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Trip Report I Shouldn't Be Alive: Spain & Italy...in August...in a wheelchair!

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We just returned from Europe a few days ago and I figured that since I got so much helpful information from these forums (whether through direct questions or just by reading 100s of posts) that I would return the favor.

A little about us: We are both 25 and traveling from Baltimore. This was Michael's (my fiance) first trip to Europe - in fact it was his first trip out of the country. I have been to Europe several times, but Spain and Tuscany were new to me - I was last in Rome in 2005. Travel is my passion in life (besides Michael of course - need to throw that in here in case he reads this ;) ). My European travel includes England (2x), France (2x), Italy (5x), and Belgium and I tend to have multiple trips planned out in advance. As a teenager I saved up to go to Europe instead of for a car, if that tells you anything. We've been to Hawaii, Alaska and on a few other "big trips" together so I knew Michael definitely liked traveling, but I hoped with all of my might that during this trip Mike would get would get bitten by the Europe travel bug too, because if not I'd have a lifetime of lonely trips ahead of me.

I work for the Department of Defense and Michael manages a small company based on the East Coast. We saved money and vacation time for a year and a half in order to go on this trip, and believe me time dragged. We knew August would be hot, but we both went to college in Austin, Texas (hook 'em!) and we're pretty accustomed to high temps. We had to do it in August/September due to grad school schedules, so not much flexibility there.

I am in a small, manual wheelchair (Quickie 2) and finding travel information for disabled people is HARD. Usually a travel book dedicates maybe half a page to it and its typically really vague. Despite my disability, I am very mobile (able to stand on my "good" leg, transfer to other seats easily, etc.) and very adventurous - but I cannot walk at all and my chair is essentially my legs. When/if I do find detailed information on accessibility it is usually geared toward people that are less mobile than I. I find that I am somewhere in between, which only adds to the difficulty of finding and gauging access information. I'm hoping that you guys will enjoy our story in general, but also maybe it will be helpful to other wheelchair users too.

We were in Europe 3 weeks and the itinerary was as follows:

August 25- 28th - Seville - 4 nights
August 29- Sept 2nd - Barcelona - 5 nights
Sept 3 -7th - Tuscany - 5 nights
Sept 8-13th - Rome - 6 nights

Preparation:
To prepare for this trip I first e-mailed all of our chosen hotels to confirm accessibility. I also asked them to measure all the doorway widths to the room and bathroom for me, as well as if there are steps to get into the actual hotel or an elevator to get to the room. If there is an elevator, make sure they measure that as well. Believe it or not I have shown up to hotels in Europe in the past that had ensured me that the room was accessible, only to find that the entrance to the actual hotel itself required me to climb stairs. I have stayed in hotels where I could get into the room fine, but the bathroom doorway was too narrow. I have stayed in others where the hotel and room were fine, but there was no elevator to actually get to it, or the elevator was too small and I couldn't fit. In each of these instances I had either called or e-mailed in advance and each time they left out these "minor" details. So now I am thorough to the furthest extent and I'm sure that most of the people I ask these questions to think I'm absolutely crazy. I would definitely recommend anyone in a chair do this. I've always been lucky because I travel with someone able to physically help me, and again because I'm a little bit more mobile than most users. Be sure to stress that you are in a wheelchair and unable to walk at all, because more often than not people assume that you're still able to walk - don't ask me why. It seems that many people thought I was rolling around Europe in a wheelchair for the fun of it...

Up next...Day 1- Baltimore to Seville

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    Hi Adoc86,

    This will be a very interesting trip report, I think. Thank you for writing and taking us along on a trip that will inform everyone's knowledge of traveling while disabled.

    Be sure to stress that you are in a wheelchair and unable to walk at all, because more often than not people assume that you're still able to walk - don't ask me why.

    Aren't people funny? Meant in the kindest tone! The human mind is capable of great insights, as well as stubborn holding out on understanding. I have a friend who's given up on driving but she tells people it's for medical reasons, because she's learned Nothing else will shut people up, otherwise they keep nagging (and nagging and nagging...) on her that of course she should be able to drive.

    Thank you for the posts to come!

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    I admire you. Really looking forward to your report. I am 69, still working and tired, but mobil. Leaving for Spain next week. You are an inspiration. I'll not be thinking again, maybe, I should just go somewhere and rest for a week or two.

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    Baltimore to Seville

    We flew US Airways from Baltimore to our connection in Philadelphia, and then on to Madrid. Upon arriving in Philadelphia we quickly found our gate and I made sure to use the restroom before boarding (I'm unable to get to the restroom on planes and it was to be an 8-hour flight). I typically board first with an aisle chair - if you haven't seen one of these its basically just a very narrow chair on wheels that can be pulled through the aisles of a plane. Unfortunately our flight from Baltimore had run a little late so once we found the gate the flight was already being boarded. I informed the desk agent and they ensured me that it would be no problem and that they would call for the aisle chair service right away.

    Twenty minutes later the plane is fully loaded and Michael and I are still waiting to get on. Departure time is approaching and the desk agent looks frantic. It wasn't a huge deal for us to wait, but when a manager showed up he was unnecessarily apologetic and told me, "don't worry, I moved your seats so it will be more convenient for you. I'm so sorry you had to wait." This happens all the time - since I have to be pulled through narrow aisles its usually easier for me to sit closer to the front so I'm often moved forward. The aisle chair attendant shows up and we walk down to the plane. Michael collects my chair cushion and other pieces (the arms of my chair detach, so we always take them off and carry them with us so they won't get lost beneath the plane) and I make sure that they tag my chair for Madrid. That's one of my biggest fears - that when flying my chair won't show up when we land. I'm always scared that someone is going to forget to load it onto the plane and that it will get lost in the shuffle never to be found again. Okay, maybe that's a little dramatic, but I would be up the creek if it did ever happen and I tend to be a pessimist so it naturally floats into my mind.

    I'm strapped down to the aisle chair as if I'm about to be committed into an asylum - straps across my chest, legs, arms and waist. I'm pulled onto the plane and the attendant glances at our boarding passes so she knows where to take me. Instead of entering and turning right, we turn left and I quickly notice that we're in first class! The desk agent changed our seats to first class! I'm beaming and Mike just keeps repeating, "is this where we're supposed to be?!" I tell him to shush up, because even if its a mistake I'm perfectly fine with it :). Every now and then I'll be moved to first class, usually if my initial seat was something like 30D and its too much work for the attendant to take me all the way back. This time it seems that they felt that the hassle of waiting an extra few minutes to board warranted a huge upgrade. No complaints!

    We settle in and we're quickly given dinner menus. We're brought toasted mixed nuts and a small salad with Asian beef. Its delicious and we're still feeling giddy about where we're sitting - we could never have afforded this! Michael orders the beef tenderloin with roasted fingerling potatoes and asparagus, while I have the garlic shrimp and vegetable risotto. Flan and a cheese & fruit platter for dessert. I make sure to only sip my drink, which is annoying but not nearly annoying as having to wait 8 hours to go to the bathroom. Just the same, its all delicious and we agree that its a great start to our trip.

    We go to sleep and are later awakened by the breakfast service. I'm not hungry, but Mike has the breakfast quiche with fruit. Even though we both slept we feel drained and I know we're going to crash later.

    We land in Madrid right on time after a very smooth, uneventful flight. As soon as we get off I'm met by a disability attendant who ushers us to an elevator. She doesn't speak English at all and our Spanish is limited to what we remember from high school. We have no idea where she's taking us - this has never happened to me before, usually we're helped off the plane and set out on our own. I had showed her our boarding passes, but she didn't pay much attention to them and just kept leading us to our unknown destination. She was actually really sweet and we laughed as we both tried to make up our own version of sign language to communicate. Michael was supposed to be in charge of brushing up on the Spanish for this trip - I'm far better at Italian so that was my responsibility. Sadly, "muy bien" and "donde esta?" seemed to be the only things that ever came to his mind.

    I see other attendants in the same yellow shirts with wheelchair symbols on the back of them ushering other disabled people around the airport. I've never seen a service like this before in any airport, but I see why its necessary - the elevators are like a maze. Go up one elevator, walk to the end of the corridor and go back down. Get in another elevator, walk the opposite direction and then take a lift to some place else. Its crazy and we never would have found our way. We arrive at baggage claim and I know that we're way off course. I show her the boarding passes again and make sure to point out that we're going to Seville. Her eyes pop open and she seems nervous. I don't speak Spanish, but I can understand a few things since its relatively similar to Italian. She tells us that we have to run to make it on time. Mike and I turn to each other, worried but confused. We have 2 hours until our next flight - surely it won't take that long to get there. She rushes us through security - where I'm barely touched. I always find it interesting and kind of scary how people handle me at airports. In the United States the security has become extremely thorough - I can't go through the metal detector so I'm patted down, swabs are taken of my chair for chemical residues and my cushion is checked. In Madrid they pat my arms down (if you want to call it that, its really more of a graze) and I'm allowed to go. Now I understand that I don't fit the profile of a terrorist, but it only takes one person that's overlooked because they don't fit the profile. Anyone could pretend to be disabled and use a wheelchair to avoid the metal detector. I chalk it up to the fact that its not the US and security isn't as high in other countries due to threat levels. I'll come back to this issue when I get to our Rome -> US flight.

    We make it to our gate in plenty of time, say goodbye to the attendant who I've really come to like, and wait to board our flight to Seville (via Iberia). This is the flight I'm worried about regarding our luggage. I've never flown a route where the airline changes halfway through - in our case US Airways to Iberia - and I've heard that this makes it easier for luggage to get lost.

    We decide not to worry about it and just sit and relax. I know that in order to avoid jet lag you aren't suppose to take a nap, but I always do it anyway and it works for me. Just 2-3 hours once I arrive and I'm on schedule and good for the rest of the trip. I can tell that Mike is really going to need it and we decide that once we get to the hotel we'll crash. After all, would we really be enjoying our vacation if we're walking around like zombies?

    Boarding the flight to Seville is uneventful and the flight is smooth. We land at 12:50pm and we're met by another wheelchair attendant wearing the same yellow shirt - it must be a Spain thing. We collect our bags, relieved that they both arrived. I watch Mike juggle both bags (2 medium sized duffles)and go to an ATM to get some euros before we find a taxi.


    Next... Our first day in Seville..

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    Here are our Seville pictures. I debated whether to post them now or after the Seville portion is done, but I figured it might be nice for you guys to put our faces with the story. Due to the screwy way of uploading they aren't all in perfect order with how the report will be...

    http://s1204.photobucket.com/albums/bb418/AMK0523/Seville%202011/

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    Thanks guys! I wasn't sure if I was going to write a trip report, but what really pushed me is that I've been asked by other wheelchair users how I'm able to travel blindly to countries without the same accessibility standards as the US. It makes me really happy to hear that I can change someone's outlook or inspire someone in a difficult situation to travel. When I could walk my dream was always to see the world and that hasn't changed just because I'm sitting down now.

    Happy Sunday!

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    Gorgeous couple ♥
    I'm really enjoying your report so far! Learning a lot.
    How exciting about your flight upgrade.
    You have an awesome attitude and I can't wait to look through all your photos. Seville looks amazing.
    Can't wait to read more.

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    I am so glad that you are writing this! I had an aunt who was a paraplegic, yet traveled the world, literally. This was, gosh, over 40 years ago, and she did a round the world trip for 2 solid years. I always knew it was difficult for her to get around, but like you, such an inspiration.

    Anyway, great pics too! And so lucky to get bumped up on the plane! Can't wait to read more:)

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    Y'all make an absolutely beautiful couple and look so, so happy together! :-) I'm really enjoying your trip so far! The description of first class is great since that is probably not in my future :-))

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    I love your adventurous can-do spirit! Lucky you ending up in 1st class but I swear, I don't know how you can hold it for 8 hours!
    I've been to all the places you went on your trip, but I'm really looking forward to reading about it from your perspective.
    Have you ever considered setting up a blog about your travels with an emphasis on the things that you yourself have a hard time finding information about? Not only would it be a good record of your travels, but it would be a good resource for others.

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    You are truly an inspiration to all who travel.

    I will suck it up and NEVER whine again when traveling.

    I will think of you when I feel like whining

    I am anxiously awaiting the rest of the report....why the title? Should you not be alive because of the reason you ended up in a wheelchair or is something else going to happen on this trip? Hurry, I hate suspense!

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    Great report, keep it coming!

    Glad to see that you had an amazing flamenco night at Casa de la Memoria. I think you saw either Manuela Ríos or Adela Campallo. I haven't seen any of them live yet, and I'm not quite sure, can you help me? Anyhow, both are fabulous dancers and both dance at Casa de la Memoria every week. Adela Campallo was one of the most promising up and coming young flamenco dancers in the world when she was seriously injured in a car accident in 2005. She made her come-back in 2009, and now she is definitely back in business. Here in a clip from Jerez earlier this year in one of the absolute most prestigious flamenco festivals: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SejtM5A0n8

    Interview with Campallo in the leading flamenco magazine flamenco-world: http://www.flamenco-world.com/artists/adela_campallo/adelacampallo23112009.htm

    Here is Manuela Ríos a couple of weeks ago, also in Jerez. She's accompanied a capella by two excellent cantaoras (female flamenco singers) Carmen Grilo and Inmaculada Rivero: http://flamencotv.es/component/k2/item/3346-manuela-r%C3%ADos-dej%C3%B3-su-coraje-en-el-viernes-flamenco-de-jerez.html

    I leave you with the flamenco dance phenomenon Rocío Molina, have seen her nine times the past four years. Here in a clip from Gran Teatro de Córdoba this July 10th. I will never forget. The New York Times described her in 2009 as one of the finest dance soloists in the world: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfSclwEVzGk

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    Kimhe - you are correct, we saw Manuela Rios at Casa de la Memoria. She was amazing and I would highly recommend seeing her perform live. I really don't know a lot about Flamenco and what I do know I learned on this trip, haha. But we thoroughly enjoyed the show and we'd definitely return the next time we're in Seville. Rocio Molina looks incredible! I bet it was a real treat seeing her show in person.

    Susanna - my wheelchair story is far less dramatic and would never warrant such a title. I chose the title as a play on the show "I Shouldn't Be Alive" since everyone thought I was crazy for going to these places in a wheelchair, let alone in the high heat of August. However something very stressful, yet amusing, happened while we were in Orvieto, Italy. The stress of that situation alone probably could have killed both of us! But you'll read about that later ;)

    Kristina - I cannot tell you how many of your trip reports I have read! I must have read each of your Rome reports 3-4 times and I've visited your blog in the past. I actually have considered starting a blog before, I think its just a matter of making myself sit down and start... I feel so honored that you're reading my report :)


    Thanks to everyone for all the compliments, I'm glad you're enjoying the report and I will be sure to pass on your kind words to Michael!

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    OH good, I was hoping it was a take on the show ,I didn't want to trivialize what may have caused you to be in the chair...and yes, my thoughts would have echoed your friends..the heat in Aug and I just don't think that Italy is very wheelchair friendly!! Can't wait for Orvieto....

    I'm really enjoying the trip report too, going to Barcelona next year so really want to read about your experience there.

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    Nice start to the trip! Looking forward to Seville as we are heading there in a couple of months, and to Rome to see how you make it work. I have a cousin (in a wheelechair) who has a dream to see Rome. I am certain you would be an inspiration to her. She is 56 and likely doesn't have quite as much energy as you do but still, with determination, she could make it work!

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    Adoc86-I'm so happy to hear you enjoyed my reports. I'm headed back to Naples and Rome again next month and I'm looking forward to seeing where you went in Rome. If you have any questions about starting a blog, feel free to email me via my blog.

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    One of the toughest flamenco critics in Spain Estela Zatania wrote of Manuela Ríos after her late night performance in the Jerez festival in 2008: "... erased memories of less brilliant moments we’ve experienced over recent days; thank you Manuela Ríos for reminding us that flamenco is not coldness, but life itself."

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    Day 1 - Seville

    We take a cab from the airport to our hotel – Hotel Amadeus. The hotel doesn’t actually list handicap accessibility on their website, but I dealt directly with them while booking to determine if it would work specifically for us. The hotel is located on a very narrow street, so the driver drops us off at the end of the road and we walk to the entrance. The entrance has a ramp, but it is extremely narrow and VERY steep. The ramp is actually really short – maybe 2 feet long, but since it’s so steep it makes it easy to flip over so Mike gives me a little push. We’re greeted by a friendly receptionist and she tells us that she is going to switch our room to a bigger one, which will be more comfortable for a 4-night stay. The hotel’s design is inspired by classical composers and the theme is carried on throughout the lobby and the rooms. We are staying in the Vivaldi room and the receptionist gives us instructions on how to get to it. The main entrance of the hotel actually has steps that lead to the rooms and the elevator, so I have to go back outside and down to the alternate door and enter that way. This entryway is maybe ten feet from the main entrance and has a ramp that is less steep. It leads directly to the rooms/elevator so there is no problem for me to get to any areas of the hotel. I’m not sure what this door is usually used for, but in order to open it Mike has to go inside through the regular entrance, walk down to the alternative entrance and unlock it for me to enter. Not a huge deal – I’ve become accustomed to using freight/luggage entrances at European hotels since they are usually flatter and avoid entryway stairs.

    We get to our room, which is on the first floor, and we’re very happy with the accommodations. The room is really clean and spacious, plus there is plenty of room for me to maneuver around comfortably without getting stuck between furniture. It’s decorated very simply with just a king sized bed, wardrobe, and a desk, but it is very nice and has everything we need. The bathroom is a good size and has a rain shower. Something to note is that there is no bathtub and no shower seat. I knew this in advance and had decided to make the sacrifice of having to stand on just my “good leg” in the shower – difficult, but not impossible for only 4 days. This hotel has great reviews and is really conveniently located in Seville, which is why we decided to go with it despite the shower situation. However, due to the shower and the narrow/steep ramp at the entrance I probably wouldn’t recommend this hotel to other wheelchair users. Unless you are relatively mobile or arrange to have some type of shower chair brought in then I don’t know how else you could make this work.

    Keeping with the music theme there is a computer monitor on top of the desk for playing classical CDs that are provided in the room. Also, the room keys are attached to cute, brass violin key chains which I love! As promised, we pull the shades and collapse in bed for a much needed nap.

    We wake up about 2 hours later completely refreshed. I take a shower because I feel disgusting after being on a plane for so long and Michael takes advantage of the free Wi-fi on his iphone. The water pressure is great and I’m happy – there’s nothing worse than being stuck with crummy water pressure in a hotel. We head out to explore and get our bearings. The streets are so narrow and the sidewalks go back and forth between being too narrow for my chair and being just wide enough to roll on without having to worry about going off the edge. As I walk down a sidewalk that is perfectly wide enough it suddenly begins to narrow – this happens over and over, so I have to keep going in the street. There are curb cutouts on a lot of the street corners, but not all of them and if I have to go in the street while at the mid-way point of the sidewalk then I just drop down the curb. It’s really not too much trouble for me, but I can see it being a real hassle for someone with an electric wheelchair or someone that isn’t able to go up/down curbs. Also, even though there are curb cutouts on many of the corners, they’re often blocked by parked cars or motorcycles, so essentially useless. One thing that strikes me pretty early during the walk is that when a car is coming, they don’t wait. I understand that drivers probably get frustrated with so many pedestrians always in the road, but I literally feel rushed to hurry out of the way – they’re not waiting for people walking and they’re not waiting for me either. They come up quick and pull right up behind me with only inches between us. I rush to a side and Michael gets me up the curb in less than 2 seconds, but it’s never fast enough for them and we get a couple of honks to get out of the way. This is definitely something new to me. Now believe me when I tell you I’m fast. I roll much faster than most people walk and my friends usually have to keep a swift pace to keep up, but I’m used to being given my dear old time to get across a road. This is the first place I’ve EVER been where I’ve felt truly unsafe or uncomfortable walking in the street. I’m constantly looking over my shoulder and getting prepared to rush to get out of the way, looking for small spots where I might be able to fit to allow a car to pass by. I know they aren’t going to actually hit me, but I don’t want to be a pain to every car that comes by either. At first it’s annoying – going up the curb, back down, walk for a minute, go back up to get out of the way, then back down. We eventually get the hang of it and it starts to be second nature - as soon as we hear an engine coming our way Mike grabs me and pushes me up. I’m waiting for just one driver to wave to me as a “thank you for getting out of my way,” but it never happens.

    Other than the car/street situation our first impressions of Seville are all positive. I know that it’s literally a small city, but I love that it also feels small. The roads intertwine and go off in all directions, forming a maze that is hard to navigate, but fun to explore. Its mid-afternoon and instead of sweltering in awful heat and humidity, it doesn’t feel bad at all! I think the tall buildings, narrow streets, and covered passages really help a lot with keeping the temperatures down – we feel like we’re walking through cool alleyways and sometimes we even forget that we’re outside. Most of the restaurants and shops look to only have one step to go inside - that will be a cinch and I’m thrilled! I’m always nervous the first time I go to a new country, because no matter how much you read you never really know what to expect. Being in a wheelchair you look at everything differently – you notice every bump, lip, hole, and the slightest of inclines. My eyes naturally go toward doors and automatically look at their widths, then I look at each step and I can instantly tell if it would be doable. I think to myself that Seville will be easier than I expected and I am happy to see that it is so flat.

    We walk toward the cathedral, which is only a few minutes from the hotel. We approach it from one of the sides and walk around the perimeter to the front. Right away we’re approached by women offering us sprigs of some sort of greenery. We firmly tell them no and they leave us alone. I watch as they approach others who aren’t as stern with their refusals. The women convince them to take it, pretend to read their palm for half a second and then ask for money. We shake our heads and go inside the cathedral.

    The interior is beautiful and huge! I always forget that this is the 3rd largest cathedral in the world and I’m quickly drawn to the ceilings and stained-glass windows. Mike is amazed and reads about the design and structure of the building in our guidebook. It’s really not crowded at all and I notice that almost everyone else in here is Spanish – they all seem to be tourists from other parts of Spain. We walk through the courtyard and sit on a nearby bench. The area is filled with ripened orange trees and children playing around the fountain. We haven’t done very much but already it’s the perfect afternoon.

    We leave the cathedral and head to the Jewish Quarter. We’re getting hungry, but it’s way too early for dinner in Spain – I think eating at 10pm or later will take us a day or two to get used to. We begin exploring the tiny streets and I window shop along the way – Flamenco dresses, children stores, and lots and lots of wedding dress shops. Since I’m in the midst of planning our own, I automatically notice all-things wedding wherever I go. I’m surprised to find so many dress shops here in the same vicinity and I take my time to look at all of them. Michael laughs at me and rolls his eyes, but I know he’s enjoying it. We float around for a while and get lost a couple of times. This area is idyllic, with brightly colored flowers spilling from window boxes and gorgeous architecture every where you turn.

    We wander our way back to the hotel so Mike can freshen up and I can call home to check in – last we heard hurricane Irene was headed right for us. Everyone is panicking and I’m glad that we missed this one. I unpack for a while so that we can settle in a little bit and we head back out in search of a restaurant for dinner. We wander out of the touristy area and find a place with one table open. We look around and we appear to be the only Americans. We both order the grilled sea bass, water and a bottle of the house wine. We’re each brought a small plate of something that looks like mashed potatoes – not exactly sure what it is, but it’s very good. The fish comes out and it’s delicious – fresh and cooked perfectly with string beans and potatoes. I’m content, but Mike insists we order dessert. I have the fresh fruit and he orders the rice pudding. I’m caught off guard when a giant slice of watermelon is placed in front of me – not what I was expecting, but I love watermelon so this works.

    I notice a homeless man on the side of the building and I'm happy to see one of our waiters bring him out a glass of water. We sit and talk about our plans for tomorrow. As we're talking we notice that all the trashcans along the street begin to rise up out of the ground in preparation for being emptied. Its a really interesting system and we've never seen anything like it before. Little did we know that "trash collection" would end up becoming one of the themes of this trip...

