Category Archives: Locations
And yeah, it takes courage.
Helen and I recently took a trip to Paris. Getting there from London is a very pleasant two hour fifteen minute train ride on the Eurostar from St Pancras International, to Gare du Norde. Eurostar personnel are always very friendly and efficient (it helps if you remind them throughout check-in that you’ll need a ramp) and train travel means I don’t have to transfer in and out of my chair and I am able to roll around the carriage and use the loo if I want. I prefer this over plane travel by far.
Access in Paris is very good. Most of the sidewalks/pavements are easy and free of cobbles, or even seams, as they tend to be made of one solid paving of concrete. The metro system is not accessible, but the buses are, and the #38 takes us straight from Gare du Norde to Place St Michel on the Left Bank (our favorite part of the city).
A good portion of the shops are on the ground level, with an easy ramp. Here’s a photo of the entrance to a “Carrefour” (a chain of convenience and supermarkets found throughout France)…
and another one…
Outdoor seating is a wonderful way to avoid the dilemma of finding a restaurant with step-free access (although most have an accessible entrance if one wants to eat indoors), and there are few of Life’s Great Pleasures that can beat sitting in an outdoor cafe and having a plate of bread and cheese and a bottle of French wine, watching Paris walk by.
There are also several places where access to the banks of the Seine can be had down ramped roads, although they can be a little steep, and there are cobbles at the bottom. I just took it slow, and it went well, and we had a lovely picnic of (you guessed it), bread and cheese and wine in the sun, near Notre Dame. This is what the cobbled bit looks like…
Looking the other way, you get a view of Notre Dame.
Cafe with outdoor seating, at night.
We had a wonderful time. We’ll be back.
Helen and I were in Denver a couple of years ago, and since I’m rather fond of old train stations, we went down to see Union Station. It was being renovated; surrounded by scaffolding and rubble, so we couldn’t go in.
Well they’ve finished it, according to this article, but also according to this article, “The station’s Great Hall features a public area with seating and shuffleboard tables, but the area is elevated and unreachable by people who can’t climb stairs, according to the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition.”
And, “The Coalition says RTD has offered to set up a temporary ramp when someone needs it. The group’s attorney, Andrew Montoya, says that’s not enough.
That’s absolutely not the same experience, basically to have to go around, see that there is no ramp, and then make your way around, trying to find someone who maybe can get a ramp out for you,” Montoya said.
I know exactly what Mr Montoya is talking about. Equal access doesn’t mean that an able bodied person gets to walk up a flight of stairs while their disabled counterpart has to go find someone and ask them, “Excuse me sir/madam, could you please put up the ramp?”
How is this even possible? I could understand if the station were in its original condition, but they just renovated it and the ADA has been in force since 1990. How hard is it to install a permanent ramp?
Thank you to the Facebook group, “Representing Disability in an Ableist World” for this information.
We had heard that these islands are coming up as a great destination as not too touristy yet and only about six hours flight from the UK. Mindelo has a rich history and a great music scene. Seemed very appealing.
Doesn’t sound great for a wheelchair user however.
This is the message back from one of the specialist tour operators:
Tel: 0845 338 8708
It doesn’t sound great, but it sounds do-able.
Helen and i have been to a few places that were only “do-able” and still had a great time.
San Francisco was a lot easier in a wheelchair than I thought it would be. Enough so that I would recommend it to wheelchair travelers with a little upper-body strength, and even those with more severe mobility impairment, as long as the traveler was careful as regards what parts of the city to explore.
San Francisco is notoriously hilly– with some of the hills being dangerously steep, even with an assistant– but there are plenty of flat arras, and the public transportation system is so easy and accessible that it makes the city a doable excursion for someone in a wheelchair.
Positive Features of San Francisco for Wheelchair Travelers and their Companions:
- The Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART). The Bart runs fully accessible trains from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to the downtown area, including Union Square and the Embarcadero Station on Market Street.
- The Municipal Transport System (MUNI) is efficient, accessible, and covers most areas of the city, block by block.
