Saturday, September 1, 2007

The US of A

Tomorrow, Sept. 2, I will be flying back to the US after 7 months abroad. I will fly from Athens into New York City, where I will spend a few days, and then I will travel to Washington D.C. for a bit.

I'm pretty excited actually...

Friday, August 31, 2007

Mask of Agamemnon (16 cent. B.C.)

Yesterday I went to the Archaelogical Museum. Very interesting. I usually skip such museums, but I figured that if I went to one anywhere outside of Greece, much of its collection would just be imported from here, so why not go straight to the source. I saw an incredible amount of sculptures, jewelry, pottery... All visualy impressive, but simply amazing when you look at the dates and realize that everything is 2000+ years old. Puts things in perspective. Memento mori...

The best part of the museum was the price though. I lost my student ID with my wallet back in Beijing, but I have a 'Fortbildungsausweis' (outside training ID) from my summer in Germany. The ID doesn't have a picture, but it lists my info and although its not technically a student ID card, it functioned as one for me in Germany. I just had to say that the training, the internship, was mandatory for my study in the US and I could usually get by. The problem is that the card expired when I left Germany, and the expiration date is listed plainly on the card. The card is all in German though, so I have been able to use it throughout my travels in Europe, as people generally can't read it, and most of the time they don't care anyway, they get paid the same whether or not they sell me the adult or the student ticket... Anyways, so two days ago I tried to use the card for the Acropolis, for half price off admission. I was rejected twice. Once, the guy said it was expired, which is true, but come on... The second time, the person said that it didn't have a picture and told me that he couldn't read it and it didn't look like a student card. I was pretty pissed, as this was the first place that I had been denied a student discount, but I ultimately figured that 12 euros was not a ridiculous amount to ask to visit the foundations of Western Society. I begrudgingly paid.

Yesterday though, I went to the museum and tryed to get a student discount: regular admission was 7 euros, the student price was 3. Based on my performance the day before I wasn't too confident in my chances, but I decided that it was worth a shot. I told her " 1 student" and she asked for my ID card. I handed her my German one and she looked at it and asked where it was from. I told her "Germany" and she said that it was free for me. EU students got in free! Awesome....

Last night I watched the sunset from atop the Acropolis. Beautiful.

Cool, I'm going to the beach...

Thursday, August 30, 2007


I arrived in Athens, Greece yesterday and just walked around the city during the day. I visited the Acropolis, with the Parthenon, Temple of Nike, and the Theater of Dionysus. Impressive structures, amazing when you consider their age and significance. Everything is currently being renovated/restored though, so all of the ruins were covered in scaffolding, which somewhat detracted from the experience and made it harder for me to let my mind wander and imagine myself ther 2000+ years ago (although maybe they had cranes back then).

Last night, purely by chance, I stumbled upon a mass governmental protest. I was just meandering through the city center and wandered into the Syndagma Square, where the Parliament building is. Suddenly I found myself amidst a mass rally, surrounded by thousands of people all dressed in black, which coincidentally I was wearing too. People were holding banners, parading, chanting, and passing out flyers. My spider sense told me that something was going on, but the flyer that I was handed was Greek to me (sorry...) so I wasn't exactly surre what the demonstration was about.

Although I saw no Bush effigies, I was somewhat hesitant to ask after the rally's purpose for fear of being exposed as American in the middle of an anti-American occupation of Iraq protest or something, but after about 30 sec. my curiousity won out and I asked one of the girls handing out flyers.

The demonstration was in protest of the Greek government's delayed/non-reaction to the 200+ fires raging in Greece. Over 180,000 hectares have been burnt and 64 people have died. The fires are now being fought, with massive EU support, but the government's initial paralysis has been/was being highly critisized.

A state of emergency has been declared and they fires have been labeled a "terrorist act", as so many were started simultaneously. Conspiracy theories abound, with the fires simultaneously the work of the Greek mafia, the Greek government, home-grown or Turkish terrorists, etc. There is a lot of critism towards the state of emergency call, as many critics believe the government is using the fires as a political weapon and are trying to create an environment of fear in the lead-up to next month's national elections.

During the rally there occured what sounded like 3-4 big explosions of some sort. They happened near the Parliament building, which I was far away from, so I'm not entirely sure what actually happened. It freaked me, and all of the people I was standing by, out though, and we all walked away for a while, but apparently it was nothing of any substance because we all walked back about 10 min. later and nothing had changed.

Today I'm going to check out the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the National Archaelogical Museum. There are a couple of beaches about 45 min. outside of Athens, so tomorrow and Saturday will probably be beach days, or I might take a ferry to one of the nearby islands. Tubular.

Turkish politics

I'll expound on what I wrote earlier...

In May, the Turkish military and the main secular opposition party blocked Abdullah Gul's candidacy, a block legitamized by a high court ruling. This blocking promted a national election, in which the populus voted overwhelmingly for Gul's AK (Justice and Development) party. On Tuesday the Turkish Parliament voted him in as Turkey's President.

An economist by trade, Gul formerly represented the now defunkt openly Islamist Welfare Party (banned by the military in 1997). amd mpw represents the AK party. A conservative and religious man, he possesses a middle class background and hails from Turkey's consevative, religious Anatolian heartland. Due to his background, he is somewhat of an outsider in Turkey's Western-leaning, secular, upper-class dominated political scene.

Few Turks, so I've read and heard, want a religious government, but they voted overwhelmingly for the AK party, in power since 2002, simply because it has done well running the country.

