massive cruise ship in Ancona. We were warned that Greek inefficiency puts Italians to shame, and we caught our first glimpse while boarding the monstrous vessel. Our entire class was accidentally shepherded into a line that was actually reserved for semi trucks. Yes, that’s how big the boat was — it doubled as a vessel for semi trucks crossing the Adriatic.
But someone looked at our tickets and waved us toward a curiously marked sign saying both “exit” and “entrance” between the trucks, and we made it on board.
We went up two escalators (escalators on ships??) to our rooms, and then reconvened for dinner and an innumerable number of card games overlooking the beautiful sunset. When we woke up the next morning, we were in Greece.
March 9: Igoumenitsa/Necromanteon/Acheron
It was gloomy and raining when we arrived in Igoumenitsa, but it set the scene well, since our first stop was at the Necromanteon, the entrance to the underworld (warning: half these names might be in Italian. I don’t know these words in English, my ancient history class is in Italian now). People came here in ancient times to communicate with the dead.
There was a rickety stairwell leading down into a dark chamber, and naturally, we all descended. The walls were a wet, tan stone and the smell was heavy. Our guide announced that the cavern was filled with bats and spiders, and I admit I was one of the first back to the stairwell after the spider announcement.
After that, we proceeded to the Acheron River, one of the five rivers of Hades. Unfortunately, the only thing I really remember is that I had to present five lines of memorized Latin to the group at the Acheron, and it was pretty brutal. My knowledge of the language is pretty limited, so I’m pretty sure I was just making random sounds half the time.
March 10: Delphi
Hands down, one of the best days of my life. Delphi was phenomenal, beautiful, picturesque, historic, amazing, praiseworthy adjectives ad infinitum.
As the year winds down and we are all deciding where to go next year, it was a great place to reflect on how lucky we are to have had such an amazing year and consider the future. We hiked up to the oracle (or where it was, at any rate), and also saw the so-called “bellybutton of the world” rock. I basically just felt like I was overflowing with happiness all day.
March 11: Eleusis
A small group of us got up early to hike to the Temple of Athena before we left Delphi for Eleusis, and it was just as beautiful as the day before. Being among the ruins of the ancient Greeks really has a way of making you think about life, and what you want to accomplish with it.
From there, we went to Eleusis, the birthplace of Aeschylus. He’s usually considered one of the three grade tragedians of ancient Greece, up there with Sophocles and Euripides. I’ve only read one or two of his works but I’ve got to say, I prefer his competitors.
March 12: Athens
We finally made it to Athens! We pulled up late last night. In case you were wondering, we have been traveling throughout Greece on a bus, snaking our way through the countryside. Our hotel in Athens certainly left something to be desired, though. The water was a putrid yellow color, but the staff didn’t seem to care. “Just let the faucet run for a bit,” they said.
Here, Molly debates whether it’s possible to clean yourself with water this color:
We spent the morning on a bus tour of Athens, hopping off frequently to look at various notable sites. We stopped at the Olympic stadium, eventually continuing to the Acropolis!
To be honest, I was a little nervous before we got there. I had been so excited and happy the whole trip, and the Acropolis was supposedly the cherry on top. I didn’t know if I could handle any more happiness, or I might have a heart attack.
Luckily pouring rain, construction, and Japanese tourists have a way of bringing me back down to earth. The Acropolis was beautiful, but nowhere near as marvelous as the ruins at Delphi, in my opinion.
I purposefully did not include the tourists in this photo, however, and it’s pretty beautiful:
March 13: Marathon
Today started off etsy-ketsy (so-so) with a tour of the Cycladic Museum. Some people say ancient Cycladic art looks “modern,” which in my book means “talentless,” but the day picked up quickly when we boarded the bus for Marathon.
At Marathon, the Greeks dominated the Persians in 490 B.C. It’s basically just a flat field now, but there’s this huge, really unnatural looking hill where, according to legend, thousands of Persians were buried.
I had been watching 300 on my computer throughout the trip, so I was pretty into it.
March 14: Cape Sounion
Today was downright amazing, rivaling the beauty and magnitude of Delphi.
After a day in Athens, we went to Cape Sounion, which is hands down the most beautiful place I have ever been in my life. Bordered by water on all sides, you walk up a large hill to the ruins of the Temple of Poseidon. It’s incredible to think of how many years that temple has been there, how many people have come there to ask Poseidon to watch over them or their loved ones. We continued our chats about life and the future, watching a divine sunset.
March 15: Epidaurus
Little of note in Epidaurus except for a theater with perfect acoustics. It was actually pretty cool — a person could stand in the middle of the stage and, without shouting or the use of microphones, you could hear them in the back of the theater.
March 16: Mycenae
Anyone familiar with the Trojan War knows how significant Mycenae was in the ancient world. During the Trojan War, Mycenae’s King Agamemnon joined his brother, King Menelaus of Sparta, in the fight against the Trojans. Menelaus’ wife, Helen, had run off with Trojan prince Paris, and they couldn’t let the injustice stand.
Agamemnon was joined by men like Achilles, Ajax and Odysseus in the siege of Troy, winning the war after ten bloody years.
For some reason, I am almost equally interested in the re-discovery of history as I am in the history itself. I love the 1800s and 1900s, when adventurers were uncovering the ruins of ancient civilizations. Heinrich Schliemann was one of those adventurers, often thought mad by his peers because of his insistence that Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey were fact, not just stories and legends.
He proved them wrong, finding Troy in modern-day Turkey, and finding the ruins of Mycenae. His excavation techniques left a world to be desired, however. In his quest for gold and glory, he blasted through layers of history that will never be recovered.
March 17: Olympia
Last full day in Greece! Today we went to Olympia, where an enormous gold and ivory statue of Zeus stood in ancient times, marking one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It’s a beautiful city, but somewhat forgettable. I recall the delicious Greek salad I had for lunch more than anything else.
Today we boarded the ferry in Patras, which took us back to Ancona, Italy. We were all reeling a little from what an amazing trip we had, but excited to begin round two of the adventure.
While the rest of the class went from Ancona back home to Viterbo, my best friends and I went north, spending a few days in the Dolomites before I continued even further north, to Austria and France with my cousin and aunt.
Author’s note: I wrote the post above in the academic year of 2007-2008 when, not knowing one word of Italian, I decided to spend the year in Italy living with a host family. I went through School Year Abroad (SYA), a program I cannot recommend highly enough.