Experiencing Greek Antiquity at the Acropolis

I first became compelled to visit Greece during my undergrad studies as an Art History major. Many of my Art History courses emphasized Greek Antiquity, and its undeniable impact on both contemporary art and the connection of art to collective memory. While learning about the construction of Greek society through its art, I needed to personally experience the ancient history of one of the most visited attractions, the Acropolis, and admire the architectural details of its ruins.

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Parthenon on the Acropolis, 2013

The Acropolis is a 5th century BCE complex that sits on an elevated outcrop overlooking the city of Athens. While the Persian Invasion  of 480BCE on the Acropolis negatively transformed it’s landscape, a renowned sculptor, Pheidias, helped fulfilled the visions of a powerful statesman, Pericles, for the reconstruction of the sacred site.

This citadel has become synonymously viewed as an icon of democracy and the birth of western civilization.

One of the most important structures on the Acropolis is the Parthenon. It’s a classical-style temple that was erected for the warrior goddess, Athena. The temple has Ionic characteristics and is supported by Doric columns. Where the Parthenon currently stands, an older Athenian temple stood but was ruined during the Persian Invasion.

When I backpacked for 2 months around Europe in 2013, I booked a ticket to Greece. On my second day in Athens I went to the Acropolis. The walk towards the citadel’s ruins filled me with anticipation because the nearby streets encircling the outcrop offer numerous vantage points of it.

Although I arrived before noon, the site was still congested with tourists. In hindsight, I’m glad I wore appropriate footwear that would accommodate the steep slopes, dusty terrain, and slippery marble.

At this time, all of the Cultural Heritage workers on site were unpaid due to Greece’s economic crisis. Signs and banners were hung throughout the site informing tourists about their hardships.

In 2013, the Parthenon was partially hidden away by scaffolding due to an ongoing restoration project led by the Greek Ministry of Culture. This project started in 1983, and is to ensure the integrity of the architecture and stability. The Chicago Tribune recently posted an article that states the restoration is nearly complete and provides detailed photographs of the accomplishment.

Don’t miss these noteworthy places at the Acropolis:

  • The Entrance
  • Propylaea
  • Erechtheon with the Caryatids (read more about one of my Art History professor’s interesting research concerning the hairstyles of these women)
  • The Temple of Hephaestus
  • Athena Nike Temple

In addition there are two museums in Athens worth a visit. The first is the National Archaeological Museum, which displays famous Greek artifacts and paintings. When I went to the National Archaeological Museum I was blown away by the size of its collection and explored for over 2 hours. The second is the Acropolis Museum, which faces the Acropolis and houses artifacts collected from the site for conservation purposes. Replicas of the original extractions are at the Acropolis.

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View of Athens from the Acropolis, 2013

Things to do in Tokyo

Recently, a friend with an upcoming trip to Tokyo reached out to me for itinerary suggestions. I was more than happy to oblige because Tokyo is one of my favorite places to explore. The first time I visited Tokyo was for a study abroad program at Sophia University. Last November, I returned to Japan with my partner and a group of our friends. Previously on my blog, I shared various sites to see in Kyoto and my visit to Lake Ashi.

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Sensoji Temple & Asakusa Shrine – the grounds house Sensoji (a buddhist temple dedicated to Kannon), Asakusa Shrine (a shinto shrine), and the iconic Kaminari Gate through which tourists enter the complex. There is also Nakamise, a strip of tourist shops and tasty Japanese snacks. Sensoji is Tokyo’s oldest temple. This is one of my favorite destinations in Tokyo and I highly recommend visiting for the history, architecture, and Nakamise shops. Located outside of this complex is Shin-Nakamise Street, which has even more shops and snack options.

Takeshita dori – a quirky, narrow street in Harajuku with many independent fashion shops, cute boutiques, and cafes. The Sundays are especially lively, and many people come and dress up in stylish and trendy outfits. Once turning onto any of the nearby main streets, you will find larger chain stores and also Yoyogi Koen (park). It’s close to Harajuku Station and Meijijingu-mae Station.

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Meiji Shrine – a Shinto shrine that was built for Emperor Meiji during the early 1900s. The spacious paths have massive wooden torii and are lined with trees. On the complex besides the main sanctuary and shrine, is an expansive wall made entirely of sake barrels. Within the evergreen forest’s cool shade, the grounds immerse visitors within nature. The Shrine Since it’s across the street from Takeshita dori, it’s accessible by Meijijingu-mae Station and Harajuku Station.

