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Rome - September 2007

While I was away on a trip, my girlfriend met up with me in Switzerland for a mini tour. I was already there on my own at a wheelchair tennis tournament in Austria and I finally talked her into doing some traveling with me, after some poking and prodding. I went straight there by train from Salzburg, Austria after the tournament was over. I hopped in a cab at the train station to get me to the airport to meet her in Amsterdam at the Schiphol Airport. We found each other inside after a couple phone calls bantering back and forth “where are you?”, “I’m over here”, “Where?”. It had been over a month since I had seen her so I was so happy to see that she had made it unscathed from the flight.

We hailed a cab and headed to the middle of the city to our hotel. I had picked one out but hadn’t made the reservations yet, due to lack of information on their wheelchair accessibility. On the way there we had told the cabby which hotel we were planning to stay at and he recommended a better one in a much more central location, so we opted to give it a shot. The Hotel Damrak was right on the main street in Amsterdam, also sharing the name Damrak. We checked in and dropped our luggage to go out and do some exploring, to see just what Amsterdam had to offer. We wandered all over the city admiring the ornate buildings and beautiful waterways lacing the city. All I have to say is watch out for people on bikes, they’re everywhere! From botanical gardens to quaint little cafes all over, it was a lot of fun. After a good amount of strolling around we decided to crash for the night. We had a train to catch in the morning.

We got on the train the next morning for Lausanne, Switzerland, to see some friends of ours there. My goodness security is tight coming out of Amsterdam! Guards went through all our bags and checked everything. Our car was a sleeper, but not exactly the most lush of rooms. It made for a nice and snuggly ride on this tiny little thing they called a bed. And, for some reason, we kept smelling something vaguely like electrical wires burning, but nothing caught on fire. We arrived in Lausanne safely and met one of our friends to take us up to their place in the mountains of Cugy.

After staying up in Cugy for a few days we headed back down the mountain to Ouchy to meet up with another friend of ours at the amazing Beau Rivage Hotel where we had a room to kill for. The view was something out of a novel with an unobstructed view of Lake Geneva and the French Alps as a backdrop.

We took an amazing walk along the lake on a bike path that runs right along the water for miles. The countryside there was unbelievable!

After much deliberation, we finally decide where we are going for the rest of the trip as it was all up in the air till then. Nothing like flying by the seat of your pants. Rome is the next stop. Italy here we come!

We hopped another train to Rome from Lausanne via Milan. Changing trains in Milan was short as the train coming in was late. The lift ramp that twisted as it lifted on the back of a golf kart worked so well in Milan. We were basically driven from platform to platform. I have to confess that it is not really that picturesque of a train ride into Rome. On arrival, the golf kart with the wheelchair lift on the back worked great once again. We basically were driven from the train door right to the exit of the Termini Station. We felt like rock stars.

While we were making or way out a guy approached us at train station to see if we had a hotel, we said no, and he hooked us up with a place. At first it felt like a scam, but wasn’t in the end. The Hotel Palladium Palace was definitely a good place in a pinch. The room was pretty small with 3 single beds and a huge bathroom with a roll-in shower. This was billed as their “accessible room”. The ramps were tough at the entrance and then up to the elevator to get up even for me. After we got checked in and dropped off bags, we decided to wander around a bit. A couple blocks from the hotel was the Piazza Santa Maria and the Santa Maria Maggiore, a great Basilica erected in the name of the Virgin Mary.

The first night went well. We had dinner at the Robin Hood Restaurant around the corner from the hotel. Smothered with classic USA decorations with odd Middle Eastern music playing on the stereo, the place was quite a trip. A pizza and a syrupy beer later we decided to call it a night. After the day of wandering we were exhausted! We thought we had walked across the entire country, but when we looked at the map we realized we had only gone a few square blocks. Bring on Rome!

The next day we got up at the crack of noon and wandered our little butts off. We made it all the way to the Coliseum – that is one of the most amazing single structures I have ever seen. This stone and mortar monstrosity dwarfs anything within eye shot and has stood there through time. The multitude of wedding processions and photos opps in front were romantic at first yet became morose and soiled as they stood posed one after another. The curbs and cobbles stones are tough, and I still don’t know which is worse, though.

