THE EXCITEMENT OF TRAVELLING TO ATHENS

I’ve wanted to visit Greece, Athens, Acropolis since I was kid. I finally got to tick it off my bucket list, and boy was it an amazing experience for me.

I’ve done a small amount of travelling in my teenage to adult life. But always to nearby places, fitting in with the cliche of the day today Australian; the “affordable” traveller. We are all over Asia, because it’s close by and comparatively cheaper. I’d be surprised if you traversed Indonesia or Thailand and didn’t come across a loud and rowdy group of Aussies. But where we are fewer in travellers, is Europe. It’s far away, a high price for flights and expensive when considering currency conversion.

For this reason, many places I’ve always wanted to visit in my younger years have been just out of reach. But yesterday I got to tick off a long time dream and bucket list item.

As a kid, I always loved ancient/mythical stories. Hercules, Xena, Spartans and Gods battling to save the world or keep control of their domains. Roman and Greek mythos has always excited me and is why places like Italy, which I saw only last year, has also been one of my favourite places, ever. Rome astounded me with their mix of ancient and well-preserved buildings mixed within the enormities of modern society.

Greece – quickly summarising it’s problems

Athens, Greece, has been through a lot. From their ancient civilisation being conquered Romans from 509BC to 1453AD, to the Ottomans (Turkish Empire) occupying Greece for more than 400 years, they didn’t truly gain their independence again until the mid 1800s. Then came the many modern wars, and invasions through the 1900’s.

Shooting ahead, during the 1980’s Greece began exploring expansionary fiscal and monetary policies to help improve their economy, which unfortunately backfired on them, negatively impacting inflation rates, trade and growth rates.

Soon after, came the European Union, and despite the economy being in a bad state, they were let it in due to some doctored budget figures. Suddenly they were tied to the Euro and gained all the benefits of the EU; such as lowered interest rates on borrowing, and borrow cash they did. But with a lack of revenue coming into the country, it was not able to pay off it’s debts, and before long it had to claim bankruptcy.

Impacted heavily by this, are of course the millennials. In 2014, Greece’s unemployment rate was at an all-time high of almost 28%. This has now come down to 18%, but still very high for a country like Greece. Of this group, 70% are millennials.

This has impacted the generation in two ways.

Firstly, labelled the brain drain, Greece has a whole lot of millennials who are incredibly educated, due to their free education system, but are unable to get employed. So what do they do? They leave Greece to find work somewhere else in Europe.

The second is lashing out. This has a significant impact on the city of Athens in the form of graffiti. A city already pained with theft, congestion and waste. While some have turned to the arts as a form of expression, what i would call graffiti with style, others have littered streets with words of frustration and anger. Some roads look wondrous, beautiful even. Others unfortunately just ads to the chaos and pain of the city.

But why I loved Athens!

Arriving in Athens, we settled in for the day and prepped a few tours. I was eager to hear about the modern city, and it’s history before seeing the highlight. And I was pleasantly surprised by these experiences.

Beneath all of the issues, there is also still a lot of positivity. Greek people hold their heads high and are incredibly passionate and kind. They know they have some ironing out to do, and they’re not afraid to admit it. Friendly locals would remind us to hold our bags securely or engage us in conversations about our travels and give advice on things to do and see. I generally loved this about them.

Culturally, beauty shone through with; markets, music, dancing and food. There’s something to experience around every corner.

Then there is the highlight of the city, and for me, it was one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

The Acropolis of Athens

We woke up early. I definitely wanted to beat the crowds. 7AM start, with pre-booked tickets in hand ready to march through the gates of the Athens’ Acropolis.

We walked hastily through the streets making our way there and for once Gabby saw some pace in my step. Finally, we made it with only 10 people in front of us. I was happy. The gates opened on 8AM, and BOOM, we ran our way up to the top point of the Acropolis.

I can’t express the feeling of emotion I got when I stepped through the archway to see the temples.

Despite the damage that had been done due to hapless Turk invaders who did more damage in a day to the location, than had been done to it in the 2000 years prior, it was in a great state. I was overwhelmed with how beautiful it was, almost to the point of tears.

The two main structures/temples stood tall to the left and right, barely a person in sight, as if the moment was just for Gabby and I. Marble flooring that was once the ground for the Greeks more than 2000 years ago was all around, heat reflecting in full force from the morning sun. The pylons of the temples stood tall and white, and you could envision the beauty it would have once held in its undamaged state.

