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For This Traveler, the Road to Ruins Is Bumpy but Rewarding

November 06, 1995|JACK SMITH

My wife, Denise, and I have just returned from a plane and ship tour of Paris, Athens, the Aegean Sea and Istanbul, Turkey.

On our last day of the Renaissance Tour we flew from Istanbul to Paris and then home nonstop. It was a long day, hardly relieved by a corny movie about Camelot, with Sean Connery as King Arthur, Richard Gere as Lancelot and Julia Ormond as Guinevere.

Not knowing how to adjust the earphones, I was hearing the show in French, while my wife was hearing it in English. We traded earphones since she speaks French. She said the French version was better. I thought so too.

In Paris, our first stop on the tour, we stayed at the George V, a luxurious hotel off the Champs-Elysees. We walked the boulevard before dinner, admiring the chic Frenchwomen in the couturiers' windows and on the sidewalks. Frenchwomen have the sexiest legs in the world and exploit them in the shortest skirts.

After three nights in Paris, we flew to Athens and checked into the Intercontinental Hotel. In the morning, my wife took a bus tour of the Acropolis, the Parthenon and other famous antiquities. Having been told that the Acropolis tour involved some steep climbing, I stayed below on a steel bench in a small park, reading the International Herald-Tribune, while my wife visited those inspiring ruins.

I had seen the Parthenon some years earlier and was content to see it this time from a distance. Meanwhile I devoured the paper. It was full of European and Middle Eastern news. There was a picture of the beauteous Benazir Bhutto, prime minister of Pakistan.

The headlines seemed exotic. "Slowly and Agonizingly, Shevardnadze Turns Georgia Around" . . . "More and More, Scots Think About Independence" . . . "France Is Set to Accept Non-Nuclear South Pacific" . . . "China Confirms Its Hong Kong Plan."

A sports story said the pitching in the upcoming World Series should be superb. (I spent the next several days trying to keep up with the series, without benefit of television. I was devastated when my hero, Orel Hershiser, lost the first game.)

At Athens, we boarded the 297-foot cruise ship Renaissance Six and checked into a handsome stateroom with mahogany walls, bedroom, sitting room and bath. It was our home for the next several days as we cruised the Aegean, stopping at Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes and Kusadasi.

I stayed on-board, content to look out a porthole. But I decided to go ashore at Kusadasi. It was serendipity. Onshore I was confronted by a large American who had engaged a van, driver and guide for the day and invited Denise and me to go along with him and his wife on a tour of the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus. They were Frank and Clemencia Virgintino of New York City.

It was a hard but fascinating day. Ephesus is full of ancient ruins and sculptures. Among the most imposing ruin is that of the great theater, which seated 24,000 people and was the scene not only of plays but also of combats between men and wild animals.

I was bemused by the fact that the library, whose ruins are still spectacular, stood just across the road from the brothel. Thus the city's intelligentsia might put aside their books and go across the street to engage in more fleshly pursuits.

We found Mary's home. This is thought to be the home in which the Virgin Mary passed the last years of her life after the Crucifixion. Credence has been given to this belief by the fact that two popes (Paul VI and John II) came to the house to pray.

The house is small and in the shape of a crucifix. We found candles burning on an altar under a statue of the Virgin. Frank and Clemencia both knelt a few moments at the altar, but having no credentials as a Christian, I refrained, thus failing to add credence to the story.

As I say, it was a rewarding but a hard day. Our driver graciously appointed himself as my locomotion, pushing me up hill and down in my wheelchair, over rough cobblestone surfaces and broken marble. He was always there, and sometimes, after a steep climb, I could hear him puffing.

I had hesitated to embark on such an adventure considering my infirmities, but my wife had bought a wheelchair for me and I decided to give it a try. Alas, the chair did not have big wheels that might more easily have negotiated rough surfaces.

My son Doug had said, "It will never work." He would have been right, except for the strength of my wife and several fellow adventurers who volunteered to help.

Oh well, it wasn't much worse than sitting in a steel chair at the foot of the Acropolis and reading the Herald-Tribune.

* Jack Smith's column is published Mondays.

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