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So I left Naxos, went back to Athens, headed to Tel Aviv, slept for two days and then took a bus north to Karmi’el. The local university is our base, where we are staying, eat lunch and do laundry.

The campus is beautiful, full of hills and green spaces. There are mountains in every direction, covered in houses and shrubbery. Each day I get up at four am and have coffee and bread. I dress in my boots and loose pants and t-shirts. I coat myself in sunscreen. I never forget my hat or sunglasses. I bring plenty of water to begin the day, even though they have plenty of water on site.

We meet outside at 4:45 to load the vans with water and some equipment. It takes approximately 20 minutes to get to the site, which is south of Karmi’el, only a short distance off the main road. During the curvy ride the sun just starts peaking up over the hills. We park rather close to the road, and must unload and drag all of the equipment about a quarter mile to the dig spot.

Once we are there, we make tags for the buckets that we put artifacts in. Usually, one bucket for pottery, one for flint and bags for bone. Everything is meticulously labeled and documented so that one can always figure out where the artifact came from. You find a lot of pottery and flint and decent amount of animal bone and teeth, both animal and human. But you have to watch out for those scorpions.

At 8:30 we take a breakfast break, where we have juice, sandwiches, yogurt, veggies, and wafers. By this time, most people are feeling pretty ravenous. Due to the whole kosher thing, there is no meat on the sandwiches. I eat a pesto and soft cheese sandwich on grain bread most days. It’s actually quite good.

At 9 we go back to work when “Archaeology!!” is called. Then we work until 11, when we take a 20 minute fruit break. At 12:45 we start cleaning and gathering our things to head back to campus. Until breakfast, it is usually quite pleasant outside, the sun is still low and the breeze is cool. After breakfast is when it starts heating up, and by the time we leave it is usually over 100 degrees plus direct sunshine. It gets hot. The work is very difficult. We joke about how we are the chain gang.

We head back and have lunch in the university’s cafeteria. This is our big meal of the day, rightfully so. By lunch everyone is covered in dirt and starving. We come marching into the cafeteria and all the Israeli students just look at us like we are crazy. The cafeteria food is quite good – various chicken dishes, fish or stew. There’s tons of bread and veggies and hummus. Yum!

After lunch we have free time until 4:30, when we regroup outside to wash all of our findings from the day. This takes a few hours, and then we have a light dinner of hummus, tomatoes and cucumbers, bread, various spreads and nuts and olives. It’s quite good. After dinner, I usually sit around with some folks and chat, and around 8 I head to bed. Read for a bit and pass out as soon as possible.

As I hope you might understand, this schedule plus the terrible internet connection here, makes me not so inclined to write on here. I’ll post pictures at some point, when I take some. Just know, my leg muscles are sore, my wrist screams every time I move it and my back is bent crookedly. But I’m having a lot of fun!

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Paradise

I arrived in Naxos yesterday afternoon, and let me say, it’s gorgeous! It’s your stereotypical Greek image, with the white and blue structures climbing the hills that overlook the water. Everything is stone and marble, the hills are brown and dotted with structures and bits of brush. The beaches are the perfect mix of sand and stone, with light waves lapping at the edge. The water is the perfect temperature, cool and refreshing. Though, even as the sun bakes you, the breeze from the water is such that you never get hot. I sat on the beach for two hours this morning and was never really inclined to go in the water.

My hotel is just outside of Naxos Town, a cluster of narrow, curving streets full of shops, restaurants and businesses. People actually live here, it’s not just for tourists and visitors. It is about a 10-15 minute walk from hotel into town and about five to the beach. But I rented a bicycle, so I can get around much more quickly – the hills can be killer though. And for $30 per night, my hotel is absolutely fantastic. Clean, beautiful. I have a large room with stone walls and a big bed. The balcony opens to a view of the mountains. It’s so pleasant, I don’t turn on the air conditioning and just leave the windows open. Breakfast was delicious, a spread of jams, honey, yogurt and fruit, breads and eggs, the best coffee, and fresh, unpasteurized milk… There a beautiful pool, again overlooking the mountains. At night, the hills are dotted with lights as the moon shines, giving the entire panorama a magical glow.

