Wheelchair Accessible Travel in Bologna, Ferrara, Parma & Ravenna 2009
By Howard L. Chabner and Michele E. DeSha
© Howard L. Chabner and Michele E. DeSha 2009



This article is based on our May 2009 trip to Bologna, Ferrara, Parma and Ravenna, in the region of Emilia-Romagna.  We stayed in Bologna and took day trips by train to the other cities.  It was our first visit to Bologna since we spent a few days there in 1987, before Howard used a wheelchair.  This article is intended as an introduction, a starting point for your research and a way to convey realistic expectations.  We hope it will help you plan an access strategy based on your interests, travel style, and mobility capabilities and limitations.  


In May 2009 we also went to Rome; our article about wheelchair access there, Rolling in Rome 2009, is on the websites where this article is published.


This article is dedicated to our friend Mauro Mangiacotti, with great warmth and many thanks.  Our trip wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting and enjoyable without Mauro.  


We traveled on our own.  In planning our trip we used the Internet and other information sources but not a travel agent.  


We’ve tried to be as accurate as possible, but it’s essential to confirm all information, especially access details, directly with hotels, museums, transportation providers and other facilities.  As in all research, primary sources are much better than secondary ones.  Also, things change.  It’s essential to re-confirm information shortly before acting on it. 


After this introduction, the sections of this article are:   II – General Access in Bologna; III – Public Bathrooms; IV - Electricity; Wheelchair Repair; Personal Care; Medical Needs; V – Intercity Trains in Italy – Trenitalia; VI – Transportation in Bologna; VII – Hotels; VIII – Bologna Monuments, Museums and Churches; IX Ferrara; X – Parma; XI – Ravenna;  XII – Teaching Company Lectures; XIII – Information; XIV – Italian Disability Organizations; and Appendices.


Bologna and Emilia-Romagna.  Bologna is the capital of Emilia-Romagna, a culturally, artistically and financially rich region.  Bologna struck us as an attractive place to live.  The medieval center has distinguished, well preserved buildings and splendid piazzas, large and small.  Porticos are the city’s architectural trademark (see General Access in Bologna, below).  With a 1,000 year old university, there is a great deal of cultural and intellectual life.  There are excellent museums with a variety of collections ranging from antiquities to medieval and Renaissance painting to 20th century painting to science and medicine. There are unique stores selling a wide variety of high-quality merchandise.  There weren’t many tourists compared to the more popular tourist cities of Italy, and we felt that we had a good glimpse of everyday Italian life.  The pace of life seemed neither too relaxed nor too hurried.  Bologna and Emilia-Romagna are famous for their cuisine and proud of it; we were delighted to find the reputation is justified.  The pastas were extraordinary, as was the quality of veal, fish and other dishes.  Even the pizza was terrific.


Bologna is a train hub, and we used it as a base for exploring Ferrara, Parma and Ravenna.  It’s logistically difficult for us to stay overnight for short periods in several places; it’s far easier to stay many nights in one place and take day trips.  The drawback of this, however, is that we were only able to scratch the surface in Ferrara, Parma and Ravenna - we would have liked to have been able to spend several days in each one. There are other cities we would like to have had time to visit, such as Modena, home to the Ferrari factory and museum, the only place where true balsamic (aceto balsamico) is (and can legally be) made, and the birthplace of Luciano Pavarotti.  There’s plenty more to see on another trip!


About Us.  Because one’s physical capabilities and limitations, and his equipment, affect the access achievable, and because his point of reference informs his perception of access, we’ll tell you about ourselves.  We are fortunate to live in San Francisco, where wheelchair access is generally excellent.  Howard has muscular dystrophy and uses an electric wheelchair.  Michele is able-bodied.  On this trip Howard used a Quickie P110 folding electric wheelchair that is 25 inches (63.5 cm) wide, weighs approximately 100 pounds (including the batteries, which are removable) and has gel cell batteries.  The footrests are elevating and removable; the wheelchair is 48 inches (122 cm) long with the footrests in the shortest position (including Howard’s toes protruding past the footrests by 2 inches (5 cm)).  Howard is 6 feet (1.83 meters) tall and, when seated, 57 inches (1.45 meters) high.  He cannot walk.  All other dimensions in this article are approximate; we didn’t have a tape measure.

Good News about Smoking.  We were delighted by the complete lack of smoking in restaurants and cafes.  A national law became effective in 2005 that bans smoking inside restaurants, bars and cafes, except in specially ventilated smoking rooms.  (We saw no restaurants or cafes with smoking rooms.)  The penalties for patrons are strict, and those for proprietors even stricter.  In our experience the law is taken quite seriously.  Smoking is permitted at outdoor tables, but this was rarely a problem: it seems that smokers have become more considerate even when smoking outdoors.  (Many restaurants have outdoor tables, but, unlike Rome, outdoor tables are not ubiquitous in Bologna.)  A collateral benefit of the smoking ban we noticed is that people in Italy use cell phones in restaurants less than before – many go outside to have a cigarette and use their cell phones.


Phone Numbers.  The country code for international calls to Italy is +39.  Not all phone numbers in Italy have the same number of digits, so it’s important to double check phone numbers.


Floor Numbers.  In describing buildings we use “first floor” per Italian usage to designate the floor immediately above the ground floor, which Americans refer to as the “second floor.”


Appendices.  A hotel access questionnaire is Appendix A.  You are welcome to adapt it for your own use.  A metric conversion guide is Appendix B.  A dictionary of key access terms in Italian and a pronunciation guide, both by Cornelia Danielson of Barrier Free Travel (a nonprofit organization she founded that’s dedicated to improving access and promoting accessible tourism in Florence and throughout Tuscany), are Appendix C


Legal Stuff.  This article and the appendices may not be reproduced or used for profit without our written permission, but readers are welcome to reproduce or use them for any other purpose.


A Call for Advocacy.  Researching your trip, the trip itself and the time after your return are great opportunities to educate and advocate for access.  If we learn in our research that a hotel, transportation provider or museum isn’t accessible and providing access appears feasible, or that something is accessible but could be improved, Howard often sends an immediate email with detailed recommendations.  On our trip we provide feedback in real time.  After we return we write detailed letters advocating better access, including appeals to government officials. We aren’t only critical - we try to acknowledge and appreciate good access, and we also recognize the logistical and architectural difficulties and limitations in making old buildings and ancient sites accessible.  Our communications have usually been well received and our efforts have helped spur access improvements.


            Howard has written letters to the mayors of Rome and Paris about access issues, including the need for more curb ramps, and to the Rome and Paris airports.  When writing to government officials, we send copies to local disability organizations if appropriate.  We’ve sometimes found that a request or recommendation from us, as foreign tourists, can lend additional credibility to similar advocacy by local individuals and disability organizations.  Sometimes our efforts add to the cumulative weight of those made by locals.  Ironically, it may be easier for officials to ignore or delay action on a complaint by a local than one by a foreigner.


We urge you to use your trip as an opportunity to help move the ball forward on wheelchair access - you will already have the information and the impressions will be fresh in your mind, so writing an effective letter or email won’t take much extra time.


Awareness of wheelchair access in Bologna and the other cities we went to was quite good.  Consistent with our experience elsewhere in Italy, access to buildings is far better than for transportation, and, also consistent, although information about access is available, it’s not always accurate.  People’s attitudes were welcoming - they sincerely wanted to help, although they didn’t always know exactly how. 


Terrain and Paths of Travel.  Bologna is mostly flat.  It’s fairly compact considering the size of its population.  There are many curb ramps, although they are often steep (certainly steeper than the 1:12 maximum slope permitted in the US).  Except for the steepness of the curb ramps, the city has done a very good job of providing accessible paths of travel, considering the age of the buildings.


Porticos are Bologna’s most distinctive and elegant architectural feature.  The upper floors of almost all buildings, ranging from medieval to 20th century, are cantilevered over arched porticos.  Pedestrians walk under the porticos; in the center of the city, there generally aren’t additional sidewalks adjacent to the porticos.  Most of the sidewalks under the porticos are smooth and many are paved in terrazzo.  Many porticos are sloped at the ends, where the building meets the intersection of the cross street, although some of those in the oldest buildings have stairs at one end, so wheelchair pedestrians have to double back.  The porticos provide shelter from sun and rain, and they separate pedestrians from automobiles (unlike in many Italian cities, where pedestrians share the way with automobiles), but they trap cigarette smoke and pollution.


Automobile traffic is moderate during the day and light at night.  The yellow lights are long compared to the US, as are the entire traffic light cycles, so there is ample time to cross.  There are many pedestrian zones.  Overall, strolling through Bologna in a wheelchair is noticeably easier than in Florence, and much easier than in Rome, Naples and Venice.


Solo Wheelchair Travelers.  We believe that some people in wheelchairs would be able to travel to Bologna alone, if they are used to the hustle and bustle of a dense city and willing to ask for help.


