Pushing European Boundaries: August 2015

Hi, I’m Thomas. I’m 11 years old and pushing my 16-year-old brother around Europe. He’s in a wheelchair and even though that can make travel more challenging, we think it’s worth it. Here’s a letter I wrote to Cornelius explaining why.

We’re excited to share our experiences and tips for traveling in France, Italy, Czech Republic, and Germany. Wow!

Preparing for the Trip

When we found out, about six months ago, that we were lucky enough to take this trip to Europe, we knew that we had to start planning in advance to make it happen…especially because we are traveling with Tyler, who is in a wheelchair. Everything is a little different (SUPER FUN but different) when you are in a chair. Here are some of the things we did to prepare:

Videos. We started watching videos about the cities we would visit. Our favorite videos are by Rick Steves. He has awesome videos on tons of destinations throughout Europe. My favorite was his video on Paris. Tyler’s favorite video was on Pompeii. We knew it was important to research each city we were going to visit. We wanted decide on where we to stay, the things we wanted to eat and the attractions we wanted to see.

Books. We read books about the places we are going. I read I Survived The Distruction of Pompeii  and I Survived the Nazi Invasion a children’s book by Lauren Tarshis. These books are an easy read and take you back to these events. I really like them.

books

Movies. We also thought watching movies would be a fun way to prepare. Our favorites where Disney’s Hunchback of Notre Dame and Ben Hur, which is a story about Roman Gladiators.

Games. We found games on the computer to help us learn about Europe. Tyler and I came across a puzzle of the European Map on Cool Math Games.com. It had helped us to know where the countries are in Europe.  This is Tyler’s favorite!

Tours. We pre-booked all of the tours we wanted, like the Vatican Museums and the Louvre, so that we would not have to wait in line or miss an attraction because we had not planned well. We also downloaded the Rick Steves Audio Europe app. It is a free app with audio tours throughout Europe. We will be using these audio tours in many of the locations we are going.

Accommodations. As we were trying to find places to stay, we found out that working with VRBO was the best way for us traveling with Tyler in his wheelchair. We found them very accessible and helpful and that is how we found where we were going to stay.

Packing.  Our family decided to travel with backpacks. We felt like it would be better than rolling suitcases so that our hands are free to push Tyler or help him in anyway. We also love that the backpack fits on the back of his wheelchair.

backpacks

We are trying to pack as light as possible. Our family will be in Europe for two weeks but we will only bring enough for one week. We plan on washing our clothes in one of the flats we rent halfway through our trip. My mom and dad used this packing list to start thinking about what we needed to bring. We modified it to fit our needs.

carry on

Medical. We are taking with us a letter from Tyler’s primary care physician. It states Tyler’s medical diagnosis along with all of the medications he is taking. Our doctor added all of his contact information in case we needed any medical care while we were on vacation. It’s also a good idea to carry your insurance card in case of emergencies. We contacted our insurance provider before we left to doublecheck and see what to expect if we need emergency medical care overseas. It’s always good to know your company’s policy and to purchase additional coverage when needed.

Entertainment: There will be lots of time on airplanes. Tyler and I had to figure out what we were going to do with all of that time. He and I purchased iPod touches. We are glad to have them for the airplane ride. We are going to load movies on them. We also have games. My Mom is having me bring my multiplication flashcards and Chinese books (because I speak Chinese at school) to study on the airplane. Ty and I are going to bring along snacks and a few toys like silly putty and a Rubiks cube. I hope these tips are helpful to all of you when planning your next trip!

Top Ten Favorites in Paris

Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel tower was fun because Tyler and I went so high that we could see everything in Paris. It was fun in the elevator, but we were so high, I was afraid we might fall. Tyler’s favorite part was the elevator ride too.  Tyler likes things with moving parts. So, this was awesome for him. It also felt cool when the wind blew and we could feel the tower move.

eiffel view

Notre Dame. I really like Notre Dame because of how medieval it looked. Notre Dame had some creepy looking statues and I felt like the statues were going to come alive and chase me. We went into the treasury to see all of the old treasures from a long time ago. Tyler loved that. He also had fun using his binoculars to see the stained glass windows.

notre dame

The Louvre. I like the Louvre because there were so many cool paintings. My favorite one was the Mona Lisa. The Louvre workers let us go in front of the crowd to see the Mona Lisa better because Tyler was in a wheelchair. They were so nice to do that. Her smile is so interesting.

louvre

Sainte Chapelle. I liked Sainte Chapelle because of the chapel upstairs. All of the stained glass was so beautiful and so cool. It must have been so much work. Tyler didn’t get to see it because the wheelchair lift was broken that day, so I took lots of pictures for him.

sainte chapelle

Seine River. The Seine River was beautiful, even at night. I liked how the city brought in sand to make it look like a beach on one part of the boardwalk.

seine river

Montmartre. I had an artist draw my picture. I liked it but I had to sit there for a long time. At a café I tried beef tartar (raw beef with spices) for the first time. I’m glad I tried it, but I liked the spaghetti better.