For the past 84 years, since its inception in 1923, Turkey's government has been controlled by secularists. He is the first president in Turkey's history to come from a non-secular party, and his election is the first time that a party has prevailed against military opposition. When first nominated as a candidate, secularists staged mass rallies and the military threatened to intervene. The military has ousted four elected governments since 1960. None of Turkey's military commanders attended Gul's appointment ceremony.

Although he has consistently denied possessing any sort of Islamist agenda and has emphasized his commitment to Turkey's secular values, many view his as a potential threat to the separation of religion and politics in Turkey...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Actual update

I'm in Istanbul right now. Interesting city, which might become even more interesting here soon with the recent election of openly Islamic Abdulah Gül as Turkey's 11th President. Turkish law explicitly requires a strict separation of religion and state, i.e. secular governance, but Turkey's 99.8% Muslim population lawfully voted in a very outspoken Muslim from an Islamic party. Contradictions abound. We'll see what happens.

Turkey has been neat, met some great people, had some great experiences, I'll elaborate here soon.

Tomorrow I'm flying to Athens, which hopefully won't be greeting me with flames...


22.August.2007 - 25.August.2007

I only spent three days there, but Barcelona is probably my favorite city in Spain, and one of my favorites in Europe.

La Sagrada Família was the most impressive thing that I have ever seen. It is simply incredible, awesome, amazing, just stunning. Wow. Moreover, it's not complete. Started in the 1890s, it's not predicted to be finished for another 30-50 years. Gaudí's Nativity facade is unbelievably beautiful. The intricacy, the detail, the novelty! As I stared up, transfixed, I could not stop smiling, just stupidly smiling, it was so unreal, so magnificent. Although not in keeping with Gaudí's Modernisme (Art Nouveau/Surrealism) plans, Subirachs' Passion facade is also striking, wonderful.

Gaudí's Casa Batlló and Park Güell were also thoroughly enjoyable.

I spent two mornings on the beach, fantastic, two days soaking in the most intoxicatingly vibrant, colorful, infectiously upbeat and jubilant atmosphere imaginable, fantastic, and two nights partying until 5am, fantastic.

The city was overrun with tourists, but the Spanish, the Catalan, presence was always there, raging.

Although not my own, I love the Roma/gypsy style that the Spanish have, ubiquitous throughout the country but perfected in Barcelona.

I checked out the avant garde Fundacio Miro, a museum/gallery dedicated to the Barcelona artist Joan Miro, which houses his and many other younger artists' highly experimental works. Not my cup of tea, but a worthwhile visit.

I visited the Picasso Museum. His most famous pieces hang in the Reina Sofia and other such elite galleries around the world, but the museum in Barcelona presents a life-spanning overview of his works. Starting with teenage sketches, the museum moves through all stages/movements of his artistic life, really giving a detailed summary of the artist and his repertoire. I knew only The Old Guitarist from his blue period and his cubist stuff, so I was able to see completely new sides of him. It was enlightening.

Incredible, incredible city. Go to Barcelona!


Valencia was fantastic. I was originally planning to travel there to visit a Valencian friend that I knew from Mizzou, but unfortunately it turned out that he was going to be in Dublin at the time. I still wanted to see the city though, as I studied abroad in Alicante, a city in Valencia the region, and while there I heard many great things about Valencia the city. I somehow never made it up there though, and therefore, friend or not, I wanted to go.

The first day I walked around the city quite a bit. Previously a river had run through the city, but it has since dried up and the bed has been converted into a huge park that runs the length of the city. (city city city ? ? ?) Its filled with palms, flowers, bushes and other greens, statues, fountains and beautiful walkways, and was packed with joggers, walkers, bikers, roller-bladers, loungers, everyone seemed to be there There was also a skate park there, really impressive. At the end of the park was the Ciutat de les Arts i de les Ciencies, a huge complex housing an IMAX theater, a planetarium, a science museum, an aquarium, and an opera house. I didn't go inside any of them, but the buildings themselves were amazing. The architecture was ultra-modern, futuristic-looking; the buildings could have been grounded spaceships. All of the buildings were a brilliant white and were surrounded by crystal clear reflecting pools and fountains. Other buildings throughout the city were very interesting as well, rising and cutting through the sky at various angles and in various shapes. Really visually pleasing.

Excellent paella and wine that night.

As Valencia is on the Mediterranean, I spent the next day entirely on the beach. Not that I was in any way unhappy before I went there, but the being on the beach just elated me, my spirit/mood/disposition was risen soooooo much. Slightly burnt, not quite bronzed, but extremely happy by the end of the day.

I stayed in a great hostel and met some great people. That night I went on a tapas tour with a bunch of people from the hostel. Great night. Delicious tapas, Cruzcampo, Paulaner, and tequila blend very well. A few Italians came out with us, and as they only spoke Italian, I spoke, or tried to speak, a lot of Italian that night. When spoken at a snail's pace and accompanied by hand gestures I understood most of what was said to me, but I all but crashed and burned when attempting to reply, to formulate sentences of my own. One year of Italian six years ago simply did not suffice. The attempts were fun though, and appreciated.

I enjoyed Valencia so much more than Madrid. The city was smaller, I guess therefore superficially more intimate, more personal. The city reminded me a lot of Alicante: the people, the beach, the food, the pace, the language. The influence of the Valencian language was definitely present in Alicante, but secondary to Castillian Spanish, whereas in Valencia, Valenciano held primacy. All signs were in Valincian first, Castillian second.

Really nice place, laid back yet full of vitality. Beautiful city.