29 Apr | Hannah Zoppi | No Comments

Spring Break in Istanbul!

What an amazing spring break. Our entire school went to Istanbul, Turkey for a week and it was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. I tried to change it up this time and let the pictures (and video) speak for themselves mostly… enjoy 🙂

We took the smallest plane to Athens due to the possibility of ferry strikes on Paros. It was a 35 minute flight compared to a 4 hour ferry ride… yes please!


It felt like a private jet with it only being HISA students!

First stop: Ayasofya Museum. It’s the most beautiful church/museum I have ever been in!! (Sorry Rome and Greece!) I am in LOVE with the architecture and have never seen anything so big and MAGNIFICENT.

And let the madness begin… Outside the Grand Bazaar.

Everyone on both sides of you are nonstop yelling at you to come inside with things like “Spice girls! Over here!” and “Angel” “Princess” “Blondie” and any other nickname you could imagine. A very common pickup line in Turkey is the men yelling “Hey you dropped something!” at you, and if you turn around they will say you dropped their heart. Overwhelming!

Nonstop Turkish Delights! Delicious and addicting and you can buy them literally ANYWHERE.

This man in the marketplace was selling a special treatment for feet which involved a leech being put on any blisters you may have to “heal” them… I decided to opt out of that one.

An art gallery we came across with some incredibly cool pieces. 

HISA dinner out with everyone at a beautiful little restaurant. We got turkish pizza, chicken, vegetables, apple tea, hookah, baklava and rice pudding! Sidenote: The waiter this night was extra stressed by the amount of people so he asked us to give him a round of applause… for bringing out bread. We love bread. Why not!

We celebrated Greek Easter at an Orthodox church in Istanbul. BEAUTIFUL service: candles and singing!

One of our favorite things to do…drink Salep at the cafe by our hostel. Delicious warm drink made out of Orchid powder, milk, and cinnamon.

Always take your shoes off before entering a Mosque to keep the carpets pristine!

It’s a custom for the men outside of the Mosque’s to actually wash their feet before entering.

Wearing our headscarfs to get into the Blue Mosque!

Street sweets!

Turkish Icecream! Tastes like regular icecream but with a gum-like quality.

Turkish public transportation! Crowded and crazy!

Spice Market.

Performers everywhere on the streets, one of my favorite parts about Turkey!

A man at the rug shop who offered me his most elaborate and beautiful rug for my hand in marriage. I just accepted the apple tea instead 🙂

Turkish bread! Fluffy and hollow but turns into a saltine if you don’t eat it before it cools.

And i’ll end with a perfect picture of the Blue Mosque. Wonderful!

Overall it was an incredible trip. I learned SO much about different cultures and I am so lucky to have gotten the opportunity to not only travel to this country, but also to experience this with my entire school 🙂

xxx Hannah



20 Apr | Margaret Decker | No Comments

Spring Break in Turkey

What a week! Istanbul is absolutely crazy. After living in a small town for most of my life, going to a small school (in a smaller city), and then moving to Paros which is a pretty small island, Istanbul’s 14 million population really threw me. At first it was really refreshing, always seeing someone on the streets and knowing that there are actually other people where you live, but after a few days, that many people got stressful. I guess I’m just a small town girl at heart.

The first thing we did after our exhausting day of traveling was go out for dinner together and have our first experience with Turkish food. Turkish pizza, Turkish ravioli, Turkish bread–which puffs up to be huge but then becomes interestingly cracker-like after it’s broken into, Haydari–which is like Turkish tzatziki, and some really delicious hummus. A man on the street was playing the drum in a traditional Turkish way, and we all acknowledged him and clapped for him, but as much as he seemed to appreciate our enthusiasm, he finished and immediately asked for some money. Lesson number one of Turkey: I know it’s hard not to acknowledge people, but even if you tell someone no, they think it’s possible to convince you otherwise. Just keep looking straight ahead and don’t give anyone a chance to try to make you buy something or donate money.

The next day, we went on a massive walking tour of the city with Cameron leading us along. We stopped first at the Hagia Sofia, a building with a wild amount of history. First, it was an Orthodox cathedral, then a Catholic cathedral, then Orthodox again, then later turned into a mosque, and now it’s a museum. Talk about a chameleon building! It’s very interesting architecturally and design wise because it still retains elements from most of its different phases. It still has massive medallions with calligraphy and the intricate geometric patterned walls from its mosque days, but it also still has stained glass windows and Christian iconography.

