Posts Tagged ‘Travel with a wheelchair’

There is something magical about Istanbul. Nothing is impossible.  The hills should mean that using a wheelchair is difficult. So should the narrow roads, crowded trams, bazaars packed with people … But it’s not. Well, it’s not easy, but it’s not impossible.

Using a wheelchair in Istanbul is challenging, but can be fun.

The trams are accessible and are free for people in wheelchairs. But accessing a tram can be intimidating. The first time I went to board a tram I backed off because the carriage I was near seemed full – then I watched as at least a dozen people squeezed in past me. The next tram came by a few minutes later (Istanbul trams are very frequent and T1 will take you just about everywhere you want to go), I told my husband to stay close because, come what may, I was going to get on that tram!  I gripped my rims, moved with the flow of people into a carriage already seemingly full, and magically, there was space for me, and everyone else too.  I don’t know how it happens, but there’s always room for one more. My next problem, I thought, was going to be getting off because I’m stuck in the middle of a crowd of people. But no, a few “pardon, pardon” and again, magically space appears for me to wheel through.

The thing to do in Istanbul is to confidently take your space.

Footpaths disappear or are blocked by cars, so wheel on the road. Best is to wheel in the middle if the road. When a car approaches from behind you’ll hear a small toot- the driver is simply letting you know that he’s there (and most drivers are men) and at the next available opportunity he would like you to move to the side to let him through. No hurry. My husband was a bit wary of doing this at first, but it’s fine. Roads are very narrow and often one way, but one lane roads become two lanes and can go both ways. Two lames become three … No one seems to care.

Topkapi Palace has ramps that are well signposted and are usable. Not having to queue means that you don’t wait hours, literally for the main attraction, the treasury. The harem is a little difficult to access by wheelchair because there are one or two steps at every turn. I used my crutches to walk around, and a strong helper would be needed to help negotiate the few steps. 

The Archaeological Museum has a stair climber and is completely accessible.

The Blue Mosque has it’s own wheelchair that a wheelchair user must transfer into because nothing that touches the ground can touch the carpeted area. I preferred to walk with my crutches because of the crowds in the tourist mosques, and to get close to the art. To do this I wheeled to the outside carpeted area, took my shoes off and placed my feet on the carpet. Usually I can stand up on my own but because of the confined space I needed my husband to lift me to standing. My crutches were ok in this mosque. I did not find another mosque that had a wheelchair to use inside, so it’s likely that the Blue Mosque is the only mosque that a wheelchair user may be able to visit. The Hagia Sofya is a museum so wheelchairs here are fine.

If you can walk with crutches you will be able to visit most mosques. All the usual customs must be observed, head scarves, long sleeves, long pants or skirt for women, covered shoulders and long pants for men.

If you need to wear shoes to walk, I suggest visiting the Dolmabalche Palace first, grabbing some spare plastic elasticised shoe bags, and put these over your shoes before stepping onto the carpeted area. Grab a few more to put over your crutch tips in case you are asked not to put your crutches on the carpet. I approached wearing appropriate clothing, wheeled up and immediately began unlacing my shoes and indicating that my wheelchair would be staying outside. I always asked for an ok from whoever seemed in charge before I went inside or as soon as i was inside) some mosques had security guards, some had men who were making sure that women were dressed appropriately, most had someone hanging around inside or outside).

At the Dolmabalche Palace only the bottom floor is accessible to wheelchairs and you will need to go in a separate entrance. You will need to approach a security guard. The palace can only be seen as part of a guided tour. The gardens are lovely, and there is a beautiful view over the sea. In a wheelchair you  won’t get to see the best bits of the palace but remember its free! If you can walk with crutches go on a guided tour. I walk very slowly but the my guide was very patient and the staff did everything to cut corners. 

I went on a cruise of the Bosphorus and the crew and leader were incredibly helpful. They were prepared to lift me in my wheelchair over the bow onto the wharf if I wanted … And because I wanted to use my crutches they just about lifted me on and off. They realised immediately that my left foot drags and one or other invariably held ropes down for me. They were very observant and cottoned on quickly to how they could help. The leader assigned a crew member to me when we went ashore near the fortress so that I could go as far as possible.