And while there are just so many things do here, exploring the surrounding villages to experience traditional Greek culture, untainted by touristy demands, 6000 year old structures and great hiking opportunities, I am honestly so content to hang around the beach, by the pool, and relaxing on my balcony. As much as I feel guilty about not hitting the streets to see as much as I can, I am forgetting time, frequently not knowing what hour it is. Just lying about, reading and thinking. Enjoying the natural beauty and man-made creations. People watching is fantastic – there are so many people from all over the world wandering about. I haven’t taken a real shower in two days, my feet are dirty, my hair is full of salt from the sea, and my skin smells of sunscreen. And I am just so far from worrying about. I’m just going to stick with my beach rat look until it’s time to leave paradise.

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I woke up early this morning to catch either the 7, 7:15 or 7:25am ferry. Of course, everything took longer than I planned, and I didn’t get to the port until 7am. I went to the ticket booth, asked for a ticket on the next ferry to Naxos. The woman tried to get the ticket for me on the 7:25, but apparently there was an issue with their ‘system’ and she was unable to. She told me to just go to the boat and buy a ticket there. So I dragged myself across the docks and finally found the right boat. I went on only for the man to make me wait (it was now 7:10) and then send me to the travel agent. I followed the travel agent around trying to get his attention, he was clearly ignoring me. Finally he just told me to go wait at the ticket booth. But the people at the ticket boot were having issues with their ‘system’ as well. There were a ton of people trying to buy a ticket for the boat leaving in ten minutes, and arguments between the travel agent and people started breaking out. There were people yelling at each other in Greek, hands in the air, arguing about the ridiculous situation. I imagine the argument went something like this: “The boats leaving, we can’t buy tickets, let us just get on the boat and figure it out then!” The travel agent, he would go on about how it doesn’t work that way, but eventually give up because he knew it was futile when hoards of people just began getting on the  boat. I followed along, and eventually was able to buy a ticket on the ship – not a terribly difficult thing to do.
I am just happy that I am on the boat – the next one wasn’t until two this afternoon. It is about a three hour ride to Naxos, where I will check into my hotel (another $30 per night hotel, hope it’s as nice as the one in Athens) and head directly to the beach. Since I don’t have much time in Greece, I decided on one island where I would stay for three days, rather than just spend all my time on a ferry getting from one to the next. I chose this island because it’s less touristy (Naxos is just a stop on the way to Santorini), it’s quiet, lots of archaeological sites, many small mountains to climb and wonderful beaches. I am hoping to experience a litte more real Greek culture than I did in the Plaka. Just to make you jealous, right now I am on the deck of the ferry, sitting at a little table in the sun, with a lovely breeze off the Mediterranean, cool enough to wear a sweater. I have never seen water this blue before, and the mountains in the distance glow in the sunlight. I can’t wait to be on the beach and swim in the sea!

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Update: the ferry ride actually took about five hours. And I once the sun came out, I waited too long to put on sunscreen. My back is a little pink. Oops.

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Adventures in Athens

Okay, so let’s get something straight. Being anywhere on the Mediterranean is probably pretty fantastic. Hot sun, cool breeze, perfect amount of humidity. But there is just something about Athens. Yes, there’s a ton of traffic and pollution, Greek’s economy is a disaster, there are strikes every other week. But on an excursion into the real Athens today, not this touristy place called the Plaka, I noticed a few things. People are nice without being pushy. They nod when you walk by, give directions if you ask. They are eager to recommend a restaurant or a place to get a drink. They are loud and animated, smoking and drinking coffee. Wonderful people. With much more liberal ideas of personal space than we have in America.

