Our Big Fat Greek Winter University: Wanderlust Around Greece

One event. 13 days. Six cities. 23 participants and almost 25 organisers. “Our Big Fat Greek Winter University” was the New Year Event organised by the greek speaking antennae of AEGEE-Athina, AEGEE-Peiraias, AEGEE-Patra, AEGEE-Ioannina, AEGEE-Thessaloniki and AEGEE-Kastoria, between the 28th of December 2016 and the 9th of January 2017.

ioannina (2)This NYE was one of its kind! An ambitious plan and a profoundly challenging event with one and only aim: to emphasise the diverse beauty that Greece has to offer to its visitors during the winter. Usually, when people think about the country, the first thing that pops automatically in mind, is the S triplet: sun, sand and sea! The journey followed a different path this time. Participants got to travel and see both the urban everyday life of the big cities and harbours, as well as the picturesque, suburban areas with the vivid student life.

As for me, this was a self-discovering and an amazing experience. When I joined AEGEE a year ago, trying to find my footsteps aside from school and my comfort zone, I would never imagine that I would be mainly responsible for such a thing. This is why, when my antenna proposed to me to be in charge of AEGEE-Ioannina part in this event, I felt it like a challenge.

No matter the difficulties that the organisers had to face considering it was a collaboration between six antennae, we managed to make the dream of many people, even before us, come true. We definitely surpassed the Greek stereotypes that want many people when working together, arguing with each other with no result. The biggest proof is what one of our participants, Leyla Gasanova from AEGEE-Moskva, said:“In general I want to say big thanks for this event! We could see a reeeally good job and a lot of preparation”.

ioannina (3)The NYE started in the Greek capital Athens, of course. During the time in Athens, the participants had the opportunity to see our cultural inheritance. They visited the National Archaeological Museum, the state-of-the-art Akropolis Museum and Akropolis Rock. This was a life dream for many AEGEEans, who added a check to their to-do lists. They also paid a visit to the Ancient Agora and Pnika, the place where the ancient Athenians were gathering to discuss and vote. As Athens is a modern city, which combines perfectly the old with the new style, we could not miss an opportunity to walk in the alleys of the centre with full of bazaars, as well as shops with a modern and alternative essence. Lastly, the organisers of AEGEE-Athina took a good care of the social nightlife and partied along with the participants in various clubs. Everybody agreed on the fact that Athens had the best and craziest parties of the event.

The participants left with a great first impression to move to Patras, the second biggest harbour in Greece. The most enjoyable moment was during the city tour and the city rally when they visited, among others, the orthodox church of Saint Andrew and closed the day in the lighthouse near the marina, where we saw the sunset by the sea! It was a serene moment during this trip, perfect to meditate, as one of our participants did. The NYE party in Patras was a typically Greek celebrating meal, late in the evening. After we welcomed 2017, we ate the New Year’s Pie, a custom in the country. The pie was cut into pieces and served to guests. In it, there is a coin and whoever has it in his piece, is the lucky one for the year that has just arrived. It is connected to the orthodox Santa Claus, who is called Saint Vassilios, and he was the first to offer such a pie to the poor. Foteini, president of AEGEE-Patra, was the winner. After the meal, it was time for the party in the local bars!

ioanninaFollowing destination… Ioannina! It is the small town in the north-west of Greece, as known mostly for lake Pamvotis and the mountainous sceneries. The time here is like stuck in the past, in the era when the Ottomans ruled. This impression was increased by the byzantine castle, the remaining mosques and the legends still alive in every corner. Travelling through places of the Medieval Age astounded the participants. We also visited the island in the lake, the one with its permanent inhabitants. We had a dance workshop there with local dances from Epirus and the Ionian Islands.

Of course, we did not miss the chance to dance the syrtaki as well. It would not be a Big Fat Greek Winter University without it, anyway! The highlight of the day: other visitors were passing by and staring at us. However, who really cared at that moment? Another workshop given by Netcom Spyros Papadatos was both interesting and fun. It was about “An interactive way to introduce AEGEE so that both the new and the old members could contribute and enjoy”. Ioannina ended its part with the European Night, which was organised in accordance with the guidelines of the “Drink-wise Project”. As the main organiser on behalf of my antenna, I had the “Eurotrip” through all the tables of different nations and opened the night with Spyros. And yes! I am able to say we survived!

patrasNext in the row was Thessaloniki, “The Nymph of the North”, as locals proudly call the city. Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece and an eternal competitor with Athens. The participants had an amazing time in the city tour. One of the highlights was the byzantine castle, which was built in the 4th century. It offers a breathtaking and panoramic view from the highest point of the city to the beach and to the White Tower. During the two nights that they spent there, they got a taste of the legendary nightlife in Greek style tavernas with local foods, drinks and music. The pub crawl was a social activity which they also enjoyed much. In Thessaloniki, the organisers from other locals gathered together, created a lovely feeling to be all together for the final days of the NYE.

The event was meant to finish in Kastoria. The phenomenal snowstorm, though, that stroke Greece this winter, had another opinion on this. Under extremely low temperatures, AEGEEans took part in Ragoutsaria, a carnival that has its origins to the bacchanalian ceremonies that were exercised in the area. In Kastoria, the organisers also introduced them a real Greek night. The best part was definitely the moment that the participants tried to sing the mainstream Greek music. Unfortunately, the weather was a constant enemy and Murphy’s law “If something can go wrong, it will”, worked exceptionally well. With the whole country entering in a freezer, problems in the accommodation came up and the event had to finish ingloriously. This made us all disappointed, as we were all looking forward to the three-days party with the wine and the unstoppable dancing with the rhythm of Balkan music all around the alleys. Yet, every bad situation comes out a good result…or at least a funny incident.

We made it to the news! Two brave AEGEEans, during their visits to the frozen lake, walked on a very thin sheet of ice. Next day they became viral as the Kastorians who walked on the lake! Of course, we knew otherwise!!! To sum up, this NYE has been a pleasure and an adventure for everybody. As all NYEs, it was the perfect start to a year with full of travelling, meeting new friends and getting to know another country. kastoriaMore specifically, it was a chance to visit many Greek cities from the north to the south, learn about the culture and the particular cultural characteristics. Even though it might have been a little tiring swapping between six destinations, we were very happy to be able to show a different and more representative aspect of Greece. This would have been impossible without the friendly atmosphere we managed to create among the group of organisers. It was a surprise to me to get closer with our fellow antennae in such a way. We also owe this all to the most challenging and patient group of experienced AEGEE members that helped us to make it happen. And as once said… why not? Let’s turn this into a tradition!!!

Written by Vasiliki Andrioti, AEGEE-Ioannina