Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Blagoevgrad… Leaving home for home

In four days, I will be boarding a plane at Sofia airport for my last trip… This time, I will not be returning to Blagoevgrad. In four days, I will be landing at JFK in New York, excited as ever to walk out of that gate and see the faces of the three people whom I’ve missed more than anything. I’m just hoping I won’t be too jetlagged to stay awake the rest of the day to tell them everything. I think I’ll be running on adrenaline by that time.

For the past 20 years, America has been my home, so naturally leaving the only culture I’ve ever known for four months by myself, there are of course things I’ve missed and cannot wait to get home to. I can’t wait to get up in the morning and stuff my face, for lack of a better way to say it, with bagels, pancakes, fresh fruit, waffles, French toast, eggs… I could go on forever naming the foods I’ve missed. I can’t wait to drink my favorite Tropicana orange juice every day. I can’t wait to sleep in my big double bed on a mattress that I can’t feel the springs digging into my back. I can’t wait to get back behind the wheel of my car and drive wherever I want, not worrying about bus times, taxi fees, and figuring out metro systems. I can’t wait for those Connecticut summers and family cookouts. I can’t wait to see my best friends and stay up long nights talking with them. I can’t wait to get back to my old and familiar IGA job. I can’t wait to not be stared at everywhere I go, because well, a tall, blonde girl in Eastern Europe is not something you see every day. I can’t wait for my mom’s home-cooked dinners. I can’t wait to watch my Yankees play baseball. I can’t wait to spend my Christmas gift cards that I didn’t get a chance to destroy before I shipped off. I can’t wait to eat at my favorite restaurants and to not have cigarette smoke immediately meet me at the door. I can’t wait for the familiar feel and scent of my house. But most of all, it’s the people I miss and can’t wait to be reunited with. Although I’ve had this once in a lifetime opportunity and I’ve seen some places and sights I’d only ever dreamed of seeing, in the end it’s all about the people, not the place.

What am I going to miss about my life in Bulgaria? Well, Blagoevgrad. I love this city. It’s been home for the past four months, and I love everything about it. I love the way you can look up at anytime and see snow-covered mountains surrounding you 360 degrees, even when it’s sunny and hot in the valley of the city. I love how at any moment, a dog will come up to you and guide you all the way back to the door of Skapto 2. I love that anytime you feel lost, all you have to do is look for the Bistrica River. I love seeing horses, cows, and goats grazing free in the fields and along the side of the roads, merely emphasizing the simplistic back-to-basics lifestyle. I love hearing the sound of Bulgarian being spoken and the feeling of achievement when I can understand some. I love the early spring weather and talking to people back home, feeling so happy to be avoiding the March mud season and April showers. I love the feeling of walking through town on a beautiful day and seeing families out, little kids running everywhere and realizing all over again that Bulgarians are just like everyone else in the world. I love how it feels to return to Blagoevgrad after a weekend away, like it’s good to be home. Though I’m ecstatic to be coming back to my own bed and the people I love and have missed, the truth is, I’m leaving one home for another. I’m leaving opportunities I never thought I would have. I’m leaving memories and experiences that have changed me as a person. Most of all, I’m leaving a family. I’m leaving people I love and will miss.

So that is all for me from Bulgaria. To anyone who has followed me on my journey (most likely my parents plus a few...), I sincerely hope you've enjoyed what you have read. When I originally made the decision to blog about my travels back in the fall of last year, I thought it might be somewhat of a daunting task, but I wanted people back home to be able to have the opportunity to share in some of the amazing experiences I would encounter. At some point along the way though, blogging became less of a task and more of a reward. I began to not worry about getting behind on sending people back home an update of my life, and I started to record my travels for me. I know as time goes on, I will forget the little details of my Bulgarian life. I know I will be thankful to have a place where I can go for reminders. So whether my readers are two (Mom and Dad) or twenty does not matter, but I thank you all the same.

Много благодарности.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Beautiful Budapest and Last Days at AUBG

Without a doubt, one of my favorite places I have traveled to this semester was Budapest, the Hungarian capital. For a few months now, my friends and I had all intentions of spending Easter weekend in Budapest. We had no classes on Monday, so we were able to fly in on Friday and fly home on Monday, without missing any classes. After landing on Friday in the late afternoon, the first thing that struck me about this city was the unique architecture and the beautifully well-kept buildings. Hungary is another Eastern European country that suffered nearly a half century under Communism. However, the recovery process in comparison to Bulgaria is of massive difference. Budapest, for many in the West, is a location of destination. Bulgaria’s capital of Sofia, on the other hand, is pretty much off the map.

