Wheelchair Accessible Travel Blog: Sicily Road Trip and Overnight Stay in Milan, Italy

Photo Credit: Ellie Hart

Well since this blog is called Invincible Woman on Wheels, it seems only right that the first blog here explains where that name came from, which means recounting my recent girly trip to Milan and Sicily with my good friends Ellie and Aoife, so here goes:

I’d had a secret desire to travel with friends for a little while , and particularly to Sicily, but with my cerebral palsy and electric wheelchair I’d always had reservations about it. What if my electric wheelchair ended up being broken in flight? (because I don’t trust airport staff to not break the wheelchair). How would someone else feel about having to manoeuvre me around in my manual wheelchair if I took it? How would I cope in a foreign country getting around without my parents? But then the girls managed to convince to just book the flights and we’d find solutions to any problems as they arose, and I guess that’s what #invinciblewomen really means: Throwing yourself into something you love and vaulting over every hurdle as you encounter it rather than trying to vault every hurdle ahead of time and finish the race before you’ve even started it (because that means you go nowhere!) So, having spontaneously booked flights to Palermo via Milan while catching up over drinks in the local Wetherspoons (as you do!) the adventure began.

Once we’d made it to the airport it was time for check in and security, everyone’s FAVOURITE part of a flight (note the sarcasm, it’s the worst). Being able to put 1 bag in the hold is helpful when you’ve got 1 member of the party in a manual chair who was pretty poor at self propelling and 1 who’s on crutches (although that benefit was inconsistent to say the least in the 4 flights we took over the week). Now, when it comes to tagging my chair as luggage I completely understand why it needs doing (because god knows how I’d cope if I ended up without my chair in a foreign country!) but it certainly negates the whole “let’s skip the whole palaver of checking bags into the hold by going hand luggage only” idea. Also heads up Heathrow, being given incorrect information that we could take our luggage trolley up to security and then pick up another one on the other side completely stuffed us (cue serious juggling act trying to get 3 people, mobility aids, 2 suitcases and a holdall through one of the world’s busiest airports without a luggage trolley!).

Once we’d navigated through creepy airline staff, half of Heathrow without a luggage trolley and a pre- flight dinner. It was time for boarding. Airline waited until the last minute to announce the gate, cue us power walking the advertised 10-minute walk to the gate to be berated for being late, it takes the average person 10 minutes to walk to our gate, even longer when you have a person in a wheelchair AND someone on crutches, a little bit of compassion and understanding of personal circumstances wouldn’t go amiss Alitalia, or even better a little bit of a gap between announcing the gate and boarding! As for the actual boarding, that entailed using an aisle chair (basically an extra skinny wheelchair used to move those in wheelchairs up and down aisles in planes) which are so claustrophobic it’s ridiculous (I HATE them if you can’t tell), however I did end up in the window seat which is always a bonus because we all know window seats are the best on the plane. We were also first on/last off the plane which meant A LOT of time on stationary planes!

Having landed in Milan and successfully made it to our Airbnb, it was time for the first #invinciblewomen moment of the trip; having to fold my chair and have me stand in the lift in order to get to our flat (first time I remember ever standing in a lift – that was an odd experience) and to get into the bathroom of the flat because European standard wheelchairs are made super skinny apparently, so they can have super narrow lifts/doors and still be considered accessible! The girls then awoke from a decent nights sleep the next morning to find bugs in their bed! Cue us scrambling out of that place ASAP. Then it was on to conquering the Milan metro like the #invinciblewomen we are (with a little help from the old Italian man who helped us get assistance and made sure we left our station ok- shout out to him!) for those wondering, Milan metro is literally the same as London (except Ellie shouts at people for stepping on the ramp in front of me, instead of letting me on, in Italian not English) It was totally worth it to see Piazza Del Duomo! So,1 after a day spent wandering around one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen (and drinking criminally cheap coffee) It was time to catch the bus to the airport for our next flight (side note: Milan buses are exactly the same as London ones with the whole ramp idea).