Then we went through the Grand Bazaar, where there are shopkeepers constantly trying to get you to come in to their shop. They’ll say things like “Hey, Angel!” “Hey, Sweetheart!” and “Hey, Spice Girls!” when you are with a larger group of girls. Even though haggling for prices can be fun, the constantly being called at can be grating on your sanity. Still, we weren’t there for long, because we still had so much to see. We went back several other times in the week, and I bought a dress, jeans, shoes, and a scarf. All in all, a good vacation shopping haul.

We went quickly through the old book bazaar. Then we walked through Istanbul University, which looked a lot like an American university, but with a lot more flowers planted on the grounds, and a cooler view across the Golden Horn. Cameron let us stop there briefly while we all caught our breath and took pictures.

After the break, we went through the Spice Bazaar, and made our way to a restaurant just outside the spice bazaar. It had pretty good food, great hummus, but it was definitely the beginning of spending a lot of money on food. Even though it never really adds up to a lot of money in US dollars, or even in Euros, I’m still one to prefer staying in and cooking my own food, so going out every lunch and dinner becomes sort of exhausting, especially when it’s such a big city with so many places to choose from.

The next exciting thing we did was have a group dinner with everyone and Barry where we all sat on the roof cafe of our hostel and had a good time and a few drinks. Nothing too crazy, though. Except maybe how crazy I am about Turkish Pizza. 😉

Later in the week we went to the Blue Mosque, otherwise known as the Sultanahmet Mosque, which is one of the most famous in Istanbul. We made sure to cover our heads with scarves so we were respecting their culture while we visited such a religious place. A woman there even gave Laura a skirt with velcro on it to cover her up further (although I don’t know why–she was wearing full length leggings). Ah well, when a Muslim woman gives you a skirt, you wear it. Turkey Lesson number 2.

On another day, we got to see a very different but still very cool part of Turkish culture: the young part. Across the Golden Horn in Taksim is Istiklal Avenue, which is heavily populated all of the time by young Turkish hipsters and lots of American and English brands. It’s almost completely westernized, and so it reminded me of home to see Gap and Sephora and Starbucks. It’s nothing new, and looks kind of like SoHo in New York, but it was at least refreshing to not get called at on the street and actually choose which stores we wanted to visit. Plus we took the tram to get there, and then we took a shuttle train to get to the top of the hill, which was actually really fun!

Anyway, it was really quite fun for parts of the Turkey trip, but we really just missed Paros. Taking a break and seeing something new was definitely worth doing, but by the time we went home, I was very ready to get here.

Well, TTFN, Ta Ta For Now!


P.S. As a sidenote, another thing I learned in Turkey is that the most important thing you can do for yourself as an American girl is to briefly abandon your feminist views, because the culture of a place you go isn’t going to change for you. I know it might be hard, but just let a guy friend walk with you when you go places. Or go in bigger groups. Safety is more important than trying to convince anyone that you’re independent.




7 Apr | Hannah Zoppi | No Comments

Molto Bella!

It is possible that I just had one of the best weeks of my life…

Shayla, a friend I met here in Greece, and I decided to take a week long trip to Rome & Florence to meet up with my best friend Kristen who is currently studying abroad in Copenhagen! 

Overall, the traveling days were the most difficult. There is a lot more that goes into hopping from country to country than what I expected. Shayla and I woke up early on Friday the 30th and headed to the ferry (carrying our luggage across cobblestone streets made us realize that perhaps we packed too heavy, and had not even left Paros yet!) We bought our tickets and got on the ferry which was 4 hours to Athens. Once in Athens we got a taxi to the airport, checked our bags, and off to Roma we went! When we were landing every time someone said “Welcome to Rome!” we screamed a little bit. 