The streets are much steeper on the Taksim side. We tried to wheel/ walk up one street in attempt to get to the Galata Tower. I never give up, but I finally conceded that we needed a taxi to get there. The taxis are quite cheap, but be sure to ask the driver how much it will cost to get to your destination before you get in the taxi. Even though the taxis have meters, the drivers turn them off. We got some pretty good deals and got to see some really interesting back streets, because once you’ve agreed a price the driver will go the quickest way possible. There are near misses, sharp corners and squalid streets but just go with it! If the taxi doesn’t look big enough to fit your wheelchair, remember that everything fits everywhere in Istanbul!

And everyone wants to help. We were wheeling down the street that was too steep to wheel up, and I say we, because I was using my gloves to slow the wheels and Peter was holding the chair, when we encountered steps. Some nearby workmen gesticulated wildly that they wanted to carry me in my wheelchair down the steps, and when I chose to use my crutches, one burly guy insisted on carrying the chair down and waiting with it til I got down.

It seems that people in Istanbul love a trier!

Finding toilets can be a problem. There are accessible toilets at the New Mosque near the Spice Bazaar, at the Tokapi Palace, and at the Archaeological Museum. There are usually toilets near mosques but these are not usually accessible, have steps and may not be western style. Water is not clean so if you need to use catheters I suggest you use small disposable ones and lots of hand sanitiser.


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Disabled Access in Prague

First, a little about me so you can put my comments into context. If you want to know more, read the tab “About Me”

I am an incomplete paraplaegic, injured at T7/T8. I walk short distance with crutches, can climb steps (but i need assistance if they are high), and my wheelchair has hooks to carry my crutches when I am not using them. I am a 57year old woman living in New Zealand. I am very fit and my upper body is strong.

First the negatives:
Prague is not wheelchair friendly. If you have excellent wheelchair skills and can negotiate kerbs you will face gutters that are five or six inches deep, and there are few kerb crossings. Your best bet is to use side roads and wheel along the road. The Old Town is flat, but across the Charles Bridge, some hills are quite steep, so a wheelchair user will need to be strong.

Often landmarks and attractions are described as wheelchair accessible but there are always at least one or two steps. The funicular and Petrin Tower, for example are described as accessible, but the slope up to the funicular is at least one in eight. Then there are two steps to the first carriage. It’s possible to wheel to the tower and take the lift half way up, but coming back to the funicular there are about eight steps to the nearest carriage. 

Some of the trams are low and have a button that a wheelchair user can push to alert the driver that the ramp is needed. However, only once did the driver step outside to put the ramp out, but that may have been because we didn’t want to risk the tram moving off without us so my husband manoeuvred me and my chair on board. The older trams have very high steps that I was able to climb using my crutches. 

The positives:
If you are less skilled in a wheelchair, like me, you will need a strong helper. If you can use crutches, and have a strong helper, most of Prague becomes accessible.

And if you stay in the Old Town there are some easily accessible attractions:

The Old Town Square with its astronomical clock is often described as the prettiest in Europe. It has lots of good cafes from which to watch the world, and zillions of tourists, go by. It’s entertaining to watch all the cameras up in the air as the hour strikes. It’s especially entertaining to watch at night when all you can see is the clock and hundreds of led screens!

Its an easy and pleasant wheel across the Charles Bridge. 

There is a ramp down to Kampa Island which has a very nice park, views over the river and cafes. It’s a good place to have a picnic.

There is a lift up the Old Town Hall to the top where there are some great views. 

It’s an easy wheel through the Havel markets where you can buy fresh produce and the usual tourist stuff as well as some very nice art. 

It’s an easy wheel to Wencelas Square where all the modern shops are.

There are concerts every night at lots of different venues … the Mirror Chapel, the Mozart Cafe (it has a lift), St George’s Basilca …

If you’re not prepared to wait for a low tram that us wheelchair accessible, use a taxi- they’re not that expensive because Prague is compact

There are accessible toilets at the Prague castle near St Vitus, near the Charles Bridge on the Old Town Side, and on Kampa Island.