Because we travel together, certain inaccessible features in hotel rooms that would present significant barriers for someone traveling alone aren’t obstacles for us.  We don’t mean to minimize their importance but we sometimes forgot to keep track of them.  In describing hotel rooms, we generally haven’t included items such as door pressure, door swing clear space, and accessibility of light switches, temperature controls, electric outlets, window latches and curtain pulls.  We recognize that even a relatively accessible hotel room, restaurant, store or monument may be extremely difficult or impossible for someone in a wheelchair traveling alone unless he or she is willing to ask for help. 


Restaurants and Stores.  Many restaurants and stores have a threshold stair of anywhere from 2 to 8 inches (5 to 20 cm).  The thresholds generally are lower than those in Rome, Naples and Florence; often they are in the low end of this range.  The proprietors are very willing to tilt and lift your wheelchair, although they often require instructions on how to do it. 


Museums, Monuments, Churches and Antiquities.  We urge you to try to tour all major museums, monuments, palazzos, churches, parks and antiquities that interest you - they are likely to be at least partially accessible and you will see something interesting and beautiful on the way.


            Stair Lifts.  The stair lifts at many museums, monuments and churches in Italy (even many new lifts) are typically narrower, shorter and have a lower weight capacity than in the US, sometimes as low as 330 pounds (150 kilograms).  (The typical capacity in the US for lifts in public accommodations is 750 pounds or, less commonly, 500.)  Howard’s wheelchair barely fit many of them - perhaps by 2 inches in width (1 inch on either side).  Howard’s Quickie power wheelchair is standard size; people with wider chairs would have difficulty fitting on some of the stair lifts.  Our strong impression is that in planning for wheelchair access, the norm in Italy, the default, is a manual wheelchair, and power wheelchairs are still considered unusual.  And most Italian manual wheelchairs we’ve noticed have little or no camber and, therefore, are narrow.  (Camber is when the large wheels are angled so the space between them at ground level is somewhat wider than the space between them at the level of the seat - the angle of the large wheel to the ground is less than 90 degrees when viewed from behind the wheelchair.  Camber greatly improves stability and maneuverability.)   


Generally, and unlike typical lifts in the US, Italian lifts are able to operate with the moveable safety edges at the front and back in the lowered, open position (approximately parallel to the main platform and the floor), as distinguished from the raised position (at perhaps a 45 degree angle to the main platform and the floor).  Howard’s wheelchair footrests often protruded past the front edge and the rear tires often rested on the lowered rear edge.  This is less safe because raised edges help prevent the wheelchair from moving forward or backward, so it is crucial to have one’s brakes on.  But it mitigates somewhat the small platform size.

Michele used ATM’s in various locations.  All were too high to be reached from a wheelchair.   


Consistent with our experience in other major cities in Italy, public bathrooms in Bologna and the other cities we visited in Emilia-Romagna typically are large (although perhaps not as large as those in Rome), well designed and clean, with high quality plumbing, often including bidets or handheld hoses in addition to a regular sink and faucet.  They also have high quality tile, often of marble or another stone.  Some are staffed by an attendant who cleans them frequently.  The main exception to the foregoing is bathrooms in restaurants, which typically are quite small.    


Every museum we visited that is accessible has a well designed accessible bathroom.  Because almost all museums are free for disabled people, if you need to use the bathroom and are near a museum, you can do so even if you don’t want to see the exhibits.  Some of the larger and more upscale hotels have accessible public bathrooms. Most employees, guards, government workers and salespeople are quite willing to let a person in a wheelchair use the bathroom even if he isn’t a customer.  We generally didn’t seek accessible bathrooms in restaurants or in most churches (although San Domenico and Santo Stefano in Bologna do have accessible bathrooms).  Like most of the train stations we’ve been to in major cities in Italy, the Bologna station has a large, clean, accessible bathroom; it’s opposite the “Blue Room” office for disabled passengers.  


Wheelchair accessible bathrooms often comprise a single user, unisex, lockable room with sufficient space for a companion, rather than an accessible stall in multi-stall men’s and women’s bathrooms.  Sometimes one must ask for a key; this minor inconvenience is well worthwhile because it ensures that the bathroom is clean and isn’t likely to be occupied by an able-bodied person who could be using the regular bathroom.   

Most accessible bathrooms have large toilets that are higher than the typical accessible high toilet in the US  Typically the toilet is long and has a tank, which means that if there is enough space next to the toilet for a wheelchair, which there usually is, the wheelchair will be well aligned with the toilet.  (A design flaw we’ve occasionally seen in square bathrooms where the sink and toilet are caddy corner from each other is that there isn’t quite enough space to get past the sink and next to the toilet.)  Often there is a cut out at the front of the porcelain bowl designed to enable the user to use the handheld hose.  Typically there are flip-up grab bars mounted on one side on the wall behind the toilet.  An emergency alarm with a pull cord is always within easy reach.  The sinks are large and the faucet handles are long.  Even some bathrooms that are not fully accessible are large enough for a wheelchair.


The attention to bathrooms, water and plumbing in cities throughout Italy is a legacy of ancient Rome, whose hydraulic engineering set the standard for the world until the 20th century, where public baths were a major cultural and social institution, and where abundant fresh water was available to everyone daily.  (Just how much water is the subject of lively and longstanding scholarly debate; the issue will probably never be resolved definitively but there is a consensus that supplying all one million Roman residents with sufficient water, albeit only through public fountains and baths in the case of the poor and middle classes, is one of the great achievements of ancient Rome.)  


Electricity and Charging your Wheelchair


Italy uses 220 volt AC power.  The standard plug has three prongs in a straight line (one is the ground) and is different from the plug used in most other European countries.  Plug adapters are available at any travel store; we recommend buying several before your trip.


If you use an electric wheelchair, we recommend getting a wheelchair battery charger with settings for 110 and 220 volts.  It eliminates the need for a separate converter.  A surprisingly small, lightweight and inexpensive charger with dual settings is available from MK Battery.   www.mkbattery.com Also try Lester Electrical.  www.lesterelectrical.com 


We highly recommend gel cell batteries, which are non-spillable, safer and more acceptable to airlines than wet batteries.  Air travel is difficult enough for passengers who use electric wheelchairs; wet batteries compound the problems for everyone.


Wheelchair Repair


Howard needed minor wheelchair repairs in Bologna.  On a previous trip to Rome he needed to purchase a new battery charger.  Both times he called the Italian branch of Sunrise Medical for referrals to wheelchair dealers, and Sunrise immediately provided excellent referrals.


Sunrise Medical – Italy.  www.sunrisemedical.it  info@sunrisemedical.it  Main phone +39-052-357-3111.  Fax +39-052-357-0060.  Address:  via Riva, 20, Montale, Piacenza.  Jonathan Pezzali, the manager, is very helpful and speaks English well; his direct phone is +39-0523-573-146.  Jonathan.Pezzali@SunriseMedical.it  Roberto Mandelli, technician; direct phone +39-0523-573-130.  Open Monday to Friday 8:30 AM - 12:30 PM and 1:30 PM - 5:30 PM.


Medical Equipment Dealer in Bologna.  Ortopedia ASOR.  www.asor.com info@asor.com  Phone +39-051-556-409.  Fax +39-051-553-845.  Address:  via Casarini, 4/D; 40131 Bologna.  Howard had minor wheelchair repairs done at ASOR, and they even had front tires and wheels the correct size for his Quickie in stock, so he was able to replace his tires.  ASOR was open Saturday morning.  The technician spoke a bit of English, so communication was not a problem.  (A hotel employee had called the day before to make an appointment and explain the repairs needed.)  ASOR is located less than a mile from our hotel, UNA Hotel Bologna; it took around 15 minutes to roll there.


Personal Care


            This was the first trip in which Howard hired a personal care assistant.  In Bologna he hired someone through an acquaintance.  It worked out very well; the man was extremely dependable, skilled, strong, gentlemanly and friendly.  He spoke English well.  The price was reasonable. 


In Rome Howard hired someone through PrivatAssistenza, a nationwide agency that has a branch in Bologna.  It also worked out very well.


            PrivatAssistenza www.privatassistenza.it  Email address for the Bologna branch:  bologna@privatassistenza.it  Phone:  +39-051-095-2587. 

Medical Needs


            The United States Embassy in Rome provides referrals to English speaking doctors and dentists.  www.usembassy.it  Phone +39-06-467-41.  Fax +39-06-488-2672. 




            This section discusses train travel in Italy generally, illustrated by some examples from our 2009 trip.  For more details about train travel from Bologna to Ferrara, Parma and Ravenna, see the sections of this article about those cities.