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Zozoji Temple and Tokyo Tower area – this is a great area to wander Tokyo. I enjoy the visual juxtaposition of Zozoji temple with Tokyo Tower in the background. There’s usually a Sweet Potato vendor at the base of Zozoji Temple’s stairs. If you continue past the Jisho statues and prayers at Zozoji temple, you will find Tokyo Tower.

553363_10151854305308797_1121811822_n.jpgThe Imperial Palace East Gardens – was previously the site of Edo Castle, which was Japan’s second capital city. Much of the original structures are gone, except for some gates, guardhouses, and moats. Currently, the the site is now home to the Emperor, and tourists have access to wander around the outer areas and park.

Every Sunday, the streets before the grounds are closed for free cycling. However access to the public, main part of the Imperial Palace ends at 3:30pm on Sundays. There is a sidewalk that circles the grounds, but is popular with runners.

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View from Observatory at Roppongi Hills

Roppongi Hills & Observatory – shopping mall with a variety of restaurants, the Mori Art Museum, a garden and an outdoor area has light shows during the summer, and the Observatory that features a promising view of Tokyo’s skyline. When you purchase a ticket to the Observatory, it includes access to the Museum, and for an additional fee you can include the Sky deck. Mount Fuji is visible on clear days from the Observatory. There are bars in the observatory section, but they are expensive (think $16 or $18 for a cocktail).(including Tokyo tower and sometimes Mount Fuji). Tokyo Tower or Tokyo Sky tree also provide great views of the city.

  • Although it’s expensive, I’d recommend going to the Moon Lounge in the evening. Requesting a table by the window is incredibly expensive, so we settled on a seat at the bar that still provided a decent view of the city. I ordered the Gesyoku a mixed drink with red wine.
  • The Shinjuku Metropolitan Center offers a free view of the city. In my opinion, the Observatory or the Shinjuku Metropolitan Center offer better views than Tokyo Tower.

Odaiba – is a man-made island located in southern Tokyo that has arcade games, amusement rides, several shopping malls, and restaurants. Here is a comprehensive guide to all of the different attractions and sites. Fortunately, I visited DiverCity Tokyo Plaza twice, the first time was with the RX-78-2 Gundam in 2012 and most recently saw the Unicorn Gundam in 2017.

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Sushi at Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Fish Market – this marketplace is one of the oldest and largest fish markets globally. If you’re able to arrive at 5am, you can watch the infamous tuna auctions. Although I waited over 10 minutes to order sake (salmon) sushi in the outdoor area of the market, it was honestly the best sushi I’ve ever eaten.

Shibuya – experience of the mayhem of the overwhelming intersection before Shibuya Station. When all of the stop lights turn red, pedestrians surge across.

Kabuki or Noh theatre – if you’re a fan of theatre you should spare time to see a show.

  • Kabuki is known for it’s all men acting crew with dramatic make-up and decorative costumes. It also has detailed stage designs typically with features like with a bridge built into the audience, moving platforms, and trapdoors for stunts.
  • Noh is a classical musical drama with symbolic plots. The actors use their movements to present the story with minimal dialogue.
  • While I enjoyed Noh more than Kabuki, I felt the quality and design of kabuki outweighs the more simplified Noh shows. Moreover, Kabuki shows tend to be 3 to 4 hours in length, and Noh are much shorter. While both shows will be in Japanese, you should have the option to either listen to an English translation on a headset or follow along on a transcription of the show.

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    Visit in 2012 to Tokyo Disneyland

Tokyo Disneyland – it explains itself, however I loved my day here because it felt like a compact version of Disney World. However at Tokyo Disney, there are more adorable souvenirs and main characters walking around obliged to take photos.

I was ecstatic when I met Mickey Mouse and he took a photo with me. In addition to Disneyland, there’s also Disney Sea.

Miyazaki Museum – any fans of Miyazaki movies should tour this museum. While I haven’t had the chance to visit, it is on my bucket list for when I return. Unfortunately the only ways to purchase tickets are at a kiosk in Family Mart/Lawson’s (but usually needs to be done weeks in advance since they’re typically sold out) or with an overpriced tour online.

