We arrived early at the Orly airport; much earlier than needed as our flight had been delayed by an hour. We tried to check in, but the airline said we couldn’t check in more than two hours prior. We indicated the wheelchairs and all our luggage, and they insisted – two hours. So we killed time and then checked in. With our first airline (French Bee) and this airline (Easy Jet) we had a long discussion about the batteries in the wheelchairs. They wanted us to take them out, and we had to insist that they’re safe to fly in the cargo hold (as indicated by the stickers that come on their chairs) because these batteries are sealed gel and cannot leak. It was sort of frustrating to need to go through this, when Tony had already filled out paperwork for both airlines online explaining the batteries and other details about the chairs. It was like the info didn’t actually make it to the staff at the check-in counter.
Then, we had the issue of our extra additional oversized piece of luggage; a chest that carried the boys special toilet chair. Medical equipment is supposed to fly free, and most airlines give disabled passengers an allowance for two mobility devices/ medical equipment. But, with each check in we had to “discuss” the matter with the airline staff, and their manager. It always worked out, but it made our check ins take a long time. Then, we had to drop the boys’ power chairs off and transfer them to manual chairs before heading through security. We didn’t need to do this at Newark, and we weren’t thrilled about having the boys sitting in manual chairs for an hour plus before boarding. Airport manual chairs aren’t as supportive as the boys power chairs, don’t come with straps and the well-meaning special services staff from the airport often pushed the boys quickly not realizing that one false stop or swerve could send Fulton or Teddy flying from their seat. It made the boys nervous and because of the language barrier, we had a hard time explaining the boys limitations to the staff.
Because of the cancellations the day prior, security was busy, as was the departure gate. We tried to quickly purchase food but they lined us up way before the flight just so we could stand around hungrily. Fulton had been assigned a window seat. Although it required more lifting from me, I hoisted him across two other seats so he could enjoy the view. Trying to lift the boys from the manual chair to the aisle chair and then into their seat was always a process. The narrow aisle chairs, which are needed to put the boys on the planes (because manual chairs are too wide), are even less supportive, and both boys feet often drag or get bumped uncomfortably. The airport staff often wants to help, but frankly, none of us trust strangers to safely lift Fulton and Teddy. Its tough lifting them in such cramped quarters but thankfully on our second flight, we were still able to get them comfortable with the help of our inflatable travel pillows and neck pillows.
Apparently during this flight we flew over the Swiss Alps and Tony and Byron took tons of photos but Fulton and I were watching the Simpsons so we missed it. We arrived late in Venice and we waited to unload until everyone else was off the airplane. Thankfully, they had the boys power chairs at the gate to meet us. Unfortunately, Teddy’s wheelchair didn’t work. It looked fine but refused to drive, giving us an error message on his screen. Despite packing tools, if one of his motors was broken, we would be SOL. After some fervent prayer and random banging, his chair restarted and thankfully, despite a couple error messages popping up later in the trip, we had no other major problems with his chair.
The special services staff at the Venice airport asked us how we were getting into Venice and we explained we were using the Aliaguna water taxi, then the Vaporetto water taxi, per the recommendations of our travel agent. The staff member looked at me and I could tell this was not a good plan. He went up to a window selling transportation tickets and he conversed with the attendant in Italian for a few moments. In watching their expressions, despite not knowing Italian, I could tell we were not taking our planned transportation to the island. Coming back to us, he explained that the Alilaguna water taxi isn’t really wheelchair accessible; only if the water level is just right, otherwise they can’t safely set up the ramp between the dock and the boat. He went in search of a representative of that company to inquire about how to get us to the island. After much more Italian conversations between transportation representatives and the airport staff assisting us, we wound up getting Alilaguna bus tickets that would take us to Venice where we could pick up the Vaporetto water taxi to our hotel. “Don’t worry,” the staff member said as he helped load all our luggage on the public bus. “The Vaporetto runs all night.” We thanked him for his help and enjoyed a quiet bus ride into Venice. Thankfully, it was late so the bus was not that crowded and we had room for both wheelchairs and all our luggage. Had we arrived at our initial time. I don’t know how we would’ve all fit on the bus as this was the main bus line that brought tourist to Venice and it would’ve packed with riders any other time of the day.