Italy has an extensive nationwide system of intercity trains serving major cities, medium sized ones and even small towns.  The coverage is far more extensive than in the United States.  The equipment ranges from sleek, modern, fast Eurostar coaches to clunky, antiquated, slow trains serving regional routes.  Making the system accessible to passengers who use wheelchairs is certainly a complex challenge considering how extensive the system is; how long it had been in place before a consensus developed about the need for wheelchair access; the complexity, variety and age of the physical infrastructure; and the fact that the platforms are low while the trains are high.


We’ve taken intercity trains in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2009.  Our train travel has been of two types:  day trips without luggage, where the purpose is sightseeing and the consequences of a glitch are relatively minor; and on each trip to Italy, one or two trips with luggage to get from one city where we stayed to another.  We’ve certainly had more stressful situations and frustrating moments then we had wished, especially in our departures from the Bologna station in 2009, but despite these, taking the train is a fast, economical and reliable way to travel from city to city.  However, it takes planning, patience and flexibility.


Wheelchair passengers are required to reserve a place on the train, by phone or in person, with the “Sale Blu” “Blue Room” (marked with the blue wheelchair logo) at the station of departure at least 24 hours in advance.  In addition, check-in at the Blue Room is required 30-40 minutes before departure.  At small stations the employees aren’t strict about the time required for check-in and may not even be available that early.  But regardless, always check in before proceeding to the platform; don’t just wait at the platform and assume someone will be there to help. 


Wheelchair passengers embark from the platform to the train, and vice versa, by a movable, employee-operated mechanical lift.  Reservations are required so Trenitalia can ensure availability of the lift and the employees to operate it.  In large cities where the station is a terminus, getting on and off the train isn’t rushed, but in small cities the train stops for only two or three minutes and the process is quite harried.  Be sure to organize your luggage. 


The other reason reservations are required is that many trains (especially regional and local ones) have no cars with wheelchair spaces and those trains that do have only a few spaces.  This is a major drawback - passengers in wheelchairs have only a subset of train times available to them.  For example, we took day trips from Bologna to Ravenna, Ferrara and Parma, and when departing Bologna had to choose between leaving at nine in the morning or close to noon.  There were departures between those times, but those trains were not equipped with wheelchair spaces.  These limitations also preclude flexibility and spontaneity - it’s impossible to change plans at the last minute (other than canceling a trip entirely).


When purchasing tickets on the Trenitalia website it is essential to make sure that the train has wheelchair spaces and, in Italy, to call or visit the Blue Room as described above.  Just because there is a wheelchair symbol on the website for the train you want does not mean the employees will be ready for you; you must inform Trenitalia in advance.  It’s also important to understand that, for able-bodied and disabled passengers alike, purchasing a ticket isn’t the same as reserving a space on a particular train.  We found that the best procedure is to reserve a wheelchair space in advance but buy the tickets the day of departure; when you arrive at the Blue Room, the employees can help you purchase tickets.  However, like other procedures, this varies from one station to another.


Procedures vary somewhat from one station to another and even from one employee to another.  Also, we have the impression that the procedures are in flux, so it is essential to check everything carefully.  Be patient and allow plenty of time.


One major drawback and limiting factor is that the movable lifts used to get wheelchair passengers on and off the train are narrow and the folding ramps at the ends are short.  Also, not all lifts are the same size or have the same weight capacity.  At home Howard uses a Permobil wheelchair, which is considerably heavier and perhaps slightly wider than the electric Quickie he uses when traveling; even the largest lift probably could not accommodate a Permobil.  According to Trenitalia’s website, wheelchairs up to the following dimensions and loaded weight can be accommodated:  27½ inches (70 cm) wide; 47.2 inches (120 cm) long; 42.9 inches (109 cm) high; and 440 pounds (200 kg) loaded weight.  But some of the lifts we’ve encountered over the years have been smaller than those dimensions.  Often there was almost no room to spare on the sides and none whatsoever in the length; Michele had to shorten Howard’s footrests to the shortest position.  


We returned to Bologna from Ferrara one evening and were met with a lift too narrow for Howard’s wheelchair; the assistance employees had to insert an improvised makeshift ramp over the edges of the lift.  We were told that the large lift that had been used to get Howard onto the train that morning had broke during the day.  The next day, when we tried to make reservations for Parma, we were told to check back the following day because they were borrowing a large lift from a station in another city and weren’t sure when it would arrive; ultimately, it arrived and we were able to go to Parma the day after our preferred date. 


The most difficult situation involved our trip from Bologna to Rome.  We checked out of our hotel and showed up at the Bologna station with our luggage with plenty of time, reservation in hand, and were told we couldn’t go to Rome that day because the large lift was broken (again).  Intense negotiations ensued, and the assistance employees ended up transferring Howard to a small manual wheelchair, using a small lift to get him on the train, then squeezing his own wheelchair on the small lift and onto the train, and finally transferring him back into his wheelchair on the train. We were afraid we’d miss the train, but they held it for us.


In many stations there is a passageway under the tracks; depending on the train one takes, it’s often necessary to go through the passageway to reach the track.  In most stations there are elevators from the main part of the station to the passageway and throughout the passageway to each of the tracks.  This is one part of the system that’s always worked:  in our experience the elevators have never been broken.  Depending on the station and the time, some elevators are open to the public and others are operated only by Trenitalia employees.  But because wheelchair passengers must check in at the Sale Blu and be accompanied to the track by an employee, the elevator will be operated by an employee regardless of what time it is. 


Although we had heard that passengers in electric wheelchairs are required to transfer to a train seat or a manual wheelchair on the train, Howard was never asked to do this and always remained in his wheelchair.  First class was very spacious; second class, while not quite as large, had ample room for his wheelchair.  Each car that has a wheelchair space has a medium size accessible bathroom nearby.  The rides generally were pleasant, fast and smooth.  On trains where the only accessible car is in first class, wheelchair passengers are usually charged second class fare. 


In planning our trip, we emailed Trenitalia’s disabled passenger information service for Bologna inquiring about the schedule of accessible trains and received a detailed reply in English within 24 hours.


www.trenitalia.com  Trenitalia has an English-language website that includes detailed information for passengers with disabilities; click on the wheelchair logo at the bottom of the homepage.  From there one can find contact information for disability services for stations throughout Italy.


Bologna information for disabled passengers: Assistenza Clienti Disabili Bologna  assistenzaclientidisabili.bo@trenitalia.it


Trenitalia national helpline for disabled passengers:  199-30-30-60. (We didn’t try to call this number from outside Italy.) 



We flew into Bologna Marconi Airport (symbol BLQ), which is small and is only a 10-15 minute ride to the center of the city.  Arrival was uneventful.  There are no boarding gates.  Able-bodied passengers use stairs to board and exit.  Howard was lowered from the plane in a large lift vehicle.  The drawback of Marconi is that it’s only equipped to handle small airplanes.  We had flown from San Francisco via Frankfurt, and the flight from Frankfurt to Bologna was in a small plane (around 70 passengers) that was terribly uncomfortable.  The airport has a medium size, well designed accessible bathroom.


CO.TA.BO  www.cotabo.it  radiotaxi@cotabo.it


We had arranged to be picked up at Marconi Airport by CO.TA.BO, one of the two major taxi companies in Bologna, which claims to have wheelchair accessible taxis and which had been recommended by the Bologna tourism office as having them.  Howard mentioned in his email to the taxi company that he is 1.45 meters (57 inches) high when seated in his wheelchair.  But the vehicle that met us at the airport was ancient, had a steep portable ramp at the rear, was around 5 or 6 inches (13-15 cm) too low inside (much too low for Howard to ride with his neck bent, even for a short ride), and the wheelchair area was not deep enough.  To top it off, the driver was not helpful.  We don’t know whether or not CO.TA.BO has other, newer, larger taxis that are truly accessible.  Because of our experience, Howard didn’t try to take a taxi again in Bologna.


Michele took a regular taxi from the airport with our luggage and Howard took the BLQ Aerobus (see below).


Private Transportation Service


            www.cosepuri.it   cosepuri@cosipuri.it 


            Cosepuri is a large transportation company headquartered in Bologna that provides car, van and charter bus service in Bologna and throughout Emilia-Romagna.  We heard conflicting information about whether it provides accessible transportation.  We didn’t use Cosepuri.



            www.atc.bo.it atcitta@atc.bo.it.

            BLQ Aerobus, operated by ATC, the Bologna public transportation company, provides accessible shuttle service between the airport and the train station and other key stops within Bologna every 15 minutes.  The buses are of the low floor design and have a retractable ramp at the rear entrance.  The ramp on the bus Howard took was broken, so four fellow passengers lifted his wheelchair.  There was a horizontal gap but, because of the low floor, not much of a vertical one.


