Sunday, September 20, 2009

Our first week in Athens!

Hey everyone! So sorry to not write sooner about everything that's been going on, but it has really be only until this weekend that we've had some time to ourselves. Needless to say we've been busy exploring Athena's city and learning about this new group of about 30 folks we'll be in close contact with over the next nine months!

Here's the week-in-review:

FLIGHT TO ATHENS: We left Omaha at 7am on a flight to Chicago O'Hare, and after an uneventful two-hour layover we caught a 2 hour flight to Montreal Canada for a 5 hour layover before our plane for Athens departed. As this was my (Rob) first trip outside the continental US, I could tell we were entering a different world as soon as we got to Canada and entered Customs. Sure all the signs were bilingual, but I noticed fewer and fewer people speaking English, any many more speaking French (obviously) and German. I suppose it may have just been because it was Quebec, too. It's amazing how the world closes around someone if the people don't speak the same language. Montreal was a ultra-modern airport, very cool. The one snafu we had there was at the Olympic airlines desk. This requires explaining. In Omaha, the American Airlines people told us our bags would be checked from Omaha straight through to Athens, and that all we needed to do would be to get Olympic boarding passes at the desk in Montreal. (Sidenote: we flew AA OMA-ORD-YUL, and Olympic YUL-ATH). When we got to the Olympic desk in Montreal, the agent asked us if we had any luggage. We said no, and explained to this woman what we were told in Omaha. This woman told us just the opposite, that we had to go find our bags (which had been taken out of baggage claim hours before) and recheck them. It was a good thing that this woman asked us about the bags, or else we would have reached Athens with just our carry-ons!

Moving on, we left Montreal at 6:30pm EST for a 9 hour flight to Athens. The service on Olympic airlines was wonderful, but Kate and I couldn't help noticing how the flight attendants were all primarily gruff, no-nonsense men. Ours in particular didn't seem to have any sense of humor at all! But it proved to be more humorous than anything. Must have been the short-sleeved oxford he had to wear. We got to Athens around 11am the next day, in other words, 3am CST. Yes, we were tired. Got through the seemingly low security customs (compared to the US), grabbed our luggage and went looking for a cab. Now, I had been working on my broken modern Greek in order to hail a cab successfully, and I had written the address of the school in Greek alongside it's location on our map. I was all set not to look like a tourist. Upon reaching the taxi pull up, we found a line of taxis, and turning to our right we saw a line of people being funneled through to get a ride. Our driver pulled up and just grabbed our bags and slammed them in the back of the car, securing the trunk with bungee cords. Yikes, we did really look like tourists! I got in front with the driver and Kate got in back. Suddenly I forgot what I was supposed to say in Greek, and just showed him the map in my stupidity. Luckily, he was a nice enough guy and knew enough English to know exactly what I wanted. He punched the address into his GPS and off we went. After weaving in and out of traffic like a madman, we arrived at the school and settled in.

The American School of Classical Studies really consists of three major buildings: the main school and the Blegen library on one side of the street, and Loring Hall and the Gennadius Library on the other side. The Blegen is named after Carl Blegen, a well-known and respected archaeologist at the University of Cincinnatti from 1927-57. It's primary strengths are in Greek archaeology, history and literature. The Gennadius library, focuses on Byzantine history and culture as well as modern Greek history (early 19th cent.-present day).

We arrived on a Friday, and didn't have anything to do school-wise until Monday morning. Therefore we spent the first weekend finding our way around the city. ASCSA is located in the Kolonaki district, a high-end shopping area at the southern slope of Lykavittos Hill. Within walking distance are numerous tavernas and restaurants and kiosks providing food and drink of every type and for every budget. The metro station is a 5-10min walk down hill and ultra-convenient for short trips to Syntagma Square and then on to the Acropolis. By foot, a walk to the Acropolis takes 30 min. With no major interstates within the city itself (Apart from the Attiki Odos) to ease congestion, traffic is a nightmare and the metro is truly the fast and relatively inexpensive way to go.

After figuring out the metro, we found some grocery stores for food for the next week. While my fellowship covers the meals in Loring Hall, Kate is not covered. Thus we can buy groceries to store in our mini-fridge near our room, or she can purchase a meal card. The dinners especially have been expensive, so we've been trying to work out a system where Kate eats breakfast and/or lunch on her own, and then some dinners in the dining hall.

This past week consisted of orientations and cocktail party-type gatherings. At these we got to know our two major professors for the year who are leading us on some of the trips: Prof. Margaret Miles from UC-Irvine and Prof. Denver Graninger from UT-Knoxville. The other students here are mostly from the midwest and east, and all from top programs: Michigan, Cincinnatti, Princeton, Harvard, Penn, Ohio State, Rutgers, Bryn Mawr, etc. Needless to say the first few days were pretty intimidating, as new grad students meeting other new grad students tend to fall back on to talking about themselves when they don't have any social skills! Most of the students are archaeologically-oriented, and many have already done a lot of dig work in and around Greece. I think Kate and I both felt like fish out of water, but the past few days have shown signs of improvement. We've all had time to eat and drink together and settle-in as a group, and I think it's safe to say that we all get least until the trips start and we're locked together on buses for 10 days at a time!

Our first trip is to Western and Northern Greece. We'll be cutting across the northerrn Peloponnese to Corinth and Patras before heading up the western coast. After about 3-4 days we'll cut back across the north-central part before heading up to Thessaloniki for two days. From there we'll head for a brief foray into the Chalcidice peninsula and then on to the island of Thasos. The way it works is that each student is assigned a site to give a 20-30min oral report on. This is done on-site and each day usually consists of 3 student reports but may include more if the traveling faculty decide to present on something. My report will be on the ancient site of Olynthus in the Chalcidice, a classical Greek city that serves as one of the best examples of Greek urban planning. After hearing that Kate was a musician, Prof. Miles asked Kate to do a report on the Greek folk music of Epirus in Western Greece, and gave her a cd with some songs to present to the rest of us on the bus. So the past few days have been spent in the library doing research on both our topics.

That's all for now! We'll try to post some photos soon and catch up with you either in the middle of our trip should we get wireless in our hotels, or else when we get back!

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