- The transport is easy to figure out as well, with free Muni Maps available at the kiosks where the all-day Muni passes are sold. With a pass and a map in hand and a little planning, a person in a wheelchair (and their companion) can spend the day traversing the city by bus and trolley, alighting at points of interest and seeing the sights without a lot of physical effort.
- Taxis were plentiful, and although we didn’t need one (see above) it was nice to know that they were there and available. Most models were standard sedans, which means that they would be no harder to get into or out of than a regular car.
- All but a few of the establishments we frequented had step-free access and accessible toilets. Other than the physical geography of the hillier portions of the city, San Francisco feels very wheelchair friendly, with helpful courteous staff on the transport and in the bars and restaurants.
Negative Features of San Francisco for Wheelchair Travelers and Their Companions:
- The hills. Other than that, i didn’t have any negative experiences specific to my mobility impairment.
- To get to the BART from any terminal in SFO, take the free AirTrain, (both Red and Blue Lines will get you to the BART Station) and get off at “Garage G”, where you will find the Bart Station. Tickets must be purchased from the machine before boarding the BART.
- On the Mezzanine above the BART station, one floor below the street at the Embarcadero Station, there are Muni kiosks selling “Clipper Cards” and all-day “MUNI” passes that entitle the bearer the right to ride on all of the buses and trams in the city (with the exception of the famous cable cars, which aren’t wheelchair accessible anyway). Unless you are planning to be in San Francisco for longer than a week, it’s best to get your Muni pass on paper instead of opting for the plastic Clipper Card, as the card itself costs $3.00 on top of your fare. For a three-day pass, I paid $22.00, which turned out to be good value for money considering how much travel we got out of it. There is an elevator/lift going down to the Mezzanine on the north side of Market St, at Embarcadero Station.
- The F-Line is made up of old trolley cars, fully accessible, that run in a big loop, terminating at Fisherman’s Wharf (your MUNI pass will work). We caught it from the Ferry Building stop (at the east end of Market Street), and it was a great way to get to Fisheerman’s Wharf. The trolleys between the Ferry Building and Fisherman’s Wharf run along the piers, with good views of the Bay and Alcatraz.
- The Palace of Fine Arts is a beautiful structure, set in an idyllic park with a pond full of wild birds, with flat, paved, wheelchair accessible paths that encompass the entire park. It was much bigger and more beautiful than I thought it would be from the pictures I had seen. If the weather is nice at all, I wouldn’t miss this. Take the 30 Bus to The Palace of Fine Arts (tell the driver when you get on). Your stop will be the corner of Broderick and Jefferson. Go left down Jefferson one black and you’ll see it right there in front of you. When you walk down Jefferson, it won’t look like you’re in the right place. Don’t worry. You are.
- Fisherman’s Wharf is easy and flat, and there are numerous bars and restaurants where one can eat or drink outside if the weather is nice. We ate at a place called Pompei’s Grotto, and then ate there again because, A. It was wonderfully accessible with a big ramp leading up to the patio and an accessible restroom, and B. Because the food was so good, affordable, and the service was excellent.
- The Mission District is flat, and there are several alleys between 17th St and 18th St, ( just west off of Mission Street) where one can leisurely admire some top-notch street art/murals. There is a little bar at the corner of Mission and Sycamore (Sycamore was the last street we found that had much art) that is accessible (unfortunately their beer garden is not) where one can quench the thirst with a nice glass of wine.
- There is a lovely, fully accessible Italian restaurant at the south end of Little Italy on Columbus Avenue just north of the corner of Columbus and Broadway, called “The Mona Lisa” . We had a very pleasant dinner here with great food and terrific service.
- Be careful. It’s fairly easy to find oneself on a steep street in certain parts of the city, and it can be almost as dangerous to turn around and go back as it is to keep going. We had a little tension going down Jackson Street in Chinatown. South of Market Street is fairly flat, but the terrain changes drastically north of Market, and I would advise anyone in a chair to do some research (“How hilly is it going to be?”) before setting out to any area you’re not familiar with. I wish I could tell you which areas to avoid for this reason, but we avoided those areas. There are enough flat/ish places to visit in San Francisco that I didn’t see the need for going up a 30% grade.
In closing, I personally think that a wheelchair traveler and their companion could easily spend five days or even a week in San Francisco without running out of things to see where the incline is reasonable and safe. I am glad we went, and we will be going back.