            ATC operates buses within and around Bologna.  Although their website has an English version, it was difficult to find information about wheelchair access.  Bologna’s bus system, like those in much of Europe, has low floor buses.  (The low floor design is excellent because, with a low center of gravity, the ride is very smooth, and because it’s much easier to get on and off a low floor bus than one with a high floor.)  Most buses didn’t appear to be accessible, but we saw some new looking buses with the wheelchair symbol and retractable ramps.  But Bologna is compact, the weather was good and we enjoyed strolling around, so we didn’t take the bus.


            Hop On Hop Off Sightseeing Bus (GiroTP) covers the major sites in Bologna.  The name of the service is GiroTP and it’s operated by Trambus Open.  The brochure says the bus is accessible.  Information is available on the ATC website listed above.  We didn’t ride it, but we checked one of the buses and it was accessible. 


            Our general principle is that for hotels, as for real estate, the three most important factors are location, location and location (assuming good wheelchair access).  Strolling through a vibrant, beautiful, interesting neighborhood is one of the most enjoyable things about traveling.  It’s exciting to stay in the heart of the centro storico (historic city center), where one can roll by the same building or piazza ten times and discover something new and enriching each time.  Strolling at night is romantic and exhilarating; staying at a central location makes it easier to remain out late.  A central location is also more conducive to an afternoon nap because it’s easy to go out again afterwards.


            Because accessible public transportation is sometimes unreliable, difficult to find and subject to change, staying in a central location is critical unless you are able to transfer easily to an ordinary taxi.  Being within rolling distance of museums, antiquities, monuments, churches, restaurants and shopping saves time, energy, uncertainty, frustration and expense.  Up to a point, we would forego a large room, charming atmosphere and contemporary amenities for a great location.


            On this trip, however, we compromised our principle.  There are three main areas to stay in Bologna:  1) the historic center; 2) via dell’ Indipendenza, the long, porticoed main street laid out in the late 19th century that connects the train station to the historic center; and 3) near the train station. We chose to stay near the train station because we were planning to take several train trips, we knew that wheelchair passengers are required to arrive at the station early, and we weren’t sure how long it would take to get from the historic center to the train station.  Also, several hotels that responded to our inquiries most promptly and thoroughly are located near the station.  


As it turned out, it was a 20 minute stroll from our hotel, UNA Hotel Bologna, to Piazza Maggiore, the heart of the historic center.  Being near the train station was convenient and we didn’t feel the slightest bit unsafe, even at night, but it wasn’t romantic or interesting.  We didn’t get that exhilarating feeling one gets in staying in the historic center of a city.  The area around the station is drab, and the hotels there are modern and generic.  Another alternative would have been the hotels along via dell’ Indipendenza; we didn’t check any of them.  Via dell’ Indipendenza is crowded, the buildings and stores are not particularly interesting (with some exceptions), and the nearby streets are less atmospheric than those in the historic center.  So on our next trip to Bologna we would probably stay in the historic center, which is romantic, elegant and vital.


            In keeping with the Italian appreciation for water and bathing, almost all wheelchair accessible hotel rooms we’ve seen in Italy have roll-in showers, unlike in the US and some other countries where only a minority of “accessible” guest rooms have them.


            In researching hotels we often start with Trip Advisor www.tripadvisor.com and Venere www.venere.com  When inquiring about a hotel, we use the questionnaire attached as Appendix A and ask the hotel to email photos of the bathroom.  Many hotels have been willing to send photos in recent years.  When it comes to wheelchair access, a picture really is worth a thousand words. 


            Hotels - Where We Stayed

            UNAHotelBologna.  Viale Pietramellara, 41/43.  Phone  +39-051-608-01.  Fax  +39-051-608-02.  www.unahotels.it 
            una.bologna@unahotels.it  Four star.                     


            The UNA is across the street from the train station, along with other modern hotels on the same block.  The entrance is level with the sidewalk and there is an electric door.  The building is around five years old.  It’s very contemporary, with a glass and steel façade.  We found the design to be slick, cold and functional, not elegant, romantic or charming.  The colors are odd, and not soothing - the walls and carpet in our room were bright orange; the hallway walls and carpet, dark red.  The hotel was clean and well maintained.


The staff responded to our email immediately, providing detailed access information and photos of the bathroom.  The staff was professional and helpful, especially in making an appointment for Howard with a wheelchair store (see Wheelchair Repair, above).  Breakfast was good.  The room rate was reasonable.


There are two identical medium size elevators that were plenty wide for Howard’s wheelchair.  Elevator depth was adequate, with several inches to spare lengthwise with Howard’s footrests in a medium-length position.  The elevator was large enough for Howard and one able-bodied person.  We didn’t measure but were told the elevators are 35 inches (89 cm) wide; that appeared to be the width of the door, and the interior seemed wider.  A quirk of the UNA was that the light switches in our room and the elevator control buttons required quite a bit of pressure.


            There are several accessible rooms.  We stayed in Room 110, a superior room. We had reserved an accessible room in the standard category, but the room we were shown had a metal threshold of perhaps an inch or higher at the roll-in shower, so we asked to see another one.  They upgraded us to a superior room, which had no threshold, at the same rate.  The standard room was quite small; our room was adequate size but not large.  However, the room is well lit and the furniture and fixtures are well designed and functional, so the room didn’t feel small.   There was plenty of turning space for Howard’s wheelchair.  The desk is accessible.  The nightstands at either side of the bed are movable and the light switches above them are at an accessible height.  There is a built-in closet that, while an efficient use of the available space, isn’t very accessible.  The bed was very comfortable.  The room faced away from the street and it was quiet.  We were told the room doorway is 30.5 inches (77.5 cm) wide.


The bathroom is square and, although somewhat small, is well designed.  There is little or no threshold between the bathroom and bedroom.  The bathroom door is a pocket door with a wide opening; we were told the opening is 30.7 inches (78 cm) wide.  The toilet is large and long, with a deep tank, and there is a notch at the front of the toilet bowl and a handheld water hose nearby instead of a bidet.  We were told the toilet is 18.5 inches (47 cm) high.  There is a fixed grab bar on one side of the toilet and a wall hung flip-up grab bar on the other side.  There is plenty of open space on one side of the toilet for a wheelchair; we were told there is 28.3 inches (72 cm) of open space, but it appeared wider.  The sink is large but there isn’t a counter, so there isn’t much space for toiletries.  The hair dryer, tissue holder and heated towel rack are inaccessibly high and are at the far side of the fixed grab bar, so they wouldn’t be reachable from a wheelchair even if they were lower.  There is a small roll-in shower with a small wall-mounted flip-up seat and a short vertical grab bar.  There is no threshold between the shower and the rest of the bathroom.  The shower controls and soap dish are a bit too high to reach from a wheelchair.  The water was very forceful and was hot whenever desired.   


Overall, access at the UNA is very good.  We would recommend this hotel for someone who wants to stay near the train station and is looking for a functional hotel with good value.  Because the standard room is quite small, someone who uses an electric wheelchair would be much more comfortable in a superior room.


            Hotels - Other Possibilities

            We visited the following hotel.


Novecento.  Piazza Galileo, 4/3. Phone +39-051-745-7311. Fax +39-051-745-7322.  www.bolognarthotels.it  novecento@inbo.it  Four star.


The Novecento is a small, elegant hotel in a central, charming location in the historic center near the Duomo.  We went there twice to use the bathroom and they were very cordial about letting Howard use it.  There is a large, well designed accessible public bathroom in the basement.  The entrance is level and there is an electric door.  The elevator is quite small - Howard just barely fit with his footrests in the shortened position and Michele was just able to stand next to him.  The elevator certainly is smaller than those in the UNA where we stayed; anyone considering staying here must get precise elevator measurements.  Michele saw one of the three accessible guest rooms.  It was fairly large and the bathroom was generally well designed, although there was a bit of a threshold at the roll-in shower.




The following hotels told us they are accessible.  We didn’t visit them.


Albergo Al Cappello Rosso. Via de’ Fusari, 9.  Phone +39-051-261-891. Fax +39-051-227-179.   www.alcappellorosso.it info@alcappellorosso.it   Four star.


There are two accessible rooms, but they are single rooms with queen size beds. The accessible rooms are on the first floor, not the ground floor.  The elevator door is 31.5 inches (80 cm) wide; elevator interior dimensions are 43.3 inches (110 cm) by 31.5 inches (80 cm).  The bedroom is 141 square feet (13.1 square meters) and the bathroom is 40.9 square feet (3.8 square meters).  There is a roll-in shower.  The building was renovated in 2002.


Il Convento dei Fiori di Seta.  Via Orfeo, 34/4.  Phone +39-051-272-039.  Fax +39-051-275-9001. www.ilconventodeifioridiseta.com  info@ilconventodeifioridiseta.com  Four star.