Be Careful:

The room in my hotel was described as a disabled room, but there were no bars in the shower or toilet, I could barely reach the shower hose when standing, and there was no seat in the shower. The room could be accessed from the garage rather than the front door where there were eight or more steps, but there were two steps up from the garage!

Everyone in Prague seems to assume that someone in a wheelchair will have a helper, and that one or two steps are no barrier. 

Other than that, Prague is worth the effort and having to rely on a helper just so you can see this picturesque city and experience its incredibly talented musicians.

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I am an incomplete paraplaegic, injured at T7/T8. I walk short distance with crutches, can climb steps (but i need assistance if they are high), and my wheelchair has hooks to carry my crutches when I am not using them. I am a 57year old woman living in New Zealand. I am very fit and my upper body is strong. I write this so my comments can be put in context. If you want to know more, read the tab “About Me”

Useful Information:
If you are driving in Italy take your disability parking permit with you. You will be able to park free on the street or in a parking building. You may need to produce photo identification showing the disability or handicap symbol when you use a parking building. In some parks you will need to get your parking chit validated. Italy is trying to cut down on white collar crime so you will nearly always be given a ticket (for parking or for entry to an attraction) that has to be validated. If all the designated parking for the disabled is being used you can use other parks for free. The only parking places to avoid are those disabled parks that have a number because they are assigned to a specific person.

Cities and towns in Italy offer people with disabilities and a companion free entry to all civic and state owned attractions. Many privately owned attractions offer free or discounted entry to people with disabilities. 

People with disabilities do not need to queue for tickets to attractions but can go straight to the ticket office. I suggest either getting the attention of a security guard or going to the ticket office for tour groups and people with reserved tickets. You may need to produce photo identification showing the disability or handicap symbol. I used a New Zealand Operation Mobility Card, some countries have parking permits with ID, otherwise I suggest a letter from your doctor with an Italian translation.

Many hotels, motels and hostels have rooms that are modified for use by people with disabilities. These are usually on the ground floor because even if the building has a lift it often won’t fit a wheelchair in. Contact accommodation directly and be careful to clearly and precisely specify your needs.

It can be difficult to visit towns in Italy because the roads are cobbled, and often steep. However, if you are prepared to have a helper, it is well worth the effort and inconvenience. Also, if you are prepared to accept the help of strangers and explain how they may help, Italians  will go out of their way to help and leave your dignity intact. You don’t have to speak Italian. Body language works, and if you speak English, most Italians understand you well enough.

I visited the following towns in August/September 2012. They are in Umbria and Tuscany (although Tivoli us in Lazio, an hours drive from Rome) Here are my comments on accessibility.

The Hotel OC Villa Adriana has a ground level room with excellent facilities for people confined to a wheelchair. The hotel had a half price special and the room cost us 48euro a night, including breakfast. It is three star plus quality. The staff were extremely helpful and understood my mobility needs. 

The receptionist booked a golf cart to carry me and my husband around the Villa d’Este, a terraced garden with hundreds of fountains. The cart and entry was free.

I visited Hadrian’s Villa. Not all of the grounds are accessible by wheelchair, but the Canopus Pool and other great places are. I can walk with crutches, so I took my wheelchair and crutches and managed to see the entire area. There is an accessible toilet at the main entrance. The attendant has the key.

Old Tivoli is on a steep hill. It could be negotiated in a wheelchair but only with a strong helper to help push up hill on lightly cobbled roads. I walked  down, then up again using crutches. 

The restaurant Sibilla is wheelchair accessible and is in a superb location above the river. The food is wonderful and the ambience is superb. (it’s set beside temple ruins)

Civita di Bagnoreggio
Civita is inaccessible by wheelchair. I walked with crutches across the kilometre long bridge, then up steps. It took me a long time. We stayed in an old monastery which had steep steps up to it. The bathroom has a wet floor shower. If you can walk up steps on crutches, and can walk the distance, it’s really worth the effort to stay the night. Fantastic. Otherwise, give it a miss.

