Can You Travel Europe in a Wheelchair

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Can You Travel Europe In a Wheelchair?

The short answer is YES! YES, YOU CAN! The involved answer is still yes, with some assistance, perseverance and a plan. All of Europe is older than the concept of accessibility for all, but a lot of advances have been made to accommodate those willing to travel. You will encounter a lot of difficult things, but what you gain from visiting these gems far outweighs the struggles.

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Although I am fortunate to not have a child dependent upon a wheelchair, our middle son shattered his right foot our first night in Rome. He broke it so severely that he was non-weight bearing on it for 6 weeks. 6 weeks translated to 6 European countries with a wheelchair that I purchased second hand from a pharmaceutical vendor. In some instances, this accident changed my travel plans completely, but on the other hand, it forced me to see the larger world through the eyes of someone with a disability.

The Can Do and Cannot Do of Wheelchairs In Europe

The good news about traveling in Europe is that your transportation options are incredibly accessible. Riding on trains with wheelchairs is a wonderful experience for reasons that I will share momentarily. Across Europe, you will struggle to roll over curbs and cobblestones, but roll you shall. Visiting monuments, because of their age, will be the largest struggle. Many European treasures have made their first floors and entrances wheelchair accessible, but making tiny towers and upper levels accessible is difficult and few and far between in European monuments.

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The GREAT news is that almost all museums and the grounds surrounding the most famous monuments are all wheelchair accessible! Some of them you can even go up to the top in now! The countries that I found to be the most accessible in our European travels were:

  1. Switzerland
  2. Germany
  3. Austria
  4. Czechia
  5. Poland

The least accessible, by far, were:

  1. Italy
  2. Greece

europe with a wheelchair 7I know this is not what you wanted to read, because who doesn’t want to go to Italy and Greece? I’m here to tell you that you should and you can! These two countries are just not as easy to navigate in a wheelchair because of the narrowness of sidewalks, roads, entrances. The lack of elevators throughout is an obvious challenge. Also, both of these countries have less funding to make accessibility improvements. The museums and archaeology sites, however, are very accessible!

European Resources For Tourists

I was offered assistance, for free, in every single train station throughout Europe. Each country has its own accessibility program within their railway systems. You can book the handicap seat online, which allows for a lot more room to fit the wheelchair in. If you locate the accessibility office within the major city railway hubs then they can schedule assistance at all of your stops to help get you and the wheelchair off the train AND will hold the next train to load you on! A HUGE HELP!

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If for some reason you cannot book the handicap seat online then they can help you change your general seat to the handicap seat at this office as well. Truly a wonderful resource. These offices are usually very busy places so give yourself ample amounts of time to fully utilize everything they have to offer!

A website that was particularly helpful when our plans abruptly changed was www.sagetraveling.com. This wonderful sight is a little difficult to navigate, but will help you learn about the accessibility of specific sites, monuments, cities, restaurants, and other local resources and tours that cater to the accessibility audience! Before you even start planning your trip to Europe you need to spend some time exploring the resources that Sage Traveling has to offer.

Making Travel a Priority

Travel is not only for the physically sound tourist. There are resources out there and help everywhere to achieve your travel goals. Make a list of places you want to see. Prioritize that list and begin researching how to make it happen. You can do it! From sightseeing alone with a child in a wheelchair like I did to hiring an accessibility savvy tour guide. Anything is possible if you take a chance on the capabilities of yourself and hidden helpers throughout the world. Get out there.

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How to Have Nice Things AND Happy Kids

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We all enter our relationships with “things.” It is inevitable that we will bring something special with us into our homes together. As babies arrive on the scene we want to include them in the “specialness” of these family heirlooms, but like any other child, they couldn’t care less. So how do we teach our child respect for an inanimate object? They don’t have to love it right? But they do have to respect it and give it enough space to protect it.

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I was raised by an antique dealer. According to my siblings and I, we were raised in a museum. Some of my father’s tactics worked beautifully, others not so much. As someone who was raised to respect everything inanimate, I have obviously brought into my marriage a plethora of antiques and “special” items that my family continues to grow around. Here is how I manage the chaos and collectibles.

Start Them Young

We have three little boys. Rough, rowdy, loud, wall-climbing little boys. Our belongings take quite a beating from them, but the only things that have been broken have been broken by movers. When each child is around age two, I begin schooling them on gentleness. A simple enough concept in regards to the family pet, but I am also teaching them to be gentle with the glass doors of my antique wardrobe. As the kids get older we begin to expose them to the craftsmanship that goes into making such treasures. At a farmers market one summer we watched a blacksmith craft in traditional fashion. Our oldest son, who was then 4, was fascinated. The blacksmith talked to him about how many hours went into making the items that were for sale.

