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My Big Fat Greek Fall Break

My Big Fat Greek Fall Break


Silence. Crickets.

At 5:45 AM, nobody was ready to respond to our Academic Dean Sander Evers’ cheer. Our group of 47 students plus one SLA Michael groggily trudged to the bus during those wee hours of the morning, rubbing sleep from our eyes…if you could really call it “sleep”. Most of us only got a short catnap the night before, due to fall break homework, last-minute packing, and general restlessness from anticipation.

But anyone who personally knows Sander Evers knows about his relentless optimism. And if you protest, he’s tall enough to step on you.

I’m not a morning person, so the actual journey from JFRC to the airport in Rome to the plane remains a blur in my mind. However, our landing in Greece was unforgettable! I was lucky enough to have a window seat for the flight to Athens, our first destination on this ten-day-long trip.


As I stared into blue horizon, the thin line that separated sea from sky slowly solidified into a tan island, punctuated by mountain peaks. All around it, the Aegean Sea glistened green, an emerald expanse inviting us to seek its treasures. Peeking down at the Attica peninsula below me, I noticed little white structures dotted the golden brown terrain. Considering the various aerial views I’ve experienced in my lifetime, this appeared the simplest of them all. But when there’s an abundance of natural beauty surrounding you, does extravagant architecture really matter that much anyway?

After a smooth landing and an even smoother baggage claim, we finally got to meet the 50th member of our cohort: our Greek tour guide Ioanna Kopsiafti. She wore an outfit entirely of black and white, with minimal jewelry and long black boots. Her olive skin reflected a healthy glow, and she carried herself with a unique air of self-assured humility that few convincingly achieve. I could already tell from her outfit and swagger that she possessed just the right balance of refined sophistication and worldly ruggedness.

“Welcome to Greece!” she twanged.

Twanged. Cue the sound of a record scratching.

Why did our Greek tour guide sound like someone from Gone with the Wind???

Well, it turns out that Ioanna’s parents immigrated from Greece to Canada, where she was born in Toronto, and she developed her Southern accent growing up in South Carolina. What a wonderful hodgepodge of heritages bundled into one human!


Lunch by the sea stimulated all five of my senses! Stepping down from our tall coach bus, the glittering shoreline hypnotized me, inviting me to sit next to it. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, and that I didn’t have to since our lunch tables were just a few feet away from the beach!

As I floated closer, nautical and gastronomical aromas enticed me. Salt water, mussels, wine, bread, olives….I was fighting a cold, but my stuffy nose didn’t want to miss out on this sensory explosion!

And if those food items smelled good, they tasted even better! I don’t consider myself a foodie by any measure; I mostly eat what’s in front of me. My stomach is a tank that needs fuel. But it was particularly fun filling my tank during this meal! I tried everything the waiters set on the table, and to my amazement, I was never disappointed.


Listening to everyone’s excited conversations punctuated by bouts of laughter, an outsider couldn’t have guessed that we had all been awake since 5 o’clock that same morning! With the soft thrashing of the bay against the rocks next to us, the sea called to my friends and I, and we had to answer.

One by one, we removed our shoes and socks, gingerly stepping from rock to slippery rock until we reached a bigger rock in the middle of the bay. Keeping our eyes peeled for barnacles, we held each other’s hands as we tentatively moved along, like teachers make preschool children do on field trips. I felt like I was back in preschool; everything was new, everything was an adventure. There was too much to take in, yet I still couldn’t get enough! This was our first time setting foot in this country outside of an airport, after all.


Apart from the beautiful views, the real reason we ate at this seaside restaurant was because the Temple of Poseidon sat atop a hill at the opposite side of the Sounion Bay. Once again, we boarded the bus in order to check out our first ancient Greek ruin!

The Greeks really knew what they were doing when they built the Temple of Poseidon! Overlooking the Sounion Bay, watching ships pass in the distance, it represents the perfect location to praise the Greek sea god. The way the clear blue water there blended with the clear blue sky, almost erasing the horizon, represents the strong bond of brotherhood that existed between Zeus, Lord of the Skies, and his underwater brother.

Many myths occurred at this temple, including the story of Poseidon’s lover Medusa (you know, the lady with the snake hair). Also, it was at this same location that King Aegeus mistakenly thought his son Theseus died fighting the Minotaur because he forgot to change his sails from black to white, and so he flung himself into the sea. This sea is now named after him as the Aegean Sea.


Several hours of hiking to the top of that hill and exploring the temple ruins concluded with a bus ride to downtown Athens, where we stayed at the Jason Inn. The best feature of this location was that, upon exiting the lobby door and looking up and to the left, we could easily see the Acropolis looming over the city with the Parthenon lit up at night!

With the Parthenon hovering above us, Ioanna took us on a walking tour of Athens that evening. The city flourished as a colorful collage of old and new. To label the intricate spray can paintings that covered the buildings as “graffiti” seems insulting; the term “street art” elevates them to the creative merit they deserve. Looking back, I wish I had taken pictures of them, but I guess that gives me yet another reason to plan my next Greece trip!


We ate dinner that night at one of the many picturesque cafes in the downtown area. In addition to the fantastic cuisine, ours also featured live Greek folk music. If stomachs and ears could smile, mine would be the Cheshire Cat and a model in a Crest White Strips commercial.

The following morning, I discovered that, as gorgeous as Athens showed itself to be during the nighttime, it was even more stunning during the day! Gazing at all the details on the ancient and modern buildings, I was amazed at how much I missed during our twilight hour tour the previous evening.

Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon occurred while walking to the Parthenon. Ioanna stopped us in front of a small peculiar storefront with cartoonish figures painted on either side of the door. She then explained to us that this building commemorated the ancient puppet theatre that had migrated from Asia to Greece through trade, and that we were walking on Tripod Street, which is believed to be the oldest street in world! The theatre nerd and the history lover inside my brain gleefully gasped in tandem.


Finally, it was time to visit Athens’s #1 Must-See Attraction: the Parthenon! I knew that this monument sat atop a hill; you could see it above you from almost anywhere in Athens. However, I never put two and two together in my mind enough to mentally prepare myself for the strenuous climb it took to walk up to the Acropolis! But it was absolutely worth the workout! The panoramic views of the city took my breath away (or was it just my huffing and puffing from skipping leg day at the gym?)

By far, the most riveting portion of our Parthenon tour occurred when we explored the Acropolis Museum. The thought that stuck with me the most was about the appropriation of the famous Elgin Marbles. These ancient engravings were stolen by the English nobleman Lord Elgin, and they remain on display at the British Museum in London, England.


Ioanna explained that historians are struggling to return these precious artifacts back to their original home in Greece, but to no avail. While dissenters argue that more people will be able to view the stones in London than in Athens because a higher tourist population, Ioanna posed the question, “Wouldn’t it be more significant to appreciate the stones at their place of origin, rather than somewhere across the world?”

I totally agree with her! As someone who grew up in Washington, D.C. and visited the various Smithsonian Museums many times, this dilemma makes me question my right to observe those relics in a place outside of their context.

A group of friends and I spent our final evening in Athens at an area called The Gazi. It consisted of a large field surrounded by a plethora of rooftop bars and nightclubs. We talked, laughed, and danced the night away!

On the bus to our next destination, Professor Evers made a second attempt at his rallying cry:



At long last, we finally responded to Sander’s cheerful call. The beauty of Greece had awoken us!


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