Stray dogs in Greece

May 31, 2010

I was quite surprised in Greece at the welfare of the what-appeared-to-be stray dogs.  I say it that way because I assume they are stray dogs because of the way they lounge around out in public, however, they didn’t seem like stray dogs because never once did I see a dog beg for food and they seemed to be well kept.  In fact, at one point in the trip someone in our group offered a dog a piece of food because it was at our feet wanting attention and when she gave the dog the food he sniffed it, was displeased, and went on his way.  He almost seemed offended and pissed that she offered him the food and scurried away with what appeared to be an attitude.  I can’t remember exactly what she offered the dog but I would’ve guessed that any dog here in the States would have gladly chomped it down.

Stray dogs have always been a part of the
landscape in Greece, and specifically in
Athens.  Tom Mazarakis explains on his
website..

I have been living in Greece for the last 33
years and am well acquainted with the
recently history of the dog situation in Athens
and the rest of Greece.

As in most civilized countries, in Greece too, every municipality had a “dog pound” and a “dog catcher”.  And, as in most cities throughout the world, many domesticated dogs in Greece would one way or another gain their “freedom” from their owners.  Either they would run away on their own, or they would be “let go” by irresponsible owners.  Whatever the case may have been, these stray dogs often would breed and have puppies and multiply accordingly.  The dog catchers in Greece used to step in and round up as many strays as they could.  The strays were held in the local municipal dog pounds for a period of  no more than 90 days, and if no one claimed the dogs, they were typically then put to sleep.

This system kept the stray dog population down to a manageable level up until about 10 years ago.  At about that time, a local animal rights activist group found out about a particular dog pound that kept their dogs in miserable and inhumane conditions.  They visited the pound and filmed the scene.  Then they took their evidence and presented it to the local District Attorney who in turn issued a warrant for the responsible mayor’s arrest.  That mayor was charged with the crime of “maltreatment of animals” which is a very serious offense in Greek law.  He was convicted and sentenced to several months in prison along with a stiff monetary fine.  As a result, almost every municipality in Greece dissolved their dog pounds and fired their dog catchers.

As you can understand, this paved the way for the stray dogs to multiply without restriction, and today they have become a serious problem.  Many people, and especially children, have been attacked and mauled by gangs of wild dogs.  But, no one takes responsibility.  The local Humane Society has been making every effort it can to feed and take care of as many stray dogs as they can handle, but their numbers keep growing.  They try to neuter as many of the dogs as they can, but they just can’t seem to put even a small dent into the problem.”

www.greecetravel.com/mazarakis

With the Olympics being held in Athens in August 2004, the government felt they needed to do something so that they could have a clean image.  The dogs are not a problem because they will chase or bite you (they don’t), but rather it is simply an image problem.  In August 2003, over 3,000 stray dogs were killed in the streets and there’s speculation that the government was behind this.  Poisoning of stray dogs has happened before, but never this many in such a small amount of time.  Because the media picked up on this happening, in October of 2003, Athens announced that they would collect, sterilize, and then release more than 10,000 dogs before the Games.

GREECE: October 6, 2003 ATHENS – Athens, host of the 2004 Olympics, launched a plan last week to sterilize more than 10,000 stray dogs ahead of the Games in measures condemned by animal rights groups as ill thought-out and insufficient. The city said the 1.8 million euro project, to be officially unveiled on the weekend, will halt the growth of a huge population of stray dogs roaming the streets of the capital before the start of the Olympics. “The sight of thousands of stray animals living without care in the city streets constitutes an insult to us as civilized people,” Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyanni, who plans to give 20 strays up for adoption on the weekend, said in a statement. The project, co-funded by the city and the government, aims to collect, sterilize and tag the dogs, before releasing them again. Two mobile vet units will monitor their health. But animal rights groups say the plan does not cover the needs of strays. “This cannot be just a one-day event with some promises and cute puppies as gifts,” Marianna Polichroniadou, head of a newly-founded animal rights group said this week. “It has to be followed up with actions that safeguard the dog’s survival long-term and this plan doesn’t cut it.”
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE

Another reason I wasn’t quite sure if the dogs were strays was because they all had collars on.  I figured someone must have been caring for the dogs, but there was a dog or two here and there and they were all well fed and had on collars so why would so many people allow their dogs to roam freely?  It turns out that as part of the measure to catch, fix, and release the dogs, the authorities put blue and red (blue for male, red for female) collars on the dogs so that they could distinguish between which ones had gone through the process and which ones hadn’t.

