Slovenia was the fresh of breath air that I needed after a few difficult days in Dubrovnik. My feelings of being trapped and a total loss of freedom were so quickly restored and I was getting my travel adrenaline back. I did get some rest on my down days in Croatia too, which certainly helped me to handle my frustrations in a healthier way.
We had a short flight from Dubrovnik to Zagreb where we spent the morning at a café and walking through the markets. The temperature and humidity were much more modest and that alone helped all of our moods. From there, we took a pretty hot and stuffy train to Ljubjlana, Slovenia. We walked about five minutes from the train station to our AirBNB where our host met us outside. She stood far away and had a COVID mask on due to a positive exposure at home. She was incredibly professional and kept her distance while checking us in, being cautious not to enter the ground floor (and extremely accessible) unit. It was a needed reminder that COVID was still flying rampant in parts of the world and we each quickly put on our masks while checking in and for a while after, being sure that the apartment itself had been properly aired out.
We spent the afternoon and the next day exploring Ljubljana, which we all agreed was our favorite city up to that point in the trip. The streets were lined with restaurants and the river that ran through the town was the perfect place for a picture and quiet stroll. The city itself was not overwhelmed with tourists like so much of Europe, and the weather was incredibly tolerable. There is a funicular that brings passengers to the top of the mountain where a castle sits. This was free for any disabled guests and those accompanying them, so we spent a few hours going up and exploring. I did have a little stumble out of my chair – my third one on this trip – when we hit a small bump at the top of the mountain, but all ended well and I only had a minor scratch on my left hand.
One of the things we all quickly noticed in Ljubljana was the number of wheelchair users. I had only seen two, maybe three, people using wheelchairs in the six or seven weeks prior to Ljubljana, yet in a matter of 48 hours I saw at least half a dozen wheelchair users in just one city. I did some research on why this might be. Was there a specific medical facility nearby? Was Slovenia especially friendly to the disabled? Was there a genetic disorder that was prevalent? My Google research didn’t come back with anything that stood out other than that Ljubljana was just an overly accessible city. Duh, I should have picked up on this! It was the same reason I loved the city. It provided a freedom that much of the world can’t give back to those with disabilities.
The morning that we left Slovenia, we stopped to have coffee and dumplings along the river in Ljubljana. They were delicious and such a perfect way to close out Slovenia. We made a quick stop at a local grocery store to stock up on snacks and instant coffee, thinking they would be much cheaper in Slovenia than our next few stops in Italy. We spent the next three hours in a small bus transiting from Ljubljana to Venice, and then another 45 minutes in a very hot and very full water taxi to get to the islands of Venice.
While I’d been to Italy before, I had not visited Venice. In full honesty, it was another checklist destination for me. I was expecting loads of cobblestones and hills plus the added annoyance of small water canals. I was actually dreading this next city, but it turns out that I am in love with Venice! There is very little cobblestone and it’s not hilly at all. The bridges going over the canals are quite manageable as long as I have someone to help me up and down the moderately sized steps on either side of the bridge. Oh, and the people here, they are amazing! On more than one occasion, a group of strangers have grabbed my chair and brought me up and down – one person in the back and two in the front. And when I mean strangers, I mean everyone is a stranger. I am a stranger, the person in the back is a stranger, and the two in the front don’t know each other either. It all happens so fast, with just a few hand gestures, some words along the lines of ‘Help?’ followed by ‘Grazie’ and ‘Thank You.’
We spent our first evening drinking wine and eating pizza. Ok, well, if I’m being honest, we’ve spent every evening in Venice drinking wine and eating pizza. I mean, it’s Venice! The streets are lined with restaurants and the ambiance is inviting for just this type of thing. We’ve had our fair share of coffees as well, especially after we discovered that the ‘very cheap’ coffee we found in the Slovenian grocery store was actually chicory, a natural supplement that helps with inflammation and digestive issues. Translating languages will trick you like that, no matter how hard you try to get the words right.
In the past few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about time. I had spent a few days in Ljubljana in the winter of 2015 and being back almost seven years later really got my over active mind going. I would have never thought, of all places, that I would be visiting Ljubljana again! I am approaching 40, which I know is still very young, and I should have many, many years ahead of me. But I also look at my life and realize that it is likely halfway over, or at least the good years where I am healthy and able to be active. Growing up with a genetic disorder that will only get worse over time, limiting my mobility, has been something my family and I have always been aware of. It’s shaped how we live and each embrace the opportunities in life. There have been so many times when I justify doing things, like this incredible trip, with my disability. Well, I have a skeletal disorder and I might not be as mobile as other people when I am older and retired, so I just do it, whatever it is. It’s a reality for me, something that I can’t imagine not having, but I look at time and am incredibly aware of how quickly it is slipping away from all of us.
I wonder if this disability, which gives me so much turmoil and frustration at times, a thing in my life that is often accompanied by tears of pain, is a blessing from ‘who the heck knows where’ that has allowed me to live my life with such valor. I’m often asked if I would change my disability, get rid of it, if I could. Giving away my wheelchair would be like amputating a leg or an arm. It’s a part of a me, a part of my life that has shaped me in more ways than I count. If I’m being honest, it’s the ‘thing’ in my life that brought me to Ljubljana twice and back to Italy for the umpteenth time. It’s the ‘thing’ in my life that has allowed me to embrace the years in our lives that are often so short. So, today, I am grateful for how it has shaped me and allowed me to see the world – tears, frustrations, joys, and opportunities all included.
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