Travelling the world with a wheelchair (Part 2) - Forward Ability Support

Travelling the world with a wheelchair (Part 2)

By Julie Halvorsen

Travelling the world with a wheelchair has equipped my husband, Anders, and me with more resilience and resourcefulness than I thought possible. I previously wrote of our travel journeys through the years; however, our trip to Norway in 2019 was the most memorable and deserved a tale of its own.

What can go wrong when we ask all the questions, obtain photos of roll-in showers and ensure all bookings confirmed are accessible? Well, as it turns out, quite a bit!

We began our journey in Gold Coast Airport with the discovery that the allotted seats on our first flight had been changed. We didn’t mind being seated apart, especially as I find myself next to an Instagram adventurer who regales me with stories of remote and unpronounceable destinations.

Once in Sydney, the transfer from Domestic to International is relatively uneventful, apart from an ugly collision with my foot, Anders’ smart-drive and the shuttle ramp. Once we arrive at the gate, however, we’re told that our booking has changed as Anders can ‘apparently’ walk to his seat, so a lift is not booked, nor available! Eventually, staff find a catering lift, boarding us last instead of first.

Bound for Hong Kong, we soon discover that the opening into the seat module provides an unexpected challenge for Anders’ tall frame. With the assistance of extra staff, myself, my bruised foot and an audience of passengers, we pull and push until my husband is finally seated, relieved our inflight plan for toileting does not involve having to get him in and out of the module!

To our delight, customs and immigration assistance at all airports is excellent, even if the ‘pat downs’ for Anders are thorough and a tad intimate at times. After a rather cramped drive to our accommodation, which includes me nursing our big suitcase and one of the wheels after our failed efforts or find a wheelchair taxi, we’re told the cabbie only takes cash—HK currency. In my haste to get to the hotel reception for help, I jam my finger so badly assembling the wheelchair that I need help to get it out. Paying the cabbie, we make it to the room to find, you guessed it, a bath! No roll-in shower as promised.

Exhaustion, jet lag and pain in my foot and finger hit me at once, and I let myself cry. By morning, after a sleep, we form a plan together. He will stay on the toilet, and I will reach with the shower hose to shower him. It will not be the only time on the trip we resort to this, and many towels will be used to stop flooding rooms!

After a 2 day stopover, we are booked to fly to Oslo via Copenhagen. SAS, our carrier, is rumoured to be experiencing a pilot strike, but we’re assured our flight is still scheduled and on time. However, arriving at the departure counter, the news is very different. The flight is indeed cancelled, and we will be put up at the Airport Hotel as many nights necessary until resolved. Our real nightmare in HK has only just begun.

The room is weird; we face another shower on the toilet, and carefully planned bowel routines need to be reassessed; countless calls to our travel agent are made, racing to secure another carrier. All our carefully tailored travel plans are in jeopardy, including our passage on a coastal voyage from the north of Norway. The drama of negotiating alternative flights with a wheelchair is, seemingly, a complication a new carrier does not want to deal with. We seriously consider abandoning the trip and flying home!

Miraculously, when all seems lost, out of nowhere comes the best news. An SAS plane is in HK having repairs, and a crew will come from Copenhagen to fly it. After hours of negotiating, we are on our way through an almost deserted HK airport to board the repaired plane. There were no frills on this plane: No cabin service, horrid pre-prepared sandwiches, no genuine personal care, A Roho that swells up (memo to self, let some air out the next time), and a flight that will terminate in Copenhagen, but we are finally on our way! Anders has found seats to Oslo from Copenhagen at an exorbitant cost with a rival airline. With EU airport assistance, we make it just in time, arriving finally in Oslo where we stay a night near the airport where yet another unusable stupid shower set up awaits.

Early the following day, we board a wheelchair accessible bus to the airport for our flight to Kirkenes, Northern Norway. We are exhausted but entranced, seeing the snow-capped peaks from the air. When we land, Anders is unloaded the old-fashioned way, and together with family, we hire a car to spend an afternoon exploring this town and surroundings close to the Russian Border.

Although it’s spring, a massive snowstorm rolls in, and we suddenly find ourselves in a winter wonderland! Norway does not disappoint, and our senses are bombarded with the endless beauty of the coastline and the isolation of small Arctic villages as we cruise for the next six days. In Bergen, we hire a Volvo wagon, and I once again find a new type of “brave” as we negotiate claustrophobic tunnels through snow-capped mountains and cruise along fjords and through quaint towns towards Arendal, the birthplace of Anders’ father.

Spring is bursting forth. Flower boxes, bright coloured houses and ancient churches are all presenting a photographic smorgasbord. The warmth of the extended Norwegian family enlarges our hearts, and we truly wonder at times how Anders’ grandparents could have left behind such a beautiful country to start their new life in Australia. Then again, it’s spring, not winter but the desire to return is strong. We just have to see those Northern Lights!

In case you missed it, you can check out Julie’s first article here.