To me, it was a real wonder.

Beyond the Acropolis is then the ruins within the city of Athens. The old Greek and Roman markets, the Agoras, and the temple of Poseidon. Each a marvel of their own, completing stories about how the ancient Greeks once lived.

Many tourists skip Athens and head on through to the Greek islands. But honestly, I can’t understand how you could miss something so wonderful.

A NEW APPRECIATION FOR TRAVELLING

From someone was fear of long term travel, I’ve built up a new appreciation for the world and am now excited to take on the new challenges put before me.

—by Chris Sinclair—

Four months ago, I sat behind computer screen running digital consulting projects for my clients. Deep diving into their business, I would uncover gaps and areas they need to improve and help set them on a path to success. I loved it, I loved my job and loved the people and the company I worked for, I was fortunate.

I had done a small share of travelling before taking this long journey, but never I had I thought to leave my job for an extended period, jump on a plane and start exploring the world beyond a couple of weeks holiday here and there. The idea of it actually gave me anxiety. If you asked anyone close to me, they would tell you I spoke more negatively of adventure to come, than I did positive.

It sounds weird, naive, almost selfish, but I felt this for many reasons.

Firstly, I had a fear of changing scenery impacting my dyslexia. Knowing I would be breaking rhythms and processes I had put in place to help me build confidence in everything I do. I talk a lot about this here.

Secondly was the picture I had of the world. Media would tell me the world is a dangerous place, filled with criminals, terrorist and communists. And while this is true in some areas, the fear that is built up through social media, news and magazines is far from painting an accurate depiction of what the world is actually like.

We just finished our trip through Central and South America, starting from Mexico and working our way down to Brazil. And while we encountered dangers, I can confidently say none of these should ever have faltered how I had initially felt.

On the contrary, the challenges and experiences have been uplifting and reassuring that even breaking rhythms can help improve how I can combat the functions of my mind. I’ve would continuously think through and write out the experiences I’ve had to maintain the structure, and utilised mind app games to keep my head busy. And more exciting for me, putting my thoughts into a blog to share.

What I’ve also learnt is that sometimes you have to take everything you hear as a grain of salt. The barriers we build around ourselves and entrench our lives in, create illusions of distress in life. Most often, painted by the false nature of today’s media. It extends to prove how important it is to do your own research and gain a better understanding of a situation before letting it truly impact your decisions or emotions.

My best example of this was related to Gabby’s and my own desire to visit Brazil. I had heard so many stories of the issues and violence that occurs in this country, particularly in tourist areas. Similarly, I was chatting with a Brazilian friend back home and mentioned I was visiting their homeland. Their response to me was, “why?” And then they continued to list off everything dangerous about it, particularly the tourist areas like Rio. What I didn’t ask in return, was, “what are the good things?” and “how then could I stay safe?” Instead, I focussed on these negative points, and almost convinced myself and Gabby that we shouldn’t go to Brazil.

Needless to say, if I hadn’t had visited Brasil, I never would have known what I missed out on – but current me would scream that I would have regretted it.

There are dangers everywhere you go, even my own country, which I would consider one of the safest places on this Earth. That being said, even just last week, it was uncovered that a tourist had been kidnapped in South Australia. It unfortunately happens.

I now sit on a plane, making my way across Europe, ready to experience a place I am most excited about, Greece. But I travel with a new appreciation after coming from the Americas. It’s not one of being fearless. Please don’t misconstrue my newfound appreciation for the world as one of being fearless, it doesn’t matter where you go, you should always be cautious and aware. Instead, it is one of excitement and challenge, an open mind to understand and appreciate what the world has to offer, and how amazing every culture is, both positive and negatives.

Central America, it was the land and nature. In South America, it was the people and culture. Most notably, my appreciation for even the roughest parts of the world, people are still smiling and welcoming (check out my story on the Brazilian Favelas here).

TRAVELLING WITH A JUMBLED MIND

My mind works a little differently to most. I want to open up about my challenges while travelling.

It’s been the cause of many shrugs, eye roles and cold shoulders over the last few months since commencing our year abroad. But recently it caused an argument, which was both a build-up of exasperated events. It’s been tough, and I’ve ignored it for so long, but last night I had to come to terms with it.

