Swarthmore Men's Soccer in Greece Blog Update No. 5 - Acropolis and Final Days in Greece
(Phots can be found at the bottom of the page)
Entering the home stretch of the tour on Tuesday, the Garnet did what every tourist in Athens is required to do and visited the world-renowned Acropolis of Athens. The Acropolis served as the political and religious center of the ancient Athens city-state, which is credited with the start of democracy and western civilization in general. Built in 6th century B.C., the Acropolis of Athens sits atop a flat rock hill on one of the highest points of the city, which helped protect it from invading armies. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Acropolis of Athens contains the Erechtheum, Temple of Athena Nike and most well-know of all, the Parthenon.
After Plaka, the group jumped back on bus to begin a brief city tour of Athens before arriving at the Acropolis. Of course, Tania was back to lead the group for the final time. On the way through Athens, the bus made a minor detour to pass the Panatheaic Stadium, home to the first modern Olympics in 1896.
After about 20 minutes weaving through the streets of Athens, we finally arrived at the Acropolis. Unfortunately, also arriving at this time was a heat wave; the temperature in Athens on Tuesday reached 41 degrees Celsius – roughly 105 degrees Fahrenheit. To combat the heat, some players opted for festive umbrellas.
We climbed towards the top as Tania first showed us the Theatre of Dionysus, the Erechtheum, Temple of Athena Nike. Once we finally reached the summit, the view of a world wonder did not disappoint.
After a whirlwind day that included training, tours and intense heat, the Swat gang retreated back to the hotel for dinner and an early night.
It was back on the bus early Wednesday morning, as the team was off to the town of Marathon (which as you may have guessed was about 26 miles from Athens) to take part in a community service project. Swarthmore has an excellent tradition when it comes to community service, both home and abroad. In 2005 in London, the team spent a morning working at the Home Store, a Goodwill-type of outfit. In 2008 in Buenos Aires, the Garnet spent half a day painting and sprucing up Hogar de Dia, an after-school sanctuary for children from broken or abusive households in a poor section of town. In each instance, the community service projects while traveling abroad have provided a small way for the Garnet to give back to the local community that has provided so much.
Wednesday's project involved cleaning up the beachfront forest of Skinias National Park. Leading the project was Christos Tsanasidis . We picked up Christos along the way with five other volunteers, a diverse group which included two Germans, a Serbian, and two Americans. Once we arrived at the beach, we split into six groups and set off to comb the forest and beach for debris.
The project went off without a hitch. We dropped off Christos and his crew in town and said our goodbyes. The team also stopped in town for a quick lunch in the park. If you hear any crazy stories from anyone in the group about how I tripped on the curb crossing the street, hit the pavement with a thud, rolled about 15 feet and popped to my feet just before the light turned green, don't believe them. Never happened. All lies.
Back in Athens, the Garnet capped off the evening with its third match of the trip, against Paradisos F.C., a second division club in Athens. The match was played at the Arena Soccer Club of Athens, a modern turf field nestled in a residential neighborhood of the city.
Swarthmore continued its stellar play abroad, making quick work of Paradisos in a 4-1 win. Sophomore Chris Lynn got things started by heading home a goal off Toby Heavenrich's free kick in the second minute of play. After Paradisos answered with a goal in the 11th minute, Swarthmore responded with two more goals to end the half – one from Brett McLarney and one on a penalty kick from Fabian Castro. In the second half, Pierre Dyer – who joined the team in Athens – scored after a perfect set-up from David Sterngold on a breakaway. Final score: Swat 4, Paradisos 1.
The Garnet move to 3-1 on the Greece trip with one match remaining. Maybe Swat should consider a permanent move out of the Centennial Conference and into the Greek League.
After a two-hour morning training session back at the Arena Soccer Club, it was a day of much needed leisure. This was really the first down time that anyone had since we arrived in Athens. Some of the players headed to the beach, just a few blocks away from the hotel, or others for the rooftop pool with a panoramic view of Athens. While still some headed back into Athens to tour a few of the museums and ruins that were not on the previous days' trip. The staff and coaches opted for a return trip to Plaka and center city Athens to shop at the meandering marketplace. MVP of the day goes to Allison Hudak, whose map skills led us to Aristo, a bakery that has been serving the residents of Athens for over 100 years.
