What a Trip: A solo spiritual sojourn in Greece


The first picture shows the path that the Apostle Paul walked as he came into Ephesus. Ahead is the great Library, where the ancient scrolls of knowledge were kept. Paul preached for days outside of this Library, shaking up the religious and cultural traditions of the Greek citizens. (Marcy Gouge)
October 31, 2013

Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.

Who: Marcy Gouge of Gaithersburg

Where, when, why: I went to Greece (and Ephesus in Turkey) as part of a month-long “renewal” offered by my employer, AARP. I wanted to walk in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul as he preached to the Gentile churches, and I wanted to see Santorini and other Greek isles.

Highlights and high points: The views of the Parthenon from my breakfast table on the roof of the hotel and of the Temple of Zeus from my room balcony. It was like viewing a time warp to look at the sleek, modern hotel nestled beside ruins 2,000 years old. I felt as if I was in the middle of the “sea of time” and realized that even though the exterior of the modern world is different, we are the same as the ancient Greeks. We’re still searching for the answers to the most important questions: Who are we, why are we here, and is there a supreme being in charge of the world?

My visit to the ruins of Ephesus, in modern-day Turkey, brought me to the area where Paul spoke to the church leaders and was a very emotional and spiritual experience for me. I saw the riches of the Greek world and knew that Paul must have been very persuasive to cause people to turn from their culture to accept Jesus as the Christ, especially when it meant the loss of wealth and possessions.

The sunset in Oia, on Santorini, is famous, and it lived up to its reputation. The ancient volcano in the harbor glimmered in the twilight, and the blue-roofed white buildings on the hill were perfect in the dwindling light.

Cultural connection or disconnect: Traveling alone as an older woman was interesting in a culture that’s so family-oriented. Waiters saw me come into the restaurant alone and often brought me a glass of wine or a special treat to make me feel welcome. This led to many conversations with the locals, who expressed curiosity about where I was from. When I said Washington, they often talked politics with me, especially since the news about the government shutdown was everywhere. We shared good-natured laughs about governments that can’t seem to get any work done! One evening, I stayed until a restaurant was ready to close and met everyone in it, sharing stories and wine. I left feeling that I had a family there.

Biggest laugh or cry: I was fortunate to be in Athens to see the start of the torch relay for the Winter Olympics in Russia. As the runners came down the street with the torch held high, I unexpectedly felt tears rolling down my checks. Greece might be a small nation now, but once it was the center of the ancient world. I realized the power of the Olympic torch to rekindle that ancient pride for diverse cultures worldwide.

How unexpected: I was struck by the resilience of the Greeks, who are dealing with the austerity measures imposed by the European Union. They have an inherent optimism and joy in life despite the high unemployment rate. There are no beggars or homeless people in the streets — everyone is proud to work, even at menial jobs. Family is everything, and people support each other emotionally and financially. What a lesson for those of us who cling to our material possessions as if they’ll keep us warm at night or hold us close in times of trouble!

Fondest memento or memory: My greatest souvenir wasn’t something that I could buy, but an experience that spoke to my heart. I visited the Isle of Patmos, where the Apostle John received his Revelation from God. The grotto where he lived is 74 steps down into a tight, dark cave. Once there, I sat quietly to meditate and pray, and to listen for guidance in my life. Bright frescoes on the walls depict God speaking to John, and you can touch the very spot where tradition says the apostle laid his head to rest. I left with a renewed sense of peace and purpose. As the TV commercial says: “Priceless.”

To tell us about your own trip, go to www.washingtonpost.com/travel and fill out the What a Trip form with your fondest memories, finest moments and favorite photos.

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