Tag Archives: Athens

Southern Gentlemen in Southern California

The ink was still wet on my University of Georgia diploma as I drove out of Athens on the way to California.  It felt like a scene out the of The Beverly Hillbillies (see video below).  We loaded up a Toyota 4Runner and the biggest trailer U-haul makes to the brim with all our worldly possessions.  My new roommate and road dawg Blake and I were in for a long 5 day trek across this beautiful country.  The trip might not have lasted 5 full days if the trailer didn’t shake violently when we drove faster than 55 mph.

Being broke, jobless college grads we picked our route to the west coast based on friends and family along the way with free places to sleep and hot meals.  The first road block we faced on the way to the our first night in Baton Rouge was a late start.  4 hours, 2 trailers and 1 insane Tetris-like loading job later we were off.  Unfortunately the late start and the slow trailer driving had us arrive a little after 4am in Louisiana completely exhausted.  The next day we headed out  with our stomach’s full of gumbo and the gas tank on F.

Next we breezed through Dallas, Albuquerque and Phoenix seeing the way more of this country than I ever expected.  Since the award season in LA is in full force and I’m already for the 2013 Oscars I’ll give out a few awards for the trip:

Best Scenery Award – New Mexico/North Arizona. – The snow on the ground was a perfect accent to the scenic mountains and pristine forests.

Worst Scenery Award – In case you’re wondering there is NOTHING scenic about the drive between Dallas and New Mexico.  That drive had some of the worst sights and smells (there are some pretty foul smelling cattle farms) I’ve encountered in this country.

Best Meal: Homemade Gumbo from the Karam family. Uh-Maze-Ing.

Worst Meal: Half of a bag of sunflower seeds I found under the seat somewhere in Texas.

2,468 miles later we pulled up to the new place in SoCal ready for some great adventures!

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Ballin’ on a Budget: Lisboa!

Lisbon (CC - Aguas Livres)

The first thing that comes to mind when I think about Lisbon is an unexpected surprise.  The only reason I even ventured to Portugal was to cross another country off my 30-before-30 list and because a friend said they have cheap(er) flights back to the States.  It was an afterthought on my European excursion, but I’m definitely glad I made the pit stop.  I was only actually in Portugal for one full day.  I flew in one evening, had a day to sight see and jetted off back to California early the next morning.

The one best parts of this leg of my journey was definitely the amazing people at my hostel.  The eclectic guests I stayed with included a school teacher from Middle Tennessee, an Austrian student/soldier, a rugby player from New Zealand, and some European study abroad students.  I decided to randomly tag along with some of them while they toured the city.  I thought we’d only be gone for a couple of hours of sightseeing, but I thought wrong.  We ended up getting home as the sun rose the next morning with just enough time for me to throw my things in a bag and catch a cab to the airport.

View from my hostel window

The day started innocently enough with a tour of the local monastery around the corner.  From there we explored the nearby port and then hopped on a trolley to the city center.  By lunch time we’d hiked up what had to be the longest street in the city and we found a great little cafe in a park to rest in.  We explored some more of the city and then continued the hiking theme by trekking up to Castle of São Jorge.  The views of the city were phenomenal and the couple of beers we picked up on the way tasted even sweeter with the great scenery.  Our hodge-podge group watched the sunset over the city from one of it’s highest points then decided to grab some dinner.  A friend of a friend suggested we grab shots of Ginja, a traditional Portuguese pre-dinner liqueur then eat at a local family owned restaurant.  The shot tasted like cherry flavored rubbing alcohol, but the meal was the best thing I’d eaten since I left Greece.  I strongly believe there’s a direct correlation between the amount of English people speak and the taste of the food.  The less English they know the better the food tends to be!

After dinner it was suggested to us to check out a concert a few block away.  From the outside the place looked like an auto shop but inside was a cool multi-level mix of a bar, lounge, restaurant, and concert venue.  We spent the next few hours here swapping travel stories and learning more about each others cultures and beliefs.

Lisbon Night (CC by Frostis)

As the night started to slip away from us my European friends wanted to show me a good time for my last night on the continent.  They convinced me to go to some “erasmus” bars.  After a lot of confusion I learned that the ERASMUS Programme is the network of studying abroad for European students.  We made some twists and turns down some sketchy alleys then turned onto a street that instantly reminded me of home.  We hit the main Erasmus strip and thousands of European students swarmed out of seemingly nowhere.  I felt like I was walking down Broad Street in Athens, Georgia.  The more time I spent in Europe the more I realized that there isn’t much difference between students in the US and the EU.  I spent my last night on the continent dancing the night away with some great new friends!

HIGH: Had a whirlwind Eurotrip and Portugal was the perfect place to end it!

LOW: Not a thing.

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Service with A Smile

One of the main focuses of the Global LEAD program that I’m working with in Greece is service.  In South Africa I got the opportunity to work in Sir Lowery’s Pass Township outside of Cape Town and it was amazing.  The people of that beautiful community made a lasting impression on me that I will keep with me forever.

In Greece serving a group of people like that community is a little bit trickier.  I’d hate to make a broad generalization that Greek people don’t care about helping others, but it’s not far from the truth…  The culture is just different.  The severe economic crisis and the 20% unemployment rate make it tough for Greeks to give back.  Regardless, after countless man hours from our fearless leader, Beth Ann, we were able to secure two groups to work with in Athens.

The first group was a community of refugees from Somalia who are literally stuck between a rock and a hard place.  They were forced to flee their war-torn country and are now stuck in Greece where they face hate crimes and threats against them almost daily from radical groups of Greeks.  But our group of 42 students was able to give them a little bit of hope.  We cleaned up their Somali Community Center and brought a little love into their lives.  One of our students talked about the experience on the program’s blog:

“When I was painting I took a second to glance at my surroundings and saw a refugee smiling at us painting the walls. He smiled. I knew right then we were doing so much more than just painting the walls.