I am going to preface this report with the statement that I don’t particularly care for Las Vegas as a travel destination. Even without gambling I found it to be discouragingly expensive, I thought that the service in every restaurant where we ate ( except one, a lunch on the balcony of “Morel’s”) was intrusively “attentive”, the town felt dirty and cheap, and there was piped music ( Classic Rock and cheesy Pop) everywhere. You can’t get away from it, they even have speakers in the lampposts along The Strip.
But the purpose of this blog isn’t about my personal preferences; it’s about sharing information regarding accessibility with other wheelchair travels that will help them enjoy their visits to the places we’ve been.
As far as accessibility, I would have to give Las Vegas very high marks.
Positive features about Las Vegas for Wheelchair Travelers and their companions:
- The city has a fleet of “Handivans”; Regular taxis with the added feature of a ramped space for a wheelchair in the back. This meant that I could stay in my chair and just roll right in without having to make a transfer, and Helen was able to sit in the seat in front of me. Some of the drivers were flexible about not having to belt me in (I prefer not to go through the rigamarole, especially since they usually just belt the chair in, leaving me free to go flying in the unlikely event of an accident). These Handivans are available at the airport taxi rank, as well as through summons by phone with the staff at the hotels.
- The terrain is flat. If there are any grades in Las Vegas, they are so slight as to be almost unnoticeable.
- The curbs were all ramped, and the sidewalks were nice and smooth, if a bit crowded in places.
- All of the establishments that we went to had step-free access.
Negative features about Las Vegas:
- It’s illegal to hail a cab out on the street, so you have to go into a hotel or casino and have someone do it for you.
- Unless you can afford a hotel on The Strip, it can be a long trek from your hotel to where everything is happening. We were over a mile away (although it was flat and relatively easy rolling).
I honestly cannot think of anything else that’s specific to negative accessibility in Las Vegas.
- The Mirage Hotel has a “Secret Garden”, which we found to be a nice break from the hustle of The Strip, where you can watch dolphins and see lions and white tigers up close. There is still piped music in this place, but it’s simulated jungle sounds and less intrusive. I we paid something like $27.00 for the two of us. If you ask for a disabled discount, the staff can give you the military discount (they did for me, anyway). It closes at 18:00. Enter through the main doors of the hotel, and follow the signs.There is a free “Volcanic Eruption”, starting at 19:00 in front of the Mirage, repeating every hour on the hour. The eruption is a fountain and pyrotechnic display in the fountain in front of the hotel, choreographed to jungle drums. I liked it.
- There is also a free show in the Bellagio Fountain in front of the Bellagio Resort and Hotel. The show we saw started at 20:30 and lasted for about ten minutes, complete with a dry ice fog and an amazing choreographed fountain display (showtimes are on the page in the link provided above). The music that was used was not to my taste, but it was still impressive.If the weather is nice, Morel’s (3325, Las Vegas Blvd. South) has a nice balcony overlooking The Strip, where one can get a decent–albeit not cheap–lunch (this was the only meal we had in Las Vegas where our server was not intrusively attentive).
- We stayed at the Candlewood Suites (4034, Paradise Road), and the bathing facilities in the room were completely accessible. Roll in shower and a good, sturdy, fold-down shower bench. The staff were also very friendly and helpful. There is a decent (if expensive) steak house right down the street on the corner of Paradise and E Flamingo roads, called “Morton’s” where we had dinner, and a liquor store close to the hotel as well.
- Do not try to cross East Flamingo Road using the elevator/walkway combination near the intersection of E. Flamingo Road and S. Las Vegas Blvd. We did this and one of the lifts/elevators was out of service. We had to back track and continue on the ground. Elevator malfunctions in these sorts of situations are pretty common in my experiences, and in my opinion, if one can get there by staying on the ground—even if it means a little further to walk—then this would be the better and safer choice.
I don’t think Helen and I will be going back, but if Las Vegas is one of those places that you’ve always wanted to visit, there isn’t any reason why having a mobility impairment should stop you from going. It’s a very accessible city.
