The (third to) Last Supper

Nothing is better than good food with a good view and good company.

Yesterday, Isaac and I went to interview a political science professor who studies Islamic traditions for our video story about plans to build Athens’ first public mosque. We struck up a lot of interesting and engaging conversations with him, and after our interview, I asked him if there was anything we had to see in Athens before leaving in three days (now, just two days—ah!)

He suggested Psaras Taverna, a traditional Greek cuisine and seafood restaurant perched atop a hill overlooking the city. When we returned to the hotel after our interview (and a long Metro ride home), Isaac and I were exhausted. We literally face-planted onto my bed. But one thing kept us from falling asleep on the spot—we were also hungry.

We rallied a group of people to follow the professor’s enthusiastic suggestion and head to Psaras. And wow, it did not disappoint!

If anyone is looking for a restaurant to go to on our final night without dinner plans today, I highly recommend this place. Just look at how happy we all are in the photos below:

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Look at these two lovelies that I get to sit next to. Bask in their beauty. / Photo by Luke Dean
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Look at these cute people I get to gaze at from across the table. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

A special thank you to Gerasimos Makris, the professor who not only gave us a great interview, but also wonderful dinner plans (and is a reader of the blog).

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“Treat yo self”: Exploring Athens on a rainy day

Yesterday, I woke up on our “free day,” which is really just a code name for “more time to work day.” After our breakfast at the hotel, I dutifully headed over to a coffee shop along with several others to work on blog posts and send out emails for my final story.

After a couple hours, Luke said he was going to head back to the hotel to take a bubble bath and watch “The Handmaid’s Tale.” While I have nothing against baths or that amazing show, it was only just after noon, prime time of the day, and I could not let Luke miss out on a beautiful day in a new city.

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“NO,” I said to Luke. “You have to go explore the city!” Luke, with a look of confusion in his eyes, asked, “With you?” I paused. I need to blog, I thought. I should send more emails, I told myself. But then I realized that I had already done those things, and I didn’t actually have anything else scheduled for the day. So I told Luke, “Yes!”

Something that I somewhat regret about our three weeks in Thessaloniki is that I didn’t experience the city and enjoy myself as much as I should have. Of course, I came here to work, and my number one priority is having stories to show for my time here. This is an educational experience, not a vacation.

But at the same time, I feel myself being pulled to the city. And in Thessaloniki, there were too many nights spent in my room typing away at stories (which is partially my own fault because I work slowly). A couple weeks ago, when I joined a group from our Dialogue on a Saturday night out, the reactions ranged from: “Olivia, I haven’t seen you in forever!” to “Olivia, I thought you were dead???” That pretty much sums it up.

So on one of our few free days, Luke and I walked through the open air market, window-shopping for souvenirs and talking about life. We were having a lovely time when suddenly, dark grey clouds rolled in and the skies opened up. It started pouring rain out of nowhere, and Luke and I took refuge inside a church. We had unknowingly stumbled upon a gem.

The church that housed us when we were cold and wet. / Photos by Olivia Arnold

After walking around the church and appreciating its artwork, we decided to brave the rain and go outside again, but it was relentlessly soaking us. We needed to make a game plan. So we decided to head to the nearest cafe. But first, we took a selfie.

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Our reactions to being caught in the middle of torrential downpour in Athens. / Photo by Olivia Arnold
The torrential downpour in Athens that we were caught in the middle of (see reactions above). / Video by Olivia Arnold 

We ducked into a nearby cafe and snagged the last remaining seats, which happened to be located at the bar. We deliberated over what to get—coffee, maybe? Scanning the menu, Luke asked, “Rosé?” It was a special Rosé, one from the Greek island of Crete. “It’s only 2 p.m.,” I responded—a  bit early for wine.

But then, Luke uttered words that had never been more true: “It’s our free day.” He was right.

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It was our free day, and we were trapped in this cafe for the foreseeable future. And so we ordered our Rosé, and began a day of revelry. We also ordered some spicy cheese dip that was really, really good.

