I was so excited to finally get to see Pompeii up close after learning about it in class and, of course, after watching the Hollywood blockbuster of the eponymous name starring Kit Harrington. This post will be about that and my visit to the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel with Rome and Italy. Here is Part Two in case you missed it. Continue reading
Tour #3: The Baths of Caracalla, Rome
Background: Emperor Septimius Severus first commissioned the baths in AD 206 and after his death, Caracalla, his son, completed the baths in AD 216. The composition of the baths was typical of any Roman bath, including the frigidarium (cold water), the tepidarium (tepid water), and the caldarium (hot water), but on a much grander scale. The natatio (swimming pool) was next to the frigidarium and was open to the sky. In its day, the baths would have been decorated with marble, paintings, sculptures, and floor mosaics. On each side of the baths was the palaestra (gymnasium) where people could exercise. Libraries and gardens were also a part of the Baths of Caracalla. Continue reading
I knew that since I’ve been studying Ancient Rome for the last three years at university that I wanted to pack in as much as I could during my eighteen days in Italy, because it will probably be a while before I visit there again.
The majority of my stay was spent in Rome with day trips to Ancient Ostia, Tivoli, Pompeii and Florence. There is so much to do and see there that the eighteen days flew by much faster than I wanted. I booked nine tours with the company Rome and Italy, and even though I died from the heat and sometimes got a bit cranky, I loved every single one of them. Here’s a list of the tours I went on:
- Roman Forum and Colosseum
- Baths of Caracalla
- Villa of the Quintilii
- Villa Adriana (in Tivoli, close to Rome)
- Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel
- Appian Way (opted out of a tour guide for this one), and
- Castel Sant’Angelo
Let me start by saying this hotel is just fantastic. I was a little worried at first that I might encounter some physical barriers when I reached the hotel, but that wasn’t the case at all; everything was nearly perfect. I stayed at Hotel Artemide for seventeen nights; a long stay, but well worth it. The hotel is in a great location on Via Nazionale and is in within walking/rolling distance of a lot of big attractions. Nearby is the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, the Baths of Diocletian, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the National Roman Museum (Museo Nazionale Romano – Palazzo Massimo alle Terme), the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, and lots of shops and restaurants.
I’ll begin by describing the wheelchair accessible facilities of this hotel; starting with the entrance, the elevators, the rooftop restaurant: Ambrosia, the room itself, and the welcoming staff. There is a spa in the hotel, but because I didn’t use it I am not sure if it is accessible.
When I was searching for pictures of the front entrance of the hotel it looked as if the street and entrance blended into each other seamlessly; however, when I reached the hotel I noticed that there was a small lip, maybe about an inch or so high.
My wheelchair managed to climb it easily enough, once I had the front wheels on, I just slightly reversed and accelerated a little and I was in business.
Many elevators that I encountered in Italy are on the smaller side compared to Canada; and that also is true for this hotel. However, my chair did fit in both of their elevators. They have a third elevator, but that one is probably an original from the time when the hotel was built in the late 19th century. It is still in good working order, and is pretty neat, but is far too narrow for the width of my chair.
First, so you can determine if your wheelchair will fit, I’ll give you the measurements of my wheelchair. The width from the back wheels is 25.5 inches. My tray and driving stick protrude out a bit farther than the wheels, increasing the width to 29.5 inches. The length, including the foot rests is 43 inches.
My wheelchair did fit in the door of the main elevator, but with little room to spare.
The inside of the elevator is slightly larger and once I was in two of my friends could squeeze in, but it was close quarters.
The other elevator leads up to their rooftop restaurant, Ambrosia. That elevator is the same in width, but a bit shorter in length. I had about 1 inch to spare. If your wheelchair is longer and you really want to go check out Ambrosia you could always, if possible, take off your foot plates and that will give you an extra couple inches. It is really nice up there.
And so is the view.
There is a large step to gain access to the rooftop patio of Ambrosia, but when we asked if they had a ramp of some sort, they were quick to find it and lay it out for me. It remained there for the duration of my stay, which was nice.
The Wheelchair Accessible Room
When I made the booking I requested a room with a roll-in shower and Hotel Artemide delivered. I also made some unusual requests of them. One was that if I could bring in a rented hospital bed (from www.specialneedsitalia.com) because I was worried that the legs of the lift that I also rented (from www.romeanditaly.com) would not pass through under the bed. Lots of hotel beds have a solid base which makes this impossible, unless they can rig the bed up on some strong support blocks made of wood or something, but that almost seems more complicated. The lift came with a sling, but I brought my own and used it in the room and used theirs for the tours.
