The Land of Zeus and the Olympians

The first time I heard about Greece was during a history class back in elementary school. We were discussing what one would expect to be discussed about ancient Greek civilization: the history, the politics, the culture, the geography, etc. Of everything discussed, what captivated my attention the most was the mythology that came from the Greeks. I started reading all the stories about the gods that lived on Mount Olympus and of the heroes that were born and lived in Greece. At some point between reading about Hercules’s 12 labors and Odysseus’s long trip home, I vowed to one day visit the land that was home to all of these captivating stories.

Now more than a decade after I was enchanted by Greece’s mythology, thanks to this Global Seminar, I was finally able to travel to Zeus’s domain. And what a domain it is! No matter where I went there were beautiful landscapes to be seen. Imposing mountains, never ending seas, and gloriously blue skies were basically always present. Make the effort to walk up (or cab up) to the highest points in the cities and you are rewarded with beautiful panoramic views. Hike through Mount Olympus and you will understand why the ancient Greeks believed that the gods resided there. All the beaches aside from having clear blue waters also had magnificent views of the surrounding mountains adding to the wow factor. Greece, simply put, is breathtaking and awe inspiring and although I took pictures and videos, there is no replacement for being there and seeing it all with your own eyes.

(Click on pictures for better view)

Thessaloniki from the Wall


Thessaloniki from a Monastery


Thessaloniki from a Boat


Agia Triada Beach

Vineyard near Vergina




Waterfall in Mount Olympus

Apollo saying hi on our way to Corfu


Athens from Lycabettus Hill

Parthenon on top of the Acropolis

As breathtaking and awe-inspiring as Greece is on its own, it wouldn’t have been the same if I hadn’t shared it with the 14 others in the Global Seminar. I went in not knowing anyone and not knowing what to expect, but coming out, I am happy that I am able to call them all my friends. Whenever I think of Greece, not only will I think of its mythology and landscape, but I will also fondly think of all the laughs, experiences, and memories that we shared in such an amazing place. If any of you are reading this I would just like to say ευχαριστώ! and see you in the fall!


The Θεσσαλονίκη Crew

Everything’s on Sale but the Mannequins are Terrifying

As mentioned in a blog post below by Mark, we are in Thessaloniki during a particularly interesting time. What struck me the most about it, beyond the ridiculous lines at the ATMs that only dispense fifties, (which are perhaps the most inconvenient denomination of currency), was that for all the news stories coming from the rest of Europe, and all the doomsday predictions, Thessaloniki really does not seem to acknowledge that there is a problem. When the banks closed, we expected riots, we expected protests and we expected something to change, but honestly? Almost nothing did.

The one thing that does show a level of consideration to the economic situation are the sales. Every store here is having a sale. Sure, not a single one say it’s a “We’re out of money so prices are reduced” sale, going for the more marketable “summer sale” and “limited time reductions” but we all know what it really is. Primarily I have seen sales on clothes and jewelry. Necessities (ie, when I go to the grocery store because I want a giant 2L bottle of water), have stayed pretty much the same price. But anything that’s not food, which has occasionally increased in price (The place across the street from the hotel where they know my order when I walk in, now charges me 6.20 for my stuffed zucchini rather than 6.00), the price has drastically decreased.







Everything is on sale

Everything is on sale

This makes for fantastic souvenir shopping. Thessaloniki is not really a tourist city. Though they have plenty of monuments, UNESCO and otherwise, they lack the dime-a-dozen, cheap and plastic tourist oriented shops you see on every street corner of Rome or Paris. You really have to go looking for things to bring home to commemorate your stay, and these sales have led to most of the group going shopping in the past few days.

I discovered the other day while talking to Nikos that Thessaloniki does not have any malls. The culture here is more oriented towards socialization. This lends itself to large markets, covered and otherwise, shops right alongside churches and residential buildings and huge open squares. The main square of the city, Aristotelous, has dozens of shops. But anywhere you walk you will find them along the side of the road. This trend towards greater socialization seems to be common across Greece. Everywhere I have travelled (so far), there has been outdoor markets, shops along the walkways and huge central squares. Even the rest stops for buses along the highway have huge outdoor patios where everyone sits with their coffee before returning to the buses. (Also, the rest stop views are amazing. Every single one has a fantastic view. It’s ridiculous).