Okay, so my one full day in Athens. I had lots of fun. I first went to the Parthenon. Here’s a quick history:

“The Parthenon (Greek: Παρθενών) is a temple on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece, dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their virgin patron. Its construction began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the height of its power. It was completed in 438 BC, although decoration of the Parthenon continued until 432 BC. It is the most important surviving building of Classical Greece, generally considered the culmination of the development of the Doric order. Its decorative sculptures are considered some of the high points of Greek art. The Parthenon is regarded as an enduring symbol of Ancient Greece and of Athenian democracy[not verified in body] and one of the world’s greatest cultural monuments. The Greek Ministry of Culture is currently carrying out a program of selective restoration and reconstruction to ensure the stability of the partially ruined structure.” – Wikipedia

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I had a really fun time climbing to the top, but it was jam packed with people, making it a slightly less enjoyable experience. But it had to be done – can’t go to Athens and not see the Parthenon. After this, I felt it was necessary to get the hell out of tourist-ville. Tourists are overwhelming, their clumsy, mosey-ing about nonesense. Huge groups of slow moving people. Very stressful. So I started walking away from the Plaka and Acropolis, in the direction of the Mediterranean. I walked for a long while, wandering through the streets, seeing actual Athenians doing Athenian things. I came to a metro station and took a look at the map. It looked like a pretty short distance to the water, so I decided I was going to the beach.

Please, don’t ever try this. It turns out that the walk was around 7 kilometers. The water was no longer actually Athens. I just kept walking and walking and walking, not getting anywhere. And might I just mention, Athens is dirty and everything is falling apart – its crappiness is like that of New Orleans, it gives the city character. But I was still covered with soot, sweat and sand within 20 minutes. I am glad I did it, though. I definitely have a feel for the real Athens now. And I saw some pretty cool stuff.

I happened upon a street market that went on for many blocks, maybe five or six. First there were clothes, home goods, and many random little tables. All things that a normal person would need, not touristy stuff. Then came the food stalls. Vegetables upon vegetables upon vegetables. As much variety as you could imagine. Fruits of every color and texture. Buckets of twenty different kinds of olives. Nuts and grains. Meat and fish fish fish! There were men roasting meat on a stick while women bagged fruit. Everyone was trying to sell their product, barking short phrases that I assume were to lure people there. Everyone was smoking, talking and laughing. Old women crawled down the street with their grocery carts, kids ran under the legs of people with their ice cream cones flying.

I finally found a tram station and took the train back to where my hotel was and had a nice big gyro and Greek salad for lunch. Yum!

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As I said before, my arrival in Athens was quite amazing. I took the train into the city, a cab to my hotel, showered and hit the streets. I had my first meal in Greece (and the first non-airplane food since breakfast the previous day). It was a small tavern around the corner from my hotel; the man at the desk recommended it. I had a Greek salad (fabulous), bread (to die for) and Moussaka (Shea’s is better). I sat outside on a quiet, cobbled street and listened to the French girls at the next table move between languages as smoothly as one breathes. I had a small crisis when it came time to pay – I wasn’t sure if you’re supposed to tip or not! My little Greece guide didn’t have the answer for me, which was surprising. I left a tip, to be safe. Turns out you are to leave a tip, rounding up to the next euro or two is common. It was the same in Vienna. After my extremely satisfying dinner, I headed out to walk.

This is the view from my hotel room. For $30 per night, this hotel is fantastic!

The area that I am staying is, the Plaka, is the oldest part of the city and many streets are closed to cars (though they don’t always obey!). The area is very touristy, with many shops and cafes. Very cute though!

Much of the Plaka neighborhood extends up the hill towards the Acropolis, which you can see in this picture.

And this is the view from the top of that hill.

