The reason we booked a Mediterranean cruise in the first place was because of my ALS. We consulted an agent who specialized in travel for the handicapped traveler. She advised us to book a cruise since I would be assured of having a handicapped room and available medical treatment, if needed. After going over various cruise lines and itineraries we decided on the Celebrity Equinox tour of the Mediterranean. Over a thirteen day period we would be visiting seven historic Mediterranean cities with days at sea for rest along the way. The rest days were critical since the excursions I booked were extremely physically demanding for me.
size of a normal room and with the balcony it seemed even bigger. It had very wide walkways, large doors, a wall switch plate that, when pushed, opened up the front door. It also had a large bathroom with a roll-in shower. When we visited our cousin's room, two doors down, I couldn't even fit in it with my wheelchair. Our room became the gathering place for the rest of the trip. When we were at sea, we spent most of our time enjoying the many activities and conveniences that the ship offered.
But a cruise isn't about the ship but the people that you meet on the cruise. This is what makes cruising worthwhile! After we had explored the rooms the others decided to go exploring while I stayed behind to sit on the balcony and take in the Mediterranean. Soon after, I heard a knock and then the door opening. I went back inside where I met our room steward, Sheldon, bringing in our luggage. Sheldon is a courteous young man from Trinidad who would be a blessing for the rest of the cruise. We chatted for a few minutes and I explained to him what my disease was and what it entailed. He recognize the term Lou Gehrig's disease and he offered any assistance if I ever needed any. I took him up on that when I fell late one evening and no one could get me up from the floor. He came and helped get me onto my bed. When the others were on excursions he would spend a bit talking to me even though he had work to do. American football, regular football, any topic it didn't matter, he made time for me. He's a good man!
passionate American Civil War enthusiasts (several Scottish brigades fought) and we love real football. We also love world history with an emphasis on all things British. This includes anything Roman, because Britain was a Roman outpost after all. But for right now enough about this wonderful family since I will be bringing them up throughout this post.
After a nice buffet breakfast on the rear deck of the ship, my family left me to go tour Nice. If you've read my prior posts you know that I was unable to go to Nice so I spent that day with my mother-in-law on the cruise ship. Actually, after about an hour or so, my mother-in-law blew me off to go shopping so I was left alone to fend for myself. I was actually looking forward to some alone time to explore the ship with less people on it. I have to admit that I was little nervous the first night about taking my wheelchair out amongst the crowd of people on the ship. With so many people gone I was afforded the opportunity to make myself more comfortable with the 16 decks and multiple passage ways that made up the ship. At one point I found myself in the Solarium area which is in the indoor pool spa area. It is the one adults only area on the ship. It has spacious lounge chairs, a nice waterfall, relaxing music and large sliding windows. On this occasion, I met a young pool butler by the name of Amer. Amer is a 25-year-old man from Bosnia who speaks pretty good English. He showed me the hydraulic chair lifts that the ship had for getting me into the spa or the pool. He was very concerned with my comfort and he moved many lounges out of my way, opened a window for me to look out of and brought me water. He told me that if I needed anything to just call and he would be there to take care of me. I had an appointment and I left soon after. But Amer made me feel very welcome that first day.
Dee, before leaving for Nice, insisted I use some of our ship credit and go get a manicure and shave, which I did. I arrived for my manicure and was introduced to Trudy. Trudy is a proud, beautiful Jamaican woman. So much so that she does her eye shadow in the colors of the Jamaican flag. She gave me a warm greeting and we talked about her home, my home and our trip as she did my nails. I love it when my nails and hands are worked on. Especially now that I can't work on them myself. When She finished I realized that I didn't have the leg strength to get out of the low chair I was sitting in. "No problem!" she says and without hesitation she got two big guys to lift me and walk me back to my wheelchair. After that, I had a hot towel shave which was awesome! The only thing that could have made it better would have been if Trudy had done it. But Trudy's specialty is nails and she is very good at it!
all the beautiful places we went, the best times we had on the trip. Funny, because we spend a lot of time together at home too!
and comment about how fancy my wheelchair was or some would even have the guts to ask me why I was in the wheelchair at such a young age. After a while I would usually go up to the grass deck (the ship actually had real grass) to watch the glass blowing exhibition. They would make some really artistic glass sculpture and it was really fascinating. I couldn't get enough of it! I would even go up in the late evening when they would be out there practicing by themselves just to watch.
this gleam in his eye like he knows that you know that he knows what you are thinking. He and I would talk about things like we were old friends catching up. My family would usually leave me behind since these talks typically took awhile.
One, night after returning from Rome, the kids and I were sitting on our balcony when we heard a
familiar Scottish brogue. My son pears out around the balcony partition and lo' and behold there's Rob, it turned out we were neighbors too! So we had Rob on one side and our cousins on the
other chiming in on our balcony conversations. It was very nice!
I loved sitting on my balcony. With my chair, I could raise myself up to a standing height to look out. When cruising I would sit and watch the ships wake come off the hull. I would let all of my senses experience it. I would watch the small waves form, crest and crash. I would smell the sea and taste the salt in the air. I would then close my eyes and feel the cool mist blowing into my face as I listened to the soothing sounds of the waves. The balcony was my peaceful refuge from the hustle and bustle of four thousand people on the ship.
When we went to Dubrovnik I spent about an hour and a half in port shopping with my daughter before we decided to head back to the ship where I splurged on pedicures for Jackie and myself. Trudy had seen that I had made a reservation and came back from her break early to take care of us. This time she asked about everyone on the trip and why we weren't out sight seeing. We told
her what happened and then Nanna was mentioned and we talked about about how she was running around the ship somewhere. Trudy really liked hearing about her. Later while Trudy was doing my pedicure Jackie noticed Nanna in the waiting room. Trudy, upon hearing this, gets up and runs out to her. All I hear is "You must be Nanna! I have heard so much about you!" She then gives her a hug and brings her back to where we were. She then returned to my pedicure all the while
talking about our family's adventures.
