Wednesday, June 28, 2023

10 Day Excursion

It feels good to be back in Alikianos after our long journey away from Crete. It feels like returning to a home that I have known for my whole life. The journey was long and tough, and exhaustion peaked at times during the brutal heat. But it was very much an experience that I will never forget.

We began our journey in Heraklion where we rested and recovered from the long bus ride to the port. Heraklion was a beautiful, metropolitan area with lots of shopping and great food. The overnight boat ride was full of surprises with a restaurant on board and surprisingly comfortable beds (that felt like waterbeds half way through the night). And then it was off to Athens!

We raced through the city beginning with the "Return to Sender" exhibit that showed the fast fashion waste and the effects of overconsumption. This was one of the most powerful exhibits I have seen and really spoke to me for the issues that I could help tackle. We made our way to the Acropolis (with a delicious gyro stop along the way) and passed by many shops and vendors that had caught all of our eyes. There seemed to be smoke near the top of the Acropolis so the street was busy with emergency personnel. After that walk, we divided and conquered the city of Athens and split up until we met up later for our trip to the port. Then it was a short hour trip to Euboea.

Euboea was a grand experience for all of us. Thanks to Professor Vamvakas' connection to Mr. George Danis, we were treated like royalty. He was a very kind and generous man and I could not be more thankful. We shared many long meals together and lots of laugh. The weather was absolutely gorgeous. Our hotel was right near the beach which was amazing for the afternoons. We took a trip to a local vineyard where we tasted some of the BEST wine ever (it was a dessert wine but who says it has to be). For lunch we even went to a beautiful picnic-like spot overlooking the city of Karysto. On our last night, we met with the Mayor at city hall. He was very welcoming and offered many gifts. He explained the use of wind turbines and how it impacts the energy of the city. However, there was quite some confusion on the numbers that were being produced and used. After a quick 5 hour period of sleep, we all got up and began the long journey to Cyprus. From bus to boat to a delayed plane, we managed to arrive in the city of Nicosia on Friday night.

Cyprus, and Nicosia specifically, is the most interesting place I have ever been to. The division between the south and north of the city, the intersection of all these groups of people, and the blend of antiquity and modernization created a city like no other. I spent MANY hours and steps walking around the city both day and night, and really explored it on my own. The downtown area was a hub of shopping and food. We tried a fantastic Armenian place that I may had visited twice more after. The city was lively and fun, with many streets to get lost in. However, the main attraction of the city was the emphasis on division between the Greek and Turkish sides. We crossed over the gate once and saw a completely different world than the side we were living on. It truly was an eye opening experience. The barbed wire is so prominent in every direction you look. The DMZ was filled with nothing except UN troops. However, what was interesting to me was a soccer field on the Turkish side that can be used in the dead zone. There was also very obvious immigrant population, especially in the working class. In the Greek side of Nicosia alone, there was a division amongst socioeconomic classes. The migrant workers lived a much different life than those that were among the rich and wealthy. It was really fascinating to see the complexity of the city through just the people on the streets alone. This was my first contact with the "east" and seeing it for the first time really opened my eyes to how little I have seen of the world. I would love to explore more of different places that aren't the easiest to travel to, and requires more of a challenge than just a vacation spot. 

These last 10 days have taught be so much about everything. I learned a lot about myself through my walking habits and how much I could eat and drink before the walking become difficult. I also learned a lot about why Cyprus, and in general the Mediterranean, is so crucial because it is such a crossroads in the global landscape. I am very appreciative for this experience because it has changed so much of my perspective already. We are back in Crete to finish up the program now; only 3 days left. I am sad to write that so I will closing my laptop now. Αντίο!

-Benjamin Paluk

Saturday, June 24, 2023


 We are in our first full day in Cyprus! Last night we went on a mini walking tour around Nicosia to see a few important sites. We got to see the buffer zone which is really close to where we are staying. This makes what we have been discussing conceptualized. I am still having a hard time wrapping around just how crazy it is to see the border where the UN has control. To think about how beautiful Nicosia is and then have the streets surrounding be abandoned is unreal to think about until you see it first hand. So today, we did our class at the University of Cyprus in the cultural department! It was really beautiful in there! A group of us are working on some of our assignments in a coffee shop with Professor Vamvakas. Later today we are going to go in the Turkish occupied side to have a tour and see more landmarks! Very hot 96 degrees today but another beautiful day in the books! 