I am not aware of any hotels in the historic centre of Orvietto with disabled facilities. If you are wheelchair bound you will probably need to stay in the town of Orvietto. I stayed in Hotel Virgilio in the square opposite the duomo. There is a lift but a wheelchair will not fit in. I used my crutches. You can park near the duomo for free and for unlimited time if you display a disabled parking permit. 

If you use the funicular to get to the historic centre, you can use a bus to ride to the duomo because the buses have ramps. 

The duomo is wheelchair accessible.

I used my crutches to climb down St Patrick’s well, and to go part way through the Underground Caves. The guides are very helpful.

The town is flat so you can wheel its length, less than a kilometre. There are a few steps into the duomo but a helper can help negotiate them. There may be a step into the Santa Maria but it can be negotiated with a helper. There is also a portable ramp kept at the information centre to access the church, the Etruscan Museum and the toilets. A newly renovated church that has been converted to a museum has a ramp.

Il Tomba, an excavated Etruscan tomb about one kilometre away, can only be negotiated with a helper strong enough to tip your chair on its back wheels and push. You will be able to be drive up close to it, providing the driver takes the car back to the car park. You can also be driven to the top of Il Cavore, an Etruscan road that has been carved out and has walls that are from three to twenty metres high. You should be able to wheel down the dirt road.

This town is on a steep hill. I started at the bottom and worked my way up to the main square where the duomo and enotecas are. The main road was too long and steep for me to use my crutches so I used my wheelchair. The surface is cobblestone and at times I needed my husband to help push me. The enotecas here represent one vineyard, so choose one (or try more than one!) Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is the specialist wine here. There is an accessible toilet in the square.

Montalcino is also on a steep hill. We had no problem parking at the top  of the hill, and used the disabled parking permit. I was able to independently wheel to the enoteca at the top of the hill. I suspect that the rest of the town will be the same as Montepulciano, a struggle for someone with mobility impairment. The enoteca here has Brunello wines, (special wines to the region) from every vineyard and you pay according to how many wines you want to try, and what quality wine you want to try. You get a wine master all to yourself, and they seem to be able to cater for many languages. It’s very entertaining.

I could wheel around this town but the big problem is a lack of toilets, western toilets, let alone accessible toilets.

San Galgano
There is plenty of parking, the road is level but unsealed. I could wheel independently through the ruins. There is an accessible toilet. Most people walk the half kilometre to the chapel on a nearby hill, but disabled people can drive up. There are a few steps into the chapel so I used my crutches. The view from the hill is great, so even if you can’t get into the chapel (although a helper may be able to get you up the steps) its worth going there.

San Gimignano
This town is also on a hill. There are at least three parking lots, all of which have parking for the disabled. A disabled person can use the park and ride buses for free, but they have steps, so unless you can climb them your best chance of visiting this town in a wheelchair is to park in the car park outside the front gate entrance and wheel up to the hill to one or both of the squares. It’s over a kilometre. You may need someone to help push you up the steeper bits.

If you can walk with crutches and climb on the bus, leave your wheelchair behind. Have the bus driver drop you off at the first square (it has the well). The second square with the duomo is about a hundred metres away, and the fortress is another two hundred metres. An enoteca is just below the fortress.  You can catch the back down the hill.

There are accessible toilets in the Piazza Duomo.

I tried unsuccessfully to contact the local commune to get authorisation to park in the TZL.
Instead I parked in the Campo car park which is about 400 metres from Il Campo. The path is wheelchair friendly. However, I used my crutches to get around Siena. From Il Campo there are steps up to the Baptistry and more steps up to the duomo. 

The duomo has wheelchair access but to get to the duomo  by wheelchair you would have to park in a parking building on its level. 

Florence is great to people with mobility impairments. I emailed their office that deals with people with disabilities and they were very helpful. I emailed in English. Contact details are:
upd@serviziallastrada.it  free call number 800.33.98.91 
They authorised me to drive and park in the ZTL. 

Florence is flat but the paths and roads are cobblestones. Still, it’s not too difficult to get around in a wheelchair. Most of the attractions have accessible toilets, eg San Lorenzo, Ufizzi, Del’Accademia, and have ramped access.