Street Arthttp://www.athensstreetart.net/

So, there is a lot of graffiti in Athens. Some of it, real pieces of art – others is just obnoxious kids. “Graffiti in Athens is as old as the city itself. In ancient times graffiti was carved into buildings, in fact the word comes from the Greek graphi which means to write. During the Nazi occupation, the Civil War and the 1967 Junta political graffiti was common in Athens and served a purpose.“* Here just a few of the pictures I took yesterday:

If you’re interested, here is a really cool photo essay: http://exiledonline.com/photo-essay-austerity-athens-street-art/

I continued walking until it was dark and finished my evening sitting outside of a small cafe with some Greek coffee and a piece of walnut pie.

*http://www.athensguide.com/art/graffiti/index.htm

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So, getting from Nagoya to Athens was horrible. I first spent an hour and a half by train getting to the Nagoya airport. I did in fact get on one train going in the wrong direction, but quickly realized and switched to the right train. The airport was fine – and I was the only non-Asian person on the flight. I love that even on a two and a half hour flight they serve a full meal. And baggage is free. Why does America suck at this stuff so bad?

The Shanghai airport… it was my own person hell. They made me leave the terminal, so go through all of the customs crap, rather than just go straight to my next gate. I had a 24 hour visa, so I suppose I could have gone into the city for dinner, but boy was the weather outside miserable. I never felt a place so humid, the air hanging dark and heavy in the sky. Not to mention, I had to pick up my pack, which is big and kind of heavy. So I dragged myself to another terminal where I was to wait, for eight hours. It was so hot, there were people everywhere, it was loud and no one was very nice. There was no where to sit, and they weren’t checking in. I wanted to check in, give em my bag, find my terminal and then walk around since I had a ten hour flight ahead of me. But no, I had my pack and was in no mood to carry it around.

Apparently everyone and their mother was trying to take this flight to Moscow. They waited until about two and a half hours before the flight to actually start checking people in. The line was disgustingly long and moved so slow that I thought everyone was going to miss the flight. After an hour and a half,  I was next in line. I checked in, they took my bag, took me into a back room and made me open all of my luggage. This woman was yelling at me to open things while grabbing at them so I couldn’t. We tore apart my pack looking for something but she wouldn’t tell me what. She was finally appeased by my shaving cream… who knows, crazy people.

Oh yeah, hey mister Chinese customs official, joking with me that my passport isn’t mine because the pictures doesn’t look like me… it’s NOT funny.

Aeroflot, Russian airlines, miserable. The plane was ancient and I thought we were going to crash on many occasions. The food literally made my vomit, there were a dozen sick people coughing through the flew (the person next to me was one), people needed to stop letting their children run around screaming, kicking my seat and being generally annoying. The flight attendants, in horrible orange outfits, were mean. Oh yeah, and mullets are really popular in Russia. But, I took a couple benedryl and slept through most of the flight. Which was good, got me on a more Mediterranean schedule since the flight was from 1:30am to 7:30am.

Next step, layover in Moscow. The Moscow airport is a total cluster f***. Whoever designed it, should be shot, it’s that bad. And when your flight is delayed 2 and a half hours, it is even worse. The flight to Athens was again on Aeroflot, same problems, but the food was better. The flight was only three and a half hours, and went by rather quick. Finally, landing in Athens was like being born.

Japan, it’s kind of depressing. Really depressing, actually. I felt like I needed to go back on anti-depressants, it was that bad. But arriving in Greece, I felt like myself again! Getting through customs was cake – no forms, no questions, they just stamped my passport and shuffled me into their country. I felt energetic, excited, curious. I took the train from the airport into town, grabbed a cab to my hotel because I had no idea where it was! So far, Greece has been amazing. I’ll post some pictures tonight, after I hike the Acropolis today!

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Update!

Alright, so I fell behind on the blog. It’s been a week, and I just kept meaning to get around to it, partly due to laziness and partly due to the fact that I wasn’t doing much. I felt like I had so much to say about the last five days in Japan, but now that I am in Greece, I just want to get on with it! That being said, my mind bubbling with all things Greek, I will give a quick recap of my final days in Japan and then will tell you about my wonderful 30 hour trip, and my first impressions of Greece!

