Greece

The Blind Tourist Speaks Out

A few weeks ago I shared a recording of the interview I did with Karen Key on the SAFM monthly Disability Report. During that interview the topic of how much I love travelling came up and I tried to explain how I see unknown places using my other senses.

As I left the studio I happened to mention to Karen that I was leaving for Greece shortly.

Her instant response was to invite me as a guest on one of her other shows -Time to Travel.

Here’s a recording of that second SAFM interview – hope you enjoy it!

Seems I’m getting more and more opportunities to talk about my experiences as The Blind Tourist in

The Temple of Poseidon – A Pleasant Surprise!

Cds IMG 5834

Despite the ominous storm clouds that had dogged our way from Athens, the sun was shining down benignly when we arrived at the ancient Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion. It may sound odd, but I believe the nearby storm clouds made our appreciation of the magnificent ruin perched precariously on the top of a cliff even more profound.

I Have no doubt the view from the ruins across the ocean must have been breathtaking, but it wasn’t the view that literally took my breath away – it was the sense of how exposed to the power of the elements we were and how totally insignificant I felt in comparison. And while my notoriously poor head for heights was happily absent for most of the trip to Greece, it struck back with a vengeance this once!

Hmm, I seem to have wandered from the point of this post – it’s not to focus on the weather or on my attack of height-head. I actually intended to write about how impressed I was that the site made a significant effort to be accessible to those travelling in a wheelchair.

Cds IMG 0963
I’ve commented before on how difficult it must be to make a protected heritage site accessible to wheelchairs. With the exception of the ancient Roman site at Fishbourne Palace in Chichester, UK which is easy to navigate using the raised wooden walkways that give wonderful views of the beautiful mosaiced floors, there are few ancient sites that have managed to find ways to make accommodations for those whose mobility is impaired. ,

I know my insights into the realities of wheelchair travel are imperfect at best, but here’s my attempt to describe what I imagine the experience of visiting the Temple of Poseidon might be like for someone using a wheelchair. Access to the entrance of the site from the parking lot was easy with only a very gentle slope up from the parking area which is large and would allow for easy movement of a wheelchair in and out of a vehicle.

I’ve hauled myself up enough so-called wheelchair ramps that are in reality no more than badly converted flights of stairs to know that the gradient of the access ramp at the site was gentle enough to make it navigable. And, while I imagine that accessing the actual site of the ruins might pose some challenges, at least the site had a viewing platform from which the magnificent ruins and the surrounding ocean could easily be seen.

While I didn’t check if there was an accessible restroom at the site, the giftshop was accessible and had wide aisles for ease of navigation.

I’ve found myself wondering whether it’s better to be able to walk through the ancient ruins yet not be able to see them, or to be unable to get into the centre of the sites but still be able to view them and am not sure if there’s an easy answer – like most things in life, I guess each has advantages and disadvantages. And certainly complete access is the goal to strive for in any destination.
But it was good to see that the Temple of Poseidon and it’s curators at least had taken the needs of those with a mobility impairment into consideration and tried to accommodate their wish to see this beautiful site.

Click Your Shoes Three Times

Cds 2017 11 05 10 05 34

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?

Where Two Roads Intersect

Cds IMG 5727

Those of you who know the Oedipus myth will understand one of the reasons for the title of this article. For those who don’t, a crossing of roads plays a rather significant part in the Oedipus story… well, actually a three-way stop, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me the liberty.

According to the myth, Oedipus was raised as a prince of Corinth, not knowing his real parents had abandoned him in the wilds since it was foretold he would kill his father. Fate being what it is, the baby was saved and raised in nearby Corinth where he grew up and promptly went on to kill his father in one of the earliest incidents of road rage at that fateful intersection of two roads.

Craig and I visited Corinth on our recent trip to Greece. As I walked round the ruins my mind was filled with images of a young Oedipus running and playing on the same streets where I was walking.

