Friday, February 20, 2009


Saturday, February 14 - Thessaloniki, Greece

In December, eleven of us bought tickets to fly from Vienna to Thessaloniki and then tickets from Athens to Vienna.

As this day was Valentine's Day, the airline we were flying on, SkyEurope, had a special promotion: come with the person you love to the ticket counter and show your love with a kiss and receive a free ticket. As three of us were about to go through security, we asked someone if we could receive a voucher for a future trip. We were told that this is possible. So there were three of us: two boys and one girl. One of us needed to find another girl to pretend to be in love with one of the guys. So the other guy, Allan, called over the nearest girl he could find and we tried to explain the situation to her. She was a Spanish girl named Karen. I realized that if I was going to get a free plane ticket, it would be me who would have to kiss her. She didn't seem to understand, or at least seemed highly skeptical. So we went to the ticket office and said we wanted to show our love to receive a free ticket. The lady at the counter just gave us a piece of paper to fill out and, thankfully, I did not have to kiss a complete stranger. A few days later, I received an e-mail that gave me a promotion code for a free plane ticket.

Though there were eleven of us together, we each had different plans, some of which overlapped. I was going to be traveling with my friend Amy and we were going to try a project called "Couch Surfing." This is a website on the Internet in which people offer to host others in their apartments and houses. After arriving in Thessaloniki, we had trouble getting from the airport to the center of the city (In Greece, I found that information is poor for public transportation). So, we were supposed to meet our host at a certain time in front of a monument, but Amy did not quite know exactly what he looked like but knew his name. Then a car pulled up out of nowhere, and I jokingly said, "Looks like we're getting picked up." She laughed, but then two guys got out of the car and approached us and began to ask where we were from. We both figured these were our hosts, so Amy said, "Are you here for us?" We received a blank look and a quick end to the conversation. Eventually we found our host, Jairo, a Nicarguan who studies in Greece. He was a very gracious host, letting us stay in an extra room in his apartment. He showed us around the city and took us to a nice restaurant.

Sunday, February 15 - Thessaloniki
Amy and I walked around Thessaloniki, seeing some of the sites, the Church of Demitrius and the White Tower. Then I met with some other people and went to an archaelogical musuem. It wasn't too great though. We learned here that nearly everything closes at 3 p.m. Public officials only work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

In the evening, we found a nice restaurant that had some live music and one of the members from our group asked the musicians if we could sing a song for them. Everyone in the restaurant loved the song we played and asked us to sing another. I cannot imagine doing that in my own country or in the country I live in, but perhaps when we stepped out of our comfort zones, we were able to step further.

Monday, Feburary 16 - Kalampaka
In the morning, Amy and I took a train to Kalampaka, a town just below Meteora, a complex of monasteries atop rock pillars ( I was blown away by the beauty of these monasteries and the view from them. Bond fans will remember that Meteora was featured in "For Your Eyes Only."

The only downside to this day was my imprudence to think that we could find the path to walk back down to the city through the forest. One could either drive up to the monasteries or hike. We hiked up just fine but apparently didn't go the appropriate way, so when we were walking back down, we couldn't find the path. It was getting dark quickly and we bushwacked for about 40 minutes before realizing it was time to go back up the hill. The climax was a 15 foot cliff to which I said, "We could always jump down. It wouldn't hurt too much." Thankfully, we thought that one through. If we jumped down, there was no getting back up. I am able to laugh about it now with a few cuts from bushwacking, but my traveling partner Amy is still at the point of no longer questioning my every decision.

February 17 - Kalampaka and Athens
We decided to stay the night in the town at a small motel. We walked up to the monasteries again and stayed on the path while going up and while going down. In the afternoon, we took a train to Athens. Amy and I planned on staying with a Greek family who we found on Couch Surfing. We arrived into Athens at 10 p.m. and had no idea where to go. We called Konstantinos, our host, and he told us to take the Metro to a certain stop and he would pick us up. Staying with Konstantinos and his wife Daniela, we were humbled by their hospitality. Their generously was at the point where I began to question why they were so nice. When we arrived at their house, we had Dominos with them and their 14-year-old daughter Anna. In the morning, they fed us breakfast and took us to the bus station. Why would they pick us up from the Metro stop? Why would they drive us to the bus station? Why would they feed us? We were complete strangers and they treated us like family, even better than family. To make matters worse, they did not grudgingly perform these tasks; they were happy to help us. I cannot say enough good words about their hospitality.

February 18 - Delphi
Amy and I took a bus to Delphi to visit the site of the ancient oracle. We arrived only an hour before its close. Ancient Delphi is situated along a mountain range. It has a spectacular view and walking among the ruins brought us to wondering what life was like for a Greek during the days of the Oracle.

February 19 - Athens
This was our only full day in Athens. We began with a walk around the Acropolis. I loved walking around the Acropolis, looking at the Parthenon and temples and theatres, wondering about what sorts of people walked through there and about Socrates and Plato and other great philosophers. The Acropolis is above a hill and was very windy, but one could see the whole city of 5 million people (the same as the number of people in Slovakia).

