Leavenworth & Wenatchee, WA: Recapturing Travel Joys

Leavenworth & Wenatchee, WA: Recapturing Travel Joys

After more than a year of enduring Covid isolation sans fun travel, I finally mustered the courage and broke free this summer to go on a purely frivolous road trip. Still in partial mask-wearing, hand sanitizing mode, I was emboldened by knowing I am fully vaccinated, and at least most other people around me are, too. I was eager to restart my travel adventures. I was also interested in observing the differences in travel brought about by Covid.

For this trip, I had two destinations in mind—Leavenworth and Wenatchee, both towns in east Washington State. Why these places? Because on my very odd bucket list is attending the Leavenworth  International Accordion Celebration. How could I skip it (no pun intended)? The first dance I learned as a child from my Slovenian mom was the polka, so this was a tribute to my Eastern European roots. Plus, this wonderful celebration happens almost in my own backyard!

Only 23 miles east of Leavenworth lies my second destination of Wenatchee. Here, I wanted to check out the Apple Capital Loop. This beautiful wheelchair accessible trail runs for 22 miles along the banks of the mighty Columbia River.

Lodging

I chose to stay in Wenatchee, as the town is bigger, not as hilly as Leavenworth, and has more choices of hotels and restaurants. I also guessed it would be less crowded since it was not the center of this festival. I stayed at the Cedar Inn in East Wenatchee—an excellent choice. My room (number 130) was impressively spacious and well set up for wheelchair access. It comfortably met my needs. The hotel is conveniently located near many great restaurants that, due to Covid, now offer curbside pick-up, and the Cedar Inn is only 450 feet away from one of the entrances to the Apple Capial Loop.

Celebrate Accordions!

The Leavenworth International Accordion Celebration is only one of dozens of events held in Leavenworth, Washington in a typical year. Leavenworth’s primary Covid modifications for their events are holding key activities outdoors, and reducing restaurant capacities. Mask-wearing is currently optional.

The first day of the celebration, Eastern European and German-style polkas were featured (think the Pennsylvania Polka from the movie Groundhog Day). The bands played in the gazebo at Front Street Park as on-lookers sat or milled about. Lots of artisan booths lined Front Street, displaying paintings, photographs, drawings and other arts. The town was busy but not over crowded, which I found comforting.  I was charmed by an elderly couple who danced a waltz in front of the gazebo, displaying grace and skill in their slow and careful dance.

Zydeco music was featured the next day. I love Zydeco—it’s happy party music and brings together  accordions, fiddles and a unique rhythm instrument called the frottoir, like a modified washboard. Zydeco, from Cagin country, emerged from the blending of several cultures—French, African American and German, to name a few. As the band played, I was mesmerized not only by the talent of the accordion player pulling and squeezing out energetic notes, but also by the sound and sight of the woman playing the frottoir. She stretched, tapped and strummed out a clicking, vibrating rhythm, a sincerely unique combination of sounds. A little boy and girl from the audience were captivated by the tunes and couldn’t stand still. They danced in an animated, wheeling freestyle in front of the crowd. Other bands played throughout the four-day event, including a series of students and teachers of this waning artform.

The Apple Capital Loop

My second goal on this trip was to check out the Apple Capital Loop. It is listed as wheelchair accessible on some websites, but I have run across some inaccuracies on the web. I wanted to see for myself.

The Apple Capital Loop has many entry points since it stretches for 22 miles from Lincoln Rock State Park west of town to Kirby Billingsley Hydro Park in Wenatchee. I tried three sections, covering a total of about 8 miles (really 16 miles since I went one way then turned around). Each section was uniquely beautiful. Each part offered its own views and its own feel and ambiance. I went in mornings and evenings to stay cooler in the sunny and hot clime east of the Cascades. It turned out to be a good Covid activity, as it was outdoors, uncrowded and some folks wore masks.

My first day, I entered the trail from Wenatchee Riverfront Park and headed north toward Walla Walla Point on a more metropolitan stretch. The views along this glassy section of the Columbia River were gorgeous, as I wheeled down the incredibly well maintained asphalt path. I wheeled by greenspace and gardens and picnic tables and sandy beaches. I passed docks of a yacht club where two men were putting in a kayak and I stopped at the Helpful Coyote Saves the Salmon sculpture to read the Native American story. Turning around and heading south past my vehicle, I checked out the south  side of Riverfront Park. I crossed a high footbridge that traversed the BNSF railyard. The sight at the top gave a birdseye view of Wenatchee’s industrial side—quite interesting.

I began my next exploration at Confluence State Park. This park has plenty of parking, restrooms, and camping. The trail was relatively flat, a bit drier landscape and a little further from the river. I passed by picnic tables and behind massive fruit warehouses that smelled like hard applecider. The trail was in great shape and mostly level with some gentle slopes.

I ended my trail reconnaissance at Lincoln Rock State Park, which was underwhelming at first. But just at first. It was very dry here and the slope was a little greater. I passed over a few footbridges and under many electric wires. I finally realized why there were so many wires when I approached a fabulous vista overlooking the Rocky Reach Dam.