By the time we got into Rome, it was already dark and we were exhausted but still had a ways to go.. Finding the hostel was bound to be the most difficult part since the only directions I had were brief and on my iphone. We had to take a shuttle into downtown Rome and it was on our way to getting on it that Shayla’s handle of her luggage completely broke off! As if it wasn’t hard enough to get around an unknown city flooded with tourists, now she had to get creative and use straps, and other foreign objects to lug her bag through the streets of Rome. I felt so bad for her since at this point all we wanted was to not get pickpocketed and to just find our hostel. Eventually we came across it when we saw a bunch of young people hanging out at the bar outside next to the hostel and we then had to carry our bags up ENDLESS AMOUNTS of stairs just to get to our room! 

Turns out, our hostel was already occupied and from the remains we found on the 2 bottom beds of the bunks that were already claimed.. these were 2 guys! We wondered just how safe it was to fall asleep with all of our stuff in the room with unknown guys living beneath us but we were so tired that after we ran to get a quick bite we passed out anyways. (SIDENOTE: at our first dinner in Rome we were surprised and found it hilarious that every time we asked our waiter for something he would take it off the table of people that were 2 inches away from us. Water? …took it from the table. Olive oil & Vinegar? took it from the table beside us.. I began to wonder if we should just scoot our tables together and join them!) When we woke up in the morning with the strange boys on the bottom bunks beneath us, getting down from the rickety beds was hilarious because we made a ridiculous amount of noise and clearly woke them both up before we left.  

(**NOTE FROM ATHENA: This was not an Athena sanctioned field trip, thus the accommodations were not set up by Athena Study Abroad.)

In the morning after somehow getting our bags all the way down the stairs (how did we do that…seriously?) we walked to Termini train station in hopes we would meet up with Kristen, but this place was SO huge that we figured we would just hop the train and hopefully find her in Florence! A guy who we thought was sweet and nice and trying to be helpful when we bought our train tickets electronically really just asked for a euro which reminded us that we need to be careful who we talk to around here. We took the long train to save us some money and after getting into Florence and yet again walking far distances, we came across our hostel to find TONS of people sitting outside looking miserable. They weren’t letting anyone check in yet! We felt so dirty after the hostel and the train that we were dying for a shower so the people at the front desk of the hostel were so sweet and got us towels, shampoo, and body wash and let us use the downstairs showers which were in the POOL area! As I searched for plugs all over the hostel to blow dry my hair I realized that this was going to be an adventure and you just have to go with the flow.. which as 2 high maintenance girls, we really did a good job of 🙂

We then got our map and ventured out into Florence to the Pizza de Repubblica to meet Kristen and her friend Hannah for lunch. After getting lost SO many times and trying to navigate the busy streets, finding this restaurant and spotting my redheaded friend was like finding a treasure chest. I was overjoyed to sit down and finally breathe in Florence and realize that I was sitting, eating pizza with great friends in ITALY. 

After lunch we spent the rest of the day exploring the town and walking through all of the little shops that smelled of leather and enjoying the beauty of Florence! I found myself to prefer Florence over Rome because of the beautiful architecture and atmosphere.

The next morning in Florence we stood in line to see Michelangelo’s “David” statue, which was well worth it. It was so glorious and seemed like a dream to actually be admiring such a classic piece of work. We sat on the benches and gazed up at him for awhile just letting it sink in. We also were not allowed to take pictures as we found out when Hannah was yelled at for just holding her camera in her hands, but we sneakily took iPhone pictures anyway! We couldn’t resist…

Our last day in Florence we had planned on climbing the Duomo but it turns out that it was closed so we had to make do with the bell tower instead (which turned out to be even better because we got to photograph the Duomo from the top!) The stairwells were extremely narrow and so flooded with tourists that at some points I had to just close my eyes and keep on climbing or I knew I would have an attack of claustrophobia! When we finally reached the top after what seemed like an endless climb of stairs, we were rewarded with an incredible view of Florence that made ending the trip here perfection.

Back to Rome we went! We took the faster train this time and arrived at our hostel after briefly getting lost (always) and were pleasantly surprised! We stayed at Hotel Cervia, a nice little hostel that was in a great location near restaurants and cafes, and just minutes from Termini station and the metro. All 4 of us had one room with beds lined up next to eachother: it was hilarious being in this type of setting after living on my own for so long but it was like a big sleepover every night and I really enjoyed it! Again, we faced floors and floors of stairs but after climbing the bell tower in Florence we decided we were pretty much professional stair climbers at this point, so the hostel stairs seemed less daunting. (Although much more daunting late at night after dinner and wine!) An added bonus was every morning we went down to the cafe inside the hostel and got a complimentary cappuccino and croissant. I never wanted to leave.