Aside from the dogs not being pests whatsoever, most of them seemed very clever as well.  I think that by being fixed, they were less hormone driven and most of them seemed friendly and playful.  From one website where I found some information the writer’s mom had this to say, and I can validate it by having witnessed this myself on several occasions:

The downtown dogs are pretty well behaved. Many are streetwise, literally. My mother was curious as to how they could cross some of the big Athens avenues so she watched them. She discovered that the dogs would go to the pedestrian crossings and stand there. No they did not know that the little green man meant it was OK for them to cross. They would wait until some humans came and then cross with them.

http://www.athensguide.com/straydogs/

Links:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/idealistdreamer/sets/72157600946320721/

http://www.athensguide.com/straydogs/

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/my-puppy-my-self/201005/political-animals-why-some-stray-dogs-have-joined-the-greek-riots

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2002024831_dogs03.html

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Richie fingerboarding

May 29, 2010

Some of the first pictures I took with my new camera was at my friend Richie’s apartment.  He’s into skateboarding and on this particular night, he busted out the fingerboard and a little ramp he has for it.  I have no clue what any of these tricks are but I was quite amazed because I can’t even allie the damn thing, much less make it spin and what not and then catch it and land the tricks.

No idea what this random picture is doing in between all these skate pictures.  Weird.


Santorini, Greece. May 18 – 20, 2010

May 26, 2010

UPDATED!!!  This post is finished, feel free to read between the photos 😛

With this post what I’m going to do is post the pictures that I will be including.  It takes a lot of time to upload and insert each picture so I started by finding the pictures I want to use and then uploaded them all at once to just get it over with.  So.. I’m going to post the pictures instead of saving as a draft, and I will publish it and in the next few days I will update with what I have to say about Santorini.  For now… one of the most amazing places in Greece:  SANTORINI!!!!

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When most people first hear of Greece, what pops into mind is the white buildings on the cliffs.  That’s what comes to mind for me at least and is mainly what I see other people interpret Greece to be.  Santorini is where this architectural style and landscaping is, and it was by far one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in the world.

We first arrived in Santorini on May 18th via a ferry ride from Myokonos Island.  The rest of the day, after checking into the hotel, was free time and because of my prior night’s engagements, I didn’t get even one hour of sleep so instead of going out in Santorini, I stuck around the hotel and went to sleep early.

The next day, May 19th, was a very happening day.  We began by taking a short bus tour and walking tour through one of the neighborhoods that had a great view.

(As always, click on the pictures to make larger.  They are all posted in very high resolution.)

One of my favorite pictures I’ve taken on the trip.  Jimmy Lyons & cat!!!

Next, we needed to get down to the water to start the next part of the day which consisted of taking a boat to the volcano island that sits very close to Santorini island.  Instead of taking the bus down, which is very common, we took the cable car which was a neat experience.  I’ve been on gondolas and cable cars before, but this one was a little different in the fact that rather than having continuous cars running, they sent six cars straight up and down at at time.  I’m not sure if this was a balancing act or if it’s any more or less efficient as other ways that I have seen done, but it caught my eye for some reason.

The volcano tour was one of my favorite parts of the trip.  We took a short boat ride over to the volcano, and it was bustling with tourists.  I’m not quite sure even one other person in my group enjoyed the volcano because it was a lot of hiking and not much more, but it was BEYOND AMAZING.  The volcano is probably about one to two miles off the shore of Santorini and it provides for one of the best views I have ever seen in the world.

