According to Ancestry DNA, I am 40% Italian. I was born in New Jersey and although I live in Florida now, a lot of my family still lives up north(where it seems like all the Italians do). There's been a very present Italian influence on my life since I can remember with large, loud family gatherings full of food and wine. And of course, stories about our family’s history and their life in Italy. Traveling to Italy has been a dream of mine for some many years. But after my spinal cord injury in 2007, traveling to Italy seemed to be more of a pipe dream than a possibility.
Flashforward 12 years… I’ve gained exceptional strength, body awareness and independence, largely due to the activity based therapy at NextStep Orlando. Matt and I have been together for 9 years and we are finally getting married! But where do we honeymoon? We’ve been to Cabo, we road tripped to Arizona/ the Grand Canyon last year, do we go somewhere west again? Or maybe somewhere closer to home in the caribbean? Is Europe… Italy, even an option?
One of the best parts about working at NextStep Orlando is the people I get to meet. Have you met our client, Sylvia Longmire? Sylvia is the definition of a boss. She is a writer, analyst on border security, an expert on the Mexican Drug war, travel blogger, owner of her own travel agency (http://spintheglobetravel.net/) and a single mother of two. She has traveled across the world, all while experiencing living with a chronic illness. Read more about her here. Meeting Sylvia inspired me to be more adventurous in my travel aspirations. If she can travel the world in her wheelchair, alone…. surely with Matt’s help, I could do it too. I asked her if my dream to go to Italy was a possibility and she told me a cruise would probably be best for me. THEN she told me about a Royal Caribbean cruise leaving out of Barcelona to Italy on June 1, 2019. IT WAS DESTINY! Just 3 weeks after when we were to be married (May 11th 2019) I knew we could not pass this opportunity up and I booked the cruise right away. Soon after, Sylvia put me in contact her college Mirjam who works for an accessible tour guide agency in Europe (https://disabledaccessibletravel.com/) and I was able to book fully accessible tours for Tuscany (Pisa, Lucca and a private wine tasting) Rome and the island of Capri!
Today is Friday, June 13th… Matt and I returned from our honeymoon this past Monday and yes, Italy was exactly how I dreamt it would be! I have learned while traveling in the past (after my spinal cord injury) that I have to remember I am not going to be able to do EVERYTHING I want to because of physical limitations but I am lucky and need to be grateful I am able to travel at all. I have to remember to appreciate the experience instead of having expectations. I knew Italy wasn’t going to be easy but with Matts help, the tour guides and accessible transportation, I promised myself to have patience and just soak in everything I could.
Our first day in Tuscany was magical! We visited Pisa to see the leaning bell tower. We were able to go inside of the cathedral for free because of my wheelchair (small perk) and enjoyed learning about the city’s history. Then we went up the side of a very steep mountain on a very narrow road to the most charming family run winery. We enjoyed a tour, tasting and homemade lunch with the most wonderful owners/hosts. It was a highlight of our trip and a memory we’ll cherish the rest of our lives. The view from the mountain top, overlooking all the vineyards and olive trees was breathtaking. Tuscany is absolutely beautiful! (And hello, wine country! My heaven) Then we enjoyed a relaxing stroll around the city of Lucca and I got a chocolate gelato. Can check eating gelato in Italy off my bucket list now!
We started our day in Rome with a private tour around the Colosseum. For anyone traveling to Italy in a wheelchair that also feels the Colosseum is a must, I highly recommend this. Our tour guide, Claudia, went out of her way to clear paths through people for me and make sure I was able to see and fully experience the Colosseum. She had so much knowledge on the history of the Romans and the gladiators, I learned so much more than I ever anticipated. Next stop on the tour was the Trevi Fountain. This Was Madness. The cobble stones and crowds made it difficult to get a good view & really enjoy the fountain but nevertheless, it was really cool to finally see it in person after seeing it in so many movies! We drove around, stopped for pizza and shopping, to see more highlights of Rome and we were able to stop at a fantastic viewpoint overlooking the entire city. Rome was awesome!
Our last day was on the island of Capri! I’ve heard many stories about the beauty of Capri and Below Deck Mediterranean is one of my favorite shows so this was another must for me. Capri was just as beautiful as I’d been told but was definitely a learning experience for us… the only beach on Capri is not accessible (to be fair, I was warned) I should have done better research to fully understand the “beach” is only about 6ft and ALL rocks, even leading all the way out into the sea. We took an accessible transport up the cliffs/mountain to Anacapri for lunch which was delicious. The views were incredible but the hills were very steep and the island was very crowded. If, I mean when, I ever go back to Capri, I would definitely book a boat tour instead and suggest you do too! Still we had a great day and our amazing tour guide, Carla, again went out of her way to give us the best experience possible.
So all in all is Italy accessible?…. ehhh not really, but it is possible. With Disabled Accessible Travel (ask for Mirjam, she’s the best!) and the right travel partner, I believe any of our dream destinations are possible. Don’t let the wheelchair hold you back from traveling…. there’s a whole big world to see!- Amanda Perla