Hungarian forint
So after navigating our way from the airport to the city center using public transportation and asking some locals for directions from the metro station to our hostel, we finally came across it. It was on the second floor of a building which has a courtyard in the center. Needless to say, probably one of the coolest hostels I’ve stayed in. A friend of a friend from the U.S. was meeting us there, so reunions commenced the moment we walked in the door. After settling in for a bit, we ventured out to a traditional Hungarian restaurant, enjoyed a delicious meal, and tried to get used to our first encounter with Hungarian currency (1 U.S dollar = 178 Hungarian forint). I ended up taking out 27,000 forint at the ATM. No big deal. After a trip to a bar in the former barracks during Communist times, we called it a night, as we had a good amount of exploring to do the next day.

St. Stephen's Basilica
Saturday was an absolutely gorgeous day. We set out to see the city. It seemed that around every corner was a different view, equally as beautiful. We saw St. Stephen’s Basilica, the Opera House, and did a little shopping, where we stumbled across an adorable second-hand English bookstore, where I purchased a novel for the long plane ride back to the States. We made our way down to the Danube River, and began the hunt for a place to enjoy lunch. It was just the beginning of our lovely food discoveries in Budapest. We came across a vegetarian Indian place, where I lit my mouth on fire with some delicious Indian soups. We then walked for a while along the Danube, taking in the stunning views and stopping every once in a while to bask in the sun. After a stroll down some more hidden streets, some gelato, and souvenir shopping, it was early evening, so we headed back to our hostel to relax for a bit. We had a nice dinner out, switching up the cuisine once again to Mexican. We finished up Easter Eve with a night of dancing.

The following day was Easter Sunday, and it was definitely different from all the Easters I have experienced in my life. It was fairly laid back, as the weather decided to get a little cloudy and chilly. We had spent all of our time thus far in Budapest on the “Pest” side of the Danube River, so we decided to venture over to the “Buda” side to see what it had to offer. We walked across one of the many beautiful bridges and made a quick stop in a neat little church that was in a cave in the mountainside. We then burned a few calories walking up the hill to the Buda Castle, which is a historical castle and palace of the Hungarian kings, dating back to the 14th century. On top of castle hill is a small little village with beautifully picturesque homes and shops. We stopped into a confectionary for some tea and sweets, then spent a while taking in the view of the city before heading back down the hill and across another beautiful bridge back to the “Pest” side. We walked to the Parliament building and through some more unique streets, until we again struck gold with a brilliant food discovery: a hummus bar. We thoroughly indulged here, with hummus, falafel, and black tea. We were on the verge of exhaustion, so we worked our way back to the hostel, watched some movies, and made dinner for ourselves in the hostel kitchen. We flew out the next morning, tired but so happy to have made the trip we’d all been waiting to take. Budapest is way up there on the top of my list as one of the best weekends I’ve experienced during my time in Europe.

Our hike through the Rila Mountains

The semester is in its final days. My time in Bulgaria can be numbered to six. Last week was my last week of classes here at AUBG. Yesterday, a group of us ventured out to the Rila Mountains to hike the Seven Lakes. It was a difficult hike, but rewarding beyond belief. Without a doubt, one of the most beautifully breathtaking sights I’ve ever seen, and the best part about it: pure nature. Today and the rest of this week will consist of studying for finals, packing my life away, making some final memories, and saying goodbyes. Sad but an exciting time. So for now, back to studying!

Shots from Budapest...
Opera House

"Buda" side along the Danube River

My girls :)

Friday, April 29, 2011

Eastern Europe: A Beauty in Its Own Way

I have been living in Bulgaria for almost four months now. Granted this is not a lifetime, but it is long enough to fall in love with this place, get to know the people, the lifestyle, the culture and traditions, the little quirks. A week ago in my Eastern European history class, we had a final discussion concerning how Bulgaria is seen through the eyes’ of other countries. This is something I had wanted to do a blog post on since I’ve arrived in Bulgaria, so I thought now was the perfect time.

People will generalize. Say “Oh, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Serbia… they’re all the same.” Well, wrong. These are people with their own history, their own past filled with troubles, joys, sorrows, and victories. This is a place with its own culture, its own traditions, its own way of life. To call these people anything other than what they are would be an insult, just as calling an American a Mexican because the two places are geographically close would be wrong.

