Posts Tagged ‘Greece’

My beautiful family

My beautiful family

All good things must come to an end. When we left Crete, we were going to spend the last day of our cruise on open waters as we sailed back to Italy. The last day and half on the sea was a chance to wind down from the rapid pace tour we had just finished through five countries. I personally was ready for some down time.

I had taken the many pictures off my camera card and uploaded them to my laptop. It was fun going through them as each one brought back a different memory: The majestic sights of ancient civilizations, unfamiliar languages being spoken all around us, and delightful smells of the new and enticing foods we got to sample every day. Even the Mediterranean Sea wanted to leave us with a memory. There were storms that night, and in the darkness we could see flashes of lightening with distant rumbles of thunder. The water was a bit rough and it could be felt aboard the ship. It was nothing drastic, but there was a definite gentle rocking of the floating city that we were on. That next morning as I brushed my teeth, I would start out at the sink in my wheelchair and then slowly roll across the bathroom stopped only by the opposite wall. I kept brushing as the ship slowly rocked back the other way rolling me back to the sink. It was like the cartoons I remember as a kid of people trying to eat on a ship and the food would slide across the table each time they reached for it. Wendy and I found it quite amusing and fortunately neither of us are prone to sea sickness. Some in our group were not so lucky.

Our group had two final get-togethers nicely wrapping up the past 15 days. Wendy and I wandered around the ship enjoying the afforded pleasures one last time. That night was also our last formal night for dining. One of the couples sitting at our table was celebrating their 55th wedding anniversary and of course I had to put the dining crew on high alert. At the end of the meal they were serenaded by the staff from our section in English and Italian. They also got a special cake with a large candle to blow out. All of it made for great fun and a great memory.

When we docked in Italy, I had my private van waiting for me with the same driver that I had at the start of the cruise. It was nice to recognize someone. He drove us to the airport and made sure that all of our luggage and us were being assisted by an agent before he said goodbye. The agents at the airport were great and personally ushered us through customs so that we would not have any holdups. Our group started to disperse at this point since we were flying back to different destinations. I think there were about 10 from our group that was on the same plane.

We had a night flight back to the USA and I dozed off and on. I never sleep very well on planes but being very tired helped. After one layover in Philadelphia, we were bound for Greenville, SC. Kara and Ariel were there waiting for us with big smiles and hugs.

Without a doubt, this particular trip was one of the best that I have ever been on. But as we all learned from the Wizard Of Oz, “There’s no place like home.”

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IMG_0615IMG_0614We left the port of Piraeus and set sail for the port of Chania in Crete. Wendy and I didn’t have any set agenda while on Crete since there were no planned tours for our group. We were actually looking forward to a quiet and relaxing day.

A couple of friends and us decided to get off the ship and just leisurely stroll around the port village, check out a few shops and then head back to the ship for lunch and a lazy afternoon. But of course what would be my life without at least one amusing thing to pass along.

Some of you reading this have known me for years, so it will come as no surprise when I tell you that I live my life “as a man with a mission” attitude. Everyone has their own word to describe a person like that. My wife is polite in just calling me stubborn, but I assure you that others are not always so polite.

Anyway…when we left the ship, one place that Wendy and I wanted to see if we could find was a pharmacy. We had picked up a cold along the way and needed some cough drops. The ship did have some but had actually sold out. I guess we were not the only ones with a cough. Unlike America, there was no Walgreens or CVS on every street corner. We have no understanding of the Greek language and had no idea what a pharmacy would look like even if we found one. We enjoyed the numerous shops and cafes in our travels, while I kept a watchful eye for my pharmacy. Success! We found a very obvious and modern pharmacy. The inside was very much like being in a nice small town “drug store” back in the States. I found some small bags of cough drops by the register and thought “this was easy.” So I waited in line listening to the people speaking in Greek around me and figured I would have no problem making myself understood to the cashier what I needed. When it was my turn, with the cashier understanding a little English and me pointing and mimicking a cough, it was easy to have her take two bags of my desired item to pay for. “Euros? You only take Euros? Can’t I use my credit card?” (As I showed it to her) She continued to say no and sorry. She was doing her best to be helpful as she pointed up the street and said “bank.” Wendy by this time was ready to give up and let us live with a cough. The cough drops cost 8 Euros which is very expensive. But if I find myself stubborn, I found my friend even more so. He was now a “man with a mission” like me, so his wife and Wendy gave up and said they would wait for us to return with the Euros.

