28 March, 2010

Things I Have Learned in Greece

  1. Even if your purse is zipped, you're holding onto it tightly, and you have two coats draped over the opening of it, it's very possible for pickpockets to get in there. Pay attention, and if you're lucky you will catch them before they grab your wallet, and if you're like me, you will be able to kick them and they will leave you alone and hide from your burning glares the rest of the time you are on the subway together.
  2. If a man with a pink mohawk is serenading everyone at your restaurant and tries to make eye contact with you, do not look back, or else he will come over and harrass you with weird music and lewd suggestions. He will then proceed to tell you that because you are not Jewish, you couldn't possibly understand. And tell you that his people laugh at people like you. He might leave after that, but he'll be around still, playing loud weird music and eating other peoples' desserts.
  3. The Greeks use a different alphabet... it's really problematic when you can't even sound out the name of the place you're trying to get to.
  4. Ancient, giant rocks are a perfect place to look out at the Athens cityscape and discuss deep, philosophical life issues.
  5. Greek plumbing doesn't like toilet paper. When you use a Greek bathroom, you have to throw it out, not flush it, or you'll wreck the plumbing.
  6. Just because the weather feels warm to you, doesn't mean it feels warm to the natives. While you're walking about in a skirt and a short-sleeved top, they're looking at you like you're insane and clutching their puffy winter jackets closer to them.
  7. Not all beaches are public. Some are reserved just for, say, old men in Speedos. But the kindly man who tells you where the beach is will neglect to mention that little fact to you, and you will find yourself on a sandy beach, empty but for some very scantily clad old men playing badminton and sunbathing.
  8. If Italian waiters are the most hilarious, Greek waiters are the most adorable. We had one who tried so hard to get past the language barrier, but his explanations of dishes and drinks kept falling a little bit short. For example, when we asked about meal choices on the menu, he would tell us things like, "It says traditional Greek, but it's not really traditional Greek." Or "Well, it's made of bread, and inside it has, well, you know!" And when they gave us Ouzo at the end of the meal, he explained, "This is a drink that comes from a tree." He was so cute, we loved him.
  9. There is no saying no to some of the men selling souvenirs on the streets. The best thing to do is ignore them and walk away without making eye contact. DO NOT STAY STILL. Emily and I made this mistake while waiting to meet up with Lauren and Geoff one night. A man came along and tried to sell us a light up bouncy ball. We politely declined, and remained seated. But he didn't leave. He spent the next ten minutes using the three English words he knew how to say, (Yes? No?  Gift?) and patting poor Emily on the head. He kept trying to place them into our laps, or thrust them into our hands, and he wouldn't take them back! We kept telling him, "no money!" but he wouldn't stop. He kept laughing at us and trying to say things to us in a different language, and we just didn't understand him. All sorts of other street hawkers and tourists alike were laughing at us the entire time, and finally we just said, "Sorry. No." and high-tailed it out of there!
  10. It's entirely possible for dogs to learn to function as humans. Athens is FULL of stray dogs and cats, who wander the streets, eat [outside of] restaurants, and visit the sites, like the Acropolis or the Agora, just like humans do. They use crosswalks, and only travel when the pedestrian light turns green, they sleep in the sun, and they're allowed behind the rope at places like the Parthenon! Most of them are really friendly, too. Probably because they know that if they're friendly they're more likely to get a scratch behind the ears or something to eat. But still, it was fun to see so many dogs just roaming the streets like that.
  11. When there is a labour strike going on, anything can happen. Big protests that take up an entie street, with lines of white-helmeted policemen holding them back with their giant plexiglass riot shields. Men with megaphones and big banners, shouting chants that the group begins to follow til there's a rousing chorus of words I couldn't repeat to you if I tried. Even a riot occurred while we were there. We weren't in the area at the time, but we know a few people from Ithaca who were. They were told to run and get out of a shop they'd been in as quickly as possible, and moments after they left, they could smell the tear gas. When we walked through the area later, a normally bustling and affluent part of the city, we found smashed windows, broken glass, and weary-looking policemen in all directions.
  12. Greek food chains, like Everest, are delicious and cheap and not at all like what Americans think of as a fast food chain. They're a good, cheap way to grab breakfast in the morning (and the apple pie Is delicious.)
  13. Apparently it is frowned upon to take rocks from the Acropolis/Parthenon as souvenirs. And by frowned upon, I mean they yell at you and make you throw it on the ground. Luckily, I'm sneakier than that. Yes, that means one of you lucky readers could soon be the proud owner of your very own piece of the Parthenon! Perhaps I will hold a contest! (Probably not.)
  14. Athens is a small city. It is entirely possible to walk through all of Athens. Emily and I did this on our first night, and we saw so many things. Athens is great because while there are some things you need tickets to get into, you can still see so much just by walking around. Like Rome, there's a million old ruins and historical sites, just amidst the modern city. Emily and I walked over a big grate in the sidewalk, thinking nothing of it, and then I looked down. We were walking on the remains of an ancient village. We could see specific rooms in houses, with fireplaces, tables, even a few pots and bowls. And we were just walking over it! We also saw the Olympic stadium. Like, THE Olympic Stadium. The original one. We saw it at night, and it was all lit up, and we were the only people there. To be the only ones standing in such a huge space was really indescribable. We had the whole place to ourselves. It was such a cool feeling.

