I wish I could take a picture of it, but it wouldn’t show up through this small airplane window I am peering out of. We are flying over the vastness of Russia right now, about 4 hours still until we reach India. We are fleeing the land of the midnight sun, and it has now just about set. Most of the clouds and sky are a dark gray, but I can still make out a little bit of land below. The sky towards the sun is streaked with candy-colored pink clouds. And below I can see a river reflecting them, a concentrated lightening bolt of pink.
I’m happy to announce that I’ve finally finished my review of Europe. It took me a while to finish because, unlike Matt, I don’t prefer to write at night. I’m a sleepy one and when I’m tired it is hard for me to think straight. Usually when I do write something late at night and then read it the next day, I end up re-writing most of what I wrote anyway. So I try not to write at night. However, this has been a problem for this first leg of the trip since the days have been full of sightseeing and traveling, leaving little time for me to write. I apologize for the long gap in my posts and hope that you aren’t too tired of reading about Europe yet!
Paris. We spent the most time in Paris out of all the European cities. It was great for all the sites and museums, and so much fun to finally see them all in person. My favorite thing I did in Paris was go to see Notre Dame. We came up on the side of the church and immediately went to a side entrance taking us up a narrow spiral staircase to the top of the tower. We were greeted by whimsical gargoyles and a great view of the city at dusk.
After hanging out at the top for a while, we made our way down the dizzying stairs to see the front of the building. Either I had never seen a picture before (Disney’s The Hunchback doesn’t count), or I did and just forgot what it looked like. Either way, I was very surprised when we came around to the front of the building and it was covered with all these crazy statues and carvings. There was hardly a part of the front façade that had a plain surface. The sanctuary was splendid too, with the glow from hundreds of tea light candles bouncing off the walls.
Stripes, bikes, and fresh design. Copenhagen easily won me over with the large number of bicycles and cheerful colors found in the clothing, design shops, buildings, and even our hotel. The city proved to be visually stimulating and relaxing at the same time. It was a stark contrast from Paris’ blocks upon blocks of sand and grey colored buildings with endless shutters and wrought iron window boxes; the buildings in Copenhagen weren’t as imposing and the red bricks most were built out of looked lively against the deep blue-grey sky. Copenhagen felt warm and familiar. The bikes reminded me of Isla Vista,* only the riders were stylishly dressed and they had real blonde hair. The bikes parked around the main train station were greater than those outside of Campbell Hall.** Every fourth person seemed to be wearing a boldly striped shirt. The girls dressed in lots of layers, and almost everyone had on leggings under a either long shirt or short skirt. Even in the light rain during my first two days there, the bright colors made the city seem so happy and alive. In fact, it is. I heard that the people in Denmark are some of the happiest in the world. A highlight was staying at the SAS Radisson, known as the first design hotel in the world. The hotel was originally designed, architecture, furniture, and even the dinnerware, by Arne Jacobson, but I read that the inside has since been redone with little regard to his original style. Since I don’t really know what that was however, that detail had little effect on diminishing my excitement for the interior of the hotel. In simple words, I thought it was great. Clean lines, refreshing color palette, and a heated floor in the bathroom made our night in Copenhagen a fun one.
Adding to the adventure, I think I may be one of the few people who have caught up on laundry by hand washing in a 5-star hotel room.
Luckily, the heated towel rack speeded up the drying process.
I’ll try to not go on too long about Copenhagen, but I can’t finish this post without mentioning the fabulous home design shops and wares, bold patterns, and endless items that I would have loved to take home with me. Ikea is Macy’s, and Copenhagen is Saks.
*Location of UCSB
**Largest lecture hall at UCSB
In lieu of a formal tour, the fam opted to go with a taxi driver who could take us around town to show us the sights. Luckily for us, we got a chain-smoking Turkish guy. He didn’t know too much about Stockholm, but he did give me the number for the police in Turkey, which wasn’t too reassuring. Hopefully I won’t need it! Even though I didn’t learn much about the city or its history, I enjoyed running a few errands (making up for lost baggage) in the city with Matt while the others in our group toured an old house. I like going to grocery stores and pharmacies in other countries because I get to see what normal people do. There’s something that is intriguing about seeing items similar to what I would see at home. I think what goes through my mind is that I know I can get it if I need to, even if I also know I won’t.