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My New Book! “Lilly’s Most Excellent Wheelchair Adventures: Wheeling Washington State”

My New Book! “Lilly’s Most Excellent Wheelchair Adventures: Wheeling Washington State”

 

Get it at Amazon 

A great way to know if something is truly wheelchair accessible is to learn—firsthand—from a wheelchair user who has been there. This is what I offer in this travel guide.

I am C5-6 quadriplegic, and over the years, I have been to many wonderful vacation spots and sights throughout the world, starting with my home in Washington State. I have documented and collected information describing the beauty, the ambience—and most importantly—I have verified the wheelchair accessibility—of over 100 sites around the Evergreen State. In this guide, I include lovely towns, worthy wheelchair accessible trails and walks, and recommended parks, cultural centers, landmarks and museums. I also make sure to include locations of ADA restrooms along the way. My perspective is from my power wheelchair for these excursions.

In planning my trips, I typically choose a charming small town or scenic national park or other intriguing destination, then I fill in nearby wheelchair-friendly activities, hikes and things to do. I have found so many delightful, nicely accessible adventures in Washington State that I decided to write this guide to share the bounty with other wheelchair users who don’t necessarily want to do all the required research.

 

I hope this guide encourages wheelchair users to get out and about and enjoy more of what life has to offer without having to be concerned if the destinations will really be wheelchair accessible once you get there. Happy trails to you!

Nuevo Vallarta–Que Bela!

Nuevo Vallarta–Que Bela!

 

My friend has sung praises of Nuevo Vallarta for years. I decided it was time for me to check it out for myself. I was thrilled to find that Puerto Vallarta and nearby Nuevo Vallarta are situated in tropical rainforest along the Pacific coast with the Sierra Madre mountains as a backdrop. It is spectacular!

 

We stayed at the Vidanta Resort in the Grand Luxxe. We used a free certificate for our stay, but it can also be rented through VRBO. I was absolutely impressed with the wheelchair accessibility of this 300-acre resort complex. Most everything that I experienced was up to American ADA standards – the trails and boardwalks that meander beneath the rainforest canopy, the ramps leading to the restaurants, of which there are 28, and the walkways along the beach— it was well-designed and absolutely fabulous! Our apartment (unit #7141)  had a roll in shower, short-length grab bars by the toilet and sinks that I could pull under to use.

 

It was hard to miss the floral fragrance of fresh-cut lilies as we entered the lobby and our room. And we were eased into sleep each night by live music that drifted up from the floor below us. It was a beautiful experience for all of the senses.

 

Accessibility was further enhanced by the resort providing golf cart-type shuttles, including wheelchair accessible ones, that could be requested from the bellboy and would arrive within five or 10 minutes. The ramp for the shuttle was steeper than ADA standard, but many helping hands were always willing and available. Hospitality staff took us wherever we wanted to go within the expansive resort. We could also opt to wheel along the vast network of boardwalks and paths. Whichever method we chose, there was plenty of staff that was very warm, hospitable and willing to help in any way we needed. This was a real plus since my husband is aging and I seem to have a larger appetite for distance than I can push on my own—especially in beachfront tropical rainforest. The grounds were replete with wildlife. We saw snowy egrets, a crocodile, iguanas and I could hear calls of tropical parrots—a paradise!

 

I used only one of the eight swimming pools on the property, the enormous pool nearest the Grand Luxxe. It did not have a water chair/lift. I am able to cling to a sturdy railing and walk down a few steps so this worked for me. I enjoyed refreshing daily swims and basked in the warm sun, poolside, to dry.

 

Future plans at this Vidanta Resort include construction of a gondola that will take guests across the complex, providing yet another mode of transportation. It is supposed to open December 2020.

 

On one of our five days in Nuevo Vallarta, we ventured out on a tour called “Amazing Vallarta” with TB tours. Our guide, Gabino, provided wonderful service and it was a fun time with two other couples. We visited the Malecon, or seawall, and our Lady of Guadalupe church.  We had a delicious lunch at the edge of a rainforest reserve where I could see zip-liners whizzing by above the forest canopy, whooping in delight. Around the corner, we stopped at a family owned tequila factory where we had a blast doing little mini shots of eight kinds of tequila, reminiscent of crazy college days.

 

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the Amazing Vallarta tour, I found it to be exhausting to transfer in and out of the van. I even considered staying put on the last stop. For those who have difficulty transferring and cannot take a few steps while holding onto something sturdy, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible. The stops were sometimes challenging too, with cobblestone and very steep ramps, but worthwhile. I did see an option to book a wheelchair accessible van through Viator.com, but for 3.5 times the cost.

 

When I think back on my visit, I have no doubt that I will come back to this Vidanta Resort. It had excellent wheelchair accessibility and was one of the easiest and most enjoyable places I have vacationed!

