Deaf Travel4th April 2015

Rome during an International weekend was just awesome

The people of Rome were warm and helpful, with everyone accommodating my deafness

by SLFirst Deaf Travel Team

Cosmopolitan, multi cultural cities are often more deaf friendly. Businesses survive because their staff have to learn to communicate with a wide range of people, and these enhanced communication skills, also help Deaf and Hard of Hearing people. In the more modern cities, these people skills are often supported by visual instructions or information. Travelling to a small village in North Wales recently, I remember stumbling upon a touch screen information booth, where I was able to find out just about anything in the locality, including where to stay, activities, public services, taxis, things to see and places to visit. It was wonderfully deaf-friendly, despite not being introduced with that in mind.

My experience of travel within Europe is that my deafness is less of a barrier when abroad than it is in the UK. The attitude of people is better, by and large, with nearly everyone trying their best to communicate effectively. A place I always wanted to travel to, but had not yet visited, was Rome. An old fashioned city, I have always wondered how deaf friendly it might be, so when I had the chance to visit, I jumped at the chance.

My trip was in March, over a long weekend that included the small issue of Italy versus Wales in the 6 Nations. I flew from Gatwick to Rome and was part of a group of 10 travellers in my party. Arriving in Rome, we followed the airport signs to the taxi ranks and it was easy to explain to someone managing the taxi rank that we needed transport for 10. We were ushered immediately to a lovely transit van where a helpful driver loaded our bags and we showed him where we were staying.

With Rome airport a fair way out of the city, the taxi journey was 50 minutes to our hotel, The Quirinale. We had agreed a price before leaving the airport, and I would advise anyone to that, whichever airport they are using. €125 might seem a lot, but for 10 people travelling for 50 minutes, it seemed fair enough to me.

The hotel reception staff were quite typical in their professionalism, taking their time despite the reception being busy to welcome us and explain everything. Booked in, the receptionist took out a map of the city and showed me where we were staying and where we were in relation to all the famous landmarks. Nothing was too much trouble, and with good hand gestures, I was happy that I was in a hotel that catered for me.

The Hotel Quirinale, I am happy to recommend to anyone. It was delightful, with helpful and attentive staff throughout the stay. An old fashioned hotel the rooms were spacious and whilst the view from the window was not the best in Rome, everything else about the hotel was excellent. It was also the hotel where some of the BBC commentary team were staying, so I had the pleasure of seeing childhood rugby hero, Gareth Edwards, and a host of recently retired players.

Arriving in Rome on the Wednesday evening, I was pleased to have two full days of exploring before match day. Stepping out of the hotel I was immediately plagued by street sellers trying to sell selfie sticks, bags and a host of other things. Wherever I went, they were there in numbers. They were a pain to be honest ansd showing them I was Deaf did not help either. They are one part of Rome I did not enjoy although they were the source of a couple of police incidents which added a bit of excitement to my sightseeing trips.

Walking around the city was easy with a lot of the attractions within easy walking distance of my hotel. There is a lack of helpful direction signs for pedestrians, so the map was invaluable, but it is not the easiest city to find your way around until you get your bearings. Like most cities everyone tried really hard to make communication work. No fear, no realing with shock when I told them I was Deaf, just a good attitude.

Shopping was interesting because even in proper shops, the staff were open to bartering and being knocked down on price. If you didn't know that, you could end up paying far more than you needed to. 20% off was pretty common and in some places I was able to get an even bigger reduction than that. Even though I am Deaf I was able to barter easily, if anything, it might have helped a little.

One of the worrying experiences whilst shopping was the preference for payment by cash, and then the issue of a receipt for less value than I paid. In Rome, the law is strict on the giving of receipts for anything. It is their way of trying to deal with corruption, but it is clear some stores are still getting around this.

The historic landmarks are an absolute must if you go to Rome. You will be sharing the experiences with lots of other people, but it is an awesome experience. The highlight for me was the Vatican, which was exactly what I expected. It is a place that grabs you, religious or not. 

My one problem walking around was the total lack of signs for the loo. In three full days walking around Rome, the only sign I saw for a toilet was on the underground, and you had to have a rail ticket to access it. I don't know if there are public toilets, but if there are you need to know where they are because there are no signs to guide you. It meant that I had to coincide needing the loo with eating or stopping for a coffee and using the toilets in the cafe's or bars that I used.

On Saturday of course I took in the game. What an experience that was. The Olympic Stadium was far from full but it still felt like the whole of Wales and Italy had decended on the Stadium that day. The game of course was astounding and set up probably the most amazing weekend of rugby ever in the 6 Nations.

A word of caution for anyone making this trip in the future. We decided to get the business card of the taxi driver who took us from the airport. Contacting him about getting to the Olympic Stadium, he told us he would charge €50 there and back. We were stunned at how cheap it was and told him we would contact him to the booking the day before the gamne. I asked the hotel receptionist toi ring him for me, which he was prepared to do. However, before doing so he asked if we had considered using the hotel's own minibus. I asked for the price - €265!! "No Thank you", I indicated, the taxi driver is only charging €50.

He was also amazing, dropping us as close to the ground as the police would allow, and being at the same spot to collect us at the end of the game, which in all the chaos of the crowd was a huge bonus. With other supporters still fighting to get back into Rome, we were sitting down in an Irish bar, 2 minutes from the hotel to catch the second half of the Ireland game and then to watch England take on France. As more and more of the Wales supporters found their way back from the game, the atmopshere in the pub just got better and better, and despite not being able to hear the din of the noise, I could tell it was there. It was electric, with supporters from Ireland, Wales, England and Italy all mingling and supporting different teams and wanting different results.

On my final day, I decided to go on the open bus tour of the city. Costing just €16 for a 2 hour tour of the city, this is one of the cheapest open bus tours I have ever been on. It was disappointing that I could not enjoy the same tourist information available to other passengers through earphones, but with map in hand and a brochure, I could identify each of the historic land marks we visited.

Returning home, I have many fond memories of Rome. The people were warm and embraced my needs as a Deaf traveller. However, signage in the city is poor, but shopping was a fabulous experience, not just because of the high exchange rate, but because there were bargains to be had if you were prepared to haggle. Eating out could be as cheap or expensive as you wanted with pizzas never more than €10 or £7 with current exchange rates, with various pasta dishes, also about the same price. With bruchettas usually €2 for a starter, Italy proved to be far cheaper than I expected.

Article by SLFirst Deaf Travel Team

posted in Deaf Lifestyle / Deaf Travel

4th April 2015