Once we arrived at the hotel after the delay at the airport (Wheelchair Accessibility at Fiumicino Airport in Rome) we had to wait a short while for the room to finish being set up, but as soon as it was, everything was perfectly arranged. The hospital bed was there, fitted with the hotels bedding, the lift was parked by the bed, and the shower chair was ready to go in the bathroom. In order to get the bed to fit, the staff removed one of their beds and replaced it with the rented one.
The sink was plenty high enough for me to drive under.
The room has a second bathroom featuring a bathtub, which is good for the person that you’ll be sharing your room with.
The room was large enough for me to move around comfortably without worrying about bumping into furniture. I had no trouble passing through the door of the room because it is a couple inches wider than that of the elevator.
The Hotel Staff
All of the staff at this hotel are excellent and they will do their best to make your stay perfect. On your behalf they can book tours, arrange transportation, and probably more if you ask.
Breakfast is complimentary and they have a large selection of yummy food to choose from. They even gave me a delicious fruit cake on my birthday.
I really loved staying here, especially after a hot day of touring around. It was nice to come back and relax for a little while and then go exploring again.
Stick around for my next post about all the tours I went on with the company Rome and Italy.
I’ve always wondered, if it happened, how I would get off one of those planes that doesn’t line up next to the bridge of the airport and only has stairs leading down to the Tarmac. Landing at Rome’s Fiumicino airport, I found out how it was done. I’m not sure exactly what it’s called, but there was this large box-like vehicle that drove right up to the plane and the airport staff wheeled me into it using one of their narrow aisle wheelchairs, transferred me to my wheelchair, and then it drove a short distance, lowered to the ground, and I was immediately ushered into an accessible van, and led to the airport’s entrance.
I flew with Air Canada and I should note that they did not use a slider sheet or a lift to transfer me from the airplane seat to the narrower chair that fits through the aisles, but instead one person lifted me under the arms and the other under the legs, which is always a bit awkward but it works.
The staff at Fiumicino, part of the ADR Assistance team, are really great. When I arrived in Rome, two people helped me from the point of getting off the plane up to finding my waiting ride, at no extra cost. Upon leaving Rome, ADR staff helped me again from check-in to boarding the plane.
While I was in that box-like vehicle (if you know what it’s called, let me know) I noticed that one of my foot pedals had become bent out of shape; at first, I thought it could be righted with a little effort, but no, it was really twisted. I should have taken them off and brought them aboard with me like I was thinking, but in the end I thought, no, they’re really sturdy, they’ll be fine. I’ve learned my lesson. Nothing else at the time was damaged because I lowered the armrests to their base, removed the driving stick and tilt switch, and seat cushion. One broken foot pedal was an inconvenience, but not the worst thing that could have happened.
Once we were inside the airport, the two ADR staff showed me and my travelling companions where to get our luggage and then led us to baggage services where I made a claim for the damage on my chair which took about an hour. Later, I was put in contact with a company called Scoot Around who then tried to find another company to repair the damages, but unfortunately, they could not find a company in Italy that deals with Quickie wheelchairs. So, I relied on the one good foot pedal for the duration of my trip.
On the return flight, I had to go to baggage services again because a bit more damage was done to my chair. I don’t get too nonplussed about these things because after flying enough times my expectations are rather low with regards to how my chair will be handled (it is very heavy, so there’s that) and in my experience, most airlines are prepared to pay for any damage and will try to send someone to fix it during your holiday if they can.
That about sums up my experiences at the airport this time around. My next post will discuss the awesome hotel that I stayed at in Rome.
Fairly soon, I’ll be making my way to Italy, my first trip overseas, and I am beyond excited. It took an immense amount of planning; I preferred to do all the research on my own and did not use a travel agent for any part of the trip. I did consider using one, but I felt more comfortable knowing that I would have direct contact with the people offering me their services and that I would be aware of every detail in case one of my needs was over-looked. You could consult a travel agent if you wanted to, but there are not that many that are specialized for disabled (I don’t like that word) travellers. Sage Traveling might be an option though; they deal with accessible travel in Europe. It’s your choice.
I began planning my trip halfway through Reading Week, when I should have been doing just that, reading and completing assignments, but procrastination was at work again. I recommend planning your overseas trip at least nine months to a year ahead, especially if you anticipate going during a busy season. That’s what I should have done; it would have saved me some trouble.
The search for the perfect hotel
The first task I set myself was finding a wheelchair accessible hotel in Rome; headquarters for the duration of my stay. I started by Googling “Rome wheelchair accessible hotel” (very scientific), and once I had a comprehensive list of those that might be, I began calling them. I soon found out though that since I do not speak Italian that they all preferred to handle any inquiries by email. So then I began emailing them to find out 1) if they did indeed have wheelchair accessible rooms and that the rest of the hotel was accessible as well; and 2) if they had availability for the dates I wanted. The good thing about the email process was that their answers were very prompt; however, some hotels had rooms that were accessible, but there were steps at the entrance of the hotel; or it was fully accessible, but they didn’t have the availability I wanted. On the fourth day of calling and sending emails I finally had some luck; I won’t name the hotel until after my trip, but they had the right availability with accessible facilities, including a roll-in shower.
