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Archive for the ‘Travelogues’ Category

I haven’t even left California yet and I’ve already screwed up. Awesome.

Checked my e-tickets two days ago and discovered that for reasons lost to the mists of post-menopausal memory, I booked us on a 7am flight out of San Francisco.

Which means we need to get to the airport no later than 5am. Crap.

Much furious consultation with my spouse ensued. We decided to get a motel room at a place near the airport that offers free shuttle service, plus a well-lit place to park a car for the 10 days we’ll be gone.

Of course the problem isn’t confined to the California end of the trip. We arrive in Dublin at 6:55am. Which means that we’ve got ~9 hours to kill before our room in Dublin City Centre opens up.

I can’t manage sightseeing after a transcontinental+transatlantic flight. My body absolutely will not tolerate that kind of nonsense.

The answer is yet another airport motel room. I emailed customer service at the Radisson Blu Dublin Airport and discovered that they’re set up to deal with situations like this in a couple of ways. They’ve got what they call Day Rooms that are available from 9am-5pm, or they’ll let a weary traveler rent a room overnight and check in very late (like, say, early the following morning), then check out at 3pm for no extra charge.

I went with option B, which will allow me to stagger/roll out of Customs and Passport Control straight to the free shuttle, straight to my motel room to collapse in an insensible heap.

While I haven’t yet stayed in their motel, so far I’m quite happy with the Radisson Blu customer service folks. They’ve followed up with me and seem intent on making sure I’m taken care of.

The morals of this story:

1. Pay attention to your flight bookings, and try to make your departure and arrival times work for you rather than against you.

2. Flexibility and good problem-solving skills are key for traveling with pain. Be willing to change your plans to make yourself more comfortable.

3. Money helps. A lot.

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The de Young Museum in SF has seats. They're not even kind of comfortable for TWP (the seat area actually slopes downward and it's slick), but it's a seat.  That's my friend Vytas.

The de Young Museum in SF has seats. They’re not even kind of comfortable for TWP (the seat area actually slopes downward and it’s slick), but it’s a seat.
That’s my friend Vytas.

There’s a growing body of info out there for travelers with visible and sensory disabilities. If you’ve found me, and you use a wheelchair or have low vision or low hearing, here are a couple of my favorite travel sites for “traditional” disabled travelers:

For those of us with hidden/invisible disabilities, the traditional disability travel info helps…some. But we’ve got our own needs, and some of them don’t map directly to those of wheelchair users.

Seating

Finding places to sit comfortably is one of my biggest challenges when I travel. Unlike wheelchair-using travelers, I don’t bring my own seat with me.

Most typical disability travel web sites and books don’t address the seating that’s available at attractions, whether hotel lobbies let registrants sit while filling out forms, or how comfortable or otherwise the chairs and banquette in restaurants feel to an aching back.

This means I’ve got to do my own research into the availability of chairs and benches and stools at my various destinations.

Restrooms

Disability travel info does have lots of info about restrooms–this generally focuses on stall size, door width, toilet height, and grab bars.

What I need runs more to where it is, is it locked (and if so how do I get the key), and how clean is it? In other countries, I need to know whether there are pay toilets (and how much they cost), and what the format of the facilities is. One need I share with wheelchair users is a seat I can actually sit on–squatting over a hole often doesn’t work for me.

Food

Food allergies and sensitivities often aren’t addressed by typical disabled travel literature. Nor is the ready availability of food for folks who may need to eat right now, who include people with diabetes, hypoglycemia, and other conditions.

Walking Distances

Tourist maps always seem to imply that it’s super-easy to walk from one attraction to another. Like Paris tourist maps make it look like the Louvre and the d’Orsay are just a short hop across the river from each other. (Note for non-Paris-knowers–this is a big fat LIE!) Because I can’t walk 10 miles per day, or even 3-4 miles without sitting down and resting awhile, I need real scale when I’m looking at a map of my destination.

Come to think of it, chair users who don’t have power chairs could make a lot of use of this info too!

