With spring break underway and summer on the horizon, travel lovers are planning their next big adventure. Craig Grad, Alysia Kezerian shares her experience traveling around Europe after her spinal cord injury. Follow along over the next month as she shares her story in a four-part travel blog series "Wheelies Around the World." In this entry, Alysia shares her trip to Bratislava with a close friend who she's overcome many obstacles with--even before some of the bumps in the road they encountered on their journey to find an authentic Slovakian dinner. Read her story for tips on how to stay positive and give it all you've got.
The girl who is photographed with me in Bratislava in this post is an utmost incredible friend. She was with me when my accident happened so we have been through quite a lot together. Being able to share my experience abroad with Jen was so special. No matter what we're doing together, whether the activity is accessible or not, we always seem to make it work. This picture has a great story behind it that aligns perfectly with our resilience.
One day during her visit, Jen and I decided to take a spontaneous trip to Bratislava for an authentic Slovakian dinner. We were fully aware that the city is very old and that we might run into some accessibility obstacles, but nothing was going to keep us from a new food experience. But boy, did we have to tackle through much more than we expected to get there.
After arriving in Bratislava, we found that the entire station was completely inaccessible. Just to get to the other side of the station to exit, we had to go down a flight of stairs, cross over to the other side of the tracks, and then go up another flight of stairs. Craig taught me how to go down stairs in my chair backwards (sounds scary but it’s really not) so that wasn’t too bad. But to go up the stairs took a bit more effort. To do this, I have to get out of my chair, sit on the steps, and push up on the railing to sit up on the next step. Together, Jen and I are pretty quick at this since we've done it so many times when I would visit her at her at school.
Once we were out of the station, we made our way to the historic city center, only to find that the road was entirely paved with cobblestones. Joy. But, with only a few almost-catapulting-out-of-chair moments, we made it to the city center! We fell in love with the city, everyone was so kind and gracious, the food was great, and the city around us was so beautiful. Even though we had to fight though a few obstacles to get there, the journey was entirely worth it and it is an experience I will never forget.
Another thing that we experienced while in Bratislava was the incredible amounts of kindness from everyone there. While traveling through Europe, I noticed how many people treated me very differently. Most just stared confused, trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I definitely heard, “you can’t do that, it’s impossible,” from a few. Some even went as far as to plain old ignore me even if I was only trying to ask for directions. None of this bothered me all that much, but it was nice to have a break from people’s judgmental stares and be among a community who seemed to not care at all that I was in a wheelchair. The Irish were all like this as well, which is why I liked visiting Dublin so much! The take home from this is that regardless of your abilities, you’re going to experience locals treating you differently, simply because you’re an American, so do not let it bother you too much. Ignore the haters and enjoy your travels!
Side note: This experience made me remember a night during my time as an inpatient at Craig. I was having a really tough day, my nerve pain was at an all-time high, and I was exhausted from not being able to sleep night after night. In my moments of doubt, my mom told me, "You have 3 choices. Either give up, give in, or give it all you've got." That's something I hope everyone reading this takes to heart. There will be a lot of moments in life (paralysis or not) where you are going to have the feeling of giving up because of all the obstacles that stand in the way of you and your goals. If you give up, or give in, how will you ever see the beauty that comes from reaching your goal? Give it all you've got and something truly extraordinary will come of it. I promise.
Stay tuned for Alysia's final Wheelies Around the World travel blog post next week!