When one hears the term active volcano, the first thing that most likely pops into his or her head is bubbling molten lava (MMM, sounds almost like chocolate molten lava cake for dessert, YUM).  And certainly that’s what I thought of when I found out we were visiting an active volcano, but I knew there was no way we were going to get up close to something that hot and dangerous.  Being on this active volcano was much different that I had expected, and the only sign that it was active was a small area where there is smoke slowly seeping out from between a few rocks (wasn’t able to get any pictures of the smoke, but I’ve pointed out in the pictures below which ones show the active area).

(Obviously this picture was not taken by me.  That’s the volcano off to the left and the mainland is Santorini.)

Active volcano.  Quite different than one would typically imagine.

The active part of the volcano behind me.

After spending a few hours hiking around the volcano, we then got back on the boat and went to the second volcano island where there is a hot spring.  I’m pretty certain if one was to jump straight into the water at the hot spring that it probably wouldn’t really even feel that warm.  But because we were told to jump off the boat about 100 yards from the hot spring, where the water was oh… about 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, once we got to the hot spring, it definitely felt warm.

I’m a fan of cold water.  Sure it sucks jumping into at first, but something about swimming in cold water really appeals to me.  A few days before this when I went scuba diving in Mykonos, the water was about 62 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit and it was absolutely amazing being 20-30 feet underwater being surrounded by really cold water.  But on the flip side, I definitely understand why most people don’t like it.  I think if one just got over themselves and jumped right in and had an optimistic outlook, then they could find it enjoyable as well 😛

Anyway.. So, the hot spring wasn’t super hot but it was in comparison to the cold water that we originally jumped into.  Once we got further into the hot spring, the ground became red mud and it felt really cool to rub it on my skin (yes, I’m crazy).  The hot spring is 33 degrees Celsius, which is equivalent to about 91 degrees Fahrenheit.

As if the initial tour, cable car ride down the cliff, hiking on an active volcano, and then swimming in a hot spring in the middle of the Aegean Sea in one of the most beautiful places on Earth weren’t enough, we finished things by riding a donkey back up the same cliff that we took the cable car down.  I’ll keep it short:  I wouldn’t ride a donkey up the cliff at Santorini again!!!

Links:

Santorini Volcano

Santorini Hot Spring

Santorini Wikipedia


Mykonos, Greece. May 16 – 18, 2010

May 25, 2010

I’m going to jump around with my trip to Greece.  I was going to describe things in order but I decided I’d rather talk about random parts of the trip one by one.

Mykonos.  Oh, Mykonos, you were AMAZING.  The second half of our trip consisted of taking a ferry between a few of the Greek Islands, and our first stop was Mykonos.  We left Athens via a large ferry and had economy tickets which pretty much allowed us to sit in any number of large sitting areas around the boat.  We ended up on the top deck and the table I was at, along with Dustin, was the PERFECT table.  It was right where the glass wall ended so two of the seats had no wind and the other two seats had a breeze.  The ferry ride from Athens to Mykonos was approximately five hours and we stopped at a few other islands along the way to drop off and pick up other people.

I really enjoyed the ferry ride although most everyone else in the group appeared not to like it so much.  I mainly just sat there and took in the views, and I also read for a few hours and talked to random people.

We arrived in Mykonos around mid afternoon time, around 1pm I think if I recall correctly.  After checking into the hotel, we had the rest of the day free as well as the whole next day with no planned activities.

After checking into the hotel, the whole group of students took the public bus (1.40EUROS each way which was well worth it) to Paradise Beach which was a cool little beach about 15 minutes away on the other side of the island.  The beach was very pretty, but it seemed very generic to me.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it very much but I didn’t pay $3,000 to travel around the world to sit on a beach and get drunk.  Just not really my idea of fun!  There were a few food places so we got a bite to eat, had a few drinks, and sat on the beach and relaxed for a few hours.  I ended up heading back to the hotel with a few others who were calling it an early night, and the rest of our group stayed and drank the night away and according to the rumor, it is our group who gives Americans a bad name.  Hate to say it, but it doesn’t surprise me :/  (A few people got very drunk and made fools out of themselves, but I wasn’t there so who am I to tell the story).