Something to watch out for when booking your trip to Italy is to inquire if the hotel has an elevator and what are its dimensions. Some elevators can be quite narrow and might not fit a wider chair.
Another reason it took some time to make a reservation at the right hotel was because I needed to find out if there was enough clearance under the bed for the legs of a lift to pass through. Many hotel beds have a solid base that doesn’t allow for this. So then after looking at lots of pictures of hotel rooms online and talking/emailing hotel staff and finding out that the base was generally solid, I began to ask the same hotels and more if I could bring a hospital bed that I would rent from a local company; the response was at first hesitation, and then a firm no. That is, thankfully, until I found someone in the right mood at the right time who was more than willing to accommodate my needs.
After making a reservation at a hotel, the next step was to find a hospital bed to rent. That was easy enough and only took a simple search on Google. Here are two that I contacted:
The entire website is written in Italian, but on their contact (contatti) page there’s a list of email addresses to choose from. They rent hospital beds and other equipment.
Their website is in English and I ended up renting one piece of equipment from them. I’ll let you know how it went after my trip.
This company does everything and they seem really great. In addition to renting from Special Needs Italia, I also rented some medical equipment from Rome and Italy; they have both manual and power wheelchairs, scooters, shower chairs, and lifts available for rent. They have a variety of accessible accommodation available, though, as I haven’t used any of the accommodation myself I can’t say much about it, except ask them a question on their contact page. They offer a slew of accessible tours; and with their Wheely Trekky, which is a unique sort of wheelchair that is adapted for sites that would otherwise be inaccessible for wheelchair users; if you choose to use the Wheely Trekky there will be two assistants there included with the cost of using it, who will help push you around. They can bring a lift to transfer you if you need one. They have tour guides available for each place you might want to visit, but you can opt out of a guide for some places if you want. I’ll have a tour guide for most places, but I chose not to have one for the Borghese Museum, Appian Way, and Trajan’s Markets. It can be pricey, but they do offer accessible transportation for tours and to and from the airport, and probably other places if you ask.
I’ve booked many upcoming tours and tickets with this company including visits to the Colosseum, Ancient Ostia, the Vatican Museums and Sistine Chapel, Baths of Caracalla, Pompeii, and a few more. Like I said, they are a very friendly and accommodating company; and I expect that I’ll have some fantastic experiences. #notsponsored #iwish
Adapters and Transformers
I am not an expert on the technical side of things, but I do know that the electricity runs differently in Italy. I believe their sockets have three holes in a row. With that in mind, I bought a few of the appropriate adapters. You can buy them from almost any electronic store. I bought some from the Source and some from Amazon. I also needed to buy a transformer to use when charging my wheelchair. It’s called a Power Bright Voltage Transformer 1000W. Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.ca/gp/aw/d/B000MX564U/ref=mp_s_a_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1466895856&sr=8-9&pi=AC_SX236_SY340_QL65&keywords=power+bright+voltage+transformer
It might have been on sale when I bought it because the price has now doubled. Here’s a link that helped me figure out what I needed: http://www.miusa.org/resource/tipsheet/electricityconversion
I think that just about covers everything. I’ll let you know how everything went when I get back.
Bye for now!
My next post was going to be about finding a wheelchair-friendly hotel, but if you haven’t travelled much, Las Vegas is an excellent (and really fun) place to start. It is super accessible for wheelchair users and if you live in North America the plane ride isn’t that long. In this post, I’ll tell you about finding the right hotel for your needs, info about the Strip, how to get around, shows to check out, and where you can rent medical equipment if you need to do so.
Many of the hotels are wheelchair accessible, including Bellagio, Mirage, MGM Grand, Caesar’s Palace, and probably more if you call and check.
Bellagio and Mirage have ceiling track lifts and roll-in showers in the accessible rooms; you only have to put in a request when you call the reservation line. I’m not sure if the other hotels I mentioned have ceiling lifts, but if you’d like to stay at one of them just inquire with their reservation line.
Note: some of the lifts in the hotels can be really strange-looking contraptions. There is one that has hard rubberized padding designed to secure your torso into place with one pad on each side and two metal hook-like things that you are supposed to put your legs in. It’s not very comfortable to use, to say the least. But if you bring your own sling, which I recommend, then you can ask the maintenance staff to change it to the one you’re probably used to; you know, the one that looks like a hanger and the sling hooks on to it. If they’re not sure which one you mean then you can ask to follow them to where they are stored and pick it out. I did; it worked out fine.