    After a very long dinner we pay our bill - 50 euro - and head back to the hotel completely satisfied with our first day in Spain.

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    Happycheesehead - here is a link to something that might be helpful to your cousin. Mary Murphy-Hanson is a wheelchair user that has traveled all throughout Rome in her wheelchair many, many times. Her page has a lot of helpful information on it regarding accessibility of the major sights and I found it really helpful.

    http://www.slowtrav.com/italy/accessible/rome/index.htm

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    Wonderful. Enjoying your writing :)
    The cool alleyways sound delightful and I'm glad that you were pleasantly surprised with Seville's accessibility.
    There's a special place in Hell for someone with the nerve to HONK at a girl in a wheelchair! :O

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    What a fabulous report! You two are such good looking kids. I'm waiting to see how you handled Orvieto. But, again, I think you're the type who can handle anything. Kudos to you.

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    Adoc86 -

    I'm reading your report with much interest and admiration. You are an absolute inspiration and a poignant reminder of how much most of us take for granted. You go girl!

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    Wedding congrats, Adoc86, and thanks for a super beginning.

    Will go back to re-savor the nice photos. I join the others in their admiration of your "can do" approach. After never a pill, I developed an allergy to aspirin that caused breathing issues. A block of stairs to and from the rail way tracks went from no problem to a deal breaker. Again, you have my respect.

    More please!

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    Day 2 - Seville

    We wake up around 9am, excited to start our first full day in Seville. Although we love breakfast food, neither of us are really breakfast people and we don't usually wake up hungry. The hotel serves breakfast on the roof, but its 15 euros more per person per day and we didn't think it was worth it for us. We brought some granola bars so I throw two in my purse as a morning snack and we head out for the day.

    Our first stop is the Real Alcazar, which is in the same area we were in last night when visiting the cathedral. We walk the same route, only seeing a few other people along the way. I don't know if its because its morning (though not really early...) or what, but it feels like we're the only ones in Seville. I'm walking in the street because the sidewalk is too narrow, but up ahead a van is parked in the road unloading restaurant supplies. The driver sees me coming, jumps in the van, and quickly starts to partially pull up onto the sidewalk - making room for me and my chair to squeeze by. I wave and thank him, knowing that we probably would have had to turn around and go down a different street if he hadn't of moved.

    We arrive just outside of the Real Alcazar and I'm still pleasantly underwhelmed by the number of tourists. We walk inside to get our tickets where I meet a pretty large step (almost 1 ft high), but Mike pushes me up it with no problem and we reach the desk. I hold my breath for them to tell me that I won't be able to go in due to too many stairs, gravel, etc. but we're told that while some parts won't be accessible, I can visit most of the palace and the gardens. Both of our entrance fees are free, due to the fact that we won't be able to visit the Alcazar in its entirety. This is the policy at many tourist attractions in Europe - free or discounted prices for the disabled and often that same cost is applied to one "wheelchair companion" as well.

    We're told to go back down the step and to wait by the gate. Here a security guard unlocks the gate and lets us in - no steps to battle. If you or someone you know in a wheelchair visits the Alcazar, just send someone in to get the tickets and to let them know about your chair - that way you don't have to deal with that 1 foot step, only to have to go right back down it.

    The palace is gorgeous - richly colored paints, beautiful mosaic tiles and exposed wooden beams. We walk around taking it all in and snapping tons of pictures. We see maybe a handful of other people here and I'm still shocked by how few tourists seem to be in the city.

    We walk through until we reach the royal gardens. We follow the stone paths (I'm ecstatic its not gravel!) around the fountains and perfectly hedged walkways. It looks as though we have the gardens entirely to ourselves, until I see a peacock walk right in front of me. Its a male and is brightly colored with green and blue feathers. He acts as though he doesn't even notice us and continues to go about his business. Its so peaceful here and we just wander around the gardens for the next hour, going through some hedge mazes, reading about some small buildings on the grounds and exploring every path. On our way back to the palace we see a female peacock with 4-5 babies. Like the male, they don't seem to care that we're there and they just walk by us like we're invisible. This brings to mind being back on our college campus, where there were tons of squirrels that had become so accustomed to having people around that they would come right up to you and eat from your hand.

    We go through some other areas of the palace and I don't feel like I've missed much because I only see one staircase the entire time. I always insist to Michael that he go and explore those areas that are inaccessible to me - there's no reason that he should miss it too when we've come all this way. But he refuses as always and we head toward the exit.

    By now we're starting to get hungry so we eat our granola bars and start to think about where we want to have lunch. The area where we are now is way too touristy - we know the food won't be great and the cost will be high. We decide to go back to the Jewish Quarter, since we liked that area so much yesterday and there were lots of little places to eat. The direction we need to walk causes us to go partially around the cathedral. The women with their herb sprigs approach us again, this time a little bit more aggressively. I forcefully tell them "no" a couple of times and they give me a dirty look. At that moment I see the homeless man from last night again - the one that had been at the restaurant and that had been given some water. He looks very frail and is obviously in need of some help. He isn't asking anyone for money or pestering anyone by getting in their face, he just sits out of the way by himself - overshadowed by the aggressive women around him. Now maybe I'm a chump and I'm getting scammed, but I'll think about it all day if I don't give him something. One of the herb women sees me digging in my purse and walks up to me - its the same woman that bothered me less than 2 minutes ago and I tell her to get away. I go around her and give the elderly man 2 euros - he looks so surprised, smiles and looks at me. His speech is slurred and it looks like half of his face is paralyzed. I wonder if he's had a stroke - it reminds me a lot of my grandfather after he had one. I know that my money is more likely to be spent on alcohol than on food, but if that's his only joy left in life then I don't mind giving it to him. I turn around and 3 of the herb women are staring at me with such disgust, as if "how dare I give him money instead of them?" I smile at them and we walk away.

    We walk through the small roads of the Jewish Quarter, really starving at this point. We stop at a place called Bar Europa, which has tapas as well as full dishes. We order two waters and coca-cola light. We decide to split a couple small dishes and decide on the ham croquettas and a quesadilla with apple salad. You will learn quickly that we are not foodies at all. In terms of food I'm much more adventurous than Mike, but don't expect anything crazy, exotic or overly fancy coming our way. I wouldn't necessarily say that he's picky, but he knows what he likes and tries to stick to it. He has a pretty weak stomach and it only takes one bite to ruin his entire meal. He also doesn't drink alcohol (just doesn't like it) so expect lots of coca-cola on his end.

    We sit and people watch while waiting for our food. One thing that has really struck me so far in Seville is that no one stares at me. Everywhere else that I've ever been (including everywhere in the states) people always stare. I don't think they mean to be rude, I think they're probably just wondering what happened to me. Most have manners and don't hold it for very long, but you always get a couple whose eyes are instantly glued to you. It never fails, first they look at my face, then automatically down at my legs - trying to figure out whats wrong with them. That hasn't happened here at all and its so strange to me. I would understand if I had seen a lot of wheelchair users around and most people grew up around someone disabled, but I haven't seen any and I wonder what causes people to react so differently here than everywhere else. Its kind of nice to just be treated equally and not have people stare or talk to me in a baby voice as if I certainly won't understand them. I guess this is why I even get honked at in the road - I'm the same as everyone else, just another person getting in their way, haha. We mull over this for a few minutes, then we're distracted by 3 women standing in front of a dress shop next to the restaurant. One of women turns and stands square in front of another, then she grabs the other's breasts and just stands there holding them for at least 30 seconds... Michael and I both have a confused look on our faces and glance at each other wondering whats going on. The woman that was grabbed starts to cry and drops her face into her hands, while the other two just stand there looking at her. We have no idea what is going on here, but they keep looking in the dress shop and pointing to different outfits. Kind of weird, but it made for entertaining people watching

    Our croquettas come out and they're delicious. The filling is creamy and the ham isn't too salty. They're served with potatoes, which remind me of potato stix. The quesadilla and apple salad come out and it smells so good. Its basically just warm, fresh cheese drizzled in olive oil, with a sliced apple towered on the side by a green salad. We devour everything and even though we only ordered two small plates we're full. We sit for a little while and decide that after this we'd like to explore the Jewish Quarter a little more. We pay our bill - 18 euros - and we're on our way.

    We walk around the Jewish Quarter for a couple of hours - I know we did this for a little while yesterday, but one of my favorite things is to just wander through places like this. Its a nice change from seeing tourist attraction after tourist attraction and I know we won't have a lot of time to do this in Barcelona (we have a lot planned!). Since we saved all of our vacation time for over a year, we wanted this trip to be both exciting and adventurous, as well as relaxing. This is one of the relaxing parts :)

    We head back toward the hotel, but instead of going back to it we keep walking so that we can see what kind of stuff is in the other direction. There are lots of restaurants and we look through some of the little shops. Around 6 we make our way back to the hotel. We haven't been to the roof yet so we take the elevator all the way up. It is accessible and I can see how it would be lovely to have breakfast out here. We go back downstairs and relax for a little while - reading and taking advantage of the WiFi.

    For dinner we plan to go to Gallinero de Sandra - a restaurant that a friend of mine who studied in Seville had recommended, which also had great reviews on Tripadvisor. We head out around 8:30 and fight with our map for an hour - a lot of the roads don't have signs, or the signs are on the opposite end of the street than us. We struggle, but find our way. The route takes us through an area that we haven't explored yet, an area that looks like more of a modern city than the sleepy little streets of Seville that we've come to know so far. After a long, hard search we finally find the restaurant tucked away in a more residential-type neighborhood. By now it is almost 10 - perfect timing for dinner. We walk up to the restaurant, hearing saws and loud talking as we approach. Well... it seems that Gallinero de Sandra is being remodeled and is closed in the meantime.

    We're frustrated and starving, so we head back in search of something else. There are lots of little tapas bars that look lively and fun, but squeezing in there and eating at a counter would be difficult for me with my chair. When lots of people are standing around, its hard for me to be seen and people usually fall or step all over me. So we walk for a while, desperate for food, until we find a little place that is mostly full but has one outside table left that's perfect for us. We're so hungry that I didn't even bother to stop and look at the name of the place.

    We sit down, struggling with the Spanish menu. Our waiter doesn't speak much English so we just manage to figure out enough to order patatas bravas, something involving chicken (haha), prawn croquettas, and grilled vegetables. Again, we look to be the only Americans here - or tourists at all for that matter. I know the end of August isn't high tourist season, but I didn't expect it to be this deserted.

    Our food begins to arrive - the patatas bravas are great and covered in delicious ham. The chicken is very good, even though we aren't exactly sure what the sauce is that its smothered in. We're so hungry that we gobble everything up until we can't eat another bite. Its getting late so we pay our bill - 30 euros - and start off toward our old familiar area.

    We're walking and Michael suddenly turns to me and says, "lets go on a carriage ride." I'm not opposed to it, I just never really considered doing it and I'm not sure if it would be too hard for me to get in to. We just got engaged a couple of months ago, but we also had our 10th anniversary this past July (yes, we've been dating since we were 15) so we had planned to use this trip to celebrate. I agree to the carriage ride, as long as there's room for my chair of course. The "driver" says it won't be a problem and Mike picks me up and puts me in. We fold my chair and it fits perfectly in the front. We're off and I'm instantly glad that we did it.

    The ride lasts an hour and takes us by all of Seville's major sights. I love to see things lit up at night and this was the perfect opportunity to do it. We pull into the Plaza de Espana and the driver gets out to take a picture of us in front of it. We end the ride by the cathedral and take some photos of the driver and the horse. The ride was 45 euros, but we're glad we did it. We walk back to the hotel and go right to bed.

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    Thank you so much for this trip report; we're visiting Spain next month, including Sevilla, so this has been wonderful to read. And we're staying at Hotel Amadeus, so it's good to hear you liked it!

    And it's also very interesting and informative to see what you think of, and need to think of, as you travel.

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    I've only read through about half the posts and I can't wait to catch up with the rest later today. I agree with Kristina... I think starting a blog of your adventures is a terrific idea! :-)

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    hi adoc,

    great start to your TR, and nice t have such a different perspective. I confess that I have occasionally found the requirement that we give an accessibility statement for our holiday cottage a bit of a pain, but never again, I promise!.

    we loved Seville when we went last September and were really blown away by the alcazar - there weren't lots of people there then either. strange when you consider how many tourists go to the alhambra.

    looking forward to more!

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    Day 3 - Seville

    We woke up around 9:30 and got ready for the day. Tonight we're going to Casa de la Memoria for a flamenco show at 9pm. I had reserved online, but never received a confirmation so I call to make sure they have our reservation. A lady answers and she speaks English. I tell her I reserved online, but haven't paid yet and that I just want to confirm our reservation. She asks what name it is under and I tell her Alexandra. She doesn't understand me, so I repeat it 3 times. Still no luck, so I just say Alejandra. She responds, "ohhh, Alejandra!" She says they have no reservation for us, but that they can fit us in for the 10:30 show. In the end I'm not really sure if they ever got our online reservation or not since she couldn't understand the name I was saying to check the list. But 10:30 is fine with us so we don't mind.

    Our first stop of the day is Casa de Pilatos, a palace which is the permanent residence of the Dukes of Medinaceli. Its another beautiful day with perfect weather and I'm thankful that we're missing all of the rain back home. I mean we just experienced an earthquake last week (that's right, laugh it up west coasters, but its scary when in your mind earthquakes just don't happen where you live, yet your house is swaying!), a hurricane on top of that is too much all at once.

    We follow the map and we walk to another new area(for us) of Seville. Along the way we see a woman parallel parking her car in the tiniest spot. Michael looks impressed...until she SLAMS into one of the other cars. He turns to me and says, "well...some things never change." I give him a dirty look, because I know his opinion of women drivers and I don't like it. I ask him, "is that what you think of me when I drive?" He says, "of course not sweetheart, just most of the others..." Yeah, uh huh. We laugh and keep walking.

    We find what looks to be Casa de Pilatos, but there is no one around and we're wondering if we're in the wrong place. We peek in and it looks like this is it, but is it open? The guide book has the hours listed and we've arrived well within them... We walk in and enter a gift shop. We're greeted cheerfully and determine that yes, this is definitely the right place and they're open. We get two tickets - mine is free and Mike pays full price - only 6 euros, but both tickets include an audio guide. One entrance to the courtyard is flat and the other has one small step, so we go out the level doorway.

    We listen to the audio guide, which is very informative, but very long. The palace's design is based on Pontius Pilate's house and is filled with Roman and Greek architecture and sculptures. It looks so different than what we've seen for the past two days and if we didn't know where we were I wouldn't know if it was Italy or Spain. The center fountain was imported from Genoa and the walls surrounding the courtyard are covered in beautifully intricate tiles. We move from room to room following along with the guide, only seeing one other couple the entire time. Everything is flat and I don't have any problems in the palace.

    We go outside to another courtyard, this time filled with gardens. Parts look overgrown, like its been a little neglected, but everything is alive and I think it kind of adds to the peacefulness and tranquility of the area. Here there are a couple of areas that have one step, but they are small and not a problem.

    We spend almost 2 hours here before the audio guide ends and we feel like we've seen every room. We turn in the guides and head outside. I sit beneath the shade of an orange tree to look at our map. We want to go to the Flamenco Museum today so that maybe we'll learn a little bit before the show tonight. Right now though we're both on information overload from that long audio guide, so we decide to take a detour to find an ATM and some ice cream.

    The same friend that recommended Gallinero de Sandra, also told us about an ice cream place - La Fiorentina Heladeria on Calle Zaragoza. Its a 20 minute walk, but an easy one and I figure that at least we'll be working the ice cream off. We pass 5-6 other ice cream places on the way and I hope La Fiorentina is worth it. We get there - I have a cone of strachitella and Mike gets strawberry. Its good, but I feel like the other places we passed would probably have been just as good.

    Time for the Flamenco Museum. We follow the map, or we think we do, but we don't find it. We're standing in the street looking up at the signs and trying to coincide the roads with those on our map. We see another family doing the same thing and I wonder what they're trying to find. We head one direction, the other family goes the other. We walk down several streets, still having no idea where the museum is in relation to us. We stop to consult the map again, there are so many tiny, winding streets that its difficult to find all of them on here. We walk a little further, then see the other family stopped and looking at their map again. At least we aren't the only ones having trouble around here. We walk down the same roads all over again, thinking to ourselves that it has to be around here somewhere.

    We've been looking for this museum for almost an hour. We know that its right under our noses, but can't seem to find it. Its driving us crazy and we're getting frustrated. Its fun to get lost when you're wandering, but when you're literally walking in circles it starts to get old. We turn down another street and I see the other family walking toward us from the opposite direction. Guess what the mid-point in between us is? The Flamenco Museum! They're French and we can't understand each other, but we all know what just happened and we laugh about the fact that we've all been trying to find the same place for the past hour.

    There is a very steep ramp to go into the museum, but with help its perfectly doable. We get two tickets (14 euros total) and we're told how to get to the elevator. There are three floors and we start with the dance museum level.

    We exit the elevator into a dark room. This part of the museum involves videos, interactive guides and flamenco clothing. First we enter a room with lots of touchscreen monitors - here we watch videos on the history, technique and style of the dance. There are at least 4 monitors and each has a ton of information within its subtopics. We have this room to ourselves and spend about 45 minutes watching clips and reading various articles. We move to the next room, which consists of performance videos of famous flamenco dancers. We float around for a while, still alone in the museum (I think the French family only bought tickets for a show tonight and didn't actually visit any of the exhibits).

    The last section of this floor is filled with flamenco clothing and is partially interactive - you push a button next to a particular item of clothing and a screen above it turns on with a description of when it would have been worn and what its purpose was. I couldn't find anything that said whether the clothing and props were original or if they were recreations - I had intended to ask when we left, but there weren't any employees around when we were finished. Once we're done we go back through the exhibit to get to the original elevator.

    We go up to the top floor, which turns out to be an art exhibit dedicated to the dance. This mainly consists of paintings, but there are also a couple of wooden sculptures as well. It's small, but we enjoy it and take our time. Michael makes me do some "flamenco moves" with my arms while he laughs and snaps some pictures. Oh the things I do to amuse him...

    We take the elevator down to the basement, where some tables are set up with place settings. We aren't really sure what this space is normally used for, but along the walls are some more works of art. They are fashion sketches and paintings that were created for the purpose of designing flamenco clothing. There isn't a lot on this floor, and like the others its empty in terms of visitors.

    We finish and go back to the ground floor to exit. I would recommend visiting the museum if you have a couple of hours and if you're interested in learning about flamenco. I would especially recommend it if you're going to see a flamenco show - we learned a lot and have a greater appreciation for the art.

    Our flamenco show is at an awkward time - 10:30 to 11:30pm. There is no way I can wait until 11:30 to eat dinner, I simply won't survive - I can do 10, or even 11, but 11:30 is too late to just be heading toward a restaurant. We consider having a snack before the show, then dinner afterward but we change our minds and just decide to have a quick meal beforehand. For tonight we'll have to be touristy and eat at 9pm. We go back to the hotel for a little while and I ask Mike to look online and find somewhere for us to go to an early dinner. Its difficult to find anywhere that opens before 9:30, so we settle on Flahertys Irish Pub - which is by the cathedral and opens early.

    We head over around 8:45 and we're seated right away. We order a Spanish omelet as an appetizer and I have the salmon with potatoes and broccoli as my meal. Mike orders, of all things, a cheeseburger. The Spanish omelet is delicious and comes out quickly. My salmon is pretty fried - cooked way too long, but it'll do. Mike is perfectly happy with his burger and his choice of restaurant, hah. We pay our bill -30 euros- and don't linger around too long because we still have to pick up our tickets before the show.

    We follow our map to Casa de la Memoria. I'm really excited because I've read that this is the best flamenco venue in the city. We get there around 10 and a line has already formed. Michael goes in and picks up our tickets - 13 euros per person, which is the student price if you bring your student ID. The 9pm show is just letting out and people look happy, but really hot - they're all fanning themselves like crazy as they pile out. We're allowed in around 10:20 and we get seats in the front row, off to the side. Its pretty warm, but not unbearable and the paper fans we got with our tickets help a lot. The setting is very intimate, with a small stage in the middle and two rows of seats going around 3 sides of it.

    A young guy comes out to do an introduction before the show. He does his spiel in Spanish, English, French and Italian and we're all impressed. As soon as he's finished a guitar player and singer come out and begin the show. They're wonderful and different than I expected. They perform for about 15 minutes, before a female dancer comes out - Manuela Rios. Now to be honest it could have been anyone and we wouldn't have known the difference - like I said, we don't know much about flamenco. She dances to the music of the guitarist and singer and she's wonderful. There's so much passion and power behind each of her moves. She dances for a full 10 minutes, which is amazing but looks exhausting! She leaves the stage and the guitarist performs a solo. When he's finished a male dancer comes out and performs (I'm not sure of his name, I've misplaced the paper from the show...). He is great and we're told that he is one of the best male dancers that performs at Casa de la Memoria.

    The show is almost over and now Manuela and the male dancer do a short dance together. Afterward, the singer gets up and does a few moves of her own - she's pretty good, but what's most impressive is that she does it in 4 inch heels! I think the entire audience gasped when she started dancing in those shoes. At the end we're allowed to take photos and we give the performers a standing ovation. We loved the show and would highly recommend it, especially Manuela. If we didn't know the difference between her and any other random dancer in the beginning, we will now and we'll have high standards for other flamenco shows. We will definitely go back next time we're in Seville.

    Afterward it feels nice to go out in the cool air - it definitely gets hot in there during a show. We walk back to the hotel and prepare for our last day in Seville.

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    Lexma90 - I think you'll really like the hotel. I was worried because I had read that it can get noisy in the morning on the 1st floor by the pantry area. We never heard a thing and we loved the location. We'd definitely stay there again on future visits to Seville.

    Annhig - I understand, sometimes its hard to see things from another perspective when you never really have a reason to. I'm glad that my report changed how you feel about it :)

    LowCountryIslander - thanks for the support and encouragement. I am definitely considering doing it one day soon!

    Thanks to everyone else for continuing to follow along!

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    Day 4 - Our last day in Seville

    We're up and out the door by 10am today. First up on our agenda is the Torre de Oro. The walk to the tower brings us out and into the open, rather than still being lost among the narrow streets and this is the first time we feel the heat of Spain. Its probably about the same temperature it was back at home before we left and it seems less humid than Maryland, so its not terrible but we definitely feel it.

    The walk isn't too far and we arrive at the tower quickly. There are steps to go inside (about 5-7), so we walk down the street a little bit to a ramp that leads to the base of the tower - maybe there is an alternate, accessible entrance. We go down the ramp and we're walking back toward the tower when we come to a bunch of stairs. They'd be doable, because each individual step is set wide apart from the next, so essentially it would be like going down one step over and over. Before we go through all that though Michael goes down to check things out and see if there is in fact another entrance. He comes back up and it turns out that there is no other way in, so we just look at it from the outside and read about it in the guidebook before moving on.

    Our next stop is Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza - the bullring. Months ago when I had read that no bullfights would be going on during the time we would be in Seville I wasn't disappointed at all - I certainly never want to see one. But we're in Spain, so we definitely wanted to at least visit one. Its on the same road as the tower and not too far down. We walk inside the gates and around to the gift shop where tickets are sold. There is one large step to go in, but Mike pushes me up it easily. We go to the counter and we're told that you can only visit the ring by guided tour and that the next English one begins in 20 minutes. We get two tickets - mine is free and Mike's is 15 euros, then browse around the shop.

