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Scotland and Ireland, June 2004, part 1

16 Sep

 

I was SO excited when I found out that my husband had qualified for an Award Trip to Scotland and Ireland!  There were about 30 or so people who were planning on making the trip.  We had an organizational meeting….

An upsetting meeting…

When the Tour Guide saw me in my recline/tilt wheelchair, she said (out loud so everyone could hear) “Nobody told me we had someone who was in a WHEELCHAIR!  You can’t go!  Scotland and Ireland are NOT wheelchair accessible!”  I went home crying and after feeling sorry for myself for a while, I posted my story on-line to Post Polio Support group (I think it was SJU) and went to bed. The next morning, I had about 100 e-mails from other PPSers who told me that our Tour Guide didn’t know what she was talking about.  They encouraged me and gave me tips that helped me to get ready for the trip. 

I had been told, first of all, by my Medical Supplier as well as seasoned travelers on the Support Group, to NOT  fly with my Recline/Tilt wheelchair. (the Airlines don’t know how to handle them very well and they have been known to do thousands of $$$ of damage trying to move them.)  So, we rented a high backed manual wheelchair with a head rest that also reclined.  I don’t like to be pushed, but my husband  is a good pusher…he listens to me when I want to go somewhere and he does not park me by the garbage cans like my ex-husband used to do.  He is very solicitous of my needs!

Dealing with the Airlines when you have your own wheelchair 

If you are traveling with your own wheelchair or scooter, always notify the airline ahead of time.  You will be allowed to drive your own chair to the doorway of the plane, where they will either put you in an “aisle chair” or escort you to your seat, boarding you first, before all of the other passengers.  They will take your scooter/wheelchair and stow it away in the luggage compartment.  Make sure that you fold your seat down (and your handlebars and controller if it is a scooter) and put the scooter in “free wheel” so they can push it.  TAKE YOUR KEYS and any backpacks, etc. 

Remind your Flight Attendant before landing that YOUR personal wheelchair is to be brought up to you when you land.  Never take it for granted.  When you arrive at your destination or your connecting airport, remind again, if possible..be assertive but polite of course……you will be the LAST person off of the plane, but your chair will be waiting for you at the doorway of the plane.  You will have the use of  it to change planes or to use if you have a long lay-over.  If you are traveling alone and have to make a quick plane change and need assistance, ask the Flight Attendant to call for a cart and put you AND your wheelchair and your traveling companion on it and take you to your next destination.  Or they will push you…you do not have to tip this person…it it part of their job!   

As soon as you arrive at the next gate and there are Flight Attendants, alert them of your presence and park yourself near the Jetway if you are leaving soon.  Again, you will be boarded early and they will take your chair.  You will have to stow your walker or cane or crutches in the overhead bins, but the Flight Attendant will get them for you if you have to make a trip to the restroom. (I always try touse the airport restrooms before boarding because they  are so accessible). 

If you are on an overseas flight or a long flight that serves a meal, notify your airline of any dietary restrictions when you make your reservations.  Usually the “special” meals are better than the “regular” meals! 

Quick tips……

For the last few years (since a 5 hour lay-over in Newark airport) I now pack 2 pool floats, purchased at a local Beach Store for about $1 to $2 each, and pack them in an outside compartment of my carry-on luggage.  If I need to lie down in the airport, My husband blows the float up and I simply lie on the float in the floor of the airport!  I also take a very light blanket and a microfiber blindfold….right before it is time for them to call our flight, he punctures the pool float with a ink pen and puts it in the garbage.  I have another float in my luggage for the return trip.  If I don’t use the one on the trip TO my destination, I will have a  float to use in the pool at our hotel!  When we get back home, I immediately replace the floats for my next trip.

*****One of my friends who travels back and forth to Ireland quite a lot told me about something she uses called a “First Class Sleeper” that you blow up around you like a beanbag using the air conditioning vents….it is heaven..It folds up to the size of an umbrella when you aren’t using it…I find it works best for me with a Bulkhead Seat, using my carry-on in front of me like a footstool.  You can check this out at this link:

http://www.activeforever.com/p-1904-the-first-class-sleeper-pillow.aspx?gclid=CPPb89myjKQCFQXs7QodkQ5uHw

Buy bottled water in the airport after you have gone through the check-in….and make sure you have some high energy (protein bars or whatever is good for you).  The snacks will probably not be offered on-board…not at a decent price if they are offered at all.

I also travel with my I-Pod with a couple of Audio Books loaded on it and all of my music.

OK, you have successfully boarded the airplane, changed planes, gotten a quick nap at the airport and arrive well rested at your destination.

Now it is time to board a bus or a cab or retrieve your rental car to go to your hotel.

Hotels…..Bed and Breakfasts

Keep in mind that they don’t have the ADA Law in Europe or other foreign countries.  You need to check and re-check your hotel accommodations before you leave home!  You can talk directly to a Concierge at the hotel either by e-mail or by phone.  Don’t simply ask for a handicapped accessible room.  Be SPECIFIC about your needs!  What they consider accessible isn’t necessarily what we consider accessible!   For instance:   My favorite hotel in Cabo San Lucas has ground floor rooms and suites but the rooms don’t have handicapped accessible bathrooms!  The PUBLIC bathrooms in that hotel have raised toilets and grab bars…but not in the hotel rooms!  My solution to that particular problem turned out to be (don’t laugh) 2 baby swim rings… first one taped in 4 places to the toilet (seat raised) with double sided carpet tape, and another identical baby swim ring taped to the first one with more double sided carpet tape.  It is a little wobbly, but there is a sink near by that I can put a hand on to steady myself.  I put a towel in the floor of the shower before I get in to make sure the footing is not slippery.  I NEVER shower in the room alone!  They say they are building handicapped equipped rooms there….we’ll see. 

BACK TO SCOTLAND………..

The Balmoral not only had a handicapped equipped bathroom like I was used to, but they also have a sling that can be used to put a quadriplegic into the bath tub!  I didn’t try this, but kind of wanted to…they offered instructions…..From what I understood, this was the ONLY handicapped accessible room in that huge hotel!  What a beautiful place! 

The Balmoral, Edinburgh, Scotland

 This was our “home for 5 nights. 

We found Edinburgh to be such a delightful city!  The double decker buses took my manual wheelchair on board with no problem and my husband hoisted me up into the bus.  Our group traveled by bus when we went to pre-arranged tours and places of interest.  When he and I were on our own, we found the city to be 100% wheelchair friendly.  It is a college town and the atmosphere was so friendly and cafes and shops were bustling.  At that time of year (June) it didn’t get “dark” until about mid-night…the sky turned a beautiful color of turquoise….so you could stay out on the streets with all of the college kids until late and you always felt safe.  It was an expensive city.  Scotland is on the Euro and the exchange rate was not good for us Americans.  So we bought just a few keepsakes there. 

The “Old City” is visible from the “new city” below.  The sight of Edinburgh Castle from the New part of the city (especially at night) was breath taking!   

I am in the upper right in this photograph....

 

You can see the  clock tower of the Balmoral in the background, in this picture to the left.  Notice the color of the sky.  This was taken around midnight. 

Street Artist performing for me in Edinburgh. 

My husband with his "dresser"

We went on a tour of Edinburgh Castle and there was one night where all of the guys dressed “formally”, which in Scotland means that the men wear kilts.  We were able to find his family’s (clan?) Plaid.  Our doorman came up to help him dress, and as he added each piece of the kilt outfit, he told of the significance and meaning of each item.  Priceless!  Here is Terry being dressed and another picture of all of our handsome men in their kilts.

I’ll write more about our trip to Scotland later…and then it is on to Ireland…..

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