brothers

Sacre Coeur. It is the big church at Montmartre. My dad and I walked in and saw them doing mass. The bishop looked so bored. We climbed 300 steps to the top of the dome. I loved looking at the gargoyles. The view was awesome.

gargoyle

Champs Elyesse. My mom and dad and I went down to The Arc de Triumph at 10:30 one night while Tyler and my grandparents slept. My favorite part was getting ice cream and having time with my mom and dad.

arc de triomphe

Escargot: Our last night in Paris we went to an Escargot restaurant. I ate snails. I was nervous. I thought that they were going to be gross, but they were not. I am brave at trying new things. Tyler loved the snails too!

escargot

Versailles. I loved walking where KINGS walked. I loved seeing King Louis 14, 15, and 16th’s bedrooms. It was all so cool. Tyler loved the golf cart that we rented (the one we got was made just for a wheelchair) to see the palace’s gardens and fountains.

versailles

Paris was fun and I’m going to miss it, but we’re excited about all the other places we get to see.

pushing boundaries

Adventures in Rome

The Colosseum. This is the number one place Tyler and I wanted to see in Rome. The Colosseum is an ancient sports arena. We chose an audio headset tour to be guided through the Colosseum. Tyler and I loved the stories about the ancient gladiator games that happened there. Did you know they fought to the death?

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The Colosseum is completely wheelchair accessible. When you enter, skip the line and head straight to the ticket counter. People in wheelchairs and one other person assisting them are not required to pay an entrance fee. Also, kids under 12 are free! We purchased the audio headset guide and entered the Colosseum around 5:00pm. It was a perfect time to visit! The crowds were almost gone, the heat was subsiding, and we were able to get up close and see each point the audio tour suggested.

Colosseum

The Roman Forum. I loved being where ancient Romans used to walk. Julius Caesar ruled there and is buried there. Even today they are excavating and finding new Roman buildings artifacts that have never been seen before. Also, your ticket into the Colosseum is your ticket into the Forum. You don’t have to pay twice.

roman forum family

Street performers and souvenir shopping. I bought a sword in Rome and it was an exact replica of a real Roman sword. The shop name is ARKEOS. It is very close to the Forum. It is on Via IV Novembre. ARKEOS also has Roman jewelry and armor. Tyler and I had a blast there!

souvenier

It was so fun to watch the street artists create their paintings on the sidewalks of Rome. There were performers that had live animals. I’m glad we took time to stop and watch.

street birds

Gelato. We had gelato every night that we were in Italy. I liked the Oreo flavor and Tyler’s favorite was Stracciatella, which is chocolate chip. We ate gelato and walked around the streets of Rome at night when it was cool. It’s the best time of the day!

gelato cup

Saint Peter’s Basilica. This is a large Catholic Church. It is the biggest church I have ever seen. Actually, big is an understatement. It is gigantic! Everyone should see it sometime in their life! You have to be very quiet when you are inside. They also made us take off our hats. There are lots of pictures and statues of Jesus. We got to take an elevator to go to the roof. My grandma and grandpa stayed there with Tyler while my mom, dad and I walked over 300 steps to get to the top. The steps actually started to curve because we were climbing inside the dome. The view from the top of the dome was AMAZING. I could see all of Rome! The tickets were reasonable and kids under 12 are free.

st peters basilica

Eating real Italian food. Almost every night I ordered margherita pizza and Tyler ordered the spaghetti carbonara. Nothing beats Italian food. It’s fun to sit in a sidewalk cafe and watch people as you enjoy your meal.

italian food

The Vatican and Sistine Chapel. Vatican City is where the Pope lives. It’s also the capital of the Catholic Church. We took a guided tour and the extra fee was totally worth it. Book your tour in advance so you don’t have to wait in a huge long line. Once again, children under 12 have free admission! The tour guide taught us all about history and art. Michelangelo’s greatest work can be found inside the Sistine Chapel. Did you know that he did not lie on his back to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling? We saw a letter he wrote with a sketch of him standing up while painting the ceiling!

vatican

Spanish Steps. My mom, grandma and I climbed to the top of the Spanish Steps. There are over 200 steps from top to bottom. Even though Tyler was not able to climb the steps, it was fun for him to see this beautiful site. It was also fun to fill up our water bottles in the fountain at the foot of the steps. Rome is very famous for its clean fountain water.

spanish steps

Pantheon. The pantheon is the oldest building in Rome. There is a hole in the very top of the building. My dad told me that the hole held all of the weight of the building and it could not fall down because of that hole. Since there was no modern equipment, the workers added dirt around the outside of the Pantheon so they could get the building materials up high as they built it. Every day the workers would scatter money in the dirt. When the pantheon was completed, there was dirt surrounding every inch of it. So, the people of Rome were invited to come take the dirt and any money that they found inside the dirt, they could keep. Cool huh? Admission at the Pantheon was free for everyone.

pantheon

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