As for the food, I tried the fried herring but probably won’t again, however the lignon berry sauce was very good. (Does the word “herring” remind any of you of American Tale?)
My old boss’ boss was from Finland, but from her height, you would never guess the Finns are GIANTS. But just so you know, they are. I consider myself to be somewhat tall-at 5’9”ish I usually find myself taller than those around me, especially girls. I knew something up when the girls we passed on the street in Helsinki were at least a few inches taller than me. Not just one or two girls, but a lot of them. And they weren’t wearing big heels or anything, just natural tallness.
We spent a second day in Helsinki during a layover en route to Delhi. Even though we didn’t venture far from the airport, I will say that Finland seems like a beautiful country with lots of trees and open land. I’m making plans in my head for a return to Scandinavia-perhaps a bike/camping trip around Denmark, Sweden and Finland with a glimpse of the Northern lights??!
St. Petersburg, Russia
It was sprinkling outside on and off. This man was painting along a canal outside of a gift shop we visited. Seemingly oblivious to the outside world and his inside out umbrella, he was surprisingly aware of his surroundings and after I took this photo he began to use the umbrella as a shield not from the rain but from other tourists trying to take his picture. I don’t blame him. Who would want to be disturbed during his serene moment of catching the light reflecting off the buildings as it streamed through the clouds?
The architecture in St. Petersburg was delightful and impressive. Many of the old buildings were painted with rich pastels-green and yellow with white trim, and the interiors were ornate with gold leaf and painted ceilings. We visited two main sites: the Hermitage, the world’s second largest museum, housed in the old Winter Palace, and the Peterhoff Palace-parts of which, including the garden, were built to rival that of Versailles. I was disappointed to have missed some of the more modern works at the Hermitage (the impressionists, and, my favorite, Picasso), but it was still and amazing museum and even though our guide commented on the crowds, it seemed half-empty to me after the hordes of people at the Louvre.
Concluding thoughts: If I could only go to the Louvre and Versailles or the Hermitage and Peterhoff, I would definitely go to Russia. The collection at the Hermitage is amazing it was nice to see paintings without being crowded by other people. As for liking the Peterhoff over Versailles, they are both amazing buildings and the gardens are huge at each. But I liked the half structured, half rambling garden at the Peterhoff over the very structured garden at Versailles.
My highlight here was my first time going into a Russian Orthodox Church. There are no benches or instruments allowed, and when I entered my ears were met with the sounds of accapella choral music and my eyes with the empty floor space. Together the two elements made the room seem very reverent. Before seeing Talinn, I wondered how this small capital of a small nation could be an appealing tourist destination, but it definitely surprised me and won me over with its mellow brand of medieval charm.
Would you buy your child a toy from this man?
I can’t give too much assessment on Poland because we didn’t spend much time there. What stuck with me the most was the lingering impact of communism on the country and the people. I admired our jolly taxi drivers, a few years older than my parents, who had only known communism the first two thirds of theirs lives, and who were still young during the solidarity movement and when all the big changes were taking place.
Warnemude and Rostock, Germany
Matt and I spent our time in Germany between two small towns. Rostock had beautiful brickwork on the buildings. We spent most of the day in and out of Grossmans-a Rite Aid type store, stocking up on random things we needed such as shoelaces, q-tips, and nail clippers. Not too interesting, but it was nice to take a mellow day and run some errands without feeling like there were things that I had to see. The one place I was curious about was Warmandnudie, er Warnemude, which was to be my first time at a nudist beach. However, when we arrived it appeared to be a normal beach with lots of families and sunburned leathery folks. No nudies, probably a good thing.
Germany was the first time I visited a place where my family is from. My mom is mostly German, and two of my great-great grandfathers were German preachers. Passing through the old buildings and churches in Rostock helped me to picture a little bit of what their life must have been like back in the old country.
Switzerland marked the start of traveling on Matt and my plans rather than on those of the family vacation. Luckily, this didn’t mean we had to say goodbye to Matt’s whole family at once because his brother and sister stayed with us for the remainder of our time in Europe. Other than the 50% decrease in the size of our traveling party (from 8 to 4 people), the biggest change since leaving the cruise has been that in our diet. Starting in Switzerland we began to subsist on mostly bread, cheese, and yogurt. This hasn’t been too bad since those are three foods I like very much, but it is a drastic change from the 4 course meals on the ship.
