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Mark Menzel '97
August 27, 2015
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Greece has, forever in my mind, been the place of myth and lore; of ancient civilizations and the birth of democracy; of influential philosophy and culture … and in that culture, the Greeks have given us wonderful art, dance, food, and, of course, big, fat weddings. So, to be actually, physically present in a country that has always projected a larger-than-life aura for me was both wonderful and astounding.

A group of 22 Badger travelers and I descended into Greece in mid-June, experiencing immediately the bright, azure skies and radiant sun. We arrived in Athens and enjoyed a cocktail reception at our hotel to get to know each other and our travel director, Pamela. Throughout the trip, Pamela was instrumental in making the tour operate smoothly, provided interesting context about the local residents, and offered her own perspective as an American who, a few decades earlier, had become a Poros “local” herself.

Our second day took us immediately into ancient history juxtaposed with modernity as we explored the beautifully new and modern Acropolis Museum, loaded with preserved artifacts and sculptures. We then ascended the impressive Acropolis and, upon reaching the top, took in the Parthenon, which was erected as a temple to the city’s patron and namesake, the goddess Athena. The sights certainly enforced for us just how impressive and advanced a civilization the Greeks really were.

The remainder of the day and evening allowed us free time to explore the city on our own, and many of us headed into the Plaka, the oldest section of Athens. It sits in the shadow of the Acropolis and, with its narrow, winding streets, is essentially a town center with abundant shops, cafes, and restaurants where both the locals and tourists wander. It was a great place to roam, people-watch, and enjoy Greek culinary fare.

Day three took us in a different direction — one of island living. A small journey by boat and by bus took us to the island paradise of Poros. The island is southeast of Athens and sits merely 200 meters off the Peloponnese (the peninsula that juts off mainland Greece), separated by a narrow channel that only small boats can navigate.

Our hotel, right on the beach, allowed easy access to an enjoyable float in the sea (very easy due to the extreme buoyancy of the salt water) or a stroll to a shop or local eatery, and it afforded beautiful views to enjoy while relaxing with a cocktail at the end of a long day’s excursion, or watching a sunset amid enjoyable conversation and storytelling with the group of new friends and acquaintances.

Poros became our home for the next six nights. A very beautiful, but quaint and comfortable island, it serves not only as a vacation destination for tourists, but also for Greeks as well. From our base there, we embarked on daily excursions.

We visited the fortress of Palamidi in Nafplio, then went on to Epidaurus, where we toured an ancient Greek amphitheater that’s still in use today. A visit to the isle of Hydra was like going back in time — a very relaxed, simpler time. The island prohibits any motorized vehicles, but it offers some impressive shops and beautiful views. The preferred method of transport there — for people as well as goods — is by donkey. Hydra provided a very relaxing atmosphere where we could enjoy the shops or sit at the cafes along the waterfront.

We also explored Greek mythology further, visiting the citadel and the fortress of King Agamemnon in Mycenae, but the wine tasting that followed at one of Greece’s best wineries was a favorite by group consensus.

During our last night in Poros, we were treated to a “Greek night,” with traditional dancers and musicians performing as we dined. Our group even got into the act, with many being swept up in the joy of the moment to join them.

We returned to Athens on our last full day, this time driving the entire way and enjoying breathtaking, cliff-side views and landscapes. We crossed the Peloponnesian peninsula into mainland Greece via the Corinth Canal, with time provided to snap some photos.

Our last day in Athens allowed additional free time to enjoy at our leisure. Some travelers took advantage of the time to see the National Archaeological Museum (a destination not included on our trip, but by the accounts of those who went, one definitely worth seeing), and others relaxed by the pool or wandered the Plaka once more. It was a chance to take in a little more of Athens before saying goodbye.

Over the course of our trip, our collection of mostly strangers was able to share stories, share experiences, and leave each other not as strangers but as a group of Badgers. It was enjoyable to get to know so many of them. Of course, being that this trip was an Alumni College Abroad tour, our days and excursions were enhanced by wonderful, knowledgeable guest lecturers and guides who added insights to the history, as well as wonderful color and perspectives that could be had only by those with experience and background.

I think we left with a much greater appreciation of all of Greece’s history, but we were also greatly fixated on the current climate of Greek economic struggles, now having a more personal relationship with the country. (The financial shutdown occurred only a couple of weeks after our departure.) Having experienced the wonderful Greek culture and having met its warm people, there was certainly a feeling of empathy for their difficult situation.

Learning more about the many centuries of history and being present during these modern historic times was truly an amazing opportunity. This journey was a wonderful experience and, I’m certain, offered great memories for all of us who trekked it together.

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