When we got home our son stared at an antique Swedish immigrant chest that I had acquired that year from my father. The trunk is covered in hand hammered ironwork with intricate puzzle locks. After some contemplation he asked “mom, how long do you think it took to make your trunk?” My heart swelled. This was THE learning moment. We came up with a number we thought was reasonable based on how long it took the blacksmith to make his wares.

When the conversation was over our 4-year-old had a whole new respect for that trunk. The amount of work that went into making it, the journeys it had made, the skill it took to create it, the cost of something so grand to a family hundreds of years ago. You could see his gears turning. He understood. From that day onward he understood why it was so important not to stand on it, not to throw the lid open, etc.

Creating Habits of Care

Of course, the conversations did not stop there. I tried to not nag the family constantly, but over time rules were put in place about ball throwing in the house, not touching mommy’s red lamp. Life goes on, but some wonderful things happened as well. Our boys learned to care for things. They learned to oil wood, to dust and clean mirrors, and maybe best of all to detail a vehicle. Now at ages 6, 5 and 2 when I say “that is not how we treat our things” the lectures do not have to take place. They know the right way to care for it, they know exactly what they did that was inappropriate, they understand and it’s not because mommy dictates so, but because of a respect for the piece.

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Of course, this approach to care can be directed at anything that you deem important to you. If your collectible of choice is breakable you might not want the kids to help you care for it and that’s ok! Eventually, you’ll teach them to dust it and maybe you’ll take them to a pottery class, or the manufacturer museum, etc. There are numerous ways to include your children. What we don’t want is for your child to feel like Ferdinand in the china shop. Teach them to care for it and it could live on forever.

Persistence and Teaching are Key

There is no reason why you shouldn’t have nice things and children! I don’t suggest a new and expensive couch as the things that bear the most physical weight typically fall apart the fastest. If you enjoy beautiful things then you can teach your children too as well. Now that our boys are a bit older my father (woodworking magician) can show them how to repair and refinish the antiques in our lives. Teaching them more about the craftsmanship and difficulty of the work will continue to embed deep respect for the object.

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Over the Holidays my father re-wired and re-hung the prisms of this victorian lamp for me

If you do not personally know someone who works with these specific mediums do not fret. There are local people everywhere who would love to apprentice a younger generation in the ways of the past. With any luck, we can all raise respectful children that care for family heirlooms for generations to come.

 

Visiting Biltmore Estates with Kids

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Tucked deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains is an architectural masterpiece that is worth your time. Losing yourself for a full day on the Biltmore Estates is a very easy thing to do, especially if you are toting little people. I have now visited the Vanderbilt family’s claim to fame two times in our 2.5 years stationed in North Carolina. Partly, because the house and landscape are so incredible and because it is different every time! With different, exquisite decor for every season and endless exhibit installations, you need to go! “But how do you tour things with small children?” With patience and a plan.

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Planning Your Biltmore Estates Visit

You do not need to pre-book anything at all. Upon entering the grounds you will come to what appears to be a visitor center where you purchase all tickets and tours for your visit. This will take a bit of time. There are dozens of tour options. From the main levels only to servant quarter tours and the roof and rafters tours. You cannot go wrong with any of them! You need to allow approximately 2 hours per tour. The tours are not 2 hours long, but you will want some time to compartmentalize all of the new information you are learning, to ask questions and potentially have a bathroom or food break. There are a lot of stairs in the Vanderbilt Mansion. There is elevator access, which can reach most of the levels. Your experience will be richer by taking the stairs. The staircase itself is a marvel and the information delivered by tour guides while climbing is worth hearing. If stroller trumps baby-carrier then that is perfectly fine and you can still do a few of the tours this way.

Although, the tour guides will answer every single question you have with class and tact; I highly recommend watching a Biltmore Estates documentary or reading a book before going. The tour guides treat guests as if they have basic knowledge of the family history as to not insult anyone. Names and dates can get very confusing very quickly.

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Planning Your Visit to Include the Kids

The majority of the tour options are quite kid-friendly. Obviously, some tour guides have that kid-friendly spark more than others, but all will gladly answer the children’s questions. I found that my children enjoyed the Roof and Rafter tour the best because you get to see the call bells of the servants, the original electrical guts and the exterior roof walks. My science-loving kids thought that this stuff was pretty cool. It is also a more specialized tour. Therefore, the tour was smaller than the main level handheld tour that EVERYONE does.

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If you are on the fence about spending money on an extra tour that your children may or may not enjoy-then don’t! You can do a general tour, which includes the basement, kitchen, and two main level floors. This tour alone will take every bit of 2+ hours and is handheld audio guided. The kids can have an audio guide as well, which I have always found helps them feel included in the experience.

If you do not want to go into the house at all with the kids then you can spend your day exploring the grounds and gardens of the Biltmore Estates! There are endless trails, gardens, greenhouses, fountains and when you are finally hungry there are the stables! Yes, that’s what I said, the Stables! The original horse stables have been converted into a beautiful shopping area and restaurant to include an ice cream parlor, toy store, and Christmas shop! Yes, these were well-treated horses. It really is THAT big.

