‘I didn’t let chronic illness stop me from celebrating a white Christmas’

Feb 16, 2020
Fran was overjoyed to be walking through the Christmas markets in Innsbruck, Austria. Source: Getty Images

It was my trip of a lifetime! I’d been told I probably wouldn’t ever get to experience it, due to my COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) hindering every part of my life, but my doctor had faith and I started planning. My sister had invited me to share in a white Christmas with her in Innsbruck, Austria and then visit parts of Italy.

I had dreamed of visiting Italy nearly all my life. My younger sister had been travelling all year, she called it her ‘gap year’ and I was happy to be able to join her.

On December 22, 2019, I left Hobart, Tasmania and commenced my long journey. I was travelling on a budget, so my travel agent had booked me on four flights — Hobart to Melbourne, Melbourne to Beijing, Beijing to Frankfurt and the last leg to Innsbruck — which kept the costs down. It was 23 hours flying time and about 12 hours airport time. Piece of cake, I thought. I had special assistance booked, so that would help.

Arriving on Qantas in Melbourne, I was met and taken to the check-in of my next flight with China Air, to find no assistance recorded. Things do not always go as planned, right? The ground staff fixed the problem, a few hours later, and I was on the 11-hour flight to Beijing. The flight attendants were amazing. I was looked after very well and given a little gift of a panda fridge magnet before I disembarked the plane.

My well-travelled niece told me after that Beijing was not a good airport to be in, especially on your own. The man who picked me up from the plane, was clearly suffering from the flu or something similar. All I could think of was that he will make me ill before I even get to my destination if he keeps sneezing, sniffing and coughing all over me. He was dirty looking, but I had no choice.

Once through customs (where I was asked to unpack my little backpack twice to be searched), the man took me on a short ride through a very dark and deserted part of the airport. It was 4:30am. He then dumped me, telling me I had to find my own way, but did not hesitate to ask me for a tip. Yeah right.

It was a little daunting. I could see only one man asleep on some seats. I found my gate number and more than an hour later found the right place to board my Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. I was a little stressed and tired, but happy to be on that plane.

Lufthansa crew were very nice. I tried to sleep and ended up with about three hours. Arriving in Frankfurt, I was picked up and taken to my next departure gate, via a lovely quiet room.

A local plane company, run by Lufthansa was my last flight to Innsbruck — a small propeller plane. The two flight attendants were fabulous! They treated me like royalty and the pilot came to meet me when we landed, all of them asked about Australia and the fires.

I was whisked away in a little bust type vehicle and taken to get my luggage, all with a young man who also treated me as though I was special. Innsbruck, Austria, I had arrived.

I was over the moon to see my sister and to begin my touring. I had been awake more than 40 hours by now, but before I could settle in my accommodation we headed for the Innsbruck Christmas Markets. It was the last night.

What a treat! It was freezing temperatures, but I didn’t care. Innsbruck by night was gorgeous. It was December 23 and Christmas here is celebrated on December 24, so it was buzzing with tourists and last-minute shopping. It was not snowing though and I was a little disappointed.

When we arrived at our apartment, I stepped out from the taxi and onto the curb to see that it was snowing. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen! Big soft flakes quietly fell from the sky and surrounded us in a light white powder. So my adventure had begun …

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Do you have COPD or another chronic illness? How do you manage your condition when travelling?

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