Category Archives: Travel

Wheelchair Travel: Bilbao, Spain (Six Stars)

The Guggenheim, Bilbao Spain

 

Helen and I recently went to Bilbao, Spain. We’d had a trip arranged in 2014, but I had disability-related complications at the time that cut the trip short and we didn’t make it.

It remained on our list of places to go, and I am glad that it did. For someone I n a wheelchair, Bilbao (at least the parts we visited) is a dream. I mean like Barcelona-easy. We were there for only three nights and didn’t explore much of the city outside the Old Town (“Casca Vieja”), so this is not intended to be a definitive overview of Bilbao as a whole, but rather an attempt to share with you what the part of the city that we visited was like for wheelchair travellers

Before I go any further, I want to say that in every trip we have made to Spain,we have found that it really helps to have even a very basic ability to speak Spanish. Even just a little. There are free programs available (I like Duolingo a lot for this) on the Internet and tutorials on Youtube that can help you learn to get by. The people of Spain like it when we try, and it will enhance your vacation. Don’t let a lack of ability in Spanish deter you from taking a trip to Spain, however. It can enhance your experience in Spain, but by no means is it necessary to be able to speak even a word of Spanish unless you get out of the more populated areas.

Onward to Bilbao…

The airport is comfortably small, easy to navigate, with the good rolling surface that is typical of airports and there is a manned information booth near the exit. The personnel working the information booth when we visited was very friendly, spoke good English, and was happy to provide us with maps. Outside and to the right there is the stop for the 32/47 bus/ Autobus (this number is correct. It is not two different buses, but rather the number for the bus that runs between the airport and Bilbao and back). The 32/47 bus arrives/departs every 30 minutes at the airport  from downtown Bilbao, and runs the same schedule coming back. Tickets are available just inside the airport right next to the information booth at a clearly marked kiosk and the price is, at the time of this writing, 1.40 Euros each passenger (vs 20.00-26.00 Euros for a cab). Tickets can also be purchased on the bus. The bus has an easy ramp, and so in addition to saving money, we also saved me having to make a couple of transfers into and out o a cab

The bus trip to the first stop from the airport (our stop) took a little over 20 minutes through some beautiful, scenery, including a close pass by the Guggenheim.

Our hotel ( https://www.barcelo.com/en-gb/hotels/spain/bilbao/barcelo-bilbao-nervion/ , good disabled access room) was approximately a mile from our bus stop. The journey was relatively easy ,with a working lift where we encountered stairs, and only one stretch that I found difficult (the bridge cross the river. The grade was ok, but it is paved with a slip-free surface that was somewhat akin to carpet). The surface of the sidewalks/pavements was very similar to that of Barcelona, which means that they were easy and cobble-free.

On the East/North side of the river, there is a wide promenade that allows pedestrians and people in wheelchairs to walk/roll along the river without worrying about traffic. Pedestrian crossings are generally signal-lit with an audible assist for people with vision impairment.

The promenade on the east bank of the Nervión river, Bilbao

We had intended to visit the Guggenheim, and found our way to the Museum a short distance from our hotel, and were pleased to find that the entrance and interior of the museum appear to be completely accessible. Unfortunately it was packed with local Bilbao residents who were taking deserved advantage of the Guggenheim’s generous policy of providing free admission to the people of the city. I don’t know if this happens every Sunday or maybe just the last Sunday of the month (when we were there), but for us it meant that we would have had to deal with a crowd unfortunately large in size, and so we decided to skip it, It wasn’t until later in the day that we discovered that the Guggenheim is not open on Mondays.

Important note: The Guggenheim is not open on Mondays.

This freed us up for exploring the Casca Vieja, and so we spent the rest of our holiday in Old Bilbao. This part of the city was for me an extremely easy roll, no hills and only one or two very mild grades, with very little traffic and good rolling surfaces for my wheelchair. Most of the businesses had step-free access, and the weather was nice enough for us to sit outside when we sopped for a meal or a refreshing drink. I was very encouraged by the sheer number of other people in wheelchairs. I saw so many that I started to count them and by the time we left I had counted 23 separate people in wheelchairs in a span of three days. These were not multiple sightings of the same people. I have to say hat I take this as a good sign regarding the ease of travel in a city; when there are a lot of other folks in chairs besides myself

 

An example of the rolling surfaces in Casca Vieja, Bilbao

The weather in Bilbao is not as warm and sunny as Southern Spain, but it was mild enough for me to go out with just a hooded sweatshirt, and it only rained once (at which time we took advantage of some outdoor seating and whiled the tie away over several glasses of very affordable wine). We ate outside for every meal, save one (that riny night), and we enjoyed it.