    There are posters on the wall, each with a different design and made to announce the fighting schedule for each year. There are a couple that I really like and we decide to get one to remind us of our time in Seville. We choose one with a bull and a mosaic-type background, it will look great framed and hanging in our office at home. There aren't any tubes so we'll just have to be careful carrying it for the rest of the trip. I think of a poster I bought years ago at the Saatchi Gallery in London and how it was such a pain to carry around for a month, but I quickly push that out of my mind and buy it anyway :)

    We go into the hallway where the other members of our tour are waiting. A few minutes later our guide comes and introduces herself. She says that on the 30 minute tour we'll visit the ring, museum, chapel and stables. We follow her to the first stop - the bull ring. We walk outside to the ring and everyone else goes up the stairs to sit in the stands. Since we can't go up, the guide opens the gate for Michael and I so that we're sitting directly in the ring and get a great view. The tour is first given in Spanish, then repeated in English.

    Its fascinating and I'm instantly glad that we came here. The guide shares SO many interesting facts and we learn so much in a matter of minutes. After we leave the ring we head to the museum, which is just down the hall. The route of the tour is completely accessible and I don't have to take any alternative entrances. We enter the museum, which mainly displays paintings and matador clothing. The guide describes the process of a fight and some of the artwork in the exhibit. We look around for about 10 minutes before we're ushered out to see the chapel where the matadors pray before a fight. This only takes a few minutes and then we're taken to see the stables where horses are normally kept.

    Overall I loved the tour and Mike said that it was one of his favorite sights in Seville. I have a whole list of interesting facts written down in my journal from the visit and I'm honestly surprised I liked it so much - I'm an animal lover, what can I say?

    At the end of the tour everyone else exits through a door that has a couple of steps. Our guide tells us that for me the easiest way is to walk down the corridor and to go out the red door. She is such a pleasant lady and we thank her for a wonderful tour. She leaves us to go start the next one and we head down the hall. It only takes us a second to see that we're staring down a long corridor entirely lined with all red doors! How could she have forgotten that little detail? We walk down, trying some of the doors and looking for one that looks like an exit. We walk all the way down and still aren't sure which door we're supposed to go out. We laugh and walk up the hall again, hoping to see the exit that we missed the first time. No luck. I hear talking and follow it to find our guide again. She looks surprised to see me and I laugh and say, "umm, all of the doors are red..." She starts laughing and apologizes, steering us the right way.

    Outside we feel the heat of the sun right away. I'd like to visit the Hospital de la Caridad for its church that features baroque sculptures and paintings, but its hot and we're hungry and honestly I don't think Mike cares much about seeing it.

    We walk back toward our neighborhood and I notice that we're en route to pass La Magdalena, another church that I'd like to see. We stop, but of course the church is closed right now and we can't wait 2 hours. Oh well, it just gives us a reason to come back to Seville :)

    The same friend that suggested the other restaurants to us also told us about another of her favorites - La Habitana. Its a little cuban restaurant that she raved about for weeks after she came home. Its Sunday, but she had promised that it was open for lunch on Sundays. We wander forever looking for this place. Its on a dead end, but its located within a really congested area and we walk in circles for a while looking. We're about to give up when we see a brightly colored sign and I'm relieved to see that it says La Habitana. We turn the corner and.... its closed! Ok, now I'm going to have to have a talk with this friend of mine that's been sending us all over the city only to end up at places that are closed...

    Irritated and starving we plop ourselves down at a random little place a few steps away. The waiter doesn't speak any English and the menu is difficult for us to figure out. We manage to order 2 waters, a medium ration of Spanish omelets, patatas aioli, and some grilled white fish. We're seated among all locals and we watch a little girl feeding the pigeons. After throwing pieces of bread to them, she walks out to the middle and picks up one of the pieces and eats it herself. Everyone at the restaurant sees it and either gasps or laughs. The baby's mother grabs her and looks embarrassed. We smile, happy about the distraction from our growling stomachs. Our patatas aioli comes out and is basically just potato salad. Its good though and we're happy to be eating.

    The fish and omelets come out and everything is perfect. We take our time, savoring our last afternoon in Seville. Leaving will be bitter sweet - we'll certainly miss it, but we're excited for Barcelona. We've been sitting here for two hours and we decide to go back to the hotel to do some packing. We have an early flight in the morning and we know we won't feel like doing it later tonight. We pay our bill -18 euros and go on our way.

    I pack everything up and we relax for a little while. Mike has the entire series of "The Office" on his iPod and we've been watching a couple of episodes every night before bed. We watch one and then decide to go back out for a walk. We go our usual route toward the cathedral, where we sit and people watch for a while. We take our last stroll down the little streets around this area, visiting a bunch of shops in search of anything that catches our eye to bring back for family or friends.

    Of course my two best girl friends requested us to bring them back either Spanish or Italian men, so I'm always on the look out. Whenever Michael or I see someone that is a possibility we turn to each other and say, "what about him for Sarah?" and the other will respond with something like, "no, I was thinking more for Alyssa." I'm hoping to clandestinely snap a photo of a good looking guy for each of them, but I'm not sure if when the time comes I'll actually risk making a fool of myself and looking like a creeper or not. Either way I'm amused that Mike plays along with this game and its funny to see what kind of guys he picks out for our friends.

    Its only 8pm, but we're kind of hungry and we have to be at the airport pretty early in the morning. We walk around and decide to see what we can find in terms of an early dinner. We find a small restaurant called Duplex that looks open and we go in and sit down. There is one other couple here - they're Spanish, but they have a Sevilla guidebook and look to be visiting from another part of Spain. We're greeted by the bar tender, who seems to also be the waiter to all of the tables. We order some water and I have a glass of house wine.

    The menu is in both Spanish and English and we order tapas of bacon and cheese quiche and provolone queso. I order a plate of grilled chicken with salad and fries and Michael has the grilled pork with eggs and fries.

    Another Spanish family comes in and sits down in the meantime and we watch as everyone sings along to Guns n' Roses, Papa Roach, Bon Jovi and Queen songs that are played in the restaurant. They're all really into it and its funny to hear all the accents singing along. The queso and quiche come out and they're both very good. We eat and talk about the things we wished we would have seen, but that we'll have to do next time. Our main dishes come out and they're delicious. The chicken and pork have been pounded out very thin and the fries are made from freshly sliced potatoes. By the end our tummies are full and we pay our bill of 31 euros.

    We sit for a while before Mike suggests that we get some ice cream. We head toward Plaza del Salvador, where a little ice cream place is open even though the rest of the square looks deserted on this Sunday night. I have a cup of yogurt with fruit and Michael has some type of chocolate/vanilla mix. We sit in the plaza and get our last glimpse of Seville. Afterward we head back to the hotel and I go in to the reception desk to ask them to arrange a taxi for us. Our flight is at 8am tomorrow morning so we arrange to be picked up at 6.

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    Overview of Seville...

    Overall I loved Seville. If you can handle lots of cobblestones and pop up one step here and there then you shouldn't have a problem. To be honest I think rolling on the cobblestones here was worse than going over those in Rome, so its a VERY bumpy ride and can be hard on your tires (if they're pneumatic).

    When we spoke to people they were VERY nice and accommodating, but it was different here because I didn't feel like anyone went out of their way to help you unless you asked. I don't mean this in a bad way and there were some exceptions here and there, but its just different... You'll see when we get to the Italy portion of the report how people there are instantly by my side as soon as they see even a potential obstacle in my way. Everyone went out of their way to help me with the smallest things and I've experienced this in England and France as well - but not at all in Spain. Here, like I said, I was treated for the most part like everyone else - which is nice, but not always practical. It was weird and kind of awkward when someone would see me struggling to get into a building, but the employee would just smile and look at us instead of offering to help. Again, I don't mean it necessarily in a bad way because everyone was so nice once we spoke to them, its just different from other places I've been. You'll see that it is like this in Barcelona too for the most part, so I'm assuming its just some type of cultural difference - maybe they think its rude to insult someone's independence and help them without being asked? I have no idea, but it definitely wouldn't keep me from going back to Spain it just struck me because it was so different from other people's behavior.

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    Adoc86 - Just wanted to let you know how much I am loving your wonderful trip report. We all know how much time and effort it takes to post something so detailed. As I am hopefully going back to Spain next September, I very much appreciated reading your experiences in Seville. My children and I loved Barcelona, we were there in June 2010. I hope you did as well. Looking foward to the rest of your report.

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    Again, I'm so loving your detailed report. We're big animal lovers too, so I had no intention of visiting the bullring, even without bulls in it, but you're changing my mind.

    Maybe you wanted to save this for the end of your great report, but I'm interested to hear what Michael thought of the European trip, as you said it was his first time (or what he thought of Spain in particular), and whether he's caught the European travel bug.

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    Thanks TexasAggie!

    Lexma90 - I completely understand what you mean. We initially didn't have any intention of going, but we're glad we did. I don't support it at all, it just makes me sad that an innocent animal is killed for sport. But we learned a lot, not enough to change our minds, but enough to make it not as depressing - like about how the bull is treated during the years before it fights and that the meat is butchered and eaten so at least its not a total waste. I still feel a little guilty saying that I enjoyed it though, haha...

    Susanna - yeah, he's the best :)

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    I forgot to add...

    I'm pleased to say that Michael had an amazing time and loved the vacation! Each city/area fully won him over and he is very excited about our next trip. In my mind it would be hard for anyone not to enjoy it, but you will hear about some Australians that we met in Tuscany who just hated every place they went to in Europe, unreal!

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    What a great report - captivating! And so interesting from your point of view - shows what someone can do if they really want to!

    I was in Seville a couple of years ago and went to see a flamenco performance in the same venue - it was terrific.

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    Adoc - i had to laugh at your description of trying to find the flamenco museum - we had the same problem trying to find the cassia de pilatos! we must have walked around for at least an hour looking for it. we did enjoy it once we got there, though.

    looking forward to more!

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    Loving this! Your Flamenco Museum story reminded me of trying to find La Scala in Milan. We literally walked around every side of that building before finally realizing that yes, this is it!

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    I'm really enjoying your report. We stayed at the Hotel Amadeus in 2009 and did many of the things you did, including getting lost trying to find the flamenco museum, so it's really nice to revisit Seville through your account. Looking forward to hearing what you thought of Barcelona.

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    Day 5 - We arrive in Barcelona!

    We get up and checkout of the hotel. We're told that the taxi was arranged last night and should be here any minute. As if on cue a taxi driver comes to the door and starts taking our bags. I hadn't asked for an accessible taxi, its not really necessary since I can easily sit in a regular car seat, but the hotel had taken it upon themselves to request one. The ramp comes out of the van and I roll in. To be honest I hate riding in these kinds of things, its the same reason that I drive a Jeep instead of a van back at home, but I think its really nice that the hotel went out of their way to get it for me. I think because I spent the first 14 years of my life sitting in regular chairs that I still prefer it. I'm really lucky, because I'm able to easily transfer to them so I almost always do when I have the option.

    We arrive at the airport and its far busier than I would have imagined for this time of day. We're booked on a short flight directly to Barcelona. When planning we had considered taking trains, as that is what I have mostly done in the past, but its a semi-time consuming form of travel and we wanted to make the most of every day.

    We check-in at Iberia and we're told to wait by the counter and a disability assistant will come help us. Like I said before, I've never been to an airport where there were designated wheelchair assistants to usher you around. To be honest with you its pretty nice, but more so because we never get lost and go right through security rather than the fact that we really need any help getting around, haha. The assistants always look at me strangely when I push myself and I think that they must rarely ever see anyone that is "truly" in a wheelchair - everyone else appears to be elderly or only using their chair temporarily.

    Usually when someone tries to push me I tell them that its not necessary and that I'm fine. I think its hard for people to understand that as easy as it is for them to walk, its just that easy for me to push. Imagine someone coming up behind you and steering you in the direction they want you to walk, you probably wouldn't like it very much. Unless there is a crazy hill or rough terrain then I usually prefer to be on my own. So when the attendant comes to help us to our gate I am about to tell him that I'm okay and don't need to be pushed, but he looks so proud to be doing it and I don't want to bust his bubble and take the purpose away from his job. He pushes me to security and we go right through with barely a glance. We get to our gate and he tells us that he will come back 10 minutes before boarding to help me onto the plane. He looks unsure whether its okay to leave me, as if I won't be able to move at all and I'll be helplessly stuck in the same spot until boarding. I assure him that its fine and that we'll see him later.

    We have a good amount of time before boarding so we decide to get some breakfast. Michael hates flying, HATES it. The flight from the US wasn't bad because we left at night, but he almost always gets sick on morning flights. Its weird, because he easily gets motion sickness on certain things, but not on others - like on amusement park rides he's perfectly fine. He usually does better with a full stomach so we make our way to a small cafeteria-type place. There are lots of pastries that look good, but I'm not thrilled that they're all just sitting out in the air for flies to land on them, people to cough all over and touch them, and just sitting to go stale. Why not cover them with a plastic container or something? I'm probably overly picky about those kinds of things though and I'm sure they would have been fine.

    I'm not really hungry so I let Mike pick out some things and I will just nibble off of what he gets. We buy a ham sandwich and doughnuts - a weird breakfast, I know.

    About 20 minutes before boarding we're approached by the same disability attendant that helped us earlier. We're taken onto the plane and go through the same process as the last flight.

    Its a short ride to Barcelona and we have a smooth landing. We land at 10:30am and head to baggage claim. The airport is very modern and very clean - the floor is so shiny it almost looks like we're walking on a thin layer of water.

    It doesn't take us long to collect our bags and get a taxi. We speed out of the airport and toward downtown Barcelona. The combination of seeing the mountains ahead of us and it being such a hazy day makes it feel like we're some place really exotic.

    We drive down La Rambla and we instantly think of New York City. There are people everywhere, shopping in the stores that line the street and eating at sidewalk restaurants. If we felt alone in Seville its probably because everyone was here. I see a TopShop and make a mental note of where it is so that I can stop in later - I have wonderful memories of this store putting a dent in my wallet during my trips to London.

    We arrive at Hotel Pulitzer, which is right next to Plaza Cataluna. Of all the places we visit on this trip, I had the hardest time picking a hotel in Barcelona. Usually on this kind of vacation it doesn't take me long, because there are only a handful of accessible options to choose from. Barcelona had a ton of options though and a lot of them were in great locations. I think the fact that it is a pretty metropolitan city is partially responsible for this, but mainly I attest it to the 1992 Olympics. Usually wherever the Olympics go, accessibility follows. I'm usually excited to hear where future game locations are for this very reason. I knew when a list of over 100 accessible hotels came up in my search that I wouldn't have to worry about having a problem in this city.

    We go into the hotel and my first thought is that its very modern. We're greeted by friendly receptionists that speak perfect English and we're told that we'll be staying on the third floor. We go up to our room and it instantly puts me in mind of the W hotel we stayed at while in New Orleans. There's a lot of black furniture and walls, dark wood floors and modern art. Our key even looks like my government work badge and makes me laugh. We also have a balcony with a lovely view of the street below which I hadn't expected. Its a lot different from our last hotel, but very nice and extremely clean. The bathroom is huge and has a shower with a shower seat in it. Spacing is a little bit tight in the room itself, especially between the bed and the dresser, but its not a big problem and we just nudge the bed over a bit.

    We settle in and unpack. Around 12:30 we head out to start exploring and decide to head to the Barri Gotic. We go outside and its such a nice change to walk on flat pavement - there will be plenty of cobblestones to deal with again later so I welcome the break. We get to the Barcelona cathedral and find a very steep ramp on the left side. I'm surprised when we get to the top to find that the cathedral isn't accessible. I feel like it would be so easy to just place a portable ramp there and I wonder why on earth no one ever thought of it. Now that we think about it the ramp we just went up to get to the base of the building is so steep because its not meant for wheelchairs, its meant for vehicles. The cathedral is under restoration and there is scaffolding along the right side of it. I insist that Michael go in, at first he is stubborn but I tell him to go in and take lots of pictures so that I still get to see it. He isn't happy, but he does it anyway and I wait outside. I watch as people pour in and out of the cathedral and I wonder if we're going to have bad luck with many of the other sights here in terms of going in with my chair.

    Mike comes out and shows me a bunch of pictures he took. He says it was beautiful inside, but tries to downplay it so that I don't feel like I missed out. I can read him like a book. I'm disappointed but not upset, not like I will be if I'm unable to see La Sagrada Familia. We take some pictures of the outside and walk down a little alley toward the Placa del Rei. At this point we're starving and start looking for some place to eat lunch. We stop at a little place called Gloria's, where we get a table outside and are seated amongst mostly Spanish people. We order a sausage, bacon and olive pizza and two waters. We sit and look through the guidebook to decide where we want to go after Placa del Rei. The book has lots of suggested neighborhood walks and we decide to follow the one for the Barri Gotic.

    The pizza comes and is delicious. We finish up and pay our 18 euro bill. On the way to Placa del Rei we pass the Placa de Ramon Berenguer el Gran, which has one of the largest surviving sections of the second Roman wall from the 4th century. There is a man forming giant bubbles in this area and we stop to watch some kids and a dog chase after them.

    We reach Placa del Rei and we're the only ones here. This is where the medieval Royal Palace is and where the Catholic monarchs are said to have received Christopher Columbus on his return from the new world. We take some photos and read some history before moving on. We walk around for a while, losing ourselves on the map a couple of times. We see a crowd and follow it to Carrer del Bisbe, a lovely street with a beautiful arched bridge connecting the two sides. Despite it being so crowded I stop and take some photos of both the bridge and the gargoyles on the rooftops surrounding it. We're surprised to read that the bridge was actually added in 1928 and isn't nearly as old as it looks.

    At this point I'm tired of consulting the map so we just drift onto a side street and find some artisan shops and boutiques. I LOVE this and could have spent all day perusing through these places. I know Mike's mom and sister would love this area too and I keep an eye out for anything they might like. As we walk along we look into cellar windows and see artists painting and drawing. I feel like we're seeing something special that not just anyone gets to see and I'm so happy that we decided to come this way. We pass a small soap shop that smells both delightful and overwhelming all at the same time. I really want to go in and buy my mom some soap, but I tell myself that its our first day and that we'll have plenty of time for gifts.

    We drain into another vein of the area and come upon lots of little bohemian restaurants. Parts of it kind of remind me a little bit of Austin and I tell Mike that we should try to come back here for lunch one day.

    We wander for another hour before we end up in Placa del Pi. We decide to stop and get some ice cream - vanilla with chocolate cookies for me and raspberry and mandarin sorbet for Mike. We sit on some steps and watch the people around us. Its at this moment after seeing such a small glimpse of Barcelona that I turn to Michael and say, "yeah...I could live here."

    We finish our ice cream and relax for a few minutes before heading to El Call, an area that one comprised the Jewish Quarter of the city. We wander around these small streets for almost an hour before deciding to go back to the hotel.

    We finish unpacking, take showers and get ready for dinner. We flip on CNN to catch up on what we've missed, but quickly turn it off deciding that we don't want to hear or think about anything depressing while on vacation.

    We go back out in search of dinner around 10pm. We walk for a while with no real destination in mind, only with the intention of getting away from the chaos of La Rambla. We end up looking at the menus of a few tapas places and settle with Taller de Tapas. We sit outside and order a glass of wine and coca-cola light for Mike. We have the tomato bread, which is thin, crispy bread with tomato juice on it - as if a tomato was just squeezed on top. Its very good and we're hoping that its an indication that the rest of the meal will be good too. We're surrounded by a mixture of Spanish and tourists, but its a nice atmosphere and we find a lot of things on the menu that sound good. We order the seafood paella, fried crispy artichoke shavings, chicken kabobs, and fried eggs with potatoes and chorizo.

    The artichoke shavings come out and they're delicious, light and delicate, but not too greasy. The fried eggs come out and are also very good, but the chorizo has kind of a weird taste to it. We've had chorizo many times before, but this particular dish has a really strong taste and we can only handle small bites of it and end up mostly eating around the meat.

    The paella comes out next. This is the first time I've ever had paella and I'm a little disappointed. A lot of the seafood is overcooked and doesn't have a lot of taste. Living in Maryland we're used to having great, fresh seafood so it stands out to us right away. The rice is pretty good though and we finish most of it.

    Our waiter comes by and asks us if we want dessert. We look confused and tell him that we're still waiting for our chicken kabobs. He gets a quizzical look on his face and checks the order form to see that we did indeed order them. He promises that they'll be out soon, which is fine because we're in no hurry and its nice to have some time in between dishes. In the meantime Michael orders another coca-cola light and I have another glass of wine.

    Fifteen minutes later and Michael still hasn't received his soda, although I was brought my wine. We watch as our water runs around and looks frantic. He stops by again and says that the kitchen has lost our ticket, but that it will be right out. I ask about the soda before he runs off and he says, "another coca-cola light?!?" as if its so unheard of and that we must be camels to drink so much. We're not sure why its such a weird request, but we blow it off and don't think much more about it.

    The soda is brought over and our chicken comes out shortly after. Lets just say I wish we hadn't reminded him about the chicken. I ate one bite and its all that I could manage. Nothing was really wrong with it, I think that the seasonings just weren't really our taste. We sit for a while and enjoy the cool, breezy night. We pass on dessert and ask for our bill, deciding to stop for ice cream on the way back to the hotel. Our waiter is still running around like crazy and ends up dropping a tray of plates. A guy walking by claps and the waiter looks mortified and turns beet red. It looks like he's just having a really bad night and I feel bad for him.

    The bill comes and now we realize why our waiter had had such a weird response when we asked for another coke. It appears that we were charged for 3 - it must have been the responsibility of another employee to bring us the soda, since a different guy had indeed brought our wine and water over. Our waiter must have just assumed that the 2nd one had came and that Mike drank it right down like a shot. No wonder his eyes got so big when we asked for another so soon. He apologizes and removes it from the bill. Our dinner comes to 52 euros and we're left with mixed reviews on the restaurant. Some things were very good and others were definitely not to our liking. The service wasn't great, but to be fair we think a lot of it was due to the guy just having a bad night.

    We stop at an ice cream shop not far down the street. We go in and we're trying to decide what we want when two American women walk in behind us. One instantly yells to the employee, "is this made with milk?" He looks confused and obviously doesn't speak English. She repeats slowly, "is this made with milk? I can't have milk. Is there any milk in this?" She then turns to her friend, "I can't have any milk, I wonder if there's milk. I bet there's milk." The guys behind the counter just stare at her and she turns back to them and asks again, "Is there any milk in this? What is this made with? Do all of them have milk? Are there any without milk? You don't understand what I'm saying do you, how can you not speak any English to understand my question about what is in this? Ugh, I know its going to make me sick because I can't have milk and I bet it has milk." I want to turn to her and tell her that everything in here has milk in it, that the shop itself is made of milk and that she better hurry out before a cow walks out of the back. Really, if you have that much of a problem with milk then why are you in an ice cream shop? I hold my tongue and she turns back to the employees again, "Can I try that one.... NO, that one RIGHT there! Oh I bet there's milk in this, I can taste it. It has to be milk, oh no! I wonder if they have smoothies, do you have smoothies? Oh, you don't understand me. DO YOU HAVE SMOOOOOTH-IES? You know, smoothies. How do they not understand what that means? Oh I know there was milk in that..." Holy crap! Michael and I can't believe what we're seeing and how rude she is being to everyone there. They may not understand her, but I'm sure they caught her tone since it is kind of hard to miss. I can't stand it any longer and I turn to her and say, "there are some sorbets down there, those shouldn't have milk in them..."

    She looks at me as if I'm speaking another language, then she finally says, 'ohh... wait...are you sure sorbet doesn't have milk? I can't have any Milk. Shannon look down there, there are sorbets, do those have milk in them?" I give up! We quickly order and run out of the shop. I'm so embarrassed to even be associated with being from the same country as them. We laugh and enjoy our frozen treats. Halfway through I turn to Mike and say, "I think I'm having a reaction to the milk in this ice cream..." he laughs and we still can't believe how that woman was reacting. We finish up and head back to the hotel.

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    I am ROTFLMAO...I can completely relate to how you felt in that icecream shop...sometimes I just have to shake my head in disbelief at people.

    I would have loved to have seen the look on that gal's face if you did say a cow was in the back....priceless! These are the travel moments you will remember forever!