This renovated ancient convent looks beautiful from the photos.  We were told it’s around a 15 minute walk southeast of Piazza Maggiore.  The hotel was very responsive to our request for information, promptly emailing detailed measurements and a picture of the bathroom.  Two of 10 guest rooms are accessible; both are on the ground floor.  Room size is 159 square feet (14.8 square meters) not including the bathroom.  The doorways are 31.5 inches (80 cm) wide.  The toilet is 20.4 inches (52 cm) high.  There is a bidet close to the toilet on one side, and 32.3 inches (82 cm) of open space on the other; there is a wall-mounted flip-up grab bar on the open side.  Hence, if the grab bar were flipped up to allow space for a wheelchair, there would be no grab bar available when transferring, and the wall on the other side of the bidet is too far to lean on; these design flaws would be an obstacle for many wheelchair users.  There is a roll-in shower without any threshold; its dimensions are 32.3 inches (82 cm) by 31.5 inches (80 cm), although the shower doors fold out, so the effective size can be made a bit larger.  There is a small, wall-mounted, removable shower bench.  The controls and built-in soap dish appear too high to reach from a wheelchair.  The building was completely renovated in 2004.


Hotel Metropolitan.  Via dell’Orso, 6.  Phone +39-051-229-393.  Fax +39-051-224-602.  www.hotelmetropolitan.com  hmetro@hotelmetropolitan.com   Three star.


The hotel was very responsive to our request for information.  Although they didn’t email pictures of the bathroom, they emailed a detailed diagram with exact measurements of every element.  (We’ve never received such precise dimensions from a hotel.)  There are two stairs at the entrance, but there is a portable ramp and someone is available 24x7 to set out the ramp.  There are two accessible guest rooms, both on the ground floor.  However, both are single rooms with single beds.  Room size is 91.5 square feet (8.5 square meters) not including the bathroom.  Because a diagram of the bathroom is readily available from the hotel, we aren’t including bathroom dimensions.  There is a roll-in shower.


Hotel Porta San Mamolo.  Vicolo del Falcone, 6/8.  Phone +39-051-583-056.  Fax +39-051-331-739.  www.hotel-portasanmamolo.it  info@hotel-portasanmamolo.it Three star.


There are no stairs at the entrance.  The hotel has one accessible room, which is on the ground floor and has a double bed.  There is a roll-in shower, and there are grab bars in the shower and near the toilet. 


Starhotels Excelsior Bologna.  Viale Pietramellara, 51.  Phone  +39-051-246-178.  Fax  +39-051-247-248.  www.starhotels.com  reservations.excelsior.bo@starhotels.it  Four star.


This modern, business-oriented hotel is across from the train station, next door to the UNA where we stayed.  There are one or two stairs at the main entrance, but there is a level accessible entrance nearby.  The accessible room is 280 square feet (26 square meters) including the bathroom, and has a king size bed.  The hotel emailed us photos of the bathroom, but the perspective is a bit chopped, so it’s difficult to get a complete sense of the bathroom.  The toilet is 19.3 inches (49 cm) high.  Unfortunately, it’s a tankless toilet, unlike the typical Italian toilet, so someone in a wheelchair adjacent to the toilet would be sitting forward of the toilet, making transfer difficult.  There appears to be plenty of space for a wheelchair on one side, but there is a flip-up grab bar on the open side.  Hence, if the grab bar were flipped up to allow space for a wheelchair, there would be no grab bar available when transferring; this design flaw would be an obstacle for many wheelchair users.  However, the wall at the other side of the toilet is close enough to lean on.  The flush button appears to be too high to be reached from a wheelchair.  There is a small roll-in shower with a small, wall-mounted flip-up seat and a long vertical grab bar.  The hotel was renovated in 2001.


Hotels Designated as Accessible or Claiming to be


The following hotel claims to be accessible and is listed as such in the Bologna access booklet we received from the Bologna tourism office (see Information, below), but given its response about the dimensions of the elevator door and the bathroom, it really isn’t accessible.  Nuovo Hotel del Porto; via del Porto, 6; www.nuovohoteldelporto.com 


The following hotel, which is identified as accessible in the guidebooks and/or access booklet, told us that it is not yet accessible and is in the process of obtaining construction permits for access renovations.  Hotel Roma; via d’Azeglio, 9; www.hotelroma.biz  


The following hotels are identified as accessible in the guidebooks and/or access booklet but never responded to our emails (we sent several follow-up emails).  Hotel Europa; via Boldrini, 11; www.zanhotel.it  Hotel Touring; via de’ Mattuiani, 1 and 2; www.hoteltouring.it   





Disabled visitors and one companion are admitted free to all churches, government-owned museums and most other museums.  For museums it’s still necessary to get a ticket at the ticket counter, although guards were sometimes willing to let us in without one.  The tickets make good souvenirs - they have rich, interesting images and graphics.


For information about access to sites not described below and additional information about some that are, see Wheelchair Travel to Bologna, Italy 2007 by Mark and Margaret Edwards, at www.globalaccessnews.com 


Due Torri (Two Leaning Towers) 



The Torre degli Asinelli and its nearby companion, the Torre della Garisenda, both medieval, are among Bologna’s most iconic and historic monuments.  Asinelli, the taller of the two, is ordinarily open to the public, which can climb its nearly 500 stairs for an incredible view of Bologna.  Garisenda is not generally open to the public.  When we were in Bologna, both were closed for an extensive restoration, including seismic work.  The temporary wall enclosing the construction work had a fascinating explanation, in Italian and English, of the towers’ history and architecture, and of the engineering work that is being done.  The web address for the section of the Comune (city government) of Bologna website describing the restoration is listed above.


At the base of one of the towers is a superb store selling reasonably priced high-quality crafts, prints, ceramics and jewelry.


Jewish Museum (Museo Ebraico)


        The museum is a bit hard to find, but it’s actually quite close to the Due Torri. The street leading to the building, and the courtyard of the museum, are paved in rough cobblestones.  The entrance is up a threshold of 3 or 4 inches (7-10 cm); there is a short, somewhat steep ramp. All exhibits are on the ground floor.


        Museo Civico Archeologico

        Access at the main entrance is level, or nearly so.
        Palazzo Comunale (also known as Palazzo d’Accursio)
        The entrance is through a courtyard near the Neptune Fountain that is paved in moderately rough cobblestones. The second door on the left has one stair 8 inches (20 cm) high, with a somewhat steep ramp. There is a fairly large elevator in which Howard fit easily. On the second floor are the Morondi Museum, the Municipal Art Museum, the Sala Farnese (Farnese Room) and the Farnese Chapel, all of which are level. The acclaimed 20th century painter Giorgio Morondi was born in Bologna and lived there all his life.


        Sala Borsa (in Palazzo Comunale)
        The Sala Borsa, the old stock exchange, has been transformed into a library and exhibition space. Although it is part of the Palazzo Comunale, the entrance is separate. There is a moderately steep ramp, without handrails, at one side of the entrance stairs. Although the ramp is a bit steeper than desirable, it was designed in a clever and visually appealing manner. The entrance is up a brick and stone porch that originally had stairs on both sides; one side of the stairway has been made into a ramp that balances and complements the stairs that remain on the other side. (A similar ramp was built at the entrance to Palazzo di re Enzo, the building on the other side of the Neptune Fountain.) Inside, there is a moderately steep ramp, again without handrails, leading down to the main library room, which is a beautiful covered courtyard surrounded by an arcade with wrought-iron railings on the upper floor. Parts of the surface of the main floor are made of Plexiglas, and ancient building remains are visible through the floor. There is a large wheelchair accessible bathroom on the main floor; it’s necessary to get the key from an employee.


         San Domenico


        There is very good access through a gradually sloped permanent ramp at the building to the right of the main entrance to the church. The building leads to a small, sunny, elegant cloister, from which another gradual ramp leads to the church. There is a small accessible bathroom; one must ask a church employee for the key. The employee was extremely gracious when Howard asked to use the bathroom.
        San Luca and the Porticata (Portico di San Luca)
        This hilly site is around 3 miles (5 km) from the center of Bologna. Michele went there by herself. We were told that getting there from Piazza Maggiore requires two buses, one of which isn’t accessible. The Hop on Hop off Sightseeing Bus (GiroTP) described in Transportation in Bologna, above, doesn’t stop there. As described above, the “accessible” taxi wasn’t really accessible. Therefore, there was no way for Howard to get there. There is an extraordinary, panoramic view of the city and the countryside, and the porticos along the hillside are beautiful. The road alongside the porticos is steep and extremely uneven, so the only way to get to the top in a wheelchair would be by an accessible van or taxi, if one could be found.