Indoor/In-Park Walking Distances

If you’ve ever been to a theme park or a big museum, you know what I’m talking about. Whether it’s Disneyland or the Louvre, travelers with pain need to know how much walking they’re going to need to do once they’re inside an attraction. At Disneyland, it’s easy to walk miles in a single visit. Same goes for the giant museums of the world. And airports. And cruise ships. My most recent on-the-road collapse was the result of spending five days walking back and forth across one of the mega-huge RC cruise ships.

 

I’m sure I’ll think of more items to add to this list. What info do you wish travel guides would give you? Where do you get this kind of info?

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Half Moon Bay California

View of Half Moon Bay from the Ritz-Carlton, where I would one day like to be wealthy enough to patronize for my overnight getaways

Last week, my husband and I went and spent a night in the charming little seaside town of Half Moon Bay, California at the ocean-front Cypress Inn.

This little vacation is exactly the kind of trip I think is perfect for chronic pain patients who haven’t done a lot of traveling with their pain yet, who are celebrating the diminishing of a flare, or who feel like they might be doing well enough to travel. At the moment I’m in category 2.

If you’ve got chronic pain and you can physically get up out of bed and walk around your house, and you can tolerate a car trip of 15-60 minutes, you can take this kind of trip. It may not be pain-free. But if you want to have fun, you can create a lot of fun.

Here’s my step-by-step guide to finding the joy in a one-night near-home getaway:

  1. Choose someplace near home.
    I love Half Moon Bay because it’s less than an hour’s drive from my house, yet it’s got a totally different atmosphere than the one I live in. It’s got a small town feel, complete with kitschy downtown, and it lies along the stunning Northern California coastline. Read here: Beach!I also like taking getaways to the woods, to the mountains, and to small towns with interesting history. I always try to pick someplace with points of interest, places to take slow pleasant walks, unusual or chic restaurants, and a nice inn that’s got comfortable rooms near to the places I want to visit.
  2. Drive out in the mid-afternoon.
    Midafternoon is the perfect time to make my short drive up the freeway and over the mountains. Between 1pm and 3pm, traffic in my major metro area smooths out. Most every hotel, motel, and inn known to man has a check-in time between 3pm-4pm. I timed my drive to get to the Cypress Inn just at check-in time, so I could lie down if I felt tired or achy when I arrived.
  3. Take a walk on the beach.
    I didn’t feel tired or achy, so my husband unloaded our bags into our room, we changed our shoes, and we headed out. The Cypress Inn sits just across the road from the beach. We took a long, shambling stroll. I collected a few shells, including some undamaged sand dollars. I breathed in the ocean air, stared out over the water, petted various dogs who’d taken their owners out for a romp on the sand, and just let myself feel the joy of being someplace beautiful…someplace different.
  4. Rest.
    After beachcombing for an hour, I felt tired. So I laid down on the wide bed and read a book for an hour. My husband and I watched the sun set over the Pacific from the wide windows overlooking the water.
  5. Go out for a nice dinner.
    Before we left home, I’d made reservations at Cetrella–a fancy California cuisine restaurant in downtown Half Moon Bay. I love dining out, especially when I’m traveling. Cetrella has a special $25 prix-fixe menu they serve Tues-Thurs. We took advantage of that discount and enjoyed a charming meal with a glass of wine. The restaurant is only 10-15 minutes from the Inn, so if I’d had physical trouble we could have gotten me back to the room quickly.Though it wasn’t strictly necessary, my husband and I dressed up some for dinner. I wore dress pants and boots rather than a dress and heels–walking in heels tends to cause me pain, and the cold weather would have added pain if I’d chosen a dress. But it’s still great fun to dress up, add some jewelry and makeup to my outfit. It makes the meal a special event, and that much more fun.
  6. Take a bath.
    Especially in chilly weather, baths ease my aches and pains while relaxing my muscles and soothing my skin. Knowing this, my fabulous husband reserved us a room with an oversized spa tub. We made use of it. ‘Nuff said.
  7. Enjoy the hotel room.
    All through our short stay, I enjoyed the amenities of the room at the Cypress Inn we’d saved up to be able to afford and of the Inn itself. The bathtub, of course, the comfy bed, the wide flat-screen TV with cable, the in-house Esalen-trained massage therapist, the wine and cheese in the evening, the room-service breakfast in the morning.
  8. Sleep.
    I can’t do without lots of sleep each night. So I put in my earplugs, locked the door and put out the Do Not Disturb sign, pulled the drapes, and slept.
  9. Eat breakfast in bed.
    The innkeeper delivers breakfast trays to guests who don’t want to appear in the dining room in the morning. So we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in bed.
  10. Check out at the latest possible check-0ut time.
    No point in bolting out of the room at 7 am–this was a vacation! So we packed up, husband loaded the car, and we checked out at 11:30 am.
  11. Shop downtown.
    I love shopping, and my husband gamely tolerates shopping. Shopping is another way to get in a stroll while seeing new things. Most downtown areas have benches if I need to sit down, there’s usually someplace that’s selling bottled water and coffee, and being a customer means the sales staff will let me use the restrooms.
  12. Have a light lunch at a cute bakery.
    Eating’s important. So we did.
  13. Drive home.
    In the early afternoon, we drove home. I have a tough time making it through a whole day without lying down to rest at least once in the afternoon. We went home so I could do that.
  14. Rest.
    We got home and I laid down and rested.