    Looking forward to more of this great report! :-D

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    Great report! You had a lot of patience with the woman in ice CREAM store. I think I would have said, what part of CREAM don't you understand!? Even if the employees there Could speak English, I wouldn't have blamed them for pretending they couldn't.

    CindyP.

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    Day 6 - Barcelona

    We wake up early and make the long trek to La Sagrada Familia. Our hotel is really well placed in the city, but Barcelona is much bigger than Seville so everything is more spread out. Its about a 40 minute walk to the cathedral, but its really easy because its so flat and there are curb cutouts and crosswalks everywhere. Barcelona, in my opinion, is such a pretty city. Its very clean and there are trees dispersed all throughout. As we walk along we notice that unlike Seville, most shops and restaurants don't have any steps to enter - this will be easy!

    We make it to La Sagrada Familia and I can't believe we're here. The first Barcelona sight I ever learned about was this church and that is when I said to myself, "I've gotta go there." As we get closer we see a huge line and we regret not leaving earlier, oh well. We head around the building to the end and get in line. We weren't even standing there for 5 minutes when an employee approaches us and tells me that we don't have to wait in the line. I'm not sure how they even knew we were there, but they quickly usher us to the front. Both of our admissions are free and a gate is opened for me to go through. There is a relatively steep ramp to get to the entrance of the church, but it isn't a problem and Mike pushes me up easily.

    Before we even consider going inside, we spend 20 minutes taking in all of the details on this side of the exterior. Its unlike any church or building I've ever seen and I'm amazed. I love all of the different figures, let alone the detailing on the word-engraved doors. Michael is equally in awe and studies everything almost as closely as I do. Its starting to get really crowded around the entrance area so we enter. Lets just say that the interior doesn't disappoint either. The church is huge and makes me feel so small. There is so much detail I'm overwhelmed, but everything is breathtakingly beautiful. I love how each section of stained glass is a different color theme - one giant area of all blues, the next all oranges and reds, etc. I feel like a crazy tourist snapping so many pictures, but I can't help it I want to remember every detail.

    Eventually I relax and just walk around enjoying everything, I don't want to get so caught up in taking pictures that I don't actually see anything. For as big as it is, there are still areas that are devoid of people and we don't feel rushed or crowded. We take our time and easily spend over an hour in this area of the church. We filter out of the back and decide to go down to the museum area. The ramp to go here is extremely steep - unsafely so. Mike holds on to me, but even then there are instances where my tires lose traction and I slide a little bit. Despite this, I'm just so happy that I get to see this section (which I was very skeptical that I'd be able to get to) that the danger of the ramp quickly leaves my mind.

    Here there are lots of models of the cathedral and its sculptures. Diagrams and drawings of the initial plans and construction process fill room after room and everything is fascinating. We spend over an hour in the museum before we head back toward the entrance. I am happy to find a wheelchair accessible bathroom here so I make a quick stop before being challenged again by the ramp to go back up.

    Once up the ramp we take some time to study this side of the exterior, which looks so different than the other side that you almost wouldn't know its the same building. I've always thought of this side to look like a giant candle covered in melting wax. As we take our last few glances at the church, Mike turns to me and suggests that we come back in 2020 when the construction is complete. I, of course, say yes :)

    By now the sky looks dark and angry and I'm worried that we're going to get stuck in the middle of a downpour. We decide that its a good time to find some place to eat and let the weather pass so we walk a couple of blocks down to try to find a restaurant that isn't too touristy or overpriced. We end up at a little place that serves tapas and crepes. We're seated at a little table and given menus in Spanish. We figure things out enough to order two cokes and two crepes - both with fried eggs, bacon and cheese. I absolutely adore breakfast foods and its a rarity that I will pass them up when given the choice. We wait and look through the guidebook to decide where we want to go next. I hope that it doesn't turn into a nasty, miserable day full of rain. I wouldn't normally allow rain to ruin my day, but its a pain to roll around in it. All of the water congregates in the dips of the curb cutouts, my hands slide when trying to push because everything is wet, and its hard to stay dry with regular sized umbrellas because they aren't wide enough to cover both my head and my legs - its just a giant mess that I don't want to deal with.

    Our food arrives and we put the threatening skies out of our mind. The crepes taste exactly like I thought they would, not fancy but so good. Afterward Michael insists that we order a chocolate & banana one for dessert and I don't protest. Its also delicious and we're full and content. By the time we are ready to leave it looks like the storm is going to hold off and I give a sigh of relief.

    We decide to head for La Pedrera. Every single guidebook and website that I've read has stated that this is not wheelchair accessible. I was disappointed when I first read this, but I've accepted it and I insist that Mike goes in without me. He usually refuses and puts up a fight, but I tell him that he absolutely has to go in and that I don't mind waiting for an hour or so. We arrive to the building and I'm surprised when an employee tells me that I can indeed go in! I'm so happy and excited that I'm smiling from ear to ear.

    We buy our tickets (both are full price) and we're taken around to the side where a giant glass door with wrought iron detailing is opened. We walk around the ground floor for a few minutes, then head to the next level. The elevator is only available for those with mobility limitations and it is the most charming lift I've ever seen. Its old and creaky, but its so cute and has so much character that I wish I had one just like it in our house. We exit and start to explore the rooms of the apartment. We go from room to room and I thoroughly enjoy every minute of it. The children's room is my favorite - there is the most adorable dollhouse with such incredible detail, I would have loved this when I was little. All of the little lamps even light up!

    We go through the gift shop, which surprisingly has some really cute little toys - not as touristy and generic looking as I would have expected. Next we go to a floor that is more of a museum-type area. We use a different elevator to get to this floor - a regular "modern" elevator that can only be used with the assistance of an employee. I'm so happy that this is the case, because back at home it seems that everyone congregates and piles into every elevator. I know that some people genuinely need it, but a lot of people don't and as bad as this might sound, people are just plain lazy these days. Its sad when a group of perfectly healthy people plow their way into the elevator, while people with strollers, walkers and wheelchairs stand there and have to wait to constantly take the next one. It would have taken us 20 minutes to go from floor to floor if everyone in La Pedrera had had access to the lifts.

    On this next floor there is a video biography of Gaudi and models of some of his works. There are small ramps all throughout this area, making it easy for me to get around and allowing me to see every part of the exhibit. When we're finished we go back to the elevator and head up to the roof.

    Only a very small portion directly outside of the elevator is accessible, as the walkways are connected by steps. I'm still so high off the fact that I got to come in at all that I really don't care that I can't walk around the roof - I didn't even think I'd be able to see this small bit of it! Michael walks around and takes lots of photos and I look around at what I can. Its amazing! Can you imagine living here and having a rooftop like this to walk around on in the evenings? I'm still beaming when Mike gets back and we head back downstairs. I get one last ride in my favorite elevator before we get back to the exit.

    Casa Batllo is next up on the agenda and isn't too far down the street. I had also read that this building wasn't accessible either. I'm wondering who wrote these articles and where they got this information from, because while at first glance La Pedrera didn't look accessible, it only took a second to ask and find out that it in fact was. We get to Casa Batllo and again we're told that I will indeed be able to go in! We buy two tickets (one is discounted, though in the end I don't think it was discounted enough, as there are a couple of floors that I won't have access to at all) which include audio guides and go right in.

    Right away we feel like we're in some type of Willy Wonka house. There are absolutely no straight lines and everything looks distorted. I'm really glad there is an audio guide here because so much interesting information is included on it. You know how some audio guides are really educational, but at the same time really, REALLY slow and boring? This is not one of those.

    The first room has a really cool stairwell to the next floor. The windows look like tortoise shells and the walls like fish scales. After listening to the guide and taking some photos we head back out to the elevator. This lift is REALLY small. If your chair is bigger than mine, it won't fit, period. (If anyone ever needs the dimensions of my chair I can get those for you...) I barely fit in it myself and I have to maneuver back and forth over and over until I'm all in and the door will close. No one can fit in the elevator with me so Michael takes the stairs and meets me on the next level.

    The detail and thought behind every piece of glass and wood is insane and would have gone unrecognized without listening to the audio guide. Where you may think one room is so amazing that it can't be topped, you are instantly proven wrong with the next one. We go through a couple more floors before we get to two that I can't go on at all. An employee tells me that the next floor I can visit is the 5th, so I get in the elevator and hit 5. Mike agrees to meet me there and takes a couple of flights of stairs. I get to the 5th and wait by the steps for him, but he doesn't come. I'm wondering where he is, surely he walks faster than this. I eventually see the blur of his orange shirt through some glass and I know he's coming, but he goes halfway up the last flight then turns around to go back down. I think he is confused because the first floor was labeled as 0 instead of 1, so he must think he went too far. I figure he'll figure it out and come back up, but he never does. Ten minutes goes by, then fifteen. An employee approaches me and asks if I need help and I explain to her whats going on. She offers to go and look for him and I describe what he's wearing and tell her his name. She comes back a few minutes later and says that she couldn't find him. I'm torn between just continuing on without him or going back down. I wait another ten minutes, but when he doesn't come I just start exploring the floor. This last level has some really cool architecture, dramatic arches and spiral stairways fill the rooms. I don't listen to the audio guide here because I don't want to lose Mike for too long, but there are some really cool areas and I'd definitely like to go back and hear what I missed. One room has lights coming out from what look like slits in the ceiling - like its just poking through temporarily and will close up any second. It is in Casa Batllo that I decide that I love all things Gaudi. Everything is just so different and unconventional that its impossible to get bored with it.

    Twenty minutes later I get in the elevator and head down to the ground floor. Before the elevator doors open I see Mike standing on the other side of them. I look at him and say, "where have you been?!" He looks back at me and says, "this is a house of horrors!" I ask why he didn't ask for help and he just glares at me, really why can't guys just ask for directions when they're lost?

    We head outside and exhaustion suddenly hits us. Its been a really long day and we've crammed a lot into it. Its 6 o'clock, so we start our walk back to the hotel. Once we arrive we relax for a little while and talk about what we want for dinner. To be honest I'm not super hungry - I tend not to get hungry as often when I'm on vacation, even though we're so active. We decide not to go too far and around 9:30 we head out. Before dinner we stop in TopShop so that I can browse, but unfortunately its a lot smaller than the London store and nothing catches my eye. On to a little organic market that is one street over from our hotel. I think the name of it is actually just Organic Market, and its basically just a small organic grocery store. There are counters and stations inside with sandwiches and salads made to order, as well as pasta, pizza and oriental food stations. We decide to both get sandwiches and eat light. There are so many types of freshly made breads, cheeses and meats and it takes us a few minutes to decide. We place our orders, get some lemon sodas and take a seat. The market is pretty busy with people shopping for groceries, as well as people having quick dinners. Our sandwiches come and they're really good. Its the perfect meal for tonight - we have to spread out the big, heavy dinners. We finish and relax for a while. I show Mike the pictures of the 5th floor of Casa Batllo and he's disappointed that he missed it - another reason to return one day.

    After dinner we take a walk around the fountains by Placa Cataluna and down La Rambla. Its as busy as ever and we can only take it in small doses. We go back to the hotel and collapse - so tired.

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    Wow - great report, Adoc. I was pooped just reading about how much you packed into your days - what a trooper you are! You've really got me convinced that I must go to Barcelona someday and see all that fantasmagorical Gaudi architecture up close and in person.

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    Are you serious that people would crowd onto an elevator and leave someone in a wheelchair "waiting" for the next one....

    MY mom had a massive stroke and was in a wheelchair for 11 years, she was not very mobil and unable to transfer herself without a lot of help. It was extremely irritating when I couldn't find a handi parking place, but honestly, I think I would have rolled her chair on everyone's feet in the elevator had they left me to take the next one.

    I have to say I get very excited for you when you find out that something is accessible and you get to visit it!!!!

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    Hazel1 - haha, yeah we squeezed a lot in, but I still don't feel like we rushed it so it worked out well. The Gaudi sights are absolutely amazing and unlike anything else, I highly recommend a visit!

    Susanna - yes, unfortunately I am serious. It happens more often than you would probably think, and the funny thing is that it is usually adults who do it. Kids are actually surprisingly polite and compassionate when it comes to those kinds of things. I know exactly what you mean about handicap spots too, they're a hot commodity. Whats worse is that once I find one I usually get dirty looks from people who think I'm probably using my grandmother's handicap tag because I'm surely too young to need such a spot. Quite often people will just stop and stare, as if they are waiting to prove that I'm a fraud when I get out of the car. Luckily I am pretty out spoken so those types of people usually end up knowing what I think of them, hah :)

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    So when the attendant comes to help us to our gate I am about to tell him that I'm okay and don't need to be pushed, but he looks so proud to be doing it and I don't want to bust his bubble and take the purpose away from his job.

    You are very kind and tactful.

    I've really been enjoying your report. I can't tell you how many times I've traveled in Europe and looked at my hotel room, the restuarant I'm in, etc., and thought to myself, "How accessible is this? Oh, two steps down. Oh, door not wide enough for a wheelchair." And so on.

    Can't wait 'til you get to Italy! In August. Oh my word.

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    Leely2 - Thank you! And yes, our little puppy is fine. She had an obstruction in her stomach and intestines because she was naughty and got into the trash. She will make a full recovery though, thanks for your concern :)

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    Adoc, your report is so much fun! I love all the details in your descriptions of Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera and Casa Battlo - it brings back so many memories. Like you, my husband and I love all things Gaudi. I'm not in a wheelchair but I have difficulty with stairs, so I saw the same little area of the roof of La Pedrera that you did, while my DH explored and took pictures.

    Your writing is very very good. Thanks for taking the time to write this.

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    Day 7 - Barcelona

    We sleep in a little bit this morning after our busy day yesterday. Once up we head out to our first stop, El Palau de la Musica Catalana. Its not a long walk from the hotel and there's only a short line when we get there. My ticket is reduced to only 3.50 euros, but I'm told that I will still get to see every area of the tour. The next English tour is in about 25 minutes so we go inside to the cafeteria and wait. We decide to get a snack to hold us over so we end up sharing a cornetto-type pastry. No photos are allowed in any part of El Palau, yet we watch as tourist after tourist poses for a picture or aims their camera in all directions. I wonder how many of them will get home and see one of the many "no photo" signs in the background. Every once in a while the security guard will catch one and point out that no pictures are allowed, but most of the time they get away with it.

    The tour begins and we're taken into a side room where we're told a little bit of history before watching a short video about the construction of the building. Its pretty interesting given that we really didn't know much of anything about El Palau before today. Our guide leads us out of the room where the security guard approaches us to take Mike and I to the elevator. He is probably about our age and looks just oh so enthused about his job. He asks us where we're from and says that he wishes he could go back to the US with us. On the way up to the next floor he makes really cheesy jokes and he seems so happy to get the chance to talk to people - I'm sure it gets really boring just watching to make sure tourists don't snap pictures.

    We exit the lift and meet back up with our tour group. We enter the ground floor of the auditorium, which is a lot smaller than either of us imagined it to be. Just the same its beautiful and ornately decorated. Our guide describes some of the architecture and we're amazed by the fact that none of the glass windows or dome ceiling was ever damaged at all during the war, despite the destruction of many of the surrounding buildings. The guide uses a remote to play a song on the organ, allowing us to experience the acoustics of the room. Afterward we head back to the elevator to go up to the upper level of the auditorium.

    The same security guard meets us, still looking as bored as ever. He drops us off on the next floor, where we meet our group in a room designed for intermissions. We hear a little about the design of this room and its interesting to learn about the techniques used to make the building look farther away from the neighboring one than it really is. We go back into the auditorium where our guide continues her architecture/history lesson and we get a closer look at the "glow worm." Afterward we meet up with the guard one last time to go back down to the ground floor. He tells us that he still has to work another 10 hours and he looks miserable just thinking about it, poor guy. Our guide says her goodbyes and we head outside to take some pictures of the exterior.

    From here we decide to go to the Picasso museum. Neither of us are huge Picasso fans, but we're in Barcelona so I feel like we should pay it a visit. Its a pretty short walk and only takes us about 10 minutes to find. Its really crowded and there are people everywhere. We get our tickets - mine is free and Mike pays full price - and go inside. We're directed to the elevator, where an employee takes us to the first floor of the museum. We enter the first room and take our time studying all the paintings. Its really interesting to see how Picasso's work evolved during his lifetime, his early work and his later pieces are so drastically different. We float around for about an hour and a half before we are exhausted of looking at art that we aren't enthused about (sorry Picasso fans!). An employee asks us if we want to visit the temporary exhibit and at first we hesitate, but we're here so why not? We take the elevator to the next floor and we are so happy we decided to stay. This exhibit is comprised with artists more to our liking - Matisse, Rodin and Van Gogh among others. We're perked up and take our time looking around.

    We exit the museum and go in search of lunch. We still want to go to Barceloneta today so we want something we can eat relatively quickly. We end up at a small pizza place where we share a cheese and olive pizza. We finish and head toward the port. Its a pretty long walk and it seems like all of a sudden its a lot warmer than previous days. The weather has been pretty mild, but today is suddenly really humid. We reach the port and take a stroll along the water. The heat convinces us to stop for ice cream and I indulge in a cup of hazelnut while Mike has dark chocolate.

    By now Mike's legs are starting to get sore after 2 days of nonstop walking and he feels like he is getting shin splints. We sit by the water and relax for a little while before continuing on down to the beach. Once we're back on our way we see plenty of people in swimsuits and we know we're getting close. We pass little beach shops and lots of touristy looking restaurants until we finally get to the end and are faced with the ocean. Even though its humid, it isn't hot and it still feels too cool to be on the beach or in the water. We sit on some steps that lead down to the sand and just people watch for a while. It feels like we're in a totally different city, rather than the metropolitan streets we were just exploring earlier today.

    I'm just sitting there looking out at the beach when all of a sudden my sunglasses snap in half while they're still on my face! I have no idea how that happened, but I'm peeved and will now have to find some replacements since my eyes are pretty sensitive. Michael says he can fix them, but I know him and I know that he'll do something ridiculous and have me looking like a fool. I tell him this and he laughs because he knows its true.

    We sit a while longer and Mike is dreading the long walk back. Its about 5:30 when we decide to finally get up and on our way. Even though its a relatively long walk, it doesn't seem to take very long and we arrive back at the hotel pretty quickly. We didn't see one pair of sunglasses on the way back and I tell Michael that I think that its a sign that I'm meant to get a new pair of Chanels that I've been stalking. Surely we would have seen at least one pair on the long walk back, right? He rolls his eyes and laughs at me while I just smile :)

    We spend some time in the hotel and shower/lounge before going back out. Around 10pm we are starving and ready to search for something to eat. We walk around for a while with no real idea of where we're going, just looking for whatever catches our eye. We come upon a little restaurant called Sinatra and decide to try it. We go in and I love it! There are old classic movies playing on the wall and the place is designed in a very chic style. We're greeted by a friendly woman who leads us to a table and gives us two glasses of cava. The restaurant is relatively full and some people that come in after us are turned away. We order tapas of garlic bread and sliced manchego cheese as appetizers, as well as a coke for Michael and a glass of the Seduccion wine for myself. The wine is very sweet, but I like it and am happy with my choice. The bread and cheese are delicious and its a good start to our meal. For our main course I have the salmon with eel sauce and Mike orders the charcoal beef with potatoes au gratin and asparagus. We have a nice, slow dinner and rehash the day. Everything is fantastic and even though we're both full we make sure to finish it all. I'm stuffed but I refuse to leave without dessert (we're on vacation!) so I order a macchiato and then creme brulee with blueberries to share. We're so happy we found this place - our favorite meal in Barcelona! We leave well after 1am and crash as soon as we get back to our room.

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    Adoc86 - Just wanted to let you know I'm still thoroughly enjoying your report. I loved Barcelona and it's fun to see it again through your eyes. I also appreciated your pictures.I'm in the very early stages of planning a return to Spain next September, and can't wait!

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    Day 8 - Barcelona

    We wake up around 9am and decide to have a slow, leisurely day. I want to see everything, but I don't want to be completely worn out at the end of this trip either since we both have to go right back to work. We make our way to La Boqueria market, which is only about 10 minutes from our hotel. La Rambla is bustling as always and the market is crowded and lively. As soon as we walk in we're struck by the smell of fresh fruit. Everything is so ripe and there is such a contrast amongst the bright colors. We walk around and look at vegetables, seafood, meats, nuts and candies. You can point out the tourists right away because they're the ones walking around taking pictures (myself included) and not buying anything. We spend about an hour here and the fresh fruit cups tempt me again on our way out.

    Back on La Rambla its another sunny, humid day. I'm still needing some sunglasses so we take a walk to Chanel ((:) I know, I know - its a lot of money for sunglasses, but I'm a quality over quantity girl and I like nice things. We get to the shop and it only takes me a minute to fall in love with a pair of perfect gold aviators. I make my purchase and Michael is amused. We head out and try to decide what we want to do next. I really, REALLY want to go to Park Guell, but its pretty far and after all the walking yesterday I don't think Mike's shins can handle it. Plus, I've read that its absolutely not wheelchair accessible (whether this was written by the same types of people that said that Casa Batllo & La Pedrera are inaccessible is yet to be known). I don't really want to take a cab there and back either, so we decide to pass it up on this trip :( and save it for next time.

    Instead we walk back toward our hotel and decide to get some lunch. The Organic Market was so good last time that we decide to return. This time we both decide to order from the wok station. There are so many choices and you're able to pick every single ingredient that goes in your dish. We both go for noodles, broccoli, beans, mini corn, and shrimp all in a Chinese sauce.

    We watch as our meals are made from all fresh ingredients from the market. We're served two giant bowls and its SO good. Everything tastes so fresh and I'm happy we're having a healthy meal (I still have to fit in my wedding dress, after all!). We're given so much food that neither of us can finish. Lunch in addition to one lemon soda and an iced tea comes to 30 euros - kind of expensive for just two bowls of noodles, but not surprising since its all organic.

    We decide to stroll and do some shopping for friends & family. Barcelona is our last stop in Spain so any Spanish souvenirs have to be purchased here. We go in and out of lots of shops, browsing through cheesy trinkets and finding things that we wished we had the space in our bags to bring home. I buy my best friend a mosaic bull since she specifically requested one and a set of salt shakers for a lady I work with who collects them. We drift back into the Barri Gotic area and look through a lot of the shops we had already glanced through before. We stop for some ice cream - strawberry for me and chocolate and oreo for Michael. I love the atmosphere of this area and I'm not regretful at all that we haven't really seen any sights today besides the market. Its nice to have a day here and there where we aren't running from sight to sight, just a day where we can enjoy the city.

    We take our bags back to the hotel and take a nap. Michael still feels like he's on the verge of getting shin splits so we take it easy - we have a full day of walking planned in Montjuic tomorrow so we don't want to over do it.

    By the time we wake up we've "wasted" much of the day away, so we shower and get ready to go out for dinner. Tonight we're going to Mayura, an Indian restaurant that one of Michael's friends had recommended to us. Its about a 20 minute walk, but we find it easily. The inside has a very chic, exotic look to it with silk covered bamboo chairs and pillows covering love seats that are used as booths. There are lots of candles and the dinner and flatware is hammered copper. We're seated at one of the love seats, where a small table is in front of us. Its a very intimate setting and it doesn't even feel like we're even in Spain anymore.

    The menu includes a lot of traditional Indian food, as well as many dishes with Mediterranean influences. We order the tandoori chicken as an appetizer, as well as the spinach and cheese croquettes. I think the chicken is great, but its a tad too spicy for Mike. He gobbles the croquettes up though, which turn out to be balls of spinach with cheese that are floating in some type of tomato based sauce. For our main courses I have the duck confit and Mike has the shrimp in butter & tomato sauce. My duck is cooked perfectly and is amazing! Mike loves his shrimp and cleans his plate. The naans (cheese and garlic) are also delicious, I love naans and eat them pretty often at home, but these are unusually good. It is A LOT of food and we're so full that dessert is completely out of the question. The service is very good and we're very happy with everything we ordered. This gives Sinatra some competition as being our favorite meal in Barcelona and I'd definitely recommend both places.

