As a blind tourist I’m generally not a fan of museums and art galleries. Usually exhibits are sealed away from visitors and touching is simply not an option… which is a problem for those of us who see with the sense of touch. My husband is really good about describing things to make the experience as inclusive as possible for me, but his ability to do that is dependent on how much knowledge/context he has on what we’re seeing.
So I was a little dubious about visiting the National Archeological Museum on one rainy day in Athens. And for a while it looked like my fears would be realized – until we were told about the tactile tour the museum offers for visually impaired visitors.
One of the guides accompanied us along with a list of statues and frieze’s that I was allowed… or rather… encouraged to investigate using the sense of touch. In fact, I had two guides – Craig giving me one description as he would usually do, and the guide giving me another.
I don’t think I have the words to truly explain what it meant to me to be able to get so up close and personal with the various exhibits from that list – a few of them in rooms that weren’t even open to the public. What I can tell you is that experiencing exhibits by touch gave me an intense sense of the tangibility of history
On one occasion the guide said I should try and guess what the statue in front of me was. It was around the size and shape of Fiji – even the tail was much like hers – but I was pretty sure that Labradors weren’t common in ancient Greece so continued looking for clues. Then I discovered the “dog” had a mane and all was revealed – what was in front of me was a statue of a lion.
In total I got to experience 20 different statues and friezes ranging from the 5th century BCE. I can honestly say I’ve never experienced ancient Greece in quite that way- it was amazing!
Full respect to the National Archeological Museum in Athens for giving me a tactile glimpse into the ancient world in a way I’ve never had before. I’d highly recommend any blind or visually impaired travellers who happen to find themselves in Athens take advantage of this amazing experience.
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!