What even is this? A rest stop shouldn't look this awesome.

What even is this? A rest stop shouldn’t look this awesome.

Food here is a huge reason to socialize. Dinner here takes forever, and we discovered that you can’t get lunch before 1pm because before that it is coffee time.

There are plenty of weird quirks about Thessaloniki; everyone here smokes, there is an anarchist building across the street from the hotel

Not a joke

Not a joke

(also anarchist graffiti everywhere), you rarely see women with both their shoulders and their knees uncovered (it’s one or the other except at the beach ) and people just live their lives around millenia old monuments.

However, for me, the most disconcerting Thessalonian trend is the mannequins.


I have no pictures of scary mannequins because I go out of my way to avoid them. Enjoy this giant lion statue instead.

I have no pictures of scary mannequins because I go out of my way to avoid them. Enjoy this giant lion statue instead.

I don’t know why, but the mannequins here are infinitely more terrifying than the ones back home. (And this is coming from someone who has walked up to a mannequin in the states and asked for directions and then screamed when they weren’t a real person). I’ve seen a mannequin with the head of a much smaller doll. One whose chin is so prominent it looks like one of my more deformed sims. Elongated necks, terrifyingly soulless eyes, ridiculous positions and blizzard expressions all come together, in every single window of every single store along the walk from class to the hotel to create a terrifying subculture on non-human terror. All I have to say is that I’m not one-hundred percent convinced that they aren’t Autons.

Words of advice from Dr. Who

Words of advice from Dr. Who


Maybe It’s Knowledge Entering Life

(Press play to experience “knowledge entering life”)

Coffee and Princeton are like East and Pyne. Like orange and black. Like Woodrow and Wilson.

It’s ingrained in our daily routines: one cup before a 9am lecture, an afternoon Witherspoon’s pick me up, a midnight study-inducer, the infamous, “Let’s grab coffee sometime!” I didn’t think I would ever visit a place where coffee was as important as college, but then I came to Greece.

Thessaloniki is a city of cafés. By my count, there are approximately 2.14 coffee shops for every citizen. The coffee culture means cafés are public gathering places for people to discuss the economic crisis, smoke a cigarette, and enjoy a frappé. Cafés line the streets with outdoor seating and awning-covered tables perpetually occupied by teens, pensioners, and families.

Mikel Logo: "Maybe" this is the founder

Mikel Logo: “Maybe” this is the founder

The most popular café, Thessaloniki’s version of Starbucks, is called Mikel, presumably abbreviating its tagline, “Maybe It’s Knowledge Entering Life.” My classmates and I couldn’t possibly pass up the chance for knowledge to maybe enter our lives, so of course it was one of our first stops when the inevitable caffeine-pains hit. As the saying goes, when in (the) Rome(an Empire)…

And in this part of the ancient Greco-Roman Empire (see, we are learning history here too), the coffee to drink is called a frappé. Not your average Starbucks milkshake, a Greek frappé is a version of iced coffee topped by a dense bitter foam meant to be thinned with water. Delicious, and so different than anything I’ve ever had in the U.S.

The dregs of a Greek frappé coats my appropriately orange cup

The dregs of a Greek frappé coats my appropriately orange cup

Mikel is my favorite study spot and where I feel most like a real Greek, even if I can only drink coffee like one. Like the Greeks discussing the present economy as I study Thessaloniki’s past glory, I reassure myself: Maybe it’s knowledge entering life.


Another Greece

Our seminar’s weekend excursions have taken us to centuries-old monasteries, to Mount Olympus, and to the gold and sapphire of Corfu’s beaches.  But perhaps the most unique experience I’ve had was our overnight stop in the rather unassuming city of Komotini en route to Edirne, Turkey.