Sorry this took so long to post! I'll have pictures up soon, I swear! I have so many from Greece. I'll get them up next time I have some free time to get to school and snag some decent internet. 

19 March, 2010

Rome Picture Post!

I'm at school, so the Internet is a tad bit better than at home, and therefore I can hopefully get some of these to work.

Here we have the lovely Miss Emily Marshall in our hotel room in Rome. We stayed at the Grand Hotel Fleming, which is actually a four star hotel with continental breakfast, and it was just as cheap as staying in a hostel. So fun travel tip: hostels are not always the cheapest option for traveling on a budget. This one was a really big, beautiful, nice place to stay. The hotel staff was brilliant, very helpful and sweet to us, and the rooms themselves were great. It wasn't in the centre of Rome, but that was fine for our purposes. It was just a half hour bus ride away from the walls of Vatican city, and the bus ride was gorgeous, it passed by all sorts of beautiful scenery, as well as the Olympic stadiums from when the Olympics were held in Rome.

Our hotel also had a bidet.

St. Peter's Square was amazing. Luckily, most of the time we were in Rome, the weather was very cooperative, and so standing in line to get into St. Peter's was not a miserable experience, but in fact kind of fun. There was a little boy chasing pigeons while we were in the massive, massive line (of which I have a video that I will upload later, because it was too long to show in a single photo.) and he was fun to watch. Also, for obvious reasons, the Vatican is where groups of priests and nuns go on field trips, and it was so funny at first to see nuns all over the place.

Drivers in Italy are worse than those at Ithaca College. We saw so many cars parked on the curb, some parked perpendicular to it, rather than parallel. Also, on that note, Italian drivers parallel park by ramming into the cars in front of and behind them until they can make themselves fit. There are a lot of really nice cars in Italy, but most of them are really dinged up in the bumper area, and we saw more than a few with smashed headlights. Had my dad been there, he would have been appalled.

This guy needed to be featured in here. He managed to trick us into paying him 2 euro... EACH... for a few photos with him. Big rip off. And I don't even have my 2 euros worth on my own camera. Hmph. Oh well. It was a learning experience! Too bad it cost us collectively 8 euros and Geoff's life...

One of the really cool things about Rome is that amidst the typical city buildings and streets are ancient ruins. Seriously. They just chill out in the city like this. It's amazing. And thanks to Greg Robbins and my Georgian Styles class, I can no longer see these things and think, "Oh, that's pretty." Nope. I see them and go, "Oh hey look! Corinthian fluted columns! With an egg and dart motif!" Thanks Greg. You've ruined me.

The Colosseum is really cool. Before I came to Rome, I read online that it's not as exciting as everyone makes it out to be, and it's overpriced and there are huge lines and it's just not worth it. False. The colosseum is awesome. Also, the lines were huge, but that was only if you wanted to go in and explore by yourself. It cost about 12 euros to get in that way. BUT we found a tour that took us to the Colosseum, Palatine Hill, and the Roman Forum, without even having to go through the lines, all for what would usually cost us 28 euro with that tour, but since we happened to be there on ladies' day, only cost 10 euro! For a guided tour, too! (But since Geoff isn't a lady, his price was still 28 euro. So we all had to chip in for his. Which sucked, but we still only paid 15 instead of 28.

This was just really cool. Our tour guide was a tiny little Italian lady who looked like she should have been on a safari rather than leading tours in Rome. She was adorable.

The basement has always been my favorite part of the Colosseum, even when I've just seen it in pictures. I wish we could have walked around down there, but alas, it was roped off. The entire Colosseum was just amazing though. Fun fact: back when it had a roof, it was made of fabric, and they hired sailors to tie it in place because they were the only ones who knew how to tie the knots. Another fun fact: the Colosseum is built with bricks and stone, but used to be covered in marble. But they took down the marble facade and actually used it to cover the exterior of St. Peter's Basilica. So a lot of the marble on St. Peter's actually used to be part of the Colosseum.