IMG_0620So Craig and I headed down the street for about a block and found the bank. Outside of the bank we found an ATM and thought everything would be fine. So I took my card, inserted it into the ATM, while Craig was looking at the screen since it was too high for me to see. Uh-oh, no English at all. Only Greek. But do we quit? Never! So pressing a button with a red X on it (hoping to get my card back),  into the bank we must go.

Security at the bank was very tight and nothing like most banks at home. A security guard inside would press one button and the first of two doors would open. The person going in would then close the door they just went through and they were now in a very small space about the size of a phone booth with a second door in front of them. Then the security guard would press button number two to let you enter the bank. This worked fine for Craig, but certainly was not designed for people in wheelchairs. There was absolutely no way of me getting into the bank that route. So Craig went inside to explain the situation while I sat outside watching him attempt to explain the problem with lots of arm motions while pointing at me and the door. He stood there a moment waiting while the security guard left and returned with a lady that I imagined spoke English. I watched Craig go through all of the motions again explaining to her the situation. She took a key from the security guard and opened the exit only door to allow me inside. She did speak a little English but it didn’t go much beyond hello, ATM, and customer service. So now Craig and I are both looking like we are trying to “lift off” flapping our arms around to explain that I need some Euros. We are finally escorted to the customer service line where we take a number and wait for the six people in front of us. By now we had put on quite a show for everyone so we just stood quietly to the side while people stared at us.

When we finally got up to the front of the line, we started our arm flapping explanations again to the customer service agent, only to have him point to the ATM outside. We tried to explain that it was only in Greek and we needed help using it. He called for the same lady as before to come over and see if she could understand us. I would show her my card, point to the ATM and say “no English.” She got the key again and the three of us were escorted outside by the security guard to the ATM.

Meanwhile, back at the pharmacy, Wendy and Lauri thought we had be abducted or something and decided to head to the bank to find us. About an hour of time had passed by now. When they got to the bank they found the four of us around the ATM trying to figure out what to do. The bank manager put my card into the ATM and the screen came up as they say “all Greek to me.” Craig and I started pointing and trying to explain that we did not understand what buttons to push. She just held up her hand and said “wait.” We just all stared at the screen for about 30 seconds and then it flipped to English! Lots of thanks, smiles, more pointing and very red faces on two impatient Americans.

Wendy was giving me one of her “glares” that most husbands get I’m sure. But I at last had my Euros. We headed back to the pharmacy, I bought my small bag of cough drops for about $12.00, and we headed back to the ship while Craig and I spent the entire time explaining to our wives what had happened. They were laughing, but I think at us, not with us.

Oh well, such is my life.

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When we left Athens, we started the drive along the coast to the ancient city of Corinth. Before we got there, we stopped at a place to eat lunch that was right beside ofIMG_0610 the modern day Corinth Canal. Construction on the canal started in 1881 and was completed in 1893. It is four miles long and about 23 feet wide. Cut through solid stone and built at sea level, there are no locks involved. But because of the canal being so narrow, it serves very little purpose economically today and is mostly used by tourists with small boats. Even so, it is still impressive to see.

If you were to study the geography of Greece, it is easy to see why the ancient city of Corinth was such a strategic place for military and commercial reasons. Located on a narrow isthmus connecting northern and southern Greece, Corinth was the first century hub of Greek civilization. The narrow isthmus virtually provided southern Greece from any land invasion. A very small military regiment would be able to defend the land with little difficulty. And commercially, anyone traveling north, south, east or west would pass through Corinth with money to spend.

IMG_0602At the time of the Apostle Paul, first century AD, Corinth stretched the four mile distance across the isthmus. It would have been thronging with merchants, IMG_0605sailors, travelers and military. The central focus of Corinth, the Agora, was located near the Corinthian Acropolis which was close to 2000 ft. above sea level. This was the main thoroughfare to go from the Mediterranean Sea to the Aegean Sea, and Corinth took full advantage of that. The merchants shouting to the passing crowds to buy their goods, eating places with delightful smells enticing people to spend their coins, places to rest and spend the night, and many temples for the gods making their fortunes from the very old profession of prostitution. It is believed that the temple of Aphrodite had over 1000 temple prostitutes.