Firstly, my mind doesn’t work like most people I know:

  • I am often slower to complete tasks than most. While taking my time to make sure I am thorough or that I’m doing it right, else I will most definitely make a mistake, such as forgetting to bring something or lose it altogether.
  • I regularly mix up my words; most recently, this could be reciting places I’ve visited. For example, confusing Belize and Bolivia, which doesn’t sound all the unusual, but when it happens continuously…
  • I will confuse stories, reciting them in the wrong order or out of place. My memory in the long term is usually okay, but I will more often than not, mix up events.
  • My spelling is atrocious, and I often find pronouncing words a cause for embarrassment. This is emphasised even more when trying to learn a new language.
  • When I read, I’m slow, and if it’s a complicated or detailed piece, I will always reread it several times before it makes sense to me. You can imagine how long it can take to read long novels.
  • Worst of all is my concentration, and struggle to maintain focus for long conversation before I am distracted or my mind wonders. I don’t even realise I’m doing this half the time.

Consequently, high school and university were tough. So I chased other more creative avenues towards my career path; paths that suited how I worked. But even starting my career came with complications, that luckily I was able to overcome.

Staring out Inca Trail, Sucre, Bolivia
Inca Trail, Sucre, Bolivia

Over time I have been able to live without the need to openly admit my issues, implementing strict processes that manage how I operate. I use tools to accomplish tasks and assist in my writing. Morning and night, I will prepare what needs to be performed for days ahead. I would never go into a meeting unprepared with notes/insights, capable of predicting outcomes and actions. Design thinking methodologies help me a lot, mind mapping and step by step processes are used to help shape outcomes, inevitably using my creativity to overcome roadblocks.

I try not to stop. I exercise a lot, minimum five times a week, and most of the time a few extra hours in the office won’t bother me.

And with practice, it all becomes rhythmic, and the struggles shrink or disappear altogether.

But recently I’ve embarked on a journey around the world with the person I love more than anything in the world, and It has completely thrown my defences out the door. My procedures to help make sure I can operate like everyone else aren’t in place, or aren’t working for the new journey I’m on. Consequently, a change in scenery for an extended period has caused me to become ever more conscious of my struggles, bringing back my anxieties and doubt towards myself. Ironically, this then makes the situation worse.

When my wife and I first decided to go on this trip, I was excited, but if you asked anyone back home in Australia, it didn’t ever show. And that was because of my fears. I had been doing well at work, becoming successful in my career as a digital consultant. I am lucky to have found my niche, something I loved a lot and played well to my strengths and creativity. But I knew that if I went travelling, I would lose that comfort and it would be hard work to maintain my defences. Consequently, I would need to find new ways to manage my weaknesses. Even scarier, I had to deal with the possibility of losing/forgetting how I had already got to where I was previously.

At first, I buried and tried to ignore these fears. I thought, surely it’s just in my head, and everything will be fine. And you know what? For the most part, this was true. But last night made me realise it’s going to be tougher than I had thought, and perhaps my concerns weren’t for nothing.

For my wife, Gabby, I understand how difficult I can sometimes be. But we had our first heated argument during this holiday I now I feel I need to work harder (and she admits the same, but that’s for a different post).

Let’s jump into her shoes for a moment. Imagine you had at some point embarked on an incredible experience with the person you love, and you wanted to talk about that memory with said partner. But reciting the happy memory, you had to continuously correct or remind your partner what had happened – because what they had thought had happened was in a different order or was intertwined with other events incorrectly. For Gabby, I could imagine it would be like talking with a loved one who has early onsets of Alzheimer’s.

I don’t want her to feel like this, but nor do I want to feel anxiety or stress that I’m just short of getting something right. Particularly if that feeling is met with anger and frustration from my partner.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Now I’m not saying my life is terrible or hard, because that would be a lie. There are people with far worse conditions and struggles, and until now, I’ve been more than successful at managing how my brain works, as I had mentioned above. My life is excellent, privileged even. I have beautiful people in it who love and support me, no matter what. But between all the good, there are the flashes of bad, and sometimes this can make you feel like you’re one hundred steps behind where everyone else is. And that’s where this is coming from.

This trip is one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life. It scares me each minute we do something new, but I know that each new step is guiding me to be a better person. And while my wife and I work to be a stronger couple, over the course of this trip, I’ll work to be someone she can rely on and share these significant moments with.

That’s what this blog is about for me. A memory. Order to the chaos. And hopefully something I can share with anyone else who reads it. It’s a message; to not be afraid to get out and see the world, no matter your fears and worries.