        San Petronio (Duomo)
        There are around seven stairs at the front porch. There are three high stairs at the rear entrance (near Piazza Galvani) and no ramp, so Howard didn’t go inside.
       Santo Stefano
        The evocative, romantic piazza in front of the Santo Stefano complex is paved in extremely rough cobblestones, making for a bumpy ride. Access to Chiesa del Crocifisso, the church that faces the piazza (the church with a Baroque interior) is easy through a gradually sloped ramp. To access the rest of the complex, go back out and enter through a parking lot/work area to the right of the main entrance; it’s necessary to have someone get the attention of an employee to open the door. Most of the rest of the complex, including the cloister, is accessible through gradual ramps. However, there are many stairs down to San Sepolcro, so it is inaccessible. There is a medium size accessible bathroom in the bookstore (near the museum); you must get the key from the bookstore employee.
        University Law School
        We were strolling by the university and noticed an elegant old building with a beautiful courtyard, which turned out to be the law school. One of the law students let Howard use the large, well designed accessible bathroom; the key is required. 

        IX. FERRARA 

Ferrara – Train Station and Terrain
         The ride from Bologna took less than half an hour on a Eurostar train. Ferrara is also served by slow regional trains, so it’s important to choose your train carefully. An underground passageway connects the station lobby to the tracks for the Bologna train. There are elevators to and from the passageway, which were easily large enough for Howard’s wheelchair and worked without any problem.

It’s a 20 to 25 minute walk from the station to Castello Estense, which marks the border of the historic center of town.  Along the way one passes through a drab early 20th century part of town. 


Ferrara is flat.  There are an extraordinary number of bicyclists; in fact, Ferrara is known as the “Bicycle City.”  For an American, it was amazing to see parents bicycling nonchalantly with their toddlers in baskets, neither wearing helmets.  The medieval and Renaissance parts of town have many pedestrian zones.  Many of the streets and sidewalks are paved in large cobblestones, making for a bumpy ride in a wheelchair; overall there were more bumpy areas than in Parma and Ravenna.


Ferrara is beautiful and historic, with many well preserved medieval and Renaissance buildings.  The buildings, the streets and the absence of cars in the center create a palpable sense of the past.  Ferrara is small enough that the historic center is compact, and large enough to have plenty of interesting museums, churches and monuments.  There was a lively energy to the city; we were there on a Friday, and seats were being set up in the main piazza for an outdoor concert.  There were few tourists.  There were unique, inviting stores, wine bars and restaurants.  We felt that, like Bologna, Ferrara would be an attractive place to live.    


Ferrara – Monuments, Museums and Churches
Disabled visitors and one companion are admitted free to all churches, government-owned museums and most other museums. It’s still necessary to get a ticket for the museums. The tickets make good souvenirs - they have rich, interesting images and graphics.
            Basilica di San Francesco
This church is not accessible: there are three or four high stairs at the front, and no side or rear entrance.
            Casa Romei
There is a moderately sloped ramp at the entrance. The ground floor, including the courtyard, is easily accessible. The upper floor is not accessible. There is a large accessible bathroom near the ticket booth; one must ask an employee for the key.

Castello Estense
The street and sidewalk at the main entrance, which is in a pedestrian zone facing Piazza de la Repubblica and Piazza Castello, consist of a long, moderately gradual ramp; there are no stairs. At the other side, at Viale Cavour, the modern main street, there is an extremely steep ramp. Unfortunately, we arrived too late to see any of the rooms or exhibits; we were only able to stroll inside the courtyard. (Because of the limited schedule of accessible trains, our time in Ferrara was limited. We decided to save the castle for last and got there just before closing time.)

There is excellent wheelchair access at the rear of the cathedral, along the right side, past the commercial arcade that’s built into the cathedral. At the rear entrance there is a well designed, built-in, gradually sloped ramp. However, to get to the rear one must go through the street or the commercial arcade, both of which are paved in large cobblestones, making for a bumpy ride. Most of the interior of the cathedral is accessible, but the narthex (the entrance vestibule) is several stairs below the level of the nave and side aisles, so it is inaccessible.
         Jewish Museum (Museo Ebraico)

         http://www.comune.fe.it/museoebraico/index_e.htm   museoebraico@libero.it
We were informed that the museum and synagogue are up a flight of stairs and there is no elevator.
        Palazzo dei Diamanti (Pinacoteca Nazionale)
 Long stretches of the street leading to this museum are paved in large cobblestones, making for a bumpy ride. Access at the entrance is easy; it’s either level or there is a very gradual ramp (we don’t remember which). We were fortunate to see an excellent temporary exhibit of prints by the 20th century Bolognese painter Giorgio Morondi. The two wings of the museum are connected by a flat wooden walkway that is easily accessible. 




 Parma – Train Station and Terrain
            The ride from Bologna took 50 minutes on a fast Eurostar train. An underground passageway connects the station lobby to the tracks for the Bologna train. There is no elevator; there is a stair lift for each set of stairs. Upon arrival, Howard had to go down a few series of stairs in a stair lift, through the passageway, and then up in another stair lift; the process took more than 10 minutes. The station is under major renovation, so this may change.
            Parma is flat and compact. It was an easy 10 minute stroll from the train station to the historic center. There are many pedestrian zones. Many of the streets and sidewalks are paved in stones, making for a bumpy ride in a wheelchair. In our experience Parma was less bumpy than Ferrara but more than Ravenna. Access to the sites wasn’t as good as in Ravenna and Ferrara.
            Parma – Monuments, Museums and Churches
Disabled visitors and one companion are admitted free to all churches, government-owned museums and most other museums. It’s still necessary to get a ticket. The tickets make good souvenirs - they have rich, interesting images and graphics.
            The baptistery is inaccessible - each of the three entrances is up five high stairs. The area around it is paved in large cobblestones, so the ride in Howard’s wheelchair was quite bumpy.


Camera di San Paolo (Camera di Correggio)
These rooms are only open until around 1:30 and we arrived too late. The entrance is through a garden, which is flat but has a gravel path. The entrance appeared to be wheelchair accessible.
            The Piazza del Duomo is paved in large cobblestones, making for a bumpy ride. To access the church there is a built-in moderately steep stone ramp at the left side of the front porch; it’s a little difficult to see the ramp until you are close to it. Inside the front door, access is easy - it’s either level or there is a gradually sloped ramp (we don’t remember which).
            Madonna Della Steccata
            There are three high stairs at the front, no ramp, and no side or rear entrance, so this church is not accessible.

  Palazzo dalla Rosa Prati
              www.palazzodallarosaprati.it   www.temporarypalazzo.it   www.puntoparma.it

             We stumbled upon this recently restored palazzo near the Baptistery. It has been meticulously restored in a way that combines the best of contemporary design with preservation of historical architectural detail and spirit in a way that the Italians have mastered brilliantly. It has short-term rental apartments, all of which are upstairs and none of which is accessible. On the ground floor are a temporary exhibition space, a café and a bookshop with publications about Parma. When we were there the exhibition space had an interesting small exhibit about contemporary design. The gregarious young owner proudly showed us around; the building has been in his family for many years and he was very involved in the restoration.
            Wheelchair access is at the side of the building, via a street that slopes upward behind the Baptistery. There is a threshold (not a stair) several inches high at the entrance. There is a small partially accessible bathroom that isn’t large enough for transfer to the toilet but is large enough for someone in a wheelchair to enter and use the sink.
            Puppet Museum (Puppet Castle)
            Just past the entrance to the garden leading to the Camera di San Paolo is an unexpected gem - il Castello dei Burattini, also known as the Giordano Ferrari Museum. This is a charming, fascinating, colorful and whimsical collection of hundreds of marionettes and puppets, with informative explanations in Italian and English. Puppet making and performance has been a tradition in Emilia-Romagna for hundreds of years. The museum was founded by master puppeteer Giordano Ferrari, whose extensive collection forms its core.
            There is a short, somewhat steep built-in ramp at the entrance. All of the exhibits are on the ground floor.

 Parma - Restaurant
             Trattoria del Tribunale. www.trattoriadeltribunale.it  Vicolo Politi, 5. Phone +39-0521-285-527.

            Our lunch at this informal local institution specializing in traditional Parma cuisine was one of the best meals of our trip. We each had tortelli with a porcini mushroom sauce and filled with potatoes, Parmesan cheese and herbs - this was one of the best pastas we’ve ever had anywhere. Next Michele had tripe Parmigianino, which is similar to tripe Florentine and tripe alla Romana. It was superb; the tomato sauce was a bit spicy, and the spiciness was balanced by just the right amount of Parmesan cheese. Howard had stracotto, an Emilia-Romagna specialty of braised beef in a very dark, rich, complex sauce. We had the house red wine; it was wonderfully earthy, aromatic and rich.
            There is one stair 8 or 9 inches (20-23 cm) high at the front entrance. 

