Archive | August, 2009

The Feta is Betta

30 Aug

I should preface this by saying that this post really has nothing to do whatsoever with feta cheese, other than that I have eaten it at every meal since I’ve landed in Athens, and that it is fantastic.  While I like to think of myself as a lover of all cheese, feta has never particularly been one of my favorites, and I have always preferred almost every other cheese to feta.  Feta cheese in Greece, however, is NOT feta cheese from the States.  In Greece, the feta really is betta (er…I’m a stickler for grammar, I can’t help it).  It’s more than better; it’s unbelievable.  Moral of the story: if you don’t like feta, come to Greece.  You’ll change your mind.

I should also say that I’ve never been huge on Greek food.  Don’t get me wrong, I like it, and always have liked it, and if it is offered, I enjoy eating it.  But I never really get a craving for Greek cuisine, and was a little nervous that after a meal or two in Greece I’d be tired of it and ready to move on.  I am absolutely not tired, nor am I ready to move.  Anywhere.  I’ve eaten more than my fair share of Greek salad, and have no plans of stopping in the foreseeable future.  Stuffed peppers?  Bring it on.  Eggplant dip?  More please.  Chicken Souvlaki?  I don’t even like chicken, and I’ve already had 3 skewers and an endless need for more.  Every restaurant, in every part of the city, looks good, and I seriously am open, and more than willing, to try everything on the menu.  In fact, I usually don’t look at the menu (this could be due to the fact I don’t read Greek, and instead stare blankly at the menu like an illiterate 4 year old), and instead opt for sharing dozens of small plates with the entire table.  If you’re ever in Greece, do this.  You get to sample everything, feel completely satisfied afterward, and maybe even get a free order of fresh honeydew and watermelon at the end of the meal.  (This happened at lunch yesterday.  It was wonderful.  The fruit was fresher than fresh and riper than ripe.  There was a lot of it.  And it was all free.  This is now our new favorite restaurant, and we went back for dinner tonight.  Yum.)  There is so much more food and so many more traditional Greek dishes I can’t wait to try and, if I may speak on behalf of my stomach, I am up for the challenge.

In less fattening news, these past few days have felt more like weeks.  I feel like I’ve known my fellow fellows (heh) for more than 72 hours.  We all get along, and as new fellows arrive, they naturally fit into the group.  It’s a great dynamic.  Everyone is laid back and eager to see and experience and eat everything, and everyone is genuinely interesting and has something to bring to the table.  People have studied and lived in Germany, Spain, Mexico, South Korea, Oxford, Nicaragua, Italy, and Senegal, just to name a few, and long dinners over great food provide the perfect setting for stories to be shared.  Tomorrow is just the first day of our orientation, and I can’t believe the whole reason I’m in Greece, this fellowship, hasn’t even begun.

This weekend we went to the Greek version of Target or Wal-Mart to stock up on toiletries, sunscreen (hot and sunny doesn’t begin to describe the weather here), and small household appliances, bought cell phones, went grocery shopping, and had a long lunch that took up most of the day (and included melon previously mentioned).  Last night we went to the top of Lycavittos Hill, the highest point in Athens, and got a breathtaking view of the city.  It’s so much larger than I realized, and all the lights shimmering below, with the lit-up Acropolis shining in the center of it all, was awe-inspiring.  At the apex is this old white beautiful church that overlooks everything.  According to one of my friends, this is a common spot for marriage proposals, and it’s not hard to see why.  There was a nice outdoor restaurant at the top as well, and we ate dinner there at a table that was on the edge, with a perfect view of the seaport and the acropolis.  It was definitely one of those “Am I really here?” moments, and of course my camera didn’t capture the beauty of the evening at all.  Oh well.  I may not be able to show it to anyone, but the image is permanently in my mind, thank goodness.

Today I woke up late, and we took a cab to Monastiraki for lunch.  Pretty much everything I’ve been doing has been revolving around food, in case you haven’t caught on.  After the meal, we walked through the small streets with all the touristy knick-knack shops, scattered among shoe stores and jewelry stores where I will definitely be returning upon receiving my first month’s pay.  One of the most remarkable things about Athens is the history.  At the turn of a corner, there could be a pillar or the remains of an ancient temple.  It’s hard to fathom just how old and special these things are, or that these stories and myths you learned about in 7th grade actually have proof of their existence.  Even more remarkable is how normal it all seems, as if everywhere you go would naturally have thousands-year-old artifacts just sprinkled throughout the streets.

Today was also work-out day, hopefully the beginning of a year-long trend.  We did 8 minute AND 7 minute abs back at the house (I know, we’re intense), and then I went for a nice run through the streets of my neighborhood.  It’s an upscale peaceful neighborhood, and the houses are gorgeous.  Hopefully the more I run, the better acquainted I’ll become with Psychiko, the suburban town where I live.