If you don’t need a lift then you have a lot more options. Bonus: the rooms are quite large, so there is lots of room to move around.
Here are some links for you to check out:
I’d say the whole of the Strip is easy to maneuver in a manual or powered wheelchair. There are elevators at every pedway and I can’t remember coming across one that was out of order.
There are lots of gambling tables that are low enough to reach in case you want to try your luck. And the chairs at many of the slot machines can easily be moved aside. Plus, there’s shopping and eating galore.
The taxi companies in Las Vegas do not book wheelchair accessible cabs in advance, but they have so many that it’s usually not an issue. At the airport and the hotels I mentioned there’s such a steady stream of taxis coming in that you won’t likely be waiting very long for one with a ramp. But if you plan on leaving the Strip to go to one of the outlet malls or something, I highly recommend that you get a cabbies phone number and arrange for her/him to pick you up, or take the bus. There’s been a couple of times that I was left waiting and hoping for the wheelchair accessible taxi that I called hours ago to arrive while waiting in the sweltering heat. Not fun. So plan ahead.
The shows are great to see in Vegas and there’s lots to choose from; just do some research and inquire if they have wheelchair-accessible seating areas; so many of them do. Absinthe is my favourite one I’ve seen so far; it’s more than a bit vulgar, but so funny and, at times, suspenseful.
If you need to rent medical equipment, I’ve dealt with Desert Medical Equipment before and they’re very good and friendly.
There are other companies that rent out equipment too; just search for “Las Vegas medical equipment/supplies”.
I think that covers everything, but if you have any questions, ask!
This one is far less complicated and usually just requires a simple Google search of your destination city and “taxi” or “cab”. A no-brainer. Some taxi companies let you book a wheelchair accessible van, but some don’t; it just depends. I recommend that you make friends with one of the first taxi drivers you come across and get their number so that s/he will be able to drive you around during your stay. A nice tip might ensure that s/he will be inclined to pick you up again.
If you would rather take public transportation, then you can usually find that information somewhere on the web as well. Many places now have wheelchair-accessible buses; you just have to check.
This post is for first-time flyers. When people hear that I’m flying to wherever it is that I’m going, the question I get asked the most is: So are you going to sit on your wheelchair on the plane? The answer is no; you will sit on a seat like everyone else, but we’ll get to that part soon.
Once you get to the airport and reach check-in, the airline staff will normally ask if you want to check your wheelchair in along with the rest of your luggage or if you want to take it with you right to the gate. Personally, I like to take it with me to the gate so that I can remove items from my chair that I don’t want to chance getting lost or broken. These include my cushion, joystick, and tray. If you have a headrest it might be a good idea to take that with you as well.
The airline staff try to be careful loading and unloading wheelchairs, but still, I once had it returned to me with the back bent out of shape. If your chair is returned to you with any damage just ask one of the attendants where you can go to fill out a report. In my experience with Westjet, they are excellent about handling repairs quickly. Another time my chair was returned to me with a flat tire; they simply called an out-sourced wheelchair repair company in the city I was in, gave me a temporary powered wheelchair, and by the time I got settled in my hotel room it was already repaired and waiting at the front desk. An inconvenience to the start of a trip, but it could have been worse.
If you are travelling with a powered wheelchair, an important note to keep in mind is the type of battery your chair uses. If it’s a liquid or wet cell battery then the airline will insist on removing it from your chair and packing it safely so that it doesn’t spill. If it’s a gel or dry cell then they should just take your chair as is. However, sometimes there is some confusion amongst the airline staff about the protocols for gel batteries and they might decide to remove the battery anyway. This has happened to me before and it delayed the flight from leaving on time and was a bit of a hassle waiting for them to put it back together upon landing. If you have some document stating the type of battery then this might save you some time.
Transferring to airplane seat
So, if you have chosen to bring your wheelchair with you to the gate this is the time that they will begin transferring you onto the plane if you are not ambulatory. People who need special assistance boarding the plane usually board first and are last to get off. I’m not sure about all airports, but in my area they have a lift that they use to transfer you on to a very narrow sort of wheelchair that fits through the aisles of the plane. Once you are strapped into the chair, they’ll push you to your row and will either use the lift to transfer you to the seat or use a sliding sheet and transfer you with the assistance of the flight attendants or whoever is flying with you.
Since all of this can take time it’s usually a good idea to arrive at the airport a bit earlier than the recommended time, say 30 minutes earlier.
When you land at your destination, it’s the same process in reverse.
The next post will discuss finding transportation from the airport and using it throughout your trip.