After reconvening at the hotel, the group set off for a day-early farewell dinner. The reason for the early farewell dinner was twofold; the team was spending its final night playing a match against Artomitos Athens and our good friend Jack was departing on Friday morning.
This special dinner called for what the team began referring to as a "Code Garnet" event. A "Code Garnet" event means that everyone in the group was required to wear the Garnet "Greece 2011" polo shirt handed out by Coach Wagner at the start of the trip. Guessing by the looks we got as we walked to our dinner about four blocks away from the hotel , I'm fairly certain the residents of the trendy Glyfada neighborhood thought their town was being invaded.
The group dined at George's Steakhouse, a local restaurant famous for its "beefsteak," a delicious grilled hamburger. Food kept arriving in waves; first the bread, then the Greek salad, then some appetizers, then the beefsteak and then the meal. I was perfectly content for the night after the beefsteak, but there was no way I was turning down my last chance at Greek food. It was quite a feast for a special night. Also joining us for dinner were Maria Boutsika and Savas Papasavas, two of the people that helped to plan and organize our entire trip.
After dessert, the entire group got to toast Maria, Savas and Jack for everything they have done to make our stay in Greece unforgettable.
And on the final day in Greece - the Garnet played its best soccer of the trip.
After a day of leisure, the Garnet departed for its final match of the Greece tour, an evening tilt against U-23 team for Atromitos F.C., a member of the Greek Superleague. The strong squad was deep into its training and posed the Garnet's biggest threat of the trip since the Ergotelis match in Crete.
To get to Atromitos' training facility, we traveled through the busy port of Piraeus, the largest in Greece. We actually thought that our bus driver was lost as we turned into an industrial park lined with tractor trailers, but it happened that the field was situated between the highway and a shipping yard. For what Atromitos' field lacked in ambiance (compared to say that of Malia or Ergotelis' stadiums) it made up for in a quality grass pitch.
From the opening whistle, the game was physical and competitive, with the technically-skilled and fast Artimitos squad easily providing the biggest challenge of the tour. Atromitos had a fair share of early chances but were unable to convert. The Garnet hung tough with Artomitos as the game remained scoreless through the first half. The tide turned at the start of the second half as the Garnet found the scoreboard in the 50th minute. Jack Momeyer – who keeps his perfect career shooting percentage alive - scored off an assist from David Sterngold to make it 1-0. The Garnet almost hung on for the victory, but Atrimitos finally connected in the 77th minute to bring the game to its 1-1 final. All in all, it was a hard-earned result and the best the Garnet looked the entire trip. Final tally from the Greece for the Swat men : 3-1-1. Not bad at all for early August.
After the game, our gracious hosts from Atromitos provided us with three boxes of chocolate sweets. I have no idea what they are called, but I'm fairly certain the ingredients were a mix of chocolate and heaven.
The team's final bus ride back to the hotel was occupied by a riveting game of "Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?" on Jake Weiner's phone. Fortunately, the results showed that, for the most part, Swarthmore students are indeed smarter than 5th graders. Unfortunately, it also showed that Jake is clearly "not a reader."
At the hotel restaurant for a quick meal for retreating to pack for the early morning, the team gathered for the final time. After Coach Wagner gave thanks to everyone for a successful trip, the team broke out into a much-deserved "Ole" chant for the final time.
That concludes the men's soccer blog from Greece. What an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience for myself and the rest of the group. I want to thank Coach Wagner and the rest of the staff for allowing me to join them on this amazing journey. Special thanks also to Adam and Laura Hertz, Tor and Nancy Hotham and Allison Hudak for being great company on the trip (outside of the time we got REALLY lost in Heraklion) and to Sam Cleaves, my roommate for the week (sorry for borrowing your clothes and computer so often in Crete). And finally thank you to the players, for giving me so much material to write about and easily being one of the most gracious and respectful groups of young men I have ever been associated with. Hope you enjoyed the journey.