topics: kaltsounia (food), intricacies of the Greek language, velodrome, "Greek" vs. "Hellenic", Crete, "kafeneio", AEGEE, Erasmus, cultural exchange; jump to dispatch

BikeAbout Log


Rider Notes: March 11-12, 1998

Food of the Day: kaltsounia

The cheesy dessert pastry brought to us by our new friend Katerina is called "kaltsounia." The light dough shaped like a little sun is filled with a special cheese called "athotiros" - the "tiros," meaning "cheese," is made specially in Crete. Katerina decided we needed to try them since we won't be visiting Crete. In fact, giving cheese as a gift is the thing to do when visiting someone's home in Crete, as many fine varieties are made there.

Word of the Day: "omonia" click to hear an audio clip and "armonia" click to hear an audio clip

The words "omonia" and "armonia" are similar, but not the same. The Greek (Hellenic) language is very particular this way, and here is the perfect example. "Omonia" means "peace," as in complete, perfect, all-around pleasantness for everyone involved and on all levels. "Armonia," on the other hand, means "harmony," which is more like a peaceful co-existence despite differences or disputes that are simply accepted or tolerated, whether people like them or not.

Person of the Day: Haris Spourdalakis and Michalis Stratakis

Haris Spourdalakis and Michalis Stratakis are inseparable friends who were each willing - on tremendously short notice - to host a BikeAbouter, even though, at the start, they knew nothing about us or the project. Anthony's host, Michalis click to view a photograph, and Corinne's host, Haris click to view a photograph, are both studying economics at Athens University, and both are very proud to be from the island of Crete. They taught Corinne and Anthony, among other things, the many differences in pronunciation between the Cretan and mainland dialects - especially for important things, like swearing!

Both Michalis and Haris are also very active members of Aegee (see Rider Notes for more about this) and have traveled quite a bit through it. They value very highly what they have seen and learned, and, like us, encourage people to get out and see the world!

On the first evening we met them, we stopped by one of their apartments and dropped off our bikes and bags. Soon after, they participated in the chat 'n' debate, assisting us with the answers for students' online questions. They also bought us dinner that night, and invited us out for drinks with their friends throughout the week. Although our time in Athens was very short, it took no time at all to realize that these are two very special guys, and we greatly appreciate their hospitality and outgoing friendliness.

Place of the Day: Olympic Park Velodrome

Padraic and Anthony had the pleasure of going out to Athens' Olympic village for a rendezvous with Mr. Karebetsos, the General Secretary of the Hellenic Cycling Federation. As part of BikeAbout's effort to stay in touch with the cycling world and its representatives, this kind of encounter is something we hope to have more often as we move into countries interested in cycling.

While wandering around looking for the right person to talk to, the guys bumped into Bill, a member of the national cycling federation (specializing in the 4,000-meter pursuit). Bill actually recognized them from their appearance on Jammin back in Thessaloniki. So Bill showed the guys the velodrome click to view a photograph and his track bike.

The velodrome is a special arena for cycling... fast. Oval shaped click to view a photograph, it is built to accommodate the special needs of bicycle racing, which means that it is banked on both of "sides," as well as on the turns, only much more steeply on the turns. click to view a photograph You see, when a cyclist goes around a turn, one of the laws of physics tries to pull him or her off the bike. This is called a centripetal force. The banked track of the velodrome click to view a photograph is designed to counteract this force. By leaning into the turn click to view a photograph (and not running the risk of sliding - that's one of the reasons why the track is banked), the rider came stay more comfortably on the bike... and go even faster! Basically, the velodrome is kind of like a mini German autobahn for bikes!

When they had had enough fun at the velodrome, Anthony and Padraic headed for the offices of Mr. Karebetsos. (Bill had to go out on his "normal" daily training ride of 120 km (75 mi)! - oh sure that is further than the BikeAbouters usually ride but hey, Bill doesn't have a laptop or clothes to schlep). Mr. Karebetsos welcomed them warmly, told them a little about the Federation, gave them some contact names and numbers for the road ahead, and even gave them pins and flags for the Federation which everyone now proudly displays on the bikes and lapels.

Tech Fact of the Day: Greek or Hellenic?

During the Ottoman occupation of Greece (15th through 19th centuries), the word "Greek" was given to the people in Greece because it means "slave." This put-down was a simple way of making the people feel small and unimportant. Therefore, since independence, the "Greek" people have reverted to their original name for themselves, taken from the Hellenic period prior to the occupation. Calling themselves "Hellenic" and the country "Hellas" thus restores their pride in themselves and their land.

Group Dispatch, March 11-12
picture of Corinne

Our first morning in Athens was a hands-on introduction to the city. Yesterday, upon our arrival and after having biked to the city's center in the rain, Ethan and Padraic left to stay with a new friend, Katerina, and her family, while Corinne and Anthony found a hotel until they were also placed in host homes. That night, even after Katerina drove us around to find a good, cheap restaurant, the dark, cold, and rain made our mood a little sour; we didn't really take in any of the city.

So we did this the following day in the typical BikeAbout fashion: by running errands. The fearsome foursome split up to tackle tasks such as multiple phone calls and visits to people we hoped would help us out. As usual, we needed to find schools and interested organizations to speak with, get media attention during our time in Athens, as well as find inexpensive ways to go to the historical sites throughout Greece. This may sound easy, but it takes a lot of effort. And what better way to get to know the city!

By the time we all met up again in the late afternoon, we all had appointments for the next day, Corinne and Anthony had homes and hosts to find, and Ethan had found a place for us to do the live Chat. Phew!

