My first wheelchair adventure was in Barcelona last year. To celebrate my dad’s 80th, my kids and I decided that he needed a trip with us for a few days of spring sunshine, teenage hormones and pushing his daughter around a city. For tasty tapas, an occasional Mojito with a bit of culture thrown in for good measure. What could go wrong?
In theory it was a great idea. Find a nice central apartment, book cheapish flights and off we go! In practice we discovered that taking 2 kids on a city break for 5 days ends up costing more than an ‘all inclusive’ fortnight by a pool in Santa Ponza.
Happy Birthday Granddad!! Aren’t we great?
Central Barcelona is fairly flat with good, generally smooth and wide pavements. Perfect for our maiden voyages with my new wheels. I got the biggest kick out of wheeling myself right up to a table at a street-side café, perusing a menu and ordering a beer without leaving the wheelchair, it’s the little things…
Following our lunch, the Spanish waiter declared “a miracle” with a huge grin, when I got up and walked to the toilet. Which sums up mobility issues with MS in a few sentences. Yes some days I can walk reasonably well, some days are good, but then without warning, my legs gradually stiffen. Some hours are fine, other hours are difficult. Thanks MS for keeping me guessing, I can never predict how I will feel. Only thing I know for certain is – stress makes all my symptoms WORSE.
I think we were all slightly anxious with the wheelchair at first, flapping about with foot rests and panicking to fold the chair quickly before we got on buses or taxis, but after a few days we were pros!
I worried that my children would be upset by seeing their mother in a wheelchair. I worried that they would worry if you know what I mean? They took it all very well and loved taking turns pushing me. I had obvious advantages too; for hanging shopping bags and skipping queues at tourist attractions.
My dad, who is fitter than a lot of people half his age, walked miles and discovered many wonders the city had to offer. We endured an afternoon at a shopping centre too of course, the one day my teenager didn’t moan about boredom and lack of WiFi. I was like a Formula 1 driver on the marble tiles zooming between shops and playing chicken with women and their buggies, even managing a few ‘doughnuts’ by the escalators. I made plans for future modifications to my chair involving go-faster-stripes and UV lights underneath.
We became cocky after a few days. We took risks, we lived life on the edge! We thought we had this wheelchair business down to a tee. We spent an entire day causing chaos as we ‘hopped’ on and off the city’s tourist bus, leaving a trail of annoyed tourists with bruised shins in our wake.
The aquarium is amazing in Barcelona, perfect for a rainy day. We skipped a very long queue of tourists – who didn’t even attempt to hide their jealousy / hatred / venom at us as we rolled past them all queuing in the drizzle.
We were waved over to a ‘special’ window, where we saved a fortune on entrance fees! OAPs and disabled people were free, our day just kept on improving.
That was until we managed to jam up the conveyor-belt-type moving path through a glass tunnel under the sharks. I can see when the architect planned Barcelona aquarium, they thought it would be a great system for crowd control. To literally keep everyone moving through their star attraction.
That was until four Paddys arrived with a wheelchair. We were so busy oohing and aahhing at the sharks, we hadn’t noticed THE END of this magic moving path fast approaching. I still think it started speeding up!
Life as we knew it (surrounded by gigantic sharks and worried looking smaller fish) changed to slow motion. Slow motion with the realisation that if we didn’t act QUICKLY, the large volume of people behind would end up on top of us!
Slow motion to the sounds of toddlers crying and little old ladies saying “oh dear”.
I have never been so glad to see a strong looking German couple in all my life! They appraised the situation with military precision in seconds, shouted orders to my kids, and in one swift movement picked me and my wheelchair up and cleared the ‘blockage’ to some clapping and a wolf whistle – well I think that was for me, looking dashing in my wheels!
We didn’t stop at the cafe or gift shop on the way out. We retreated quietly towards the exit by slinking out hidden by a display of postcards and plastic octopi (not octopuses as my son kept calling them), past the people who we had pissed off in the queue to get in.
Over all our adventure was a successful one, for everything except our bank balances. I got to see so much and move around the city with relative ease, all minus the stress and anxiety of tying to physically drag myself everywhere. I was happy, I had taken the first big step in a new direction of holidaying with a disability. The experience had been a positive one, with the exception of jamming up a tunnel of sharks, but hey – not everyone can claim that!