Arriverderci, Italia. I’ll wheel myself out…


Our welcoming view of Lake Como

Well we are back from two weeks in Italy and even though I was super broken wearing both a neck collar and a cast on my leg, we still managed to see 95% of the things on our tour.

The day before we left I had the go-ahead to start walking on my cast the next day – our first day on our Italy walking tour. Needless to say, I was still in quite a bit of pain and Mr. Tucker had to help me stand upright. I called the tour company and told them of my woes and they went ahead and booked wheelchairs at the airports, which turned out to be the only plus: we skipped a lot of the lines. Still, Europe is not known for being friendly in terms of accessibility given that most of the roads and buildings are hundreds of years old.

Bellagio feels like you have been thrown into a pasta commercial

On being disabled

The first couple of days were slow going but I am grateful I could at least walk. Curbs and uneven surfaces were a hurdle though, and in the back of my mind I remembered a disabled friend mentioning how able-bodied people would often say things like, ”It’s just one little step.” Let me tell you: when you cannot lift your leg, that “one little step” may as well be a 100 ft wall.

Pompeii is a minefield for anyone with mobility issues

When you are disabled, every plan you make creates a plethora of more steps than it does for the able-bodied. Is there a wheelchair available at the museum? Are there elevators? Stairs? How much walking is involved? What are the crowds like? Are the ramps steep? Is transportation close by? Is transportation accessible? Are the bathrooms accessible or at least have bars? You discover very quickly that the world is a lot less accessible than you may have imagined previously. A world that disabled people have to navigate to great cost to their time, energy, and patience.

Venice is beautiful but difficult to navigate

One thing I found surprising was that in Canada 13.7% of people lived with a disability in 2012, with older people being more likely to be disabled, and women leading men in prevalence. While I didn’t dig so far as to determine which are permanent or which are temporary, that figure alone should give us pause and remind us that a disability could hit any of us at any time. Other statistics indicate that 25% of people will become disabled at least once in their lifetime. But yet, we never think about this. Disability is something we think about in terms of birth defects, or permanent degenerative diseases but the reality is way less foreign: all of us could experience a temporary disability at any time.

So back to Italy…

Quite literally under the Tuscan sun

Mr. Tucker and I had never taken a tour but had chosen to take one this time around because a> it was on super sale, and b> it crammed in a lot of stuff into a short period of time, included great hotels, and covered most meals. Given we only had two weeks, we couldn’t have seen all those things and eaten as well for the same money had we done the rent-a-car/AirBNB thing (and OMG driving in Italy is an Olympic sport that requires years of training). It turned out to be a blessing in disguise for us because not only was transportation covered, so was the carting of the luggage. We basically eliminated the toughest chores for someone who had mobility issues. Of course, because I only had limited mobility as opposed to a complete inability to walk, it was do-able for me. I still had to navigate a few steps here and there, and I did have to climb on/off a bus every day, which was incredibly challenging and slow for me. Had we not chosen a tour, this entire trip would be a write off.

The gorgeous ceilings of the Uffuzi gallery

I also wasn’t completely independent, I relied on Mr. Tucker to hold my hand and pull me up stairs and curbs. I would have not been able to do the tour without him. At times, even that was not enough. We had a wonderful gentleman named John from Connecticut who was so amazing to me, he created a wide berth around me so I wouldn’t be pushed by the other tourists or swallowed by the crowd. In Pompeii (my biggest challenge) he & Mr. Tucker each had me by one arm to help me down the oddly construct (new!) steps. As we were going down, little, old Italian ladies were clapping for them. He definitely was one of the kindest souls I have ever met and I will be forever grateful for the help he gave me. In fact, he & his wife reminded Mr. Tucker and I of us in 20 years. They were just such a fun, smart, nice couple to travel with. We really enjoyed their company.

