My Big Fat Greek Odyssey

Sometimes travelers have it a bit rough. Like that Odysseus dude, who took 10 years to return to Greece after the Trojan war, enduring cyclops attacks, deadly whirlpools, six-headed monsters, seductive sirens, blah, blah, blah. Okay, so he had it more than a little rough. But the one thing he didn’t have: multiple sclerosis. Now that would have really cemented his legacy.

Well, in 2017 I found myself for the first time in Greece, often called the cradle of Western civilization. And, completely unintentionally, I also found myself trying to one-up Homer’s hero in terms of overcoming challenges. How do I always, always get myself into these situations?

When you are in Athens, it is pretty much a requirement to go to the Acropolis, the ancient citadel featuring the legendary Parthenon. And for 99.9% of the visitors, there is one way to the top of the 500-ft high rock outcropping: a steep, cobblestone path that is decidedly unfriendly to the disabled. But for those using a wheelchair or for those with official evidence of a disability (e.g., a handicap placard with your photo), there is another way to the top: An elevator, which was installed prior to the 2004 Olympic games.

But would Odysseus stoop to using an elevator? Oh hell no. I mean, seriously, elevators hadn’t been invented yet, so of course not. I, on the other hand, was more than happy to shed my superhero cape and take the easy way up. There was just one minor problem. Or two. Or three.

“How good are you at climbing stairs?” our guide asked, apparently confusing me and my wheelchair for a Greek god and a chariot. Sure I have muscles, but I’m not that ripped. And I’m not Greek. Gulp, she was being serious. The elevator up the precipitous cliff face to the Acropolis was fully operational. But the wheelchair lift to get to that elevator had just broken. Ahead I guessed were 847 steps (I’m bad at estimating—it technically was about 30) that had to be ascended if I was going to view the Parthenon up close.

Complicating matters: Athens was suffering an unusual early-May heat wave. Atop the rock outcrop it was over 90 degrees, humid, and shade free. And the Acropolis, I knew, wasn’t fully accessible. To get to the best views I’d have to walk a short distance over slick marble worn smooth since the 7th century BC. And, uh, I’m somewhat afraid of heights, problematic when the sole operational elevator clings to a cliff face like an elevator clinging to a cliff face. Jesus.

Oh, what would Odysseus do? Probably exactly what I then did—mutter some profanities (after some research, aw shit in ancient Greek is aw aphòdeumaand) and then giddy up. 

When you have a disease or disability that challenges you, often you have no choice but to meet those challenges with tenacious stubbornness. I knew that tomorrow, next month, or next year my MS might not be so forgiving, so I was not going to miss this opportunity. No way. And yes, it was absolutely worth the effort. Indeed it was so breathtaking that it didn’t once cross my mind that I later would have to descend 847 (aka 30 or so) steps on jelly legs after spending an hour overheating in midday sun.

Even then I wasn’t too worried. As I boarded the elevator to head down, I had my own personal Athena with me to ensure my safety and watch over my every step. That goddess/caretaker also goes by the name of Laura. And she was not about to let me fall and crack my skull on our first full day of our Mediterranean vacation.

I survived. Day one was officially in the books. Ah, but my odyssey was just beginning.


Unknown said…
I don't tell you often enough how much I appreciate your leading by example... even when it goes not quite right or according to plans. Keep moving forward and seizing these opportunities. -Laura
Dave Bexfield said…
Thanks Laura! There were many other MS-related challenges on our recent trip. I don't know how I'll get to them all!
Fran said…
Duh, greatest MS website Dave, greatest :)
Kathy said…
Hi Dave
Well, my husband & I are disagreeing but in 2009, just before I actually met you in Pienza, we went to Greece & to the Acropolis! What my husband & I disagree on, is that he thinks it was a construction lift that took me to the top & I think it was a lift that went up an incline on the side of the building. What I do remember is that once at the top I was motioned to get off the lift & there was a 4" gap (wider?) between the lift and so-called solid ground! I said 'no', not until ....... & they did get something to bridge the gap! I couldn't use my scooter at the top, not likely one could use a wheelchair because it was primarily loose gravel. One just had to get around as best as one could
Everything else you said is true. The view was awesome!
Dave Bexfield said…
Ha, Fran, thanks. And Kathy, you are both right. It looks like a construction lift but it is meant for people. And it is scary. And yes, there is a gap that they had to lift my chair over! I looked down 500 feet and held my breath. Yikes!
Unknown said…
Ditto re: thanks for leading by example, Dave. Your courage and humour are a knock-out antidote to the 'poor me, I can't' poison lurking inside MS. Come down to Crete next time you're in Greece. We'll get our legs operational by channeling the sun, then climb a mountain, then jump into the endlessly rejuvenating Libyan Sea. (If there are waves I have a not very pretty but failsafe crawl-out technique that occasionally alarms sunbathers, but works!)
Dave Bexfield said…
Jane, I like your idea. But I might need to know your failsafe technique before I make any commitments. :)
Unknown said…
Every time I read (just about) anything you write it inspires me. Thank you. ;)
Dave Bexfield said…
You are too nice, HT. Thanks for the comment!

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