In Lucerne we met up with one of my friends from Jr. High, Melissa. I have always wanted to meet up with someone I knew in a place far from home. This desire started in college when I was just one of two people from my graduating class to attend UCSB, and the only one to stay past the first quarter. Even though I made some good friends in the dorm, I longed to see someone who I had more history with than a couple months. So still, every now and then when I am in a place far from home, I think of how much fun it would be to run into someone I know. This is how we found Melissa (or rather, she saw us first). I knew she was arriving in Lucerne on the same day but Melissa and I had not made any specific plans on when or where to meet. We (Matt, Jackie, Alex and I) were walking in the general direction of her hotel, meandering through cobblestone streets and window shopping. And then it happened. A familiar voice called out in the street, “Hey!” It was Melissa! It was nice to be in beautiful Switzerland, meet an old friend, and have a little fantasy come true all at the same time.
· We were failures at finding places to eat food, but on the first night this paved the way for one of my favorite meals-eating bread and cheese (what else!) on the steps in front of an old cathedral looking out on the city of Lucerne in the company of good friends.
· Waking up to Mt. Pilatus was amazing. I’m glad we had such a big window in our room from which to view the big mountain!
· I loved the hike partway up Mt. Pilatus and was frustrated that I couldn’t walk the whole way due to me stupidly wearing sandals and because of my bad knee. If you ever go there, be sure to hike part of the way. The gondola is great, but you miss out on so much of the details when you are up so high. It was fun to hike with Melissa because we chatted about the similarities between the Swiss forest and those at home.
· Scandinavia is my new fav. I come from a rainy, green, and forested place, and consequently those elements are often found in other places I love. The parts that I saw of Denmark, Sweden, and Finland were lush and green and colorful. Cities are interesting on many levels: architecture, history, and people. But there is no rival for the pristiness of God’s creation in its natural form. This is definitely a place that I would like to return so that I can see more. Hopefully one day I will return.
· Crocs-Between Demark and Switzerland I saw way more Crocs on people and in stores than I thought possible.
Panorama Pension in Lucerne. It smells a little musty-dusty and the carpet felt like sticky felt (just wear shoes), but the price is reasonable and the place had an amazing view. The owner, Kurt, is very jovial and nice.
Things I miss so far:
· Asian food-particularly [sticky] rice and noodles. I’ve been specifically craving chow mein, and even though I’ve seen Chinese restaurants in almost every city, I just haven’t gotten any yet.
· Sweats-the warm and fuzzy kind. (I’ve had plenty of the other kind the last few days and would gladly welcome a little bit cooler weather). There’s just something so comfortable and relaxing about a pair of comfy sweat pants.
· My family and friends–xoxo
The Grand Bazaar is not so grand. Although supposedly the largest in the world, it seemed to lack the variety we have seen in so many other markets. There were endless stalls of the “evil eye,” pottery, hookahs, tea sets, and carpets- it was all the same junk. The vendors were tough to bargain with and often the last price they shouted as you walked away from their stand was way too high (we knew this because we could find the same stuff for cheaper in the grocery stores). Some were dramatic, like the guy Matt bought a tea set from, who quipped at the end, “You’re lucky that I’m feeling sick today and haven’t made any money yet.” Another guy was pretty grumpy and lectured Joylani and Jackie that they should ask “how much?” before offering a price. He was embarrassed when they informed him his buddy had already tried to sell them the same stuff at a cheaper price. We heard more than enough “Yes, please’s” and “Where from’s” today, although Alex was pretty entertained by the creativity of some of the salespeople’s lines. In response to the vendors’ guesses of “Spain?” “Kurdish?” etc., Alex would just say, “Yes.” Getting into a conversation they would ask him where in the particular country he was from. Alex would proceed to draw a circle resembling his “country” and point to a spot saying, “Here. I’m from here.” The rest of us would stand about 20 feet away and just laugh. Once Alex told a carpet salesman he was from Turkey, to which the salesman responded, “You’re from Turkey? I’m from Korea!” Matt thinks the high prices are a result of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar being internationally known and being a main site in the city. Consequently, the stall owners can get away with higher prices with all the westerners and cruise-ship shoppers. We didn’t buy that much- partly because we’re not going home, partly because it was expensive, and nothing was very unique.