Even more than twenty years after the fall of communism, Bulgaria is still struggling to get back on its feet. It has yet to reach the GDP of pre-World War II and pre-communism. This is a country with one of the oldest and richest histories in the world. After the birth of the human species in Africa, Bulgaria and southeastern Europe were the places where the human civilization branched out. The history is far deeper than anywhere in the West, yet people do not look past the destruction that communism has cost these innocent people and this beautiful land.

I have learned that this is a place just like any other society in the world in that it contains people, people with families, parents who want good things for their children, people who only want to be happy. In the West, can’t we say the same? Discrimination and judgment are almost innate human qualities. Most of the time, we can’t even help what we think and say because all judgments are built upon our past life experiences. In American elementary schools, the world is rarely viewed as a whole. Children are taught American history and in high school, western European history, causing them to judge places like Eastern Europe, a region I never recall learning a drop of knowledge about in general history classes. I will admit, when choosing my location for study abroad, I had heard of Bulgaria, but I had no idea of its geographic location, its history, or its culture, and when I informed people back home of my plans to live in Bulgaria for the spring, they had no idea where it was and why I would choose “a place like that.” It is not their fault obviously; we live in a society which causes us to make our own judgments of places such as Bulgaria with the extremely little knowledge we have.

I know my parents were worried about me coming to Eastern Europe. I’m sure they thought a million times “why couldn’t she have chosen a western country, just to ease our minds a bit?” I cannot blame them. First and foremost, they’d still worry anywhere I went. It is sort of their job. But the way our government and our media depicts places like Bulgaria to the Western world shapes our view of these places: dirty, dangerous, unstable, ugly, violent, lacking on the path to modernization, backwards from the West. In other words, they are not living the lifestyle of the West, or the “right” way. But who determines what the “right” way is? If everywhere else in the world lived the way of the West, their cultures would disappear. These people have already suffered all they need to suffer. Do you think they wanted the Communists to come in and take over their homeland and ruin their traditions? I’m going to go with no on this one. This country is rebuilding from being the victim for nearly all of its existence. It needs time, and, more than anything, it needs acceptance free from judgment. It truly is a beautiful place with so much to offer and people just living their lives like everyone else in the world. I can honestly say, I would not have picked another place on our planet to have spent the past four months of my life. Bulgarians may live a different life, but I want to make positive they are given every ounce of credit they deserve.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Щастлив великден! (pronounced shtastliv velikden) …Happy Easter!

Quick post. I just wanted to give you all a small peek into my life on this absolutely gorgeous day in Blagoevgrad. I have four things I thought you may like to know.

One. The weather is absolutely beautiful. I just got in from sitting on my deck, taking in the beautiful view of the river, the grassy field, the people walking up and down the path with their kids and dogs. I only have a couple more weeks to enjoy this view.

View from my window

Our purchases split in half!

Two. With the semester coming to end and having done my fair share of traveling over the past four months, my funds are running low, to say the least. My friends here are pretty much in the same boat, so we’ve come up with clever ways of saving money. Today, my friend Jen and I went on a grocery shopping spree (if you can count spending approximately 17 leva, or about 12 US dollars, as a shopping spree). When we got back to our rooms, we split everything in half. Needless to say, living on a budget can be done (something I usually fail to do back in the States), and we got approximately two days worth of food for about 6 US dollars each. Included in our purchases was traditional Easter bread, which I have had back in the States, but it is a million and a half times better here. I had to get in the Easter spirit a bit!

Easter bread! yum
 Three. Blagoevgrad is showing its true summer colors. Walking to class today, my friends and I realized that the park was being mowed for the first time this year. The smell of fresh cut grass was a beautiful thing. Colorful flowers were blooming and kids were out playing. We even bumped into a long line of little school kids walking to or from class (I can never be sure). The campus gardeners have also been working hard the past few weeks, planting trees and flowers, and pruning bushes. I am falling more and more in love with this city every day. A couple days ago, my roommate picked some flowers and put them in a vase in our room. I love it. Every time I walk in, I am greeted with the smell of spring.

Four. When I’m thirty, I can say that ten years ago, I spent Easter in Budapest. Three of my friends and I fly out tomorrow and will be touring the beautiful Hungarian city until Monday afternoon, when we return home to begin our final week of classes at AUBG (all three days of them).

