This article is part of our Fall 2020 Breaking Barriers. This installment focuses on traveling with a disability. If you'd like to read more stories from this issue, please subscribe to Breaking Barriers.
I am a paraplegic. In 2004, my wife Phyl and I signed up for a Holland-America round-trip cruise through the Baltic Sea from Copenhagen, Denmark, to St. Petersburg, Russia.
We flew from Boston, where three male attendants tried to put me in an aisle chair; getting in each other’s way, they ended up putting me on the floor of the plane. The first stop in Europe was Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands, where two female attendants put me in an aisle chair as smoothly as silk. No injuries!
During a wait between our arrival in Denmark and the cruise, we explored almost five miles of Copenhagen’s pedestrian-only avenue in the rain, a coast drizzle that we tried to ignore. No complications.
While on the cruise, in Tallinn, Estonia, I had the roughest riding surface imaginable for a wheelchair—cobblestones. Since the country’s 18th-century royal palace was slightly less than a mile from the dock, we persisted. We enjoyed our tour of the town square, overlooked by the palace, and even found some English-speaking tourists.
Our main stop was St. Petersburg, the former capital of Russia with magnificent museums and Queen Catherine’s gorgeous palace. With our ship anchored in the Neva River, we signed up to go ashore. We were deeply disappointed that Russian authorities would not allow me off the ship because no accessible taxis were available. Phyl collected booklets with many pictures and quite a few historical stories, but that didn’t come close to an actual visit. I thanked the Lord that she got to see it, and I still insist I was in Russia, sitting on a ship in one of the country’s famous rivers.
In Helsinki, Finland, an accessible taxi took us downtown. I was eager to see the Finnish culture because my best chess-playing friend is Finnish-American from Des Moines, Iowa, and one of my first international chess-by-mail ventures had assigned me a player in northern Finland. We were treated with great friendliness in the capital.
We were allowed to get close enough to the palace of the ruling monarch in Stockholm that we got the sense that the royal family was sensitive to their responsibilities to share the daily activities of the people of Sweden.
We enjoyed a memorable cruise across northern Europe, and Holland-America apologized that I missed seeing St. Petersburg. We encourage disabled people to do lots of traveling!