Totally successful trip! Try it yourself when you get a chance.

 

Photo (c) radzfoto on flickr

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North Fork American River Tunnel Rapids

This is actually a rapids on the North Fork of the American River, and a different company's raft. I've got to get those rapids photos from my dad!

On one of my summer trips this year, I got the sudden, surprise opportunity to go on a free Class 3 whitewater rafting trip on the South Fork of the American River with the Whitewater Connection rafting company.

When I was healthy, I loved whitewater rafting. I went at least once every year on guided trips, and dreamed of learning to kayak at a Class IV level. But rafting is called an “extreme sport” for a reason. It’s physically demanding, from eyeballs to toes. Paddling correctly means using my hips and my core as much or more than the shoulders and the arms. I have chronic pelvic pain, so my hips and belly and back are where my pain lives. Which makes correct paddling…let’s say challenging.

But but but…free rafting trip! With my 70-year-old father, no less. Dad had never set foot in a raft before in his life, and was intrigued and willing to give it a shot.

We had a fabulous time! My body remembered how to paddle correctly, and was able to keep up with the pace of the Class III trip. We plunged through some white water, bounced off a few big rocks, got thoroughly soaked, paddled hard, and sat still and silent, glided down the river through scenic valleys that are not accessible by road.

When I was young and strong, I preferred to sit in the front of the raft–you get more control and more splashes in that position. This trip, I was more than content to let the two twentysomething guys who were our trip companions take the front-of-raft positions.

By the middle of the trip, I was feeling some pain. I took a painkiller and kept on paddling. The pain stayed very much in the background of my mind, when I noticed it at all. The fun and excitement of the activity totally overwhelmed the pain. The fact that my dad was also having the time of his life, grinning manically through every rapid, helped too. To introduce him to rafting and have him love it so much that he was willing to buy the silly pictures they take from rocks as the rafts negotiate the rapids absolutely made my day.

I had a magnificent trip!

The next day was…less magnificent.

When you play with pain, you pay the next day. Thems the rules–challenge them at your own risk. I knew the risks when I decided to go rafting. And the consequences were, to me, moderate. I spent the rest of the week-long trip enduring a higher-than-normal level of pelvic and back pain, plus sore muscles up and down my back and my core. That’s a tough set of pains to deal with, especially faced with two more full days divided between sitting in the car and hiking around parks and museums and shopping areas.

So I dealt with it. It made the end of my trip harder, but not impossible. My dad helped out all he could, schlepping bags and assisting me in every way he could. Thank you Dad! I honestly don’t think I could have done it without you.