Of all of the European cities to which Helen and I have travelled, Barcelona is one of our favourites. It has much to offer; from delicious food, the Spanish culture and architecture–including some of Antoni Gaudi’s masterpieces—sweeping vistas of the Mediterranean, shops, restaurants and bars, and best of all, for my purposes, Barcelona has the best wheelchair access of anywhere I have ever been outside of the United States.
In 1992, Barcelona hosted the Paralympics, and the entire city was revamped for those with mobility impairment and other disabilities, and the result is a city so free of obstacles that you can often forget that you are even in a wheelchair while you are there.
Some of the highlights:
- The “Barri Gotik”. The old section of town dates to medieval times, with “streets” so narrow that there isn’t room for both sidewalk and street, so it’s all on one level. In other words, it’s flat with no curbs, and the paving is made of big flagstones which make for smooth and easy rolling. The Barri Gotik is a fascinating area full of history and dotted with squares and plazas where one can sit and take in the scenery, or enjoy the ambience with a glass of wine or meal at one of the many restaurants with outdoor seating. One can easily spend an entire day meandering through the warren of narrow avenues that make up this section of Barcelona.
- La Rambla. This is a wide avenue that begins just south of the beautiful Placa Catalunya and runs all the way to the harbour at the city’s edge. La Rambla is split down the middle with a smoothly paved, tree-lined passage for pedestrians (no dodging motor traffic), dotted with cafes and market stalls, as well as a wide variety of street-performers. There is a slight incline toward the sea, but it can be easily managed if the wheelchair user has moderate upper body strength.
- The ramped curbs/kerbs. In four or five visits to Barcelona over the years, Helen and I have covered a lot of ground, and in all but a very few instances out away from the city center, the curbs/kerbs are universally ramped, and done so at such a slight incline as to be almost un-noticeable. I often have to do a “wheelie” (balance on my back wheels) when coming down a ramped kerb in my home town of London in order to keep from pitching forward out of my chair, but in Barcelona there was never any need. The sidewalks/pavements were generally flat without sideward slopes, and the paving stones are smooth and easy to traverse. One truly can forget that one is in a wheelchair in Barcelona.
- “Menu del Dia”. This is a lunch deal (initiated by Franco in an attempt to eliminate the time-consuming practice whereby the workers of the cities would go home for their lunch), which consists of a set menu with two courses ( starter and main), bread, a beverage ( a beer, soft drink or small carafe of wine) and a dessert, all for around 10-15 Euros. The normal time for lunch in Barcelona is between 1:00 and 4:00pm, and during this time there are many restaurants that serve their version of the Menu del Dia, A restaurant serving a Menu del Dia will advertise this fact with a chalkboard set up out on the sidewalk. The menu is set, but there is some room for choice; fish, meat or vegetarian, for example. It’s a great deal, and a wonderful way to fill up with good food inexpensively.
- The Mediterranean. It’s a bit of a stroll to get there, but the roads to the beachfront are easy and smooth and with such a slight incline that it makes a journey to the waterfront worth the effort. From the bottom of La Rambla, a left turn will take the wheelchair traveller down the sidewalk, well away from the traffic of Paseig de Colom, and once one gets to the Ronda Literal, it’s easy to cross at the pedestrian crossing (watch the lights as well as the traffic) and head down along the harbor front with the yachts to your right and the outdoor cafes ( they’re expensive, but the seafood in these places can be extraordinary) to your left until one reaches the sea front. There is extensive pathways that allow for a long “stroll along the beach for wheelchair and scooter users. There seems to be something about being able to breathe some sea air and let one’s mind relax with the uncluttered view of the ocean horizon that has a strong rejuvenating effect on a person.
- Tapas and Paella. Barcelona does these two specialties to perfection.
