My bucket list has ‘do one thing every year that scares you to death’ listed on it. It’s no secret that I’ve checked that off for 2022 already, but on our day trip to San Marino, I got to check this off yet again.
We had a 5:26 am train to Rimini, which is just outside of the San Marino border. If you didn’t know, San Marino is a separate, land locked country in Italy. It’s very small and feels very much like Italy, sitting on the top of a mountain and overlooking the valleys of Italy. Since we were moving our way south through Italy, we planned a stop here before moving to the Amalfi Coast. We arrived in Rimini and took a taxi that was 50 euros into San Marino. Everything was going smoothly and we enjoyed their local dessert on the top of the mountain with some Café Americanos and Tostados Americanos. Seriously, we couldn’t be any more American. But they were tasty and hit just the right spot. San Marino has an Old Town, like most cities in Europe, and it was also full of cobblestone and hills. It was quaint though and a perfect place to get pictures overlooking the valleys.
On our way back, we found the only taxi on the top of the mountain and asked for a ride to Rimini. The driver, who had a head full of dreadlocks, let his small dog into the front seat while the three of us piled into the backseat. A few minutes after we took off, we realized he didn’t have a meter so we asked how much. He said 60 euros and we bantered back and forth until he finally agreed to 50 euros, which is exactly what the meter on the previous taxi indicated. His driving suddenly became erratic as he drove way too fast and came way too close to cars in front of him. One of my sisters asked him to slow down and he didn’t respond. He had a bottle full of liquid in the front seat that he was drinking out of – no label, just a medium sized bottle that he guzzled. I was seated in the middle and we all held hands as he flew around the curves to get to the bottom of the mountain. Finally, my other sister said, very loudly, “Sir. Can you please slow down? You are scaring us.” He silently complied and we arrived at the train station just in time for our next train. So, when I think of San Marino, I will always think of three girls holding hands and praying in the back of a speeding taxi, wanting the 30-minute drive to be over with. It was definitely the most scariest thing I’ve experienced yet this year.
We’ve been on so many trains in Southern Italy that I couldn’t begin to count. The taxis are very overpriced and the trains just make sense. However, most of the train stations are not wheelchair friendly. They are old, do not have elevators, and are severely understaffed. I’ve climbed, on my butt, up and down more train station stairs in the past week than I care to count. They’re dirty, crowded, uncomfortable, and a necessity. If we are lucky, there are escalators, which are a godsend.
A few days ago, we piled onto an escalator, each of us with a 20-pound bag, and waited for the steps to lift my front wheels up. As that happened, I heard a crack, something similar to a snapping sound. I asked my sisters if they heard it and they just shook their heads. I knew something had cracked on my wheelchair. Everything seemed to be in place when we got off so I brushed it off and didn’t think much of it. It was a few days later when I heard a strange creaking noise coming from right below my seat when I shifted my weight. I’ve spent much of today trying to figure out what could be broken, knowing that something isn’t right, but haven’t been able to find the ‘broken piece.’ I am hoping that whatever might have snapped isn’t crucial, and I’m making a note to get a ‘wheelchair tune up’ when I return to US.
These are things that most travelers don’t think about, which is why I am sharing this particular story. My wheelchair – which retails for over $8,000, pre-insurance – is less than a year old. It will last me about five years, assuming I take good care of it. Going on this trip, I was so thankful to have a ‘brand new chair’ that was in tip, top condition. If I get stuck in Asia or Europe on my own, I am truly stuck out of luck. My entire trip will come to a halt. I can duct tape things, and I have in the past, or find a bike shop to make a temporary fix, but the reality is that there are so many moving parts that give me the freedom I need and the ability to see the world. It’s an added stress that I plan for and think strategically about, having a small supply of wheelchair parts in my luggage.
In addition, knowing that most of the world isn’t nearly as accessible as the US, I am aware that I am putting an extra amount of wear and tear on my chair, something that just doesn’t happen in the US where there are mandatory ramps and elevators everywhere. I am reminded when traveling how fortunate I am that the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) was put into place shortly after I was born. It’s a reminder of the freedoms and liberties, the human rights really, that we have in the US, and I am again grateful that my home base gives me mobile freedom and yet I am still able to experience the rest of the world, albeit with some piggyback rides, climbing of stairs, a few tears, and lots of bumpiness along the way.
We spent almost a week in the Amalfi Coast area of Italy. We ate pizza every day, often accompanied by gelato. The weather in Southern Italy was much more bearable than anything else I’ve experienced on this trip, and it was a refreshing change of pace to be able to sit outside and comfortably enjoy dinner. The Amalfi Coast is incredibly picturesque, as I’m sure most of you have seen on social media and other sources of travel inspiration. We mostly just enjoyed walking the streets and being together.
I’m personally just a little over 60 days into this particular trip, and have spent half of it solo traveling, something I’ve never done before, and the rest of the time with Tony and then my two sisters. I’ve had some time to reflect on each experience and what makes them different. I’m learning that there are so many layers to my personality, to who I am when I’m with different people…so many layers to me. I’m learning to see the good – and bad – that comes out in different environments and with different people. What I haven’t quite figured out is how to pull the ‘good’ out of the different person I am when I am with different people and carry that forward to other relationships and my life as a whole. I haven’t figured out how to be the best version of me, regardless of who I’m with or where I’m at.
I thought I had this figured out after my month alone. I thought I had the ‘best version’ of myself ready to go, to bring out to the world, but adding relationships with loved ones adds an entirely new layer of complexity, and that’s something I’m exploring and working to understand. How can we be ‘the best version,’ no matter what? Is it possible? I know that growth cannot come without change. Change is growth’s best friend, and I am growing. I am changing. I am learning how to be better, now and for always. I hope that I never stop growing and I continue to work on being the best version of me.
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