While we were on the ferry I was chatting with one of the professors on the trip who mentioned there is scuba diving on Mykonos Island so I decided right then and there I was going diving.  I made the mistake of mentioning this to Dr. Lyons who said she didn’t think it was a good idea, and when we were on the bus to the hotel she asked specifically for us not to scuba dive because she didn’t know what the international regulations are.  I really do respect Dr. Lyon’s opinion and I don’t like the idea of doing things behind her back, however, I am scuba certified and I am not missing the opportunity to scuba dive in the Greek Islands.  One other student on the trip had just finished the diving certification course taught at HCC, so the two of us scouted out the dive shop at Paradise Beach and we set a time to go diving the next day.

I WENT SCUBA DIVING IN MYKONOS!!! So, the next day we had no planned activities and we had the entire day to ourselves.  Most of us students met up at breakfast early in the morning and then went to the rental shop up the street and rented 4X4 ATVs.  I wasn’t going to rent one at first, however, after being asked by Sapphire to rent one and drive her I decided it would be a lot of fun.  Sapphire didn’t really want to drive one of them so it worked out well for me to drive and for us to split the cost.  It came out to be about 30 EUROS total for the rental and gas so about $20USD each.

We spent the morning and afternoon driving around aimlessly but when there are about 10-12 students on 7 or 8 ATVs, it’s just natural that not everyone is going to want to do the same thing.  There was some tension because one person needed to go use an ATM, another needed to find and buy a memory card, and I wanted to cruise around and let them all bitch and moan behind me.  I’m not certain why exactly, but it usually ended up with me leading for about half the time and I simply didn’t care what everyone else did; however, I am a good leader and kept track of everyone and made sure we were all together.

We all eventually decided we were going to head to Paradise Beach because (other student) and I had to be at the dive shop at 2:30pm.  It was still only about noon at this point so there was no rush and we stopped back at the rental place to get directions on how to get to Paradise Beach from where we were at.  Only one student ran in to get directions so we all followed her, however, it became very clear that we weren’t going the right way.  Even though I didn’t know which way to go, I did take the bus the day before so I had a general idea and something just didn’t seem right.  After someone else said they didn’t think we were going the right way we all came to a stop and turned around but for some reason it came down to Sapphire and myself and 2 others on one ATV being all by ourselves and we couldn’t find anyone else, so because we were a little frustrated that they didn’t bother making sure we were behind them, we just went on our way to Paradise Beach on our own.  When we got to Paradise Beach, we figured they’d show up soon after us but after a few hours they never showed up.  At about 2:25pm, five minutes before we had to meet at the dive shop, we decided we’d go looking for them and ran into them not far up the road.  Apparently, that entire group had gotten lost and ended up far away and one of them ran out of gas so it created a huge issue.  All I can say is I am very glad I was not with them because it sounded like a very tiring and frustrating experience.

Oh yeah, did I mention I went scuba diving in Mykonos??? So, finally we were at the dive shop and (other student) and I did our thing while everyone else enjoyed the beach.  Because it was starting to rain and it was rather windy, we weren’t able to go out on the boat and instead we did a beach dive.  At first I was a little weary and not so pleased, however, this beach dive was something I will never forget.  The water was about 62 to 64 degrees so VERY VERY cold, but once you get in the water it really feels good and is something I enjoy very much!!

It’s so crazy to think that you’d never know what kind of life is under the water such a short distance from the sandy shore of the beach.  We only went approximately 200-400 feet out from the beach and about 25-30 feet deep but there was a small reef and tons of life flourishing under the water.  One of my favorite fish we saw was the rainbow wrasse and there were many others that I have no clue what they are called.  I don’t have any pictures of the dive itself because there was no one available to take pictures for us and we didn’t have an underwater camera unfortunately.  All I can say is that it was the highlight of my trip and it’ll be hard for you to find me happier than 1. when I’m in the mountains, and 2. when I’m under water scuba diving.

(View from hotel room.  That’s the Aegean Sea in the distance and a tennis court off to the left.)

Without going into detail, the night ended with my room mate and I going out to a few bars/clubs and we got back at the hotel approximately fifteen minutes before we had to have our luggage out (7:15am I think it was).  This last picture of me is at about 9am without having gone to sleep that night and we had to stand on this dock for an hour waiting for the speed boat.  Then we rode the speed boat for about one hour to another island where we proceeded to stand on another dock for about an hour and then took a ferry for about three to four hours to the next island of Santorini.  So we didn’t exactly pick the best night to pull an all nighter, but when will I be in Mykonos again??  It was a lot of fun!!!