    **There were no steps for Mayura, but I forgot to add that Sinatra does have one medium size step to enter the restaurant. There is also an upper level to Sinatra, so reservations are probably a good idea if you're unable to climb stairs**

    Afterward we walk back toward the hotel, but pass it and walk a little farther. We're so full and feel the need to walk a little bit of it off. Its crazy to think that we only have one more day in Barcelona and it makes me a little sad. We stop to buy some bottled waters for our room before heading back. We end our night by planning the specific sights we want to see in Montjuic tomorrow and watching a couple episodes of The Office.

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    Day 9 - Barcelona

    We get up around 9am and head downstairs to inquire about the best way to get to Montjuic. We're told that the best way is via the metro, but that is definitely out of the question. I know that many of the stops have elevators for wheelchair users (I've seen them on the street while walking around the city), but there is far too much risk involved in attempting it. I can see us getting on smoothly, but finding that the elevator at our destination is out of order. Plus, a lot of the lines still aren't accessible so we really don't even know if getting to Montjuic this way would even be physically possible. Instead we decide to take a cab and walk over to find one near La Rambla.

    We find a cab and ask the driver to take us to Castell de Montjuic. We speed off and get to the park within 15 minutes. Once in the park the driver has a hard time finding the castle and we drive around looking for it for a while. There are signs, but for some reason we still can't find it and the driver is laughing to himself in disbelief. He feels really bad and turns the meter off so that it doesn't increase due to him not knowing where he's going. We literally drive in circles for 10 minutes before we stop for him to ask a gardener for directions. The gardener directs the driver where to go and we head in that direction. A few minutes later we're right back where we started and still lost. The driver is still laughing to himself and Michael and I can't help but join in, this is crazy! He drives us for another ten minutes and we don't get any closer. Finally Mike and I decide that maybe its best to just let us out where we are and we'll walk to the castle from here. Since he had turned the meter off its only 9 euros, but we really appreciate his efforts so we give him a little extra.

    Once out of the cab we are faced with some massive hills. Luckily yesterday's rest paid off and Mike is ready for a long day of walking. I manage on the first few hills, but eventually need Mike's help, but hey what are future husbands for? ;)

    It seems like we walk and walk and walk forever until we finally find the castle, which has a giant hill of its own to climb in order to get to the base. We go inside where we find some more ultra steep slopes in order to visit the different sections of the building. Its a big angle and I can't see anyone in a manual chair making it without help. We walk around the castle, which in itself is just okay, but the views are spectacular. We can see some of Barcelona's landmarks, including La Sagrada Familia.

    We spend about 45 minutes here before we exit the castle and go back down the slope. By now we're pretty hungry and we see a place selling quick lunches. We aren't sure if there is anywhere else to eat in the park or how far the next place will be, so we figure we should grab something while we can. We order two slices of cheese pizza, which are pre-made and warmed up for us, and a bag of chips all for 10 euros. Its pretty much what you'd expect, not great but it'll hold us over for a while.

    Next we want to go to the Olympic stadium. We picked up a map of the park for 2 euros while at the castle, so hopefully we have better luck finding things than our cab driver did. I had VERY ambitious plans for today - the castle, stadium, botanical gardens, Joan Milo museum, MNAC and fountain light show. You're probably wondering what I was thinking and to be honest so am I. Everything looked so much closer together on my tiny guidebook map, but now that we're here we realize that nothing is close together and everything is separated by enormous hills. Our plans are instantly watered down - the hills are wearing us out early and its hot.

    There are steps all throughout the park, but there are also smooth paths that zigzag around to form some walkways that are pretty flat. The zigzagging does force us to walk longer distances though and we feel it. We see a public bathroom that Michael tries to use, but its locked and we aren't sure if we'll find any bathrooms at all while we're here. We try to follow the map as best as we can, but the streets don't have many signs and we are really just guessing that we're going in the right direction. The whole time we're walking we only see a few other people in the park and no taxis whatsoever. It does worry us a little bit because we wonder where we'll be able to find one to eventually get back to the hotel, but we put it out of our minds and keep going.

    We finally make it to the stadium, where we find the accessible entrance around the right side. There are hardly any people here and we have much of it to ourselves. There really isn't a lot to see - just an empty stadium, a little cafeteria area and a gift shop. Its still neat to see though and we're glad we made it. We spend about 20 minutes here before heading down to a restroom to the right of the stadium. These bathrooms are definitely not well kept as there is no toilet paper, no soap or paper towels, and its pretty dirty. I wonder if there was a Justin Bieber concert here since the inside is covered in dedications of love to Justin.

    We glance down at the palau where gymnastics and volleyball took place, but we aren't sure if its open to tour and there are lots of stairs to get to it anyway (however, it would be doable since the steps are set very wide apart). We stop at another vending truck where we get some water and relax for a few minutes before moving on to our next stop.

    This park is kicking our butts and we decide to finish up by going to the National Palace and Museum Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC), which is actually within the palace. We follow the map toward the direction and again seem to walk forever. There are stray cats everywhere - popping out of bushes or laying in shady spots of the grass and I think it adds to the quaintness of the park. We start to see lots of escalators, which look really out of place in the greenness of the area. They all seem to lead down to where the palace is, which worries me... I think we're going to have to walk ALL the way around to get to it, since all the short cuts are via stairs. We're both annoyed because walking all the way around looks pretty far, so we decide to stop and rest on a bench for a while that's situated by a fountain.

    As soon as we approach the bench I see a stray cat look at us and come running right toward me. She instantly starts rubbing herself against my legs and purrs, then goes to greet Mike. Now I'm more of a dog person, but I think its mainly just because I've never had a cat and I've never met one that showed any real interest in me. This one looks so happy to see us though and instantly wins me over. I transfer to the bench and Mike sits next to me. The cat jumps up and sits in between us and isn't happy unless we're petting her. She's black and white and has the prettiest green eyes. She is thinner than any of the other cats we've seen today and I wish I had something in my purse to give her. Mike decides that he will walk back to the vending truck to buy her something to eat, while I wait here with her. I know that cats are hunters and that she probably fills her belly whenever she wants with rodents, the little lizards that seem to be all over the park, and birds, but still I would feel much better giving her something.

    He heads off and the cat stares at him and starts to meow, as if she's sad that he's leaving. She looks at me, then walks from the bench to my chair and lays on it. My black cushion instantly starts to get covered in white cat hair, but I don't care. She lays down like she owns it and starts to fall asleep while I rub her belly. Fifteen minutes later Michael still isn't back and I'm starting to wonder if he got lost. He finally shows up after a few more minutes and I squint to see what he's carrying. I really have no idea what cats eat in terms of snacks around the house, but I had figured he'd come back with crackers or something along those lines. Instead he bought her a cheeseburger (will a cat eat this?!). He explains that that is really all they had, so I open and examine it. There are a ton of onions on it - I'm not sure if they're safe for cats to eat since I know dogs can't have them, so I make sure to take them all off. In the mean time the cat is ecstatic that Michael is back and greets him for a few minutes before seeing that I have food. She isn't shy and comes right up to it and sticks her head in the wrapper. I break it up into small pieces and she smells all over it, but doesn't touch it. Honestly, I don't blame her because it looks really disgusting and I'm not convinced that its even beef. We try to get her to eat it for a while, but she wants no part of it. I dump the pieces on the ground, hoping that maybe she'll gain interest later.

    We sit with her for another 15 minutes until Michael says we should probably get going. I really don't want to leave her and wish we could somehow bring her home with us. I guess the fact that she is so friendly though means that people must be nice to her. We get up to leave and she's staring at us as if, "Excuse me? Where do you think you're going?!" We start to walk and she follows us. As we get farther away she is still following and starts to meow. I feel so bad because she seems really sad and lonely. We get to a point where she stops and just watches us, I think she is accustomed to staying in this small area of the fountain and benches. She goes and lays under one of the benches and it makes me happy that she has some shelter and water whenever she needs it. I still feel sad, but Michael insists that she is perfectly okay.

    We continue our walk toward the palace and I find what I claim to be a short cut. Mike looks skeptical and hesitates for a minute. I insist that this is the way and he finally gives in, giving me one of his looks that say, "you better be right about this." It turns out that I am and the palace is right ahead of us. The base of it looks out over a wonderful view of Barcelona. We go in and buy two tickets. There are steps, but there are lifts operated by security guards to get wheelchair users up. Its 3:30 already so we don't have a lot of time and decide to head to the Romanesque exhibit.

    This area is really cool because the art is actually the walls of the museum. A technique was used to actually peel the paint off of a chapel wall, which kept it all intact and allowed for it to be "glued" onto a new backboard. This board is what actually comprises the walls of this section of the gallery, so it looks as though the art work was actually painted right here. We never knew such a thing could be done and its fascinating to see how well preserved everything looks. We sit to watch a video which shows the steps used to detach the painting and reattach it to a new surface. Its long, but I would highly recommend watching the entire thing.

    Other areas of the Romanesque section include wooden and stone sculptures, but the paintings are amazing and are our favorite part. Around 5:30 we are just finishing through this section of the museum and we're now exhausted. We still have to go back to the hotel and pack since we're leaving in the morning, so we decide that the rest of the museum will have to wait until the next time we're in Barcelona. We LOVED this museum though and it was totally worth the search.

    There are some taxis outside so we grab one and zip back to the hotel. Its early, but we're hungry rather so than go to our room we walk down the street in search of something quick to eat. We end up at a little cafe where we order two onion and cheese quiches. The food is really good and the quiche is huge! We don't hang around long - just pay our bill and get back to the hotel.

    I start the packing process and I'm sad that we're leaving this wonderful city. Once I'm finished we go back out and take one last walk around Placa Catalunya and La Rambla. As sad as it is though, we're happy that the next few days we'll be primarily driving instead of walking so much.

    We get back to our hotel and make sure we have everything together. We're sore all over from this exhausting day and it feels nice to just lounge in bed and watch a movie on Mike's ipod. Morning is going to come too fast!


    Next...Tuscany!

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    Really wonderful trip report (wouldn't expect anything less from a Longhorn). I just love your traveling spirit.

    We too got hopelessly lost trying to find the Flamenco Museum in Seville. Must be a rite of passage. And I'm headed to Barcelona in two weeks, so I will keep an eye out for your feline friend!

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    Day 10 - Tuscany

    We wake up early and head downstairs to arrange a taxi to the airport and checkout. Our car arrives and we're quickly on our way. We're flying to Pisa via Vueling, so we check in and wait for one of the disability assistants to come usher us to our gate. As usual, we float through security without a glance and easily find our way. The assistant tells us that he will be back before the flight boards, leaving us with a little over an hour to find something to eat.

    We go searching for something light like we had in the airport in Seville. We decide to just get a couple of pastries, but as we get closer we see that they are just sitting out and literally covered in flies! I wonder again why no one thinks to cover the food. We end up getting two packaged muffins and some orange juice instead, hopefully enough to keep Michael from getting sick on the plane. We eat and then make our way back to the gate. When we arrive we see that our flight has been delayed an hour. No one seems to know why, but really its not a big deal to us since we don't have any connections.

    The hour passes quickly and we find out that the plane is late because it got delayed in Moscow. Two assistants come to help me onto the flight and we board without a problem. Its only 1.5 hours to Pisa and we spend the time talking about the upcoming days of our trip. As many summers as I've spent in Milan with my aunt, I've still never been to Tuscany. My cousin used to take me to the coast whenever I visited, but I've always wanted to see the countryside. Luckily my grandmother and father have only ever spoken to me in Italian, so I'm thoroughly conversational and getting around is easy.

    Our landing is uneventful and everyone piles off the plane. Two Italian men come to get me and seem impressed when I don't need any help transferring. There isn't a jet bridge here so a lift is brought to take me from the plane to the ground. As soon as we're outside we automatically feel the heat of the sun - it feels SO much hotter here than in Barcelona. We go inside and the airport is much smaller than I imagined. There isn't a customs check and we just collect our bags and head toward the rental car area. The signs direct us to a shuttle, which will take us to Hertz. The shuttle is packed and there is no way we are going to fit. I also notice that it doesn't appear to be wheelchair accessible. Before I know it the shuttle driver is staring at me through the windshield. He jumps out of his seat and asks me if we need to go to the rental cars. I say "yes" and he instantly starts throwing people off of the shuttle. He grabs a colleague and together they pick me and my chair up and put me right on. It all happened so fast that Michael is standing on the curb with a shocked look on his face. Already there is a noticeable difference in how they have dealt with my chair situation as opposed to how things were done in Spain. I feel bad for the people that got "thrown off" the shuttle and they all look rather peeved. We could have easily waited for the next one, but the driver didn't give us a chance to say anything before putting me on.

    The ride is less than 5 minutes and we're helped off by the driver and some other tourists. It is ridiculously hot in the rental office and we have to wait about 35 minutes in line. We finally make it to the front, I get the extra insurance and we're given our keys. We walk through the parking lot and find our car, an Opel that is actually pretty big. There is plenty of space for our bags and my chair, plus the car looks brand new. I only have nerve damage in my left leg, so still I'm still able to drive an automatic. However, I'm far too intimidated of driving in another country so Michael will be taking the wheel for the next five days.

    We are staying at a bed & breakfast in Montefollonico, a small town about 2.5 hours away. We brought our Garmin GPS and we hold our breath that it will work. We get to the highway and the GPS seems to be working fine. Mike gets the hang of driving in about 10 seconds and I flip through the radio stations until I find something we like. Michael is loving the high speeds and looks thrilled. He turns to me and says, "See, all those college years of playing racing video games have paid off." I laugh and roll my eyes.

    About an hour in we are starving. I see a sign for an Auto Grill and take the exit. The building is up on a hill and there are stairs to go in. I tell Mike to just go get us something, but he insists that there must be a way for me to get in. He walks around the side and finds a small elevator. We go in, but we can't figure out how to use it. I push all of the buttons, but nothing happens. It looks really old and run down, so I assume its just out of order and I start to roll out. Just then a little French woman runs over and helps us - apparently there is a certain way you have to push the buttons. We thank her and take a short ride to the top.

    Inside we are surprised to see that it is so much nicer than most rest stops in the US. There are lots of paninis that look delicious and we both decide to go with some of those. I order two prosciutto and cheese paninis and one order of bambolini (kind of similar to doughnut holes). There isn't anywhere to sit and its way too hot outside, so we just eat in the car. I'm still skeptical, because looks can be deceiving and in the end its still gas station food. We both take a bite and we're pleasantly surprised, the sandwiches were warmed for us and they're actually very good - a perfect, light lunch.

    We get back on the autostrada. The drive to Montefollonico really isn't pretty at all, just another highway covered in strip malls and gas stations. Mike is still having fun driving, maxing out at 164 kms (102mph) - much faster than he'd ever dare to drive back home. His stomach is full and he smiles and looks at me, "yeah...I could be Italian." I think to myself that if he likes this, just wait until we actually get to the good part.

    We come to our exit and enter Montefollonico. Our B&B is not really within town, but just outside of it within the hills. We are staying at Follonico (www.follonico.com) a small, 4-suite B&B that was converted from an old farmhouse. When I first read about this place online I fell in love with the idea. I was so worried that it wouldn't be accessible though, so I was nervous to read the response to the inquiry I had sent. Fabio, the owner of Follonico, e-mailed me back and assured me that he and his wife, Suzanne, would be able to accommodate me. To reassure me Fabio even took pictures of every step and doorway and sent them to me. Needless to say I was ecstatic and booked right away.

    Fabio also sent us some pictures of where to turn once we reach Montefollonico. The B&B doesn't register on a GPS and the road we have to take is winding and narrow. We finally get to see our first glimpse of beautiful Tuscany and Mike and I both say, "wow". The road seems to go on forever and we have to drive slowly since its so curvy. We see a little stone house in the hills and I get excited, hoping with all of my might that that is our place.

    We pull up to the house and I see a sign that says Follonico. It is literally surrounded on all sides by vineyards and we see sheep in the distance being herded by a jeep. We pull up and I see a woman with a little boy on her hip. She waves to us and has a huge smile, she must be Suzanne. The lady approaches us and introduces herself - indeed it is Suzanne and her two-year-old son Timothy. Fabio sees us and walks over and introduces himself as well. They are so welcoming and friendly, exactly how I imagined them to be. Fabio says that although I had said that one step wouldn't be a problem he went out of his way to buy some wood to make a ramp just in case. Wow!

    He shows us to our room, the Alba Chiara suite, which is accessed from the garden. This is the most wheelchair friendly suite, with only one small step. We go in and its even better than we had expected. Its huge! A spacious bedroom, a large living area and a generous size bathroom. Its rustic and quaint, yet modern. The design reminds me a lot of an Anthropologie store, with mismatched furniture that still seems to go perfectly together to create an utterly cozy, Tuscan setting. In the living area a small part of the wall is decorated with a shrine of Sophia Loren pictures - perfect. The bathroom has a rain shower and Fabio tells us that he bought me a plastic chair to use for it (again, wow!). Our windows and door overlook the vineyard and the tiny town of Pienza is perched on a nearby hill.

    Fabio says that he hopes we don't mind, but that he has reserved us a table at the best restaurant in Montefollonico for tonight. There are only two tables that don't require you to go down a few steps, so he wanted to make sure we got one of them. Michael and I are overwhelmed, both by the beauty of the house and our suite, as well as by how accommodating and hospitable Fabio and his wife are.

    They ask if we are comfortable with large dogs, because they do have a family dog - Priscilla. Apparently she is huge and one of the guests last week actually went running in the house screaming that a black bear was walking through the vineyard - when it was just Priscilla. We're wondering what kind of dog this is that she was mistaken for a bear, but just as we're about to ask another group of guests arrive.

    We fetch our bags from the car and take them to our suite. I spend the next 30 minutes looking at all the small details of the rooms that have collectively created this perfect getaway. We go outside and explore the grounds. The garden has ripe tomatoes growing on their vines and other newly growing vegetables. There are fresh linens hanging on the clothe's

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    Wow, that place in Tuscany sounds fantastic!
    You have discovered the joys of the Auto Grill. Some of them have full cafeterias and grocery stores in them and the food is usually really good. I've always thought that if we had places like that here in the US, there would be a lot less road rage out there.

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    I like the look of your B&B and it sounds like the hosts are wonderful. I especially like that they offer a 1 day rental of a vintage Fiat 500 (1966 or 1975). Now, that would be a fun way to cruise the countryside! I may have to give it a try.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this report. I am looking forward to enjoying more!

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    From a web site:

    Speed Limits

    Speed limits, September 2003

    In 2003, new speed limits were brought in. This photo shows a recent sign. The limits are: 130 kilometers per hour on the Autostrada, 110 on main highways, 90 outside of towns, 50 in towns. Other signs are posted indicating lower limits in effect for bad weather conditions.

    Drive With Lights On

    In 2002 a new law was passed to require that you have your headlights on at all times when driving on the Autostrada. You will see the sign "In Autostrada Anabbaglianti Sempre Accesi", meaning "On the Autostrada keep your running lights on."

    Do not be surprised if you receive multiple billings for speeding tickets in a few months.

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    Follonico was definitely an amazing place to stay and I can't imagine better hosts. I almost wanted to keep it a secret, but Suzanne & Fabio were so wonderful that I think they deserve the review. Its amazing to think that they only remodeled the farmhouse and opened the b&b two years ago.

    Zoecat - the fiat does sound really fun and glamorous, I wouldn't mind trying it myself next time.

    Michael - we know that there were speed limits, but we were still being passed by most vehicles so we didn't feel like we were being unreasonable. I know that "keeping up with the flow of traffic" is never a valid excuse, but perhaps it'll keep us from any tickets this time. If not, I guess everyone driving on the autostrada that day will be receiving some unwelcome mail :(

    I actually knew about the headlight law long ago. When my dad taught me to drive he always insisted I keep my lights on, even in the day. I always thought he was crazy and being overly paranoid, but it was just because he was used to having to do it in Italy. I still refuse to do it when driving at home though :)

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    Now where was I before Gabby so rudely interrupted me...

    There are fresh linens hanging on the clothesline and each clothespin is a different color, so cute! We decide to get something to drink and sit outside. The kitchen is open and there are a variety of waters, sodas and wines that we're welcome to take - the honor system is used and we'll pay for what we take when we checkout.

    There are chairs and benches all around the property, so we pick a set next to one of the vineyards and facing toward Pienza. Its so quiet and we enjoy just sitting and taking in our surroundings. This is the perfect break between the hustle and bustle of Barcelona and Rome. Mike fell in love with this place as soon as we pulled up and I can tell that its going to be one of his favorite stops - he's originally from Iowa and loves the countryside, though he's never seen anything quite like this.

    After a while we go inside and start to unpack. We put our clothes into an old chest and empty our toiletries into the bathroom. I notice the towels, which have an unusual texture (in a good way) and pick one up. The tag says that they're made in Tuscany and I make a mental note to ask Suzanne where exactly they're from. We shower and put ourselves together for dinner. By 7:30 we're starving and ask Fabio for directions to the restaurant. I ask him if he has any recommendations and he says, "Do you like pasta?" We of course say, "yes," to which he responds, "then just listen to whatever they tell you to order and tell me tomorrow morning how you liked it."

    We head back to Montefollonico and search for somewhere to park. Its a very small town, with very limited parking. I have my handicap tag from home, which I've been told will work in Italian handicap spots. There is only one handicap spot in the whole town and its full, so we search for anything that's open. We end up in a spot which we aren't positive is actually a spot at all. There is really no where else to park though so we cross our fingers that we don't come back to a ticket.

    We walk toward where we think the restaurant is and find it right away. Its called 13 Gobbi and is a relatively small place that is decorated simply, but very cozy. There is one large step to go in, but as soon as we approach it a man runs up to us and asks us if we want to eat. We say yes and he yells for another guy to come over. We're told that there is another entrance with no step, but not to worry about that since we're already here. He and the other guy pick my chair and I up effortlessly and leads us to a small table in the corner. The man who initially greeted us looks to be the owner and he brings us some menus. He highly recommends the tagliatelle with cacio e pepe then leaves us to glance over our options.

    We order a bottle of water and a bottle of Regale, a local red wine which we're told is the best on the menu (recall that Michael doesn't drink so this will be all mine). We also have the misto di bruschette to share. We're first each brought bruschetta drizzled with some of the most delicious olive oil I've ever had. Its so fresh and we gobble it up right away - this was not part of the misto and was just complimentary.

    Our bruschette arrives and there are 4 slices of thick-cut bread, each covered with different toppings. One has some sort of mushroom paste, one a traditional tomato, one with a sausage topping, and the last is a vegetable paste. They're all delicious, but I'm glad that we ordered one plate to share or I'd already be getting full.

    We both took the advice of the owner and ordered the Cacio e Pepe for our first plate. We watch as the man comes to our table with a hollowed-out pecorino cheese wheel, though we're not exactly sure why. A few minutes later he returns with a pot of freshly cooked pasta, which he pours into the cheese wheel. He mixes it around and scrapes the wheel so that chunks of cheese fall into the warm pasta. Now we understand why this dish is so special. Our two bowls are filled with the steaming pasta and fresh pepper is poured over the top. Seriously one of the best things we've ever eaten. We both clean our plates and could have easily finished a second helping of it. If you go to this restaurant do not even consider getting something other than this pasta!

    We watch as the restaurant starts to fill up and people are eventually turned away. It seems as though all the locals know about the cacio e pepe and we watch as it is made over and over for everyone else in the restaurant. The owner looks frantic and is running, literally running, back and forth. After he goes back and forth like this 10 times it kind of starts to get entertaining. He does this the entire night and I don't know how he isn't exhausted. Everyone can hear him coming as his shoes clack on the ground and we look up to see him scampering around like a crazy man.