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How it all began—with Rosé and spicy cheese dip. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

From there, our “treat yo self” day continued for the next five hours. Highlights included: four bar/restaurants (each with unique atmospheres), being the only ones on a rooftop overlooking the Acropolis, enjoying live Greek music, sifting through absurd amounts of Hawaiian shirts and kimonos at a thrift store, Luke involuntarily reacting with disgust when a waitress told him they didn’t accept American Express and being rejected in our sad attempt to get a bartender to play “Malibu” by Miley Cyrus. Also, a few glasses of Bloody Mary’s and Sangria were involved.

Our view from the 360 Cocktail Bar. / Video by Olivia Arnold

Overall, it was a wonderful day. It was a great way to get a feel for the city, and the best part was that we were engaged, talking the whole time, and I got to know Luke a lot better (he’s great).

Today is a new day, Monday, and now we are back to work. I’m currently sitting at a Coffee Island down the road from our hotel as I write this, reminiscing about our day of fun. Though we may not be able to enjoy rooftop bars every day (Luke may quite literally have gone broke, Theo is considering starting a lunch fund for him), I’ll always have the memories to warm my heart as I go back to working hard on my stories again.

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I have to admit that my workspace at the moment has a pretty killer view.  / Photo by Olivia Arnold

A small tragedy

Disclaimer: This title of this post prompted a worried text from my father. This blog post is a joke. It is about cake. No reason for alarm.

I was having a wonderful day at the American College of Thessaloniki on Tuesday when tragedy unexpectedly hit. I’ll explain.

Our language class with Maria was great as always. There was even a special treat: she made us halva, a traditional Greek dessert made with olive oil, semolina, honey and sugar. Class was followed by an engaging presentation about Greece’s economic crisis and the European Union by George Anastasiadis, an economics adjunct professor at ACT and an advisor for international hedge funds looking to invest in Greece.

But then, as I was diligently doing work in the cafeteria, Hsiang-Yu presented what initially seemed to be an incredible opportunity: having a bite of her chocolate cake. I was eyeing the chocolate cake earlier when we first arrived at ACT, but had decided at the time that 9 a.m. was too early to consume such a dessert. Now, I had a second chance.

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Just look at this beautiful chocolate cake offered to us at our very own college cafeteria. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

As I tried to scoop some of the cake, my heart beating with excitement, my plastic spoon inexplicably snapped—despite the fact that the chocolate cake was SOFT. Modern science will never be able to explain the circumstances surrounding this tragedy. I suspect a wormhole opened up at the exact minute that my spoon grazed the cake, and some malicious energy source that has not yet been discovered by man destroyed my spoon.

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Me with my broken spoon and Hsiang-Yu’s uneaten chocolate cake. / Photo by Hsiang-Yu Wu

The wormhole may have broken my spoon, but it couldn’t break my spirit. I continued to eat my couple of bites with the bowl of the spoon (I made Isaac look up what this part of the spoon is called, referring to it as the “scoopy thing”).

The cake was amazing, as expected, and it tasted even better knowing that I had persevered in the face of unexpected tragedy.

Photos: Students explore open air market

Our group is lucky enough to be staying right down the street from a local gem: an open air market.

The market runs every Saturday, and offers goods ranging from household products and clothing to fresh fruit and fish. The market scene was overwhelming—with customers clogging the streets and vendors yelling encouragements to purchase their products.

Amid the hectic atmosphere of the market, I was able to snag a box of strawberries for 2.50 euro, which ended up being delicious. I’m hoping to go back to the market again before we leave to pick up some more fruits and veggies.

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Paxtyn, Ellie and I walking around the open air market in Thessaloniki. / Photo by Olivia Arnold
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Paxtyn eyeing the extensive candy selection. / Photo by Olivia Arnold
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Paxtyn bagging up her prized candies. / Photo by Olivia Arnold
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One of the many vendors selling fish at the market. / Photo by Olivia Arnold
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A man weighs strawberries at a market stand. / Photo by Olivia Arnold
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Me searching for the best strawberries. / Photo by Paxtyn Merten
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Me again, buying those strawberries. / Photo by Paxtyn Merten 
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The strawberries I bought from the market—which were delicious. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

Day 1 reflections

After my second full day in Thessaloniki, I feel like I’m finally able to begin processing what has happened so far.

