Monday, August 13, 2012

Venice in a Wheelchair

My dream destination has always been Italy to see a city with water running though, eat delicious Italian cuisine, admire the artwork of Da Vinci, see the Vatican, and listen to the beautiful language. When the opportunity arose, my friend Carlina and I planned a trip to see major cities in Italy. It didn't take much convincing us. We booked our flights through Ryanair, a company that offers cheap flights throughout Europe. Because they offer budget flights, they have to make revenue in all areas such as heavy fees for flight corrections and extra baggage. I made the unfortunate mistake of booking our flight from Venice to London instead of vice versa--a costly error to correct.  I definitely recommend reading over the itinerary at least twice before hitting the purchase button because sometimes corrections are double the price of the original flight itself.

We were greeted by Venice with bright sun, blue skies, ferries and gondolas going in all directions, and of course, many tourists.  It was surreal to be there but the first thing I realized when we got there was that there were no accommodations for wheelchairs such as ramps or hotels. You know how it's a city surrounded by water and bridges everywhere to connect the islands of the city? Well, the bridges are made of steps, not a smooth ramp bridge (I so wish it was). I was automatically nervous about getting around and having to make Carlina do so much work on her vacation. This posed a huge issue for us in getting around Venice. Everywhere we went, I had to be pulled up and down steps. We would be wheeling along and suddenly stairs would appear out of no where and we were trapped, so the only way was to get through the stairs. It was super stressful at times and I felt so bad for Carlina. This is a rough place for wheelchairs (Whoops! Should have done the research ahead of time!).

I recommend pulling out Euros ahead of time (airport) because the drop off point for the aerobus doesn't have a cash point. We had to pay to take a ferry across to the train station, which we were lucky enough some kind tourists offered some money to help us get across (like 4 euros). By the way, even though it's a tourist town, not everyone speaks English. Be sure to bring along a travel book and learn some key phrases. Also, when booking hotel accommodations, consider staying at the monastery because they are generally two stories high, tops. That means you'll more than likely find accommodations on the ground floor.

After the first day, we decided to get a ferry pass that took us to major attractions to avoid having to use bridges. These are sold at the train station and at the bus drop off point. However, there are parts where you still have to get up and down steps. Shopping was tricky as shops are narrow. At some shops, I waited outside and Carlina would bring items of interest out to me.

Italy is known for it's many churches, so I had to make them one of our stops in each city. We navigated with a map and got lost many times, which was pretty fun, but eventually made it to St. Mark’s Basilica, my favorite place in Venice. This church was AMAZING and mostly wheelchair accessible. It was so huge, ornate, with big onion domes and multi-colored marble pillars, and the interior is floor-to-ceiling mosaics. There were so many statues and other museums within the basilica. I would have appreciated it more if I had known a little more about the history before going in but I still loved it. The crowd was massive though, especially in St. Mark's square. Though it was hard to move around because of the crowds. It was free and wheelchair accessible!

The two of us wandered the streets and stumbled upon booths of fun souvenir items like theater masks, beautifully colored fruits and veggies at local farmer's markets, a large variety of flavors at gelaterias, eye drawing restaurants, and of course we had to stop at every place to see what it had to offer. So much fun. People looked at me everywhere I went--it must be the wheelchair. I especially got many stares while getting pulled up the stairs. It was a bit awkward to feel their eyes on me and not get many offers for help, but we dealt with it as gracefully as pulling a person up stairs could be. For dinner, I had gnocchi which is a rolled up potato dough balls in red meat sauce and it was delicious! It was perfect in softness, taste, and the sauce just combined together perfectly.  Carlina ordered water, thinking it would be tap water like in America, but it came in a bottle for 3.50 euros.  I had heard water in Italy was expensive  so wasn't too surprised and tried it out. I learned that I don't like gas water and will avoid it if I can. But it became a funny thing when she did this a few more times throughout our entire trip in Italy, forgetting each time. It was hilarious.

Overall, my time in Venice was wonderful and it was an interesting part of Italy to experience. Although I feel it would have been so much better had the city figured out a way to be more inviting to those with mobility limitations like me.  I'm not sure how people like me navigate or even live in the city.  Venice has a long way to go to before becoming a universally accessible city.  One suggestion I have is that bridges be made with smoother curves which would be far more conducive to travel on wheels.  It would benefit strollers, dollies, and bikes as well.  I definitely hope they advance over the next few years.  Yes, it is possible to change.  And yes, Venice in a wheelchair is just requires lots of help and more work on your companion's part, but that's the case with everything.

No comments:

Post a Comment