    It takes a while for our second course, but we're happy that we have the time to digest and make space. I have the grilled steak and Mike has the wild boar stew with mushrooms & tomatoes. My steak is HUGE, but its cooked perfectly and melts in my mouth. Michael's boar is AMAZING and we're both thoroughly happy with our choices. We both agree that we would order everything again, until Michael gets to his last bite of boar. He has to spit it out and as soon as he does we instantly know why... There is a tiny piece that is covered in coarse, black hairs! Talk about ruining your appetite! At least it came in the last bite though and not early on.

    Even though we're stuffed we order chocolate cake and panna cotta for dessert. The cake is very dense and has a strong cocoa taste, but its delicious. The panna cotta is very good too, but I'm so stuffed that I only pick at it. Despite my size I finish almost all of the wine and a generous glass of limoncello and I'm still conscious (hah!). Its about 1:30 when we decide to pay our bill (96 euros) and head back to Follonico.

    I am disgustingly full and can't even imagine eating breakfast in the morning. Mike laughs and says, "Well I'm full, but miss breakfast? Lets not be ridiculous :)." Our drive "home" takes a while, as we have to drive so slow on the ultra-curvy road. Being the future nagging wife I of course tell him he's still going way too fast on this unfamiliar road, but he just brushes me off. I can't imagine driving on this in the winter, though the idea of filling my stomach with that cacio & pepe before going back to a stone cottage with a fireplace and cocoa sounds like a perfect winter day.

    We make it back and park in a small part of the yard that Fabio designated for us (the driveway is gravel and was a little difficult for my chair when we first arrived). Its cloudy so we can't see any stars, but its so quiet and the only thing we hear are crickets. We climb in bed for a peaceful night's sleep before our first full day of Tuscan exploration tomorrow.

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    Just want to say how much I'm enjoying your trip report - your powers of description are amazing. I have never heard of the pasta you describe and wonder if it's widely available or something unique to that particular restaurant? We'll be in Lucca next year so shall have to keep an eye open!

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    Janeog - thanks so much :). I've had cacio & pepe many times in Italy, I think its moreso the way it was made with mixing it in the cheesewheel that is unique to this restaurant.

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    There are two Italian restaurants (owned by the same people) in my Manhattan neighborhood that prepare cacio e pepe exactly as you describe. One of the restaurants is called "Cacio e Pepe."

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    (sorry for the threadjack about to take place :) )

    ellenem - I'm assuming it's this one? Would you recommend it beyond the novelty? I've been craving cacio e pepe since I got back from Italy, and I'll be in Manhattan next weekend...

    cacioepepe.com

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    I would highly recommend both Cacio e Pepe (I live half a block away) and its sibling a few blocks south, Cacio e Vino. Go to Cacio e Vino if you are craving pizza the way they make them in Italy--they have a wood burning pizza oven and use more of the traditional topping choices than famous Motorino around the corner.

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    Weird - it must require the www for some reason. The full link is the same web site I found. Serves me right for trying to be brief! Thanks for making sure I had the right info - and Leely, thanks for the review!

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    Oh my adoc! As soon as I read the line about you seeing Pienza down the hill... I thought of the best meal I've ever had in Italy.

    It was in Pienza and it was... Cacio e Pepe!! And the olive oil used in it was so phenomenal, that I asked for more bread just so I could soak up the oil from it. (I can still taste it after 18 months!)

    Additionally, when we arrived in Rome several days later, we stopped in at one of my favorite litte restaurants there, called Sor Eva. Though it was not on the menu, I asked the waiter if they could fix me some fettucini with Cacio e pepe. They did and it was just as fabulous as the one in Pienza. He even shaved the Pecorino into the bottom of the bowl first, so when he put the hot pasta on top, it formed a bowl of Pecorino. Marvelous!!!

    I bought a wheel of this fabulous Pecorina in Pienza. On my thrid night home in Texas, used it to make Cacio e Pepe for my friends. They still talk about it being their favorite meal I've ever served. (And I entertain a lot!)

    Thanks so much for the memories! I like your writing style and am really enjoying your report.

    Grazie!

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    Thanks for all the cacio e pepe discussion ellenem and jent103. We actually have plans to go to Manhattan for a few nights for my birthday and we'll definitely be visiting one of the mentioned restaurants.

    Jent103 - I don't mind the threadjack at all, ultimately its for the betterment of everyone's taste buds :)

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    Another reader giving you a thumbs up, very nicely written report. The Autogrills were a pleasant surprise for us too, couldn't believe food could be that good at on a highway rest stop, puts ours to shame...I'll take a panini over a quarter pounder any day (not that I even eat that stuff).

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    Another reader who has been truly enjoying your trip report, but who has yet to give the big thumb's up - but now that you are in bella Italia, let me add my enthusiastic appreciation of your trip, and your writing. Hope you gave Autogrill another try; we did not actually stop in one until maybe our third trip and were we ever sorry it took so long. The bigger ones, with the sitdown cafeterias, and the grocery gift stores, are amazing. My DH's favorite meal is cacio e pepe, and when I read your review, he's ready to go back - actually we going back in the spring, to Venice and the Veneto, not actually home for cacio e pepe, but I bet he finds one somewhere. Looking forward to the rest of your trip. Oh, and what you do with limited mobility is just amazing; two years ago we took a trip to Italy right after my husband had unexpected knee surgery. While he could walk slowly, he couldn't drive and we did use mobility services in 4 airports, 3 countries. It was quite an eye-opener, but if anything it did show us that travel is possible with adaptations. Brava to you.

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    The Autogrills were a pleasant surprise for us too, couldn't believe food could be that good at on a highway rest stop, puts ours to shame..>>

    we just got back from germany, and their "Marche" autobahn chain is very good. same in Austria where there is something similar. all fresh and seasonal and cooked to order.

    i wish we had that in the UK too, rather than the dreaded ..you know who.

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    'Thoroughly enjoying your report. I never wanted to go to Barcelona before...but now it's on my list! We were in Montefollonico in July but not at a mealtime. If only I had read this before going. The restaurant in NYC is now a must for me the next time I am there!

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    I'm enjoying your report very much. We spent a month in Spain last year and loved Sevilla and Barcelona. This year we were in Tuscany. We must have been near where you were. We were near Montepulciano. We were in an apartment in a renovated old farmhouse. The owners lived upstairs and they had three apartments on the ground level. Our place was the former barn for the cows and you could see the rounded bricks (about cow shoulder height) in the arches left in place. I'm sad, though, that we didn't hear about your meal of pasta in a cheese wheel. That sounds wonderful. Another reason to go back.

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    I forgot to mention that when we were in Sevilla we also stayed at the Hotel Amadeus. Our room, though, while charming was pretty small and crowded. We also went to the bullfight ring and found it very interesting. Originally, my husband wanted to go to a bullfight and I didn't know if I wanted to go or not. One late afternoon we were resting up in the hotel and there was a bullfight on TV. We watched it there and decided we didn't need to go to the real thing. The tour of the ring, though, was fascinating. We also went to a flamenco show. My seat was not very good - there were two people directly in front of me, so I didn't enjoy it as much as my husband did. I found I spent most of the time trying to bob and weave so I could see what was happening. The Alcazar was lovely.

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    Day 11- Tuscany

    We wake up to our first morning in Tuscany. Its overcast, but still beautiful and it doesn't feel as hot as yesterday. We head to the kitchen for breakfast, which is served from 8 to 10am. We have the option of sitting outside or inside, both at small tables with the cutest settings I've ever seen. As we reach the kitchen another couple arrives as well, they are Dan and Sarah from Seattle. We all decide to have breakfast together at the table outside. We sit and get to know each other a little bit, all of us gushing about how much we love Follonico. Sarah is very pregnant and they are using this trip through Italy as a last hurrah before their first baby arrives.

    Inside on a small table there is coffee, juice and hot water for tea. Mike and I opt for tea, so he goes to fill our cups. Sarah and I adore the polka dot milk/sugar containers and flowered teacups. One thing is for sure, if Suzanne did the decorating at the B&B then she has amazing taste and a flair for design. Breakfast is also laid out on another small table. There are fresh cheeses, meats and bread. On another platter are pastries, sweet bread, fruits and jams. Its so quaint and everything is so fresh - the perfect breakfast.

    We eat and chat about our new friends' upcoming plans. What is funny is that another couple arrives and greet us with a happy "good morning." The woman is also pregnant and her and Sarah have the same due date, what a coincidence! They take a picture together and exchange e-mails to track each other's progress.

    After breakfast Fabio brings us a map that he created for all of the guests. It is very detailed with the most scenic routes highlighted for all of the close, small Tuscan towns. We draws us a sample route for our first day, which will allow us to see some of the countryside as well as some hill towns. We definitely want to venture out on our own, but we're here for 5 days and we figure that following his advice for day 1 will help us get our bearings.

    Our first stop is Pienza, which is only about 10-15 minutes away. We drive back to Montefollonico and on to the road that will take us straight to Pienza. Its so close that we don't see a lot of countryside along the way, but what we do see is gorgeous. Although Fabio and Suzanne are praying for rain (it hasn't rained in 35 days), we are hoping that it will hold off while we're here.

    We come to Pienza and follow the blue parking signs. We find a spot in a residential area and take advantage of it - its Sunday so we don't know if we have a chance of finding anything closer and its really not too far from the city walls. We walk to the town and see a huge banner that says, "Fiera del Cacio" a cheese festival from September 2nd through 4th, what luck! We head inside the walls and see people filtering through the small streets. Even though there is a festival, its not overly crowded at all and we're so excited that we happened to catch this. I first head straight to a small ceramic shop on the left, which has lots of brightly colored bowls, plates and oil cruets. There are lots of different patterns and I see so many things that I'd love to bring home, but we leave empty handed.

    We start walking down the main artery of the town, passing carts of cheese with every step. The town literally smells like cheese right now and people are buying up wheels of it right and left. We come to a church on our left, which is taped off with a crowd surrounding it. Some type of game is going on and there are occasional cheers and claps. I can't see over the crowd, so we decide to try to get a better view on our way out. We continue walking through the bustling street and I'm so happy. I'm sure we will see plenty of sleepy hill towns, so we're glad to see one that's very much alive. Children are running around, excited and playing, while their parents browse the carts of cheese. We stop and and try lots of delicious samples, wishing our suitcases were bottomless and could accommodate a few wheels. We continue down the street, wandering in and out of shops.

    We walk along and come to a road named Dell'Amore and Mike laughs as I take a picture of the sign. I look to my left and down the same road is a spectacular view of Tuscan hills. We walk down this way and as far out as you can see are beautiful rolling hills, vineyards, cypress trees and stone farmhouses. Its idyllic and we stay here for a few minutes, just absorbing the amazing view while the scent of pecorino floats through the air. We love Pienza!

    We walk around the perimeter and take in the views from every angle. We've been wandering for about two hours and decide to head back to the car. We aren't sad to leave because we know we'll be visiting Pienza again since its so close to where we're staying. On the way back we stop to try to get a glimpse of what game is being played by the church. I peek my head through some people and see that there are teams of men in different colored shirts. They're playing a game on the ground that reminds me of curling in the Olympics. Everyone is really into it and cheer loudly when someone does well. Anyone know what this game is?

    We head back to the car, thrilled with our first hill town. Pienza is very flat and in my opinion very wheelchair friendly. A couple of the shops had one step to enter, but a lot of them didn't have any steps at all and the door frames were always wide enough to enter with my chair. The town is fully cobble-stoned, but they are in good shape and not too difficult to maneuver.

    We reach the car and set out for our next town, San Quirico. We drive a very scenic route and have a fun time listening to Italian music, while I snap pictures along the way. We reach San Quirico, which definitely looks to be asleep. We actually find a handicap parking spot and we hope that everything I've read about being able to us our US handicap tag in Italy is correct.

    By this time my stomach is starting to bother me and I'm feeling a little nauseous. Even so we're both pretty hungry and decide to find something to eat. We walk through the town, which looks dead. Everything is closed, everything. Even if it weren't though we don't see a lot of shops we'd be interested in visiting anyway. We walk for quite a while before we find a restaurant that looks open. We decide to eat at a place called Il Pozzo and make our way in. There is one step that is not a problem, but after that there is a ton of deep gravel which gives me a problem. One of the owners sees me and runs over to help, making sure we're able to get to the closest table. We sit outside in a small courtyard and most of the tables around us are full. The owner tells me that they actually have a portable ramp that I could use to sit inside (there are 3 steps to go in), but we decide to stay in the courtyard. In order to get to the entrance to go inside we would have to maneuver through much more gravel and it would be far too troublesome.

    We order bruschette with olive oil to start, which is delicious (though not as good as 13 Gobbi). Mike orders the pici with meat sauce and I have the pici with meat sauce and mushrooms. Both come out and are fantastic, homemade pasta is Michael's favorite. We're both fulfilled and with one liter of water and two cokes our bill comes to 25 euros. We rush out because it starts to sprinkle and we don't want to get caught in a downpour. Overall San Quirico didn't really leave much of an impression on us, but I'm sure it would have been different if we hadn't have visited on a Sunday afternoon. There were some gradual hills, but nothing too steep and it was perfectly doable on my own.

    We find the car and head back to Follonico - we don't feel like walking through any towns in the rain. The sky is so dark, but it actually looks really pretty and quite striking against the wheat-colored hills. We pass by a field of sunflowers that have all dried up due to lack of water. Its a shame because the field would have been beautiful in bloom.

    We reach Follonico and it looks as though the rain hasn't reached this area yet. We get out of the car and as I'm walking toward the house I see a big, black dog. She spots me at the same time and before I know it she's running right toward me at full speed. This would definitely be intimidating if you are scared of dogs or uncomfortable with her size. Luckily I grew up with a doberman and a timber wolf (yes really, a timber wolf) so I am more excited than afraid as Priscilla approaches me. She is extremely friendly, running circles around Mike and jumping all around like she couldn't be happier. She grabs my forearm in her mouth, but I know she's just playing and she doesn't bite down hard. We can barely move because she's so happy to see us that she won't get out of our way. We've been missing our dogs so we're both really happy to have finally met her. She bounds off to the side and comes back with a 6 foot branch in her mouth! She runs around like a nut, but she's adorable and I love her already.

    We walk over to the benches we sat on yesterday and she follows us over. We're trying to figure out what kind of dog she is, but we really have no idea. She has long hair that has matted into dreadlocks, but it suits her and is pretty cute. She grabs my arm again and we gently play tug of war with it. Although she is big, she is not nearly as large as I imagined - surely not big enough to mistaken for a bear.

    Suzanne spots us and walks over. At first she looks concerned to see my arm in Priscilla's mouth, but I assure her that its fine and that I'm used to big dogs. We find out that she is a Giant Schnauzer, although she doesn't look it due to her long hair. She is only a year old, which explains her energy and playfulness.

    We sit outside for a while. Mike listens to his ipod and I write in my journal, all the while Priscilla is laying right by us. We see a car pull up and Suzanne runs over to greet them. A man and two women step out and Suzanne guides them to a room near where we are sitting. Priscilla goes to greet them too, but doesn't look very excited and seems a little wary of the man. Instantly the man says, "Excuse me, excuse me!" as Priscilla hesitantly tries to sniff his leg. At first we think he's joking, but he repeats it and is serious. He then turns to Suzanne and says, "This is going to be a problem." She asks if he is afraid of dogs and he says no, that he has dogs at home, but that he would like the dog to be confined or tied down. Suzanne looks surprised, but apologizes and agrees to tie Priscilla down. Call me judgmental but I am instantly not liking this guy. Its one thing if you don't like dogs or you're afraid of them, but he seems like he's just being difficult for the sake of being difficult. A woman who I assume to be his wife looks embarrassed and turns away.

    We go back to our room and lounge for a while. I'm loving this part of the trip - see some gorgeous views, eat some delicious food, lounge and read for a while with Italian music in the background. Around 6:30 we head back to Pienza for dinner. We have reservations at Latte di Luna for 7:00.

    We find parking in a small lot with an open handicap spot. We make our way to the restaurant, which has a cute little terrace with vines and lights. As soon as we're seated people start to pile in and are instantly turned away if they don't have a reservation. Luckily we made ours earlier this afternoon when we happened to walk by and see the restaurant.

    I order the tagliatelle with truffles and Mike has the pici with tomatoes and garlic. Of course we order more bruschette because we love bread and carbs are my friend while on vacation :)

    The restaurant is full in 20 minutes and its clear that you don't have a chance without reserving in advance. Our pastas come and they're fabulous! The tagliatelle with truffles is delicious and Mike devours his pici. I'm so full and starting to regret that I ordered a second course. Luckily it takes quite a while for our next plates to come out, but I'm so glad that it does. My stomach is still bothering me and I'm hoping that I don't have some type of 48 hour bug.

    Our second courses come out. I had ordered roast beef with mushrooms and Mike ordered the plain roast beef. When it arrives we're both surprised that it isn't at all what we expected. It is very thinly sliced pieces of beef with gravy and mushrooms on it, almost like deli roast beef. Its good, but not mind blowing. Just the same I'm thankful that its so light because I don't think I could have eaten anything heavy.

    We order the misto di gelato for dessert, which turns out to be a sampling of three homemade ice creams - hazelnut, orange, and zabaione. The hazelnut is our favorite, but all three are tasty. We sit and linger for awhile, finally paying our bill at 11pm. We leisurely walk back to the car and enjoy our drive back to Follonico. Its a cool night and its so nice to have the windows down and to listen to the crickets and Italian music on the radio. A Vasco Rossi song comes on and instantly reminds me of a Rossi concert I went to years ago in Milan with my cousin. Life is good.

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    Ifnotnow_when - the place you stayed in Tuscany sounds lovely! There are so many gems to be found there in terms of places to stay.

    kwren- I'm so happy that you've changed your mind about Barcelona! We truly loved it.

    annhig - "i wish we had that in the UK too, rather than the dreaded ..you know who." Who? I've been to the UK, but never driven through to have the chance of experiencing any "road food." I'm curious what you're referring to so that we can avoid it in the future... :)

    Owlwoman, Sarge56, & Socaltraveler - thanks so much for your kind words, I'm glad you're enjoying the report!

    txtree - I hope you have a wonderful time in Barcelona, though isn't it impossible not to? Do let me know if you happen to see my feline friend :)

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    I think annhig is referring to: KFC, McDonalds, and Burger King! They are littered all over our motorways in England!>>

    got it in one, jamikins.

    the ordinary cafe fare [where you can get it] isn't much better and Costa, well, costs, doesn't it?

    oh for well cooked, fresh food.

    i suppose they think there's no call for it.

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    I had the tagliatelle with truffles at Latte de Luna too and loved it...my first truffles!

    And I have to guess that the Pienza festival involved rolling cheese wheels - but I don't know anything about how it's p[layed if that's the right guess. If that's what it was, what cool festival to happen upon! I'd love to see it myself someday! Don't forget to give us the details!

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    This is just great! I'm enjoying every step you took and every road you drove. I was in Tuscany a couple of years ago and am reliving it all. Right down to Latte di Luna! More, please.

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    Day 12 - Tuscany

    We wake up around 7:30 and I'm overjoyed that the sun is out. We get ourselves together and head out to breakfast, sitting with Dan and Sarah again. We talk about the previous day and what everyone liked most. Sarah tells me that she was awakened this morning by the sound of lots of tiny bells. She went outside and it was a flock of sheep on the side of a nearby hill, each of them with a little bell around their neck. I'm hoping that we'll get to experience this ourselves one morning.

    The new guests come out and join us for breakfast as well. The man seems like he is kind of in a bad mood, but his wife and her sister are lovely. They are visiting from Australia and are on a 2.5 month trip through Europe. We ask what their plans are for the day and he man proceeds to go through a detailed itinerary covering the next two months - never spending more than 3 days in any one place. Mike and I are exhausted just hearing about it and can't imagine spending two months rushing around that way.

    Today our breakfast consists of the same type of options as yesterday. Fresh cheeses and meats, but also some different breads, pastries, and fruits. Mike and I have tea and fill up on the variety of delicious foods. Dan and Sarah are leaving today for Venice, so we say our goodbyes and wish them well with the rest of their trip and their baby.

    We head to the car and toward our first stop: Montepulciano. The drive is gorgeous and the sun highlights the land amazingly. I take an endless amount of pictures along the way, as Mike drives and follows the GPS' instructions. I had been warned several times that this town is filled with steep slopes and that the town itself sits atop a very steep hill. Nonetheless I feel like there is no way we could visit this region of Italy without visiting this town, so we are taking our chances and adventuring out anyway.

    We come to Montepulciano and hunt down a parking spot. We find one (at the bottom of the hill, of course) and start making our way toward town. People weren't lying when they said that the hill to get into the city walls is steep! Mike gets his first workout of the day pushing me up, something that would have been impossible on my own. Residents turn to watch me, all with the same expressions on their face - wondering what on earth I'm doing here. We're determined not to let this hill beat us and a few minutes later we make it to the top. There are a good amount of people here, but not as many as there were at the festival in Pienza. We begin to stroll down some roads, most of which are gradual hills that are difficult, but not impossible. Every now and then we come to one that is too hard for me to do on my own and Mike has to pitch in. We see an empty handicap spot in the middle of the town, which is irritating to both of us. This happens in most of the towns we visit in Tuscany, but to be honest we're too afraid to drive through the towns in search of a handicap spot because we don't want to get a ticket for driving through a pedestrian only area. Oh well, at least we worked off our breakfast :)

    There are cute little artisan shops everywhere, most of which only have one step to enter. I give into temptation and go into a leather store, which has rich leather boots, bags, and jackets. Just my kind of place :) I see a couple of pairs of beautiful shoes, but we don't have the space for them. If I had it my way I'd be leaving Italy with a lot of wearable souvenirs, much like my cousin does when he visits me in the states - years ago he once left with 7 pairs of Nike Jordans! But I resist temptation and we continue down the street.

    We come to some seriously fantastic views and we are in awe of our surroundings. The views alone are worth the visit to Montepulciano and we spend at least 25 minutes just taking it all in. Although I understand why people were apprehensive about me visiting Montepulciano, I am so happy that we were able to conquer the hills and explore this Tuscan gem. We walk around for about another 40 minutes before heading back to the car.

    We decide to make Monticchiello our next stop. I put it into the GPS and we're on our way. We're led to a TINY, dirt road which is barely wide enough for one car. After driving down for 10 minutes I start to wonder if this GPS is on the fritz and taking us the wrong way. Our car is surrounded by a thin cloud of dust (good thing we don't have a convertible!) and there are no signs or other cars in sight. The views of the valley below are so fantastic though that we decide to continue on and see where the road takes us. We drive along for what seems like forever, but its the best scenery we've experienced so far and neither of us is protesting to turn around. Even if we never make it to Monticchiello I think that we would consider this to be one of the best moments of the trip.

    We continue on the winding road and eventually see a sign that says Monticchiello, ensuring us that we're on the right track. We drive a little longer until we spot a little town up ahead. Breathtaking views surround it! As amazing as the views from Pienza and Montepulciano were, I think this takes the cake. We drive up the hill and find a parking spot easily. There really isn't anyone here except for a small group of tourists doing a wine and cheese tasting. We walk into the deserted town - not only lacking tourists, but locals as well. This is a very tiny town and we walk throughout the entire thing in less than 30 minutes, the whole time only seeing an elderly woman sweeping around her house. Its peaceful and quiet, void of anything remotely cheesy or touristy. We are both getting hungry, but we only see one restaurant the entire time and there are too many steps to enter. My stomach is still uneasy and giving me problems, so its probably better that we wait to eat anyway.

    Before getting back into the car we enjoy the views a little longer. Olive groves and vineyards surround us, with cypress trees dancing many of the nearby hills. There really isn't a lot to do in this town, to us it was all about the drive, which in itself was totally worth it. It is very flat and in terms of accessibility (except for the restaurant) its pretty easy to get around in a chair.

    Back on the road we're headed to Montalcino. At this point I've had a bottle and a half of water and I'm really hoping that we'll be able to find an accessible public bathroom. In Pienza there was actually a pretty large bathroom with a wheelchair accessible stall in one of the public parking lots.

