Monday, July 2, 2018

The Good. The Bad. And the Ugly.

Sorting through the thousand or so photos I took over the last two weeks, I am struck by the absolute beauty of this trip. I am overwhelmed with gratitude that we had this experience. And after a semester having my family separated by thousands of miles, I confess that I took as many photos of my crew as I did the scenery and I do not apologize for that even a little bit. (Especially since we left Mason studying off the coast of Spain so already we are separate...again.)

But I am also keenly aware that my photographs are of the good moments. I don't stop and photograph the hard times -- though I try to be honest about them -- and so am always struck when people comment about how happy we are "always".....seriously, that is not our reality and I don't want you to think it is.

So, if you are interested in a traveler's tale, please grab some coffee. I have about a million photos I want to share and might get a bit long-winded!

Let's start with the good:

1. Gelato. Holy smokes, the gelato was so divine. And this little gelato spot in particular made us smile for a myriad of reasons -- not the least of which, they recognized us upon our return and welcomed us back!

2. Entrance Fees.  We usually only paid for one or at the most one adult and one child. Italy's policy is that those with disabilities enter free, as does one companion. 

View from the Coliseum!

3. The history.  From the Arch of Constantine and the reminder that it was Constantine who returned to Rome demanding everyone become "Christian." To the Coliseum, where for 390 years, battles were reenacted, executions were held, prisoners were fighting wild animals for their freedom, and all in the name of entertainment. In those years more than 400,000 people died.

We saw the forums of Rome's mighty leaders. We toured the Vatican and saw the Sistine Chapel (I posted photos from those sights here and also here). And toured St. Paul's Basilica, built where Paul is buried. Seeing the actual chains from when Paul was imprisoned was emotional. 

And convicting. Paul wrote from his prison cell:

"I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." Philippians 4:11

Oh, I need to have that level of contentment.

Outside of St. Paul's.

Inside St. Paul's Benjamin had plenty of room to navigate.

The eternal flame burning at the altar where Paul's prison chains are housed.

For perspective -- the columns were huge at the Basilica.

4. The pizza. Need I say more?

5. Tour guides. We made a wise decision prior to our travels and hired an accessible van for two days in Rome, the drive to our ship, and to also meet us at the port of Livorno to take us to Pisa and around Florence. On these days, Benjamin had to navigate the roads much less and Mason had to walk the cobblestones much less. They still had to....but the reprieve between major sites was a nice change.

We used for these drivers and tour guides. They did an outstanding job helping us navigate the ancient cities!

With Marco, our tour guide for two days in Rome. Marco got us into and around the Vatican as if it were easy -- it is not. We were so thankful for his expertise!

With Heliana, our fantastic tour guide in Florence! The history this woman knew was incredible and so fascinating! 

With Florin -- our absolutely delightful driver! He and this van were an absolute game-changer!!!

6. The views. Once upon a time, I read a little book -- "The Red Sails of Capri" -- aloud to Cate that promptly drew her teenage-siblings' attention and enthralled us all. We have dreamt for years of visiting Capri. It did not disappoint.

And of course, my archaeologist son, Mason, was thrilled to visit Pompeii. He worked harder than he has ever had to in order to navigate these enormous cobble stones of the ruins but did not stop smiling the entire time!

Under an arch in Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius behind them! Look at the size of those cobblestones!

The tour guide was enthralled with Mason's enthusiasm and knowledge. Of course.

She hardly had to break a sweat to hold it up! :)

She didn't either! (And no, the boys would have no part in the silly photos!)

Overlooking Florence in all her splendor!

And from the bridge in Florence.
A calanque (creek)  in Cassis.

In the village of Cassis, France.

7. Family Time. Oh man how I loved needing a table for SIX for every dinner!!

The Bad.

1. When we clicked wheelchair-access on the Disney Cruise site, all excursion options disappeared. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. We considered not taking the cruise at all. Not taking the trip at all. But the bottom line was that I desperately wanted my crew to experience Italy. And I also knew that Disney would ensure our rooms at night and our meals were accessible. Beyond that we were on our own.

So, Benjamin was able to tour Rome. Because we flew there and arranged our own tours.