During our all-day bus commute from Thessaloniki to Komotini, Turkey occupied my thoughts.  Everything would be different, I knew, once we crossed the border between Greece and Turkey, EU and non-EU, Christianity and Islam.  So when our bus rolled into Komotini, my first reaction to the minarets jutting into the sky was: But we’re not in Turkey yet!
The various faces of Thessaloniki, where our seminar is based, include Roman, Byzantine, Balkan, Jewish, and Ottoman features.  Today, Greece favors some parts of its history over others, leaving Ottoman spirits to flit through decrepit old mosques and Turkish bath houses (if they still exist) while celebrating its Hellenic and Orthodox Christian pasts.  In Komotini, however, Greece’s Ottoman past still lives, with Turkish shop signs and vendors selling Turkish delicacies a common sight in the city’s sizable Muslim quarter.  Next to a restaurant where we ate lahmacun (a Turkish wrap with spiced minced meat and vegetables), a dentist advertised his services, with Greek letters spelling out his not-so-Greek name, Yusuf Jihad.  At sundown, the boom of a cannon signaled the break of the Ramadan fast, while mosques lit their festive lights.

Mosques were lit for Ramadan.


We were also close to the border with Bulgaria.

Reminding myself that I was still on the Greek side of the border, I began to rethink my definition of Greece.  My glimpse of Komotini made me realize that minarets have just as much a place on Greece’s historical landscape as do church domes and marble columns.  In Komotini, we experienced a juxtaposition of cultures which remains only in Thessaloniki’s history and is almost invisible in other parts of Greece–one which is fascinating and beautiful.

The Unofficial Tour Guides of Thessaloniki

The salt breeze washes over my classmates and me, as we commute to our first week of classes. We know little of our host city, and we certainly do not expect to find a companion snoozing by the waterfront. A mass of caramel brown hair unfolds itself from around a lamppost and weaves among us. Nervous laughter bubbles from the group, mingled with calls to close ranks. Around halfway through our walk, we dash across the street in hopes of evading our canine escort. He responds by trotting past us, only to return with a friend to help him keep his flock (us) in check.

Later that day, a waitress informs us that many of the stray dogs in Thessaloniki were turned out of their homes when the economic crisis hit. While their owners parted with them due to inability to feed their bellies, the animals now hunger for human company. It is common for homeless canines to accompany walkers, showing them around their city in exchange for a few crumbs of compassion.

Over the next six weeks, most our class warms to the strays of Thessaloniki, hiring them as our unofficial tour guides. We adopt a mid-sized mutt when we tour the West city villas, dubbing him “Truman Doctrine” and calling after him whenever he darts into the street. Although they lead us through a city faced with financial crisis, Thessaloniki’s canines have acquainted GLS 319 with a thriving economy of kindness.

Truman Doctrine


“So, have you ever been to Greece before?”

“Actually, I was born here.”

Wait, what?

When I arrived in Thessaloniki, all I knew about my roommate Hana was that she was a rising junior who danced with PUB. After about thirty minutes of exploring the waterfront on our first night in Greece, I knew that she spent her first five years on the island of Tinos. And after five weeks, I know her incredible thoughtfulness, her stories about her family, her humor that comes out of nowhere and leaves me gasping for breath. All things that, if it weren’t for Thessaloniki, I probably would never have known.

Thanks to this Global Seminar, I’ve had the opportunity to immerse myself in a part of Greece that most people don’t ever see. But the treasure of this trip has been the opportunity to meet fourteen incredibly accomplished, hilarious, fascinating Princetonians, people who I just don’t cross paths with during the hectic school year.

In Thessaloniki, the Princeton experience pauses. We’re not all rushing from one place to next, we’re not defined by our major or extracurriculars or eating club. Here, somewhere in between the long bus rides, late-night conversations, massive Greek meals and endless coffee runs, we become a group of friends who will carry these memories and bonds back to Princeton in September and beyond. We’ll leave Thessaloniki having learned as much about each other as about the city we’re here to study, and with the knowledge that no matter what happens during the rest of our time at Princeton, we’ll always have Greece.