    By the time we get to Montalcino its already 1:40pm. I don't want to risk missing the Gregorian chants at Sant'Antimo (at 2:45), so rather than visit the town we decide to go straight to the abbey - my bladder will just have to wait. The abbey sits alone in a valley and is so picturesque I almost can't believe it. As soon as we get our first glimpse we're both ecstatic and I'm crossing my fingers that I'll be able to go in. There is a small parking lot with only a handful of cars and we easily find a spot. We get out of the car and study the abbey from the outside for a few minutes. I've seen tons of pictures and I'm happy to say that its even more beautiful in person. You know how you see a picture of something gorgeous, then you finally visit it only to find that its surrounded by touristy shops, graffiti-covered walls or God forbid a McDonalds? Yeah, that's definitely not the case here. The building is surrounded by rolling hills covered in olive groves and vineyards, with bales of hay that are so perfectly placed that I almost wonder if they were staged.

    We walk toward the entrance, where I find lots and LOTS of gravel, ugh. Its a few layers deep so it is pretty troublesome and I have to keep doing wheelies so that my front tires don't just go deeper and deeper. My wheels are covered in white dust from the rocks and its starting to cover my hands, but I'm determined to go in this building. We come to the door and my heart sinks as I see a total of 4 steps to get in - 2 steps up to the door, then 2 steps down into the actual building. Usually we don't deal with the trouble of this or Mike would be picking me up all day, but Mike refuses to let me miss it and scoops me right up. He takes me in and sets me on a pew, then goes back for my chair. I'm so happy! I get in my chair and walk around the abbey, which is mainly empty except for a handful of people. While most churches are peaceful, I feel an unusual overwhelming feeling of calm here. Its almost like you can feel that there is nothing around you, even if you didn't look outside to know it.

    More people begin to filter in, but they only stay for a few minutes before leaving. At this point I feel awful, my bladder is about to bust and I'm starting to feel nauseous again. For a second I consider turning to Mike and telling him that we have to leave, but a monk enters the room and begins to prepare for the prayers. Right on the dot monks begin to file in at 2:45. The chanting begins and its so soothing, I'm so glad I didn't suggest that we leave. It annoys me to see someone videotaping the monks since there are multiple signs that say "no photos or video," but I really don't know why I'm surprised.

    The echos of the chants are beautiful and the 15 minutes flies by. At the end the monks file out as quickly as they came, leaving no evidence that they had even been there at all. We waste no time and go right to the car, driving back toward the town of Montalcino. We quickly find a parking spot and begin our search for a public bathroom. We walk around the town, not paying attention to anything, just looking for a restroom for me. Why I drank so much on a "road trip" I have no idea, I guess that I forgot that finding an accessible bathroom here isn't an easy feat. I get so frustrated and go in to a random store to ask if they happen to know of a public restroom. The lady I ask repeats my question and the expression on her face doesn't make me happy. She doesn't think that there is one, but says that we might have some luck in the fortress.

    Mike and I head that way, where we meet a GIANT slope to enter the fortress. I see people struggling to get strollers up the slope, and Mike quickly starts to push me up. Its dangerously steep, and if I I weren't so desperate for a bathroom I think that we would have skipped the fortezza altogether. We get to the top, only to be disappointed. I'm annoyed that we can't find a bathroom, but also that we can't enjoy Montalcino. We go back down the slope and back to our car. At this point we're both really irritated - no bathroom and we haven't eaten lunch either.

    Mike speeds off in hopes that we'll find somewhere that might have a restroom, but the problem is that it can't just have a restroom, wherever we stop has to have an accessible bathroom. I'm starting to think that we might have to drive all the way back to Follonico, which is over an hour away! About 15 minutes later Mike pulls into a gas station, which has a handicap symbol on their sign. I'm not sure if this symbol means an accessible bathroom, or simply that the building itself is accessible. Nonetheless I go in and am thrilled when the attendant tells me that I can indeed use the restroom! I never would have guessed that gas stations in Italy would have wheelchair accessible bathrooms!

    I come out to find that Michael has purchased some snacks and drinks, since we're starving and its far too late to eat lunch now. Although we could turn back around to explore Montalcino, we're both tired and decide to leave that for our next trip. We enjoy the peaceful drive back to Follonico and again appreciate the wonderful weather.

    We arrive and decide to relax a little bit in our room. I sit and write in my journal, while Mike looks through our pictures and listens to his ipod. The doors to our place are open and I look up to see Priscilla in the doorway. She is looking at me and as soon as I acknowledge her she invites herself in to greet us. She walks around our room, looking happy that we are glad to see her. After exploring for a few minutes she goes back outside, but comes back to see us periodically. It starts to make us miss our girls (a Yorkie-Shih Tzu mix and a Chihuahua) and I can't imagine how we'd feel if we left actual children behind, hah.

    Around 8 o'clock we head back to Pienza, we're starving and the town is ridiculously convenient to our location. I'm still feeling pretty crappy so we decide to go for something light and end up at a little pizzeria just outside of the city walls. As soon as we walk in two women run to make sure that I have plenty of room to fit between tables. We're seated and given menus - nothing fancy, just pizza and simple pasta dishes. I order the four cheese pizza and Michael has the gnocchi. The restaurant is pretty full, mainly with what look to be locals and our food comes out relatively quickly. Mike's gnocchi are good, but not great. My pizza is very good, but my stomach can't handle much and I don't finish it. I order lemon sorbet for dessert and Mike has the chocolate cake, which actually turns out to be 4 mini chocolate tarts. Both are good, but by the time we're finished I'm definitely ready to go back "home" and relax. I cross my fingers that tomorrow this "bug" will be gone and that I'll feel better...

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    Jamikins & Annhig - ahh, I see. I didn't realize the UK had quite the same problems with options in regard to road trip food as we do in the states. I guess we're all in the same boat :(

    Kwren - I'm not quite sure if they were actually cheese wheels being used in the game or not. To be honest I never really considered that it was cheese, but it does make sense doesn't it!

    Tdudette - I have no doubt that whenever you're able make it to Follonico that you will wholeheartedly enjoy it. Don't forget the requisite visit to 13 Gobbi!

    Muskoka, Raincitygirl, & Sheri_Ip - thanks so much, I'm really glad you guys are enjoying it :)

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    Day 13 - Tuscany

    I wake up early, hoping that I'll get to hear the little bells of the sheep on one of the nearby hills. No luck, but its another beautiful day. We head to breakfast, and while I'm feeling better I still go light and just have some bread and jam.

    We're sitting in the dining room when the Australians join us. We talk about our day yesterday and the husband asks us if we had visited Pienza yet. I say yes and that we love it! He responds by telling us that they visited the town yesterday and didn't like it at all (how is that possible?!). In fact, they aren't impressed with Tuscany in general! He asks us where we're going next and I say Rome. Guess what, they just came from there and didn't like that city either! He goes on to say that before Rome they had been in the UK, and that it wasn't appealing to them in the least. Ooookkk.... Mike and I really don't even know what to say and just sit for an awkward moment. They go on to ask where we're from and when we say Baltimore the man sneers and says, "I wasn't impressed with the east coast of the states, the west is much better." Alrighty then, big surprise. But really I would never tell someone that I really don't like the area that they're from, I just think that's so rude!

    I change the subject and ask them where in Australia they're from, saying that I'd love to visit there sometime. It turns out that they live about an hour outside of Melbourne. The man goes on to say that he hates both Sydney and Melbourne - is there any place in the world that he likes?! His wife & sister-in-law chime in to say that they both disagree with him and they go on to give us tips on places we might like if we ever do make it to Australia. I'm pleasantly surprised with their positive response, as opposed to the negative conversation we've been having with this man for the last 15 minutes. That's when it happens...I ask the wrong question, although I really still don't understand why he reacted in such a way... I say, "so I just watched a show on the discovery channel a few weeks ago about spiders in Australia. Is that something you have to worry about on a daily basis? The show kind of made it seem like you constantly have to be on the lookout..." He looks at me, smirks and says, "The gun policies in America are much scarier than any spiders." Wow, really?! I was seriously just asking a question about spiders, not insinuating anything negative about Australia just because they happen to inhabit the continent. He is giving us the dirtiest look and I'm half-expecting him to start blaming us for being personally responsible for the state of the world's economy too. This turn in the conversation is our cue to leave, so we wish them well on the rest of their trip (they're leaving today for Cinque Terre - which I'm sure they'll hate - and we won't miss them, hah :) ) and make our way to the car.

    Our day is pretty open for the most part. We decide to go to Volterra, which initially I wasn't sure whether I wanted to visit or not. I know this is the city in one of the Twilight books/movies, but I am not a "Twilighter" by any means. I had read that the city actually offers Twilight tours now and images of a really cheesy, touristy city filled with Twilight t-shirts pops into my head. Despite this we decide to give it a chance since we're going to San Gimignano today and Volterra is not far from it.

    We start our 1.5 hour drive, happy to explore a part of Tuscany that we haven't seen yet. We drive, switching back and forth between different radio stations and enjoying the beautiful scenery - seriously, how could someone not think this is gorgeous? It isn't long before we come to a traffic jam, the first we've encountered on the trip. Its a really curvy road and at first we can't see whats going on. We sit still most of the time, moving at a glacial pace when we move at all. We finally see that a man on a Vespa has been hit and is laying on the ground, looking to have a broken arm. Other than that everyone looks to be okay and the police have already arrived. We slowly make it past the scene and are back en route to Volterra.

    Our GPS has been wonderful so far and to be honest I think it works better here than back at home! The only problem we have is when we reach some construction, where rather than follow the signs (oh Michael...) we follow the GPS instructions, which leads us in circles around a tiny town. Despite everyone saying that their GPS has worked great in Europe, I was still hesitant about depending on it for this trip. But Mike has been determined to prove to me that his GPS would be flawless, which is why he decided to follow it rather than taking what was obviously the right way. We're definitely lost, because the GPS is taking us to roads that don't even exist! I insist that we just backtrack and follow the sign that says "Volterra." He admits defeat and turns around, where eventually our GPS corrects and shows that we are indeed going the right way.

    There are some breathtaking views on the way up to Volterra, but it is definitely quite a drive. We finally make it and find a parking garage right when we come to the town. We enter the garage, which is PACKED. Cars are crammed together and unless these people are stick figures I really have no idea how some of them will get back into their vehicles. We go down each level, only to find that it is full. I'm beginning to wonder if the ticket machine at the entrance was correct in knowing if there are any spots left, but we finally find one and somehow squeeze in to it - still leaving enough room for my chair to fit between the cars. We get out and I'm instantly wondering if there is an elevator, because if not its going to be quite a workout to get back to ground level. Luckily there is one and we make our way up and out of the garage. It is hot today and we instantly feel the intensity of the sun as we walk toward the town. I see the fortress, but it definitely doesn't look accessible - people are making their way up steps to get to different parts of it.

    When we get to the town I instantly make my way to a little ceramic shop, which has some really beautiful pieces. I fall in love with a lamp that I would love to have for our future home, but its huge and so is the price tag. We do end up buying a set of oil & vinegar cruets that are hand-painted and made in Volterra - not my lamp, but I still love them :). We walk further into town and its not what I expected at all! Its actually very quaint. There are tourists, but despite what we expected after seeing the garage there really aren't a ton of people. Plus there is no Twilight merchandise or costumes in sight! Its very easy to maneuver through with my chair, not too hilly and I'm able to get around without any of Mike's help. There are lots of shops and restaurants and overall the town seems very alive. We're both so happy that we decided to ignore our initial judgments and to come here anyway. We stop at a small restaurant for lunch, where we both have pizza that is sold by the slice. Its pretty good for "fast food" and we finish up and continue to explore the town. There aren't a lot of real sights to see here (or maybe we just missed them?) but I really like it and would definitely recommend a visit. While I'm not a Twilighter, Mike's sister is and I end up buying her some pretty soap that is shaped like lemons and attached to vine-like greenery (yes, I know lemons grow on trees, not vines ;) ) - making sure that the tag says Made in Volterra, which she'll probably think is cooler than the gift itself.

    We find a stationary store and I'm in heaven. I LOVE stationary of all kinds and would be equally as happy receiving a nice pen for Christmas as I would with getting a new ipod. There are tons of leather journals, ballpoint pens, and fountain pens (my fave!) among other things. I browse over everything, trying to come up with a reason or excuse of why I really, definitely need a wax seal - surely there is someone that I could write to via snail-mail that would appreciate this unique touch without thinking that I'm some kind of nut, right? Hmm, maybe not. Michael is amused, as he often is with me, and sadly I leave empty handed.

    After a few hours we decide that we better leave and head to San Gimignano. On our walk back to the parking garage what do we see...a store full of Twilight shirts! Of course! But it makes us laugh and isn't as much of a downer as I had expected it to be. We pay our parking garage ticket (4 euros) and go down to find our car. Different people have since parked next to us and there is no way that I can squeeze in. Mike can't even get into the driver's side and has to climb through the passenger door, cursing the whole time of course, haha. He backs up so I can get in the car and then we're off to San Gimi.

    About 30 minutes later we come to the town. It looks busy and crowded, with no street parking spots available. We opt for another paid garage, rather than wasting time trying to find a city spot. At first the machine says that the lot is full, so we wait about 3 minutes before pushing the button again to find that room is now available. We go in and there are actually a lot of empty spots, so we find one easily and make our way out. There are restrooms in this garage, including a handicap accessible room - though before you even reach the bathrooms you can smell the urine reeking from that direction and I would suggest you wait if you're able to, they're not in good condition.

    We head out of the garage and I can see the towers of the town. Its quite a walk from where we're parked to the city center, and VERY hilly. I had been warned about this, but you know me :). Some of the hills are quite steep though and anyone in a chair will definitely need assistance on these. We walk for a long time, at a slow pace. The sun, the drive and the walking is getting to us. We finally make it to the main square and we're exhausted. We decide to stop for ice cream and end up at a place that boasts about the contests it has won for being the best gelateria in the world. There is a long line and people are ruthless! Pushing and shoving, as if there won't be enough for everyone and they're desperate to get to the front of the shop. Mike yells our orders out - I have hazelnut and strachitella, while he has panna cotta and pistachio. We get our ice cream and fight our way toward the exit, where people just stare at me and don't move to the side to let me by. Really? Do they expect me to teleport myself to the other side? Despite no reaction to me saying "excuse me" in 4 different languages, as well as tapping them to get their attention (although they were already staring!), none of them move. I eventually squeeze my way by and we find a place to sit outside to enjoy our sweet treat and the view. The gelato is phenomenal and I can see why they've won awards.

    I'm sad to say that after this we walk around for maybe 45 minutes before deciding to head home. I wish we had had more energy to explore this town and I chalk it up to not planning our day out well. I don't think we expected to like Volterra so much and had expected to only be there for less than an hour. Oh well, it was a good day anyway and I don't regret it. We deal with the crazy hills again to get back to the garage, which take the last bit of energy we have left.

    Our drive home is long, but relaxing. I make sure to call and confirm our balloon ride for tomorrow morning, which is still scheduled to take off on time. Tomorrow we'll have to be in Siena by 6 am, so when we get back to our area we decide to just go straight to dinner, and where would that be? You guessed it! Pienza, of course. Its a good thing we like this town! We park in our usual area and walk around, looking for anything that catches our eye. We walk down a tiny alleyway and find La Buca di Enea, which is a VERY small restaurant of 7 tables with two seats each. Its only 7 o'clock, but two tables are already full so we go right in (there is one medium step). The restaurant is owned by a husband and wife and the walls are covered in photos of their family and of their travels around the world. We're seated at one of the tiny tables and given menus. We order bruschetta with pecorino, olive oil and chives, as well as water and a glass of white wine. The bruschetta is only one piece of bread, but its huge and quite enough for the both of us - delicious! The place fills up quick and its not long before people are being turned away. For our meal I have the ravioli with spinach & ricotta in a butter sauce, while Mike has the lasagna. No second courses tonight - we're going light. Everything is very good and the service is great. We bypass dessert tonight, but we do enjoy some sweet wine that the owner brings to our table. Its about 9 o'clock and rather than hang around, we decide to open our table up for one of the many couples that are continuously being turned away.

    We drive back to Follonico and crash almost right away. Super early morning tomorrow!

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    We drive back to Follonico and crash almost right away. Super early morning tomorrow!>>

    for a moment I misunderstood and thought that you'd had a crash - so glad you didn't!

    we had problems with our GPS in Germany - it also put us onto non-existent roads and ignored obvious roads like the autobahn.

    loved your description of the conversation with the aussies - sadly there ARE people who never like where they are and always want to be somewhere else.

    looking forward to your early morning start!

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    Day 14 - Tuscany

    We wake up at 4:30am and quickly get dressed. As soon as we go outside we both gasp -its been cloudy every night so far, so this is the first time we've seen the sky clear while its dark. The stars are so bright and it feels like we're in a planetarium. You don't realize the effect of light pollution, until you see a sky without any. We carefully make our way to the car, making sure not to make too much noise to wake up Prischilla. Its so early that I guess we'll miss the sheep again, oh well.

    We're off to Siena and end up making really good time - arriving at 5:30. By now the sky is lightening and I'm starting to get worried because its pretty cloudy in this area. We drive to the meeting point, where we find Gianna (one of the owners). She is so friendly and asks us all about our trip and our morning drive. I get out of the car and she leads us over to her SUV, which we get in to drive to the launch site. If you're unable to transfer to an SUV you can still drive your own car to this area. We drive to a nearby field where we see two balloons being prepared for flight. I've always wanted to go on a hot-air balloon ride, but never had the opportunity. Initially we had planned on maybe doing one in Vermont in the fall, but when I found one in Tuscany there was no question on which to choose. As soon as we pull up to the balloon we are greeted by Stefano, Gianna's wife. He is a happy, boisterous man and meets every stereotype of an Italian. There are other people running around preparing the balloons, while Stefano directs and supervises.

    We are riding with the company Balloon in Tuscany. I had initially contacted others, some of which that launch closer to where we're staying in Montefollonico, but due to insurance purposes none of the other companies would allow me on their balloons with my chair. I didn't give up though and I was surprised by the response of Balloon in Tuscany when they told me that they actually have a specific balloon for wheelchair users! Here is a link if you're interested in the details of how it works...http://www.flyballoon.it/video.php

    We watch as both balloons begin to be inflated. The entire process is lengthy and a lot more work than either of us expected. The couple for the other balloon are late and Stefano is obviously annoyed. When they finally show up he yells, "Good Morning!" When the lady doesn't respond Stefano looks even more annoyed and yells, "Its a good morning, no?!" She smiles and Stefano turns to me and says, "I'm a bastard." Funny.

    Once the balloon basket is pushed upright and mostly filled I roll over. The basket really only has 3 sides - the 4th is made of plexiglass and swings open like a door. A small ramp comes out and I roll right in. My chair is tied down, the same way that it is secured in buses. It doesn't stop there though, a harness is wrapped around me - attaching me to both my chair and the balloon. I wish that they would have allowed me to stand up periodically in the balloon, but I guess I'm lucky to be able to ride one at all. I'm strapped in so tightly and it looks like I'm about to go skydiving. Mike climbs in and we're ready to go. Stefano is our captain and stands in a separate, designated area of the basket. Its cold, but the heat from the gas warms us up in no time. Stefano ensures us that the clouds will not be a problem, its just humidity that occurs every morning and that it will clear.

    We watch the other couple's balloon inflate, they take off first and we follow. We smoothly lift off the ground and begin to float away. We're surprised by just how smooth it is -it barely feels like we're moving at all. We go higher and higher until we are above Siena. The sun is shining directly on it and the town looks like its glowing. The views are spectacular - Stefano was right, the sky is clearing and everything below us looks amazing! Stefano looks so proud of himself and I ask him how often he uses this special balloon. He says not often, but that it gives him such pleasure to be able to give the opportunity to disabled people. He goes on to tell us how he acquired this balloon to begin with. Apparently the renown physicist Stephen Hawking had wanted to go on a balloon ride over Tuscany, but no one was able to accommodate him. When he contacted Balloon in Tuscany Stefano had the balloon specially designed and built just for him! I think its so cool that I'm sitting in the same spot where one of the most famous and brilliant scientists in the world once was!

    Stefano takes the balloon higher and we literally go above the clouds. Its amazing and surreal all at the same time. Its so quiet and its just a thick, white blanket as far out as we can see. We see the shadow of our balloon projected on the cloud and its seriously one of the coolest things I've ever seen. We float here for a while and at one point there is actually a rainbow perfectly formed around the shadow of our balloon. Even though we can't see any of the ground - only the clouds and sky, it is gorgeous. Seeing this alone is totally worth going on the ride. We are thoroughly enjoying every minute and we begin to drift down to a point where we are completely immersed in the clouds. All we can see is our basket, each other and the thick fog surrounding us. We feel the cool, dampness of the clouds and I can see how it would be really easy to become disoriented here. We slowly begin to be able to see the ground again. Since I can only look out of the side with the plexiglass, Stefano turns the balloon so that I can see other angles. We float around for an hour before finally landing in an empty field. Stefano calls Gianna to tell her where we are so that she can come and meet us with the car. In the meantime we get out of the balloon and Stefano prepares to pack it up.

    Ten minutes later we see two SUVs pull up, one with Gianna and part of the balloon crew and the other SUV with the other balloon couple. Gianna brings out a cooler and pours us all a glass of champagne. The other couple are Jeanine and Chris from Long Island. They are celebrating their 50th birthdays and staying just outside of Siena. We talk about our rides, their kids and our engagement. They are both lovely and we enjoy spending our morning together. Gianna sets up breakfast, which consists of a variety of paninis, sweet bread and some grape cake (very much like a blueberry muffin). We make mimosas with the orange juice and eat breakfast together. Stefano joins in as well. When he hears that Chris and Jeanine are from New York his eyes light up - apparently he lived in New York city for 5 years and misses it desperately. He never had intended on moving back to Italy, but his mother called him one day and said, "I'm dying! Come home!" So Stefano came back - its been over 10 years and his mother is still alive and well. Stefano turns to me and says, "Remember this - if you have to have a mother, don't have an Italian one!" We all laugh, his story reminds me of my nonna, who has been saying, "I'm dying!" for the past 15 years.

    Stefano asks if we're finished with the champagne and we all say yes. He picks it up and starts taking swigs straight from the bottle. Gianna yells at him and again he turns to me and says, "I'm a real bastard." I tell him that I don't believe him and he smiles. He gives Jeanine and I each a bouquet of roses before we get back in the SUVs. Its been a wonderful morning and we loved every aspect of it - from the balloon itself, to breakfast and Stefano. We're driven back to our cars and say our goodbyes. Stefano kisses my hand and leans down to whisper, "be well." He is the sweetest man and I couldn't have asked for a better captain this morning.

    Something really neat is that Stefano has an app on his iphone that charted our flight. He sends me the flight report via e-mail, which I am able to open in Google Earth and see everything we saw on our flight through satellite aerial pictures! A cool way to share the flight with our friends & family.

    By now its 10:30 and we head off to explore our last hill town - Siena. I can't believe that it is our last day in Tuscany and that tomorrow we'll be beginning our last leg of the trip. We park in a garage and its already busy and quite full. We walk down some very steep hills, following the tower to the main square. We reach the square and its beautiful - just like I imagined. Its pretty flat and easy to get around, so we walk the perimeter and explore the tower building. We don't go up, because theres a long line and to be honest I doubt that its accessible (but I guess you never know...). We go back out to the square and walk around some more. My mother is extremely hard to buy for, so when I see a scarf in her favorite shade of green I don't waste any time in snatching it up. We decide to visit the cathedral, which is up a ridiculously steep hill - this might be the steepest hill of the trip, even more so than the hill to the fortress in Montalcino. This was nearly impossible, even with Michael's help. Its so steep that there is barely any traction on my wheels and I'm quite nervous about it. We make it up and follow the crowds to the church. It is beautiful and designed with an interesting striped pattern. Unfortunately, it is not accessible so we don't go in. We walk around a bit, before having to deal with the steep hill again - going down is even scarier and I give a sigh of relief when we get to the bottom.

