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- Days of Wine and Roses - Summer holiday memories
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As we all cross our fingers for a good summer, some of our readers bring you their holiday memories – good and bad, and some advice for travelling at home and abroad.
NCBI often receives queries from people wondering what holidays are suitable for people with vision impairments, both from Irish people and visitors wishing to travel to Ireland. The answer is that any holiday that you are interested in is suitable. It may just require a bit of advance planning to ensure everything runs smoothly.
There are some tour operators that cater specifically for people who are blind or vision impaired.
Vision Outdoor was founded in 2006 to develop unique tours for people with sight loss to European countries. Based in Germany, the organisation began by organising tours for people with vision impairments to Finland, Canada, and within Germany and has since expanded its reach. All you need is an interest in nature and culture. The price of tours includes one assistant for every two participants who have impaired vision. Assistants are trained and speak English as a second language. Tours are open to all age groups and participants do not require any experience in hiking or any other outdoor pursuits. The 2010 programme includes trips to Finland, South Africa, Greenland, Iceland, Madeira and other destinations.
Phone: 0049 521 16 40020
Traveleyes is an award-winning UK-based air tour operator that specialises in providing world holidays for both sighted and vision impaired people. They travel to destinations all over the world and facilitate independent group travel for blind people so that they can access the same opportunities for world travel that sighted people have always enjoyed. The 2010 programme includes trips to Cape Town, Tunisia, Croatia, Japan, Peru and many more.
Phone: 0044 8448 040 221
Paul: Templeogue, Dublin
My first and earliest holiday memory is of Skerries, County Dublin in around 1950, when I was fully sighted. My favourite holiday as a visually impaired person was to Budapest, the capital city of Hungary. I went to the Gellert Baths, which are famous spring baths. My wife does not like the water and as we were with another couple, where the husband also did not like water, I went with the other woman. We paid in together, where the man at the admission desk told us there was a special rate for married couples. So, with a twinkle in my eye, I said to the other girl “Well?”, and in we went as a married couple!
It was great to have a sighted companion, as with my retinitis pigmentosa, it was difficult entering the huge marble arena, with the amazing hot spring water. Over the next five days, we travelled by train to a small village alongside the river Danube, took public transport everywhere and visited castles, monuments and historic sites.
My favourite travelling companions are my wife Cilla and daughter Paula. If money was no object I would like to travel around Japan and also Iceland.
Jenny O’Brien: organised trips a success
My best holiday was a trip to Italy in 2000. There were 51 people on the trip. About 25 were blind, each with a guide either organised by themselves or matched up by myself. We took in the usual sights in Rome but got special privileges because we were classed as a special group. We left Rome and went for a few days to San Giovanni Rotunda and then for a relaxing week to the Amalfi coast, where we visited Pompeii, Vesuvius, Sorento, and Capri. Our guide was brilliant; hotels were good but I’m afraid the food was mediocre.
My worst holiday was a week in Portugal. Again there were around 42 people but the hotel and the guides were very poor and to make it worse it rained for the whole week, which of course we couldn’t do much about.
In March this year John and myself went to Malta with a company called The Travel Department for a week and it was great. I think an organised trip works out best as you tend to have the same guide each day and they get used to you. Personally speaking it is always good to have a sighted companion if possible, especially for going abroad.
Maureen: experience of travelling after sight loss
Losing one’s eyesight is a harrowing thought. Yet, for many people, after initial emotions have been put to bed and their now new found situation accepted, one moves on. I am one of these people.
Attendance at guide dog school not only gave me back my independence but put me in touch with people who had travelled widely with their dogs. This gave me new hope and, putting mind over matter, my new found friend and I took to the skies in the ensuing years, visiting the UK and Channel Islands. These regions were my limits when travelling with my dog, which was due to animal quarantine regulations. I couldn’t be without my four-legged friend, for this would once again curtail my mobility.
Subsequently I heard of a group in the UK which encouraged and promoted global travel by blind and vision-impaired people and also arranged sighted guides. I joined this group and now have many happy holiday memories.
One of my most memorable trips has been sailing and island hopping in the Caribbean. Now one might ask themselves “how can a blind person sail?” Well, usually there are two people blind or vision impaired people and three people with sight on each yacht. The people with vision impairments, or VIs as I will call them, form part of the crew, tugging at the ropes as required, tending to fenders, hoisting the sails and radio transmission. An audible compass, fitted to each yacht, enables the VI to steer the boat and keep within course. Obviously sight is required to plot and change course so the skipper generally undertakes this task.