First Greece post..

May 24, 2010

Well, there’s no shortage of things to write about with my trip to Greece and although I planned to write during the trip, I really didn’t make even one blog post.  What I did do, though, was take notes of most every activity I did and I’ve written a few things about some experiences so now I am going to start making some stories and talking about things here and there.  I have exactly 1,007 photos that I took so I figure I will probably post 200 to 300 of them in with the stories.

This trip was slightly different than the previous two trips I have taken with the Honors Institute at Hillsborough Community College, led by Dr. Lyons.  The two previous trips in the past three years were to Spain and Vietnam/Cambodia and although two separate parts of the world, both trips had many things in common that differentiated from this year’s trip to Greece.  To begin with, Greece uses the EURO and it’s no surprise that we heard a lot about the economy while traveling around.  Prices haven’t gone up because of the economy, but it’s a shame to watch what is happening because they rely so heavily on tourism (whole story and perspective to write on this later).  So, in one sense we got lucky that the conversion rate has dropped from around $1.70 dollars per one EURO to approximately 1.20 to 1.25, but things were still rather expensive.  And because things were expensive, I know that Dr. Lyons was pushing the budget to include as much as she did, and it wasn’t really possible to include any meals (other than breakfast provided by the hotels) and we had a lot of free time.

Having a lot of free time meant that we got to explore cities on our own, but it also meant that all activities we choose to do would come out of our pocket.  I had budgeted approximately 50 euros per day to spend and was hoping to spend around $700USD total which I think I accomplished without a penny to spare.  It was great to have as much free time as we did because there was so much to see and do, and it was nice to do it on our own time and at our own pace.  It was also nice to be able to rest and relax and not feel overly tired.

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Athens and The Acropolis

We arrived in Athens on May 13th at 10:00am and started the trip by hopping on a bus and driving into Athens to begin our tour.  We picked up the tour guide somewhere along the way and we drove around the city with her pointing out some of the sites to see.  After about ninety minutes, we stopped at the base of the Acropolis and the tour guide took us on the short hike up and explained everything in great detail.  While I’d love to go into great detail about the history and you know, all the fun stuff that I definitely learned while paying close attention to every word she said, I think it’s be better to just show a few pictures and keep it a high level summary; I’d hate to entertain everyone too much 😉

(As always, click on the pictures to make larger.  They are all posted in very high resolution.)

After spending some time at the Acropolis we checked into our hotel and then had the rest of the day to ourselves.  I’m not real sure what most of the group got themselves into, but my roommate Dustin and I went to the (new) Acropolis Museum and spent a few hours walking around.  The new Acropolis Museum was just recently opened in June 2009 to replace the old museum that was built on top of the Acropolis which was in operation from 1854 – 2007.  All throughout Athens, there are layers of old ruins and at the entrance of the new museum they excavated an area and made a walk way that allows one to look down into the excavated area.  After spending an hour or so walking around the museum, we had a small bite to eat on the patio that overlooks the Acropolis but we didn’t want to eat too much so that we could enjoy a good dinner later on as well.

Links:

Acropolis of Athens info

New Acropolis Museum info

Old Acropolis Museum info

New Acropolis Museum official site


Woooooo..

May 22, 2010

Woooo, just got home from Greece.  The flight went by very quickly and smoothly, and it’s now back to normal life.  It’s a different feel in the United States in comparison to Europe.  I can’t wait to write about a few many experiences on the trip and to post some photos.  I’m going to have a lot going on in the next two weeks but I am going to be sure to work on trip info. at least one hour or more each day!!!

Here’s one of my favorite pictures I took 2 days ago.  Our hotel was somewhere towards the top out of view and a small hike to be looking over this cliff to a volcano like a mile out that forms its own island.  Santorini, May 20, 2010.

(click to make larger, zoom in on some of the stuff and look at the activity going on)