            XI.  RAVENNA


 Ravenna – Train Station and Terrain
            The train ride from Bologna to Ravenna took an hour and 20 minutes; although the distance is only 43 miles (70 km), Ravenna is served only by regional trains that stop at many small towns. To get from the station lobby to the tracks for the Bologna train, one has to cross the tracks because the underground passageway isn’t wheelchair accessible. An employee accompanied us. Although the crossing was a bit steep, this wasn’t a problem, but someone in a manual wheelchair would need assistance.

The historic center of Ravenna is flat, auto traffic was light, and there are many pedestrian zones.  There were many bicyclists.  Getting around was quite easy, even though some sidewalks are paved in stone.  (The pavement in Ravenna is much smoother than those in Ferrara and Parma.)  It’s a 15 minute walk from the train station to San Vitale.  Most of the major sites are within 10 to 15 minutes walk from each other; the furthest site, which we did not see, is the Mausoleum of Theodoric, located on the other side of the station.  Wheelchair access at the major sites is excellent. 


Although Ravenna is considered part of the Adriatic Riviera, there is no body of water in the town center.  In its golden age there were canals, but there is no visible evidence of this east of the train station, where almost all the monuments are located.


There were far more tourists here than in Ferrara and Parma.  Ravenna’s mosaics are world famous, and justifiably so.  The contrast between the simple brick exteriors of the churches and mausoleums, and the dazzlingly colorful, rich, luminous and surprisingly well preserved mosaics inside, is extraordinary.

         Ravenna – Monuments, Museums and Churches
         Disabled visitors and one companion are admitted free to all churches, government-owned museums and most other museums. It’s still necessary to get a ticket. The tickets make good souvenirs - they have rich, interesting images and graphics. A joint ticket for San Vitale, the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the Neonian Baptistery and Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo is available at Museo Nazionale; a separate ticket, available at the next ticket counter, is required for Museo Nazionale itself. A joint ticket for these four religious sites may also be available at Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo.

         Arian Baptistery
        The baptistery is approximately 4 feet (1.2 meters) below street level. There is a very small, typical Italian open lift. Howard was able to fit, but just barely; there was very little clearance for his feet because, at the lower level, the end of the lift is extremely close to the building. Once you are below street level, access is easy. The doorway is flat; there are no stairs at the entrance. The baptistery is small and is on one level.
        Dante’s Tomb and Museum
        The tomb/museum is up four stairs – one stair, then a landing, then three more. There is no ramp. The door is somewhat narrow, so it would be difficult for a person in a wheelchair to be carried inside.
        Mausoleum of Galla Placidia/San Vitale
Access for both able-bodied people and wheelchair users is through a gate leading to a grassy area and a flat path that, although paved in stone, is not very bumpy. This area is at the rear of San Vitale, and the same path leads to the accessible entrance to San Vitale. The entrance to the mausoleum is either level or there is a 2 inch (5 cm) high stair at most. The mausoleum is small and is on one level.


        Museo Nazionale
        The museum is a block away from San Vitale; the same wall encloses the area around both buildings. There is a moderately sloped permanent ramp up to the museum. The employees let Howard use the small accessible bathroom behind the ticket booth.
        Neonian Baptistery (Battistero degli Ortodossi)
        Access is easy through a gradually sloped ramp at the entrance. The baptistery is small and is on one level.
        Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo
        This church is in the historic center of Ravenna and shouldn’t be confused with the Basilica of Sant’ Apollinare (also known as Sant’ Apollinare in Classe) in the town of Classe, 3 miles (5 kilometers) away, which we didn’t visit. The area in front of the church is up a curb 3 inches (7-8 cm) high. From there, there is easy access via a gradual ramp at the entrance.

         San Vitale/Mausoleum of Galla Placidia
          The basilica of San Vitale is a block away from Museo Nazionale; the same wall encloses the area around both buildings. The front entrance is not accessible. Wheelchair access is at the rear, through a gate leading to a grassy area and a flat path that, although paved in stone, is not very bumpy. The same path leads to the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. The entrance to San Vitale is down a gradually sloped semi-permanent ramp. 


Ravenna - Restaurant


Il Cappello.  www.albergocappello.it  Via IV Novembre, 41. Phone +39-0544- 219-813.  Fax +39-0544-219-814.


We had a refreshing, relaxing lunch at this charming enoteca in the center of town that is part of a hotel with the same name.  There is also a fine restaurant, which we didn’t try.  We had beef carpaccio and a very fresh caprese salad with superb Buffalo mozzarella.  There is a terrific selection of regional wines by the glass. 


There is a 10 inch (25 cm) high stair at the threshold, but they have a portable wooden ramp.  The hotel has no accessible guest rooms:  it has a very small elevator and none of the guest rooms is on the ground floor. 







The Teaching Company produces lectures on a variety of subjects by award-winning college professors from the United States, Canada and elsewhere.  Most of those we’ve purchased have been excellent.  Some series are available in either CD or DVD, while those for which the visual content is essential are available only in DVD.  Over the years we’ve enjoyed the following series.  Even though they aren’t specifically about Bologna, they are a great introduction to Italian history, art and architecture.


History of Ancient Rome by Professor Garrett Fagan

Experiencing Rome: A Visual Exploration of Antiquity’s Greatest Empire by Professor Steven Tuck

Famous Romans by Professor Rufus Fears

Italian Renaissance by Professor Kenneth Bartlett

Great Artists of the Italian Renaissance by Professor William Kloss

Genius of Michelangelo by Professor William Wallace 




About Bologna, Ferrara, Parma and Ravenna


            Authentic Emilia-Romagna, by the Touring Club of Italy, covers the region from the standpoint of an Italian and features excellent photographs and especially good coverage of food, wine, film, other aspects of culture, and outdoor activities.  In the list of hotels, those that self-identified as wheelchair accessible are indicated by the wheelchair symbol.  2006; www.touringclub.it ISBN-13: 978-88365-3898-0; and ISBN-10:  88-365-3898-3.


Bologna & Emilia-Romagna is a well-written, insightful and thorough travel guide to the region, with especially good discussions of art and history.  By Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls; 2007; published by Cadogan Guides, a British guidebook publisher; www.cadoganguides.com ISBN 978-186011-350-5.


www.handybo.it  handybo@comune.bologna.it  The website of the Disability Center of the Comune (city government) of Bologna is a rich, well-organized, informative website with information for both tourists and residents.  Although the website is only in Italian, it’s possible to glean useful information even if you don’t read Italian.


www.bolognaturismo.info  touristoffice@comune.bologna.it  This is the website of the official Bologna tourism office; there is an English version of most of the web pages.  Phone +39-051-647-2113 or +39-051-251-947.  Fax +39-051-647-2253.


The tourism office emailed us two useful documents:  1) “Route of Bologna,” a color booklet published by C.A.R.E. with photos and information in Italian and English about access to museums, places of entertainment and hotels; the level of detail and accuracy vary among the entries.  2) A list in Italian of access information for tourists, including addresses, phone numbers and websites.  These are good starting points, but it’s still critical to check access details directly with the references listed, especially hotels (the access to some of which is overstated) and transportation providers.


www.uildmbo.org  UILDM (Unione Italiana Lotta alla Distrofia Muscolare) Bologna.  The Bologna branch of the Italian muscular dystrophy association gave us helpful information about access in Bologna.  Phone +39-051-266-013.  Fax +39-051-231-130.


www.ferrarainfo.com  This is the website of the official Ferrara tourism office; there is an English version of most of the web pages.  We couldn’t find access information on this website.


Katie Parla.  www.katieparla.com  Parla Food.  www.parlafood.com  Besides being an extraordinary tour guide in Rome and southern Italy, Katie Parla blogs about Italian food and wine.  Her opinions are passionate and well-informed, and her pictures and descriptions are enticing.


About Accessible Travel in Florence and Tuscany


Almost everything you need to know about access in Florence, and many things you will be delighted to learn about Florentine history, culture, art and architecture, are found in The Accessible Guide to Florence by Cornelia Danielson.  Ms. Danielson, an American who’s lived in Florence for many years, has a Ph.D. in architectural history and is the founder of Barrier Free Travel, a nonprofit organization dedicated to access and accessible tourism in Florence.  She promotes access in Florence and throughout Tuscany tirelessly and effectively.  Written with the familiarity and pride of an almost native and the authority of a scholar, the guide is extraordinarily thorough, detailed and well researched. 

               The Accessible Guide to Florence. 
By Cornelia Danielson; 2004; ISBN 1-4134-5730-4.  Published by Xlibris. www.xlibris.com 1-888-795-4274.

Ms. Danielson also provides accessible travel services for a reasonable fee on an individual basis for travelers with disabilities, ranging from designing itineraries to tours to equipment rental.


