Friday, August 17, 2012

Rome in a Wheelchair

Rome is a city known for its unique historic remnants of a once very powerful empire. One of my all-time favorite actress, Audrey Hepburn starred in a film, Roman Holiday that instilled a desire in me to see this city for myself.

Carlina and I arrived in the night at the Termini center and caught a bus through town that would hopefully to help us get to our hotel near the Vatican (we weren't sure because we don't speak Italian and the bus driver didn't really speak English!). It was so cool to drive through the city as it looked like a place where modern buildings were embellished with beautiful statues and historic structures. I remembering thing, "Is this real?"

When we arrived at the Vatican, we found cabs waiting, so we went up to one that looked wheelchair accessible because it was larger. However, there is a cab line system so we had to take the one at the very front of the line. The drivers weren't really nice about it, even though I had a special need. It was a little shady thing with this cab we took. I think we were charged more because of my wheelchair, but I guess it was a small price to easily get to the hotel, although I think he went a long roundabout way to increase the pay. We figured out the next day that it was a much shorter walk to the Vatican than the length of time he took to get us to the hotel. Lame. But it's OK, he must have really needed the money (that's what we kept telling ourselves). We reserved tickets to the Vatican for our second day there, so we explored other places first.

Carlina and I mapped out our days with lots of historical sites on a map that came with the Roma Pass (30 per pass), which we heard about beforehand. We got it from a local shop (they sell them everywhere). It allows us to use the public transport-metro (B line is accessible but with limited stops) and bus systems for two days. I learned after that those with mobile disabilities can get one free of charge, although there are limited buses with disabled stickers on them (my wheelchair couldn’t fit through the doors of the bus, not convenient at all, but someone with some mobility and a fold up hospital chair would be just fine on the buses). I personally would not get the Roma pass again because it didn't quite suit my needs.

My favorite spots to visit were the Forum and the Colosseum, which are right across from each. As I wheeled through the ruins of the Forum. This was not the most comfortable stroll because of old broken paths, and I needed lots of help, but heck, we're in Rome! My companion and I got in for free (the theme in Europe is if the price is discounted, most likely it's not accessible). I was wonderstruck by the fact that the great emperor, Julius Caesar walked these grounds. The story behind the construction of the whole metropolis and the power struggle over the empire were real life dramas.

Just across the street was the Colosseum, which had incredible architecture and construction for a mass crowd of 50,000. There are so many in's and out's to the maze. I’m amazed by how much of it still stands today. It’s crazy to learn what Romans thought of entertainment—it’s like UFC but to the death. Imagining gladiators fighting is kind of cool but morally wrong as well.  These guys got paid to kill. In terms of accessibility, it was simple to maneuver around for the most part but required a few alternate routes. There is a lift to get to the higher stories, which I was thankful for. However, there was a section that was not accessible for wheelchairs but don't worry, you're not missing out on much, as I was told. We also got in for free and skipped the long line by just going in through the front entrance of the Colosseum. Also, there is an accessible restroom here, thankfully, so be on the lookout for it. A clue will be the long line to what looks like a mobile restroom within the Colosseum.

Our hotel was literally a few blocks from the entrance of the Vatican, but was not accessible. Really just pay the extra money for wheelchair accessibility, it will save you and your companion lots of stress! I didn’t have to wait in the massive line because of the wheelchair (just walk against the traffic that is exiting. I found out later that a companion and I could have gotten in free by going to the check in counter and showing a doctor's note or something to verify my disability—definite plus. (The next trip I took to Rome with my husband went much smoother after finding these things out). 

There was much to see in the Vatican: beautiful sculptures, intricate woodcuts along the walls, cabinets used by popes, jewels, paintings all over the ceilings, rugs of biblical stories, etc. I was super excited to see the Sistine chapel, but didn’t expect to be stuck in a jam-packed mosh pit. This made my experience a little more hectic and I found myself rushing through the paintings on the ceiling, afraid I would to tired to enjoy the Sistine Chapel if I waited until the end. Go in with a game plan of how to tackle this massive, digitally stimulating place. My eyes were so tired by the end. Expect to spend many hours, maybe a full day there. It was difficult to get through massive crowd there, so just expect to go a little slower than usual. There were steps to get down to Sistine chapel, so we were led by an attendant to a lift (ask for "ascensore") that is connected to the siderails of the stairs and guards had to temporarily block off the narrow pathway so we could get through. They were a big help. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the beautiful artwork although my eyes were exhausted by the end. I was also glad for the lifts and ramps! It was SO worth it!

The Colosseum, Forum, and Vatican provide free entrance to those with limited mobility! Totally cool. However, the trade off is that these places aren't really wheelchair friendly. We had to go through many hoops and get lots of outside help to navigate the places.

Here are some places that are fairly wheelchair friendly:
There are many other places to see as well, but I didn't list them all. Check out my trip to Rome the second time with my husband.

Delicious lasagna and gelato made Rome just that much more memorable. I had a great time and thanks to the help of Carlina, this was possible. Glad I came, I saw, I conquered Rome in a wheelchair.

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