Machrie Moor Stones at Isle of Arran

On the 5th of March, I wanted to get out of the fine city of Glasgow, and since I enjoy the coastline thats the direction I wanted to head towards. As I grew up on the coastline back home in the states, I really miss not being able to see the beach from my house. On a random Friday, I took an hour long train ride down to Androssan Harbor, coupled with an hour long ferry ride, which reminded me of the ferries that frequent Long Island.

9573_10154542208753797_7140773807402476575_nThe Isle is enormous – and boasts itself as a ‘miniature Scotland’ – I can confirm. The snow was a recent touch, as some of the locals excitedly told me.

The northern part of the isle, includes some of the highlands. There are caves, various golf courses, waterfalls, bike paths, seals, hiking trails, and Neolithic monuments. The island even has seals, except we didn’t find any during our brief time on the isle. Since I really wanted to see the Machrie Moor Standing Stones, which is located on the far West side of the Isle, I took another bus ride. However this one last just short of an hour. Since the weather was so decent,  I was tricked and wore Converse. Never wear Converse when doing a hike with questionable Scottish weather – truly a rookie mistake.

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The bus deposited us off at a carpark, in front of a farmer’s field with a pathway caked with mud and sheep bits…. During our trek of approximately 30 minutes, we experienced a hailstorm, rainy downpour, and angry gusts. We had our packs with us, and I did use my (unreliable Primark) umbrella for brief stints of protection when it would cooperate against the wind. My converse were no longer black, but encrusted brown and sopping wet by the time we reached the stones in the gapping countryside. My toes were numb, and I could merely feel my heels.

It was worth it – but I’ve never been so fatigued from a 2 mile walk. I’m contributing it to the weather. There are various series of short and tall standing stones peppered throughout the fields. fs

By the time we returned to the bus stop we waited patiently for a half hour and noticed it past due. We were lucky to flag down an upcoming bus. Although the bus driver finished his shift, he explained there were no more available busses for the day, but was kind enough to offer us a free lift back to the port. Otherwise we would have been stranded, since we were pressed for time to catch our ferry back to Androssan. Unlike our earlier bus route, this driver cut through the center of the isle, which has very narrow paths. During the majority of the ride, we spoke with the friendly driver and found out him and his wife are Glaswegian! When his wife retired, they moved to the isle since that’s their favorite holiday location. I could definitely understand why!

We made it back in time to catch the ferry. That night, we stayed in a small town called Largs through an inexpensive cottage listed on Airbnb.

I’m planning to explore more of Scotland’s Isles :).

Norway and Krakow

On the last weekend of January, my friend Lindsay, and I arrived to Oslo City Centre by 18:00 on Saturday evening, and stayed at Anker Hostel. Although it was a little ways away from the city, it was only about 15-20 minutes walking distance. We traveled to the Sculpture Garden, but on the way we walked along Johan Street and through the city centre. We saw the cathedral, city hall and …we searched extensively for the Eternal Flame, however found out much later, that it was taken down.

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On Sunday morning we wandered about the Akershus Fortress before official opening time. We watched the raising of the flag and enjoyed the panoramic views of the harbor. The clouds were colored with the sunrise and mirrored on the waters surface. Also, the architecture of the opera house was quite pretty, especially since that part of the harbor was frozen. We departed Oslo, and headed for Krakow, Poland. Certainly it was not enough time spent in Oslo- as it were more of a layover, however next time I return to Norway it would be nice to visit the Viking Museum, Edvard Munch Museum and take an excursion around Oslos harbor/fjords.

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Although we arrived late to Krakow in the evening – we found ourselves in the market place of the Historic District – after enjoying a bottle of champagne… As we stayed at a Flat in Kazmirez, the walk over was brief and we could spot all of the monuments. We sat in Rynek Glowny – the main plaza – and drank Polish Wodka recommended by our waitress. We were cozy under our blankets, heat lamps and the holiday lights strung around the canopy.

We started early on Monday morning, as we had a full day tour of 2 UNESCO heritage sites, Auschwitz, followed by Wieliczka Salt Mines. I don’t typically do tours unless if I’m limited on time, but we booked with Krakow Shuttle. I would recommend the company as zero stress was involved, and they picked us up outside of our Airbnb flat.