Because of an earthquake in 1858 which destroyed the city of Corinth, people rebuilt the present day city of Corinth about three miles away on the coast. This allowed unhindered excavation of ancient Corinth that has been going on since that time. One of the most imposing structures found was the temple of Apollo. Seven of the 35 original IMG_0607columns remain standing. And in the middle of all of this hustle and bustle, the Apostle Paul arrives to preach Christianity to the Corinthians. There was a large Jewish population in Corinth that did not like Paul’s message. They accused him before Gallio of breaking the law. The bema, that Paul would have stood on for his trial, has been found in the center of about 30 shops and businesses. Surrounded by unbelieving gentiles and Jewish people, Paul was prepared to defend himself and his message, but Gallio spoke before Paul could utter a word. He told the people that Paul had broken no laws and that they needed to deal with it themselves. So basically the case against Paul was thrown out of court. For those of you that might be interested, the account of this can be found in the Bible in Acts chapter 18.

While we were there in the middle of the excavations, looking around me, it was very easy to picture the entire scene of that time. I was asked to share a short devotional here which was very humbling. I say humbling because I had to ask myself “would I have had the courage of Paul, to stand so strongly for my beliefs, facing the opposition that he did?” I doubt it. Like many, I am content to live my faith in a very mediocre version. I certainly left Corinth with much to think about in my own life.

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imagesIMG_0577Welcome to Athens! Named after the goddess Athena in Greek mythology, Athens is a beautiful city with its highest point being the “The IMG_0569Acropolis,” home of the Parthenon. For those of you that may not be familiar with Greek mythology, Athena arrived on the scene springing from the forehead of her father Zeus, being fully grown and clad in armor. Now I have two daughters, and I might even have had one or two headaches over the past 25 years induced from being a father of daughters…but nothing like the headache Zeus must have had! lol

We docked in the Port of Piraeus at 6:00 AM and were eager to get started on a full day of site-seeing. Once again we were on a smaller private bus equipped with a wheelchair lift and our own guide. When we arrived at the Parthenon, the larger tour buses were parked near the bottom of the Acropolis and everyone was faced with a long walk ahead of them. Our bus had permission to drive us to a nice parking area right at the base of Mars Hill and the Acropolis.

When I got off the bus, we started a fairly steep climb to the main park entrance. The path was flat but certainly was not smooth. Remember as a kid when you would jump from rock to rock to get across a stream? Maneuvering my wheelchair here was something akin to that. I would jump/bounce my chair from one flat surface to the next trying to avoid the cracks and holes between the stones. Of course considering the stones had been set in place around 450 BC, it was actually pretty good. Wendy of course was helping me and taking it slow and easy I made it just fine.

IMG_0554IMG_0555Once we got to the main entrance, everyone else geared up for the long walk up the trail and stairs to the Parthenon. We veered left and took a trail that went up around the side of the Acropolis. It was pretty steep but made out of some decent pavement. Our guide was bringing us to an “elevator” that would bring us to the top. I’m still smiling thinking of the look on the face of a friend in our group as he saw the elevator. What it actually was, was a caged box that went up a sheer cliff wall on a single geared monorail type of IMG_0581system. The closer we got, the more nervous he got. I on the other had found it fascinating and looked forward to the ride up. We finally arrived at the bottom of some stairs where I rode a wheelchair lift up to the elevator. The operator, our guide, and Wendy and me piled into the small box, cage doors slid down with a bang behind me, and the entire thing rattled and shook as we started our ascent. Once above the tree tops, the view was breathtaking! There were holes and crevices in the cliff side that birds were sitting on their nest in watching us as we continued up and up. We finally reached the top with a slight jolting stop, the cage door slid open on the opposite side and I rolled out onto a ramp that hung over the top of the Acropolis. And there in front of us was the smaller Temple of Erechtheion and the Parthenon.

IMG_0575IMG_0564The smaller temple was dedicated to the Greek hero Erechtheion. The most fascinating feature to this temple was the “Porch of the Maidens.” Each maiden was uniquely sculpted and served as the columns to hold up the roof. There was a street that curved aroundIMG_0574 and up from here to the Parthenon. This was some very rough going for a wheelchair. However, once again people that I did not know at all came to the rescue. A guy volunteered to pull my wheelchair up the steep and rocky street so that I was able to sit right at the base of the Parthenon. I got to take plenty of pictures of the amazing structures that surrounded me. When I started back down, the same guy appeared and carefully brought me all the way back down to the ramp. I always found some amazingly nice and helpful people wherever I went.