My conclusions:

  • The rest of the trip would have been easier, possibly much easier, if I hadn’t gone rafting. I would have been in less pain for several days.
  • Rafting caused me to spend two days mostly in bed when I got home from the research trip. Ouch.
  • The positive consequences of the rafting trip outweighed the negatives for me, despite the weight of the negatives consequences. I’d do it again.
  • I can engage in mild to moderate outdoor sporting activities, with unpleasant but survivable consequences. Yay!!! (This wouldn’t  have been true for me even a year ago.)

How is it possible that I feel so happy and positive about an activity that definitely hurt me? Easy–I DID IT. I succeeded. I made it through the whole trip, and climbed out of that raft under my own steam.

And now I have the memory of myself out there on the river, paddle in hand, water in face, dad at side, scenery all around, feeling alive in a way that’s indescribably wonderful.  The pain calmed down in less than a week. That memory will be with me forever. I’ll have those silly photos of dad and me plunging into the white water on my wall for decades.

My pain will ebb and flow for the rest of my life. It’s just there, kind of like my hair and fingernails. But an experience–that matters. Experiences create memories that distract from the pain, and make it clear that I’m more than just a pain patient, that there’s more to life that pain.

There’s rafting!

 

Photo (c) fortherock on flickr

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Marriott Marquis San Diego View

This is the view from my room in the Marriott. Seriously, I could spend a week just lying in bed looking out there.

It’s now the middle of the BlogHer 2011 conference. I’m kicking back writing this post in my lovely large room in the Marriott Marquis San Diego. Even if I were dog sick, the view of the sparkling bay from my windows would warm my heart and make much of the trouble of getting here worth it.

So here’s how I got here:

Leaving the House

That’s harder than it sounds when I’m traveling alone with my chronic pain. I’ve taken six trips by myself in 2011, and I’ve left the house late for every damn one of them. Why? Because I’m scared. Always.

I don’t know if that fear will ever fade completely. It’s hard to do this–to set out by myself, knowing that I’ve got limits and that if I overstep I can get into pretty big trouble. It’s hard to do this, knowing for sure that it’s going to hurt.

But I always do make it out the door. And it’s always worth it, even when things go wrong on the road.

Making Transit as Easy as Possible

I almost always weasel my fiance into driving me to the airport. It’s cheap and it’s convenient. (For me, not for him.)

To be nice to him, and to me, I try to fly on “off-hours”–that is, between the hours of 10am-4pm on Mon-Thurs. Those are the dead hours at almost every airport–counter lines are shorter, security lines are shorter, and traffic to and from the airport is minimal.

Flying Away

This trip, I elected to forgo the wheelchair because I was feeling pretty good. That turned out to be a mild mistake, but more on that later.

I checked my bag, made it through security, and got onto the plane. I pretty much got on last and because Southwest is first-come, best-seats, that meant a middle seat that was actually farther forward than I expected. That’s okay on a one-hour flight. If I’d been flying to New York, I would have made a huge effort to board earlier so I could get an aisle seat, so I could have easiest bathroom access.

Need more info about being in the airport or what to do on the plane? Click the words–I’ve written lots and lots and LOTS about air travel. And yet it never seems to be enough, or to get old.

Leaving My Kindle on the Plane

Dammit.

Before exiting the plane, make sure you haven’t left anything–especially expensive electronics–stuffed into the seat pocket where you can’t see it. ‘Cause forgetting my fabulous Kindle that was a gift from your family last Christmas on a plane made me feel really stupid.

Picking Up My Bag

San Diego International loses a point for belching the bags from my flight up onto two different carousels. Jeez.

But I found my bag. Win!

If I’d been feeling lousy, I would have asked someone to help me heave the bag off the carousel. The wheelchair attendant will do this. So will most nice folks standing next to me, if I ask politely.

Getting Ground Transport

First I checked with the Information Desk to see if my hotel had an airport shuttle. It didn’t.

So I asked where the taxi stand was, walked to it, and was whisked off to the Marriott. It cost about $12.50 to get from the airport to the Convention Center/Marriott, if you’re interested.