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Unlike everyone else, I only took 1 photo during my visit to Auschwitz, which was of the entrance to Auschwitz I. I wanted to be wholly present. The tour started with touring the grounds of Auschwitz I, and was followed by the museum. I’ve heard about the piles of shoes and hair, but personally witnessing and smelling shook me. It’s a very tangible experience. To be honest, when we were brought to Auschwitz II (Birkenau) I wasn’t sure whether I had the strength to see more. But I walked along the road of death and entered the gas chamber with the fingernail markings engraved into walls.

sdfI think if possible, everyone should try to visit – it’s an incredibly powerful and haunting experience.

The Wieliczka Salt Mines were impressive and our tour guide was incredibly witty and comical.

After dinner in our flat, we visited the perimeter of Wavel Castel, and Krakow’s Old Town once more.

Sevilla, Cadiz, and Faro…

I visited Spain and briefly, Portugal for an extended weekend. A lot of blogs and pages online boast the beauty of the Andalucía region – and I’m promising you, it’s truly real.

1915381_10154299839148797_5739749941750990359_nFriday, December 18, was primarily dedicated to travel time. After my flight from Edinburgh to Faro, I took a bus from Faro Portugal to Sevilla Spain. At nightfall, I arrived in Sevilla. While the holiday lights that adorned lanterns shed light on the cobblestone streets, I weaved through the festive buzz of people. The rush of the city’s energy was enthralling. I didn’t want to stop exploring the nightlife. While in Plaza San Francisco, children and parents busily darted between the miniature ice skating rink to grab a candied surprise from a nearby vendor, or ride the carousel. Plaza Nueva was donned in lights and hosted a Christmas Market with a variety of artists.

 

On Saturday, I visited the Alcazar Castle complex – the architecture, the detailed tile-work, stonework, and the gardens are impeccable. I spent around 3 hours here, and I can say that I didn’t see everything!

 

I paid to go into Cathedral de Sevilla, saw Christopher Columbus’ tomb and walked around Patio de Los Naranjes. However, I didn’t pay the extra fee to check out La Giralda.

On Sunday, I took a day trip to Cadiz. Although I only spent a day in Cadiz, I saw both the historic and the new portions of the city. The highlights of my trip we’re seeing the Plaza de Mina, Plaza de Espana, the Catedral, and Santo Domingo. In mid December it’s not quite warm enough to lie on the beach in a bathing suit, but I was more than content to have a sweater on, and enjoy the ocean’s breeze on the edge of the pier. Since Glasgow repeatedly suffered through bad spells of weather, I spent most of my time relaxing in the sun. Nearing the end of my time in Cadiz day, a storm rolled in over the coastline.

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11224150_10154299847928797_4590554650208742574_nAfter I returned from Cadiz, I went to Aire de Sevilla. It may be overpriced and touristy, but I wanted to try it! They offer a wine bath – which I didn’t do, but my package was for the typical time in the various types of baths (ice, normal, jets, salt, and arouma therapy) accompanied by a 30 minute massage. It was crowded and full of mostly couples, however I was able to relax. My favorite bath had to be the salt, which is downstairs. It feels as if you’re entering a grotto, and it appeared to be the least popular with the crowd that evening.

Monday morning, when I left Spain to return to Faro, Portugal, I knew I would be back soon, since I want to see Granada and Córdoba in the Andalucía region. In May, I will be visiting Spain again to see a friend from home, who is seeing his sister while she is studying abroad in Madrid. I plan to take the train to Barcelona for a few days too.

 

Faro is a quaint little town with a historic district, and vandalized with lots and lots of graffiti. It’s especially relaxing around the harbor, and I spent some of my afternoon reading down there. I slept at Casa d’Algoa in a 6 person, but lucked out since I was the only one. I’m not antisocial, but a week earlier I finished my first semester as a postgrad student, and was amidst completing two final papers during my holiday; I was undeniably fatigued. I didn’t necessarily dislike Faro, but perhaps I was a little bored. I’d recommend if you visit Faro, you may find Praia de Faro more enjoyable, however due to my timing, I couldn’t.

24 Hours in Copenhagen

On a whim last week, I booked an inexpensive flight to Copenhagen from Edinburgh for 1 day. So much has happened over the past week (my 24th birthday, the death of my grandfather, American Thanksgiving, and handed in 1 postgraduate final paper), that I wasn’t sure if I could handle it, but to be honest – I was due for a much needed a distraction from reality. Copenhagen was perfect for just that. I’m very content with everything I saw – albeit, I didn’t see it all! I left Sunday morning and returned to the UK during Monday afternoon.