Shrader SIX in the Coliseum!

He was able to see the tower in Pisa, and sight see in Florence. Again, because WE arranged the van and tour guides who would give us an accessible option.

My fab four in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

All six Shraders able to see the Duomo in Florence!

But he wasn't able to get off the ship in Capri. Or Marseilles. Or Cannes. So he and Dad stayed on the ship. He enjoyed every minute. He loves that boat. He WON six out of six Disney Trivia contests, was known by many families around the ship due to his wins, and thoroughly enjoyed himself. But still. He missed Capri.

Only four Shraders could see the majesty of Capri.

 And Cassis.

And he missed the short walk we took through the streets of Cannes. And the crepes at the little sidewalks. And we missed sharing all of this with him and with Wade.

2. Cobblestones everywhere.

Giant cobblestones in Pompeii were a physical challenge but my archaeologist son still smiled every minute!

3. Exhaustion. We walked five to ten miles every sight-seeing day. The weather was lovely and yet, the sun got hot as we tried to rapidly see as many sights as possible. This trip was not for the faint of heart. Not even a little.

Girls napping while we wait for lunch (Pizza, what else?!) in Sorrento!

The Ugly.

1. Rome arrival. Detailed here. I can't even go into that again. Sigh.

2. My attitude. Oh man. In the first days of our time in Italy, I desperately wanted everyone to love it as much and as intensely as I had dreamt about them loving it.  And the hard-to-navigate roads, coupled with inconsistent curb-cut-outs of Rome were leaving Benjamin frustrated and a bit frantic so we needed to help him drive. This led to some short tempers. Ok, this led to my short temper. One day, I will learn to get my expectations out of the way.

Luckily, we remembered to flex before we were too many days in and the trip because much much more enjoyable after that.

3. Taxi in Barcelona. We disembarked Saturday morning in Barcelona. We had to get Mason to his Field School and so had opted to just fly home also. We booked our transfer from the ship to the airport through DISNEY. As guests poured off the ship, they loaded charter buses for their transfers. Not one was accessible. We were told to wait. We waited. They called for us and led us to a small van with a steep ramp. I mean steep ramp. The "van" was not tall enough for Benjamin to get into and you know, keep his head on. :)  We measured and angled and finally reclined him, drove him up the crazy ramp and then raised him back up as much as possible. The vehicle didn't hold us all and our luggage. So Wade and the luggage went on one of the buses. The kids and I in the taxi. (I will commend the taxi and bus drivers and say that they worked very hard to stay together. At one point, the bus driver pulled to the side of the road to wait for us. He obviously read our discomfort with being separated in an unknown city/country.)

3. Arriving back in Philadelphia. Same song, hundred and fifteenth verse. Plane lands. Passengers get off. Wheelchair does not arrive. We wait. Aisle chair arrives. I have to explain Benjamin can not get into that until his chair arrives. Entire flight crew gather round us. THANKFULLY, they all understood and just sat down and visited with us. But we waited 45 minutes for his wheelchair to be unloaded and brought to the jet way. Seriously, can I say AGAIN, that the time lost in us forcing airlines to have a lengthy flight turn-over could be avoided if they engineered a way for his wheelchair to lock down instead of having him transfer out of his chair!! (Before you criticize me, please know the drawings have been done and are actively being considered. I didn't just come up with this idea! Check out this video!)

Traveling with a disability is a struggle. We have left Mason in Spain where he is doing a field school at an ancient burial site. He is walking up five flights of stairs for housing, hiking through brush for half an hour, and working in the sun on his knees and belly all day. Clearly, we don't avoid the hard stuff. But really, there is no reason Disney can not provide excursions from this wonderful cruise itinerary that make it easier for families like ours to travel. I want to encourage families to not be afraid to explore the world -- but until companies like American Airlines, Disney, and other travel companies decide our patronage is valuable, and make an effort to ease the travel burden by providing more accessible options, I can only say that seeing the world is worthwhile, and seeing the world is hard.

I have some jet-lag to overcome but if you want to come by and see the other thousands of photos I wasn't able to include here, just give me a shout! :)

From the overlook in Florence!

Carol - The Blessings