Ciao! Italia!

In Around the World with Jules, Travel by Scott Rains

How does someone who has written more than 50 articles on travel and disability plan his own vacation? Probably just like you do – talking to people he trusts and dreaming.

Eric Lipp, founder of the Open Doors organization, studies that organization’s regular surveys of US travelers with disabilities. His 2002 survey revealed that, as a group, we are diligent and resourceful travel planners who weave elaborate webs of relationships to expand our worlds through travel.

We typically seek out the personal experience of other travelers with disabilities as we make travel decisions.

In March my wife and I will travel to Italy. I know enough Italian to guarantee that I end up with something other than what I thought I ordered when I try to “authentically” pronounce the menu items at the neighborhood Italian restaurant.

This promises to be adventure travel at its most basic. How did I weave the safety net I needed?

Sharon Oldham is a colleague specializing in travel to Italy at A Ticket to Travel of San Jose, California. The way Sharon lights up as she talks about Italy and the successful women’s tours she organizes through Ciao Bella made her a natural starting point.

Although I am disqualified by a tiny genetic variable from taking part in her Ciao Bella tour of the region, she graciously shared her advice and contacts.

In exchange she will get my accessibility evaluations for the benefit of her customers.

One of her recommendations, Eurobound Tours, came through with unique accommodations. In Naples, we will stay in what was once a Franciscan monastery on Vomero Hill. This hotel, the San Francesco al Monte, overlooks the Bay of Naples with a panorama encompassing Mt. Vesuvius and the peninsula on which Sorrento lies.

The peninsula defines the northern end of the Amalfi Coast which is beyond the horizon from the hotel.

Tour operators Elisa and Claudio promise unforgettable private tours of Naples with their staff who mix humor and love of life with a tour guide’s knowledge of the area.

Soheir Eskander at Eurobound recommended the Rota Suites in Sorrento. We will stay there for the convenience of the in-suite kitchenettes and 68 centimeter wide interior doorways. I was disappointed not to be staying at the Casa Mami Camilla on the grounds of a culinary school or Il Giardinetto adjacent to a plant nursery.

Both privately-owned rentals advertise wheelchair accessibility but neither responded to my reservation inquiries. It’s not just accessibility or charm that sells. It’s service.

Hand controlled rental cars are not available so we have arranged private shuttles between Naples, Sorrento, airports, and train stations. has a bulletin board for travelers. Several members there offered helpful suggestions on accessibility. At least one came from someone who has been reading the Rolling Rains Report for years.

Their encouragement based on firsthand experience has me exploring ways that I can tackle some of the sites that look more like mountain climbing than a leisurely vacation from my vantage point in a wheelchair – Amalfi, Positano, Ravello, and Capri.

With ground arrangements nearly settled it was time to lock in the flight. United Airlines made redeeming frequent flyer miles painless.

We will see if I can use the same adjective to describe the effect of an intercontinental flight in one of their Star Alliance partner Luftansa’s cramped cabins.

The last bits of basic travel security were also straightforward – travel insurance with TravelGuard; unlocking my GSM-band cell phone to accept an Italian SIM card.

Then, double checking passport and entry requirements; and letting my creditors know that the pattern-breaking purchases on my cards will be legitimate and please not to shut them down on me mid-vacation.

At this point in travel planning, when the tickets are purchased and hotel reservations finalized, I like to shift gear. Dreaming takes over and it’s time to discover Italy from a distance through books and films.

Paul Hofmann begins his book That Fine Italian Hand, with a chapter on the two Italies. His engaging writing style, probably honed during the years he was chief of the New York Times bureau in Rome, enticed me halfway through the book before I knew it.

This means that I am now reading two books at once since I discovered David Yeadon’s Seasons in Basilicata. It is an account of spending a year in the village where author Carlo Levi was exiled by Mussolini.

Netflix offers a treasure trove of films on Italy. I began with the film version of Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli. Whether you plan to visit the south of Italy or not this film (especially the uncut version) combines good storytelling with history and landscape to reveal the “Two Italies” – one North and one South.

A travelogue I rented at Netflix, Visions of Italy: Northern Style & Southern Style, offered privileged aerial views of hilltop towns and cliffside villas. I can see that Pompeii is not going to work in a wheelchair and rappelling might be a fallback solution to keep in mind most everywhere in the south of Italy!

Even before I arrive I still have hours of couch potato travel left with Rick Steves’ video; Rudy Maxa’s advice, Italian language learning programs; and more travelogues with spectacular photos in my video queue.

Scott Rains is the editor of The Rolling Rains Report.