Hood River, Oregon Fruitloop

Hood River, Oregon Fruitloop

A beautiful drive about an hour and a half east of Portland Oregon brings me to the 30+ farmstands, lavender farms, wineries, orchards and the like that compose the Fruit Loop of Hood River.  This is a place for families, couples and whoever enjoys beautiful scenery and seeing and learning about places where  good things grow and are produced in this wonderful nation of ours.  Kids can take a ride on a trolley pulled by a tractor through an orchard at the Fruit Company, pet llamas, pick berries or apples and so much more. It’s a favorite place for me to visit on a sunny afternoon and many of the stops on the loop,  like Mountain View Orchards and grateful winery, Kiyokawa Family orchards, are wheelchair friendly.

Sweden: At the Edge of the Baltic Sea

Sweden: At the Edge of the Baltic Sea

Birka Island

We are so far north here in Stockholm that it stays light until midnight and then starts getting light again by 3:30 AM. I think it’s pretty cool. I was surprised that Sweden is hillier and harder to wheel than the Netherlands and Belgium. I was also surprised that it is harder to find accessible restrooms around town, mostly old town, unless you are at a museum or airport where accessible restrooms are great.. Stockholm’s Old town has a lumpy-style of  cobblestones and hills so it’s not easy.

On day 1 in Stockholm, we did a 3day Hop on Hop off with Stromma City Sightseeing. They advertised as wheelchair accessible but truly was not. No ramp on bus and I had to back my manual chair out and drop several inches to get out. The driver wouldn’t let me out at my requested stop either since he didn’t want to reposition the bus to be closer to the curb to help rampless wheelchair exit.  He told us to circle around and get the requested stop the second time around but before we could do that, he stopped at stop number one and told us we had to leave because he was on break. It was terrible service and a wasted vacation day, unfortunately.

Day 2 was better with Stromma HOHO. This bus had a ramp and we went to the Vasa museum which was fascinating. Vasa is an enormous Swedish ship that sank in the 1600’s and then was recovered in 2000’s. It was amazingly preserved in the brackish water. It was an amazing effort to build and very ornate with carved  figures that had been painted. I didn’t realize they built such massive ships back then. It was about seven stories high. We also visited the Nordic museum, really  about life in Sweden from the 1600s to now, It was less than impressive but wheelchair accessible.  That was all the time we had for museums since we lost the first day. 

Day 3 was a boat ride to Birka island. It is an old Viking site and is now a UNESCO heritage site. I could not go on the walking tour or see the archeological dig. I was informed of that prior to buying my ticket from Stromma, though, and figured I would like the 2-hr boat ride and spend time in the museum, shop, cafe and re-constructed village. I did this and it was good and my able-bodied husband really enjoyed the walking tour.

Hotel: We stayed at the Hilton Stockholm Slussen hotel which was nicely wheelchair accessible and provided a wonderful breakfast. There was a lot of construction around Stockholm when we were there and this complicated things for us. I wish I could’ve had that extra day to see some other museums in the  very nicely accessible area near the Vasa museum.

General observations: Europeans seem to understand the term “disabled  toilet” Instead of “wheelchair accessible restroom”.  No matter what country I was in, people always offered to help if we were in an obviously difficult situation with steep ramps, etc. In my opinion, the Netherlands and then Belgium were more wheelchair accessible just because of the flat terrain (“nether” means “low”) compared to Stockholm, Sweden.  Some areas of Stockholm were pretty good, too, though.  Everywhere we went, many people spoke English.

It was a great trip and now it is great to be home!

Belgium: Diamonds, chocolate and beer

Belgium: Diamonds, chocolate and beer

We rolled into Antwerp Central Station which is an absolutely gorgeous 1800s train station. We walked across the street to our hotel, the Hampton Inn Central station. Excellent choice, excellent accessibility and excellent location. We spent the next couple of days walking down the main street, just around the corner, in the midst of all of the diamond shops and chocolate shops and cafés full of great Belgium beer. This area is also very flat and easy to wheel. We found a park a few blocks away as well with packed dirt trails where I could wheel easily. Our Lady of Antwerp cathedral was very beautiful inside and out and the buildings in general had intricate architecture. Great place for a few days stay.

We set off for Brugge (in French and Bruges in Dutch) by train which is just an hour and a half north west. Bruges is much smaller. We stayed at Martin’s Bruges hotel which is very nice and accessible and right at the edge of the main town square, behind the UNESCO belfry. There is something very unique about the architecture in Bruges. I was told that it was influenced by Romania. I’ve never seen anything quite like the edging on the rooftops. It made me feel like we were in a different century. I signed up for a private walking tour through Viator.com. Our guide took us throughout the city along cobblestone streets to historic places like the cathedral, a palace, and a Beguinage and explained a lot of the history which I found quite interesting. There are loads of cafés and chocolate shops all throughout Bruges and the chocolate is excellent!

It was not that easy to find a wheelchair accessible toilet so I had to come back to the hotel which had great access. Also, I used a freewheel because in some places the cobblestone was pretty bad.