I arrived in Crete almost eight weeks ago. Since then, I have had the chance to experience and learn something new every day. I take a deep breath and try to soak it all up because I know I'm here only for a few more months.
As I already explained, I'm here on a scholarship funded by the Vidalakis family, essentially for a co-op, but also to experience the rich Cretan culture. I was placed to work in the marketing department of Creta Maris, one of the most popular and oldest beach resorts in Crete. This was my chance to get international exposure in a work setting, to overcome language barriers, and to experience a completely new lifestyle.
Of the four Drexel students chosen to come to Crete on co-op, I was the second one to arrive, Liz was first. My friend Bill, an ESN (ERASMUS Student Network) volunteer, arranged for Giorgos, another ESN volunteer, to pick me up and drop me off at the hotel. I am staying in Heraklion, the largest city on the island of Crete. The day after I arrived, Giorgos offered to take me to his home in Rethymno for their main Easter celebration.
Holy Light from Jerusalem:
I had the chance to partake in a Greek ceremony with Giorgos's family where the Holy Light was passed onto the people at the church by lighting candles. The Holy Light is a light that is brought over from Jerusalem after being distributed by the Archbishop to the pilgrims.
After all the chanting, the lights in the church were dimmed, I looked around and every one had white candles with various designs on them, some were even encased in glass so the light would stay protected. Just before midnight, the Holy Light was taken out of the church for a couple of minutes and brought back in and given to the people. A few people went forward, lit their candles and then shared their light with someone else. This was one of the most beautiful ceremonies I had ever been to. I am a Hindu and we have the Festival of Lights as one of our main religious celebrations, but this was something so different and powerful. Giorgos's mother saw the look on my face and told me that the ceremony symbolized hope, support, and inspiration. She also told me that people take this light home and make a cross with the flame in front of their door for protection. I also had an opportunity to give somebody light from my white candle tied with pretty blue string (pictured).
Stephanie joined me a couple of days later and we started exploring the city together. The apartment we are currently living in was still occupied at the time, so every time we wanted to go anywhere, we had to take a 15-minute bus ride to The Center from our hotel.
Before Steph arrived in Crete, I met Natalia and Ewa, two Polish ERASMUS students studying Horticulture at the Technological Educational Institute which is where we are required to take classes. When Steph arrived, we met up with Natalia and Ewa and went to the beach. I felt as though this cultural exchange with them was the start to a beautiful friendship. Later, we were also introduced to more ERASMUS students from Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, and Hungary, through various social events organized by ESN.
Once Lydia arrived, Steph, Liz and I met up with her and decided to go exploring. We went to the various Orthodox churches, walked by the harbor, and even went horseback riding. While visiting the churches, Lydia, who had been to Greece before, told us about their architecture and interiors. She was raised Greek Orthodox in Philadelphia and was able to give us much more detail. I was so fascinated by the Basilica of Agios Titos. Inside you can see the skull of St. Titos in a golden case with a glass top. I thought it was incredible.
A Delay with Work:
I had a lot of trouble getting my government documents together so I didn't start work until May 14, about three weeks after I arrived in Crete. Since I started, I have been enjoying work thoroughly. On my first day I was asked to work on a blood donation campaign for the hotel's blood bank. I have also worked on writing content for the information channels in the hotel, writing press releases, and I'm sent to Guest Relations every week for a couple of hours to see how things work there.
Professor Owens' Classes:
As Vidalakis Scholars we are required to take a Greek culture and language class while in Crete. Professor Gareth Owens, an associate professor of Hellenic culture, history, language, and civilization takes us to different parts of Greece through his lectures and slides. He has talked about Delphi, Olympia, Athens and various Islands of Greece and their importance in Greek mythology and history, which makes me want to visit all of them.
I have taken classes in art history at Drexel and I really developed an interest for art after that, particularly Byzantine and Minoan Art. One reason I applied for this fellowship is because I wanted to visit the Minoan palaces, Phaistos and Knossos, and learn more about Greek mythology and art. Two weeks ago, I visited Knossos (pictured) with my roommates and it was simply exhilarating to see. Although I was hoping to see the famous Leaping Bull Frescoe at the palace, it had been placed at the Archeological Museum in Heraklion and only a copy of it was mounted on the wall. It was as if my art history lesson with Professor Brancaccio at Drexel had come to life. Professor Owens has promised to invite us to the next trip to Knossos with his new group of students next semester, as he has access to some of the restricted areas. I cannot wait for that!
The City of Hania:
Every Wednesday after Professor Owens' class, Lydia stays with us since the two and half-hour drive back to the city of Hania is too tiring to do on the same day she arrives. When she is in Heraklion, we get to explore the Centre together and get to enjoy the big bottles of organic olive oil she brings us from the Kolymvari region of Crete. As I mentioned in my first post, Lydia works for Terra Creta, an olive oil company. She has tried to convince us to use Terra Creta products because she insists that the sunflower oil that I use for deep-frying doesn't retain any vitamins after the oil reaches a certain temperature.
For a change, Stephanie and I decided to visit Lydia in Hania for the weekend. Lydia had always insisted that we go to Hania but she never told us that that it would be even more beautiful than Heraklion. We went directly to the harbor, ate lunch, and took a boat ride to an island near by where we went snorkeling and swam with beautiful blue fish with hues of yellow and green. Afterwards we walked around the town and even went to an exhibition of the Battle of Crete. The exhibition consisted of film reels and pictures taken in 1941 by New Zealand soldiers when the Germans invaded Crete. It was a very interesting display. The next day we went cycling on a bocca bike (a four seater pedal car). As my two friends pedaled, I sat in the front, enjoying the view and asking people to move because we couldn't find the bell.
I look forward to writing my next journal entry to capture these moments and share them with you.