History lesson COMPLETE!

The trees in Rome all looked like this, it was really cool and kind of reminded me of the Lion King a little. But this tree was by far our favorite, for no reason other than that it was just really awesome. It's  on Palatine Hill, which was basically the Beverly Hills of ancient Rome.

The Trevi Fountain is really big, and really awesome. The sculpture in the centre is of the god Ocean, and the others are all his seahorses and cronies. And by seahorses, the ancient Romans mean a horse with a mermaid-like tail, not what we call seahorses today. We all threw coins in the fountain and made a wish, which is supposed to ensure you will someday return to Rome. 

Emily and I with our "sexy wine" at one of the restaurants we were at, when the lights went out. I had the BEST pizza of my life at this restaurant. Topped with slices of fresh mozzarella. It was AMAZING.

The four of us with our waiter at that same restaurant. From left to right, it's Emily Marshall, me, our waiter, Lauren DeCicca, and Geoff Pictor. He (our regrettably nameless waiter) was really funny. And made fun of me for not knowing what anything on the menu meant. Oops! 

This photo is from inside St. Peter's basilica. The place was monstrously huge, and really beautiful. I remember thinking how much I would have loved to sing in there.
The inside of the big dome in St. Peter's. It was so hard to get any good photos in here because it was so dark, but I love this one. I wish I could let you all see this place as I saw it though, because it's impossible to understand how epically huge and gorgeous it is without seeing it for yourself. A lot of the things I saw were like that. Kind of a "you had to be there" moment, I guess. I wish it could communicate better through photos.
Here's a photo of that metal structure you see in the bottom left of the previous photo. There are some people milling about at the bottom of it, so it give you an idea of how big the place is. The dome from the last photo begins just above the frame of this photo. This is the best indication I have of how huge the place really is.

A sculpture by Michaelangelo of Mary holding Jesus. Fun fact: the figure of Mary is very out of proportion, although she looks correct here. It's because she's sitting down. But if she were to come to life and stand up, she would be over ten feet tall, almost twice the size of the stone Jesus. Silly Michaelangelo!

And speaking of whom, here is the Sistine Chapel. We wren't supposed to be taking photos in here, a fact which was constantly reminded to us by the security personnel repeating over and over and over again the words, "No photo. No photo. No photo." But they weren't really enforcing it, and I couldn't resist. I don't think I've ever realized how humongous it is. When I think of the Sistine Chapel, I always just think of the Creation painting of God and Adam, which you can see in the centre of the photo, but it's a very sizable space, and the entire ceiling and all the walls are covered in paintings. Fun fact about this place, via Lauren: Michaelangelo did NOT want to paint this. He preferred sculpture and hated to paint. But he did it as a favour, and it's become arguably his most famous piece of art. It's absolutely beautiful. 

So, that's Rome, or some of it, anyway. It was an amazing time. I'll be sure to let you know about Greece as soon as my fingers heal from all the typing I've done on this blog in the past few days! I hope you enjoy some of the photos. For those of you who use Facebook, these and more will be up there very soon.


Get it? Hehehe.

18 March, 2010


We spent ten days for spring break in Rome and Athens. It was a highly informative experience. I learned a lot. See the following.


  1. Days in Rome are beautiful. But don't be fooled. The nights are freezing. In March, at least. Also, rainy days are somewhat miserable. Save the indoor attractions for rainy days.