Friday, June 16, 2023

First Impressions...

The first week (and a half) is officially over! So far, our days are filled with three stimulating classes, sunny days at the beach, and a myriad of different excursions around the island. We take every opportunity to spend time outside admiring the natural beauty and have grown to appreciate the surrounding community within the town. My fellow peers and I talk (ad nauseum) about the wonderful food, people, and culture of Greece and I could surely write endless pages recapping our adventures. However, I’ll focus on my main 2 takeaways from the program so far.

First, I’ve noticed the difficulties in straddling the line between being a tourist and being an active scholar intent on seeking to better understand not only the positives but also challenges within the region. The environment is conducive to enjoying oneself, trust me, yet the challenges (like any country) are present if you look further. The orange juice is delicious … harvested by underpaid immigrants such as the Egyptian worker Aleh whom we met on a walk. The hotels are picturesque …. maintained by overworked hospitality workers who are fighting within unions to be paid fair wages. Our facilities at the Institute provide great Wi-Fi and clean water …. which puts a strain on the country’s natural resources and ability to transport such goods to the locals. The main way to avoid being a temporary apathetic tourist is making a concerted effort to stay cognizant of such issues and remind ourselves the reason why we are here, in the Mediterranean, within a study abroad program. As a group we are trying our best to balance thoroughly enjoying our time here and also tackling uncomfortable conversations regarding the stark reality of this beautiful island.

Secondly, specific to this particular group this year, I highly admire our adaptability and positive attitudes. One example is with our three arduous hikes through the Samaria Gorge, the Ottoman Ruins, and our “walk” to the Apostle Paul’s Church. They were difficult and challenging yet made a lot easier by our optimistic mindset and general camaraderie. We're all funny and light-hearted with unique personalities. Personally, I believe there are a lot of obstacles in life that require gritting your teeth and pushing through until it is over. However, it’s definitely easier being with a group that has the ability to do that with a smile on our faces (especially when there are idyllic beaches waiting at the end!) I’m looking forward to traveling this weekend and will continue to keep this blog updated.

All the best,

Mariana (“Mari”) Kordorsky

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

First Weekish: Sunday, June 4th - Tuesday June 13th

 I flew to Crete on Friday, June 2nd with some fellow friends in the program and so far I have been having a fantastic time! The village of Alikianos is beautiful and everyone at the Kapsomenos Foundation has been so kind and welcoming. Professor Vamvakas has taken us to numerous historical landmarks as well as guiding our group through the Samaria Gorge and up to the Ottoman ruins. I have also been finding the classes we're taking very interesting and relevant, not only to my degree but to the problems happening around the world. I'm excited about the rest of the program, and I'm particularly looking forward to experiencing the occupied island of Cyprus.

Touring the archaeological site of the Ancient city of Aptera

Visiting the Old Town in Chania, filled with ancient ruins and tourist hotspots

A kitten being taken care of by the beachgoers 

Our Greek teacher, Katerina reviewing sentence structure for the verb 'to want'

Snapshot from our hike through the Samaria Gorge

A few goats on the ruins after the Gorge

The intense but fulfilling hike to the Ottoman ruins after the Gorge

View of the town of Agia Roumeli from the Ottoman Ruins

The church on the secluded Saint Paul's beach

Samaria Gorge & St. Paul's Beach


After we made it out of the gorge, we hiked another .5mi straight up to see the Castle Agia Roumeli. The hike almost killed us, but the view at the top was so worth it!

After we got back from St. Paul's beach, we jumped in at the beach back in town and then went to get ice cream before taking the ferry back to the bus at the end of our weekend excursion. Dr. Vamvakas turned the entire boat around to pick up a bag that someone had forgotten behind, but it was smooth sailing from there once we got it back. 

What was supposed to be a "30min walk along the beach" according to Dr. Vamvakas turned into a 1hr 15min hike. The beach, food, and church were incredible though, so even if it was more challenging than expected, I'm glad we decided to join in on the extra hike :)

Sunday, June 4, 2023

2023 is here...and another group of students

 Over the last decade the Institute of Eastern Mediterranean Studies has grown up into a program which brings students to the Mediterranean and also brings the Mediterranean to the other side of the Atlantic. Everything has started with a group of students, who 2012 explored for the first time the culture, history, politics of the region from the central location of Chania, Crete. This year again we will start in Alikianos, Chania and explore the nexus of energy, food and water in the region, by visiting three islands, two countries in one Mediterranean.