Our itinerary included the islands of St. Martins, St. Bartholomew’s, Anguilla, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, Nevis and Antigua. Leaving yachts anchored out in the bay we dinghyed into islands for the purpose of custom clearance, to obtain provisions, stretch legs and for a look around.
On average we sailed approximately six to seven hours per day after which we either dinghyed to a local eating-house, rafted alongside another boat for a barbecue or ate on board. But the real shenanigans were with the Penney’s beach barbecue in Nevis. As we got out of dinghies at the edge of the beach, simultaneously a large wave came and drenched us.
I fell with laughter and was covered in sand from head to toe. The time spent in titivating oneself was all in vain. I dried off pretty quickly though, as there was a large bonfire on the beach.
But the effects of the local rum punch were such that we could hardly find our way back to the dinghies. Lucky for us that the skippers remained sober so as to navigate us back safely to our yachts!
The last and longest leg of our holiday was from Nevis to Antigua, some 46 miles. Not too far one might think, but by sea it took approximately twelve hours.Finally we bade farewell to our yachts at Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour in Antigua and bussed it to the airport at St. Johns for our return journey back to the UK, where our journey began.
This was truly a wonderful holiday and a marvellous experience. Never in my wildest dreams did I think when I lost my eyesight that I would be on vacation in the West Indies — much less sailing!
Tom O’Neill : First guide dog to cross Atlantic in aircraft
My wife Breege and I reached the milestone of 25 years of marriage in September of 2005 and we decided like many others we would go on a cruise. We planned on bringing my guide dog Kola, then a 7-year-old black Labrador (now deceased) with us. However, our biggest concern at the time was that all animals, including guide dogs, had to be sedated and held in the hold of the aircraft — and many times placed in quarantine on arrival in Ireland.
A friend recommended a cruise company called Princess Cruises, which facilitates blind people travelling with their guide dogs. On my friend’s advice we linked in to a San Francisco travel agent called Dimensions in Travel, who told us they were planning to facilitate a group of blind and visually impaired persons with their guide dogs in November on a 10-day cruise going from San Francisco along the Mexican Riviera.
Around that time, regulations on the carriage of guide dogs on airplanes came into force so I approached Aer Lingus to see if they would become an official airline carrier, which was part of the regulations that had yet to be sorted out. After many, many phone calls and repeated emails, they finally declined. Luckily we had a better reception from Continental airlines, who worked with us and the Department of Agriculture to make sure we could travel with Kola. In fact, we were able to bring Kola along in the cabin of the aircraft when flying to America and also when flying home to Ireland. She was the first Irish trained, bred and reared guide dog ever to cross the Atlantic both ways in the cabin of an aircraft.
During our holiday we spent time in New York, New Jersey, California and cruised for 10 days along the Mexican Riviera. I estimate we travelled 14,000 miles. Kola was nervous on our first flight out of Dublin but as we were clocking up the flying hours her nervousness abated completely.
The cruise ship was The Dawn Princess, with 2,000 passengers and 900 crew on board, as well as 18 other guide dogs from all over the states and Canada. Toilet facilities and a free run area was created on the ship to care for the needs of the four legged passengers. Nothing was too much to ask of Princess Cruises.
Find out more at www.princesscruises.com
Tips for planning a successful holiday
1. Plan ahead
- Talk to your travel agent when making your booking to make sure you will have assistance, if you require it. Talk about the type of assistance you require and how they can best help you.
- If you are not using a travel agent you may wish to talk to the airline and accommodation you have chosen separately.
- Request assistance at the airport if you require it.
- Talk to the hotel about any guiding needs you might have, how best they can assistant you and also if you require documents in alternative formats, such as large print or Braille.
2. Do your research
- Research places of interest so you can plan guided tours if you prefer to travel with a guide.
- Talk to the hotel about booking a guide and what the guide could do to make tours more interesting for a person with a vision impairment.
- Find out if local attractions have made provisions for people with vision impairments, such as having tactile maps, Braille or audio visitor guides and whether staff are trained in providing verbal descriptions that might be helpful.
For more information visit www.ncbi.ie and type holiday into the search box.
This article is illustrated by two photos. The one on page 13 shows to people on board a cruise ship. The caption reads: Tom and Breege O’Neill on board The Dawn Princess.