Where could one find a thousand ancient statues, priceless art and be serenaded by a musician playing an ancient horn? Why, the Vatican of course! And the velvet ropes typically keeping those of us who are blind from getting up close and personal with priceless Greek artifacts and renaissance art including Michelangelo's famous "La Pieta" were nowhere to be found; at least for anyone with a disability who contacted the Vatican and requested an accessible tour.
Last October, my wife and I spent four weeks visiting Rome, Florence, Tuscany and Calabria. There were hundreds of memories, (which have been captured on an iPhone by both of us) but the one which stands out the most is our visit to the Vatican Museum. With the help of our AirB&B host, we arranged an accessible tour of the museum on our last day in Rome. There were torrential downpours and a line which was literally a block or two long. Patrons and Vatican staff alike, when seeing my white cane, hustled us up to the main entrance and within 5 minutes of arriving, our personal tour guide met us.
We were provided with a private tour of sequestered collections not part of the main collection viewable by the general public. In each of these rooms, the size of a large store, the words, "you can't touch" were never uttered, nor were the dreaded velvet ropes anywhere to be found. In fact, under the direction of a well-informed curator, I was able to touch stone statues which are believed to have originated around the time of Julius Caesar. It's one thing to read about these priceless treasures but it's quite something else to be able to feel the detailed lines, smooth polished stone and detail carved out of solid granite. Our guide, fluent in several languages, brought the beauty of the statues and paintings to life. We were provided an opportunity to touch a replica of Michelangelo's "Pietta" a world renowned depiction of the Virgin Mary holding Christ following his crucifixion. And, again, it was a truly hands on experience where we literally were invited to step behind the velvet rope so as to be able to touch the work of art.
If all this didn't instill a new appreciation for religious art, shortly after we began our tour we were joined by a roaming minstrel. In a country full of music, on the surface one might not necessarily be terribly impressed with this. But, our personal minstrel carried pipes and flutes which were found in the art which surrounded us. He not only allowed me to touch the goat skin flute but serenaded us which, although eerie sounding, truly gave us a feel for what life 2,000 years ago may have sounded like.
Our tour of Italy was full of many once in a life experiences, but our day at the Vatican Museum was the most impressive. We did all the typical tourist things, the Trevi Fountain, the Roman Aqueducts, Cinque Terra, Ponte Vecchio and much much more.
Any major holiday is always riddled with "I'd never do that again", and our trip last October was no exception. One month isn't very long and it felt as though if we weren't unpacking, we were acquainting ourselves with a new city. The best part of our entire trip was visiting the small village where my parents originated and meeting up with cousins from Vancouver Island in Tuscany. In both places, incredible food was eaten and walks throughout villages that are hundreds of years old were enjoyed.
Were I to ever go back to Italy, I think we'd find a villa on the ocean close to the small town where my parents came from and simply hang out with family.
We didn't have my guide dog join us and this proved to be a good move. A nine hour flight, walks along ancient paths less than 3 inches wide, and crowds like I've never experienced before would have proven too much for him to handle. .
Leave your guide dog at home, he or she will thank you for it.
Don't try to see everything, find a place that you can call home for a month there'll be plenty of things to keep you amused without draining your energy and patience
Read more so that when someone is trying to describe something like the Trevi Fountain, you stand a chance at grasping what it is that everyone is so worked up about
Finally, just travel; there are always a thousand good reasons not to, in our case it was a tenuous employment situation. You'll never regret it.