First impressions: The city is beautiful. I want to pet all the stray animals even though Carlene told me not to. Greek is a really hard language to pick up.

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Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

We kicked off our first day yesterday with a walking tour around downtown Thessaloniki. We met at 8:20 a.m., which I would normally consider brutally early, but I was completely fine for considering I had been up since 6 a.m.

I had gone to bed the night before at 9 p.m., shortly after returning from our welcome dinner in which I struggled to keep my eyes open while scarfing down pizza at Casa Bianca. I felt particularly lucky that morning as other students complained about grappling with their jet lag—waking up at 3 a.m. or only sleeping a couple hours. Meanwhile, I slept comfortably for nine hours throughout the night without even stirring.

I remarked to Carlene that, after feeling close to passing out from exhaustion the night before, I had never felt so alive. My morale was high as I hopped onto a public bus along with the rest of our group to head downtown and meet our tour guide.

The walking tour was a wonderful chance to take in the atmosphere of the city. I found my eyes bouncing all around, hoping to catch glimpses of passing people and snippets of their conversations (even though I mostly couldn’t understand the language).

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A man stands near the edge of the waterfront. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

The tour featured an inside look at the Rotunda, a monument constructed in the early 4th century supposedly as a mausoleum for Emperor Galerius, though it never fulfilled that purpose. Instead, it was transformed into a Christian church, then a Muslim mosque and then a Christian church again. Today, the Rotunda is a museum and the oldest monument in Thessaloniki.

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The purpose of the Rotunda changed several times throughout the centuries. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

In addition to checking off seeing the Rotunda on my Thessaloniki bucket list, I was fascinated throughout the city by the preservation of ancient monuments in the middle of bustling urban areas. The old structures looked out of place amid their modern surroundings.

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Ancient structures coexist with modern buildings in Thessaloniki’s downtown area. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

I also noticed graffiti covering nearly every surface in the city—businesses, residential apartments, street lamps. Much of the graffiti conveyed anti-police or anti-capitalist sentiments, reflecting local frustrations amid Greece’s ongoing economic crisis.

Most importantly, Thessaloniki has the most adorable stray cats and dogs all over the place. A couple of dogs started following our group around and when I looked into their sad eyes, I really felt like we had a connection. As I mentioned earlier, Carlene specifically instructed us not to pet the animals, so I refrained—my most difficult task of the trip thus far.

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A stray dog with sad eyes followed our tour group around. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

After our walking tour, I sat down with a couple others to grab gyros, Greece’s classic on-the-go meal. It was my first gyro since my trip to Greece last summer, and it was just as good as I remembered (even better, since I was tired and hungry after the tour).

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I’m all smiles just before devouring a gyro, my favorite Greek food. / Photo by Paxtyn Merten

Though these experiences were enough for us to call it an enriching day, we didn’t stop there. We headed over to the U.S. Consulate, where Consul General Rebecca A. Fong gave our group a presentation about her career in diplomacy and then fielded a wide range of questions about Greece’s economic and refugee crises. She spoke about dealing with the unpredictable nature of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy objectives, but upholding her patriotism throughout years of changing administrations.

The talk was incredible, and I was pleasantly surprised with how candid Fong was with our group and how much time she set aside to talk with us. I was also honored to be in the presence of one of the few high-ranking female diplomats.

Overall, the day was perfect. If the first day is any indication of how the trip will go, I can’t wait for all that I will learn, see and experience. 

This blog post also appeared on the Northeastern University School of Journalism website.

What’s in my kitchen?

We’ve been in Thessaloniki for less than a day now. I’ve only managed to catch glimpses of the city so far, mostly through a sleep-deprived haze after 15+ hours of traveling.

Along with my roommate Suma, I’m staying in a studio apartment with two beds, two desks, a bathroom, a kitchenette and a balcony.

Though we were beyond exhausted yesterday, we still had to go food shopping—because you need to eat, right?

We picked up the basics, and I found that I really loved the look of the food labels in Greek. Check them out: