One year later, at the Acropolis again

Almost exactly a year ago, I went on a cruise around the Mediterranean with my family that made several stops in Greece—one of them, of course, being Athens. With only a day there, we did what all tourists do and headed to the Acropolis.

Two days ago, our group toured the Acropolis and its archeological museum. Finding yourself in the same spot a year later but thousands of miles away from home is a strange thing. I couldn’t help but remember the last time I was there, and think about how my life has changed since I first looked at the Parthenon with fresh eyes.

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My brother, mom and me in front of the Parthenon in July 2016.

A year ago, I had just finished up my sophomore year at Northeastern and my first co-op at The Boston Globe. I was newly in a relationship with my boyfriend, who I’ve now been dating for over a year. I hadn’t yet tackled my junior year or started as an editor and later editor-in-chief of The Huntington News. I hadn’t moved into my first apartment or accepted my upcoming fall co-op at the Institute of Philanthropy and Humanitarian Development in Jodhpur, India.

Sitting in the museum, I remembered the wonderful tour that my mom, dad, brother and grandma received around the building, and the blazing heat that we endured when climbing the steps to the top of the Acropolis. I felt a pang of homesickness wishing that they were there with me again.

At first, when I heard this Dialogue was going to be in Greece, I was slightly disappointed that it was in a country I had already been to. But now four weeks into our Dialogue, I’ve realized that these two experiences could not be more different.

Our visit to the Parthenon reinforced this idea for me. Even though I was walking around the same museum and looking at the same ancient temple, I was experiencing it with different people. And I was a slightly different person myself. It’s like reading the same book twice—you always pick up on something new, or at least gain a deeper understanding or appreciation.

One year later, some parts of life have changed for me, but one thing remained the same: the Parthenon was magical.

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Isabelle and me mid-climb of the Acropolis. / Photo by Paxtyn Merten
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Luke and me being cute next to the Parthenon. / Photo by Suma Hussien
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Sophie and me at the top of the Acropolis. / Photo by Paxtyn Merten

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

Photos: Ferry becomes a sunset cruise

Yesterday, we had a relaxing and rejuvenating day at the beach on the Greek island of Aegina. We swam, we tanned, we ate seafood. Some of us left sun-kissed, while others rocked more of a lobster red shade (namely me, Danny and Paxtyn).

A group of us took the last ferry back to Athens at 7:30 p.m. and we were lucky enough to witness a magnificent sunset along the way. Though I usually write long-winded blog posts that cover every detail of our trip, I’m opting this time to highlight one small thing that made me happy, and provided a special moment for us all to share together.

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The view of the sunset from the deck of our ferry back to Athens. / Photo by Olivia Arnold
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Me watching the sunset. / Photo by Isaac Feldberg, braids by Paxtyn Merten
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Me again watching as the sun dips further down. / Photo by Isaac Feldberg
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The sun left behind rays of golden lights and a purple and pink sky. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

Hello, Athens!

After a two-day road trip, we finally reached Greece’s capital city and the hotel we will be calling home for the next two weeks. Yesterday marked our first full day in Athens, and it seems like everyone is collectively overjoyed to be back in the heart of a bustling city.

On the way to Athens, we stopped at Meteora—a 14th to 16th century monastery built into tall rock formations—and Delphi—a town famous for its 4th century BC Temple of Apollo, home to the all-important oracle. Both visits were wonderful, but Meteora was especially fantastic, from the breathtaking views of buildings perched on rock formations (Meteora literally means “suspended in the air”) to the colorful artwork and religious artifacts decorating the inside.

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Only six of the original 24 monasteries have survived at Meteora. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

The day was so serene and it felt, quite literally, like a breath of fresh air; a welcome break from the hectic mood of our final week in Thessaloniki. During this trip, we’ve all had to report on some difficult issues and cope with significant amounts of stress, but the magnificent nature at Meteora helped clear my mind. It put things into perspective about just how beautiful and amazing the world can be.

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Carlene and I overlooking the wondrous views at Meteora. / Photo by Isaac Feldberg

Now at the beginning of our second full day in Athens, I have not gotten to explore the city much yet because Carlene and I devoted yesterday to putting the final edits on my story. The process was a lot more complicated than usual—as it involved understanding complex asylum processes, sensitively handling heart-wrenching stories of escape and survival by refugees and overcoming multiple language barriers. But after a couple rounds of edits and four hours on the rooftop deck of Carlene’s apartment last night, we finally settled on a version we were both happy with around 1 a.m. The story should be going live sometime today, complete with videos from Suma and Ellie.

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Carlene and Suma hard at work last night on a story. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

Though I haven’t wandered Athens much yet, I still picked up some first impressions. I love the unique vibe of the city. I love being right in the center of it (as opposed to 20 minutes outside like we were in Thessaloniki). I love how ancient monuments and markets stand next to modern buildings and 15-foot murals.

I want to see all the art, music and attractions in the city, and try out all the incredible food. In addition to the awesome sushi dinner I had with Suma on Wednesday, I ate last night at Nolan, a Greek-Japanese and Michelin-starred restaurant (which I didn’t know until yesterday means a very, very good restaurant).

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Gwen, Suma and I eat at Nolan. Food not pictured because we ate it too fast. / Photo by Isaac Feldberg

There is so much I want to experience, and I’m nervous that we only have about a week to report for our final stories. But I’m also excited to start on my newest endeavor—a video story with Isaac about the first mosque being built in Athens. I’m also thrilled to live in a hotel for the next two weeks as I’ve always wanted to since watching The Suite Life of Zack & Cody as a child.

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I know the next two weeks are going to fly by, and I can’t wait to see what this new city has to offer.

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

My top 5 trip injuries

1. MY HAND: The Saturday night before we left for Chios, I decided to stay in and have a relaxing night to prepare for the big trip. While taking a shower, the shower head (which can be detached with a chord but was propped up at the top) decided to viciously attack me for no reason. I instinctively put up my right hand—my WRITING hand—to block the shower head from concussing me. It hurt. A lot. I started panicking because I could barely move my hand and I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to take notes during my interviews in Chios the following day. Everything ended up being okay, though my right hand still hurts a little if you touch the spot where I was hit.

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2. MY FINGER: While walking home from the bars on Saturday night, I innocently closed my purse (which snaps shut) and my finger nail unknowingly got stuck in the buckle. When I pulled my hand back, it took a chunk of my right pointer finger nail with it. It was bleeding. It was gross. Luckily, Paxtyn saved the day with some bandaids. I’m now a firm believer that we should all bring bandaids with us to the bars.

3. MY ANKLE: On this same unfortunate walk home as the previous incident, I was apparently unsatisfied with my minimal injury and decided to put myself more in harm’s way. There were some short poles on the sidewalk near the road, and I thought it would be fun to try to bounce off of them ala Michael Scott style.

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Similarly to “The Office” episode, it didn’t end well. After bouncing off the second pole, I twisted my right ankle on the landing and knocked my shoe off. I was convinced momentarily that I had sprained my ankle on the night just before our upcoming five hour hike of Mount Olympus. Thankfully, my injury magically fixed itself once again after some sleep.

4. MY WRIST: On Sunday, while hiking Mount Olympus, the highest point in Greece, I fell. Twice. The hike is super tough, and the rain made the rocks and ground extra slippery. The first time I fell, there was a rock secretly hidden beneath leaves that I did not see, and I did a sort of graceful trip onto the ground. The second time was not as graceful. I fell onto some rocks, giving my left wrist a tiny but stinging cut. Once again, Paxtyn saved me, but this time with some Neosporin. Fun fact: At ALL TIMES, Paxtyn carries around Neosporin, bandaids, Carmex, ibuprofen and a single painkiller pill. We should all aspire to be like her.

5. AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST…THE RED BUMPS ALL OVER MY FACE AND ARMS: This is not technically an injury. However, this issue is so pressing that it probably deserves its own blog post. Since coming to Thessaloniki, mysterious red bumps have been appearing all over my face, neck and arms.  At first, I thought they were pimples. But then some of them started to itch, so I thought bug bites. But they don’t all itch—so maybe it’s a combination of pimples and bug bites? Either way, each day I wake up with some new glaring blemish. It’s so bad that when I FaceTimed with my boyfriend last week, the first questions he asked were: “Are you okay? What is that on your face?” I’ve been documenting the evolution of my red bumps because I’m incredibly narcissistic.

That concludes all my injuries/weird blemishes for the trip thus far. Tune in next time.

Featured photo courtesy Shelly, Creative Commons

Climbing mountains: Mid-trip reflections

It’s that dreaded point of our Dialogue: the (slightly more than) halfway point. Three jam-packed weeks have passed, the most recent week or so marking so many memorable moments, both big and small.

At the end of last week, we toured the Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum on Friday and visited underground royal tombs preserved from the 300s in Vergina on Saturday (with our group almost getting kicked out of the second museum for unknowingly taking prohibited flash photographs).

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Paxtyn appreciating some ancient artifacts at the Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum (the one that allowed photographs). / Photo by Olivia Arnold

Sunday and Monday, I went to Chios to report from the Souda refugee camp, one of the most overcrowded refugee camps in the country. In Chios, I witnessed so much suffering and what it looks like when the international community turns its back on people fleeing their conflict-ridden homes.

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We woke up around 5 a.m. Monday for our second day of reporting in Chios. Here, you can see the coast of Turkey, located just 4 miles away, where many refugees journey from. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

But I also met so many people to be grateful for: the courageous refugees (Abdullah, Salem, Sobhi, Jaser and Aifa) who shared their heartbreaking stories with us, the dedicated volunteers (Leslie and Helena) who support life-saving programs, the refugees working at the Chios People’s Kitchen who prepared an amazing lunch for us, Greek restaurant owner Kostas who perseveres in the face of community backlash for helping refugees and Oya and Hassan, a married couple we met over dinner, who are also Turkish journalists who served 10 and 16 years, respectively, in prison for their journalism. All in less than 24 hours, I observed the best and the worst that humanity has to offer.

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The meal prepared for us by the Chios People’s Kitchen, a volunteer refugee-run kitchen that offers cooking courses and meals for schoolchildren in the Souda refugee camp. / Photo by Olivia Arnold

The week didn’t slow down from there. The past six days included touring several downtown markets, tasting my first Turkish delight, lighting a candle in an old church to say a quick prayer and then being hugged by a nun there, community leader Father Athinagoras kissing us all on the head, learning about the Greek Orthodox church in class, attending a lecture by refugee crisis researcher Panagiotis Paschalidis, ending our final class with a toast and some really strong alcohol at 11 a.m., going out to the bars for only the second time since I’ve been here, accomplishing a strenuous (but totally worth it) 5+ hour hike in the rain of Mount Olympus, home of the gods, and filming my roommate shaving her head (she looks amazing). Also: a lot of good food, a little bit of sleep and a lot of coffee.

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Isabelle and I on our hike of Mount Olympus, home of the gods. / Photo by Isaac Feldberg

Three weeks done also means just two weeks remaining. Two weeks left to get a whole lot done, and the pressure is on. Just look at my email inbox from this evening:

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AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

That’s right, folks. I have three deadlines, all for today/tomorrow—personal blogs, scholarship blogs and my edited story from Chios. Not to mention a 1,000-word essay for our Greek culture class at the American College of Thessaloniki due Wednesday, and a scholarship application for my fall co-op due Thursday. Calling today “crunch time” doesn’t quite cut it.

Tomorrow will be our final full day in Thessaloniki, and it seems as though we’re leaving just as we were all starting to feel comfortable. But I’m excited for the next adventure: to live in Athens and start reporting on my next story (the topic of which is to be determined).

Despite all the fun, the past few weeks have been a lot harder than I imagined they would be. I certainly didn’t expect this trip would make me question my values as much as it has, and make me think so much about right versus wrong.

I know that all these experiences—big and small, good and bad—have changed me. At the risk of using yet another cliche, this trip has definitely involved climbing mountains (and not just the physical kind).

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