Happy Easter everyone!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Varna and The Black Sea

Well, friends, I’m back from another weekend away from my Blagoevgrad home, feeling tired, happy, and blessed. One of my goals before I leave Bulgaria was to see the Black Sea, and although Varna is not yet in its prime for beach weather and tourist season, I will head home to America in less than three weeks saying I saw and touched the Black Sea.

Bulgaria! Click to enlarge :)
  The drive to Varna was a beautiful one, as well as eye-opening. Prior to this weekend, the furthest north in Bulgaria I had ever been was to Sofia and the furthest east I had ever been was to Plovdiv, which as maps show is only covering the southwestern section of the country (and I would most definitely say I have explored most of the corners and bends in that region). Needless to say, the bus ride to Varna allowed a personal look at the area nicknamed the “breadbasket” of Bulgaria and a visual into life post-communism. Green rolling fields were everywhere, but they were constantly interrupted by brown dirt fields that spread on for miles. Not the prettiest sight, but I kept asking myself what these dirt fields were. This was a time when knowing the history of a place was extremely helpful, and since I’ve been drilled with Bulgaria and Eastern European history all semester long, I found the answer. Under communism, per communist ideology, agriculture was a collectivized sector, not privately owned. No property ownership was allowed whatsoever. Bulgaria was always a primarily agricultural country to begin with and still is, but collectivization meant people couldn’t own their own farms. They worked a portion of these huge farms owned by the government. These big dirt fields are what is left from communist times, and although some are still being worked, the land will not look the same as it once did for many years.

So, hope you all enjoyed that little history lesson. We arrived in Varna in the early evening on Friday, and went straight to our hotel (yes! We took a break from hostels and I loved every second of not sleeping in a room with a bunch of snoring strangers). Our hotel was 15 stories high, and the top floor housed the Panorama Restaurant. You could see the whole city and a gorgeous view of the Black Sea. So after dropping our backpacks in our room and freshening up a bit, we headed up, ate a traditional Bulgarian meal (for me, shopska salad and a cheese omelet), and enjoyed the view of the city lights in the nighttime.

Varna & the Black Sea from our hotel balcony

Archaeological Museum

Saturday we spent exploring Varna, walking ourselves to every corner. Somehow, we always manage to see every sight there is to see, no matter how astonishing. We began with the Archaeological Museum, which was housed in a beautiful building in a picturesque little park. Within the museum were some amazing artifacts from the city of Odessos, which once stood where Varna currently does. It was interesting to see the history of this city in particular, rather than the region as a whole. We then walked along the street to the beautiful Cathedral of the Assumption, built in the late 19th century of cut stones from the ruined fortress walls. We walked through a park, past the Stoyan Backvarov Drama Theatre and Varna Opera House, and into an adorable plaza, in which we encountered some sort of a children’s festival occurring, with young children showing off their singing and dancing talents. I personally love the sound of children speaking in a different language. It is sort of mesmerizing, and hearing them sing is an extra special treat. After venturing through some side streets and seeing the Armenian Church, ancient Roman baths, and the Church of Sveti Atanas, we made our way down to the beach. There were very few people down on the beach, and all were dressed warm, covered from head to toe. But I can say that I walked the beach and touched the Black Sea.

After a delicious lunch of salads, Brazilian bread, and strawberries drizzled with chocolate, we headed back out to explore the rest of Varna. Mainly, the Sea Gardens. The Sea Gardens are an urban park along the Black Sea beaches. It is filled with trees and plants from around Bulgaria and the Mediterranean. Although not too much was in bloom yet this early in the year, it was still a beautiful walk. When I come back to Bulgaria ten years from now (as per my plan), I would love to revisit Varna in the warmer summer months.

It was late afternoon and we had to catch a 10:30pm night bus back home to Blagoevgrad, so we still had some time to kill. We had noticed on our way into Varna that the bus station was directly adjacent to the Grand Mall. So because we hadn’t been to the movie theater since we left the States, we thought it might be a nice relaxing way to finish up our weekend getaway. Afterwards, we had a delicious dinner at an adorable restaurant, hopped on the bus, and were back in bed in Blago by 8:30am Sunday morning. Varna: thank you for a relaxing change of scenery! I will be back one day.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Greek overdose? Never in a million years

View from our house for the weekend in Thessaloniki
 I have spent the past two weekends in Greece. Am I complaining? Not one little bit. Yet, they were two completely different experiences, which made it even more exciting.

Emily and Courtney enjoying some sun and outstanding views

The first weekend was spent in the city of Thessaloniki, in northern Greece only about a four hour bus ride from my home city of Blagoevgrad. As we crossed the border from Bulgaria to Greece, I noticed a few things that put a smile on my face as I was staring out the bus window. Solar panels and windmills everywhere. Now one may wonder why this made me smile, but I am, for lack of a better way to say it, an environmental freak, and solar panels and windmills are one way of our future if we want to continue living on this planet. So anyway, it was a pretty sight for my eyes, to say the least. This trip, we were lucky as we were able to avoid having to stay in a hostel. My friend Erin has connections through her older brother, and we decided to make use of them. Boy, did we luck out. This was a weekend where we got the chance to completely submerge ourselves in the culture of Greece. We were welcomed in the late afternoon on Friday by Ioannis, our host and his father, an adorable older Greek man, headed out to spend the weekend with his wife. While Ioannis went off to work (the Greeks and their weird working hours), the five of us girls were left in a beautiful apartment overlooking the city and the Aegean Sea. We relaxed on the deck for a bit, enjoying the gorgeous view and listening to Erin serenade us with the guitar (she freaks out every time she sees one here, so excited to get the opportunity to play). After a while, we decided it was dinner time, so we gathered all the ingredients we’d brought from Bulgaria (where the value of the American dollar goes much further) and cooked up a storm in Ioannis’s kitchen. When Ioannis arrived home from work, we were given a special Greek welcome with a little disco party and some card games. Wigs were brought out, some Abba, and some traditional Greek dancing. We were loving Greece so far, to say the least.

Emily and I with our Starbucks in front of some ruins

Beautiful Thessaloniki from our harbor cruise
 The following day, we spent exploring the city. The weather was beyond beautiful, so after we again made use of having a kitchen at our hands and whipping up some scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast, we dressed and walked till we dropped. We saw the minimal historical sights the city has, but mainly enjoyed the beautiful walk along the Aegean. We grabbed a Starbucks, another small aspect we’ve been missing about home, and just walked. We took a half hour boat cruise on the harbor. It felt amazing to just be out on the water again, the sun shining everywhere. After some great shopping and a cheap lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches, we headed back to our home for the weekend because we knew we had to meet Ioannis soon, as he was taking us out to a traditional Greek dinner. Greeks apparently do not eat dinner until around 9 or 10pm, so when we arrived at the restaurant at 8:30, we were the first ones there. Ioannis saw we were a little shocked, and he explained the Greek time schedule. We were given only one menu, which is all was needed because we allowed Ioannis to do all the ordering for us and props to him. We must have had at least 12 dishes for the six of us, all traditional Greek food and all simply delicious, ranging from vegetable pie to fried zucchini, grilled pork, shopska salad with feta cheese, calamari, octopus, salty fish, fresh pita bread, and more. Dessert was on the house per Greek tradition and it was unlike anything I’ve ever had. Describing it in words seems nearly impossible to me, so I’ll just have to keep that memory as my own, and you all will just have to go to Greece to experience it for yourselves. Sorry!

Sunset from our deck
 Sunday morning, we were planning on catching the 8am bus back home to Blago, but that didn’t exactly work out the way we had imagined, but I think it may have worked out for the best. We got to spend the day with Ioannis, lounging around his place, soaking up some rays on the deck. He even cooked us a delicious lunch of beans, carrots, onions, feta cheese, and bread, all mixed with a tasty sauce. One observation that my very American friends and I made was when we were all on our second or third helping, Ioannis was still working through his first. And it’s not that he didn’t go back for more, but he simply ate slower, enjoying his food, whereas we, pretty much, shovel it down our throats. This is an observation that I believe can be applied to other areas of life as well. We Americans are so fast-paced, constantly thinking about what we are going to be doing next and not relishing the moment we’re in. It’s a great lesson that experiencing other cultures has taught me. Not only do I get to learn about their lifestyles, but I get little life tips along the way.

It was an amazingly relaxing day which I probably would have spent catching up on work if we had made it back to Blago, but instead I was literally forced to stop and smell the flowers, as the saying goes. We were heading out that evening on the 11pm bus, so unfortunately when Ioannis’s parents showed up that evening and his mom finished up cooking a traditional Greek fish dinner, we were on our way out the door, but we were able to try some. Yes, I actually LOVED the fresh, seasoned sardines and could have eaten them all.

Homecooked Greek dinner by our Greek mama!
 So, as I mentioned before, my two trips to Greece could be categorized on opposite ends of the scale. Thessaloniki was a personal cultural immersion. Athens this past weekend was purely historical.

