By BRYAN ANDREWS
My introduction to barefoot travel was by accident…well, almost by accident.
It was 2003 and my wife and I were on a visit to Greece. On our first morning in Athens, we did what I recommend that most of my clients should do. We went on an organised morning tour of the city, which ended at the Acropolis. In addition to giving us a quick orientation of the city that would be useful for later exploration, it covered entrance fees to the important sites, which meant that I didn’t have to scrabble for cash while tourists in the queue behind me got impatient in the heat of the morning.
Frustrated that we hadn’t been able to take a decent photograph of the Parthenon without the scaffolding being used to repair the temple intruding into the picture, we said good bye to our guide at the bottom of the Acropolis steps and set off to explore on our own.
As Christians, one of the things we had placed on our “to-do” list was to see Mars Hill, the place where Paul had spoken to the members of the Aeropagus about the unknown god (Acts 17:22-34). So, having come down a set of uneven marble steps from the Parthenon, we climbed another set of uneven steps cut out of the rock. The view from the top of Mars Hill was wonderful! The tree-studded Ancient Agora with its Temple of Hephaestus and the ruins of shops and places of business spread out in front of us. It was easy to imagine the area bustling with life as it would have been in Paul’s day. Beyond the Agora, was the Plaka – a tourist trap, but a pleasant one. From the top of Mars Hill, we could see folk strolling leisurely along its roads and paths, stopping now and then to look at something in one of its many shops, while others sat at sidewalk cafés enjoying the early summer sun.
Getting down was a little more hazardous than getting up. Well, maybe not for everyone, but for me it was. As my leather sandal made contact with the first stone step – one that was highly polished by the millions of shoes and sandals that had trodden it before me – my foot slipped and I was in danger of making the leap from top step to bottom in one uncontrolled and uncontrollable movement. Deciding that I was not going to allow the steps to deposit me ignominiously at their base, I opted for a more sure-footed approach. I removed my sandals and tackled the descent barefoot, reaching the bottom of the steps relatively easily.
Back on level-ish ground, I was suddenly aware of the sensations – both physical and emotional – that were awakened by feeling the ancient rocks beneath my feet. Wanting to retain the experience for as long as possible, I didn’t put my sandals back on my feet. I shoved them into my backpack and revelled in the freedom of strolling barefoot down the pathway into the Plaka
As we walked through the Plaka into Monastiraki and on towards Syntagma, it struck me that I was fulfilling a dream that I had verbalised in a novel that I had completed but never published. The principal character had left home to put some distance between himself and the cause of severe emotional trauma. Revelling in the lightness and freedom he experienced on arriving in Greece, he shed many of the things that tied him to his past – including his shoes, which he only put on again about six months later.
My barefoot experience didn’t last that long. We had decided that we wanted to visit the Church of St Dennis in the Monastiraki District so, out of respect for the clergy and worshippers, I sat on a bench outside the church and put my sandals back on my feet. But, during that 45-minute walk in Athens, a barefoot traveller was born.