Look forward to travels and adventures of this dynamic group of explorers.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Saying Goodbye...

Tomorrow, July 3rd, the program officially ends and the departures conclude from this year's summer program. It's a bittersweet moment to leave such a fantastic place that has taught us so much in one short month. I'm going to attempt to summarize all our unique experiences in one blog post but it is hard to put into words all the amazing things we have done here.

Exploring the Village of Alikianos and Chania

During the first two weeks of being in Greece, we were able to experience a lot of what Alikianos, the city of Chania, and the surrounding area had to offer. We went to some beautiful beaches after we would finish classes for the day and had great authentic Greek food. Despite COVID taking a little bit of a toll on our first two weeks, we were still able to go to a local winery called the Manousakis Winery in a neighboring village, explore the old Venetian Harbor City of Chania, visit neighboring monasteries, visit the US naval base in Souda Bay, and hike the Samaria Gorge- a 10km hike and the largest gorge in Europe.

Archipelagos: Samos, Leipsoi, Arkoi, and Agathonsisi

During our third week at the program, we switched things up and flew out to the Greek Island of Samos to start a short program with a Marine Life conservation group called Archipelagos. This group is extremely dedicated to ensuring the well-being of marine and ocean life in the Aegean Sea as well as having a lot of first-hand exposure to the refugee crisis in the Aegean Sea. We set sail with this group and lived aboard among them on their Aegean Explorer ship for five days. Adjusting to living on the boat was difficult at times; however, as a group, we were able to really adapt and learn from a different style of life. We were able to explore Samos, a Greek island off the coast of Turkey that has a checkered past with the refugee crisis. As a group we took a trip to visit the current and old refugee camps that were very difficult to see; however an important lesson and hands-on learning experience. We were also able to visit the Archipelagos base in Leipsoi, a beautiful small island in the Aegean that had a lot to offer to learn and enjoy. We also stopped briefly at the small island of Arkoi, an island that is known for having more goats than people with a total human population of about 40-50 people. We also then went to the island of Agathonsisi where we were able to have a one-on-one discussion with the Mayor there that has been there to experience things like the influx of refugees, COVID-19 supply chain issues, and marine life conservation. All of these islands were unique and we got to experience all the good and bad sides of them that you would not normally see as a traditional tourist I really enjoyed this unique experience. A major added bonus of this part of the trip was a beloved rescue puppy that we all really enjoyed bonding with on the boat.

Wrapping it all up in the last week

During our last week of the program, we were able to neatly round off the program with a few great stops on our way back from Samos including a day trip to Athens, an overnight trip to Heraklion, and a road trip to Rethymno. After our few days of travel, we then returned to Alikianos to finish up classes and take exams. In Athens we may have broken a record for how quickly we were able to do a complete tour of the city including having Souflaki, visiting the bottom of the Parthenon, visiting the government buildings, and visiting the Acropolis Museum. In Heraklion, we were able to explore the biggest city in Crete and visit the ancient Minoan ruins and see and learn a lot about that history. In Rethymno, we were able to visit a beautiful monetary that dates back to the 1800s as well as explore that city and what it had to offer. These were all such incredible learning experiences and I am so grateful that we were able to fit it all in and see what a lot of Greece and Crete have to offer. Coming back after all this travel was bittersweet because we were all happen to be back at the institute but we all knew our time was coming to a close. We focused on finishing up our work for courses as well as going to an authentic Cretan concert in Kissamos, taking a few more beach trips, visiting the NATO NAMFI missile site, and most importantly, attending Professor Vamvakas' name day party- a Greek tradition that luckily fell under the time of the program. We took one last trip into Chania to celebrate our last evening together as a full group at the institute and then the departures began. I am so happy I was able to go on this trip and it has truly taught me so much about international affairs, the Eastern Mediterranean, Greek culture, and general life and educational lessons that will stay with me forever. I will always remember this trip and the people on it forever. Thank you Professor Vamvakas for an amazing experience!

Grace Viviano