The rest of our days in Rome were a whirlwind of excitement, history, pasta, pizza, gelato, and euphoria! Rome is an incredible place and I am soo happy to have gotten to share it with the friends that I did. Seriously an unreal experience. 

The Coliseum

New generation of Gladiators!

Beautiful Dali exhibit at the Art Museum


Vatican City

St. Peter’s Basillica

Only picture of the Sistine Chapel… photos inside NOT ALLOWED (and they made sure of it).


Trevi Fountain!

What more could you wish for in Rome with great friends?

Nights out!

The Spanish Steps

Pizza in the Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps!)

So many wonderful cafes in Rome.

My favorite Piazza, filled with artists and musicians!

Tartufo: Quite possibly the best thing I ate in Rome!

The water fountains in Rome

What an incredible week that I will never forget. I asked my cab driver on the final night if he had ever been to Locarno, Italy where my ancestors originated, and his response was a burst of laughter. Everyone in the car started laughing too because we did not expect this reaction from the Italian man who barely spoke english: “Locarno is a very, very, funny, funny, funny, place.” I asked him what he meant by that and he said “The people in Locarno are wild and free spirits…very, very, funny.” We all laughed together in complete agreement that this is where I came from. I’ll be back for you one day, Italy.

xxx Hannah




7 Apr | Margaret Decker | No Comments

So Much Fun That I Forget The Internet Exists

And that is a whole lot of fun we’re having out here. When I last blogged, we were talking about the weekend that we spent in Naxos. Since then, we have have plenty of amazing things thrown at us from all directions by the HISA staff.

First, the weekend after Naxos, we got up nice and early on Saturday morning to be driven in carpools to a town called Lefkes on another side of the island. Then our trusty tour guide Cameron took us through the winding streets for a little tour, showing us churches, folk art in the street, and old abandoned houses.

After wandering through the streets and seeing Lefkes, we walked along a Byzantine trail towards Podromos. The great thing about all of these hiking trails is that even if one is easier than another, they all have several amazing views. I’ll never need to spend money on postcards because I have so many great photos of the places we go. The view from the Byzantine trail was absolutely breathtaking.

I still can’t believe I live here.

Once we reached Podromos, several teachers came to pick us up and drive us up to Barry’s house for a HISA barbeque! He lives on a very high hill with some very precarious (although somehow standard Greek) cliffsides along the road, but all of our teachers are very used to driving here, so it felt as safe as it was going to get. It was absolutely worth it though, because once we got to Barry’s house, there was a smorgasboard of grilled sausages and burgers, as well as roasted vegetables and a gorgeous salad. Plus, there are some definite perks to living on such a mountain: the view is ALWAYS great. We spent what time at Barry’s that we weren’t eating by having fun talking to each other and the teachers and listening to a lot of Oldies and Folk music.

This past Thursday, one of my fellow student friends, Hayden Bunker, got the opportunity to DJ at Saloon D’Or, so we all went out dancing to support him and (of course) have a really good time doing so. He’s a wonderful DJ, because unlike many others, he takes requests and really pays attention to how many people are on the dance floor and caters the music to fit the people there. If you’re a DJ with a certain style, maybe that’s a sacrifice you won’t make, but in a club like Saloon, it’s one you really should make. We all had a great time and danced until the wee hours of the morning.

Yesterday, we had a meeting about our trip to Turkey next week (which I will definitely be blogging about), and then a bunch of us went to Tao’s, a restaurant and meditation center. It was beautiful and calming and very much focused on Zen principles. We got a tour of the facility, drank some lemongrass tea, and had a workshop seminar where we did the very beginning of Tai Chi and Chi Kong and some guided meditation. Then, when we were all about ready to float on home from being so relaxed, we went to the restaurant where we enjoyed lots of Asian food (I ate Chicken Pad Thai and Wonton Soup).

It was a great day. It’s been a great week. I love Greece.

See you in Turkey!

TTFN, Ta Ta For Now!




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