by Mark & Margaret Edwards © 2006
Mark & Margaret Edwards, of the United Kingdom. generously shared a host of European reports that detail the access that wheelchair users can expect to encounter. Mark is able-bodied and Margaret, who can walk a little with a cane, uses a traditional folding wheelchair to facilitate traveling.
During their holiday in Milan, Italy, they viewed the "Last Supper," tracked down lifts to the top of the Duomo and toured many world-class museums, churches, castles and gardens.
Getting around Milan with a wheelchair is reasonably easy and certainly nowhere near as challenging as Venice was this time last year. However, Milan does offer some challenges: the pavements can be uneven, quite a lot of the streets – and seemingly many of the side streets where the pavements are too narrow for a chair and the street is used as a short cut - are paved with uneven slabs with big gaps between them, kerbs can be up to 9 inches high and the tram lines are difficult and painful to get across. On the plus side, traffic does stop at crossings for a wheelchair, there are extensive pedestrian areas and people are very helpful and only too willing to lend a hand or advice.
Just to put it in context, I have a folding wheelchair and I can walk a little with support. A folding walking stick turned out to be very useful. If you don’t use a wheelchair but still have mobility problems, most of the sights are well supplied with seats.
One thing – apart from "the Last Supper" it isn’t necessary to book for any of the main sights. The crowds go for the Duomo and that’s about it. In many of the places which we visited we were the only visitors. Which is a great pity because there are so many brilliant things to see.
A good place to start is the website http://www.milanopertutti.it which provides details of access to nearly every sight in the city. Some of the details aren’t too easy to follow but it gives you a good overview of where you can go.
We didn’t try public transport – the centre of Milan is of a size which makes it
feasible to get around by pavement, and I have to say it’s far more interesting
looking at the shops and people as we go around.
We chose Linate because it was closest to the city centre – my husband had used Malpensa on previous occasions, and it’s relatively a long way from the centre particularly late at night. The plane unloaded at a coaching stand and a charming gentleman came on board, helped me down the steps to an easy access van and took myself, husband and wheelchair to a special entrance near immigration. We were waved through immigration and our bag was just coming off the carrousel as we went by it. Outside the airport, our guide propelled us around the long queue for taxis, sorted out where we wanted to go, loaded us in and that was that – all within 10 minutes of getting off the plane.
Had I been completely unable to manage the stairs, there is another vehicle with a platform which rises to the level of the door of the plane – on the way home we were treated to this and it does work – although a tendency for the platform to get stuck under the plane door while it is still rising could lead to some expensive damage.
On departure from Linate, Alitalia likes you to wait in a holding room near their
check in desks with its own WC. Not the cheeriest of areas, but then Linate is a
little on the gloomy side and there isn’t much else to do there.
Fifteen minutes from the Duomo, comfortable with good sound insulation – one small step into the foyer, lift access throughout, decent sized bedroom with generous bathroom and a decent buffet breakfast with very good coffee included. Extremely helpful and pleasant staff. One mild eccentricity – the air conditioning seemed to be centrally time controlled and was off between 01.00 and 08.00.
There is a ramped section to the main entrance in the west end of the building and the whole of the ground floor is accessible. Two flights of stairs lead down to the crypt which put it out of court for me. The Duomo does get very crowded, and it’s quite dark – so you have to take care negotiating your way around groups who are hanging on their guide’s every word.
Access to the roof: There is a lift which is accessed externally on the SE
corner of the Duomo. Seven steps lead up to the lift, and the security guards will
allow you to leave a wheelchair at that point. The roof is only partially
accessible – the route runs through buttresses, which narrow the path
considerably and about half way along the northern side of the building is where
the steps start – very awkward and quite difficult to manage. There is
lift at the NE corner of the Duomo, but we didn’t try it because it seemed to
attract long queues.
