Greece – History, Culture, and a little Modernity

One of the best parts of studying abroad has been how many people I have gotten to know from all around the world. There are about 3,000 international students that study in Tübingen annually, and with a total student population of around 27,000, that means that about one nine students is studying abroad.

In one of my first semester classes, myself and three other CSU IP students made good friends with a student on exchange from Thessaloniki, Greece. We spent time together throughout the semester, in lessons and outside the classroom. Shortly before the semester ended, we made plans to visit her during our semester break.

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After our last day of class for our Aufbaukurs. Our friend Sophie is on the far right, and our teacher is in the red. The rest of us are CSU IP students.

We flew into Thessaloniki, where we spent the first four days of our trip. Sophie met us at the airport and navigated us to our Airbnb, where we dumped off our stuff and took off exploring the city.

Sophie has lived her whole life in Thessaloniki, aside from the time she spent in Tübingen. She showed us the White Tower, which was originally a fortification constructed by the Ottomans to protect the harbor, and later was used as a prison and site for executions. Today, it is a museum displaying the history of Thessaloniki, Greece, the Byzantine era, and the Ottoman Empire.

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At the top of the White Tower in Thessaloniki

We spent the next several days taking in the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Greece. Sophie’s family graciously hosted us for dinner one evening, and we gorged ourselves on a fabulously delicious meal, including dessert and coffee.

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Better than any restaurant!

We even had the opportunity to celebrate Carnival – Greek style. Carnival is a time of year celebrated among countries and cultures around the world. The basic idea is to celebrate the end of winter, and the coming of spring time. For our Greek experience, we bought some small costume accessories at a store in Thessaloniki, and hit the town later that night for drinking and dancing.

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Costumes of all kinds are accepted and encouraged during Carnival.

On the fifth day of our trip, we headed back to the airport and boarded a plane to Athens. Sophie, as well as a good friend of hers, joined us for this part of the trip.

In Athens, we were joined by one more CSU IP student who met up with us at the airport. We all stayed together in an Airbnb near the old part of Athens. We managed to cram the 8 of us into couches, beds, and blow-up mattresses inside of the studio, and somehow all got decent sleep.

Sophie led us around Athens like an expert, showing us all the great sites, as well as leading us to the best kinds of Greek breakfasts, snacks, and dinners. She ensured that we saw everything that we could manage, and made sure that we were all happy and well-fed throughout the trip. By her knowledge and language ability, we each got our fill of Greek history and culture during our stay in the ancient capital.

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One of the most well-preserved temples in Athens, the Temple of Hephaestus

We made our way up to the Parthenon, marveling at the glory of the ancient structures, as well as the incredible view of Ancient Greece below. We headed over to the Panathenaic Stadium, which was built around 566 BC to host the Panathenaic Games in honor of the Goddess Athena, and reconstructed in 329 BC, entirely out of marble. We had the opportunity to wander around the track and stadium which had hosted athletic events of the ancient Greeks for centuries. The stadium also hosted the first modern Olympic games in 1896.

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The Panathenaic Stadium, ca. 329 BC, is the only stadium in the world constructed entirely from marble.

Unfortunately, our Greek friends had to leave us all too soon. Due to the conflicting University dates between Tübingen and Thessaloniki, Sophie only had a short break, and had to return to classes before our trip was over. We said very heartfelt goodbyes, knowing that we had no idea when we would be reunited, but also comforted by the knowledge that we had become lifelong friends.

Once they had flown back to Thessaloniki, us Californians made a trip outside of Athens to the small island of Aegina. We took a ferry to the island, where we hopped on a bus to visit one of the most well-preserved temples in all of Greece, the Temple of Aphaea. The temple was built around 500 BC for the purpose of worshipping the goddess Aphaia. The island itself was also said to be the training grounds of Zeus’s legendary warriors, the Myrmidons.

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The Temple of Aphaea

Once we had finished lunch in the main town (also called Aegina), we sought out a place to rent quads. For a fair price of 25€ per driver for unlimited time, we took off roaring around the island, feeling the wind in our hair and remembering the feeling of actually being in control of a motorized vehicle.

We rode up and down the streets of Aegina, and then took off for the southern tip of the island. Because we visited Greece in the off-season, there were not many tourists around, and especially on this little island. In the village at the southern end of Aegina were only locals, so we walked around enjoying the feeling of having the place to ourselves.

It was apparent that the little village would be a marvelous place to spend summer days. Unfortunately for us, it was too cold to swim (although several of us brought suits just in case), so we could only gaze longingly at the beautiful waters beckoning to us from below. As most of the island is, in fact, an extinct volcano, the beaches on the island were not sandy, but instead composed largely of volcanic rock. Although it is not the kind of beach that a Californian native is used to, we were regardless impressed by the serenity of the location.

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Perdika, the town that inhabits the southern end of Aegina

The last day of our time in Athens was spent seeing some museums, as well as gift shopping. Well, for some of us, it was. For an unlucky few (names will not be mentioned, but let’s just say I can give lots of first-hand details), the day was spent nursing a rather intense hangover. For those of you planning to visit Greece, be cautious of the drink of choice, Ouzo, and even more cautious of its evil cousin, Tsiporou.

Ten days in this ancient country was a long time, but nowhere near long enough to discover all of the wonder that this land has to offer. Walking amongst the temples erected for gods that I have heard stories of throughout my entire life was incredible. We had an amazing time in Greece, and we owe it all to our dear friend Sophie.

More Thessaloniki photos:

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More Athens photos:

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More Aegina photos:

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