Turkey may be my favorite country on this trip so far. It’s definitely the most different from what we’ve seen and from home. The food is the best and it’s the most adventurous place as well. It is more expensive than I had anticipated, although its much cheaper than the other countries we’ve visited. Also, much of our cost was due to above-average amounts of transportation (long-distance buses, ferries, etc.). But it’s been fun. Selcuk and Ephesus were super chill and Istanbul is beautiful. The skyline is perhaps the best I’ve ever laid eyes on- all the mosques, minarets, and bridges illuminated against the night sky and the Bosphorus. The hilly peninsulas of the city reminded me of San Francisco. People are friendlier here in general, than the rest of Europe. The combination of looking like a local (ie Turkish or central Asian), retailers/restaurateurs speaking English, and the friendliness of the people makes Turkey a very comfortable place. These things combined with my love of Greco-Roman history have definitely earmarked Turkey as place I’d like to revisit.
At 10 this morning, we were eating breakfast at our hotel’s rooftop restaurant, overlooking the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque (both of which are just across the street). Yesterday at 10 am, we were exploring Ephesus, the greatest Roman ruins in the world. And two days ago at 10 am, we were strolling through the ancient Athenian Agora, at the foot of the Acropolis. The morning before we were in Milan and the morning before that in Lucerne. It just hit me at breakfast this morning how much we’ve seen. I told everyone that I feel like Ferris Bueller, when he tells Cameron, “We’ve seen everything today!” Fortunately, Joylani, Jackie, and Alex are happier than Cameron, who responded, “Not anything good.” Joylani’s already doubled the number of countries she’s been to. Our first day in Turkey concluded a two-week period in which we’d visited 12 nations.
We started our day by visiting the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya (formerly the Hagia Sofia). The Blue Mosque was built in the 17th century by an Ottoman sultan who wanted to build a mosque that would surpass the Aya Sofya in beauty and grandeur. Even though the Aya Sofya is far more famous and has much more history, I actually did think the Blue Mosque was better looking. We were allowed to walk though it, as we went between prayer times. I cannot describe how big it was on the inside, but the art and architecture were awesome. Afterwards, we headed to the Aya Sofya, the most famous site in Istanbul. The original structure collapsed in an earthquake, when Emperor Justinian decided to rebuild it as the greatest church in the world. It took only five years to build, but remains one of the great accomplishments of human building. That was all in the sixth century. By the 13th century, Constantinople was conquered and its name changed to Istanbul. The Hagia Sofya was converted to a mosque and its interior plastered over, since Islamic law forbids representation of the human form. But in 1935, Istaanbul’s first president, Ataturk (who’s still regarded highly enough that his portrait is on all Turkish currency and his photo is displayed in many shops) declared the Aya Sofya museum and had the plaster removed, revealing beautiful intricate mosaics from 1500 years ago. One thing I found interesting is that our trip is following the ancient waves of power. We saw 4th century Athens ruins, and then turn-of-the-millennium Roman ruins, and now 6th century Eastern Rome ruins, and many of Istanbul’s sights are from the sultanates height of power as well.
After seeing the sights and changing our clothes (since we had to cover ourselves to enter the mosque), we headed out to find some food. This hasn’t been a problem in Turkey for two reasons: the food is good and there’s a million guys trying to get us to come to their restaurant. Most waiters stand outside their restaurant and ask, “Where you from?” Although some just cut straight to the point with things like, “Yes, please. Come eat. Student discount. Korean discount too.” We’ve been mistaken for almost everything, although many people think we’re Turkish or central Asian as well. Several people just start speaking to me in Turkish, while others ask if we’re from Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, and so on. Mostly what we’ve been eating are kebaps (although spelled and pronounced kebab in the US), which are basically pieces of chicken or lamb stuffed in a piece of bread. Not only are they delicious, but they only cost 1.50 – 3.50 USD. So we’ve been pretty much surviving on those, with the exception of at least one “real meal” a day.