The day we arrived in Venice started the same as any other day at sea since we weren't due to arrive until 2 pm. The fun part for me started when I ran into Rob on the pool deck. We compared notes on Dubrovnik. My experience was frustrating but his was awesome (to me)! His family grabbed a cab and took a historical tour of the city with a cabby from Escondido, Ca, USA (literally one hour from my home). This man had been called back from the U.S. by his father to fight in the war twenty years earlier and had never left. This man's story and the tour that Rob's family took was riveting. For some reason most Americans don't find this war (most deadly in Europe since WW2) remotely interesting. We should, we fought in it! We actually had a stealth fighter jet shot down in it. This war among the former Yugoslav Republics is actually fascinating. Most involved agree that it was a mistake. A serious mistake that killed many from my generation. I once watched a documentary on this war and all the cemeteries (formerly city parks) from this war are filled with grave markers with my birth year, 1964. I'm lucky I live in the United States.
promised to come visit him in the solarium.
After lunch, I decided to go watch the glass blowers practice on the top grass deck. They weren't there so I went onto the grass in my chair to look out at the bay. Out of nowhere Amer appears to visit. He had seen me from the pool deck below. He brought me water and we chatted for about fifteen minutes. He explained a bit about the differences between Croatia and Montenegro
(Kotor). Croatia is Christian and the rest of the former Yugoslav countries are Muslim (the Kotor region has a large Christian presence). 'Oh, so your a Muslim?' I said. He replied "Yes, but no terrorist!" We both laughed. We talked a bit longer and I promised I would come to the spa that evening.
Usually it would happen with the elevators. After our first excursion I kept getting cut off by people wanting to get upstairs. So I decided to move to the farthest elevator and wait however long it took for it to open. When the warning bell sounded a women and her three teenage sons tried to cut me off. My daughter (who was very angry by this point) literally threw a block on them to allow me
to go in. When I was finally in, there was plenty of room for them but they declined. A couple of times people wouldn't let me in and would close the door before I could get in. I remedied this by forcing my way in and making people adjust (if there was enough room). On one of those occasions I found myself in the elevator with a group of Chinese cruisers. When I made it in they all turned
their backs to me even the ones behind me. It was the oddest thing. When I returned home I researched this phenomena and learned that the handicapped are viewed as having earned the affliction by their own or a family members past wrong doings. I also told two friends who are from China and Taiwan. They explained that the older generations of many asian cultures had felt that way but it has changed. In China they are very concerned with communicable diseases and the group I ran into was probably being cautious. If they had known I didn't have a contagious disease they most likely wouldn't have reacted that way, they said. Sounds reasonable. Also, when we would go to the crowded buffet, people would cut me off like they wouldn't see me. I remedied this by raising my seat up as high as it would go to get into their lines of sight. This did the trick and people were far more courteous after that. I hold no ill feelings toward any of these people since I don't know their story and who am I to judge. Before I joined their ranks, I was very uncomfortable around people with handicaps. Besides, anyone who avoided me missed out on meeting someone they might have liked very much.
club's progress in the Scottish Premier league (currently first). We ran into Helen and Kathryn later and said our goodbye's.
That evening we headed to the spa where Amer was expecting us. No other guests were there so he chatted with us. When we got out of the pool he insisted on helping me into the manual wheelchair (can't get the power chair wet). He then took me for a tour of the workout room and some other hidden observation decks. At one point he leaned over and said " You no worry about dying, just enjoy living!" Wise words from such a young man. Eventually we had to head back down to our rooms so he took me to the elevator. He wanted one last picture so I insisted on standing which surprised him. He hugged me and we said goodbye. I felt like I was a father saying goodbye to his oldest son. It hurt that much!
The next morning, we left the ship and headed to the airport for our awful 27 hour trip home. We
were stuck in line when my son, Alex, all on his own, went to an assistance booth to inquire about a wheelchair for my mother-in-law and next thing we know we have personal escorts to take us through customs and to our plane. Good job my fourteen year old man! While on the way to the plane, I hear a Scotsman yell and I spin around to see Rob, Helen and Kathryn about a hundred feet back. I throw my chair into high and race over for one last goodbye as everyone waited. Just
waving would not have been enough. I had to speak to them in person one more time, they impacted me that much!
So that was our European odyssey. I left for the trip intending to experience Europe with all of my senses and I did! I approached every moment with the innocence and wonderment of a child but with the cognizance of an adult. I stayed in the moment recording not only the sights but the smells, the temperature, the sounds and the energy of the location I was in at that moment. I remember the smell of the fish market in Venice. The feel of the sun on my face in Positano and the coolness of the room where Michaelangelo's David is. The feel of that gentle breeze and the sound of rustling trees on the farm in Tuscany. The buzz of the big cities of London, Barcelona and Rome and also the hidden spots of tranquility I also found in those cities. The soul enveloping sound of church bells at noon in Kotor. The amazing taste of the coffee anywhere in Europe (ohhhhh the coffeeeeeee!). Just
to name a few. I can visit any time. I just have to sit, close my eyes and calm myself to do so. You can do the same you just have to change how you experience the world around you.
My advice is simple. If you are young, see the world early before it's too late! You may have less time than you think. If you are older, see the world before it's too late! You definitely have less time
than you think. It was almost too late for me so just do it!