Very accessible and as a leading international gallery extremely high on the list of things to see. The wheelchair access is at Via Fiori Oscuri 2: continue up via Brera from the Scala end, past the main entrance into the gallery and turn right into Via Fiori Oscuri. Enter by the first archway on the right hand side (it’s some way down the street) and turn right to the security desk. The lift is next door to the desk. Take care when disembarking on the first floor – the door outside the lift opens into the often busy shop. Access is completely on the flat for the whole of the gallery, except for two small areas close to the exit where there is one step up. The disabled WC is off Room VIII and scored highly for access and cleanliness. Also, there are free lockers with the keys available at the ticket desk.
Open 9-12 Monday to Friday. A highly attractive area to the rear of the Pinoteca and accessed from Via Fiori Oscuri 4 – the next archway along from the above. Passing through the arch, bear left and follow down the pebbly driveway (a little rough but nothing serious) to the bottom. The Garden is fully accessible, shady and worth a look for a peaceful sit down.
A wonderful piece of architecture but the contents will not be to quite everyone’s taste and it’s a great pity that there isn’t a catalogue to record some of the more questionable items on display – some fairly emotional i.e. gooey late C19th art.
Coming into the courtyard from via Pallestro, access is to the left under the building where there is a stair lift to the ground floor – staff will come out and run it for you. Disabled toilets are just inside the foyer to the left once you’ve left the stairlift. Access to the first floor is via a lift at the further end of the building and staff will point it out to you.
However, the highlight of the building are the gardens at the rear, accessed along a driveway to the left of the main building. Pleasant grassed areas, trees, ruins and a lake with ducks and terrapins. Just the place for a picnic on a hot day.
This is a curiosity at Via Clerici 5 and is now the home of the Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale. One of the glories of the building is the gallery which has a magnificent ceiling by Tiepolo, one of the greatest masterpieces in European Rococo. Tiepolo’s depiction of the continents, rivers and passage of the sun is staggering and well worth the effort of going to see. Have a look at their website at http://www.ispionline.it/en/palazzo.htm to get a full idea of what the building is like . Access must be arranged in advance – I emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
and gave as many alternative dates as I
could – but once you are there it is very simple. Report to the security office
on the left inside the main archway. We were then led round a ground floor
corridor to a lift which opened just by the entrance to the gallery.
Here we can only comment on the picture gallery and the antiquities section. If this seems a little complicated, it was the way it was – and we added to it!
The castello has two big courtyards and we entered from the city side. The access into the antiquities section is on the right hand side of the entrance into the second courtyard and did involve a couple of steps down. This was where the ticket desk was and it looks like the main entrance. For some reason, we only noticed the ticket desk after we had passed it and the guard letting people into the gallery decided that as a result we should both go in for free. I’m inclined to think there’s another entrance which we didn’t find. At the very end of the antiquities display, we tried to find the lift to the floor above for the picture gallery. This was rather difficult and took some investigation as even the staff were unsure of where it was. I’m sure that there is another answer to what we did but if you leave the building through the door at the end of the arms gallery, go across the driveway outside, down a paved ramp on the other side and come round and back into the building you’ve just left at a lower level which leads into the Egyptian section. I’d recommend against trying this without a member of staff along with you because the doors into the Egyptian section only open from the inside and someone has to gain attention so that they can be opened to let you in. If someone has to shout and shake the door then it’s better done by staff. Once inside, turn left and the lift will be straight ahead. It is worth noting that the disabled WCs are just where you enter this building.
The gallery is mainly on the flat – when we visited, there was an exhibition of furnishings in part of it and the level entry into the picture gallery was roped off – the guards were only too happy to let us through.
You can however, be confident that the shop is fully accessible, and please put a contribution into the collection box for the Castello’s cats – they are pleasant and contented looking animals though not apparently overworked.
Well worth a visit and probably one of the most under visited museums in the city which is a pity because of the magnificence of the contents. Access is interesting – the ramped access is to a service gate on the right of the main entrance, the latter has steps serving it. Either use the call button by the service entrance or get your companion to go into the reception area and come round to collect you. Access inside the building is very good with a lift system and there are copious disabled WCs, also a small cafe. One thing that wasn’t clear was whether it does open late on Thursdays – we initially worked on the basis of a visit at 19.00 on a hot and dry evening after a push of several miles and it was shut. So we had to go back on another day.
