Saturday, July 30, 2011

Might as well start somewhere..

So we're almost halfway through our trip, and I finally have the energy to blog. I'm new at this, so bear with me. Let me just start by saying that this is incredible. I am so absolutely blessed that I've had the opportunity to come on this study abroad.
For those of you who may not know, I am currently on a month-long Brigham Young University Mediterranean Study Abroad with 27 wonderful and unique students and 2 directors with their fun and sweet families.
So we started a little less than two weeks ago, and we have already done so much. This is my first experience with international travel, and I will admit that the ten hour flight from JFK airport (which is quite dark & dirty..ick) to Istanbul, Turkey was not the easiest thing. It was not made any easier when a vegetarian family refused to fly and got off the plane because their meals hadn't been transferred from a different flight. The three hours following spent finding their bags and getting back on the runway were probably the least enjoyable.
When we got to Istanbul we checked into our hotel and then hit the town. I have never before in my life felt so exhausted. Jet lag was horrible, and I felt dizzy and easily could have fainted at any second. We walked to the Hagia Sofia which was really awesome even though we were so tired, and it was so hot. We saw the Hippodrome as well, but there's not much left of anything. Dogs were everywhere and street vendors were pushy, and I felt harassed. The rooftop pool and deck area saved me that day. Over the next couple of days in Istanbul we had a whirlwind of business visits with Deloitte, Nike, Intel and the US Consulate and consisted of the Blue Mosque, the underground water cistern (yes, this is where Frank and Ali had their date in Istanbul last season of the Bachelorette.. and have I been keeping up with my guilty pleasure show? Obvi), a rug show run by thugs complete with birthday cake and apple tea, Topkapi Palace, a boat ride touring Istanbul, and many calls of "Lady, I have good price! Yes?" Let's just say I am not a good haggler.

From Istanbul we headed south to Kusadasi, Turkey. The view from our hotel was awesome (for at least some of us), but the hotel itself.. not so much. Picture a perfect scene for a horror movie, and you have Hotel Sozer. So Kusadasi consisted of swimming in gross water, loving our lives at Captain's place with our meals of pineapple chicken, Morgan getting hit on by Sazaminazifdu... (and I quote, "Out of all of your friends, you turn me on the most" Umm, ick..again), swimming in absolutely beautiful water (literally I probably will never see clearer water), visiting Ephesus, John's church, a leather fashion show at lunch (fashion show, fashion show, fashion show at lunch), the house where Mary lived out the last 11 years of her life and multiple other places.
Unbelievably clear water in Turkey

From Kusadasi, we were off to Patmos on a chartered ferry, and let me tell you, my first experience with the Greek islands was magical. Patmos is the most quaint little island, and I instantly fell in love with it. Not to mention, it had great shopping. And our hotel was the cutest. We ate dinner literally a foot away from the beach. We also visited the cave where John was imprisoned.
Harbor in Patmos. I'm in love with this island!

Santorini was our next destination (and the one I was most excited for). After our first ferry ride and a 4 hour layover in Kos (meeting a really friendly and slightly creepy Bosnian who happened to be going to Santorini as well and asked to sleep on our couch?) we got on our next ferry, which really wasn't a ferry but rather more of a cruise ship. As Morgs and I were standing on the deck we saw two dolphins! Wonderful. Finally we got to Santorini, which is a much bigger island than I imagined, and rode our bus around the cliffs up to our hotel, the Santorini Palace. this hotel was literally a maze and the cutest thing. Santorini was not what I expected, but it was still incredible with black sand beaches, clear turquoise water, crazy bus rides, pirate ships out to the volcano, a hike in flip flops, a donkey ride up the side of the mountain with frequent stops (good old Bapi), a sunset in the magical town of Oia at a poolside bar (still not sure the 7 Euro smoothie was worth it, but it was dinner), and just relaxing at the Palace's infinity pool all day. Oh, and lots and lots of climbing. Absolutely everywhere we went. And most views on postcards of a blue dome church were a picture taken right outside our hotel. Incredible.
That view.. yes, I always put my hand on one hip

We bid Santorini a fond farewell and headed to Athens where we've seen riot police, the Monastiraki (Athens' version of the Grand Bazaar where I almost got robbed), the Acropolis, business visits with Eurobank and ALBA business school, watched a sunset by another temple, monasteries on a cliff and even more.
Today we drove in the bus for 10+ hours to get back to Athens, and tomorrow we're going to the branch of the LDS church here in Athens and then heading off to Roma! Hopefully Italy will allow me more frequent updates, but for now I"ll leave it at this: I am absolutely and positively having the time of my life and can't wait to see what the rest of this trip holds!