If you’re not really one for challenging environments, taking on Rome in a wheelchair is not something I’d advise. Of all the cities undertaken on my Wheely Big OE, Rome was by far the trickiest. And, crucially, one of the most expensive. And it’s not like I can say I hadn’t been forewarned! Plenty has been written about Rome’s unsuitability for wheelchair users, especially those in power chairs. Unperturbed, we decided to go anyway.
I cannot stress this enough: when travelling to Rome in a wheelchair, planning is essential. In order to take the Leonardo Express from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport to the main station, Termini, you have to email the Sala Blu team at trenitalia.it in order for them to arrange the requisite lift service at Termini. Unless you’re comfortable being hauled down steps, don’t forget to do this! Also, don’t expect a readily-available wheelchair-accessible taxi service! We had a few muckups with our flights, and after ringing what seemed like every taxi company in Rome, ended up spending 140euro (which is around $280NZD) on a taxi to the airport. Absolutely criminal.
All right. Let’s assume you’ve managed to get to Termini okay, which is the central transport hub of Rome. If you’re a power wheelchair user, or don’t really deal with stairs particularly well, you can forget about using the metro in Rome. So it leaves you with only one option really: stay in Termini. And I’ll be frank: Termini sucks. It’s a tired-looking, run-down, seedy and bloody expensive area of Rome. We stayed at The ‘Yes’ Hotel [TripAdvisor link] and it was, well, just okay. Small, expensive, and fairly run-of-the-mill. But it was accessible, which was cool. Needless to say we left the hotel fairly quickly, and went in search of some food, which brings me to the next (fairly major) issue I had with Rome: where are all the curb cuts?!
As you can see in the photo above, curb cuts were few and far between, which meant long periods of rolling my wheelchair along the cobblestones. Which was fine, until a car came along. And a scooter. And a pram. Oh, and another scooter. And a bike. And a crowd of tourists. I tell ya, sometimes there weren’t even any footpaths! So it was a on-the-road free-for-all which, to be honest, would’ve been quite exciting if I wasn’t so concerned for my well-being!
And therein lies the beauty of Rome, really, in the sense that it was just so chaotic, and so hot, and so overwhelming, that it was unlike any other city we visited. Every corner you turned, 2000-year-old buildings were crumbling, roads were melting, and statues glistened in the 30 degree heat. We had the best gelato I’ve ever tasted, some beautiful pasta in Piazza Navona, and some equally-expensive but utter rubbish meals in the Termini area. We took the iPhone Lonely Planet Rome Guide with us, I can’t recommend it enough! It really sorts the great from the average.
Despite my caveats: make sure you plan ahead, mind the (lack of) curb cuts, and be prepared to spend more than you’d anticipated, Rome is a marvellous city and not one to be missed. The Colosseum is simply overwhelming, the Trevi fountain is breathtaking, and at the end of the day, my 100-kilo electric wheelchair and I spent 6 beautiful days in the Eternal City.
If you’d like to know more about my trip, or thinking about going to Rome yourself, leave a comment below!