I rolled out to the end of the ramp hanging in space and waited for the lift to come up for me. We got into our clanky little cage and started our descent down. Once at the bottom I “jumped” my wheelchair from stone to stone working my way back to the bus. Any accessible issues were minor indeed. I was just sitting in front of a 2500 year old temple from the past. Now how cool was that?!

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We are in the last minute frenzy of packing (well Wendy is) and the clock is ticking rapidly to our day of departure. I thought I would share our itinerary with you and a few pictures as well. I am so excited about this entire trip! And to put the icing on the cake, I have been asked to read a portion of Scripture and briefly speak when we are at Corinth.

Traveling around the Mediterranean and visiting cities and cultures that are thousands of years old is such an amazing thought. I will keep journal entries at each place and take plenty of pictures to share. I am hoping to be able to post from the ship when I am over there. But if for some reason that should not work, I will make sure and catch everyone up when we return.

Just a couple of last minute details before the itinerary. For people in wheelchairs, you may want to make room in your packing for a few wheelchair parts. I always bring an extra seat cushion with me (in case mine should pop) and an extra set of tubes for my tires. This is much easier than trying to find the necessary parts in an emergency. Also you should make copies of your passport and credit cards. Keep one copy with you and leave one copy at home. We have never lost our passports or credit cards, but once again, plan for the possibility.

Here are the details of our room which is accessible with an ocean view balcony. Two twin beds (can convert into queen-size) with open bed frames, wider entry door, turning spaces, private balcony, sitting area with lowered vanity, closet rods, and safe, and a private bathroom with a wider door, roll-in shower, grab bars, fold-down shower bench, hand-held shower head, raised toilet, and a lowered sink. (275 sq. ft., balcony 42 sq. ft.)

Brochure details provided by Educational Opportunities.

October 18 Depart USA Our pilgrimage begins as we depart the USA.

October 19 Rome Arrive in Rome, and time permitting, take a panoramic tour of this beautiful city.

October 20 Ancient Rome History is woven through the streets and neighborhoods of Rome as in no other city. Today we’ll explore the many wonders of ancient Rome when we visit the magnificent Colosseum. From the most sacred hill of ancient Rome, Campidoglio, we’ll view the Forum. You’ll also view the Circus Maximus, Mamertine Prison, the Arch of Titus, the famous Baths of Caracalla and the Arch of Constantine. We’ll see the Victor Emanuel Monument and the Monti Region, Rome’s most ancient neighborhood, which spreads over three of her seven hills. Board the beautiful Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas.

October 21 & 22 At Sea

October 23 & 24 Alexandria & Cairo, Egypt Dock in Alexandria, founded in 331 BC by Alexander the Great. See the site of the ancient library, lighthouse, and Pompey’s Pillar during your tour of Alexandria. Visit the catacombs and enjoy time to explore the old city. Travel to Cairo, the capital city of Egypt which means “The Vanquisher” or “The Triumphant.” Cairo is the most populated metropolitan area in Africa. See the Great Pyramids of Giza, the Egypt Museum, and the King Tut Treasures.

October 25 & 26 Joppa, Caesarea, & Jerusalem, Israel Drive through Biblical Joppa, now the port city of Jaffa. Jonah sailed from here, and Peter raised Dorcas from the dead while staying with Simon the Tanner. Visit Caesarea and see the impressive theater and aqueduct. Here Cornelius became the first gentile convert and Paul was later imprisoned before being sent to Rome. Travel to Jerusalem and visit the Upper Room, the traditional site of the Last Supper. Visit the House of the High Priest Caiaphas, where Jesus was tried before the Sanhedrin. Stand upon the Mount of Olives and view the city as Jesus did. Wander among the olive trees of the Garden of Gethsemane. Enter the Old City and visit the Pool of Bethesda. We’ll walk along the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

October 27 The Galilee, Israel Travel inland to the Sea of Galilee. We’ll stand on the Mount of the Beatitudes where Jesus gave his most well known sermon (Luke 6:12‐49). At Tabgha, the traditional location for the calling of the disciples and the feeding of the 5000, you’ll visit the Church of the Fish and the Loaves (Luke 9:10‐17). Visit the Chapel of the Primacy where three times Peter professed his devotion to the risen Christ (John 21). Travel to the shore town of Capernaum where Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, John (Matt 4:13) and later Matthew.