- Antoni Gaudi’s structures. The inside of the famous Sagrada Familia church was not open to the public when Helen and I tried to visit in 2006, so I cannot say whether or not there is step-free access to the interior, but the exterior of the temple is unique and elaborately decorated with gothic figures and ornaments and worth the effort of getting there. We did visit his “Casa Pedra”, and although there is a very steep incline down into the building where they direct the wheelchair users, the interior of the structure itself was pleasantly accessible, with a very helpful staff. They even allowed me to take the lift to the roof, where I was hoping to be able to photograph the unusual chimneys and roofline, but unfortunately the accessible space on the roof is a scant 6 feet by six feet and it made me feel claustrohobic. To me it wasn’t worth it, but other wheelchair users might want to take a look and maybe a few photos, so be aware that it is possible and staff members are very helpful and willing to accommodate requests. My favourite part of the tour was the living quarters, where they have left the furniture and decorations of an apartment home in place as they would have been in the 1930’s, when the Casa Piedra was used as a residential block.
- There are several hotels with fully accessible rooms (roll in showers with shower seat, ample space around the bed, sufficient grab bars in the bathroom, etc) in Barcelona. The “H10” not far from Placa Catalunya on Ronda de la Universitat is Helen and my favourite, but we enjoyed staying at the equally well-located although slightly more expensive “Hotel Jazz” on Carrer de Pelai as well. There are too many restaurants for me to list those with delicious food at affordable prices, but be aware that Barcelona is a haven for lovers of good food, and one is never far from a fine meal in an accessible restaurant in Barcelona, especially near the Barri Gotik. The Placa Real for example is a lovely square, dotted with palm trees full of wild parrots, and a fountain, with four or five indoor/outdoor restaurants around the outer edge of the square.
A few tips:
- Plan your trip for the spring when it’s lovely and warm enough to be able to dine outside, without suffering the heat of Southern Spain in midsummer. Helen and i have only ever been in January, and while the weather was nice enough most days for us to eat outside, it was a little on the border of being too chilly, and we look forward to going some April or May, a time when the locals advised us that Barcelona weather would be at its best.
- From the airport, take the Metro Bus if you are going toward Placa Catalunya. The bus will take you directly to the square (Or Placa Universitat, along the way) for a mere 3 Euros as opposed to the 30 Euros it will take you to get there by cab. All of the buses from the airport are accessible, with ramps and space for wheelchair users.
- Bring a phrase book, and learn some of the basics (“I’m sorry” “Please” and “Thank you” can really help you get along). You don’t need to be fluent, but according to my experiences in Barcelona, you will get treated with more warmth by the Barcelonans if you make a little effort to say at least a few words in their language. Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that, with “Catalan” being the semi official language of Catalunya, of which Barcelona is a part, but almost everyone speaks fluent Spanish, while a surprisingly large portion of the population do not speak any English.
- Any hotel near the Placa Catalunya will put you in close proximity to almost all of the sights and attractions of Barcelona.
- Take advantage of the Menu del Dia, and set your activities in accordance with the Spanish Siesta timeframe which results in some businesses being closed from noon until 1pm. Be aware that Barcelonanans tend to eat late, and many restaurants will be devoid of fellow diners until after 8pm.
- Carrer del Bisbe is the steepest street that I encountered in Barcelona, and I definitely needed assistance from Helen to get up the incline. It’s a beautiful street, but be aware that it’s not an easy trek.
- Neither Helen nor I have ever had any problems with crime in Barcelona, but there are reported to be pickpockets in some areas, especially the crowds that form around the street performers. A good rule of thumb is to pay attention to your surroundings and pay attention to anyone who approaches you or your companions, but this is true of any city, really. There is a rather seedy neighborhood known as El Ravel to the West of La Rambla where drug dealers, prostitutes and their clients mingle that one would be well advised to avoid, unless one were looking for drugs or prostitutes. The residents of this section of Barcelona are openly hostile to the idea of being photographed.
- If there is an International football competition (World Cup or Euro Cup) and Spain is playing a match, or of the Barcelona team is playing an important match, it would be a good idea to avoid the crowds after the game, especially if there is a Spanish/Barcelona victory. We’ve never been there during such an event, but there is ample video on the net that indicates that the celebrations can get a little excessive, and it would be dangerous to get caught up in such a crowd in a wheelchair.
In closing, I would give Barcelona high marks for having numerous things to do and see within walking distance of each other, great food and drink, and even higher marks for having the easiest wheelchair access of any European city to which we have yet been. If you’ve ever considered going to Barcelona in a wheelchair, I would go. I think you’ll have a blast.