More strolling through Athens with packed bikes brought us to new parts of the city we hadn't yet seen. We met Anthony and Corinne's hosts, Haris and Michalis (our People of the Day), and stored the bikes for the night. Then it was off to the live Chat at the local Forthnet Internet Service office, where these two new friends, as well as Katerina, joined in the fun to say hello and discuss Greece with students online. It was the perfect get-involved introduction to BikeAbout for our hosts!

The next day was again the usual running around, making meetings, and trying to set up concrete visits with like-minded organizations. Ethan spent some time at the Ministry of Education (and set up another appointment for Friday), while Anthony and Padraic went out of town a spell to visit the Olympic Village where the 2004 Olympic Games will be held. They had been invited by the General Secretary of the Hellenic Cycling Federation to visit the Velodrome. They were so impressed (and the pictures are so cool) that it's the Place of the Day.

Corinne also had a meeting that day, but due to scheduling difficulties, it didn't happen until we had all reconvened. So, as a group, we all visited the Greek office of Eurosymbioses: Internet & Environment in Education, which works "toward an information ecology, environmental education, and eco-social development of the Internet." There we met with Vasiles Ziaka - one half of the brother-sister team that runs the Athens office - and discussed how our two organizations can work together while BikeAbout is in Greece.

Eurosymbioses is aimed at linking schools, teachers and students in Europe through the Internet and in discussions about the environment. Both Eurosymbioses and BikeAbout are funded in part by La Fondation Charles Léopold Mayer pour le Progrès de l'Homme (Foundation for the Progress of Humankind), and are part of the Alliance for a Responsible and United World. (See the BikeAbout Sponsor Page for more detailed information.)

The more specific purpose of Eurosymbioses, according to their literature, is manifold:

"Humanity faces two challenges in the run-up to the 3rd millennium: preserving the Environment and preparing for the Information Society... As architects of a social life, as well as project managers, teaching and communication enthusiasts, we are actively looking for community projects which take into account these two challenges... [It] is crucial that civil society, citizens, trade unions, political movements - and many others who work for the general good - should appropriate the Internet and its tools for disseminating useful knowledge and constructive exchanges."

We could not agree more.

After this meeting, we headed off as a foursome to Katerina's home and a lovely dinner prepared by her mother. This was followed by a boys-only go-round with her father at the local "kafeneio." click to view a photograph Much like pubs in some countries, these places serve as hideaways for middle-aged and older Greek men who want to play cards or backgammon with their friends. It has now also become a place to eat and drink.

Jiannis, Katerina's very jovial father, had been insisting since our arrival that we should experience the "kafeneio" culture. He seemed so enthusiastic about bringing us to live this part of his life that we could not refuse? But, unfortunately, as is so often the case, we didn't have enough time for an appropriately leisurely crawl through, or relaxing kickback in, these notoriously drab and simple, men-only establishments. So Jiannis led us on a speedy multi-establishment spree that left Ethan, Padraic and Anthony rolling with hilarity, food and drink. Yes, already stuffed after the dinner Katerina's mom had so generously offered, the guys could never have known that they would be facing so many more plates full of delicious foods, and glasses full of sumptuous drink. It is beyond amazing to report that when they returned, the three guys were completely unable to imagine putting another morsel or drop of anything past their lips. They were stuffed. They were overstuffed. And they had had the time of their lives getting that way, meeting Jiannis' friends, joking with Jiannis, learning about him and his life in East Germany and Greece through tumultuous political times. As an outspoken communist, he has been in some unusual situations. We enjoyed hearing about it all...

Meanwhile, Corinne and Katerina went for a drive and a stroll near the sea, to chitchat and get to know one another.

The next stop for the evening was at a meeting of the organization that served as the hub through which we found all of our hosts in Athens. Erasmus is a cultural exchange organization encouraging connections between Turkish and Greek university students. We first heard about it through Bengül, our friend in Istanbul. The first exchange involved only seven Greek university students who "dared" to visit Turkey. When they returned, they spread the word that it's not a bad place after all, and that the people are warm and friendly! Then a few Turkish students also visited Greece, and the exchange grew. Erasmus will be hosting 50 Turkish young people in Athens this spring, and excited preparations are well underway.

This attempt at bridging the gap between the people of Turkey and Greece is extremely important. There are still many bitter feelings harbored by people from both sides, old grudges dating from the time of the Ottoman/Turkish occupation of Greece and past wars between the nations. There is great concern even today since the Greek and Turkish governments still do not get along.

Erasmus is very similar to another student exchange program called AEGEE. The AEGEE network was started in 1985 by students and young people looking to build a real European Community that consists not only of paper-signing politicians, but also of people. The organization takes its name after the Aegean Sea, where democracy was born. Working to help unite Europe through the efforts of enthusiastic students, AEGEE has a membership of 17,000 young people who take part in home-stay exchanges, international conferences, and coordinate national workshops to brainstorm and implement strategies for a unified Europe.

The people attending the meeting to which Michalis and Haris had invited us were signing up for summer stays of two weeks or more in different parts of Europe. University or other courses are offered that focus on various fields of interest or particulars of culture, and issues regarding the ultimate unification of Europe or just about anything else you can think of. Despite their excitement about their summer plans, these students took the time to speak with the BikeAbout team about Greece (continually chiding us about the islands we're missing), and have a look at our computers to ask questions about our trip and the aims of BikeAbout in general.

As if our day hadn't already been long enough, after this Corinne and Anthony went out for drinks (again) with a few of the students at a local bar, to discuss further the similarities and differences in our cultures, and the importance of travel. Then Haris walked us back to his place, giving us the full scoop on the different sites and areas we passed through. The city looks very different when empty at night, and his explanations about the neighborhoods gave us a whole new perspective through which to understand it.

All in all it was a day full of learning, exploring, and exchange - just a typical BikeAbout day...

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