In the ruins of the Theater of Dionysos

The Erechtheion on the Acropolis

Instead of the five of us traveling, for this trip, it was only my friend Jen and I, due to financial reasons and other school-related obligations. We left on the 8pm bus Thursday evening and drove through the night, arriving in Athens around 6am on Friday morning. Our hostel wasn’t exactly what the website had stated. For one, it didn’t have 24-hour check-in, like it claimed, so when we arrived there around 7am after navigating the metro system, we were a little disappointed, but like everything, it worked out for the best. Friday was a beautiful day, so we got a map, got on the Internet, and planned out our day. We couldn’t check-in until 11am, so we decided to head to the National Archaeological Museum for a few hours of exploring. All of the sights in Athens offer free admission to students that attend universities within the European Union, so heading to Athens before leaving the American University in Bulgaria was a goal for Jen and I. The National Archaeological Museum had some amazing artifacts and was housed in a beautiful building. Once we were done exploring and ooing and ahhing, it was 11am and check-in time. So we headed back, showered and changed, and stopped by a nearby café, which became our go-to place for cheap and yummy food. First stop was the Acropolis. We hiked the hill to the top, stopping along the way at each of the ruins, including the Erechtheion, the Propylea, the Temple of Athena Nike, and the infamous Parthenon. The Acropolis is Athen’s first fortress and the city’s place of religious worship during ancient times. We spent a while, just wandering between the ruins, snapping photos, and enjoying the view of the city and the Aegean Sea in the distance. After our hike down, we stopped at a gelato shop and walked over to a park bench underneath Hadrian’s Arch, which was built to mark the boundaries between the old and new city. Directly adjacent to Hadrian’s Arch is the Temple of Olympiad Zeus, the largest ancient temple in Greece. Needless to say, we felt pretty lucky to be sitting down with delicious gelato in our hands, the sun beaming down, and the beautiful view of ancient ruins right before our eyes.

View of Athens and the Temple of Zeus from the Acropolis


After our little break, we moved on to see the Parliament building, the Roman Angora, and the Library of Hadrian. Along the way, we did some shopping and after one purchase, the store owner, a little old lady, grabs both our hands and pulls us toward her. We were both hesitant at first, not able to understand her Greek, but she stops at the desk, reaches her hand into a little basket filled with homemade Greek pins, puts one on each of us, and kisses us on the cheek. It was the most adorable thing, and put a smile on our faces for the rest of the night, as we couldn’t get over how gosh darn cute she was. Since we hadn’t gotten any real sleep in over 36 hours, we decided to head back to the hostel and call it a night. We were asleep by 9pm and didn’t leave the next morning until noon, but we didn’t mind, as we had had a full day and seen much of what we had wanted to.

Temple of Zeus

I don't get palm trees in Connecticut

Saturday began with us grabbing breakfast, or lunch since it was past noon, at the same little café we had found the previous day, since our hostel had false advertised on their website once again that they offered breakfast. Oh well. We immediately took the metro down to the water and walked around there for a bit mindlessly exploring. To put it simply, the Athens waterside isn’t nearly as picturesque as that of Thessaloniki. It is mainly a port for ferries and cruises to and from the Greek islands. Next, we decided to head to the Plaka district of the city, right below the Acropolis. The Plaka district is the oldest residential area of Athens, overflowing with adorable shops and restaurants with tables out on the stone streets. It is a beautifully picturesque area. We could have wandered those streets for hours, which we did end up doing. We ended up having a delicious meal that evening at a great little restaurant. Our table was in the cobblestone street, alongside the Roman Angora, directly below the Acropolis, with the sun setting through the arches of the ruins. I’m not too sure how the scenery can be much more magical than that.

Athens port

Our view from dinner. Not too shabby

Enjoying some gelato
 We spent Sunday traveling home, and it was a treat to see the countryside of Greece in the daylight. I’m writing this into my Blackberry (about the only thing it’s useful for over here) as we’re driving. One minute we’re surrounded by mountains, the next we spot a crystal blue lake lined with adorable little villages, and a moment later we see green fields for miles with rows of olive trees. It’s truly a beautiful country.

I regret to say that I will not be making it to the Greek Islands before I head for home on May 7th, but I’m not at all complaining. The Greek Islands deserve a full week or two anyway, and I know I’ll be back. Truth is, I think I could go back to Greece every weekend of my life and it could never feel like an overdose. In fact, I know so.

Some scenic shots...

Acropolis from dinner

Part of the Plaka district