Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!
Or should I say "Grease 2"?
For the second time, I visited Greece with MMC's very own Rob Dutiel, Mark Ringer, and Jill Stevenson!
After a month of classes up at 71st street, where we learned about Ancient Greek culture, plays, and architecture - as well as, for the first time, about the Byzantine period and its responsibility for preserving so many of the texts we still study today, it was time to head to JFK!
Following a similar but not identical route to the last trip I took with this group two years ago, we visited Thessaloniki, Kalabaka and the monasteries of Meteora, Delphi, Olympia, Nafplio, the island of Aegina, and, of course, Athens.
This was the first time that my professors had visited Thessaloniki, as on previous trips it had been too far north to drive there when flying into Athens. This year we flew into Thessaloniki and spent our first night there, where we got to visit and learn about a number of important Byzantine structures as well as enjoy some delicious sea food! From there, we also got to venture out to the ruins of Philippi (where we saw our first theatre of the trip!) before making our way to Kalabaka.
Kalabaka was probably the spot I had the hardest time connecting to on the last trip. I still enjoyed it - the monasteries and the views have got to be impossible NOT to enjoy - but I did not have as much context for the stop as I did for rest of the historical sites we visited. Because of the week we spent in the classroom dedicated to the Byzantines, it is remarkable how much deeper my understanding had become between visits. The places we visited had new life breathed into them when I knew more about what I was seeing and why it was important.
From Kalabaka, it was onto my favorite place in the entire world - Delphi! Delphi was a stand out spot on my first trip and this trip lived up to the memory. Everything about the town - from the ruins themselves, to our local guide Penny who has been giving our group tours for as long as they have been happening, to the food and the townspeople there is simply something special about this place. I had a friend tell me that she was a little bit skeptical when I had talked it up so much, but from the moment we looked out over the terrace of the restaurant Rob always recommends (everyone should try this Parnassos Lamb) she knew that all of us who came back raving about the stop were right - there is just something about the energy in Delphi that nourishes the soul. I can understand why the Ancient Greeks thought the place had magical properties - frankly, I am inclined to agree with them.
Saying "goodbye" was not any easier the second time around, and I am all the more determined to find a way to retire to the town one day, but the sensation is eased a bit by knowing that our next stop in Olympia is pretty great, too. I've always loved the Olympics and the idea of the whole world coming together and setting aside differences to compete against one another for fun rather than out of malice, so being in the place where the event first took place is really special. I even got to hold an old Olympic torch! This archeological museum is probably my favorite on the trip, and watching my friends run the length of the stadium is crazy fun (but not my personal vibe when it's almost 100º out). We also got a beach day our second day in town! We played a game of monkey in the middle with the entire class and 2/3 professors that I know I'm going to remember fondly. This was also the stop where we got the entire class together in one hotel room to play a game of "Werewolf" and about half of us crammed onto two beds to watch "The Bachelorette", so class bonding was really at an all-time high.
After Olympia, we were off to another favorite spot - Nafplio! This seaside town has another must-stop restaurant (if you aren't getting the shrimp saganaki, I'm sorry), is the location of our formal day off/rest day (intended for drinking mango mojitos in a beach chair), and is also the stop where we travel to and from the site of Epidaurus to tour as a historical site during the day and then, in the evening, to enjoy a show (who needs saganaki or mojitos? This is the coolest part of the whole trip.) We saw Euripides' "Suppliant Women", and it was an absolutely breathtaking performance. There is something profoundly moving, as a theatre artist, about being able to watch these texts be performed in the places they were intended for. To know that on that night we were watching a play by one of antiquity's most celebrated playwrights, in one of the best preserved and most technically perfect theaters from the time, in the same way that people did so many times before us thousands of years ago is almost impossible to conceptualize and is something I can only hope I will be able to experience again one day.
The trip starts to wind down as we say "goodbye" to Nafplio. From here we drive to the port of Athens to catch a ferry to Aegina - a lovely little island only about an hour away by ferry from Athens. Here, we visited the Temple of Aphaia, a quaint temple that looks out over the water that the local goddess supposedly ran into. We mostly visit Aegina to have the opportunity to visit a Greek island, so this was also where we spent our "resort day" of the trip. We spent a lot of time lounging at the pool and at the beach (where I, dumb and forgetting my bathing suit, actually just decided to get in in my dress instead of missing out on playing in the Mediterranean - it was very freeing and believe everyone should try this) - and that evening two of us decided to take on the huge undertaking that was feeding all 28 of us from their small kitchen. How they cooked as much food, as well as they did, on a glorified hot plate - I'll never know! We had to get creative with tableware, I ended up drinking my watermelon cocktail out of a cleaned-out pesto jar, but we made it work and had a great time in the process!
We were in the home stretch now - Athens! In the city and starting to accept that we were a few days out from being back in the Big City. From Athens, we drove out to Sounion to visit the Temple of Poseidon for our last bus journey on the trip - I ended up leading a star-chart reading session/intro to Astrology for Rob, Mark, and Jill with the help and support of a few fellow students on our way there, which was more fun than I'd like to admit. Much like the Temple of Aphaia we visited on Aegina, this temple looks out over the water. If you look from the right angle, and there aren't any boats going by, it is remarkable to realize that you're looking at the same view as the people who built the temple in the first place. We then visited the National Archeological museum, which houses artifacts and treasures from all the places we had visited on our trip - it is such a great way of tying it all together. We concluded, of course, with a trip to the Acropolis followed by a trip to the Acropolis Museum. This was my third trip to the Acropolis and I've been brought to tears every time. To sit in the Theatre of Dionysus and think about how much western theatre has evolved and how it has stayed the same since its hay-day is as humbling as it is exciting. To actually go to a place that you've learned so much about and to really experience being there is really something remarkable - especially when you are with a group of people who have a very similar connection to that place.
That night, most of us stayed up all night as we had to be on the bus to the airport at 3 AM sharp. We moved from hotel room to hotel room drinking Mythos, reminiscing about our trip, and playing a few more rounds of "Werewolf" before packing up the last of our things and checking out. I couldn't have dreamed of a better way of ending my time at MMC. A huge "thank you" to everyone who made it so special!
This post barely scratches the surface of the excitement of the trip, there are dozens of historical sites, beach stops, and astro readings I left out for fear of this post being a half-hour read, but if you're an MMC student considering taking this trip the next time it rolls around, DO IT! You will not regret it.