The Vaporetto water taxi stop was a short walk from the bus stop. We were tired and ready to get to our hotel. Any enthusiasm we had for a late night cruise down the Grand Canal was tempered by exahustion and discomfort. We also had some confusion as to which dock to pick up the correct water taxi. We waited for 15 min on the wrong dock before I rechecked the schedule an realized the line we needed picked up passengers on a different dock after 9 p.m. I also noticed the line did not run all night and we needed to hoof it down to the correct dock to catch one of the last couple water taxies of the night.
We caught the correct water taxi and loaded on. Again, we would learn that these taxis would get packed with tourists during the day so had we arrived at our scheduled time, I wonder how we all would’ve fit. It was another 40 minutes on the water taxi. A beautiful ride, but I’m not sure how many of us were in the mood to enjoy it. Our hotel was in Dorsoduro and we disembarked into a quiet, dark plaza.We walked the short distance to our hotel and got our rooms. Although technically wheelchair accessible, there was a bump going into the room, and a tight turn (plus the front desk was inaccessible so I’m not sure what you’d do if you needed to check in and were in a wheelchair). The room was packed with furniture (three beds, a sofa, a small desk, a tiny wardrobe and no dressers or refrigerator) so transfers were tight and the boys had little room to move. Even a manual wheelchair user would’ve struggled with the bathroom. BUT! The location was perfect and it came with a delicious breakfast. We were only one water taxi stop away from the San Marco stop (near the square of the same name) and the area around our hotel was quiet and not nearly as packed with tourists as the streets around Saint Mark’s.
We woke up the next morning in just enough time to get breakfast. Addie was not feeling well ( we suspected strep throat based on her symptoms) so Byron, her and I headed out in search of a pharmacy. Thankfully, a pharmacist in Italy can give you some strong stuff. We described Addie’s symptoms and while the pharmacist couldn’t give her a strong antibiotic without a doctor’s prescription, she could give her medicine with some antibiotics, and prescription strength throat spray and lozenges. Addie unfortunately would be in bed all day and not see St. Mark’s, but thankfully the rest and medicines helped her feel well enough to join us for dinner. Once Addie was settled back in her room, the rest of us headed to St. Mark’s. We learned there was one wheelchair accessible way into the square. All the other ways put you on a sidewalk that runs the perimeter of the square with no curb cuts.
It’s easy to get lost in Venice. There are accessible walking routes available on the town’s website but since we had such limited time, we focused on getting to St. Marks. We enjoyed some gelato first to cool off. Once again we walked up to the entrance and were escorted to the disability entrance ahead of those waiting in line. I had been to St. Mark’s before and it might be my favorite church anywhere. As I stepped back inside I was reminded of why I love it so much. But now I was able to understand so much more of the architecture, design and imagery that I recognized as beautiful when I visited as a discerning, potential Catholic but now fully appreciated as a devout and practicing Catholic.
Afterwards, we grabbed some pizza on a crowded alley. It was hot, and we decided to head back to the hotel to check on Addie and cool off instead of trying to visit another site. Honestly, we were all still tired from the long day before and we knew tomorrow would be busy with travel as well. Edie and Byron did do some exploring of their own around our hotel. Edie, with her interest in boating, is now considering a job in the Venetian harbor…we’ll see! I doubt this will be her last time here.
Later that evening we went out for dinner. We took the water taxi toward the train station so we could scope it out for tomorrow. We’d also learned that St. Lucy’s body lays under the altar of Chiesa dei Santi Geremia e Lucia – Santuario di Lucia, and we’d hoped to stop in. (She’s Adeline Lucille’s patron.) Although we would’ve loved to find an out of the way, non-touristy restaurant, we needed somewhere with accessible seating. Ultimately we wound up at a place that overlooked the Grand Canal. It was a good, leisurely meal. And while the portions were bigger than France, it was certainly not Olive Garden sized meals either (which was fine!). Afterwards, we explored some shops in the area, easily found the train station, and got more gelato. Unfortunately, Chiesa dei Santi Geremia e Lucia was closed. We went back to our hotel and set early alarms. It wasn’t enough time in Venice, and I was sad we couldn’t enjoy at least another day.
The next morning we missed the hotel’s breakfast to check out early on our way to the train station. We snagged breakfast at the station and Addie was feeling well enough to jog herself over to Chiesa dei Santi Geremia e Lucia as soon as it opened to see St. Lucy. We had no trouble boarding and the wheelchair seating area was in business class which means it was super nice and the bathroom was actually very accessible as well! The older three kids were seated together in a different car, but with also very nice. We set off across the Italian countryside, onto our next and final stop – Rome.