Barrier Free Travel Services www.bftservices.it  www.barrierfreetravel.org  info@bftservices.it


About Accessible Travel in General


 www.globalaccessnews.com Global Access News - Disabled Travel Network, operated by the extremely knowledgeable and always helpful Marti Gacioch, has terrific general information about traveling in a wheelchair, and articles and links about travel to a variety of destinations.  Marti also publishes a superb, free monthly e-zine with informative and useful tidbits and links to accessible hotels, apartments, transportation and museums.  To sign up, go to the website. 


www.access-able.com Access-Able Travel Source has a database of articles and links about accessible travel to a variety of destinations.  The woman who operated this website died several years ago; her husband maintains the website but has not added to it. 


www.emerginghorizons.com Emerging Horizons Accessible Travel News  publishes a magazine available online and in print by subscription only, and its author, Candy Harrington, has written several books on accessible travel that are available on the website. 


www.miusa.org  Mobility International USA (MIUSA) focuses primarily on exchange, work/study and community service programs for disabled students but can also provide useful accessible travel information.  They have been helpful to us.


www.slowtrav.com Slow Travel is a website loaded with information about traveling more slowly than typical tourists. It isn’t specifically about wheelchair access, but it has some trip reports/articles about wheelchair access to various destinations.  




            In addition to advocacy and medical research, some Italian disability organizations provide services such as transportation and referrals to service providers.  Many of these organizations have semi-autonomous local branches, some of which maintain their own websites.  The local branches are more likely to provide assistance to disabled travelers than the parent organizations.  To find the websites of local branches, go to the parent organization website.


AISM (Associazione Italiana Sclerosi Multipla).   www.aism.it 


ANIEP (Associazione Nazionale per la Promozione e la Difesa dei Diritti Civili e Sociali degli Handicappati).  www.aniepmobile.com    


ANMIC (Associazione Nazionale Mutilati ed Invalidi Civili) www.anmic.it       info@anmic.it   


DPI Italia (Disabled Persons International Italia)   www.dpitalia.org      dpitalia@dpitalia.org


FAIP (Federazione Associazioni Italiane Para-tetraplegici).    www.faiponline.it  


UILDM (Unione Italiana Lotta alla Distrofia Muscolare).  www.uildm.org


www.uildmbo.org  UILDM Bologna.  The Bologna branch of the Italian muscular dystrophy association gave us helpful information about access in Bologna.  Phone +39-051-266-013.  Fax +39-051-231-130. 




Hotel Wheelchair Access Questionnaire



Dear Sir/Madam:


My wife and I will arrive in [         ] on [            ] and depart on [           ]. We will stay for [       ] nights.


I use an electric wheelchair that is [[  ] centimeters ([  ] inches)] wide.  I am unable to walk at all.   My wife is not disabled.  We would like a non-smoking room with one large bed.  We have the following questions about your hotel:


1.      Do you have any specially equipped (adapted) wheelchair accessible guest rooms?  If not, please disregard the other questions.  Thank you and we would appreciate a recommendation of hotel in the area that does have specially equipped (adapted) wheelchair accessible guest rooms.


If you do have specially equipped (adapted) wheelchair accessible guest rooms, we have the following questions.  Please answer even if you are fully booked for the requested time, because we are interested in your hotel for the future.


1.      Is it necessary to go up or down any stairs in order to get from the street entrance to the guest room?  Does the building have an elevator?  If so, how wide is the elevator door and what are the interior dimensions of the elevator? 

2.      In the bathroom, is there space for a [   ] cm wide wheelchair on one side of the toilet? What is the width of the doorway into the bathroom?  What is the height of the toilet?  What is the size of the shower?  Can a wheelchair roll into the shower?  Are there grab bars near the toilet and shower?

3.      Are all the doorways in the room at least 75 cm wide?

4.      What is the size of the room?  Does this include the bathroom?

5.      Was the building renovated recently?


Also, could you e-mail some photos of the bathroom.


Please quote a rate. 


            Thank you very much.  We really appreciate any help you can provide.


Very Truly Yours


 Metric Conversion Guide


One inch = 2.54 centimeters.

One centimeter = 0.3937 inches


One meter = 39.4 inches

One square meter = 10.76 square feet


One kilometer = 0.62 miles

One mile = 1.61 kilometers


One kilogram = 2.2 pounds

One hundred grams = just under ¼ pound (3 ½ ounces)

One pound = 0.454 kilograms (454 grams)


One liter = 0.264 gallons = 1.056 quarts

One gallon = 3.785 liters  




English-To-Italian Dictionary Of Disability Access Words And Phrases

© Barrier Free Travel 2003, 2006

(Included by permission of, and with thanks to, Cornelia Danielson

 of Barrier Free Travel)






“I use a wheelchair” – SONO IN CARROZZINA

“I use an electric wheelchair” - USO UNA CARROZZINA ELETTRICA

“wheel” - RUOTA

“battery” – BATTERIA

“tire” – GOMMA

“tire tube” – CAMERA D’ARIA

“my wheelchair needs to be repaired” –  LA MIA CARROZZINA HA BISOGNO DI ESSERE RIPARATA

“I am unable to walk” – NON CAMMINO

“ramp” –RAMPA  or   SCIVOLO  or   PEDANA

“is there a ramp?” -  C’E’ UNA RAMPA?

“stairs” –SCALE

“are there stairs?” CI SONO DELLE SCALE?
“how many steps are there?” -  QUANTI GRADINI SONO?
“elevator” -  ASCENSORE

“is there an elevator?” – C’E’ UN ASCENSORE?

“is it necessary to climb any steps to get to the elevator?” – CI SONO DEI GRADINI PER ARRIVARE ALL’ASCENSORE?
 “what are the elevator’s dimensions?”- QUALI SONO LE DIMENSIONI DELL’ASCENSORE ?

“what is the width of the doorway?” –  QUAL’ E’  LA LARGEZZA DELLA PORTA?

“what is the height of the bed?” -  QUAL’E’ L’ALTEZZA DEL LETTO?
  ”up” -  SU
 “down” - GIU’
 “roll-in shower” - DOCCIA A PAVIMENTO


“grab bars” – MANIGLIONI   or  CORRIMANI   (hand rails)

“is the bathroom wheelchair accessible?” –  IL BAGNO E’ ACCESSIBILE ALLE CARROZZINE?

“does the bathroom have a roll-in shower?” –  IL BAGNO E’ CON DOCCIA  A PAVIMENTO?

“are there grab bars in the bathroom?” –  CI SONO DEI MANIGLIONI NEL BAGNO?

“is the bus wheelchair accessible?” –  L’AUTOBUS E’ ACCESSIBILE ALLE CARROZZINE?

“is the train wheelchair accessible?” –  IL TRENO E’ ACCESSIBILE ALLE CARROZZINE?

“is the van/minivan wheelchair accessible?” –  IL PULMINO E’ ACCESSIBILE ALLE CARROZZINE?

“does the van/minivan have a ramp?” –  IL PULMINO HA UNA RAMPA?

“does the van/minivan have a lift?” – IL PULMINO HA UN SOLLEVATORE ?

“the elevator/ramp/lift is broken” – L’ASCENSORE/ LA RAMPA/ IL SOLLEVATORE E’ ROTTO (or “ROTTA” depending on the gender of the noun)

“how far is it from [    ] to [    ]?” -  QUANTO DISTA DA [   ] A [   ] ?

“blind” –  NON VEDENTE  or CIECO


“Braille” –  same word is used, pronounced “brile” (with a long “i” and silent “e” like “bile”)

“guide dog” –CANE GUIDA

“deaf” – NON UDENTE  or   SORDO


“hearing impaired” – IPOUDENTE

“I am hearing impaired” – SONO QUASI SORDO


“sign language interpreter” – UN INTERPRETE  DEL LINGUAGGIO DEI SORDOMUTI 

Pronunciation Guide


Every letter (vowel and consonant) is pronounced in Italian. There is no silent “e” for example as there is in English
A is always a short “a” (as in “adopt”)
E sounds like a long “a” (as in “ate”)
I  sounds like a long “e” (as in “eat”)
O sounds like a long “o” (as in “oats”)
U sounds like “ou” (as in “you”)
C has a hard sound like “k” before “o” and “a”  (carrozzina) BUT BEFORE
OTHER VOWELS it sounds like the “ch” in “chair” (doccia) 


Editor's note: Don't miss the following access reports by Howard & Michele Chabner. Just click on the title.

Paris Passerelles - Wheelchair Accessible Travel In Paris 2003

Paris Appendices: Hotel Wheelchair Access Questionnaire, Metric Conversion & Hotel Wheelchair Access Survey Results) 

Paris Passerelles Supplement 2005

Burgundy, Perigord (Dordogne) and Paris 2007

Rome,  Florence, Vicenza &  Naples, Italy 2003-2006

Rolling in Rome 2003

Vicenza, Florence & Rome 2005

2006 Navigating Naples 2006

Rolling in Rome 2009

Spain 2004



Cordoba & Seville

Toledo, Madrid, Segovia

Additional Information & Appendices A, B & C


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