MUSEO POLDI PEZZOLI
The instructions were that the first floor is not accessible. We were the first to try out their new lift (the builders had to be extracted from it first and a bit of loose wiring tidied away) but the problem is that it is on the small side and wouldn’t take our wheelchair which had to be folded up. The proprietors are very proud of it but it’s a pity it wasn’t built just that little bit larger. Go to the main desk inside the ground floor entrance and they’ll direct you – you have to walk back to the archway that you’ve come in through from the street and just before it, turn right – the lift is a few yards along on the left. By now there may even be a sign directing you to it. The toilet on the ground floor is a bit of a squeeze because of the odd angle it fills but if you ask nicely, the staff WC on the first floor close to the lift is far more accessible and is a straight run in. The first floor does have a couple of steps to negotiate but otherwise, it’s flat.
MUSEO BAGATTI VALSECCHI
About half of this was closed for decoration when we were there, the accommodation is on the first floor and there is a terrific staircase to climb – it’s claimed to be 29 steps. My husband carried my chair up and thought that 29 was a reasonable estimate, confirming this opinion by carrying the chair down again. There is, however, a generously proportioned WC on the first floor.
Well worth a visit for the frescoes even though the builders are in at the moment. There are 7 external steps from the street and the effort pays dividends particularly if you can manage the additional three steps and pass through to the choir which is to the left and the rear of the building you have entered – the charming fresco of Noah’s ark at the back of the choir on the left is worth the visit alone.
SANTA MARIA DELLA GRAZIE
No steps and a good place to while away the time waiting for your visit to the Last Supper next door. Some very beautiful frescoes. There are steps down into the garden cloister with its frog fountain.
IL CENACOLO (LAST SUPPER)
The one sight you have to book for and as far in advance as possible – I booked in early February for our visit in late May and there were few slots available at that time. There is one low step into the foyer but after that, it’s all accessible. There are WCs next to the shop at the back of the building, but we didn’t check on their accessibility,
Another accessible (almost) art gallery. Access into the building is by a stairlift at the main entrance (the security guard in his office next to the entrance operates the lift) and currently there is only access to the first floor from an internal lift along the entrance corridor beyond the ticket desk. As a result of this restriction, you get in free plus a letter from the Director apologising for this state of affairs.
SAN NAZARIO MAGGIORE
A delight: access is either up the steps in front of the building or follow the passageway round to the left past a small restaurant to a side entrance which has one step and leads to a side chapel from where a stair lift leads down to the main body of the church. The Sacristan was very helpful and justifiably full of the beauties of the church.
Another brilliant collection of frescoes and a positive treasure house of early renaissance art. Access is via a very steep ramp in the left hand side of the front of the building overlooking piazza Sant’Eustorgio (it’s around 1 in 4) but once inside, you are on the flat and it’s an excellent experience.
SAN BERNADINO ALLE OSSA
An interesting place to visit – one step upto the entry with another 3 internal steps. But once you’ve looked inside the main area, return to the entry and follow the passage way to the celebrated display of bones and skulls. Quite surreal but strangely attractive.
SAN PIETRO IN GESSATE
More frescoes with a small step up into the building…
SANTA MARIA DELLA PASSIONE
…and more frescoes in a building with one small step for access
SAN LORENZO MAGGIORE
Wonderful C4th mosaics in a side chapel – well worth a visit – Roman pillars outside. Access can be a problem, although the area in front of the church is ramped, there are four steps into the church, but once inside, it’s all flat. There are, however, steps down to the crypt which put it out of my range.
There are two entrances – the main entrance which involves a couple of steps down into an enclosed area immediately in front of the church and then two steps just at the main door of the church – a side entrance with a stairlift which we were unable to find and didn’t want to raise enquiries as a service was in progress.
SANTA MARIA DEL CARMINE
Accessed from the via del Carmine which runs up the right hand side of the church from the Piazza del Carmine. A side door leads immediately to a ramp down into the church – this ramp is noisy so use it with discretion. The alternative is to manoeuvre across a couple of steps at the main entrance of the church.
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