Keep Calm and go to Rome

The impact of the Roman civilization on Western society and everything we claim in our modern existence made visiting Rome almost overwhelming for me. There’s history on every street corner and everything that I could remember being tested on in my history classes growing up was suddenly right in front of me. It’s simply astounding being in Rome. Sage Travel has great guides

 

That being said, Rome is not at all, not even close, to being an accessible city and Italians like it that way. In my experiences in Italy, the Italians I encountered were a little more surprised to see someone in a chair and then that surprise quickly gave way to concern. And they had every reason to be concerned Rome was no place for me to be traveling by myself, trying to stay in hostels and going to see the sights. I spent two days alone in Rome before meeting up with my brother and by the time he arrived, I was so defeated by the city I felt like I had gotten beaten up by a high school bully. The main subway system only has a handful of stops with an elevator and I couldn’t find a continually updated resource to see if those elevators were in service or not. The buses seemed to be a good option as they had ramps and a place for me to back up my chair, but every bus ride was so crowded that it was a struggle to get on and off. As a rightly historic and beautiful area, it’s hard to find a paved street or sidewalk that’s not cobblestones. Most stores and restaurants, I only saw a few that didn’t, have a step to enter and exit. Fortunately, it’s Italy and there’s a plethora of outdoor seating that is 100% accessible. The Vatican is also accessible, as it’s a flat area with very few steps.

To return to Rome or in recommending Rome to a friend, I would absolutely use a disability friendly travel guide or tour. There are accessible places to stay in Rome but, like I’ve mentioned before, what an accessible hotel means in Italy is different than what accessible means in the states or in Germany or anywhere else. It’s better to go with a guide who’s already seen the facilities and can guarantee that the bathroom does have a railing and is not just an easily reached window handle (yes, that’s gotten a bathroom labeled as accessible in a place we stayed in Italy). Go with a guide and rest your mind so that you can enjoy the incredible sights and history that is Rome. See where I went

 

Pope Francis at St. Peter's Basilica Vatican City, Rome
Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Basilica Vatican City, Rome

 

One story about Rome: Visiting the Vatican for Sunday Mass is must. As a disabled person, you can get up to the gates of the Vatican early Sunday morning with the crowd before they open and signal for a guard. One of the outrageously fabulous looking Swiss guards will pull you from the crowd and personally escort you and your entire party TO THE STEPS OF ST. PETER’S BASILICA. I sat in the second row of thousands upon thousands, just 200m from Pope Francis himself (who is, in my opinion, just a totally cool servant of God). My brother and I get to our places and wait for the thousands behind us to be corralled into their sections and for mass to begin. This was a special mass; a statue of the Virgin Mary from South America was being inducted into the Vatican and that weekend was the anniversary of death of a woman who loved the Virgin Mary like a friend, our mother.

 

Two dozen other fathers were also on stage and who later preformed the taking of communion to all the people in attendance. When mass began, it had been a few hours already since we ate that morning and my stomach began to rumble. However, it wasn’t rumbling from being hungry. I had drank quite a few expressos that morning as well and I learned something about the strength of Italian coffee that morning it does more than just really wake you up. For many people with spinal cord injuries, like myself, having “accidents” is somewhat a common concern. I was one of those lucky paraplegics; I hadn’t had any accidents outside of the hospital when I first injured. And then the chanting for mass began. I hummed along, not being Catholic and not knowing the words, but I was starting to sweat. My hair began to stick to my forehead and I used my big scarf to cover up the boob sweat stains starting to appear on my sweater. “Den, I need a bathroom. Like, time now.” “Uh, ok. Do they even have bathrooms here?” “I don’t know, but I’m NOT pooping myself in front of the Pope!”

Den quickly found a Swiss guard and he directed us to the bathroom. The attendant waived us from the huge line to the special handicapped bathroom they have set aside (10 points to Rome!) and I was able to take care of my business and get back to the seats without any problems. Good thing too- Pope Francis came by on his Pope-mobile and got off to bless all the disabled guests! I like to think that my wheelchair has been blessed by Pope Francis now, even though I still run into everything.

And that’s how I almost -literally- pooped myself in front of the Pope.

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