Having made it through the flight, landed and solved a minor snag with paying for the hire car. We drove to our Airbnb in Palermo and encountered yet more #invinciblewomen moments including steps up to the lift (yes, I know that kind of defeats the point of a lift) and a game of human Tetris to fit the 3 of us and my chair in yet another tiny lift (oh and balcony furniture in the shower so I could sit down and shower independently because you know, that’s just standard!). But all of that was SOOOOOOOOOOOOO worth it for the views (exhibit 1: The picture at the beginning of this post) and the pizza and wine (because what else are we supposed to have whilst in Sicily?!). Also for those of you wondering the whole stairs to lift issue was solved by a system of 1 person watching me while I crab walked sideways up the stairs both hands on the rail (which surprisingly I can do even better drunk than sober!) while the other person carried my manual wheelchair up #invinciblewomen.

Then there was the night out for dinner in Mondello which included some EXCELLENT seafood pasta, old men asking Aoife if her ginger hair was real and then sniffing it, telling me #EmmaIsTheBest and buying bottles of wine for us (free wine is always a bonus) This all lead to us cracking up with laughter in the lift up to the Airbnb at the end of the night wondering exactly how we ended up drinking wine with sweet old Sicilian men in a restaurant for the entire night! (laughing our heads off in the lift wondering how the night/day happened the way it did was kind of a theme for the trip).

Our first road trip of the week started with a trip to Catania (via a detour through Palermo because Satnavs are stupid). We spent a good portion of the morning in a museum/ art gallery place within a castle after protesting our way to 2 free carer tickets (which were very much needed because, despite the only modern lifts I saw on our entire trip, there were some very “interesting” ramps) and free entry for me (because if you protest for long enough guards just seem to give in!) Then it was time for lunch in yet another beautiful place before we headed off to drive up Mount Etna, that’s right we drove to the top of a volcano, complete with a house buried in volcano ash! (or as far as we were allowed to). Going in the cable car to head over the top of Etna would have been interesting for sure but we missed out on that (and a trip to Taormina) due to our earlier detour making us too late. But that just gives us an excuse to go back, right?

The next days’ trip started in Corleone with an authentic Sicilian experience, local food and customs as we were shown by our Airbnb host Giovanni (honestly the nicest guy). I thought it was pretty accessible considering it’s essentially a small, authentic Sicilian village (apart from the steep hills which certainly provided a workout and made our host feel like Michael Schumacher pushing me up). Then we wandered on to chill out at a beautiful secret waterfall that even our host didn’t know about until a local mentioned it to him.  Afterwards we got back in the car and drove onto the tiny village of Piana del Albanese for our host to pick up some wine from a family member (of which he gave us 5L worth because he’s just that sweet. He completely failed to mention that that was the Masi family so we ended up meeting Masi wine makers which was surreal considering that wine had been on the table in the flat at least one night during our stay! (That was wine my stomach could not handle but I’ll skip that story!)

And of course, there was the obligatory beach trip. Now, you’d think going to the beach would be a simple task (particularly the recommended tourist beach according to Aoife’s guide book), it’s only sand and there’ll be a path to the sea, right? but no, the only accessible bit was also the private section so the girls had to pay despite that area being the only section we could all get into (and of course they weren’t going to just leave me on my own!). It was suggested that we go to the next beach and pay more as it had a path to the sea but somehow that doesn’t seem like a fair deal.

Some pretty intense Mondello sunburn meant that our final day trip to Argentino was called off and our last day was spent relaxing in the flat (or sightseeing around Palermo from the back of a motorbike if you’re Aoife!) before heading off home the next day.

So that’s how this blog came to be. Thanks to Ellie & Aoife for being awesome travel buddies and helping me figure out what I’m properly capable of if I stop thinking so far ahead and just overcome obstacles as they happen, here’s to the #invinciblewomen!

Stay Invincible!

Em (InvincibleWomanOnWheels


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