CLIMBING THE ACROPOLIS
One of my greatest personal achievements was climbing the Acropolis. After many years of going to Europe with other people, my parents or my brother and sister. In 2015, I bit the bullet and decided to conquer my Everest. It was time I took on Europe in a more independent way!
My plan was to base myself with family in England, Italy and Switzerland and to travel to various parts of Europe. I wasn’t completely on my own most of the time but it meant I had to rely on extended family and friends to help me when I needed it. Not quite the same safety net that you have when you’re with the people you know well at home and who know your quirks in return.
I surprised myself in how calm and relaxed I actually was during my 9 months in Europe. A personal best for me in a very intangible way that created a foundation of confidence that I know will never be shaken. During my trip, my friend Mel and travel wheelie buddy was going to meet me in Athens and we would take a 3 week cruise on the Emerald Princess to Barcelona. Now that is a long story in itself, but let me start by recounting my experience in Athens.
We met at the airport with an hour of each other’s landing time and made our way to the Royal Olympic Hotel. Wow, what an amazing hotel with great service and decent wheelchair access. Don’t forget we are talking Europe and southern Europe at that! The fact that what they had said over the phone about having wheelchair access matched what we got was pretty priceless. My impression at this stage was great, the Olympics a few years ago obviously had improved the city in terms of disability awareness. So my expectations were pretty high and it was a great start to an unforgettable trip.
The next day we planned to go to the Acropolis, our hotel host had told us there was a lift to get to the top and it was walking distance from the hotel. So off we went the next morning and pushed around the corner to go to the pedestrian path that leads up to the Acropolis. We didn’t get very far, we got to the end of the block and the gutters were not ramped.
HMMM… THIS WAS NOT GOING TO BE AS SIMPLE AS IT SEEMED BUT IT WAS NOT ENOUGH TO DETER US. WE TURNED AROUND AND DECIDED TO GET A TAXI TO THE PATHWAY.
Now let me describe this pathway for you. It led up the hill in a winding fashion with cobble stones throughout. It was a slow slog getting up and all the while I was thinking how the heck were we going to get down again. It’s one thing going up cobblestones but coming down is suicidal. The front wheels were sure to get caught in the gaps and propel us out of the chair. So we resigned ourselves to the need to ask for help on the way down. About halfway up we had a newly married American couple who generously offered to help us push as we were obviously doing the ‘turtle’ pace!
Once we got to the top of the pathway, there was a ticket office to get tickets to go up with a massive line up to get in. It didn’t take us long to figure out that there was no access to get into the office so again we asked a fellow tourist for some assistance. They happily came out and told us that we could go up free of charge no problem.
Great! Now where was this lift? We scouted the area very slowly as cobble stones were everywhere! It took a while but we finally found a staff member to ask about the access. The first thing he said was ‘Who did you come with?’ because obviously in hindsight no person with a disability goes anywhere in Europe without carers. The look of doubt and recommendation to come back tomorrow early in the morning with helpers when it’s not so hot really didn’t go down well. One of the things I hate being told is that I can’t do something plus I knew I was not going to do that cobblestone pathway again tomorrow. This was it, now or never!
He continued to explain that we had to climb a steep ramp about 25m up and then a 300m pathway that had interval hills. I knew we could do the 300m pathway because it was smooth concrete but the steep ramp was pretty steep. It didn’t help that staff conditions are that they are not allowed to help patrons physically. We ummed and aahed for a little while, trying to get the fortitude to stubbornly say yes and just do it.
To his shock, we decided to go. Up the ramp we pushed while tourists were coming down the steps to the right. We got about halfway up again and God love them, we had English and North American tourists jump in to help us out and get us to the top of the ramp with such enthusiasm. I did feel sorry for our staff guide who was escorting us to the lift, his face had such a guilty look for not being able to help us. Once at the top of the ramp, we continued slowly, stopping intermittently to rest our arms and wipe our sweaty hands. Blisters were starting to form on Mel’s hands but we pushed on. The lift was in sight and we had got this far already no turning back now.
(Photo: The lifts at the Acropolis, Athens June 2015)
We got to the stairlift and climbed one at a time. First the stairlift and then the industrial and noisy caged lift up the side of the cliff to the Acropolis. Mel went first and got the Spanish Inquisition when she got up there and the female staff member manning the lift saw her arrive.
‘HOW DID YOU GET HERE? BUT HOW?’
She could not believe that the two of us had travelled from Australia on our own and were now on the top of the Acropolis.
I must admit we did feel smug, it was great to have reached the seeming impossible task of getting to the top against local perceptions. We didn’t stay for long. Storm clouds were brewing and we were told rain would come in about an hour.
I CERTAINLY DIDN’T FANCY DOING THE STEEP RAMP AND COBBLESTONES IN THE RAIN.
So we took some photos and headed back down again. It was all fine until we got to the top of the steep ramp. I literally had to lie back in my chair, hold on to my wheels for dear life and hope to God that I would stop in time before the cobblestone pathway started. My heart was in my throat and pounding like crazy. We did it though, got to the bottom and just as we got there, big fat drops of water started falling.
(Photo: Mel and I at the top of the Acropolis, Athens June 2015)
We looked at each other in panic and asked a lovely elderly English couple heading down the hill to get a taxi, if they would ask a driver to come up the cobblestone pathway and get us. We waited a little bit and the drops were becoming more frequent. We must have looked a little stranded, an Aussie family group consisting of three generations stopped and asked to help us down. This time offering to take the dirt track alongside the cobblestones as it might be safer and even faster. So we took up our familiar Aussie mateship offer and headed down. I was hanging on to the back of my chair with one arm so that I wouldn’t lose balance and tip out the front because inevitably we had some sharp jolts when the wheels hit a tree root or got bogged in a sandy spot.
As we got to the bottom, just before the three steps down onto the path I spotted a taxi that was heading up. I tried to wave at it to stop and fortunately the stand-by ambulance crew who are permanently stationed at that spot noticed my movements and stopped the taxi in time before he left heading up the pathway. We bundled into the taxi as rain was starting to come down in earnest and headed back to the hotel thanking our new found friends and looking forward to seeing some of them on the cruise in 2 days time.
Back at the hotel, we headed to the rooftop bar, parked ourselves on the cushioned lounge chairs and looked at the Acropolis with well deserved alcoholic beverages. This one we had truly worked for, we were exhausted and planned to numb the pain a little. Again, more lovely tourists, this time a NZ couple joined us for a few boisterous drinks before we turned in for the night. As much as it was an achievement getting to the top of the Acropolis, for me it was a timely reminder that in life we don’t get anywhere significant on our own.
WE JUST HAVE TO HAVE THE STUBBORNNESS AND COURAGE TO KEEP GOING AND THE ABILITY TO LET GO OF OUR EGOS AND LET PEOPLE HELP YOU ALONG THE WAY.
The Acropolis has been done and dusted…I’ve ticked it off my bucket list and if I ever do go again it will be with helpers. I have no need to prove that point again!