Since we left Murrieta for Mexico at the end of January, we keep discovering reasons why it’s a good thing that our joints still work, and we are fit enough to do this kind of trip. When I (Dave) retired, I counseled my younger colleagues, not that they asked, to aim for retirement at 55 rather than 65.
The principal reason boils down to two words: walking and stairs. There are a lot of both in the not-so-modern world. This is Dave walking down our stairs.This apartment has 64 stairs up ( but we have a lift which we use religiously when we come home from our 5 mile walks). The last apartment had 50 steps up and no lift, the huffing and puffing was probably funny to our neighbors.
Walking in the cities of Europe results, ironically, from things being so close together. Florence is a great example. From the Duomo, right in the historic center, it isn’t more than a 15-minute walk to almost all the famous sights. There are a few bus lines in the center, but because the streets are so narrow, the buses are quite small … and that means they’re usually full. In Rome, things were farther apart, but because you’re so likely to discover interesting things while walking, we usually walked distances less than a mile. (Every day our faithful pedometer reported 14000+ steps; one day it was 26000, but we had to rest a little more the day after that.) Assisi is built on the side of a hill, and it’s really too steep even for wheelchair safety.
Fifteenth century buildings were not designed with disability in mind. Stairs are everywhere, and fourth-floor apartments without elevators are still common. You’ll find architectural steps (like the Spanish Steps in Rome), practical steps (down to the Metro and up onto the bus) and sometimes just-for-the-heck-of-it steps (one or two to adjust levels where two old buildings have been joined, for example). This is just one set of stairs in the Pitti Palace, Linda climbed 6 sets to get to the Costume museum. The Medici who lived here had lots of servants.
Modern streets are paved; historic streets use either cobblestones (about 4 inches square) or larger paving stones (maybe 12 by 18), but both are uneven and you have to watch where you walk.
Having an apartment in the center of your activities is helpful; if you can retire for an hour or two in the middle of the day, you can recharge a little. And somehow, it’s easier to be out in the evening, even up to 10pm, when you know you don’t have to go far to get home This is the entry way to the Pitti Palace and the second photo is the Palace’s backyard ( 111 acres of hills and steps).
Here in Florence, the highs have been about 82, but there are two things that seem strange: In the sun, it seems a lot warmer. Even through your shirt you feel hot. And the temperature doesn’t peak until about 4pm, whereas at home it usually tops out by noon.
Europe is very accommodating of disabilities, wherever possible, and we have seen elevators in some really creative spaces. Finding someone to operate them might take a while though. Apartment elevators are tiny, because they’ve been squeezed into a small vertical space.
Other medical surprises can limit your abilities. My mom developed MS shortly after 50. My parents still cruised a lot, but after a few years my dad was making most shore excursions by himself, as either the exertion or the heat were beyond Mom’s endurance. Eating in a strange place is difficult; what if you need a special diet? You can’t eat low-carb in Italy unless you cook for yourself. (Bran is not a big deal here, but “senza glutina” is, and of course there are no GMO’s in Europe.)
So start thinking about it at Google: “early retirement” or “year off” will get you started. You already are getting some good advice from reading the Senior Gap Year, Keep on climbing stairs to get ready for travel.