After eating and exploring the city a bit longer, Joylani decided to rest while I went with Jackie and Alex to check out Taksim Square. Jackie really wanted to see it as it’s the center of Istanbul’s modernity and nightlife. Western upscale stores lined the main wide street emanating from Taksim, while upscale and expensive restaurants were everywhere too. We found an alley of the main street that offered hookah. So we saw at a little table, ordered an Efes each, and enjoyed hookah (narghile as the Turks call it), where it originated. I can say that it was the best hookah I ever smoked. The tobacco retained its taste ‘til the very end and it was still hitting good. One thing that’s different about Turkish hookah is that the shafts at the end of the hose are all 2-3 feet long, so you have to hold it in the middle (unless you have super long arms). The Efes was good, but I think I was a bit biased due to the fact that we had just walked a long way and I was really hot. It was difficult, but I limited myself to one-hour of hookah and one beer before we decided to call it a night. Eating breakfast overlooking some of the worlds greatest architecture and winding down the night with some Turkish narghile.
Today we explored Ephesus, the best-preserved Roman ruins in the world. Although the city existed for centuries, it reached its height during the first and second century AD, when its population reached 200,000. The thing that impressed me most about Ephesus was its scale. Everything was big. Big columns, big walls, big streets. The two most famous sites in Ephesus are the front of the Library and the Grand Theatre. The library was awesome just because the very high two-story façade is still standing, while much of its detail remains intact. Looking at it, you don’t have to imagine too much what it would’ve looked like. The Theatre was impressive due its size, as it had a capacity of over 25,000. I believe it’s the largest and best preserved theatre in the Roman world. And of course, the history of the place was not lost on me. The architecture was world renowned in its day and I’ve studied it in Art History classes thousands of years later. It was cool to see the theatre, as it was central to Paul’s story when he was in Ephesus. The city is written about so much in the Bible and the ruins are preserved so well, it’s easy to imagine everything. It’s not like there’s a few sentences in the Bible about Ephesus and we looked at a couple fallen pillars. We walked down the main street, we saw the ruins of the homes, there were inscriptions on everything, statues were still standing, the promenade to the harbor was in good shape, we looked out and saw the same hills that the Greek and Roman Ephesians did. And since Turkey isn’t first world yet or ultra-touristy like Paris or Athens, we could walk anywhere, climb up stairs and walls, and touch things. This is a pretty condensed summary, but it has to be or else I’d write forever about it.
After Ephesus, we were all about to die of heat-stroke, so we hit the beach. It was definitely more conservative than Germany or Greece, where the beaches had topless women. Here, most of the women wore super-conservative bathing suits and I even saw some women fully-clothed in the water- full clothing, overcoat, and head covering. It’s gotta be tough for Islamic women to wear so much. It’s been like a million degrees out and they’re wearing clothes, plus a long-sleeve ankle-length overcoat too. I mean not all women, but some. The longer I’m here, the more I realize that Turkey is both European and Middle-Eastern. You can’t classify it as one or the other. We are definitely moving east though, as I noticed some Turkish children laughing at my white skin at the beach.
We made it to Turkey, and, even better, we made it to our planned location in not too much time and more or less one piece. Touts, “yes please” followed by solicitations, and negotiable prices mark the end of our time in the EU and the beginning of our travel in more Eastern and less developed countries than the beginning off our trip. Ruins of an old church we saw today were beautiful in their mix of crumbled stone, green grass, and freedom to roam just about anywhere. But what struck me first about Turkey were not the old sites, but the majestically thick mustaches about half the men here are sporting. No more dainty French facial hair and sculpted sideburns. Thick mustaches, that’s where it’s at.
We made it to Turkey! I guess its somewhat symbolic as its technically Asia Minor, although its generally considered part of Europe. Although very modern and progressive, its definitely not first world. Jackie came up with a checklist of things that verify we’re in a developing country, rather than a developed one:
-Everything is negotiable.
-There’s not really any rules.
-The majority of people out are men.
-Sanitation is not a concern.
-Its insanely hot.
-People address you as, “Hallo sir” and try to hawk you junk. i.e. “Halo sir, you please like postcard.”
-Restaurant menus are in no way indicative of what’s available.
I love the developing world. It’s so much more free and fun. For example, we went to the Basilica of St. John, which are the ruins of a church built on top of the Apostle John’s tomb. The ruins weren’t under construction and everything was original rather than restored. Columns were lying all over the place and stairs led up to the edge of fallen walls, but there were no ropes or anything. You could walk on anything, explore anywhere, touch everything. It looked like ruins, it was rugged. There weren’t walls or fences enclosing us. We could walk to the edge of the plateau/hill and look across the landscape. The same landscape that John saw two thousand years ago when he returned from his exile on Patmos. It was beautiful and we could enjoy it. It wasn’t just an attraction, but an experience.
