Before we head back to Italy later next month, I figured I should probably finish writing about our trip there, for R&R, in July.  I left off in Santorini, and we had five more stops on our cruise before returning to Rome.  First stop: Athens.

The ship actually docked in Piraeus, Athens' port.  We'd run into this on cruises before, so I'm not sure why I found it so frustrating at the time, but I thought it exceptionally difficult to figure out how to get to the city. Maybe because the taxis were on strike, maybe because it was scorching hot and I was again sweating like a whore in church, but probably because I'm just spoiled and moody; nonetheless, we eventually made it to the train station.

After an hour in the hot, crowded train car, we arrived in what was the epicenter of the austerity riots held a few weeks earlier.  Their toll was astounding: neither Joey nor I could believe how dirty and full of litter and graffiti we found Athens' Parliamentary Square.  But once we left the seat of government and proceeded through the city, past the Byzantine Greek Orthodox cathedrals, the Plakka and its shops toward the Acropolis, we found the rest of Athens to be significantly nicer.

We settled into a cafe where I devoured the fresh tomatoes, kalamata olives and crumbly feta of my Greek salad and more than a few bites of Joey's juicy gyro.  Then we climbed yet another massive hill, only this time there was no poop and the Parthenon waited on top.  Standing next to the ancient temple that stood as witness to thousands of years of history was awe-inspiring, and the view of the city was expansive.  Athens seemed to go on for miles in every direction.

Hundreds of photos later, we clambered down the other side of the Acropolis and around more of the city.  We cooled off in the shade with a plate of baklava before boarding the train back to port.

Click here for all of my photos from Athens.

the (cumpulsory) year (and two days) in review

367 days ago we landed in Abuja.  It was our first day in Africa and we were excited, anxious, bewildered, overwhelmed and exhausted.  366 days ago Joey's colleague took us to Mogadishu Barracks to eat spicy whole fish with our hands.  In a dark enclave outside the city, suddenly immersed in African culture, the experience so surreal I felt the space spinning around me.  Half-terrified, half-exhilarated, Joey and I exchanged looks that said, "Are we really here right now?!" 365 days ago Mogadishu Barracks was bombed.

And so began 2011.

I could describe our year in terms of violence.  The BBC reports election violence in April and May killed somewhere around 800 people in Nigeria.  Summer was book-ended by bombs; first the Police Headquarters in June, then the UN in August.  At least 20 people died.  Then in November reports of credible threats to the Hilton and Sheraton flooded Abuja radio airwaves.  All Americans were warned to avoid those hotels and the Marine Ball was canceled.  Christmas Day brought more bombs close to Abuja, in churches no less.

We didn't realize the stress of living in such a volatile place until we left.  And once we discerned how much better we coped with everyday life upon our return, we left every chance we could get.  In 2011 we traveled to Stockholm, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, the US, Ghana, and South Africa.  We hit four continents, the Southern Hemisphere, and the Indian Ocean.

It's been an extraordinary year.  It's been hard.  It's challenged me in ways I never could have imagined.  It's been truly scary, and some days I really didn't know if I could handle it.  Another EFM I met here told me it would get easier.  She said, "when I first got here I thought, 'If I can handle this, I can handle anything,'"  and she was right.  It has gotten easier and I'm proud of myself for living somewhere I never thought I would and many days never thought I could.  I've come a long way from bawling under the covers of our townhouse in DC.

This year put a lot in perspective.  The value of family and friends and safety; clean water, personal space, and deodorant; cheeseburgers and the United States of America.

God Bless the USA.