Archive | October, 2012

The Kindness of Strangers

23 Oct

Paris, France 2009

Over the years I have heard that Parisians are rude.

I have never found that to be true — well, with the possible exception of *that one* taxi driver in 2002.

In fact, while visiting Paris in 2009, Carrieanna and I found the exact opposite to be true.

As noted in a previous blog post, we were in Paris to celebrate Carrieanna’s birthday.

I have viewed The City of Lights from the top of the Eiffel Tower, and I wanted Carrieanna to have that same experience. It was my birthday gift to her. And we would go at night, to enjoy that spectacular view.

We had already determined that we would not attempt this on her actual birthday, which fell on a Saturday, since it was very crowded that night. Instead, we would go on Monday night and make this our last great adventure in Paris. (We would be returning to Amsterdam on Tuesday.)

There’s a miracle story here, but let me share another one first.

To understand why I call these “miracle stories,” let me quote Rick Steves, in his [mostly] very helpful book “Easy Access Europe.”

“Unfortunately, Paris … has a few sights that are best left to non-disabled travelers (or more adventurous slow walkers): … Sainte-Chapelle upstairs chapel … the top level of the Eiffel Tower ….”

We were happy to prove him wrong, with the help of kind strangers!

Earlier in the day, after visiting both the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay — yes, it was a VERY busy day! — Carrieanna and I took a taxi to the Ile de la Cité, to see the beautiful stained glass at Sainte-Chapelle.

“The interior of this 13th-century chapel is a triumph of Gothic church architecture. Built to house Jesus’ Crown of Thorns, Sainte-Chapelle is jam-packed with stained-glass windows, bathed in colorful light ….”

“… climb the stairs into the sanctuary, where more than 1,100 Bible scenes – from the Creation to the Passion to Judgment Day – are illustrated by light and glass.”

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, France 2009

“Unfortunately, the upstairs chapel (with the stained-glass windows) can be reached only by climbing a narrow spiral staircase.”

Umm, maybe. Unless you encounter a kind ticket attendant, who was a charmed by Carrieanna’s smile and offered to take us the back way (which included a tiny construction elevator and a keyed door).

We were taken through the King’s Entrance (built to allow King Louis IX easy and private access the chapel) …

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, France 2009

… and, voila!

We were inside the chapel, admiring the glorious stained glass of Sainte-Chapelle!

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, France 2009

(Carrieanna in the chapel)

After spending an hour or more in the chapel, Carrieanna and I were escorted back downstairs and to the street, where we thanked our escorts for providing us with this amazing opportunity.

And then we enjoyed a little river-side respite and people watching …

Paris, France 2009

Paris, France 2009

… knowing that we had another grand adventure in store later in the day — ascending the Eiffel Tower!

Carrieanna’s father shared our story in his letter to Carrieanna’s Aunt Becky:

“…Jeri and Carrieanna head off by taxi to the Eiffel Tower. Our last night in town.

“They reach the second level. Carrieanna says the guards explained to her that people in wheelchairs are not allowed at the top level, although blind persons are allowed at the top.”  (We didn’t understand that logic either.)

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France 2009

“She decides that despite ’17 very steep stairs’ up to the elevator to the top, she will do it. She finds a fellow American who says he was in a wheelchair for a while, who is willing to watch her chair for her while she goes up. His wife and daughter already are on their way up, and he is just waiting for them on the second level. (As it turns out, his wife and daughter came down much earlier, and he sends them home in a taxi while he waits for Carrieanna and Jeri!)

“After the 17 steps, they wait 45 minutes, with no place to sit, which is very demanding on Carrieanna’s legs. And then, the Top! And she loved it. She felt so proud of herself!”

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France 2009

To quote Carrieanna, “Don’t say it can’t be done unless you try.”

Because … Anything is Possible!

Almost Heaven

8 Oct

Almost Heaven

West Virginia

Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River….

During my recent trip to West Virginia, I frequently heard John Denver’s voice in my head, singing the opening lines to “Take Me Home, Country Road.”

West Virginia "Wild and Wonderful" sign

Early October was a beautiful time to visit the Mountain State. The rolling hills near Wheeling were covered with trees dressed in a variety of autumn colors.

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling, West Virginia

The wooded areas hummed with insects; occasionally birds called out – when they weren’t busily eating!

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling, West Virginia

Although we encountered a few sprinkles during the week, for the most part the temperature was in the mid 70s — t-shirt weather. (When I left Sacramento, the temperatures were in the upper 90s, so this coolness was heavenly!)

United Airlines

A few travel details:

Carrieanna and I traveled separately to Pittsburgh, PA, where we connected at the airport and drove the 55 miles to Wheeling.

I left early Saturday morning and after a brief layover in Washington DC (Dulles), I continued to Pittsburgh. I had made arrangements to rent a car from Hertz, and received excellent service and helpful directions from Penny at the rental counter.

