The Firsts

February 3, 2009

I consider my first 48 hours in this country a distinct success.

Now to the first order of business, I survived the flight.  It was surprisingly painless in fact.  I sat next to a middle aged American man for the nine hour haul to Athens who was incredibly nice to me when my overhead light wouldn’t turn off (after the entire cabin’s lights had been turned off and I was still awkwardly illuminated).  We had a nice laugh over the tin foil and recycled tape the flight attendant used to cover it up.  I was on Olympic airlines which (to my distinct surprise and pleasure) had amazing couscous for dinner!  Who knew? I was also amused by the Greek over the loudspeaker.  It’s been several years since I’ve had no clue what was going on in a conversation (The Netherlands, after junior year of high school) and I forgot how overwhelming it can be.  At least in France I could follow the instructions to get out of a burning building (or crashing plane?).  Here in Greece someone could be telling me there was an axe murder behind me and I would stare at them blankly and smile.

With xanax as my buffer the flight was pretty simple, almost enjoyable even (though my subconscious won’t allow me to admit this for fear of jinxing myself).  Around 4am (Athens time, GMT +2) I woke up and looked out my window to the most breathtaking view.  The black Atlantic was stretched out in front of me and the sky above it (and about a thousand more stars than I’ve ever seen before) were reflected in its water.  All I could think about was the wonder that must have enveloped sailors hundreds of years ago who were lucky enough to see the sky and sea so calm at night.  (Not to mention how many more stars they probably saw without all of our lovely pollution)

I arrived in Athens around 9am  too out of it to get excited.  The view of the city was minimal and I was so tired that I ended up falling asleep the second I plopped myself down on one of the seats by my gate.  Thankfully my luggage was automatically transferred so I had nothing to worry about.  The flight from Athens to Thessaloniki is less than an hour, even easier than a Boston to DC jump.  The view of Greece once we got into the sunlight was slightly marred by clouds but I still got peeks of the blue, blue water, the mountains and then the city of Thessaloniki and its suburbs as we got closer.

I am proud to say when I got off the flight I found my luggage right away and rolled out of customs with a cart and my humongous bags packed on top.  It even took the ACT people a few minutes to recognize me as an American student!  (Apparently the green nalgene I had sticking out of my backpack gave it away)   There were two of them from the school picking a big group of us up and they were fantastically nice and helpful.  One was a girl named Kristin who went to ACT for a study abroad program and just never left!

After waiting for two more flights with students on them to come in, we finally left for our building.  I am living in an apartment on Alexandrias Street in the area of Depo, Olgas-Defon.  And no, that last bit doesn’t mean anything to me either.  I am on the first floor of the building in a single (!!!) with a kitchen, bathroom and (huge) closet all to myself.  It’s fantastic.  The one person I knew before arriving (Lizzy, from BC) lives down the hall which is fantastic.

After arriving I unpacked everything, which took far to little time in comparison with how long it took me to get all of that INTO those bags!  A large group was going down the street out to dinner and I tagged along since I was starving and curious.  I had a fantastic meal of chicken (seasoned with lots of oregano and lemon) and potatoes.  The entire dinner I boasted about how I certainly wouldn’t be able to sleep in the next morning and I’d probably ‘oh go for a run or something’ while I waited for everyone else to get up to go to the grocery store.

After collapsing into bed (on a skanked mattress without sheets) the next thing I knew it was 11:45am.  I am a jerk.  I even missed meeting up with everyone to go the grocery store so I double checked my map after I rolled out of bed and raced there.  The larger stores here are filled with paper products (even some clothes?!), cereal, milk and the like but no fresh ingredients like vegetables or fruit.  For that we have to stop and a fresh food stand (which I have yet to do, hence the Greek honey nut cheerios I had for breakfast this morning).

Once I dumped my 82 rolls of toilet paper, olive oil and bread back in my apartment, I joined a group venturing to the nearby IKEA via public transportation.  After going the wrong way on the bus route for about twenty minutes (and perfectly stumbling onto the center of the city) a very nice Greek woman explained to us in broken english that we needed to go the OTHER direction.  She got off with us at the next stop and pointed us across the street and a half hour later we finally arrived at the glorious mecca that is IKEA.  I furnished my entire apartment (duvet, duvet cover, pillow, sheets, dishes, silverware, bathroom stuff, etc) for 100 euros which I think is pretty reasonable?

Thankfully the way back was much easier, with the exception of our discovery that the front doors of the bus, in fact, do not open, so we had to walk back from a stop past ours.  After I set everything up in my room I snagged Lizzy and we ventured back downtown to find her an ethernet cord and hairdryers for both of us.  Two hairdryers (and two scarves) later we were back on the bus debating which stop to get off at.  We ended up guessing wrong and wandered the streets of Thessaloniki for an hour before we gave in and got a taxi.

Everyone here is fantastically friendly for the most part.  When we were lost yesterday we stopped to pick up some wine (you can tell we have good priorities) and the woman in the store not only spent ten minutes with us and a map showing us how to get home, but she also gave us free wine glasses!  Our cab driver last night was also fantastic and gave us the rundown of the social scene here and delivered us to two fun bars.

Alas now it is noon and I am still exhausted.  Today a group of us is going to venture to the White Tower (the city’s primary landmark) so hopefully I will have some pictures to post later!

Au revoir! (I desperately need to learn Greek!>!?!)

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