Checking in to the Hotel

Usually there’s not a huge line at the hotel check-in desk. BlogHer is a whackin’ big con. I became nervous standing in line, because I was post-travel and starting to feel it, and standing in line hurts the most. I emphatically did NOT want to start my time at BlogHer by collapsing in a heap on the floor in front of two hundred conference attendees.

So I distracted myself by chatting up the two women behind me in line. Made first business card exchange before even checking in.

Also, I didn’t collapse in a heap. Win!

Resting

I went up to my room, realized the Kindle was gone, called the airline, took pictures of the gorgeous view out my window, flopped down on the bed, and laid there for about 3 hours.

I do that even when I’m not busy beating myself up about losing my Kindle. Even a short flight tires me out, and lying down and watching TV or reading helps perk me back up.

Becoming Part of the Sea of Humanity

Rested up and resigned to the fact that my Kindle is probably gone forever, I made my way down to the Convention Center to register, get my badge, and take part in the Festival O’ Swag in the Expo Hall.

Yow, that was exhausting! Blessed be the Samsung Recharge Lounge for providing upholstered seating for attendees. Y’all helped me out LOTS.

New thing I learned about myself: Expo halls hurt like hell and tire me out. Gotta remember that, limit my time in expo halls, and make sure that I take advantage of seating, even if it means absorbing a product pitch.

Next up, Part 3: Making Decisions. Lots and lots of decisions.

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Avid photographers follow instructor and garden guide Roger Ward through the gardens at Willows Lodge

I spent last weekend in the wilds of Woodinville, Washington’s Willows Lodge, attending the Travel & Words Spring 2011 travel writing conference. It was fabulous and exhausting and successful. I sold a few books, but more importantly I made a whole slew of new connections with Pacific Northwest visitors bureau folks, writers, editors, photographers, and travel industry pros. All these folks were interested, excited, and supportive of my efforts to bring the message of travel to people with chronic pain and hidden disabilities. Especially given that this was a straight-up travel writer’s con with a sustainability theme and no disability/accessibility spin at all, the amount of enthusiasm for my topic thrilled me.

So what made Travel and Words so pain-friendly?

1. Location, location, location!
The Willows Lodge has many fab features for travelers with pain. More on that in a hotel review post. Just the fact that the conference was set in a hotel helped–I had a shortish walk from the conference room to my bed when I needed to take a break and lie down.

2. Bringing in Visitors Bureaus as vendors.
Why does this matter? For me, it’s huge for a couple of reasons. The biggest is that I’m not independently wealthy, and thus I do need as much help in the form of comps and press trips as I can get if I’m going to keep on expanding the borders of this blog, my articles, and my books. Some pubs neither permit press-trip-based pieces nor pay expenses, and some conferences are Just Too Good(tm) for the press trip crowd. Yippee for them. But I need to pay my medical bills.

The other great thing about the visitor’s bureau folks is that I can talk to them about the needs of travelers with pain, and they can talk to me about the best parks, museums, hotels, and restaurants that fit those needs in their areas. They know all about their locales–who better to ask for the best destinations within a region?

3. Depth of expertise.
Less than two years ago, at a different travel writing conference, I asked to Well Known Online Travel Writers(tm) what they’d recommend I do to drive traffic to this site. I got two blank stares, followed by “Uh, um, just write good content and people will find it.” Seriously. In 2009. It took everything I had at the time to keep from rolling my eyes so hard that they’d stick backwards permanently.

At this con, I got down-to-earth practical advice about how to use Google Analytics, keywords in title bars, and Twitter to expand my readership. Hooray! Improvements to come in future weeks.

4. A realistic approach to sustainability.
Which included, right at the beginning of the conference, discussion about the inherent downsides and controversies that come from an all-green, all-the-time, no-further-thought approach to sustainable travel. As Scott Rains often says, Universal Design in tourism creates social sustainability. No one, nowhere can guarantee that she’ll be as able-bodied tomorrow as she is today. Every one of us can step out into the street and get hit by a garbage truck, thus finding ourselves suddenly in need of things like restroom grab-bars, sidewalk curb cuts, and hotel bedroom hoists.

Thank you, Travel and Words, for providing me with such a great and tolerant experience! I look forward to seeing you all again next year.