Craig, it seemed had his mind on a completely different subject. I was utterly stunned when he expressed his awe at being in a place where St Paul had preached to the young Christian congregation.

What? Wait a moment… Oedipus and St Paull associated with the same ancient site? Amazingly, I’d never made the connection that the letters to the Corinthians written by St Paul were to citizens of the same Corinth where Oedipus had supposedly grown up.

So that’s the other reason for the title of this article – Corinth is the place where two ancient stories intersect.

If you want to know how Oedipus came to kill his father and what happened next… Well, gooble is your friend!

A Little Slice of Heaven

When we were planning our recent trip to Greece, Craig asked what I thought about spending time seeing a little of the Peloponnese peninsula. Of course I jumped at the chance. My reason was simple – several of the ancient sites I’d studied at university are there – Mycenae, Corinth, Thebes, Epidaurus, to name but a few.

Cds IMG 5611

We decided to make the modern(ish) town of Nafplio our base. I expected to ignore Nafplio and simply spend my time on daytrips to each of the ancient sites but, to my surprise, I discovered that Nafplio had a charm of its own that I totally fell in love with.

Nafplio is predominantly a “get-away” location where Athenians escape the frenetic pace of life in the big, bad city. It’s situated about 90 minutes away from Athens, which is about the same distance from Cape Town to Langebaan. Nafplio has a permanent population of around 10000 people… but I suspect it has almost the same number of street dogs and cats – but more about them later! With so many tourists and visitors, I’m sure you can imagine what an endless selection of restaurants, pubs, and gift shops… not to mention hotels and B&Bs there are.

Cds IMG 0890

Most people, both residents and visitors, congregate either on the waterfront or on the main square, which teems with people of all ages and nationalities from late afternoon till the small hours of the morning.

But for me the best parts of Nafplio were the tiny lanes and alleys just off the touristy areas. They are filled with small but good restaurants and surprising shops, some of which are real gems! Craig and I spent hours combing the tiny lanes and absorbing the rich and diverse Greek culture of this wonderful town.

Cds IMG 5612

Whether we were walking round the citadel that perches high above the town on the side of a cliff, sitting on the quay indulging in a mouthwatering ice-cream while staring out to the tiny island that was once a prison and is now a luxury hotel resort, or enjoying sampling the produce of the local distillery (including Uzo and a rather lovely rose liqueur), Nafplio had plenty to keep us occupied when we weren’t out investigating the ancient sites.

“But what about the dogs and cats?” I hear you ask, “You haven’t said anything about them, though you said you would!”

Cds IMG 3511

So, about the dogs and cats – Nafplio has a seemingly vast additional population of homeless dogs and cats. Unlike other places I’ve been to, the strays neither look destitute nor do they beg from passersby. Sure, they’ll come to you if you offer food or attention, but they don’t expect it. We saw several people putting down food and water for the homeless animals – they’re obviously cared for, even if they don’t have homes.

Strangely, every night it appears that the dog population have a community meeting, characterised by lots of barking and occasional snarling, if matters under discussion get heated. I’m not sure if cats attend too, but I think they’d have a problem making a point with all the barking that happens. Meetings seem to start each night around midnight and go on for about an hour, when everyone disperses so all the animals can go off and prepare for another day.

Yet, despite all these homeless dogs surviving in and around the town centre, we saw, smelled or encountered absolutely no sign of dog mess. Not one!

My estimation of a place I visit is always based on my answer to the question “Would I go back there” and my answer for Nafplio is a resounding yes.

Spoiled for Choice

Cds IMG 3510
I’ve said in the past that I experience other cultures and countries at least partially through their unique foods. And I do. It’s just that usually I’m not the one eating the food – after all, I’m the world’s worst dinner guest due to my being a (very) fussy vegetarian. By which I mean I don’t eat spinach, mushrooms, olives, or blue cheese… or any meat.