Of course, as the days went on I got bit better at navigating things but the days were long and full of walking. One of the most surprising things I found about Italy is that how some of the oldest things – such as the Coliseum – were completely accessible, while other things – such as brand new hotels – were limiting. You never know what you were going to get in terms of accessibility and planning ahead was key to managing to see things.

More accessible than some European hotels

The most infuriating situations were ones that could have easily been taken care of by the tour company when I called: ensuring my room was accessible. On two occasions the hotels gave me rooms completely not suitable for someone with mobility problems: one room was a 4-staircase walk-up, and the second room had 6 stairs to the bathroom. If that was all they had, it would be one thing but they gave other people in our group rooms accessible by elevator, on the ground floor, or that were on one level. In the defense of these hotels, they accommodated me as much as possible once all the rooms were dolled out but this is the kind of error that could have easily been remedied at the source (and I plan to tell them this when I return their customer survey).

A quiet Venice street

Overall though: I DID IT! As strenuous and challenging as it was (to me and others), I managed to see all the things I wanted to see when I was in Italy. I navigated the water taxis in Venice (with help, of course!). I saw Lake Como, Verona, Venice, Assisi, Pompeii, Pisa, Florence, Rome/The Vatican, Sorrento, & the Amalfi Coast. I did almost all of it except for a few optional walking tours (where Mr. Tucker and slept in and enjoyed leisurely mornings). It took twice as much energy and had I been completely able-bodied I would have crammed in a lot more but overall I am happy with what I was able to see, considering I had just resigned myself to just sitting and drinking wine on patios for two weeks.

Our awesome balcony in Rome where we got beer from the store and hangout at night

Lessons learned
(ugh, I feel like I am writing a strategy for work!)

For those of you who know me, you know I am a fiercely independent, impatient, Type-A personality. I can honestly say that this has probably not changed. However, this trip forced me to slow down, plan ahead, to not cram too much into a day, and to learn to rely on others. In a way I savoured a lot more because I created space around what I did see. Sure, it was FORCED but it still was interesting to have the experience. Having said that, I must prefer our go-go-go SEE ALL THE THINGS method of traveling that we are typically used to. For example, I would have liked to explore a few more restaurants for their food, not for their proximity to our hotel. But a lack of mobility & the fact I was easily exhausted dictated our restaurant choices. Maybe in the future a better balance would be something worth exploring.

The Amalfi coast

Secondly, while this is not news, it is funny that on our 10th wedding anniversary trip I was reminded that I married the most incredible human being. Mr. Tucker carried my bags, pushed my wheelchair, helped me get dressed, fetched me what I needed, helped me bathe (in the weirdest of European places), held my hand to keep me upright, pulled me up onto curbs and generally ensured that I was taken care of without complaint and without losing his patience with me. To experience the true meaning of “in sickness and in health,” is an eye-opening experience either one way or another. I am just glad we experienced it in a way that solidified our marriage rather than tear it apart. After 8 weeks of being an invalid and two of those weeks dragging me across Italy, it could go either way, really.

Home is wherever I’m with you

So we are home. The kids are happy to see us, the financial damage is mitigated by paying off our credit cards with savings (go us!), and tomorrow is the first day after 8 weeks where I will be walking without a cast. I went to work Thursday despite the giant sinkhole 200ft away (and our building being evacuated the day before) which of course caused more trouble for Mr. Tucker who then had to drive me to work despite the detours (patience of a saint, that one) but overall, life is generally working it’s way back to normal – whatever that is. We are gearing up for my first summer not being home with the kids and working on making sure our home life stays as calm as possible as we transition from school to summer camps. Mr. Tucker is off to a cottage with neighbour friends & all the kids in July (I’ll be going weekends, as I have to work) and we are looking forward to bike rides, swimming pools, and warm weather. While we love to travel, the thing that makes travel exciting is that you can come home to a comfortable place with friends, family, neighbours and your regularly scheduled programming. I’m looking forward to it.

Our last pink-soaked sunset in Sorrento