    Siena is very hilly - I know there is a lot to do here, but we are so tired of hills its crazy. We decide to stop for lunch and rather than searching for something decent, we deal with sitting at one of the touristy restaurants right on the square - at least we have a nice view. I order a crepe with tomato and cheese (basically a pizza with a crepe as the crust) and Mike has the spaghetti with tomato sauce and chili, which turns out to be too spicy for him so he drowns it with Parmesan. The food wasn't great, but its basically what we expected. We're stuffed and after paying our bill we go and sit on the ground of the square. We people watch for able an hour, the square is so pretty and its nice to just sit and take everything in. Mike goes to get us some ice cream, coming back with vanilla and strawberry for me and pistachio and panna cotta for himself (his new favorite combo). We sit and eat, enjoying our last day in Tuscany.

    Afterward we decide to head back to Follonico. Needless to say we have a lot of places to revisit on our next trip to this region. We get back around 4 and I begin packing for Rome tomorrow. Afterward we go back outside to sit in "our spot" and I write in my journal while Mike listens to music. We've had such a perfect time here and I will genuinely miss Follonico. We watch as a new couple arrives and they're greeted by Susanne. I'm happy to see that the new guests love Prischilla, they even say that they'd love for her to accompany them on evening walks around the area.

    Around 6 we head to Pienza for our last dinner. By this point in the trip we're feeling like we've each gained 10 pounds, so we want to keep it light. We opt for pizza again, sharing one with cheese, onions and bacon. After dinner we take our last stroll around our beloved little town - sad to leave, but excited for Rome. I have no doubt that we will be back one day, so we leave knowing that we'll see it all again. We take our route from Pienza to Follonico for the last time. I know I'll miss this daily drive, even if I still think that Mike takes the curves too fast, hah. Its dark, so when Mike screeches to a halt I get startled and worried. I ask what he's doing and he backs the car up a little bit and repositions it so that the headlights are shining over a little field. I'm still confused, but he says, "shh...listen" and points. We roll both windows all the way down and I hear it... the little bells! I stretch to look out the windshield and I see all of the sheep standing there. I have no idea how Mike spotted them in the dark, especially going at our speed, but I'm so happy he did. I feel like these bells have been a phantom ever since I heard Sarah and Dan tell me about them. I think that sitting in our car, pulled off on the side of this dark country road, while we listen to the little bells with light Italian music playing in the background will probably end up being one of my all-time favorite memories. Good night, Tuscany.

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    ahhh - sheep bells at last.

    what fantastic balloon trip - should i decide to do a balloon trip in Tuscany one day I'll certainly try to use the same company.

    roll on Rome!

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    What a special day! I am bothered by heights, so I will probably never experience this adventure, but I admire those who can. I also understand that it must be an amazing sight.

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    Day 15 - Tuscany/Rome
    We wake up around 8:45 and take our things to the car. We then head to breakfast for one last time, which is bittersweet. As usual we have fresh, delicious options and we chat with a new couple from Canada. After breakfast we meet with Suzanne to check out and say our goodbyes. I will genuinely miss her and Fabio, but we have full intentions on returning one day so I try to keep that in mind. We talk to Suzanne for a while and she tells us about how she ended up in Italy instead of staying in her homeand of Holland. We agree to stay in touch on Facebook and head to the car. We're dropping the rental off in Orvieto and taking the train from there to Rome. I'm hoping to see the cathedral in Orvieto, but we aren't sure whether the funicular will be accessible or not (this is something I inquired about on the forums, but no one had a difinitive answer).
    The drive to Orvieto is pretty quick and in no time we're driving through the town. We find the Hertz office, which is across from the trainstation, and drop off our car. Its only noon, but it seems that we will have to skip the cathedral this time - one of our bags is broken and Michael is annoyed and struggling to figure out how to manage it. I had read that there is a hotel in the area that allows tourists to stow their bags for 5 euros while they explore the town, but I can't remember exactly which hotel it is. Instead we head straight to the trainstation.
    I had e-mailed Trenitalia AND called to confirm that this particular train station and the train are wheelchair accessible. I had some trouble with a train in Nice, France a few years ago so I wanted to ensure we wouldn't have any problems in Orvieto. We go in and I buy our tickets to Rome - 29 euros for two tickets. No one in this office (at least at the time that we were there) seems to speak English, so knowing some Italian is valuable. I ask how to get to the train and the man points us toward an elevator with a large wheelchair accessible sign next to it. I thank him and we head toward the store area. The next train is full, so we have to wait until 3:15 and we're starved. We have pizza, which turns out not to be great and very similar to cafeteria pizza in the US.
    We have about two hours until our train leaves, but I figure we should go to our platform to wait. We're scheduled to leave from platform 2, which is on the other side of the tracks than where we are now. We go to the elevator, which takes us downstairs. From here you're under the tracks, so you can walk to the other side and go back up to arrive at the platforms on the opposite side. Here we encounter a problem...there was the elevator to take us down here, but there is no elevator to go back up to the other platforms! I look at Mike and say, "no...there must be a way. Why would there be a wheelchair accessible sign to go down here if there is no place to go once you come down?" But there is nothing, just a very long flight of stairs to go to platform 2 & 3. Really? I seriously want to know who posted that sign, because they must think that wheelchair users and handicap people must just want to go down there to hang out and not really go anywhere. We take the original elevator back up to the ticket office, I'm convinced that there must be another way and that we are just confused. Why wouldn't the seller have mentioned this to me to begin with? I go back to the seller and ask him what we should do. He looks at his colleague and they both look unsure. The man makes a call, then turns back to me to say, "there is no way to do it. Your husband and I will have to carry you across the train tracks. Its very dangerous, but its the only way. Come back to find me 10 minutes before your train is set to arrive." What?! I'm still confused and shocked so I just agree and go tell Michael the news.
    Mike isn't happy and neither am I. I really don't want to be carried across train tracks! Instantly the train scene of "Fried Green Tomatoes" comes to mind and I'm nervous. I tell Mike that I don't want to do it, so what are our options?
    A. Take a taxi all the way to Rome, costing us a fortune
    B. Get our rental car back and drive to Rome
    C. Stay in Orvieto for the rest of our trip and worry about getting to the airport later
    D. Stay in Orvieto for the rest of our lives and never worry about it again
    Hmm... none of these are particularly attractive, so we just sit and think for a minute. I turn to Mike and say, "well.. that staircase isn't THAT long. What if we go back downstairs and I just sit on the steps and make my way up, while you carry my chair?" He says no way, that he will carry me. Its way too many steps though and I insist that he just carry my chair and let me do the rest. He doesn't like the idea, but agrees. I go back to the ticket seller and tell him that Michael will help me with the stairs, but I ask him how much time we'll have to get on the train once it arrives - I'm told 1 minute. Great! He says to still come and get him before the train arrives and that we will help us get on quickly. I agree and Michael and I go back downstairs. We get to the staircase and I pull out two plastic sheet protectors that I had from our itinerary paperwork. I set one down on the stairs and I transfer and sit on it. I take the second sheet protector and place it on the next step up, pushing myself up to it. I keep up this pattern, making my way up while at the same time making sure my clothes don't get dirty. It is kind of humiliating when people walk by and stare, but oh well. I make it to the top and Mike sets my chair down and helps me onto it. He goes back down for the bags and I'm thrilled that I won't have to deal with being carried over the tracks.
    Now that we're where we need to be I start to worry about getting on the train in 1 minute or less. We watch as other trains arrive. Some of their doors seem to stay open for maybe 30 seconds max. I start to get a sick feeling in my stomach. Is it really possible for Michael to get me, my chair, our bags and himself on the train in less than a minute? I'm starting to feel nauseous as I go over the possibilities in my head:
    A. Mike gets me on, but my chair & our bags get left behind
    B. Mike gets me, my chair & our bags on but HE gets left behind
    C. Mike gets me, my chair and one of our bags on, but the others are left behind
    All of these scenarios would be a disaster, but the worst would be Mike or my chair being left behind. If either were to happen I wouldn't be able to get off the train in Rome. Of course Michael's cell phone is dead so we wouldn't even be able to call each other to arrange him getting to Rome - plus he speaks not an ounce of Italian!

    We watch as another train comes and Mike studies the stairs - the first step is HUGE and is definitely going to be a challenge to carry me up. Then once we're on he will have to get me to a seat and still go back for everything. We both know that it isn't going to work and I start to panic again. One year when I was in Italy I had passed through Milan to visit my family. I was headed to Rome from Milan, and although the platform & train were accessible my cousin carried me and my chair on to make things easier (rather than request the ramp). Well before he had a chance to get back off the train started to depart! In the end he ended up riding to Bologna with us, before getting off and going back home. This time though we can't afford for something like that to happen. I decide to try to get our rental car back. I call the number to the office but there is no answer - of course, I remember that the office has irregular hours. I'm an American Express holder so I call the travel concierge service to see if they can help me. The agent checks all the rental offices in the area and unfortunately there are no automatic cars available until tomorrow. Michael can kind of manage a manual, but driving in Rome probably isn't the best place to brush up on your skills. I hang up, discouraged and stressed. I'm scared to death and the train will be here in 20 minutes. Michael walks back to the ticket office to find the ticket seller that said he would help us. I wait on the platform, since I'm certainly not going to go through the staircase process again. When Mike gets back he looks frustrated and I don't see the man with him. I ask what happened and he says that the man is gone! He must have forgotten his offer to help us and went to lunch or got off for the day. Wonderful! I look around for someone else that I could possibly ask to help us. There are a few elderly people, but that's pretty much it - everyone else got on earlier trains to other destinations. Mike turns to me and says, "okay, I'm just going to throw you on, throw the bags on and grab your chair." I know that there is nothing else we can do, aside from staying in Orvieto or taking a cab, so I reluctantly agree.

    At 3:15 the train arrives. As soon as it comes to a stop people start to pile off - eating up our precious seconds. I get annoyed and want to just yell, "move, get out of the way! hurry up!" But I don't, I just wait, feeling absolutely sick. When the last person gets off Mike scoops me up. The next thing I know I'm hitting the floor of the train, just inside the door. At first I'm confused - did Mike fall? Did he drop me? What happened?! But I look up and meet Michael's eyes and we both laugh - he did literally throw me on! I sit on the floor awkwardly, as he throws the bags beside me and grabs my chair. An elderly man is standing behind Mike with wide eyes - I can only imagine what he must have thought when Mike threw me! I'm still sitting on the floor, pressed against the wall to allow everyone else to pass. When everyone is on I get in my chair and get to a seat. I can't believe we made it!! I'm so relieved and happy that we're on. At this moment I tell myself that I will never again take another train in a foreign country - except the Eurostar, which I have had wonderful experiences with. Considering I had both called and e-mailed, I don't know what other preparation I could have done to inquire about the accessibility.

    We begin our short ride to Rome, happy to start the last leg of our trip...

    We arrive to Roma Termini and make our way to the door. Although I'm pretty sure we have more than a minute to get off, I'm not positive so we don't take our time. Mike throws the luggage off, grabs me and sets me on top of it, then goes back for my chair. Everyone stares, but you've gotta do what you've gotta do. We make our way to the taxis and quickly find one. Now I see why I originally didn't want to drive to Rome. Outside of the train station there don't seem to be any distinct lanes and its a free-for-all. Cars are criss-crossing all over the road, honking, drivers flipping each other off and yelling. Its crazy! It seems to be a blessing in disguise that we weren't able to find a rental car.

    We're staying at Hotel Ponte Sisto, which is located right by the Ponte Sisto bridge. We check-in and are told that breakfast (which is included) is from 7-10am and that Wi-Fi is free. Our room is simple, but very nice. A king sized bed, large closet and huge bathroom. Lots of free goodies all throughout the room, plus a view of the inner courtyard. The bedroom is a little tight and would be difficult if my chair were any bigger. This is our splurge for the trip in terms of hotels - expensive, at least to us, but we're mainly paying for the location. Last time I was in Rome I stayed ALL the way over by the Termini! That walk to the sights everyday was ridiculous, so I was determined to stay in a more ideal location this time around. We relax and unpack for about an hour before heading out to explore.

    Our first stop is Piazza Navona, which turns out to be a 5 minute walk, I love this location! I'm so excited because last time I was here both fountains were under restoration, but now they are unveiled and beautiful. Everything else is just as I remember - street performers, artists, cafes & restaurants around the perimeter. We stop to watch some performers that are doing tricks and acrobatics with some little kids. Giant bubbles are being formed by another performer and they're gliding all over the Piazza. A small band composed of an accordion, saxophone and cello is playing and the music adds to the perfection of the moment. We drift over to the art section and browse for a while. Eventually we make our way over to the Pantheon. We go around a corner and there it is, as amazing as always. Its so grand that its almost like you expect music to start playing as soon as you see it. Mike says, "Wow!" and I know he's excited. We go in - there is only one step, but there is also a small metal ramp in place. The interior does not disappoint and is gorgeous. I know we'll be visiting multiple times during this trip, so I don't feel rushed to take it all in right now. We walk around for a while before making out way back outside. Its 7 o'clock and we're starving. I look at my list for anything that is nearby. We decide on Il Duello, which is only a short walk away

    We find the restaurant easily - less than 10 minutes from the Pantheon, but in a deserted alley. When we first turned down the street Mike looked at me and said, "umm are you sure this is the way?" But we kept going until we saw the sign. There is one step, and when the host sees us she runs over to help me in. I instantly love the atmosphere - its contemporary, but cozy all at the same time. The host takes us to a table, she is friendly and seems thrilled that we're here. There is only one other couple in the place, but its still early. Our waitress brings us water and bread with homemade olive oil. The bread is fresh and delicious, I especially love the crunchy bread sticks, which are also homemade. The host comes back and introduces herself, she is actually the owner (along with her husband, and sister - who is our waitress). She tells us the specials and shows us a platter of their fish - she seems very proud of the fresh fish and makes sure to go over them all and describe how they would be prepared. We order the buffalo mozzarella as our appetizer to share. For our first dish I have the cacio & pepe and Mike orders the carbonara. I also order a glass of wine that the host helps me pick out. The mozzarella comes out and is divine. There is a small salad on the side with what might be the best balsamic vinegar I've ever had. We clean the plate and watch as other diners start to come through the door.

    Our pastas come out and are amazing. The cacio & pepe is delicious, different than in Montefollonico, but still perfect in its own way. But Michael's carbonara...literally the best carbonara I've ever tasted, EVER. Our host tells us that its her husband's specialty and that she often has him make it for her at home. Mike is in heaven and I feel so lucky that we found this place. We learn that the restaurant has only been open for a year and a half, but in that short time its already made its way to #11 on Trip Advisor! Both the host and her sister are so lovely and the service is impeccable. For our second courses I have the one of the fresh fish that the host had described to us when we arrived (I can't recall which one it was...) and Michael has the sea bass in cheese sauce. A few minutes later the host wheels a cart over with my fish, we watch as she takes the bones out and plates it up, along with crispy roasted potatoes. Mike's fish then comes out, covered in cheese sauce and served with eggplant and zucchini. Everything is fantastic! The potatoes are so good that I could make a meal of them alone. My fish is fresh and flaky, cooked perfectly. Mike's is delicious, the idea of cheese sauce and fish sounds kind of weird, but it isn't too cheesy and actually compliments the sea bass really well. We eat until we're stuffed and then sit and relax for a while. Eventually we decide to order dessert and opt to share a nutella and pistachio crepe. I also have a small glass of limoncello. The crepe is out of this world - I've had nutella crepes before, but nothing like this. Its warm and creamy, covered in chopped pistachios. We're so full but its too good not to finish. By the end we've spent 3 hours eating some of the best food of our lives. We make a reservation to come back on our last night in Rome, which makes the hostess and our waitress so happy. We pay our bill, but before we get up the hostess brings us another plate! She says, "Don't worry, I promise this is all. These biscotti are a recipe of my husband's grandmother." They're very good and a really nice touch. I still can't get over how excellent the service has been, as well as the fabulous food! We're beyond full and exhausted from the stressful day, but I am so happy we made it to Rome! We call it an "early" night and walk straight back to our hotel. We have a full day at the Vatican tomorrow!

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    well, thank goodness you made it!

    I'd like to say that I'm surprised that they would have a lift to take you down, but none to bring you back up, but honestly I'm not. even where they have ramps and lifts, they don't advertise them. on my trip to Tuscany earlier this year, I struggled with my luggage up and down stairs at every single Station. no sign of a lift or ramp anywhere, and all around me people were doing the same.

    on the way back, I was a bit more savvy, and managed to find all the lifts and ramps, though strangely ! there isn't one to get onto the airport train at Pisa Centrale, where it would be most obvious to have one.

    of course i didn't think about the problems of someone in your situation; it was bad enough by myself struggling with a smallish case. it sounds as if you coped admirably, in the circumstances.

    out of interest i googled "trenitalia for disabled" and came up with this list of stations where assistance for disabled people can be provided:
    http://www.rfi.it/cms/v/index.jspvgnextoid=ec13de3eea86f210VgnVCM1000008916f90aRCRD#18

    it looks as if they may finally be waking up to the needs of their disabled passengers, but only at certain stations - and Orvieto is not one of them.

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    having visited these places I am amazed how well you managed. Sure the research you did helped a great deal,although so many places are not well adapted to one with disabilities.
    Thanks for writing such an informative report. I am so happy that you were able to make this trip.
    Keep traveling and writing about your adventures.

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    Annhig- thanks for the link! I must say that it would have been nice if the representatives had referenced such a list when I contacted them. Although, I still don't think I would plan another trip involving trains - you really never know. Like you, I was also very surprised that there was a lift down, but nothing else! I think that is why we were so confused for the longest time - why on earth would they put a sign up like that, only to lead someone to a dead end?!

    Thanks Maryanne1!

    TDudette- I concur.

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    I am loving your trip report, can't wait to hear the rest! Reading about the Aussie at the B&B made me thankful for all of our rental apartments in Italy. What an a-hole! You handled him well.

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    Adoc,

    if my italian is not deceiving me, they also offer free travel to someone accompanying a wheelchair user, so long as the wheelchair is being used for bona fide health reasons.

    i don't dare contemplate what other reasons for using a wheelchair might be...would anyone be so devious as to use a wheelchair for non bona fide health reasons?

    there must be come desperate italians out there!

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    You two are amazing; I can't think of anything the two of you together couldn't handle. And talk about recovering from an unbelieveably stressful situation and ending up with a great day...what an inspiration you are!

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    annhig,

    Unfortunately, some folks are really that devious. I had (emphasis on the "had") a friend who proudly told me she routinely called the airport for wheelchair service because she "-- just hated those long walks". She also mentioned that the ploy "got her on board faster".

    Perfectly healthy older lady; only thing wrong with her is a total lack of moral fiber.

    My wife still is a bit angry at me for the way I told the lady what I thought of her scheme -- not the fact that I told her, but that it was at the top of my voice at a party. I must admit, as a former Marine drill instructor, the top of my voice can blister paint when I get worked up, so she has a point.

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    .would anyone be so devious as to use a wheelchair for non bona fide health reasons?

    That is the beginning of Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis

    Philippe Abrams is the manager of the postal service (La Poste) in Salon-de-Provence, Bouches-du-Rhône, in southern France. He is married to Julie, whose depressive character makes his life miserable. Philippe does everything to get a job at an office on the Mediterranean seaside to make her happy. As this favourable position will be granted to somebody who is disabled, Abrams decides to pretend that he is. However, the management finds out. As punishment, he is banished for two years to Bergues, a town near Dunkirk in northern France

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    thank you, Michael for that.

    i think it would be going a bit far to attempt what the OP had to endure for fun though, wouldn't it? and how do they prove it? take the wheelchair away and see what happens?

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    Thanks everyone!

    It doesn't surprise me that some people would pretend to need a wheelchair for the "benefits" of it - you see this at theme parks all the time since it gets you to the front of the line. However traipsing around Europe (unless you're going to London or Stockholm) would be a crazy scheme to undertake - it would be more troublesome than what a free ticket is worth! Nonetheless it must happen, because I had read that the Vatican now requires proof of disability before allowing one to enter via the priority entrance. I wasn't asked for this, but I have heard that even those with obvious disabilities/wheelchairs are now regularly asked for this documentation. But really, if someone is low enough to pretend to need a wheelchair, I don't think forging a doctor's note would be beneath them. From what I understand though US handicap parking signs are accepted as proof as well. Really though, you must desperately want to avoid the line if you're willing to push around Rome in a chair when you don't need it!

    When I was outside of the Vatican in 2005 I was rolling along and an old man happened to see my "good leg" moving. He pointed at me and yelled at the top of his lungs, "Fraud! you are the devil! The devil! Your legs are moving, you are a fraud! The devil!" EVERYONE turned and stared, some gasping as if they actually believed him! It was especially scandalous since I, the devil, was making an appearance at one of the holiest places on earth. Maybe the Vatican put their disability documentation requirement in place because word of my devilish, fraudulent act spread around - can you imagine? Hah.

    Annhig - yes, most of the time "wheelchair companions" are free for trains in Europe. This was the first time we were ever asked to pay full price for both of our tickets.

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    Still enjoying this report and so glad you made it out of the Orvieto train station!

    Just a PSA: We cannot tell by looking at people who needs a wheelchair and for what reasons. CP, MS and other diseases may make it difficult for many to walk at all, to walk for extended periods of time, to tackle hills, etc. Let's try not to judge strangers because they appear to our eyes to be "able bodied."

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    ust a PSA: We cannot tell by looking at people who needs a wheelchair and for what reasons. CP, MS and other diseases may make it difficult for many to walk at all, to walk for extended periods of time, to tackle hills, etc. Let's try not to judge strangers because they appear to our eyes to be "able bodied.">>

    I don't think that anyone here was, [judging, i mean] Leely.

    Certainly not me!

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    I know, Ann, just putting on my grandma hat. It was as much a reminder to myself as anyone else. Sometimes I'll see someone parking in a designated handicap space and I'll think suspiciously, "Hmm.." Then I have remember that I don't know what I don't know.

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    Hi Adoc86!
    I enjoyed reading about your trip, you have an amazing spirit and I applaud you for living your life to the fullest!

    Nukesafe, well done! We once needed a wheelchair at an airport, all were booked out. Imagine your friend being on on of them... We travelled the English countryside last year and saw people driving around in scooter wheelchairs (shopriders), park it as close as they can to a shop, just to get up and walk into the shop. I asked one woman who was getting of a normal electric wheelchar where she lives (believe me, there was nothing wrong with her except being overweight), and she actually pointed out her house accross the street, saying "just there". I had to stop myself from puncturing one of her wheels...

    Leely, I have a son that is a Quadriplegic. If you just look at him sitting in his wheelchair, no one can imagine that he is indeed disabled. We drive around in a combi/bus with the back seats removed to fit the electric wheelchair. The vehicle is marked with disability lisence & stickers and we will NEVER park in a disability parking if he is not with us. Yet we still get the looks when we park with him in a disabled parking.
    You know why we get the looks? We first started talking about paralyzed parking, but soon realised it is actually PARADISE parking! Always on the right spot, close to everything, well away from other cars and most of the time available. The perfect parking spot!!

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    wonderful report. Thank You.
    Several years ago on another forum I
    was friendly with a woman in a wheelchair in
    Paris and she cited how things were bad for her.
    not much to help her.

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    Thanks guys! I know its been SO long since I posted an entry, a lot has been going on! Between buying a house (we found one!), doing home projects and having some travel for work I've been quite consumed. There's also the little problem that somewhere along the line during the move my travel journal from the trip was misplaced... I hope to finally finish this report soon - so sorry for the delay! In the meantime we're planning our next big vacation for next year - if anyone has any advice for Istanbul & Cappadocia, Turkey please let me know!

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