This means I’m often stuck for choice when we travel overseas. While I love the scents of the amazing dishes that are associated with each country, I’ll happily let others indulge while I munch contentedly on something fairly pedestrian like a salad or a sandwich, which may be the extent of the “acceptable” offerings on the menu for me.

So, for me, travelling to Greece is a real treat – for once I’m the one sitting there overwhelmed by the number of choices from which to select my meal rather than scratching through the menu desperately trying to find an alternative to another serving of fries.

There are a number of reasons I love Greek cuisine – most restaurants have a variety of small dishes on the menu, so I’m able to sample a few different dishes at each meal. Additionally, many of these are vegetarian – cooked cheeses, baby marrow, onion or tomato fritters, bite-sized cheese pastries, and mouthwatering spreads like Tzatziki and spicy cheese spread. All of which are usually served with freshly baked pita bread.

Is it any wonder that I’m a little…well, actually a lot… like a kid in a candy store when faced with such an array of tasty treats?

My only regret is that Greek food back home never tastes the same. Maybe the local ingredients just don’t cut it – but, whatever the reason, I’ve never had quite the same experience eating Greek food in Cape Town that I do anywhere in Greece.

So, I guess I’ll just have to go back there to indulge my craving for fried Saganaki cheese, or authentic baby marrow fritters!

Anyone want to come too? I promise I won’t make you eat vegetarian!

Now That’s What I call a Tour!

Cds IMG 3553
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.

No Wonder She Left!

Cds IMG 0865
It was a chilly, rainy, windy day that we found ourselves visiting the Citadel of Mycene on our recent trip to Greece. As chance would have it, of course that was the day I chose to wear a sleeveless sundress and sandals!

Those of you who know the story of Helen of Troy will be aware of why Mycene was one of those “have to see” places for me as someone who studied Classical Civilisations. For those of you not familiar with the story, Helen started off being married to Menelaus, brother to the king of Mycene before Paris came along and the two of them landed up in Troy, which was what started the Trojan War. Or so we’re told by Homer in The Iliad.

Anyhow, the visit to the Mycenean Citadel was profound for me, imagining Myceneans of the 8th Century BCE walking beneath the imposing Lion Gate, climbing the steep paths from one building in the Citadel to another, or staring from the crest of the hill upon which the Citadel stands surveying the surrounding landscape… which was probably covered by olive trees even then!

I’m sure If I’d been more warmly dressed I would have found the weather wonderfully atmospheric as I stood there recalling the story of the great battle that took place between the Greek forces under the leadership of Agamemnon, Menelaus and the wily Odysseus and the Trojans whose ruling family included such well-known names as King Priam, Hector, and Cassandra, fated to tell only the truth but never to be believed. I probably would have relished the wild weather and allowed it to fuel my imagination as I tried to conjure visions of what life might have been like for all those living and working in the Citadel almost 3000 years ago.

Sadly, shivering in my sundress and sandals, all I could do was to conclude that, if this was an indication of the usual weather experienced in Mycene, then it was no wonder Helen decided to accompany Paris to Troy!

My Greek Odyssey

Cds 23231385 10155208443898391 2090805830442771670 nOkay, 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!

Home is Where the Heart Is

The saying “Home is where the heart is” is very true. Yes, Craig and I had a fantastic trip to Greece, but it is absolutely wonderful to return home… back to our own space and our dogs…Cds IMG 2934 especially my beloved guide dog, Fiji.

Now that we’ve recovered from the tail-wagging onslaught that greeted us on our return, and Fiji and I are out and about on our usual walks, it’s time to get back into our normal routine.

I still have plenty to share with you of interviews and events from the past few months, but I’ll also be telling you about some of my experiences and perceptions of being a blind tourist in Greece.

For now, this is merely a quick note to say we’re home and hopefully to tempt you into tuning in for the coming posts.

Email updates
Lois shares updates on her book, speaking and the reality of living with blindness. Find out what Lois is up to – subscribe here.

Facebook