Ruins at the Basilica of St. Jean. Find Jackie and Alex in the foreground for an idea of its sıze.
Continuing yesterday’s post, our itinerary is becoming more and more Biblical. We traveled through Izmir (known as Smyrna in antiquity), which was one of the seven churches mentioned in Revelation. And then we saw John’s final resting place today. I hope to see the house that Mary lived in tomorrow. But if we don’t have time, at least we’ll explore Ephesus, which was also an important city in the New Testament. It was also one of the seven churches listed in Revelation. Additionally, one of Paul’s letters to that church is included in the New Testament, as the Book of Ephesians. And the Book of Acts describes Paul’s actions in the city, including in the theatre where we will visit. And on our walk back we’ll see the ruins of the Temple of Artemis, which was one of the Seven Wonders and also mentioned with Paul in Acts. Again, my excitement for history has gotten ahead of me as we haven’t even visited these places yet. But we will tomorrow and I’m stoked.
The Ancient Agora from Areopgus. Modern Athens in the background.
I went to the Acropolis and I saw Norah Jones. This was actually my highlight of the day. The Acropolis was as I expected: large columns and lots of stone. A large portion of the main structure was surrounded by scaffolding. Seeing Norah Jones practice a few songs while checking sound for her concert at the Herodes Atticus Theater (just below the Parthenon) was not something I expected to see, but it was most definitely wonderful. The venue, a large semicircular amphitheater, is an awesome place for any concert, but on a sweltering hot afternoon after a long day of travel, hearing the smooth sounds of Norah Jones resonating through the theater was a refreshing surprise.
Norah Jones, warming up in the ancient Theater of Herodes Atticus
Ancient Greekness didn’t leave me disappointed though. Matt and I went to the National Museum of Archeology in Athens, and I was impressed by the good condition of many of the sculptures and other works there. Additionally, this museum had interesting and informative descriptions about the pieces and different stages in Greek history. I learned that many sculptors would make copies of popular masterpiece statues and saw the originals they copied, and I saw the gold mask of Agamemnon, something I recognized from a history book and never thought I would actually see in person. On our second day in Athens we also saw the Agora, which I enjoyed more than the Parthenon the day before. There were more plants in this section of the ruins—pomegranates and olive trees, and the Agora itself was in pretty good shape.
As Matt and I walked down the hill to view the structure up close I tried to imagine what it was like back in Ancient Greece. You know—togas, people sitting on the streets talking, kids running around. Before this trip I hadn’t been to too many old places and one of the things that I have enjoyed about all the sightseeing isn’t just seeing the site but allowing me being there to help me to better imagine what it was like before the places were tourist destinations.
Two H-words can adequately describe my Athenian experience: hot and history. We began our day early to avoid the day’s heat. First, we stopped by the famous Theatre of Dionysios, at the base of the Acropolis. It was in pretty bad disrepair, but it was cool to see the size of the amphitheater- I believe it sat 17,000. Then we strolled through the Ancient Agora, which was the town center of ancient Athens. I enjoyed the Agora, because unlike the Acropolis temple complex, the Agora was where life took place- the markets, forums, and homes. Like I wrote yesterday, it was amazing to think about all the history as we walked around. The main path we walked on was the main boulevard (I forgot the name of the street though) of Athens for 800 years. Any ancient Greek worth their salt walked those steps. As a Christian, I’m delving into the Biblical history of all places we’re seeing, trying to read passages that relate or take place where we’re going. For instance, we took pictures from a hill called the Areo Pageous (aka Areopagus), which was the site where Paul preached to the Athens in the New Testament Book of Acts (Acts 17:16-34). In a way, this part of the trip is a pilgrimage of sorts. Besides the history, it was impressive to see the size and scale of a city built over 2500 years ago.
Joylani and I spent the afternoon checking out the National Archaeological Museum, while Jackie and Alex hit the beach. Both Joylani and I were impressed with and enjoyed the museum. It was simple, yet more informative and educational than places like the Louvre. The museum had English translations on everything, something the French would never do. Plus, I’d say the museum had the best collection of Greek sculptures I’ve ever seen, although the museum is famous for its unsurpassed collection of funerary works.
