My first conference and my first trip to Greece

While my last 1,5 in my current job teaching English at a preparatory school at a university in Kayseri, Turkey have been challenging, they have also been extremely rewarding and conducive to my development as a teacher, mostly due to the inspiration I get from my colleagues on a daily basis. My friend and colleague CeAnn is one such source of inspiration and motivation. We prepared a joint presentation for a conference in Greece, which allowed me to learn all the steps of the process but also take a trip to a wonderful country with my wonderful friend – and my wonderful husband who came to support me (which never happened because our presentation took place on Sunday night when Mike was already on the plane back to Kayseri) and to see the sights.

Photo: Taking off from Istanbul on Friday night on a surprisingly big plane for an 1 hour flight. We didn’t even finish our movie. IMG_3214

As soon as we arrived to Athens, Mike switched into the tourist mode. Men and their maps, what can you do! IMG_3227

On Saturday morning we woke up to a glorious sunny day. We decided to get some sightseeing out of the way before heading to the conference for the rest of the day. I couldn’t get over the lemon and mandarin orange trees everywhere! So much green and flowers and sunshine! Unfortunately when I stole a mandarin, it wasn’t very ripe.

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We followed the footsteps of millions of other tourists to the Acropolis of Athens, except that we got slightly derailed. I have to say, my favorite thing to do in a foreign city is just to walk around and look and smell and listen. Acropolis is undoubtedly one of the world’s most famous sights and is well worth visiting, but exactly because it is so old and so famous is that it looks slightly unreal. I know Michael doesn’t share my views on this and he came for the sights as much to supports me, but here is my favorite place in Athens:

IMG_3260I spotted this place as I ran into a side street to take a photo of something – the said something promptly forgotten as I saw this shop. One of many other antique stores in the area, it was filled with junk and treasures in equal measure. We started by cautiously looking at some of the things outside, but once we set the foot inside the shop, we kept going up seemingly endless flights of stairs, trying hard not to trip over books, ornaments and statues or hit our heads on low hanging chandeliers and lamps. I still don’t know how many floors or rooms there were, or how long we spent in the state of wonder, walking from room to room, picking up various items, gingerly skirting around precariously piled objects.

IMG_3268 IMG_3279   IMG_3289  IMG_3272 IMG_3291 IMG_3288  IMG_3262 IMG_3274As soon as I got over the shock of this whole enterprise, I immediately started searching for… you guessed it, sausage dogs. I tried asking the sellers if they’d seen any but they just shrugged helplessly. There were lots of other dogs, just not the sausage ones. So I philosophically said that in a place this chaotic, you have to stop looking for sausage dogs and let them find you. Which they did! I was about to leave when my bag caught on something, causing a small shower of trinkets to fall from a nearby table, a green ashtray with a sausage dog among them, together with its twin. Score!

IMG_3298Sausage dog needs met, we finally started walking towards the Acropolis, enjoying the warm sun on our faces and the smell of pines and flowers all around us.

A few photos from the Constitution Square – from friendly fruit sellers to locals hanging out in the morning sun.

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Someone is sleeping on the job.

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A beautiful stone theatre, called The Odeon of Herodes Atticus, built n 161 AD by the Athenian magnate Herodes Atticus  in memory of his wife. It sits 5000 and is still being used as a concert venue. IMG_3397IMG_3466

IMG_3394The Acropolis was everything you`d expect it to be – fascinating, magnificent and crawling with tourists like ourselves.  In case, like me, you have only a vague idea of what Acropolis is, while feeling like you should know what it is, here is a brief history. An acropolis (‘upper city’ in Greek) is a settlement or a citadel, usually on a hill. They were usually the centre of large ancient cities and as such became major landmarks in the modern times. The most famous acropolis is The Acropolis of Anthens, dating to the 5th century BC., which is usually called just The Acropolis.  One of the reason for its fame is the buildings within the Acropolis – such as Parthenon, the Erechtheion and the temple of Athena Nike.