The cherry on top of this day was getting the opportunity to paint over slandering graffiti that covered the entrance to their home just reminding them how they were not wanted. We had an audience of refugees watching us paint over the hurtful words, smiling.

I am about 99% sure the refugees’ lives weren’t the only ones changed that day.”  -DeAnna J.
The other group we worked with in Athens requested that we only refer to them as “The Center” on the internet.  The Christian organization from the US provides food, educational opportunities, medical assistance, and a safe place to fellowship to Afghani and Iranian refugees.  The backlash against organizations helping refugees in Athens forces the “better safe, than sorry” online secrecy policy for the organization, but they were amazing to work with.   Students served meals, sang songs, played games and just loved on the children there.  Very few of the children spoke English but coloring, playing chess, making beaded jewelry, and playing with toy cars are all universal.  Seeing a child’s eyes light up with a big smile on their face can melt anyone’s heart.

These and several other opportunities to give back abroad definitely made a lasting impression on every single one of the students on this trip.  Thinking back on impact here makes me think of one of my favorite quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayals of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
-RWE

LOW: The struggle we faced getting opportunities to serve in Athens, Greece.

HIGH: Seeing the impact that was made by the students in such a short amount of time.  And getting to volunteer at a sea turtle rescue center.  Who doesn’t love sea turtles?!

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Beautiful Disaster

Beautiful Disaster.  That just about sums up the last 24 hours.  With 40+ students scheduled to arrive in Greece bright and early tomorrow morning the last few days have been sort of  a whirlwind.  We’ve been running around Athens and Glyfada trying to make sure everything is perfect (or as close to it as possible) for the students.  Two messy people in one hotel room packing 50 welcome bags and care packages did not bode well for the cleanliness of room #215.  This picture on the right was taken mid-hurricane as you can tell, but all the care packages are done.  Fortunately we cleaned the room up and are awaiting the arrival of the students.

Unfortunately US Airways had other plans in mind and cancelled the flight out of Atlanta for 30 of the students on the program causing them to miss their connecting flight.  Hopefully this little set back has everyone getting into Athens only a day late and our programming isn’t thrown off too bad.  But I guess when you are arranging 50 flights across the world you have to expect some delays/set backs. C’est la vie.

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”  ~Lao Tzu

HIGH: I’m still pretty excited to meet the 8 students that are actually arriving on time tomorrow!

LOW:  I just feel bad for the students delayed in ATL.

Beautiful disaster of a hotel room.

The final product looks good.

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GREECE!

Greece is a clash of cultures.  It’s ancient history meets modern day business.  Old souls and young European hipsters.  High rise buildings neighbor archaic ruins.  The stark contrast in Athens is remarkable.

In just a few days here I’ve seen so much culture and history.  The people in Greece are extremely proud and there are more museums here per capita than any other city I’ve ever seen.

We left our little suburb of Glyfada (more on it in future posts) to explore Athens.  I did some research and found some young, trendy Athens neighborhoods near the city center and we researched some spots for the students to hang out in the next few weeks.  One of the places, Kolonaki (a central Athens “chic” neighborhood) sat at the bottom of Lycabettus Hill, the highest point in the city.  The views from the top were amazing.  It was extremely humbling to see just how enormous the city was from a birds-eye view.  Greece has so much to see and do I’m excited to spend the next month or so here soaking it all in.  On the agenda next week: “Research” Trip to the gorgeous island of Santorini for a few days.  I’m loving my life/job right now!

High: The history buff in me loves wandering around the REAL Athens.

Low: Beth Ann has us doing P90X everyday.  Gonna be sore this whole trip. But no pain, no gain, I guess…

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Athens, I Love You

I love traveling.  It’s a great way to expand horizons and meet new people.  I’ve met lots of people with different ideas, beliefs, and ways of life.  I saw some amazing places this summer, but there is no place like home.  Coming back to Athens was incredible.  Once I set foot back into Athens I immediately knew I was home.

Athens, Georgia is such a special place.  Going into my senior year I really need to take advantage of it because one day in the near future I’m going to be walking across the stage at graduation.

Top 5 Places in Athens:

The Arch – I love the Arch. It connects the historic part of UGA’s campus with Downtown Athens.  The past meets the present right there on Broad St. and I can’t wait to walk under it for the first time on graduation day.

Sanford Stadium – There’s nothing like going to a football game with 92,746 of your closest friends!  Being Between the Hedges on Saturdays in Athens as a part of the Bulldawg Nation has definitely been one of my best experiences in the Classic City.

Miller Learning Center/Tate Plaza – I normally will go out of my way to walk through the MLC and/or Tate Plaza just to see people that I know.  Both are great places to find friends in between classes and I love naps on those big orange chairs outside Jittery Joe’s.

Last Resort Grill – Jhaff’s #1 pick for Best Restaurant in Athens.  Cool atmosphere, great service, and better food! You can’t lose at the Last Resort.

Downtown Athens – The Prince Review ranked UGA the #1 Party School in the nation for one reason, Downtown Athens.  It’s reputation definitely precedes it but it offers so much more than bars.  It has great restaurants and cool eclectic shops.  The music scene is also a big deal in Athens. Home to R.E.M., Widespread Panic, and the B-52s, the Athens music scene has a long history.  More recently John Mayer got his feet off the ground here filming one of his first music videos in the historic Georgia Theatre and Bubba Sparxxx got his break in the Classic City as well.

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