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The interior of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park

No place I’ve been highlights the failure of the “universal design” concept with such accessible aplomb as the de Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

Whatever I think about the exterior architecture (let’s just say I’m not a modernist and leave it at that), the interior of the de Young is beautiful. Breathtaking. Soaring. It’s got gorgeous works of art from around the world lovingly displayed in big, open galleries.

The de Young was clearly designed with a great deal of thought and attention to the ADA’s rules and regulations. They’ve got the basics down pat: The elevators work. All the bathrooms have big stalls with grab bars and paper towels low enough for wheelchair reach. The cafeteria’s another flat space, with lots of tables but still enough room to belly a wheelchair up to enjoy a local, organic meal. The galleries tend toward wide open spaces, with broad aisles between the displays making for plenty of room to move whether you’re in a sleek manual chair or a wide-bodied ECV. The floors are smooth flat wood, with no carpets, runners, or other trip hazards. There aren’t even any of the bumpy bits that seem so prevalent on the paths in the park below.

Did I say “fail” at the top of this post?

Yes. Yes I did.

Every bit of the intense thought brought to bear on making the de Young accessible seems to me to have been concentrated on one group, and one group only–folks in wheelchairs. Not a bad thing at all in and of itself. As I spend more time working with and for people who use wheelchairs, I’m seeing the world in a new way. And I’m thrilled that this museum makes itself so inviting to a group of people who often have a tough time getting even the most basic access to cultural attractions.

But what about my friend Caitlyn, who’s 8 months pregnant? How about Bari, my fabulous traveling companion whose health causes fatigue? And…er…what about me?

For me, visiting the de Young sucks hard. It’s awful awful awful.

Why?

Short story: There’s nowhere comfortable to sit.

Long story: It feels like so much deep thought went into wheelchair use that there was no time and no room to think a little bit broader. Though folks with conditions like chronic pain need less accommodation than wheelchair users, “less” does not equal “zero.” And at the de Young, unless you’ve brought your own chair, the seating options are dismal. Many of the galleries housing the permanent collections have no seating at all. Those galleries that do have seats have…these.

This is a slick triangular wooden bench with its "seats" tipped at a downward angle toward the floor

This is a slick-surfaced triangular wooden bench with a seat that’s tilted at a downward angle. Seriously. More of these cluster in visually interesting arrays in the museum’s lobby. They look great when viewed from the second floor balcony. They also make the concept of sitting even less comfortable than that of continuing to stand.

In desperation I eventually found a broad windowsill to sit on, out of sight of the guards.

The outdoor seating at the de Young isn't exactly memory-foam-covered splendor either. That's Vytas, by the way.

Nowhere in the entirety of the de Young did I find a single padded seat of any kind, though I did find one narrow-backed bench. Movable chairs with backs appeared in the museum cafe. In normal circumstances I wouldn’t call them comfortable, but after 90 minutes on the gallery floors the cafe chairs felt like the cushiest of easy chairs.

The hardwood floors don’t help the situation. With no cushioning at all, anywhere, my shoes were the only defense I had. My cute little designer sneakers didn’t have anywhere near the orthopedic structure to battle the floor, and my back took quite a beating as a result. I certainly don’t recommend heels at the de Young!

In the bigger exhibits, many of the information placards sit near the bottom of the cases. Because there are no seats adjacent to these cases, I had to either bend at the waist (oh yippee) or squat to read them. The ultra low lighting, which seemed unnecessarily dim in the African Art galleries, made reading even harder. And my eyes work fairly well–if I had diminished vision it would have been wretched.

The Bottom Line

The view of the California Academy of Sciences from the tower at the de Young

The de Young serves as a prime example of a problem I’d like to help rectify–this narrowness of vision when it comes to “accessible” design. They’ve gotten one thing right in their inclusion of visitors in wheelchairs. But between their narrow definition of accessibility and perhaps an overdeveloped sense of aesthetics at the expense of patrons’ comfort, they fail at providing an inclusive environment for tens of millions of art lovers.

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