October 28 At Sea

October 29 Ephesus, Turkey Journey to Ephesus, the marble city where Paul spent three years of his ministry. The ruins of Ephesus have been restored much like the city was in Paul’s time. You will visit the ancient Agora and view the Great Theater

October 30 Athens & Corinth, Greece Travel to Corinth, a city that inspired St. Paul’s most familiar letters. You will visit the Archaeological Museum, the Market Place, and Temples. Walk among the ruins and stand on the Bema where Paul stood. The architectural splendors of the ancient city of Athens are as magnificent as ever. Visit the world renowned Acropolis, the Propylaea, and the Parthenon. View Mars Hill where Paul debated with the intellectual community of his day. Time permitting, walk among the ruins of the Agora, the ancient market place and center of Athenian public life. You will view the Olympic Stadium, birthplace of the modern Olympics.

October 31 Chania, Crete Dock in Crete, Paul set sail from Crete on his voyage which ended in shipwreck. Chania is known for the Venetian Harbour, the old port, the narrow shopping streets and waterfront restaurants. Much of the Chania you will want to see is clustered close to the harbor ‐ see the Byzantine Museum, Naval Museum, or perhaps take a trip ouside of Chania to one of the several surrounding monasteries such as Samaria Gorge.

November 1 At Sea

November 2 Return to the USA Dock in Civitavecchia, Italy. Transfer to the Rome airport. Return to the U.S. with memories to share.

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Are you ready to go on a cruise? If so, then read my next several posts as Wendy and I prepare to go on a Mediterranean cruise. Our adventure starts on October 18 and there has been a great deal of preparation getting ready for that day. Travel of any sort has always been exciting for me. That is one reason why I loved being in the military. It gave me an incredible opportunity to see the world and personally experience other cultures.

To have an enjoyable and hassle-free vacation is my goal. Because I am in a wheelchair, there has to be some very detailed planning for that to happen.  Once upon a time the ideal vacation might have been traversing across Europe with a backpack, walking stick and a black Lab. Now I need accessible transportation, hotel rooms, knowledgeable tour guides of site accessibility, etc. This can become a logistical nightmare without months of advance planning.

The first thing to do is to get a passport. There are numerous forms to fill out and documents that you will need, especially if you are a first time applicant. You can go to http://travel.state.gov/passport/processing/processing_1740.html which will give you all of the information needed to apply for a passport. Make sure and do this early as it takes 4-6 weeks to get your passport. The process can be expedited to 2-3 weeks but there is an extra charge involved.

Depending on how adventurous you want to be will determine on where you want to go. If you are in a wheelchair and planning your first international travel experience, you may want to consider some place that is featured as an accessible travel venue. Or perhaps you want to start out by being the first person in a wheelchair to plant a flag on the top of Mt. Everest (Let me know how that goes).

Two years ago, for our first trip overseas after my injury, we went to Israel. Israel is an amazing place to visit, very accessible and the people were incredible with any assistance that I needed. This was a trip that I helped coordinate for people with disabilities. There were five of us in wheelchairs that went on this trip. Our tour host and I spent almost two years in the planning to make the trip as seamless as possible for people in wheelchairs. We had multiple meetings and discussed every detail of the trip right down to accessible restroom facilities across the country. Guides and bus-drivers were carefully chosen, appropriate hotel accommodations, and people to assist us at every tourist point we stopped at. But, even with such careful planning, we still encountered a few unexpected speed bumps when we were there. Key word here is flexibility. If you feel that your daily routine can never be altered at all, then you may want to reconsider traveling overseas.

The one thing that made the trip to Israel so successful was the use of a tour host that listened, had firsthand knowledge of the destination and a travel agency that knew about accessible travel. That is something that I would recommend for every trip and we are doing the same thing for our cruise. We will be flying to Rome and spending a couple of days there before we begin our cruise. Then we will travel to Egypt, Israel, Turkey, Greece and Crete. Being on the ship is going to be the easy part. The logistics that have gone into planning every detail, for every location, have been extensive. Many special arrangements have been made for me so that I will be able to participate in all of the tourist stops in each country.

Once again, I can’t stress enough for anyone to use a tour host and travel agency that are extremely familiar with accessibility concerns. I personally would not even attempt to do a trip of this magnitude on my own.

My next post is going to be all of the preparations and packing on my end that we are currently in the process of doing. Once again the key word is flexibility. Remember there is an entire world out there to see, taste, smell and experience. So put down the TV remote and start living life!

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