Armando and I took an eight day vacation in London in July. Now, this will not be a travelogue of where to go and what to do as there are many books written about that Lonely Planet London is my favorite. I would rather talk about my experiences as I travel abroad for the first time as a stroke survivor. As someone with a disability.
Planes,Trains, Automobiles and Wheelchairs?
The first overseas trip I had with my husband after 22 years and 3 and a half years post stroke, had to include a nine hour flight. I had dreamed of going to London for quite some time, so I figure why not now? We’ve had a tough few years, so this trip was well earned.
At first, I was not intimidated by the thought of a nine hour flight. To minimize stress at the airport, I called ahead and requested a wheelchair. Admittedly, this was one of the better ideas I’ve had. Being able to breeze through security was nice, I got a good old pat down though coz I set off an alarm in the full body scanner. (duh of course I set off alarms, I’m a hottie). The wheelchair was a huge help. McCarran airport is huge! We might’ve missed our London flight if I had walked.
Our outgoing flight was nice. The plane was not full, so we had an empty seat between the two if us. I was worried that walking to the bathroom would be precarious, it turned out that it wasn’t too bad. It was hard to get up off my seat without holding on to the seat in front of me, thankfully it was vacant. I had a motorized cart waiting for me at Gatwick airport. Zoom-zoom!
The flight back was not too pleasant as the plane was fully booked. Holy crap! Who shrank the 747?? Those seats were tiny! Three in a row was a tight fit. It was tougher to get up to walk to the bathroom.
I thought about renting a wheelchair while in London and I am glad I decided against it. I would have had to depend on Armando to push me around. Visiting London at the height of a record setting heat wave would have been twice as miserable for Armando. Besides, I was prepared for all the walking. I spent spring and early summer training; at the gym, in the pool and at the track. It was great to feel as if I was “training” for a race.
We were to meet my sister for tea a few hours after we arrived. It was her birthday and she was celebrating with high tea at Fortnum and Masons . Still jet lagged and entirely out of our comfort zone, Armando & I called for an Uber pool. Welp, let’s just say that the first ride was an interesting experience. After we picked up our “pool” buddies, the driver zoomed his way through traffic. The woman who was sat at the front passenger seat started
freaking out! She was swatting at something and screaming wildly. I was worried that she was going to smack the driver and we will all die in a ball of fire in front of Harrods Department store. It turned out that she has an extreme phobia of bugs and one landed on her arm, causing her to panic. This was day one!
The next day, I was determined to learn to use the London subway system, the Tube. Armando was a bit apprehensive, but I convinced him that it would be easy to figure out and economical. I knew there will be stairs, lots of them. And not all of the stations will have elevators. I was a little nervous about getting on and off the train, but I was pleasantly surprised that the doors stays open for a bit longer than the trains I’ve been on in the U.S. Most of the stations we took were elevator free, but the availability of assistance is incredible I saw a blind man being guided by a Tube employee up the stairs. The employees weren’t the only ones who were helpful, I witnessed the kindness of strangers as they helped a family get a wheelchair down the stairs.
The one route that intimidated me was the Piccadilly Line. The elevator took us
to floor -1. The way out was the longest escalator I’ve ever been on. My anxiety was high. The crush of humanity, the noise, smells and the heat were overwhelming.
We got touristy and got in a black cab. That was an expensive tourist attraction! Lesson learned, use Uber. You get a thrill ride and get to your destination faster for a lot less!
When we went to Kensington Palace, I was offered a wheelchair, I accepted. They also had a concession price (a discount for anyone who is disabled). The wheelchair was a welcome relief. The palace was huge! Umm, yeah it was a PALACE!
Traveling while disabled/handicapped/differently abled was not easy. I had to make adjustments and accommodations to make things easier and accessible. I used a wheelchair after I left the hospital, but worked very hard so I wouldn’t need it for very long. It was awkward being in a wheelchair. I needed it at the airport otherwise we would have missed our flights and I would be completely exhausted. Since I am able to walk, I want to get up and look around, but felt that I would be judged. I know, I know I should have not cared about the opinion of others. But it was tough. It was tough to not to be in total control.
I love to travel, I love to explore and take on big adventures. I am still figuring out how to manage this new way of traveling. I am slower, I am not able to carry my own bags and I definitely slow everyone down. I have to make adjustments and my family needs to make adjustments. There is still so much of the world to see and many more adventures to under take. My family and I will continue to explore the world adjustments and all.
Next post will be all about the fun!