  2. The Vatican Museum has, in the morning, a line that stretches for several blocks down the street. But if you go to the Vatican Museum in the afternoon, there is literally no line. You can just walk right in.
  3. Don't accept "gifts" or take photos with men on the streets. Even if they are dressed like gladiators or are really attractive. They will charge you for these things, but not til after you've taken the photos/gifts.
  4. The men methodically saying "No photo. No photo," over and over again in the Sistine Chapel don't really mean it. Go ahead and take photos, just don't be hugely obvious or take too many.
  5. Split meals. Emily and I split a lasagna for lunch, while Geoff and Lauren each bought their own portion of the same. The waiter gave me and Emily nearly an entire portion each. It was barely smaller than Geoff or Lauren's meal, and for half the price! 
  6. On that note, waiters in Italy are HILARIOUS. The one who gave Emily and I really big "half" portions was in love with all three of us girls. As for Geoff? He clearly stated, "Sorry, I don't like sausage." He wanted Lauren's phone number, but as we left he stopped me, winked, and said, "I've changed my mind. I like you best. Shh!" We also had a waiter who continually made fun of us, and gave us free wine when the lights went out!
  7. And on THAT note, I learned that if the lights go out in your restaurant during your dinner, you get free drinks! Ours was called "sexy wine." I kid you not. It was delicious.
  8. Don't pay for bus tickets. No one does. Even if you buy them from a news kiosk, like people tell you to do, the man is likely to give you an outdated ticket from as far back as December 2009. You only really need tickets for the metro (subway), but the bus can get you pretty much everywhere just as easily.
  9. There are several bus stops in each area. Just because a bus stops at a place with the same name as the place you're trying to get to doesn't actually mean it's your stop. In fact, it might even be as far as 40 minutes away from where you're trying to end up. It MIGHT even result in you having to return back to your original starting point and beginning your journey from scratch, turning what's usually a 30-45 minute trip back to your hotel into a 2.5 hour excursion. It's not fun, especially because, as previously mentioned, Rome is COLD at night.
  10. Use a student ID card! I saved so much on ticket and entry fees. Some places will even let students in for free, and usually it's good for at least a 50% discount.
  11. Fruit gelato is not made with dairy, and, while still delicious, tastes more like mushed up popsicles. Chocolate or creme gelato is the way to go! We ate it at least once every day we were there. It's cheap and delicious.
  12. Shop around when finding souvenirs. Prices are drastically different from store to store, even ones right next to each other. We found souvenirs that cost 6 euro in one shop, and 2 euro in another!
  13. Some of the most fun in Italy can be had just by wandering. Forget the map, just figure it out as you go. 
  14. If you happen to forget something important, say for example, a camera charger, and need to buy a new one, follow rule #12. Some annoying shopkeepers will want 60 euro for a new charger. Others will give you one for half the price.
  15. If you are on a budget, make use of the continental breakfast in the hotel. If you're really good at it, you can make it last until dinner. 
  16. Italian grocery stores are horrendously confusing. And also really fun. There are entire walls full of olive oil! Also a brand of pasta called "Emiliane!" Which is almost like my name! Emily Anne! Hooray!
  17. Do NOT assume every Italian speaks English. While this is mostly true in the tourist areas, when you're exploring outside of those, there's basically very little hope for you if you get lost. Or if you're trying to explain to a shop worker that you would like a loaf of bread. 
  18. However, most people we met in Italy were extremely nice, and even if they didn't speak English, were extremely willing to help if you looked lost.
  19. On Italian faucets, "C" does not mean cold. Quite the contrary, actually.
  20. Cheap razors = major major razorburn. Don't even bother. Seriously.
Other notes about Italy:
  • there was a bidet in our hotel room. It was frightening and I never got up the courage to even use it, because I was convinced I would fall in.
  • On our very first night, we met two guys from Canada, studying in Paris, named Serge and Flo, who were coincidentally staying at the same hotel as us. They offered to show us which bus stop to stop at. But we were all chatting so much, we missed the stop and our kindly bus driver made a special trip to bring us back. We bid Serge and Flo (whose names still crack me up. Surge and flow! They mean nearly the same thing!) goodnight when we finally got to the hotel and figured that would be it. However, we saw them at Palatine Hill the next day, and then AGAIN in St Peter's Square the next day. They were pretty cool, even if they wore the same outfits every time we saw them. 
  • Our hotel room had these silly light switches that sounded like buzzers in a prison when you turned on the lights.
  • Emily and I found a really awesome Italian market during our wanderings, and I almost bought this delicious looking blueberry jam to take home with me. Unfortunately, it was over 100mL, so I wouldn't have been able to get it on the plane. :(
  • When leaving Rome, I just threw all my belongings into my backpack instead of packing them tightly. This was a mistake. The extra inch of length it added onto my backpack meant that it was too big for carry-on, and the nasty Italian security man was not willing to make an exception for me, no matter how big my doe-eyes got. Everyone at the Fiumicino airport was really nasty, actually. At our gate at least. All my friends had already gotten through the gate, and they asked if I could put one or two things in their bags, but the lady at the gate was very mean. Finally we kind of just went ahead and did it. I literally took out two items, and then my bag was fine. Ridiculous.
All in all, Italy was amazing. So many good pictures, and hopefully I'll be able to share them with you if my Internet ever decides to behave!

...Stay tuned for Part Two: Things I Have Learned from Greece!

17 March, 2010

I'm still here! I promise!

I've just been very, very busy. Big post tomorrow, possibly? We shall see. Just wanted to let everyone know I haven't forgotten about you!

Emily xx