We were approached to see if we wanted a tour of the inside of the Coliseum and they hooked us up again. A little know fact that wheelchairs get in for free. And apparently my girlfriend becomes my caregiver in public even when she isn’t wearing her scrubs. After the tour we ran into a couple of people up on one of the hills from the states and made dinner plans with them and some more of their friends. We took the metro from the Coliseum to the Piazza Del Popolo and neither station was accessible. Our new friends offered to carry me up and down the stairs. After terrifying a few locals with some dramatic antics in the subway tunnels, we had dinner at Osteria del Tempo Perso. It is so nice to meet cool people, and you seem to find them everywhere you go traveling. The restaurant was just what everyone envisions when they think of a cozy Italian restaurant.

After dinner we all wandered our way back to our hotel, and “wandering” is the right word to use. The “navigator” was a bit blurred by the wine and laughs at dinner. As it turns out they were all just going to stay the night in the train station a block away from our hotel. We had 2 extra beds so we offered our place to them to crash and clean up.

The next day we got up with all of them and said our goodbyes. Afterwards we walked all the way to the Vatican City and back. They would not let us in because one of the group was wearing shorts and apparently that is a big no no. On the way back we stopped at the Spanish Steps. We are starting to figure out the city and recognize landmarks and directions. This night was an early one to the room for movies on my laptop.

After a good night's sleep and a noon wake-up call we began our meandering again. We got to the Fiume River and crossed over the Sant Angelo Bridge, with these amazing statues one after another and stopped to have ice cream in awe beneath the Castel Sant’ Angelo. Somehow, we found ourselves back at the Vatican City, if you can actually miss it. By that time we got there they were closed already though, so walked back to our hotel, got food at a little pizzeria right next door and ate in our room. We crashed out early, exhausted.. just no energy left, period.

On our last day in Rome we got up on the early side and finished packing our things, checked out and left packs at hotel’s front desk to hold for the rest of the day before catching the train at 6:40pm. We walked to the Vatican City one more time and finally found the easiest way to get there but of course I get a flat tire on the way. Boy what a big difference a flat can make on a day. Not just how I feel physically, but my mood suffers greatly as well with every push in to St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. We couldn’t find the famous Michelangelo ceiling for love or money, though. Then we found the way but the elevator to that section was out of service. We got a chance to wander the Vatican Museum at least. On the way out we met a nice padre who just happened to be walking past us and commented on my tattoos. We stopped and chatted for a minute then he directed us to the taxi area in front of St. Peter’s Square and we caught a cabby really quite quickly despite the never ending line waiting. He pretty much pulled up and loaded us up saying that the disabled are an “obligation” and we are “priority”. He was awesome, giving a bit of a tour as we headed back to the hotel to get our bags.

After getting our bags, we walked the long 2 blocks to the main train station, Termini, and stopped at the disabled assistance office to check in. We had checked in 2 days before and made our arrangements for assistance on the train already so we met up with the guys who were going to assist us and got on the train. On to Paris for a half of a day layover and back to Amsterdam, still gotta get that tire fixed..

The overnight train back to Amsterdam was uneventful as we had a 4 person car and all beds were full. A cab ride across Paris to the next train station doesn’t give you any real taste of the city, so we just have to go back for another trip.

We stayed at the City Hotel Amsterdam the first night after some clever ideas on accessibility from the manager of the hotel. He and one of the other employees carried me down the fire escape stairs from the street to our room door immediately at the bottom of the steps. Breakfast was delivered to our room in the morning with a rather nice spread of their “continental” selection. First thing in the morning, my girlfriend runs all over the city trying to find a tire for me. After an adventure with cabs and trains she strikes gold. So sweet of her to go traipsing all over Amsterdam to get me a tube. Quickly, I repair the shredded tire and we head out for the next hotel. The Amstel Botel is a great stop if ever anyone makes it to Amsterdam. The rooms are not so glamorous, but fun for sure. They are set up kind of like dorms with 2 sets of bunk beds and a tiny bathroom. I mean, what do you expect. This is a boat after all, no 5 star lavish hotel here. Again, we continue to sight see all around the main part of the city. Regrettably, it is time to go back to real life… We leave Amsterdam, bags on our backs vowing to do this again. I think I might make a traveler out of her yet. This was a trip that truly makes the romance novels come to real life.