After meeting up, the four of us headed to Piraeus (Athen’s port) to catch our ferry to Chios. We had “airplane style seats” in a huge room with hundreds of other passengers. We were on our way to Chios, while others took it all the way to Lesbos (Mytilene) or connected to Samos. I found that interesting as well, because I read that Paul also stopped at all three of those islands on a journey from Troas to Jerusalem (Acts 20:13-16). Anyways, we’ll only be stopping on Chios for a few hours until we can catch a ferry to Turkey.
I tried to go to sleep already tonight, but there’s no way. We’re lying in our room right now with the AC on and its 88 Fahrenheit. We know because Joylani’s travel alarm clock has a thermometer on it. When our flight landed in Athens today though, our pilot announced it was 104! I thought I sweated a lot when we hiked up Mt. Pilatus, but I’ve been sweating non-stop since we got to Greece.
From the airport, we took a city bus into town. From there we walked to our hostel in Plaka, a touristy district of Athens near the Acropolis. We were drenched in sweat from our bus ride and walk (both with our backpacks), but we quickly left our hotel to explore to see the Acropolis’ sites. Within minutes, we were staring at one of the greatest achievements of ancient civilization: the Parthenon. It was good enough to make the Seven Wonders of the World two thousand years ago and it’s still amazing. I’ve seen a lot of amazing architecture built by ancient civilizations, like the Taj Mahal or the Mayan pyramids at Tikal, but there’s something different about the Athens. It’s the history.
So much has gone down here. I studied about Athens in a million different history classes in college. Athens was at its height in every way during the middle of the 5th century BC. But the decades-long Peloponnesian War against Sparta ended with Athen’s defeat (I think around 405 BC). Athens then came under the control of Alexander, and later his generals, before Rome took control of the entire region. Then the divisions of the Roman Empire saw Athens fall under different jurisdictions for a long time. I may be a nerd, but that’s just off the top of my head- I think I just typed it because that sort of things excites me. But even beyond the political history, it’s exciting to think of the people that were here too. Tomorrow morning, we’re going to visit the Agora. Socrates questioned there. Paul evangelized there. Kind of crazy that those guys hung out within a mile of where I’m lying down typing right now. Enough about the history of Athens though.
While I wandered around the Acropolis, Joylani sat and watched Nora Jones practicing for her concert in the impressive Theater of Herodes Atticus. Afterwards, we all explored Plaka for a little while before settling down for a good Greek meal: a salad of cucumbers and tomatoes covered in olive oil, a pork gyro, and glass of the red house wine. All four of us agreed it was the best meal we’ve had in awhile. The heat is unbearable (although good training for when we’ll be India next week), but today was a great day: a new place that’s totally different from home/N. Europe, lots of history, and a good meal.
Today was a long day and a tough one. We awoke early and spent a couple hours wandering Lucerne, before catching our train to Milan. We were in Switzerland, because both Joylani and I wanted to see it. We were heading to Milan because its one of the main transportation hubs of Europe, where we could take a cheap flight to Greece. But a train ride south through the Alps was appealing, so I was really looking forward to today. But the train scenery wasn’t quite as dramatic as I expected. But it was still nice to see a couple awesome views and a handful of extremely beautiful lakes. We arrived in Milan with pretty low expectations, but we were pleasantly surprised. Duomo was a stunning cathedral- perhaps the most unique and intricately designed one we’ve seen thus far, which is saying a lot considering how many we’ve been to lately. Our hotel was simple, but nice.
But we are beat. For the first time this trip, I thought perhaps our European itinerary is too crazy. Maybe we should have done less. But then again, we’ve gotten bored by staying in the same place too long before too. I think its tough because we had to plan everything ahead, due to Europe’s expensiveness and developed transportation system. Its not like Asia or Latin America, where you can just hop on a bus or train at a second’s notice. But Joylani is right, when she tells me we’ve seen a lot. Maybe we planned to do too much, but it hasn’t been a bad trip. And she’s right. Who wouldn’t kill to do what were doing? I woke up yesterday to Mount Pilatus, instead of an alarm clock. Instead of sitting in an office all day, I hiked up a mountain. I’m tired today, but I was usually tired after work too. We’re fortunate…and still tired.