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Copenhagen was all dressed up with festive lights and their Christmas markets were open! It cheered me up to see so many happy people. I wandered through the shops on Stroget. It’s the longest shopping street in Europe and there’s something for everyone. I was able to see the Rundertaarn too, but it was closed. I heard there’s a better view from another rounder tower, Church of Our Savior.

The main site I had to see was Nyhavn. It’s the infamous harbor area with colored houses and schooners peppering its canal. I paid 40kroner (around 4£) for a cruise around the canals that lasted an hour. It was worth it and I throughly enjoyed it. Everyone says don’t stop at the first one – which is true! The first one was 80kr. Unfortunately we saw so much I can’t remember it all and the tour didn’t offer any pamphlets. It was chilly on the boat, but I kept switching between seats with an open and shut window for the sake of photo opportunities and warmth. Some of the most notable icons I remember are, the Royal Danish Old and New homes, the Kastellet, the Opera House, the Ship Museum that accidentally blew up some holiday homes a few years ago, Christianshavns, and the Little Mermaid Statue!

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The boat itself was quite long and short, but I was very impressed with the captain’s ability to maneuver through the claustrophobic canals. I remember holding my breath and inwardly cheering whenever we successfully moved onto the next set of neighborhoods.

Please comment and let me know what I should see the next time I return! I spied Tivoli from outside and wanted to walk explore Christiana too. Next time?!

Rebels Camping: A Sicilian Night Under the Stars

Recently a friend asked me if I liked camping. After a lengthy, dead-panned stare I uttered ‘no,’ however I reflected on my answer because something seemed to be bothering me. I realized as a child I detested camping (what was that noise, a thought that would reverberate through my mind in the middle of the night), however my most recent camping experience (recent, as in 2 years ago) was on the eastern coast of Sicily. Of course, it was illegal.

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We headed north of Catania to the base of the active volcano, Mount Etna, to the Gorge Al’Cantara. The Gorge was created millions of years ago from the wearing of volcanic rock. The site is a popular tourist attraction in the summer months, but not as frequently visited in autumn and wintertime. I’m not confident in the traditional way of getting there – as we took a bus, got off at the wrong stop and walked a few miles to the Gorge – only after inquiring from a dinky petrol station.

1470055_10152728115828797_1607500338_n Posted on a short standing fence were regulations about how the site closed at sundown and prohibited to camp. A triangular teepee crossed trough with an ‘x’. Past the fence was a small winding staircase that deposited us in to the heart of the Gorge. If you’re considering swimming, be careful – the river that runs through the rocky walls has leeches.

Albeit it was October in the Mediterranean, the evening air was chilled and the water was icy. We had no tent, but our packs, 1 euro boxed wine (don’t be too envious), and blankets temporarily absconded from the hostel we were worked for. With flushed faces we huddled close wrapped in our draperies. We were exposed to the gulping night sky. I remember the most amazing moment was when I woke during the night to the encumbered sight of the bright moon and the needle tipped stars.1476208_10152728116918797_1059898601_n

In the morning, we were roused awake by not only the sun but tourists excitedly waving to us from a viewing spot at the top of the Gorge.

Around the Ring of Kerry We Go!

While in southwest Ireland, I visited the Ring of Kerry, otherwise called the Iveragh Peninsula. The landscape boasts the views of the coastline and mountainous terrain. Before the tour I worried over the rain, however I had (the Irish) luck on my side. The rain clouds cleared by the afternoon time. 
Our route traveled from Killarney in a counter-clockwise manner, through Killorglin, Glenbeigh, Cahirciveen, Waterville (Coomakista Pass), Sneem, and Kenmare. We saw a part of the Dingle Bay, the Skellig Michael Islands out in the distance (I remember from my undergrad course in Irish Art History the Islands house an abandoned Monastery), the Black Valley, and the Ladies View in Killarney National Park of the two lakes. There was even a rainbow over one of its lakes.


If you can – drive it on your own. I will warn you that if you’re unaccustomed to small roads or not driving on the left-hand side perhaps you should take a coach tour. As I’m not old enough to rent a car, I opted for the tour. The driver was silent for the majority of the time, and it’s unfortunate because I feel like I saw so much but don’t know what half of it was. As the tour offered student prices, it cost me 15€ (approx 16$). For those reasons I will say it was worth it, but I think it might be nice to do it with friends and on your own schedule.

I find the ocean’s breeze to be so purifying, even if it threatens to whisk you away.