Travel with a Twist

By Kathryn A. McWhirter

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What better way to see the world than with a mother-daughter adventure?

After all, we had a university graduation to celebrate, and a shared interest in travelling. Within our budget, we planned a jaunt across the globe to Italy, where we would voyage on a cruise ship for 11 days and see five countries in the eastern Mediterranean. Then four land days in northern Italy before flying home to Victoria. An exciting itinerary!

But we are no average female travellers. The daughter is young, healthy and able-bodied. The mother is middle-aged, healthy and disabled with a mobility scooter. It puts a new perspective on just about everything.

For three years leading up to our European trip, I slowly gained experience travelling locally on my small travel scooter via bus, ferry, skytrain, catamaran (The Clipper), train (Amtrak), plane and cruise ship (Alaska) - having mostly positive outcomes and a lot of fun while experimenting.

Occasionally, I would have to skip an activity that was simply not possible with a mobility scooter, but those occasions were rare. It prepared me, to a certain degree, for travel further afield, but Europe presented a steep learning curve as a number of challenges arose I couldn’t have anticipated. I’d heard stories: the crowds, the cobblestones, steps everywhere, hard to find bathrooms, especially accessible ones. It was all true, and more.

Having help was half the battle. My daughter did the bulk of running around: often for food, beverages and excursions. Questions and more questions, usually within a different culture, language and currency, with the Euro to simplify one variable. We found travel employees for plane, water-taxi, bus, train and ship to be mostly helpful, and learned how “creative” Europeans can be when it comes to accommodating all.

It made a difference that I was able to stand and take a few steps (in most instances) with my cane. We made a wonderful discovery of how to by-pass the intimidating line-ups to tourist venues like the grand Basilica in Venice and the great Duomo in Florence. My “disability status” allowed us to skip the crowds, be led to a side door and elevator for access, and often the rate was discounted or free. (North America is similar). This put a big smile on my face and made up for all the times I couldn’t take care of myself because of crowds or lack of access.

We practiced per favore and grazie, but thankfully, English was prominent in most places.
The small frame of my scooter and the tight turning radius made most expeditions doable, even in elevators. We both brought electrical adapters, essential for electronic recharging when travelling outside of North America. Most airlines are set up to accommodate the needs of disabled travellers, however, I did plenty of checking first before we committed.
I anticipated rough cobblestone and was not disappointed! Just as we had been warned, it varied from place to place, but was generally a big “shake-down.” I soon forgot about being stiff and sore with breathtaking scenery around every corner. A thick foam chair pad came in handy. It’s also true that everywhere in Europe there are steps, which can be an obstacle. Sometimes, I was fortunate enough to be picked up and lifted over a step, scooter and all. Or I would stand up, leaning heavily on my cane, as my scooter was lifted. My daughter got her workout each day, tilting the 60-pound scooter over numerous ledges where “curb cuts” were absent, and lending an arm when needed.

The pace was exhausting for me with so much to see, but with plenty of sleep and good food, I managed to enjoy most of our adventures. Sights were exhilarating as we saw some of “old world” Europe in all its splendour: cathedrals, museums, fortresses, theatres, castles, bridges and mountains, to highlight a few.

It was so worth it in the end, a “trip of a lifetime” as some accurately assessed. The photos, memories and time shared with my daughter I will have forever. Friends are asking, “So where’s the next adventure?” but for now, I’m content to explore locally. I recently completed a spectacular six-day train trip through the magnificent Rockies from Vancouver to Edmonton and back. Our country is inspirational!

Happy and safe travels!

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