Living History




We came to this city to study history. We will leave having witnessed it.


Over the past month, we have grown intimately acquainted with Thessaloniki. The city has been a pivotal crossroads under various empires for the last 2,000 years, and while we have spent a large portion of our time learning its history, it seems as though we have accidentally stumbled into a decisive moment for the newest world power with influence over the region—the Eurozone.

The Flags at the Heart of the Issue

The Flags at the Heart of the Issue


When we arrived here, I expected to see the effects of the Greek financial crisis everywhere. Yet, in Thessaloniki, I did not notice much out of the ordinary. There was graffiti, political rallies, homelessness, and other signs of trouble, but the ominous international reports did not seem to match up with the local atmosphere, and life went on as usual.


Then, on the weekend of June 26th, the crisis suddenly emerged in plain sight. Banks closed, ATM lines grew dozens deep, capital controls went into effect, taxi radios played political speeches, and people became much more anxious.

An ATM in Aristotle Square With Fresh Graffiti

An ATM in Aristotle Square With Fresh Graffiti

On July 5th, the Greek nation overwhelmingly voted “Oxi” (No) to bailout terms offered by European creditors in a national referendum that had been announced just a week prior, sending the country down an uncertain path. Banks remained (and still remain) closed, but many gathered at the White Tower—the city’s preeminent landmark—and celebrated what they considered to be a victory for the Greek people, and the first step towards a revitalized society.

"Oxi" Supporters Celebrate at the White Tower

“Oxi” Supporters Celebrate at the White Tower


The Post-Referendum Rally

Another Scene from the Rally

Another Scene from the Rally

Though through all of these events our class has continued mostly unaffected, it has been fascinating to wake up to  international newspaper headlines about what is happening in our own neighborhood. Ahead of Sunday’s “ultimatum” from the Eurozone, the future of this country still hangs very much in the balance, and only time will tell how the history of these events will be written.

Visit to Edirne!

IMG_20150704_210713 IMG_20150704_160858 IMG_20150704_210539



Selimiye Mosque

Selimiye Mosque

From July 4th to July 5th, the Thessaloniki Global Seminar visited Edirne, Turkey for a weekend excursion. The idea of the excursion from an academic point of view was to get an idea of Ottoman past in a city under Turkish rule and contrast mosques serving as monuments or exhibits in Thessaloniki and as functioning mosques in Edirne.


As soon as we crossed the border there were certain differences that immediately caught the eye. Women were veiled (although a decent number were wearing western attires), people were drinking Turkish tea outside of kiosks instead of coffee like in Thessaloniki, Souflaki eateries were replaced by Donor Kebab vendors and the chime of the bell from the Church was substituted by the Azaan from the mosque.


Selimiye Mosque was the first Mosque that we visited followed by the Eski Camii Mosque and the Üç Serefeli. All the mosques were significant historically and architecturally in their respective ways but the Selmiye Mosque was a personal favorite. A towering mosque surrounded by four tall minarets, the Selimiye Mosque made an impression on all of the students. What fascinated me about the mosque was that it was made in competition to the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople by the son of the Suleiman the Magnificent, Selim II as a way of living up to the legacy of his father.


Soon after the tour, the students set off for the much-anticipated Turkish Hammam experience. Men and women were separated and taken to different sections. The experience was definitely a unique one for all the students and consisted of four stages: sauna, shower, massage and sauna again. Worth mentioning is that the shower and massage was carried out by another stranger who scrubbed us and basically gave us a shower one by one. Everyone was refreshed after the bath and departed for a stroll through a bazaar in central Edirne.


To wrap up our day, we went to the city center for dinner that coincided with Iftaar and all the Muslims were in the city to break their fast. Crowds moved towards restaurants and took up places, readying themselves for food and murmuring prayers. The siren went off, marking sunset, the city in unison started eating and so did we.