Please sign in to post.

Wheelchair through Europe

We started planning for our family's European trip in December 2013. Rick's PBS programs and our ensuing use of his nation or metropolitan tour guides supported us on each step of our journey. However, I only heard the word "disabled" or "wheelchair" once and that was like a prayerful wish that all would go well. In vain I explored the London, Paris, Munich from the Watch,Read Listen section of this web address, Italy books and ebooks for hints but to no avail. However, Rick's optimism kept us going. To be clear of my problems, I have ALS and walking is a struggle but not impossible. This was the first time we used a wheelchair. As a result, we were learning along the way. We flew into London and returned to the US via Milan; the rest of the trip was with the various trains. I worried for several days before each new train ride. I was concerned regarding curbs, entrances to rail stations, directions to loading platforms, rest rooms, eateries. Fortunately, my wife and two boys could help me but that didn't ease my worries.

In general, my concerns will either misplaced or or not sustained. Each problem was already dealt with by our European hosts. All of the rail stations were easily accessible for the wheelchair. Even in Venice where the exit out of the Santa Lucia station to the street had steps, Rick's information showed me that there was an level exit on the left hand side of the station, not well marked but still there. We had no trouble getting out of the station. In all of the rail stations there were clean well staffed rest rooms with a dedicated room for handicapped...and it was free. When entering a passenger car that was above the level of the boarding platform the rail line supplied a lift that carried me and the wheelchair up to the passenger car or lowered me to the platform. Each station had a representative of the rail line guide us through the crowd and out to the cab stand. Lastly, restaurants whether it be in the station or out in a city were always helpful and never once did I feel out of place.

Finally, I want to support Rick's walking tours as found in the Travel Forum. We used the walking tours for London, parts of Paris, and Munich. For days like London's Bank Holiday or museum holidays the walking tour filled the bill and the supplementary maps and slides made it a learning experience.

As a former Seattlite let me give Rick a vote of approval. The information and guidance made what could have been a disaster a wonderful journey for the family.

Pat Beaton, New Jersey USA

Posted by
507 posts

Thank you for your message. We have been planning for some sometime a 2015 pilgrimage to the Iberian Penninsula and the French Alps. In the last 6 mos my husband became a double amputee below the knee. Even though he is learning to walk with prostheses & a walker, I am concerned he will become tired with all the walking up & down hills.

My plan is to rent an ultra-light wheelchair to take with us to use should he become tired. To anyone who can answer me, are there wheelchairs to rent in the various towns, or should I stick with my original plan to bring one from the States that I am able to stow in the airplane cabin on the way over?

Posted by
1438 posts

In 2008 I was waiting a knee replacement with a knee that was totally destroyed and could not walk far at all. We debated not going on the trip but decided to go and take a wheel chair with us. At that time, it didn't appear we would have luck renting in various countries. Even though I hated riding in it, it was wonderful to be able to take the trip, and it worked well. The wheels were bigger to aid in going over cobblestone streets.

Following is what we ordered in 2008. Invacare 12" Rear Wheel Transport Chair (Customized), Qty: 1, Unit Price: $159.00

Posted by
507 posts

Thanks for the info on the wheelchair, Sharron. Since that model worked for you in Europe, I plan to rent one from a local medical supply store for $25/wk for our trip.

Thank you again for the positive reply.

Posted by
16885 posts

Thanks, Pat, for sharing your trip! The big cities you chose would have a wider range of services and accommodations than some small towns. How early did you request boarding assistance from the railway staff? Each country's railway web site tends to have instructions, which often ask you to call a day ahead. If you reserved specific wheelchair spaces on the trains, then maybe notification was built into the reserved ticket.

Posted by
7 posts

Hi Collette and Sharon: I resisted acquiring a wheelchair through the month prior to our trip last May. My wife had to take me out to the "woodshed" for an attitude inversion. It worked and we rented a standard size wheelchair for travel..it weighed about 35 lbs. I'm glad we brought it with us on the flight to London. We really wanted to get into the tour. Unfortunately the wheelchair refused to collapse by the time we got to Venice. But my wife found a repair shop in Florence. I am glad that we rented a wheelchair and not a transporter. The omnipresent cobblestone streets and sidewalks were hard enough given the full sized wheels; any thing smaller would have been excessively bumpy. Before you go on the trip you want to locate wheelchair repair shops in the areas you are traveling to. From talking to folks at my PT/OT gym it is not unusual for something to go wrong with the wheelchair.

I'm glad we are going to make the trip; it will be a thrill for your husband given what he has been through. But be sure to listen to him; he sees society from a new perspective. Finally, when needing any help be sure to ask; we did and we always were helped; its also an excuse to say Hi to a local.

Posted by
7 posts

Hi Laura: The major carriers seem to be able to help disabled travelers with or without prior notification. Out of five rail companies we had notified the ticket agent 3 times. The other two times we arrived at the platform and looked for the conductor. Once found he or she gave us equal high quality service. Perhaps we were lucky
or there were few handicapped to worry about but I feel that the rail operators want to make sure you have a good and safe trip.

Posted by
7 posts

Hi Collette: Ah yes, know the situation well. As for the wheelchair, from the rollee's point of view its probably a wash. I assume that comfort and safety are satisfactory. From the pusher's viewpoint the lighter chair will be easier to move. My only other concern is mechanical. Does it break down easily under the pounding of cobble stones or does it resist these tendencies. You may want to inquire into the maintenance record. Firms that serve the handicapped population will have an office dealing with their wheelchairs; perhaps they can help. Have fun preparing for a great trip for your family.

Posted by
12040 posts

Kudos, Pat, for not letting ALS stop you from traveling!