I did a little shopping – foodstuffs and sundries – while waiting for Carrieanna’s flight to arrive from San Jose, CA by way of Minneapolis/St. Paul.

She flew via Delta Airlines; they charged her $20 per checked bag, and apparently manhandled her foldable wheelchair; a wheel fell off during our stay in Wheeling. (Thank goodness for Andy at Wheelcraft Bicycle, who quickly and carefully repaired it.)

However, she arrived safely and told me that the people at the airports had been very helpful to her. She also noted that being among the last to board was very helpful to her, as it meant less actual sitting on the plane.

Leaving Pittsburgh International Airport a little after 11:00 p.m., we drove to Oglebay Resort and Conference Center in Wheeling, where we had a room at the Wilson Lodge. Although we arrived well after midnight, the staff was very pleasant and helpful in getting all our bags to our “handicap accessible” room.

(Because we didn’t get to bed until nearly 1:00 a.m., and because travel greatly fatigues Carrieanna due to her MS, we were eager to sleep late on Sunday. However, the room was not sound proof, two wedding receptions had been held at Wilson Lodge the night before, and the guests seemed inclined to let their doors slam shut. Our first night was not restful. Fortunately that was the only really noisy night.)

While Carrieanna slept on Sunday, I explored Wheeling a little …

… and did some walking around the grounds of Oglebay.

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling, West Virginia

I could probably write a separate post about Oglebay and the grounds, the shops, the walking trail, the Environmental Center, and all of the amenities we enjoyed during our stay.

Instead, I’ll be fairly succinct:

The lodge was beautiful, the staff was always very helpful, and the food was good.

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling, West Virginia

The walking path was wide and well-paved, periodically sloped (offering a reasonable workout if walking briskly) but nearly always accessible.

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling, West Virginia

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling, West Virginia

(We saw many, many deer on the Oglebay property.)

We loved the Schrader Environmental Education Center, with its observation deck …

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling, West Virginia

… and butterfly garden.

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling, West Virginia

We loved browsing at the Carriage House Glass Shop — although we neglected to go downstairs to the Glass Museum; next time! — and the Gourmet Shop.

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling, West Virginia

We had traveled to Wheeling for three reasons:

First, to spend some time with Carrieanna’s Aunt Becky and Uncle Ted;

Figaretti's Restaurant, Wheeling, West Virginia

(We had a delicious lunch at Figaretti’s Restaurant; family owned since 1948)

Second, to see the undeveloped property Ted and his late brother, Richard, (Carrieanna’s father) owned in Taylor County (near Valley Falls State Park);

Taylor County, West Virginia

(Ted at the Taylor County Property)

(View from the neighbors’ deck, overlooking Valley Falls State Park)

And, finally, to visit the home and neighborhood where Richard (and Ted, and their sister, Mimi) had grown up.

(Cobblestones made it difficult for Carrieanna to roll down Birch Avenue)

(The Hess family home on Birch Avenue, Wheeling, West Virginia.)

Our visit included dinner at Ye Olde Alpha

“ … a landmark restaurant and watering hole of Wheeling, West Virginia. We pride ourselves on our dead animals, cold beer, and classic American food served in a casual family setting.”

(We found handicap parking and the access ramp on the side)

We also thoroughly enjoyed our two-hour tour  (including shopping) of Cabela’s in the Highland.

(Although the sign says the ramp is not accessible, Carrieanna had no problem rolling down it.)

We could not have asked for more beautiful weather on the day we visited the Taylor County Property, although the recent rain had muddied the dirt road, making it inaccessible for a wheelchair.

We also enjoyed visiting Valley Falls State Park in nearby Fairmont, West Virginia. There was an accessible path, which allowed Carrieanna to get close enough for a good view of the falls.

And then we were off to Fairmont to connect with some family members and enjoy dinner at Muriale’s Restaurant on our last night in West Virginia.

As we packed and prepared for our flights back to California, Carrieanna and I discussed some of the accessibility challenges we had noticed during our trip. For instance:

  • In some public restrooms (i.e., at the airport), the hand towel dispenser was placed so far from the sink that Carrieanna had to wheel herself (with wet and no-longer-clean hands) to get a paper towel.
  • On two different occasions we encountered vehicles parked directly in front of curb cuts, making them inaccessible for a wheelchair.

Oglebay Resort and Conference Center, Wheeling, West Virginia

On a positive note, Carrieanna had much more leg room on her flights with United Airlines, and there was no extra cost for her two pieces of checked luggage.

She was also extremely impressed with the assistance she received and the kindness extended by the United flight attendants and ground crew – especially as they delivered and made ready her foldable wheelchair when she deplaned in San Jose.

United Airlines will be our first choice in airlines for future flights.

In spite of the few challenges, our trip to West Virginia was truly “Almost Heaven” and we look forward to future visits to the Mountain State!

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