Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Feeling old, the Greece trip

I was just realizing that I'm getting older. One of the most memorable times of my life was the Spring semester of my sophomore year in college, and that was 15 YEARS AGO! I went to the University of Dallas, a small Catholic college in Irving, Texas. Part of the curriculum is the optional Rome Semester Program, in which students spend a semester (usually their sophomore year) at UD's Rome campus. (Thanks Mom and Dad!)

March 2nd, 1993, we drove from our campus (which was in Manziana, Italy at the time) to Bari, Italy, to take a ferry over to Greece. The boat seemed huge to many of us since it was able to fit our two tour buses, and all the cars of those who were taking the ferry to Greece. However, it is important to note that in a huge sea, our boat was tiny. This makes a difference when you encounter a storm at sea, because that is exactly what happened in the middle of the overnight ferry ride to Greece. We didn't have individual cabins, so we were all confined to the main lounge area which is just a huge area of seating in one corner, a full bar area in another, a cafeteria type restaurant in another, and just an empty area in the final corner. This was fun for a bit, but after a few hours of playing Uno and Egyptian Rat Fink, I started to get tired. The seating was like trying to sleep on an airplane, ie impossible. But this was like trying to sleep on an airplane that kept all the lights on and had lots of college students playing Uno and Egyptian Rat Fink all night, thus sleeping was even more impossible. At that point students began scouting out sleeping places. I decided to avoid the main lounge area and hunkered down behind the customs desk, as it was quieter than the main lounge, large enough area to lie down on the carpeted floor, and a bit more secure since you couldn't be seen. So I did get some sleep, although I do remember waking up several times as I was slightly tossed against the wall by the storm.

The next morning, March 3rd, was the difficult part for most of our group. The seas were rough due to a strong headwind. All of us were popping Dramamine like candy and avoiding the dishes from Greece that were rather filled with grease. I was fortunate to go outside only to see a friend of ours who bragged that he never got seasick, decide to feed the fish by doing the release part of a catch and release to the baklava he had eaten the night before. This led a friend and I to the other side of the boat where the wind was the strongest. It was rather fun to see how far we could lean into the wind without falling over:

This fresh sea air helped a bit, and the remaining morning was spent either outside or up in the bar area playing Uno. My friends and I didn't drink, but it did allow us to look out and see where the ship was going as the bar area was right next to the main control room (scary though).

Finally upon reaching Patras, we took our buses to Olympia. The food wasn't that bad, but ... let's just say that often other countries (like Greece, for example) doesn't quite have our meat rankings of "Grade A." This allowed a friend and I to have a gross out competition (ah the maturity of sophomores in college). I won by just holding up a chunk of lamb that had a huge vein like looking thing sticking out of both ends.

Anyway, 15 years ago today, March 4th, 1993 I won an Olympic event (more in a moment). Olympia is actually quite a small town. Mainly gift shops and some museums. I'd avoid the gift shops, and I'll just leave it at that.

After lunch was the tour of the ruins of Olympia. This is where I won an Olympic event! No, I didn't get a medal. This was old school Olympics: I won a foot race at the orignial stadium in Olympia.

As you can see, this was not just a simple race. It had rained all morning, and only cleared up when we began our tour of the old ruins of Olympia. The danger of the course was only confirmed by the women's race, in which the winner attempting to slow down at end, ended up sliding through the mud as she crossed the finish line.

Next it was the mens' turn. The competition was stiff, and the course was slick. My first main goal was to just not slip on the mud at the beginning. This allowed me get ahead rather than losing traction as several others did. Once I got ahead, my main goal was to just sprint for my life and to make sure I did NOT slow down at the finish.

The Photo Finish

The Victors

Afterwards we went to the Olympia museum and saw "Hermes of Praxiteles" which is apparently the Greek version of Michelangelo's "David" in terms of it's fame.

Greece has many ruins, but they are much older than those in Italy, so they are often more rubble than actual entact buildings. Earthquakes over the centuries had toppled the ancient temple to Zeus.

That evening some of my "competitors" had discovered siren's call of Greek Ouzo. I wisely tied myself to the mast of a foosball table and avoided any illness that night or in the morning. Because the next day was a long bus trip to the old capital of modern Greece: Nafplion. I can imagine that hangover + bus trip + plus high winding roads through jagged mountains do not = fun. LOL.


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