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A Biltmore Estates Vacation

Whether you are planning on spending the day or a week you are going to have a wonderful time exploring. The Estates are approximately 20 square miles. From the roof of the mansion, the Vanderbilt family owns everything the eye can see. Also on the grounds are a hunting reserve, numerous restaurants, two hotels, a golf course, private fishing tours, and the list continues. If you want to spend a week on the Estates you can do so without ever needing to leave the grounds. If you want to spend thousands of dollars or simply less than a hundred, both are entirely achievable. Regardless of how you vacation you are certain to have a wonderful experience. You and your children will consider it time well spent. Get out there.

Happy New Year 2019!!

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We spent a beautiful first day of 2019 doing what we love most! EXPLORING! 2018 was a dousy and wonderful at the same time. Every single year I say “ok there’s no way next year can be crazier than last year.” Somewhere in the Universe, I challenged the galaxy to do me one better and it never fails the next year is ridiculously crazier! In 2018, the kids and I visited ELEVEN different countries. broke many a bone, ate and ate everywhere. We visited as many museums and archaeology sites as they would let me take them too and every single beach we saw. We swam in four of the seven seas and one ocean. . .People have been asking, regularly since our U.S. return in September, what is next?!?!?! The blog followers are getting the inside scoop on what 2019 has in store for our family.

Big Changes and Travel in 2019

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The things that are set in stone for 2019:

  1. Spending 2 weeks renting an apartment in Washington D.C. this February! One of my dearest friends and bridesmaids is having her first baby! This doula/placenta encapsulation specialist and salty seasoned mama is going to go be her birth worker for a couple of weeks. Simultaneously we will use the two weeks to see every free museum available in D.C. as the kids will be in tow of course.
  2. The kids and I are headed to New Delhi India for the month of March! One of my college friends is getting married in a small town outside of New Delhi and our presence has been requested. I am very excited about India. I cannot extend the trip this time, but I’m hoping three full weeks there will be enough to satisfy the wanderlust pallet for now.
  3. An end of summer permanent move to Iwakuni, Japan! Mother Marine Corps has spoken and a move to Japan is in our near-ish future. We all have to pass a medical clearance before this can happen though.
  4. I would love to head back to Mexico for a few weeks this summer.
  5. If we do make it to Japan by September then the kids and I will be heading to Bali in October to rendezvous with other worldschooling friends!
  6. The kids say that Tokyo Disney and Tokyo Legoland need to be on the list too!

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Personal Goals for 2019

I’m not typically one to make “resolutions” for the new year, because life is busy and it happens all the time and I refuse to feel guilty about a shift in expectations of myself. Goals aren’t designed to make you feel bad. Goals aren’t made in the spirit of failure. I do however make lists of things I’d like to improve. Improvement is a success in my opinion. 

Despite your endless amounts of encouraging words. Despite so many of you putting me on a pedestal of inspiration. There are still things I’d like to improve upon and I want to include you all in on those goals because I am human and I need your support for many of them to be a success. These are my top 10:

  1. I want to run an average of 15 miles per week. Ten is the goal, twenty is the dream.
  2. I want my family to spend a minimum of 20 hours a week outside. Not necessarily all together, but 20 hours none-the-less. 25 is the dream, 20 is the goal. 
  3. I want to move to Japan early enough to catch the Mount Fuji hiking season, which is not up to me at all.
  4. I want to read more. I have a huge book list and I  fluctuate severely between reading a ton and not reading at all. I want to gain more consistency. 
  5. I want to grow The Wild Bradburys facebook page to a thousand people. This is where you come in. Share it. Please. Send it to friends. Grandparents, mothers, fathers, aunts, and uncles. Anyone who wants to touch the life of a child. I hope that there is something for everyone on the page. I want there to be. So share your ideas with me so we can grow together!
  6. A PODCAST. Yes, Yes, finally I know. So many people have contacted me about launching a podcast. My goal is to begin working on it when I get back from India. April will be the month of the podcast. I want everyone that has visited the blog and page to be able to listen to a podcast and feel as if we are having coffee/tea at my table and hashing out adulthood, motherhood, spousal responsibilities, travel, dreams, homeschooling, natural living. There is so much to discuss and so much that should be talked about so let’s do it!
  7. In a perfect world, I’ll make it back to Greece in 2019. I love it so.
  8. Invest more time and energy into my dearest friends. They are so special to me and I do not sing it loud enough or often enough.
  9. Spend more time fueling the passions of our little people.
  10. Incorporate more European habits into our American lifestyle.

I hope that 2019 finds you hopeful, encouraged and motivated to be the change you want to see in your own life, in the life of others and in the world. Thank you for coming with me on this journey. Let’s make it a good one and get out there.

*Lydia

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