My blog post this month unfortunately won’t focus on life in Paris.
While French universities don’t have fall break like Vassar does in October, we had about two weeks off at the end of the month to celebrate La Touissant, or All Saint’s Day, which falls on November 1st. I had booked tickets in early September to go on a whirlwind trip to three different cities in ten days with two of my close friends from the program–a trip from which I returned last weekend.
It’s surreal to think of how it all began now that the trip is over. Our first flight was at 6:00 a.m. from the Paris Orly airport to Athens, Greece. Since Orly is closed for a few hours in the morning, we all slept at Becca’s house before taking a taxi at 4:00 in the morning to catch our flight. Four hours later, we were in Athens. Having napped for a few hours at Becca’s and on the plane, we had our first meal in Athens, where our love affair with feta cheese started. Feta in America brings to mind brittle, stinky crumbs of cheese that dot salads. Feta in Greece is milky, creamy goodness made of sheep’s and goat’s milk. Eating this feta was an almost divine experience. We spent the rest of the day in the ruins and the Parthenon which was, not surprisingly, swarming with tourists (and also not surprisingly under renovation).
I’d been to Athens before, so I wanted to do something unusual, to take advantage of the newness and excitement that came with “euro-tripping” for the first time with friends. We decided to go to Lake Vouliagmeni–a large cavern that collapsed into a lake. In addition to an underwater cave, a constant warm temperature year-round, and its mythical “healing waters,” Vouliagmeni is also home to “doctor fish,” a fish species that eat dead skin cells. After a solid half an hour of freaking out, I was brave enough to stand in the water while hundreds of tiny fish swarmed around my arms, legs, feet, and stomach. I even saw a woman with psoriasis covered by maybe thousands of fish. She insisted that both the fish and the water helped immensely with her condition and that of her husband, who also had a skin condition. My friends and I left the lake feeling extremely relaxed after our (unconventional) spa day.
Thank goodness, because our next city was Istanbul, a bustling metropolis where crowds of people pile into the streets, markets, and city squares, yelling and laughing and arguing. There was so much to do in Turkey and so little time. We stayed at a hostel by Taksim Square, Turkey’s main square, which is connected to an immense shopping street. The first day, we decided to spend the morning at a hammam, or a Turkish bath, where we were scrubbed down, lathered up, and then given oil massages. Then we were off for a day of sightseeing, visiting the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, and the beautiful Blue Mosque, where women are required to cover their heads. We finished our day with a visit to the Grand Bazaar, where you can find everything from scarves to lamps to little handmade, decorative boxes.
The next day, we took a boat ride on the Bosphorous River to Anadolu Kavagi, a small fishing village, and capped off our day at the Spice Market, where we sampled different kinds of Turkish delight–a small gelatinous dessert.
Our final city was Vienna, Austria. Our hostel was located right next to the Naschmarkt, a very popular outdoor market, where we happily devoured falafel sandwiches before starting our day. We visited Schonbrunn Palace where a young Marie Antoinette lived with her family, and its sprawling 435-acre gardens. We also managed to get standing room tickets for 4 euros for a ballet at the Viennese opera house, Wiener Staatsoper. While we had to stand for two hours, watching a ballet in Vienna for just four euros was a surreal experience. Our hostel was not only huge, but also a really popular with young traveling students like us, so we ended our nights at the Wombar (our hostel), making friends with students from the US, Canada, Romania, and Australia, to name a few.
It’s so strange to think about all the experiences that I racked up on this trip. I can say that I went to a healing lake in Athens, a Turkish bath in Istanbul, and a ballet in Vienna. It’s definitely not exactly what I pictured when I started my study abroad experience, but it’s a lot more fun to have lived it.