Queue for the tickets IMG_3381 Queue for the entrance  IMG_3404My favorite building in Athens – the Erechtheion, an ancient Greek temple dedicated to Poseidon and Athena. See those statues? The Porch of the Caryatids, also known as the Porch of Six Maidens was built to hide a giant supporting beam. How prosaic. It gets worse. None of these ‘maidens’ are original. Why? Well, according to Wikipedia,” in 1801 one of the caryatids and the north column of the east porch together with the overlying section of the entablature were removed by Lord Elgin in order to decorate his Scottish mansion, and were later sold to the British Museum. Athenian legend had it that at night the remaining five Caryatids could be heard wailing for their lost sister. Elgin attempted to remove a second Caryatid; when technical difficulties arose, he tried to have it sawn to pieces. The statue was smashed, and its fragments were left behind. It was later reconstructed haphazardly with cement and iron rods.” Then the building gets damaged by Ottoman bombing during the War of Independence, restoration attempts are unsuccessful and all 5 sisters are eventually moved to the Old Acropolis Museum,  minus the 6th sister, who still in the British Museum.

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The Parthenon, arguably the most famous of all the monuments here. Like the Erechtheion, it is also a temple, this one dedicated solely to the goddess Athena, who the ancient Athenians thought of as their patron. It was built in 438 BC to replace an older Athena temple. Though a temple, it was actually used as a treasury, and as various changes brought by wars and conquests swept through the country, it was converted into a Christian church, an Islamic mosque, and finally an Ottoman ammunition storage, which exploded in  1687 as a result of a Venetian attack. Understandably, the explosion caused severe damage to the building, and if that wasn’t enough, the same Lord Elgin that stole one of the maidens from the Erechtheion, removed the statues that remained intact. They later became know as the Elgin Marbles and were subsequently sold to the British Museum. The Greeks have been trying to get the sculptures back for over 30 years now, as well as a number of other artifacts from the Acropolis that are now scattered all over European museums. With all the conquests, bombardments and pillaging Scottish lords, it’s a wonder there is anything remaining for us to look at and take selfies with.

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Taking a little break from sightseeing.  IMG_3452 I have to admit that I had to consult my friend Wikipedia for the dates and a few facts while writing this post, but a lot of it came from Mike. If he ever gets tired of teaching, he could probably make a decent living as a tour guide, so knowledgeable he is about history and sights. In fact, when he left on Sunday afternoon, CeAnn and I kept asking each other what one building or another was, neither of us knowing the answer and sighing that if Mike were here, he’d know.

One major landmark seen, we went in search of another famous Greek institution – the gyro (mysteriously pronounced as ‘euro’). I`ve never had one as in the places where I lived before – Russia, England, and obviously, Turkey, its Turkish counterpart, the doner kebab, was more popular, but Mike and CeAnn were both looking forward to having one. Gyros are made with pork, which is roasted in strips on a vertical spit, and then wrapped in flat bread with garlic yogurt sauce with tomatoes and onions. A few days before our trip, we watch one of those food documentaries where presenters eat their way around a country and then tell you what the best foods are to eat and, depending on the program, what the best places to eat them are. So we knew exactly where we were going – this tavern. Despite being featured on TV, being located in one of the most tourist places in Athens and being pretty busy, the prices weren’t too bad and the servers were friendly. As soon as we were seated, we were presented with free shots of raki, a free carafe of wine instead of the glass of wine we requested, chunks of freshly baked bread (It tastes exactly like Russian bread! The only other country besides Russia I`ve ever found bread like this! – explained I as I surreptitious placed one hunk of bread into my purse).

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Souvlaki IMG_3481 IMG_3483

My favorite thing in Greece – THE GREEK YOGURT! Capitalized because it is amazing and unlike anything you might have had outside Greece and thought of as Greek yogurt. Creamy. Think. Just the right amount of sour. DELICIOUS! In this place it was served with peaches and honey. PERFECTION! I feel like it’s the most I`ve ever raved about a food item. But trust me  – it’s worth it!IMG_3486We were happy and full of wine and pork and yogurt, the first two are unimaginable luxuries to all of us living in Kayseri, one of the most conservative cities in Turkey, where pork simply doesn’t exist and alcohol is only served in 4 or so places, 3 of which are attached to large hotels. So fortified, CeAnn and I made our way to the conference, which after all was the main reason for the trip.

We made it just in time to see a plenary talk by Stephen Krashen, a famous, and I would even go as far as to say a notorious, author in the field of English language teaching.  Regardless of whether you agree with his views on language acquisition, if you are at all serious about teaching languages, you will have heard of him. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from the talk and was pleasantly surprised at how interesting and engaging it was – and how charismatic the speaker was. You can watch his talk here.

