I came into contact with both Raimeda and Marie-Odile via Facebook friends. As I viewed their photos, I was moved by the beauty, elegance, and grace with which they moved about the world. From Italy to Israel, I witnessed through photos how much fun and pleasure Raimeda had on her adventures. She could have been a model in a photo shoot, as she is seen smiling while two bulky men carried her up the steps in Italy. I saw a photo of Marie-Odile, as a quadriplegic, atop a gorgeous camel while a man steadied her from behind. Marie has demonstrated via her images a woman who has a fearless and adventurous personality. She not only took my breath away, but also built an excitement in me to push myself more and not to be so afraid of the exotic and architecturally inaccessible worlds she brought to my computer screen.
I wanted to introduce you to these two fascinating, lovely woman, whom, while I have yet to meet in person, I share a kinship and a respect that soon you will surely see for yourself as you get to know each through my interview below. They share their thoughts on travel and what makes the World worth the effort to visit.
Raimeda hails from Lithuania, a small country in Europe near the Baltic Sea with a population of only three million.
She became a part of the wheelchair community at age 15 due to a spinal cord injury. She needed to create a new “lifestyle” and what helped her most was an “active rehabilitation camp.” In these camps, all instructors were wheelchair users, and they, by example, showed that life after an injury does not stop, but it only changes. She eventually became an aerobics instructor for the camp and, for 7 years, helped other recently injured persons.
How she stays fit and healthy for travel
Raimeda stays fit and healthy by watching what she eats and through physical activity. She has no special food restrictions, but she eats small portions four times during the day. While she still eats cakes and chocolate, she does so not for desert after a meal, but as lunch or dinner itself! So that is the secret! LOL! Of course, she believes physical activity is the most important factor in her health. However, much of her activities are achieved in simple everyday activities, like doing housework, shopping, or putting her wheelchair in and out of the car, and pushing long distances on her own.
Best advice to plan a good trip that will be stress-free and accessible
Raimeda works as an office manager, but her biggest pleasure is her travels. She likes to see new countries, visit historical places, and meet new people. “It is a pity that I cannot find work where I could connect work and travel. But I am sure that if a person indeed wants something – it is possible to find the opportunity to do it. It is just necessary to put some time, energy, and creativity.” She decides on where to go based first on what she wants to see, how much information is available to her about that country accessibility, and of course, her travel budget. She does all her own travel planning because she does not know of a travel agent that is familiar with all aspects of traveling in wheelchair and feels an agent would not be affordable. So she uses the Internet to book flights, to book hotels, and to find all the information on what she wants to see locally. Her advice to plan a stress-free trip, “Do it on your own! Choose a hotel close to the train station that is the easiest to reach from the airport. And train stations are most times in the town center or are easy to reach the town center. You have to know what you want to do in that city, what to see ahead of time—not first arrive and then try to figure out what is possible. I know many people too lazy to do it. [They] go to a travel agent and later complain that something went wrong.”
Raimeda asks her friends to join her on her trips and did a trip by car through four European countries with her daughter. She once took a trip and flight alone but made arrangements to meet with friends in another country. “I think that the main thing is a wish and some action, and everything is possible.” 🙂
Some of her travel budget secrets
Raimeda uses her own savings from work to travel, researches to find the best prices, and plans far in advance. She plans travel not during the holiday season (July or August), and therefore, she finds hotels at half price or even less. She uses public transport in big cities such as the metro, the tram, or even accessible buses. Mostly she books close to a hotel in the city center so she can easily go by wheelchair to where she wants to look around. She shared with us her budget for a recent trip to Israel.
Plane tickets – bought a half year before flight – were the most expensive part of travel: 450 euro.
Hotel – 400 euro for 10 days in Jerusalem and 4 days in Tel Aviv at 200 euro.
All public transport for two weeks – about 100 euro.
Food – about 150 euros, (not eating in restaurants and buying food in the market).
She paid for no planned tours or excursions since she prepared all the information on where she wanted to go and what she wanted to see and printed all the information in advance. In total, for two weeks in Israel: about 1300 euro. This was the most expensive trip she has taken.
Her skills at research have also led her to other less expensive options. For example, a flight to Italy or England cost about 100 euro, and it is possible to find a hotel or hostel for 40 euro per night for a double room. She said that not all of these trips required great preparation; she will just look for some famous places, and maybe spend an evening at a musical before returning to the hotel.
Who is her travel photographer?
Her amazing photos…what is her secret? Who takes them? “It is often a different person, sometimes my daughter, sometimes friends. Just, before I ask them to take a photo, I say, what I wish to see in that photo. I have too many bad photos that are taken from a bad perspective, and I now know that it is necessary to explain what you wish. Easiest way: to give the camera, to go back some meters, and to say that in picture, I want to be with the whole wheelchair, with my entire head and with some object… If you wish to have a nice photo, first you have to know what you want to see, and later explain to others.” 🙂
Most accessible and wheelchair friendly destinations
“It is difficult to say because all people have different wishes. Most European big cities, museums, theaters, and most major visiting places are wheelchair accessible. In London, Milano, and Zurich, all public buses are accessible. In Madrid and Vienna, you can use the metro and at almost all stops are lifts. You just need to take a metro map. In it are signs that indicate where there are wheelchair accessible stops. Even in such an amazing town like Venice, it is possible to move with a wheelchair, but indeed, you need a very good plan—what you want to see and at which stop to get out from boat since not all bridges are possible to cross with a wheelchair.
All European countries’ capitals are really wheelchair friendly destinations, but of course, not all buildings are 100% accessible.”
