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A modern-day Grand Tour April 29, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Testimonials.

Before the official start of my spring break, I took an 11-day trip to Greece with my school. I love Greece. A complicated mixture of ancient beauty and modern sensibilities, I would recommend Greece to any astute traveler. The entire country has an earthiness, a tranquility, and a realism that was incredibly refreshing.

We took a ferry from Italy and on our way, we passed Ithaca, the legendary home of Ulysses, the ancient hero of “The Odyssey.” We spent three days at Olympia, where the first Olympic Games were said to be held in 776 B.C. In one of the most peaceful places I have ever been in my life, we lounged in the shade of broken columns that once held up the Palestra, the training facility for the ancient athletes. (Palestra is still the modern Italian word for a workout gym). We visited Sparta, Corinth and Delphi, where we tried to invoke the ancient oracle (to limited success, I must confess).

A word about Athens. Who would have thought that after seven months without even a whiff of an iced caramel macchiato, I would have found a Starbucks practically every other block in Athens? Imagine the reaction of 60 American teenagers upon the sight of a Domino’s Pizza, you’d think we had been living in the Gobi Desert!

It’s a bit ironic, when you consider Italy’s reputation for pizza (which I can vouch for, the pizza, in general, is amazing. It’s just different). Italy is by no means the Gobi Desert, but even in Rome, one is hard-pressed to find a McDonald’s, and many would argue that this is for the better. I credit the 2004 Athens Olympics for bringing so much of what American capitalism has to offer and in that moment that I was sipping my iced coffee, was I sorry? I’m a little sorry to say that I wasn’t.

We were also in Athens on Greek Independence Day, March 25, which marks the day the Greeks gained independence from Turkey, a power that had ruled the country for more than 400 years. I mention it because I got to see the national celebratory parade. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so shocked to see missiles and tanks rumbling down the main streets of Athens, but I was. From scuba divers marching in full wet-suited regalia, and what looked like special forces with machine guns, the show was meant to intimidate. For me and the other Americans I was with, it was more than a little unsettling, as the most militaristic parades I’ve ever seen feature the occasional submarine crew and a fire truck. Missiles? It made me realize the different ways in which countries display their national pride and unified strength.

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