IMG_3535IMG_3538We attended some other talks and workshops, met our colleagues from several different countries,  received an impromptu Greek dance lesson before heading back to the hotel.

IMG_3905 IMG_3896 IMG_3775Initially we thought of going out but mindful of our own presentation the following day, we stopped by a cafe to buy some herbal tea and retired to our rooms at around 9.  Which meant that the next day we were up bright and early and ready to learn more about teaching! We were absolutely blown away by another plenary speaker and his talk on the English accents.  I highly recommend watching his talk here, even if you aren’t a teacher.

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We went out for a quick lunch during the lunch break and accidentally came across the Greek Parliament just in time for a changing of the guard, which seemed to be a very elaborate affair and was made more elaborate than usual by arrival of some important figures, possibly politicians, and a whole host of marching bands.

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As always, I wasn’t looking at the obvious. I was charmed by a street dog, who slept in the middle of the square, totally oblivious to the crowds of tourists around it and woke up later to sleepily wonder around.

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Soon, it was time for our presentation.

IMG_3781 IMG_3779As always, there were minor issues with technology but, thanks to some hard work from the organizers, we were ready to go in no time.

IMG_3904IMG_3790 IMG_3791In brief, our talk was about project-based instructions and, in particular, a course we taught last year where students were assigned a survey, interview and video project. The talk went without a hitch, and just like CeAnn said, the audience was friendly and interested. And just like that, I presented at my first international conference! It made me think of all the other conferences I participated in, in a very different capacity – hidden in a sound-proof booth with noise-cancelling headphones and a microphone, interpreting for programmers, ceramic producers, cardio- and neurosurgeons and I found that I equally enjoyed both.

As far as conferences go, TESOL Greece was extremely well organized, well thought-out and a fantastic place to meet people and develop oneself as a teacher. We stayed to the very end, for more talks and plenaries, a play, an NGO-sponcored dance performance and a cocktail hour. We emerged onto a dark street around 9 pm, tired but still buzzed, wondering what to do next until I spotted a place that made loukumades – a traditional Greek desert, similar to donuts, although if you call them donuts you will receive disdainful looks and outraged reprimands. Served freshly fried,  drenched in honey and sprinkled with cinnamon, it’s definitely not something you should be indulging in every day, and especially not late at night, but it was hard to think straight as fried dough melted in your mouth.

IMG_3873 IMG_3887IMG_3877 IMG_3878 IMG_3876 IMG_3884Despite the late hour, we weren’t alone. It was quite nice to see groups of friends and an elderly couple enjoying their own loukamades late on Sunday night.

IMG_3880The following morning we packed our bags and went out on one last walk around Athens. Unfortunately, the archeological museum was closed, so we wandered the streets, stopping by one more antique shop and a large covered market, which we had to flee, overwhelmed by a giant butcher row and an even bigger seafood section.

An interesting scene – people reading newspapers hung by a newspaper kiosk, instead of buying them.



CeAnn isn’t thrilled about the butcher row.IMG_3943

A busy Athens streetIMG_3929


I want to eat everything on this stall!IMG_3950 IMG_3942

For some reason, I found myself coveting this old jug. I couldn’t think of a way to transport safely so I had to leave it behind. IMG_3972 IMG_3971

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An Egyptian seller. IMG_3975



We thought it was a pork shop, but upon closer inspection it turned out to be pastirma and sucuk, made from beef. It’s the cured meat Kayseri is famous for, definitely not the ham we were looking for, so we made a hasty retreat. IMG_3993

Last lunch in Athens – same tavern, but this time I had grilled octopus and a Greek salad – I just had to have some Greek salad in Greece!IMG_4001 IMG_4003 IMG_4004 IMG_3912

Interesting English usage – thirth!IMG_3909

My parting photo – The Lord of the Rings with Greek subtitles.IMG_3897






This entry was posted in EFL, Events, Food, Holiday, Teaching, TESOL, Travelling and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to My first conference and my first trip to Greece

  1. Heather Demir says:

    I am looking for an English teacher/conversation partner for my sister-in-law who lives in Kayseri. She is taking lessons, but is hoping to improve her fluency through conversation practice with a native speaker. I see that you are living in Kayseri, and was wondering if you may know of any other North Americans living there who might be interested in this type of job. She is willing to pay. Thank you.


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