You drive slowly down an overgrown bumpy gravel track, carefully negotiating the low-hanging branches that creep out over the track. Suddenly you realize the track has disappeared into the dense foliage. You pull over to the side of the narrow space and park.
Climbing out of the car you spy what might be only a goat track leading into the grove of trees. You follow the narrow footpath and find yourself surrounded by the sweet scent of orange trees laden with ripened fruit. Then, without warning, you emerge from the trees to find an ancient tomb before you.
The air is heavy with silence and the ancient site seems untouched by the passage of time. It almost feels like you’re in a different world, or a different time… yet a busy highway is mere minutes away.
That, for me, is part of the magic of Greece. Wherever you travel it feels like ancient Greece is mere steps away. It’s almost as if it exists in a parallel world and that you can step from the modern world across to the ancient one simply by tapping your red shoes three times, just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.
It can happen as you walk through a fairly modern town and suddenly find yourself facing an unexpected ancient site. It can happen as you step off an escalator in an underground station to find yourself facing ancient relics. And it can happen as you walk through the centre of Athens and find yourself drifting into the ancient agora almost without realizing it.
For me, it’s more than simply stepping from a modern sidewalk to an ancient walkway – the entire feel of the place seems different. And sure, maybe that is only my imagination… but why not, if it imbues Greece with a particular kind of magic and ambiance for me?
Okay, so perhaps I didn’t go island hopping for 10 years like Odysseus did on his way home from the trojan War as described in Homer’s The Odyssey, but I felt my recent trip to Greece was no less of an an epic adventure than that great work!
Over the next few weeks I’m going to share some of my experiences from my trip, but I thought I would start off with a very brief overview of what I loved most about my extraordinary experience of being a blind tourist in Greece.
As someone who studied ancient history at university I’ve always been drawn to Greece because of it’s depth of history and myth. This time around I had the opportunity of visiting a number of ancient sites both in the Peloponnese and in Athens itself. The impression that remains with me is of how closely intertwined ancient and modern are in Greece – you can be driving down a modern highway and suddenly find a 5th or 6th century BCE (before common era) stone bridge right alongside the highway… or you can be following (fairly vague) signs to an ancient tomb and find yourself walking through a commercial farmer’s orange grove. At times it feels a little surreal – as if you’ve time travelled between one step and the next. But it’s also great that the sites are so accessible to those who are interested in taking the time to see them – and I’m not using the term accessible with reference to my blindness here.
Having said that, I found Greece very good generally from the perspective of disability accessibility. In all but one ancient site both Craig and I were admitted free of charge, in the archeological museum in Athens I was given a very special tour (more about that in a future post), and I was impressed to see that there was a well-constructed and easily accessible wheelchair ramp at the Temple of Poseidon (more on that in future as well).
I also loved the Greek culture. I found the people friendly and gregarious and felt very much at home with their way of life that is so outdoors based – food is often eaten outdoors or on balconies. And, talking of the food – wow! As a fussy vegetarian I sometimes struggle to find local culinary fare that I’ll eat… at times I’ve had to resort to hot chips or a plain cheese and tomato sandwich if I wanted to survive on an overseas trip… but not in Greece – there is an amazing array of delicious food, both meat and vegetarian, for any Greek visitor to choose from. In fact, there were times that my problems stemmed more from the overwhelming number of scrumptious options arrayed before me and my inability to settle on just one or two!
I’ll be sharing a lot more detail in the next few weeks, but hope this has given you just a taste of what an amazing experience my trip to Greece turned out to be… “stay tuned” for more photographs and stories of my trip!