Friday, November 04, 2016

Travel Is Not For Wimps!

This trip to Ireland and France has been a big trip for us with very few problems overall, but it is clear to me that travel these days is very difficult for anyone with disabilities, weaknesses, or illnesses.

I have a dairy allergy, but that ended up being no problem because I took a bookmark I created with me. It had illustrations of cheese, cream, milk, butter and beef, all labeled with the French name. Each illustration had a red circle and line across it. The waiter would take the bookmark to the chef and they brought me food with no dairy or beef. Worked like a charm!

Some things there was no help for, like tight spaces on airplanes. For example, the plane to Shannon from Boston had such a narrow aisle that getting to the restrooms involved sort of climbing over people who had just used the facilities. Someone needing to use, for example, a cane, would have a lot of trouble staying on their feet. I had a bum ankle on the way home, but on the Shannon to Boston flight I was right next to a restroom and on the Boston to SF flight they I was seated right behind first class and they let me hobble up and use the first class restrooms, which, by the way, are not any nicer than the coach class bathrooms. Who knew?

I'm glad that we lift weights twice a week at the gym. We also hoisted our bags overhead on the planes, into high bins on the train and the airport shuttles and dragged them over cobblestones and up and down lots of steps in Avignon and Paris. Pack light!

Another fact of life are the lines...lines to check your bag or get a boarding pass, lines for security and for passport control, lines to board and to leave the airplane, to wait for luggage, to rent a car. The passport control line at Charles de Gaulle in Paris took over an hour and then there was security after that, so these are long, slow lines.

Once you get to your destination, be prepared, sometimes, for lots of steps (especially at tourist attractions) and no elevators (and the occasional elevator is usually tiny), and for plenty of uneven surfaces.

This photo has an example of my nemesis...the inch or so tall 'step' right behind us that sometimes just looks like part of the pavement...until your foot finds that you need to step up or down. Apparently my cataract surgery messed with my depth perception, so I had to really look for the shadow that indicated that it was a step and not just a different color of pavement...because sometimes it was just a different color and at the same level as the darker or lighter pavement.

All of this is offset by the wonderful people you will likely meet, the beauty and history around every corner if you go to Europe, and the memories you will make that have nothing to do with lines or tight spaces.

Our own experience on the way home was a trip in itself. Our delightful cab driver, Tony, got us to Charles de Gaulle airport plenty early. Strangely, there was no one at the Aer Lingus check in desk until 45 minutes later. After a slow moving line, we checked our bags and headed to the next slow moving line at Passport Control. For non-EU folks that took well over an hour, inching forward a little at a time. It looked like the lines at Disneyland, but moved much slower. Unfortunately our flight was cancelled, so there was another long line to exit to baggage claim, a wait for the baggage, another very long line to reschedule a flight...a six hours long line...and no flights out that day by then. We did get a place to sleep that night at the airport and free dinner and breakfast the next morning, but then the lines began again. A good sense of humor helps in these situations. We ended up spending most of three days either in an airport or an airplane, in a terminal or in an airport bus (which might explain why we caught the flu...another travel challenge is staying healthy).

Of course I would go back again in a heartbeat, but this time I would bring an Ace bandage and maybe even a folding cane. The essential thing that I had this time was my wonderful Sweetie. He was endlessly patient, pointed out the places I might trip so I didn't, helped me up when I did, and negotiated all the car rental desks and airport desks with a wonderful attitude. He drove on the left side of the road (the wrong side for us) in Ireland and, having just gotten used to it, switched gears and drove on the right side of the road in France. The roundabouts took the two of us, plus Katherine, plus our GPS, (we named her Beatrice), to figure out. Narrow roads and tiny parking spaces were two more challenges, but he managed it all.

All of these things are do-able, but tiring. Perhaps it's just because we are older, but time that might have been spent sight seeing 10 or 20 years ago was spent resting. We still had a great time, but are very glad that most of the time we are in good health, so we started the trip in good shape.

So be prepared for a workout next time you travel but don't let that keep you home!


  1. Oh, the GPS! What nationality did yours have? When we were in Italy - first time using a GPS - we had a choice between various British Isles accents. No matter which one, though, the instructions were consistent for roundabouts, and they always threw us, every time. "Drive through the roundabout. Take the second exit." First sentence told me that I wanted to go straight, so I'd envision taking whichever exit that was, and then the second sentence would say which exit, at which point I'd not been counting. We ended up going in circles quite frequently, that first time driving roundabouts. We were prepared for the next time, though, and knew to just ignore the first sentence.

  2. We didn't use a GPS in Ireland, but in France we had one with a British accent...a true English accent as far as I could tell. She would tell us to "go over the roundabout and take the XX exit" well in advance of reaching the roundabout, which helped a lot because then she would repeat it as we were entering the roundabout, so we could actually count the exits. By the end of seven days we had become quite good at it. It also had a screen which showed the route, so we had a heads up that a roundabout was coming...or any turn really. Once we got home I teased Sweetie a bit when we encountered a roundabout in Santa Rosa, copying Beatrice's voice and talking about going over the roundabout.

  3. An Ace bandage is a REALLY good idea -- I don't know how many times I've turned my ankles on cobblestones. So pretty, but ultimately treacherous.

    Yes, travel really is not for the faint of heart. We've done what we can to shorten the lines - getting the TSA passes, for instances, cuts off an hour or two here or there, and it's worth the money, we've found. And we invested in better luggage, hardsided, so we can pack more efficiently... and got a much smaller camera, so D's not lugging and dislocating his back, shoulders, and neck... The best thing I travel with is a sturdy pair of tennis shoes with good arch support, and the attitude that I'll get there when I get there... ☺

  4. That last thing, the attitude, is the best thing of all. I don't think that Charles de Gaulle does TSA passes. Heathrow is pretty scary, too. It feels like being in a video game or something. They didn't even post our gate until a very short time before we were supposed to be there.