We walked many miles during our recent overseas adventure “Wonders of Greece in the Footsteps of Paul”. We rode in air conditioned motorcoaches; we cruised on a luxurious ship loaded with entertainment and food, and plodded up carefully sloped ramps with sturdy handrails in hardy walking shoes. We may have been in the same locations, but the travel experience wasn’t the same as it was for the apostle Paul.
I had the honor of escorting a group “From Grove to Greece” about 19 years ago. The pastor at the Methodist Church had planned the tour and then sadly became too ill to escort the large group to the Mediterranean. My reputation as
“Fearless Leader” was called on and I stepped in at the last moment and away we went.
What an amazing trip it was to be in all those places that were just names in years of Sunday school lessons - Athens and the Acropolis Hill where St. Paul made his famous “Men of Athens” speech. We were in awe of the remains in Ephesus in Kusadasi, Turkey. Beholding that famous, massive library and beautiful theater, even in ruins, we could sense the advanced thinking and the appreciation of beautiful things.
Our trip this time allowed us to see some of the same sights, and I was surprised at how much improvement had taken place in the past two decades… especially knowing that Greece’s economy has been in a slump. We no longer crawled over broken columns and picked our way down paths of stones, today there are sidewalks and a few guard rails. And with these improvements has come more tourists. Lots of tourists. Many, many tourists. Of course, we were 21 of them.
It seems fitting that I am reminded of a quotation by a native of the Greek city of Ephesus, Ionia, on the coast of Asia Minor, right where we were standing. This pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, Heraclitus said “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.”
Although I was enjoying being there again, the joy this time was seeing it though the eyes of my travelers who were “stepping into the river for the first time.” To hear their comments about what they expected and what they saw, to converse together to try to get some kind of grasp on the thousand years of history that their school kids are expected to learn... it was brilliant. The leaders, the wars, the power struggles, and the cultural changes have slowly been discovered as the layers of living have been excavated from the earth.
I was quite impressed with the number of young travelers at every attraction. At the same age I was when I could hardly afford Silver Dollar City, they are across the Atlantic, in another country! While I am always happy to see people traveling, I will admit there were countless times I wondered if those I was watching were really there to learn and experience this historical place, or were they just there to grab a selfie photo with a tourist iconic background. The school teacher in me came out as I wanted to say, “Listen to the guide! Why is this place important? Do you even know what you are seeing?!” And it wasn’t just all young people with this crazy ‘the picture of me here is more important than really being here in the moment’ mentality.
There were more souvenir shops. There were more snack stands. Good for the Greeks, but there were many more ways that we could be distracted from what we were there for. The river had changed for me.
It is good to go with a group. Your chances of not missing the moment, even amid the chaos, are better when there are more eyes and ears focused on the main thing. One might never walk that way again, don’t miss it.
Patti Beth Anderson has more than 20 years of experience in the group travel industry taking people all over the world. Her motto is "I return with the same number of people I left with… not necessarily the same people, but the same number nevertheless. So no 'crankpots' allowed" She may be reached at 918-786-3318 or firstname.lastname@example.org.