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March 24, 2017

Wheelies Around The World, Part Two

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 weekend trip to Paris, including a few tips and tricks for spur of the moment weekend getaways.

When traveling abroad, it is important to keep a positive mindset. Not everything is going to be easy and you are going to have to ask for help now and again. When frustration starts to set in, remind yourself how lucky you are to even be on such a trip and just know that travel truly is worth it.

In my last post, I mentioned how a few girls in my program invited a group of us on a weekend trip to Paris. So, with four days to plan, my friends Austin, Scott and I got to work on figuring out flights, transportation to the airport, and housing. Flying around Europe works exactly the same as it does in the US. Fortunately, Craig prepared and taught me the skills I needed to fly, so I wasn’t worried about that at all. To get to the airport, we took the airport train which was easily accessible. Once in Paris, we hopped in a taxi and were on our way to our Airbnb! Another useful tip is to make sure the people you are traveling with know how to break down your chair. It makes going to and from places a lot smoother if you have a solid pit crew.

Our Airbnb was nestled in the cutest part of Paris with a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower and just a few blocks away from the Seine. When booking with Airbnb, there is an option to click the “wheelchair accessible” tab; however, we got to learn the hard way that “wheelchair accessible” in Europe does not mean the “wheelchair accessible” we are used to in the US. All it basically meant was that there was a flat entrance and an elevator. Interestingly enough, the elevator was only about 14 inches wide so I had to get out of my chair and sit in the elevator, ride to the top, then wait for the boys to ride up with the pieces of my chair. Then at the top, we put my chair back together, I got in my chair and we entered into the apartment which was also not what we expected. Long story short, if you’re in wheelchair and you’re traveling abroad, it might be safer to stick with hotels. It might be a bit more expensive but at least you will be guaranteed accessibility.

Nonetheless, there were two ways I could have approached the situation. I could have allowed my frustrations to get the best of me and have it taint my Parisian experience, or I could remind myself that we will be so busy all day that the only time we’d be coming back to the apartment would be to sleep. I can deal with a few obstacles here and there if it means that I get to spend a weekend in one of the most amazing cities in the world! Like I said before, you really need to have an open mind when traveling. Whether you are able-bodied or not, it doesn’t matter. Traveling is hard for EVERYONE and we all have to fight through different obstacles now and again, but that doesn’t mean that an entire trip can be ruined by something as small as having to get out of my chair to sit in an elevator.

Nonetheless, Paris is amazing. Everyone should go to Paris at least once in their life. I had been once when I was much younger, but being able to go again as an adult allowed me to look at the city from a completely different perspective. I had so much more appreciation for the architecture, the people, and the history. It’s actually a very easy city to travel through if you are in a wheelchair. Almost every place we went to had accessible entrances and restrooms.

We spent the whole weekend going in and out of museums, shops and restaurants. Another tip – at any museum, always ask if they have different disabled entry fee prices because most of the time, you and a guest can enter for free. But be aware all over Europe they will ask to see your disability card which is not something we get in the US (I always thought that was hilarious to ask because ummm, look at this wheelchair sir, do I really need a card verifying that I am disabled?). Just explain to whoever asks for the card that it’s just not something we get in the US and, at least in my case, everyone was very understanding.

On our last day, the group split up a bit. The boys wanted to see the catacombs, which were not accessible, so I decided to go shopping. Another tip: if your friends want to see something that is not wheelchair friendly, encourage them to do so! There are plenty of other things to do/see while abroad that you can spend time doing/seeing while they do their activity. I had the most wonderful day going in and out of shops and buying way too many things! Things got a bit tough when I needed to explain to Uber drivers how to break my chair down to put in the trunk, given that I can say maybe ten words in French. But, like everything else, we made it work and everything turned out alright.

Later that night our group met back up together to endure a long night together before boarding our 6 a.m. flight back to Vienna. Since we had to leave for the airport around 3:30 a.m. we decided it would be best to not book the Airbnb for the last night. Now that might sound crazy, but this ended up being one of my most favorite nights while abroad. After enjoying dinner with some new Australian friends, we made our way to the Eiffel Tower once again. We found a nice patch of grass to hang out on, bought some wine, and started in on the long night ahead of us. While sitting and chatting, we met another group of travelers from Kansas and invited them to join us. We ended up having the best time all together just talking, hanging out, and going through way too much wine. The boys wanted to try popping a wheelie in my chair which was hilarious to watch. It was just so perfect.

Eventually, we parted ways and headed to the airport to catch our flight back to Vienna. It was one of my favorite weekends of my entire life, and having friends who were so open to helping me made it an even more wonderful experience.

Alysia's Travel Tips:

  1. When traveling abroad, it is important to keep a positive mindset. Remind yourself how lucky you are to be on such a great adventure!
  2. If you’re traveling abroad in a wheelchair stick with hotels. It might be a bit more expensive but at least you will be guaranteed accessibility.
  3. Make sure the people you are traveling with know how to break down your chair. It makes going to and from places a lot smoother if you have a solid pit crew.
  4. When visiting museums, always ask if they have different disabled entry fee prices because most of the time, you and a guest can enter for free.
  5. If your friends want to see something that is not wheelchair friendly, encourage them to do so!

Stay tuned for part three of Wheelies Around the World next week!

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