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


Sep 17th, 2011, 02:08 PM
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I Shouldn't Be Alive: Spain & Italy...in August...in a wheelchair!

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

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
Adoc86 is offline  
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Sep 17th, 2011, 02:30 PM
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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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Sep 17th, 2011, 02:40 PM
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I am very much looking forward to your report.
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Sep 17th, 2011, 04:35 PM
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Looking forward to your report!!
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Sep 18th, 2011, 06:01 AM
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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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Sep 18th, 2011, 06:10 AM
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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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Sep 18th, 2011, 06:16 AM
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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...

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Sep 18th, 2011, 06:24 AM
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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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Sep 18th, 2011, 07:30 AM
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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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Sep 18th, 2011, 10:11 AM
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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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Sep 18th, 2011, 01:38 PM
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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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Sep 18th, 2011, 02:44 PM
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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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Sep 18th, 2011, 04:44 PM
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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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Sep 18th, 2011, 04:45 PM
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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/artist...lo23112009.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/it...-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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Sep 18th, 2011, 06:05 PM
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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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Sep 18th, 2011, 06:36 PM
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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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Sep 18th, 2011, 07:05 PM
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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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Sep 18th, 2011, 07:30 PM
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Topping to follow. Good read!
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Sep 18th, 2011, 10:10 PM
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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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Sep 19th, 2011, 01:36 AM
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Love your attitude! You go, girl!
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