Me and Mackenzie did a bunch of different things over those days, including seeing the second most holy Shinto shrine in Japan, shopped and complained about the extremely slow walking Nagoyans. The highlight of the entire trip, the one thing I really wanted to do while in Nagoya, was do a little hiking in the Kiso Valley.

The Kiso Valley is one of many valleys among the Japanese Alps and is where the Kiso River flows. Boasting incredible hills and rough terrain, this valley was once a major trading route between Tokyo and Kyoto, with Nagoya along the way. Since it could only be traversed on foot or horseback, a post station was built every handful of kilometers so that traders and travelers could eat and rest, with a total of 69 towns. The towns have been preserved as they were five hundred years ago – basically they look like what one pictures as stereotypical Japanese culture. But it was SO COOL.

Neither me or Mackenzie could actually take a decent picture of the town, so I snagged this one from google image!

The picture above is Magome-juku, the town where we started our journey. In order to get there, we took two trains from Nagoya (or was it three?) and then a bus. The bus ride was intense. The thing was ancient and made noises like it was going to burst apart at any moment. We spent 25 minutes climbing narrow streets carved into the side of a mountain. There were no guard rails and twice we came very close to a head on collision with another car because the street wasn’t wide enough to accommodate both vehicles. Let’s just say it was terrifying and leave it at that…

So in Magome, there was basically one main street, lined with buildings that all look like the ones in the photo above. There were mostly restaurants and shops selling handmade tchotchkes to tourists for exorbitant rates. I might have bought something, had it not meant I’d have to carry it around on my back for the rest of the summer. Anyway, we had lunch, bought some fruit and water, and set out on our hike.

Our goal was the next post station, only 7 or so kilometers away, Tsumago-juku. This route has been mostly preserved in its original form, though at times you have to walk along man made road. The first few kilometers were miserable – all very steep hills at very high altitude, little interesting scenery and no adventures to be had. Lucky for us, it got a lot better. There came a point where we walked downhill for a really long time. We basically went all the way to the bottom of the valley and met the Kiso River. The path between more wild and we were able to wander from the trail to find small waterfalls and other interesting sites.

We found a shrine practically on top of a family’s small farm. This is the view outward from its entrance – and me, very excited.

We ventured off the path where it seemed people had gone before and found this little waterfall.

Isn’t Mackenzie adorable?

We are almost to Tsumago!

After about three hours of hiking, we arrived in Tsumago. It was an absolute ghost town – everything was closed up and not a person was around. We were starving and exhausted, so while it was kind of neat, we were pretty frustrated. But then, we saw an open door and a light. It was a ryokan, basically a Japanese bed and breakfast, also including dinner and the full traditional Japanese experience. It wasn’t really a restaurant, but I think the owner took pity on us and let us stay for dinner. It was probably the best meal I had in Japan.

There was homemade miso soup, pickled vegetables (that had been picked from the mountain outside the window), tea, rice, and this rice-patty-on-a-stick-with-sauce that was quite good. But the best was the meat – I had this beef, a cow that lived out in the back that they fed beer and apples (and massaged regularly). They cooked it on a leaf over an open flame right in front of me. Mackenzie had raw horse meat – it was incredible, so delicious. Everything was great. Then for dessert the woman brought out some green tea bread she had baked that morning, with some fruit and coffee jello. The even took our picture, printed it, and gave it to us in a little origami stand. The entire experience was priceless (and I feel that I must mention, this entire meal was less than 4,000 yen, or about $40).

We then had a terrific (and terrifying) cab ride to the train station and headed back to Nagoya – something we both dreaded.

I just realized how extremely exhausted I am after my thirty hours of travel and then all of my exploring. I think my post on Greece will have to wait until the morning. I write it at breakfast. Goodnight!

A photo by Mackenzie

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