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Taking Europe slow, with limited mobility

BY RICK STEVES Modified: October 23, 2012 at 8:42 am •  Published: October 23, 2012

Let's face it: Compared to the U.S., Europe is not very accessible to those with limited mobility. In fact, many of my favorite sights — castles and hill towns — were actually designed to be inaccessible.

But I'm inspired by the fact that, wherever I go in Europe, I see people with limited mobility having a wonderful time on the streets, in the museums, in the restaurants, and on the trains.

If you have mobility concerns, consider your own situation thoughtfully when choosing which attractions to visit, where to sleep and eat, and what to avoid. Here are some tips to make Europe more accessible:

Packing light is especially important. To lighten your load, take fewer clothing items and do laundry more often. Fit it all in a wheeled carry-on bag (9 by 22 by 14 inches). If you do bring a second bag, make it a small one that stacks neatly (or even attaches) on top of your wheeled bag.

Bring a friend. It's good to have helping hands along if you need a quick lift up a curb or if you have trouble handling your luggage. In 30 years as a tour guide, I learned that if people who didn't walk well brought along a supportive partner, their trip went remarkably well.

Think about the pros and cons of where you sleep: Rather than stay near the station, you can taxi from the station directly to your hotel and be in the center of the action. Rather than opt for a characteristic B&B, take the modern, business class hotel with up-to-date rooms, larger bathrooms and elevators, and facilities designed with easy access in mind.

Many quainter places will brag they have an elevator, but because of the nature of their building, you'll still climb many steps to get from the street to your room.

Some cities have some fully accessible buses and subway routes. London's system is the best in this regard, while Paris disappoints. While subway systems can be efficient, public buses can save you lots of hiking with fewer stairs.

With a transit pass (most cities sell day passes and multi-day passes), you can hop on a bus just to get down the street without worrying about the chore and expense of buying an individual ticket.

If you simply can't walk long distances, taxis are essential. Any hotel or restaurant can call one to pick you up. With a cell phone and the local number, you can call one from anywhere. And in many cities, it’s easy to hail a taxi on the street.

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