In May this year my Dad, Mum, brother Harry and I travelled to Italy! It was a very big decision to make as we didn’t speak any Italian and had never travelled further away from home than New Zealand.
I use my electric wheelchair full time and can’t walk anymore so we had to make sure that everywhere we went had good accessibility. We decided to use a travel agent (Margie at Duck Creek Mountain Travel) who accessed specialist disability travel company called CIT Travel to book all our accommodation, transfers and activities. It was the best thing we could have done!
I was worried that the flight (22 hours!) was going to be really hard – I was really worried about having to go the toilet on the plane but everything went very smoothly. The flight attendants brought me an aisle chair whenever I had to move and were really helpful. The dividing wall between the 2 toilets on the plane got removed so we had a bigger space to get in to and move around in. It was definitely a long flight but not as bad as I thought it would be.
We arrived in Venice and were met by a wheelchair accessible van which took us to our accommodation. It was a long way from Venice Island but we quickly found out that the buses in Italy are really wheelchair friendly and the drivers and other passengers were great about making room and helping us on. In Venice I even got to ride in an accessible gondola with a company called Gondolas For All.
We travelled all over Italy in 3 weeks by car, bus, vaparetto (water bus) and train. We went to Bologna to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Maranello to check out the Ferrari Dino car (that was pretty special as Dino had Duchenne, just like me) and Florence for the food. We spent a day in Pompeii which was amazing. Pompeii is definitely NOT accessible so we hired a wheel trekker (a one wheeled sleigh type contraption) that allowed 2 hard working guys to carry me around the ruins like a Roman Emperor!
We visited Rome and and attended the Papal General Audience where the Pope comes out and gives a talk that is repeated in about 6 different languages by different people. At the end of the Audience, Mum and I were really lucky and got to meet Pope Francis. He blessed us and shook our hands. He was really lovely and asked us to pray for him.
While we were travelling there were some places I couldn’t get to because they had steps or were narrow, like the tombs under the Basilica in Florence, but we got to skip a lot of lines and go places other people weren’t allowed to behind the scenes so it all worked out in the end!
I was really nervous about travelling so far from home, to an old country that isn’t well known for being wheelchair friendly but I am so happy we went. We found out that we can make anything work and travelling with a disability just makes us expert problem solvers! I can’t wait to travel overseas again – I’ve got my eye on a road trip through the USA!