February 20 - Athens to Vienna
This morning we saw the Athens Archaeological Musuem. There were many great statues, but Amy wanted to see the vases but the vase room was closed. I was determined that we get in to see the vases. So I asked the receptionist and he said no. Then I asked one of the art watchers (I am not sure what the title is but it is the person who just makes sure no one hurts the works of art). Two of them said that I should ask the receptionist again and say that I came from America to see the vases. So I asked him again and he said maybe but I had to ask someone else. I asked that other person and she had to ask someone else. Then that person said it would be okay. So that person had to go get another person to walk us through the vase musuem. In total, we counted seven people we had to go through to see the vases. Amy enjoyed the vases, so my persistance was worth it. In the afternoon, we flew back to Vienna.

In summary:
The greatness of my trip is hard to explain, but I can say that this week in Greece was one of the best weeks that I have experienced. The people I met were gracious and hospitable. The sights of the cities were beautiful. I have learned many things from this trip and hope that I do not forget them too quickly.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Response to Pop Quiz

As my religion students do not have textbooks, their homework is to study their notes that they take in class. This assignment is obviously problematic for those who do not pay attention in class, take notes, or at least copy their friend's notes.

Knowing that some students would rather not study, I decided that I would give them a pop quiz. I warned numerously days before the quiz, hoping that perhaps they would catch the hint that I would be quizzing them soon. (Perhaps I hinted too many times).

One of my students tends to behave poorly in class, bothering other classmates, eating random foods, walking around the room to give classmates these random foods. (Yes, yes, I know: I should have taken a course on classroom management). On perhaps two occasions has he positively contributed to the class.

Today, I read the answers from his pop quiz and thought they were worth sharing:

Question 6: Who were the Ebionites and what did they say about Jesus?"

An appropriate answer: A group of Jewish people who believed Jesus was 100% man and 0% God. They said Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies and God adopted him as the Messiah.

My student's answer: "They are stupid people with a stupid name."

Question 7: "Who were the Marcionites and what did they say about Jesus?"

An appropriate answer: A group of anti-Jewish people who believed Jesus was 100% God and 0% Man. They also believed that two gods existed: the god of the Old Testament and the god of the New Testament.

My student's answer: "A group of people who we would be better off if they never existed."

(Note: Ironically, some would actually agree with my student)

Question 8: "What did the Council of Nicea say about Jesus?"

An appropriate answer: Jesus was 100% God, 100% Man.

Or: See Nicene Creed.

My student's answer (part 1): "He is loving, kind, etc."
My student's answer (part 2): "I am not interested in what someone says. It is supposed to be about my belief. You are destroying my belief."

Puzzled by how to respond to his answer, I decided to talk to some of the other religion professors about what they would do. Knowing the student, each of them said they would write something such as "What belief is that?" or "Your belief that your god is not doing work?" One of the religion professors also said that this response is clique from people who don't actually want to work, don't know the answer, and just want to make the teacher feel bad.

After thinking about the situation, I came to a few conclusions:

1) My student picked the wrong question to say that I was destroying his belief. The other two questions would have been better to point out that I should quiz them only on the most vital points. This is a religion class on the history of Christianity. If he considers himself Christian, the answer to the question is his belief. All he had to do was say his belief and he would be right.

2) I remember telling him that Jesus was not born in a vacuum. I will have to tell him that he was not born into a vacuum either.

3) Low expectations bring happy results. I definitely didn't expect him to pass the quiz, but he did get two answers right.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Lyceum Ball

On January 15, the students hosted a ball.

When I asked if I would attend the ball, my first question was "what kind of dancing is involved?"

The response: "You know, dances that take place at balls."

This would mean that I would have to learn how to dance, real dances, not the Macarena or the Cha-Cha Slide or the Chicken Dance. So, one of the teachers at the school said that she knew someone who would teach us how to dance. We would learn the waltz, the tango, the two-step, polka, and a few others.

The dance instructor spoke only Slovak except "quick quick slow...quick quick slow." Nevertheless he was very nice and these lessons (I took three of them) gave me an opportunity to practice my Slovak and my dancing at the same time. I got to dance with one of the teachers who only spoke Slovak. She taught me much on the dance floor, in the language of Slovak and dancing.

The day before the ball, one of the students told me that she had a surprise for me and the other teachers at the ball. I thought, "this can't be good. Surprises = bad." Nevertheless, the surprise was that she danced a waltz with me as the first dance when it was just teachers and students together. On the dance floor, I forgot nearly everything.

It was a good thing that I forgot nearly everything because it turned out that the ball was more of a dance than a ball. So after about 20 minutes of ball music, the DJ began to play disco music. (Note: disco music is not necessarily '70s music but music that people go out to clubs to dance to).

Tomorrow, I will be attempting another ball. My friend Joe who rafts for the National Slovak Rafting Team invited me to his Watersports Ball. I went to this ball last year and they did do actual dances. I recall my dances to polka music. I will be bringing my dancing shoes.