Important note: Check the weather forecasts before you go and be prepared to bring warmer clothes than would normally be typical for a visit to Spain.

The highlight of our trip, according to my wife, our two dear travelling companions and myself was our “Pintxos Crawl” on our last day. Pintxos (pr Peenchos ) are the Basque take on Tapas; slightly smaller, with somewhat different ingredients. They are consumed–according to the “tradition” of a Pintxos Crawl—one at each Pintxos bar, along with a drink, before moving on to the next.

My wife did the research as to where we should go, and so by the time she and I left the hotel we had a little list of Pintxos Bars to try, with plans to meet up wth our companions somewhere near the beginning of our crawl. The first three establishments on Helen’s list were unfortunately closed (I believe it might have been because it was a Monday), but by the time we got to the fourth, we found it open and welcoming, with an easily accessible entrance. The counter of food was a little high up for me to be able to really see clearly, but the proprietor was very helpful, and we got two Pintxos and a glass of wine each, and ate outside while we waited for our friends to catch up.

They did and we spent the rest of the afternoon and much of the evening in a slow, relaxing, leisurely stroll from one Pintxos bar to the next. It felt very civilized, and luxurious, and at one Euro eighty for the average Pintxo and the same amount for the accompanying copa de vino/glass of wine , it was very affordable as well. We had several other good meals in Bilbao, but the Pintxos were the stars in the crown.

Important note: I could be wrong, but I believe that Tue-Sat would be the best days to embark on a crawl, as there will most likely be more establishments open.

As far as accessibility, approx 95% of the Pintxos Bars we encountered had step free access. Indoor dining with standard height tables is available in most, but we prefer to eat outside so we did. The standard outdoor dining arrangements at a Pintxos Bar seem to be a high table (chin height for me in my chair) with stools. This was not a problem for me, as I was able to my stool as a personal table. (see photo, taken at “Gatz”, one of the best places we tried)

Pintxos at the Pintxos Bar

We had a wonderful time in Bilbao with very few if any accessibility issues. We will be back


Good news – London to Amsterdam direct by train.

Helen and I have taken the Eurostar to from London to Paris several times. We love it. Train travel is so vastly superior to flying for those of us in wheelchairs that I cannot even begin to describe the difference. We have also taken the train from London to Amsterdam on several occasions, and although it is still much better than getting there by plane, the trip involves a change in Brussels that adds a lot of stress (and rolling; Brussels Midi is a very big station) to the trip.

Good news, everyone!

http://www.gizmodo.co.uk/2016/10/eurostar-will-go-direct-to-amsterdam-next-year-in-just-4-hours/


This Is a Good Article By Another Wheelchair Traveler

And yeah, it takes courage.


It’s one step-free step in the right direction.

Thanks, guys (not sarcastic)


Paris Access

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)…

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The curbs are very well ramped at most intersections. here is an example…

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and another one…

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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…
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Looking the other way, you get a view of Notre Dame.

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Cafe with outdoor seating, at night.

le st andrecropped
W
e had a wonderful time. We’ll be back.


Adapted minibus transport in Ireland

We have just returned from a trip to Ireland and had a great experience with this hire company for transport from Dublin to Donegal and back: Smiths Minibus Hire Dublin.

We used a 10 seater van with a good ramp and space for the wheelchair.  Our driver Gary was fantastic – safe, very friendly and helpful, way above and beyond the call of duty!

Delighted with the service we received and we’d definitely use this company again.


I wish this were a freak incident.

But it’s not. I cannot count how many times I have had to tell the person on the phone that I am disabled (WCHC, which means i cannot walk or stand), only to have to tell the ground crew at check in that I am WCHC disabled, and then to have to tell the ground crew at the gate that I am WCHC and will need an aisle chair, only to have them act as though this is the first time that they have heard of it, and the personnel and aisle chair arrive late, meaning I get to board in front of a plane load of passengers.

“We’ve researched the details of this Denver customer’s travel and can verify that she checked in at her flight at Newark Liberty International Airport two hours prior to her scheduled departure. but a processing error in that check-in process did not alert our employees at the gate to her special need (wheelchair) in boarding the aircraft.”

This needs to be fixed, and it isn’t specific to any one airline.


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