Most difficult unfriendly places to go in a wheelchair
“I can’t say that it was an unfriendly place, but I just don’t wish to visit that town one more time. Some years ago, I went to Prague. It is a very nice city, with big history and awesome buildings. [But] all the sidewalks and all the streets are made from stones, and when you are moving around, most of time you have to roll on the road. That is unsafe, and of course all the time, you are shaking in your wheelchair. It was like all day hiking on a horse. When I woke up in the morning, I felt like all the vertebra in my spine had lost their places. It was big pain in my back, and I spent all day in bed. However, this was only my experience, but I never want to visit that town again.”
She found Venice to be another difficult and unfriendly place for the wheelchair. “It is a marvelous, amazing town, but the infrastructure indeed is not friendly. The town is built on islands with 400 bridges. And only some bridges are possible to cross with wheelchair. But there are solutions too. You just need to get out from the boat at the San Marcus stop, and you could see San Marco Basilica, Dodge Palace, Piazza San Marco, and if you will take a trip by gondola, you could see the real Venice and feel the spirit of that town.”
Favorite aspect of travel
Raimeda can’t isolate one favorite thing. “I like all of the things! The best pasta and pizza: It is only in Italy! The best coffee and piece of cake: It is only in Vienna! When I go to the Austrian capital, for me, the best thing is to go to Central Coffee and to have Coffee Mélange with an apple strudel or sache torte. Only in Switzerland can you try real raclette. I like to chat with people at evening with glass of wine or during the day in the park. I love to explore sights and visit the most popular places of town.”
Ok, now… Best travel memory
“Best memory… I think, that all trips are different, but maybe most impressive was from Israel. It is a unique historical place. When you are walking in Jerusalem Old Town, everywhere, you are breathing history… You are walking on streets described in the Bible. The Via Dolorosa traces the last steps of Jesus in Jerusalem from the palace of Pontius Pilate to Golgotha. The Mountain of Olives is where Jesus came to pray before his arrest, and the olive trees here are said to be over 900 years old. The Cenacle, on Mountain Zion, is where tradition says Jesus held the Last Supper with his disciples. Ecce Homo is the spot along the Via Dolorosa where Pontius Pilate is said to have presented Jesus to the crowds. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the place where Jesus was crucified, and the cave where his body was laid to rest… and many, many other historical things, you can see in Jerusalem.”
“Such memories I don’t have, or maybe my memory too bad 😉 All trips are different, but maybe sometimes, they do not all go as planned. Well, maybe the worst thing was when I had three flat tires in four days. It happened in Jerusalem. It wasn’t planned, and it changed some my plans, but at that moment, I knew all the places in Jerusalem where it was possible to buy and change a tire. 😉
Marie-Odile Vincent is from and currently resides in Paris, France. She works as a specialist travel agent for Comptoir des Voyages, http://www.comptoir.fr/, as a tour operator, and has recently created a fabulous website providing a global platform to anyone involved in inclusive tourism: http://www.cap-ability.fr/. While not working or traveling, she also trains tourism professionals as she wants them to be able to “welcome disabled customers like their other customers.”
Secret to a healthy life?
“Working, Involvement, and Love.”
Her motto is:
“I have always thought that I could travel all over the world with my wheelchair as disability has no passport.”
How she funds and plans her trips
Marie also funds and plans her own trips and has traveled alone, with friends, and with work colleagues. She made the decision to become involved in inclusive tourism and now works for a large and important tourism operator to open tailor-made trips for disabled travelers.
“I used to plan my own trips and check accessible information by myself for travel in Europe. I also used to travel with charities since in France it is part of the culture for groups of disabled traveler to go far.”
Most accessible and wheelchair friendly destinations
“It’s not so easy to answer because it depends on your disability. Sometimes I felt happier in inaccessible countries because of the kindness and helpfulness of people. And sometimes I can feel very disappointed in England were toilets are normally too high for quadriplegic people like me. This accessible norm makes me feel more dependent and more disabled than in any African country where accessibility doesn’t exist but where my hosts will with a chair or a wood piece give me a better solution.”
Most difficult unfriendly places to go in a wheelchair
Maybe any place where accessibility is designed for only on few meters. You know what I mean? 🙂
Experiences she never imagined she could do
“Snorkeling in the Indian ocean in the Wasini Islands, creating with my Egyptian partner an adapting ride on a camel’s back, rafting and horse riding in Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil….so many, it’s really too hard to choose! My best experiences were in countries where people live together and have family culture.”
Favorite aspect of travel is its effects on those she visits
“To go where people have never hosted disabled travelers and where they are so open-minded that suddenly you know everything is possible. But don’t misunderstand me. I know in those countries, disabled people have no life, no dignity, and no future. But I feel proud when I show them as I come to visit them that they can change their mind and have better consideration for their disabled children or relatives.”
One of her best memories is in Bonito, Brazil where her partner found an opportunity for her to have the chance to be in a canoe and to raft on a river. As Marie-Odile has no trunk balance, she was sitting in the canoe between the guide’s legs. He even came up with the idea to put a tire in the canoe in which she sat to provide more support!
Bravo to the Freeway Tourism Company, Bonito in Mato Grosso Brazil
After the canoe trip, she snorkeled in the crystal clear river water with the two guides holding her up on either side. Truly an amazing experience and an exceptional tour operator to make this possible!
Marie-Odile’s worst travel experience was in the Miami airport where the digital check-in system was so high that she had a difficult time reaching her hand to register her finger print. So ten days later, when she flew back, her finger print was not the same as when she came in, and she was forced to go to the immigration office to be interrogated by police. She felt very humiliated. But she doesn’t let that one bad experience, or any, ruin so many beautiful memories, in so many countries.
Images courtesy of PhotoAbility.net. To view more images or to purchase for travel or lifestyle publications, click here: http://photoability.net
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