We’ve instituted a word of the day board.  In our attempt to actually learn this language, we try to learn one new word a day, at least.  Along the way, we clearly learn much more than just one a day, but you get the idea.  Yesterday was periptero (kiosk) and today’s included logoriasmo (bill or check), zesty (hot) and poli (very or city, depending on where you put the accent).  I’d say we’re making progress, and we’re trying to use the words as much as we can throughout the day.  So far, favorites and most used include signomi (sorry), yassas (hello) and efheristo (thank you).  And of course there’s “signomi, ala then milao hellenica” (Sorry, but I don’t speak Greek).

Tomorrow begins orientation, including a scavenger hunt throughout campus and a barbecue at the President of the foundation’s house on campus.  Am I back at summer camp, or am I teaching English at the most prestigious school in Greece?  Hard to tell.  We’ll get to meet the final fellow, who arrived sometime today, and learn about the foundation and our role at the school for the upcoming year.  The rest of the week is also orientation, with the teachers and faculty not coming until late this week or early next week.  School begins September 11th.

This post was pretty long, but if there’s one thing to be taken from it, it is this:  The feta in Greece will blow your mind.

And so it begins…

29 Aug

“Blah blee bloo blah blah blo keh koo gee jeeh blah blah blah,” is exactly what I’m hearing from all sides of me as I stand as one of many cattle waiting to shove my passport under some unseen glass window at the front of the hall in the Athens airport.  In Greece, they apparently haven’t heard of the wonderful invention in America that is the weaving roped line, and thus getting through customs more closely resembles barbaric animals in the jungle, all trying to devour that one piece of meat that none can even see to begin with.  You just have faith that it’s there.  Except instead of fending off competitors with sharpened teeth and claws, people (being oh-so-much-more civilized) use carry-on luggage and baby strollers to their advantage.  Amidst the yelling and arguing and pushing and shoving, a hot and sweaty me finally made it to baggage claim and out the door to see a sign reading HAEF directly in front of me.  I was nervous I’d be scanning a room filled with Greek letters, feeling lost like a little made-up freshman on the first day of sorority rush praying for some foreign-alphebeted house to take her in, but my driver snatched me and my luggage up immediately (the luggage being no small feat–driver, wherever you are, you are greatly appreciated) and we were on our way to Psychico, home to the Hellenic American Educational Foundation and the school where I am to be teaching for the upcoming year.

There was another fellow (Stephanie) who was also in my car to the campus, which I was grateful for.  It was nice to chat to someone going through the same thing I was going through, and to meet one of my roommates before I got to the campus and was thrown into it all.  When we arrived at the campus, located in a beautiful suburb of Athens, and were let through the gate, our coordinator met us, showed us around our house, and then gave us a quick tour of the school.  There’s a lot of construction going on, but hopefully it will be mostly done (or at least out of the way) once school starts.  From here we settled in, met two other fellows who had already arrived (Chris and Chris), picked rooms, and unpacked.  After unpacking my life for the next year, I tried my best to stay awake, not wanting to succumb to the naps that other fellows were enjoying.  Unfortunately my attempt at combating jet-lag and accustoming myself to the time change failed, and I awoke an hour later dreary and in a daze.

Birthday alert!  Yes, on our very first day in Greece, it was one of my housemates’ (Sarah) birthday.  There are six fellows living in the house on campus, with four others living in two apartments a few bus stops away.  Five of us have moved into the house already, with the sixth arriving Sunday, and we decided for our inaugural night in Greece, and most importantly to celebrate the birthday, dinner in Athens was certainly in order.

Stuffed peppers, spicy cheesy dip, avocado and cheese salad, beet salad, tomato/cucumber/feta salad, meatballs in tomato sauce, cooked eggplant and more all put together form the absolute best meal you could eat after not having put anything in your stomach since the five pieces of melon and croissant that they fed you at 8:30 that morning on the plane.  Dinner, set in an adorable open-air restaurant on a street corner, was nothing short of delicious, and just thinking about all the food we ate, despite how full it made me at the time, makes my mouth water for more now.  A returning fellow (Molly) who is living in one of the apartments off-campus, had been to this place before, and knew what was good (not that anything on the menu looked anything but amazing).  The six of us sat there for hours as the city started to populate and the restaurant became increasingly more crowded and lively, laughing, exchanging stories, and getting to know each other over great food and cheap wine.  Finally paying the bill, we took the metro one stop down to the heart of city for ice cream.  The moment we stepped out of the metro, we could see the Acropolis (THE ACROPOLIS!) in the background.  Even from as far away as I was, it was already more beautiful than any textbook or google image search could do it justice.  We walked through the crowded streets, got some gelato, and headed back toward the metro, all resisting the urge to sit down for fear we would pass out right then and there.  At the young hour of 12:30am, we had made it home and were all tucked into bed within moments.

On the schedule for today: get cell phone, open bank account, buy groceries, buy brita, buy flat iron.  In no particular order (clearly if I had ordered them by priority, the flat iron and brita filter would be top of the list, with the straightener taking gold).  I’m eager to explore the surrounding area and get to know the suburb I now call home and get situated and comfortable with this new life.  Orientation and faculty meetings begin Monday, so until then, I’ll savor the chance to be a tourist.

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