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Monday 21st August

Arrive at Tegel airport. The driver of the airpor golf cart is even more wild than that one in Singapore. Faster, with less attention to travellers … And no beeping sound. She asks Peter to call out as we approach and weave through fellow passengers. I hear one man say in disgust, “English!”

There’s a car waiting to take us to hotel Circus. No English, uh oh … At least he knows where he’s going.

We’re very early at the hotel and I drink litres of water while we wait for our room and plan the day … Not a moment to miss. Just as well, because Berlin is intense.

It takes a while to work out access to the underground train station. Our hotel is on one corner and there are access points on the other three, but only one has a lift.

We think about using public transport to sightsee, but wimp out and catch a hop-on, hop-off sight-seeing bus. It stops supposedly near museum island but there are no directions. Funny how things work out though. We stumble on Neues museum of ancient antiquities. The architecture and design of the building uses lots of natural light, and everything is exhibited with drama.

Germans must have plundered pyramids big time – so many sarcophagi, body casings, pieces of relief from pyramids, personal treasures … And nerfertiti! She’s gazing into the uninterrupted distance at Helios, on the opposite side of the museum. It’s unforgettable!

And I feel so special! I need to use loo. An alert male security guard takes control, strides into the female toilet, orders the long line of women, already waiting, to stand back then he unlocks the disabled toilet for me!

The National art gallery next door is closed, so we hop back on sight seeing bus. It’s overcrowded, and worse, too many disabled people, not enough space. People on crutches are standing. Also, the commentary doesn’t match landmarks, but at least we see landmarks that we recognize, and can check out later.

We get off at the Brandenburg gate. We can see why speeches like Reagon’s “bring the wall down” speech have been performed here. We walk on (well, I wheel) to the Reichstag … CLOSED …. Some sort of construction, but we see it from every possible direction and can appreciate the glass dome on top.

Public transport is better than the sightseeing bus, because you’re sharing it with Berliners, not cocooned with tourists. And you can wander around looking at all sorts of things you wouldn’t otherwise see.

Cankles are bad. Bit of a worry so I sleep with my feet raised.

Tuesday 22nd

Big day. Checkpoint Charlie is first up. I can’t use the wheelchair in the museum because there’s flight after flight of stairs and it wouldn’t fit anyway because the exhibits are packed in and so are the visitors. So I use crutches up and down and around. It’s information overload, so many ingenious ways of escaping the east, not always successfully. Everything, all the gadgets used are homemade and improvised.

The Jewish museum is staffed by friendly, people, eager to help. There are lifts everywhere so I can mix up walking and wheeling. The Museum itself is deliberately disoreienting, especially the introduction through the axes, the Garden of Exile – 19 tall slabs of concrete laid in a square, and the holocaust concrete triangular tower with just one slit at the peak for light and sound. There’s a permanent exhibition of Jewish life and Judaism, and the long intertwined history of Germany and Jews. It’s the latter, and the crazy layout of the axes that interest me. The axes remind me of the spinal unit, not everyone adjusts, and that’s a big part of the message of disorientation.

It’s interesting that security here is tougher than at airports and has the same system with xray. There are Police outside guarding against terrorists.

Walked/wheeled to Topography of Terror and museum of the wall. Extraordinary monument to remind Berliners of the atrocities they allowed to happen, and the ordinary people who perpetrated them … Not psychopaths, just middle class people buying into an ideology. The concept of a Volk community is chilling … Every is equal, because those who are different will be eliminated. Creating a permanent reminder of the terrors that emanated from the ss headquarters is brilliant. The barren stony ground that is all that is left, along with one wall of its foundations, in front of a long section of the Berlin wall, along with the commentary outside suggests that Berliners are not prepared to let this happen again. Every time you walk or drive down this street you can see this outdoor monument.

I see it as a work of art as well, because at my seated level, the information appears almost stamped on the foundation wall.

The holocaust museum, with the very personal stories inside and the blocks of concrete outside is a moving reminder of the millions who were murdered. From the street the blocks seem innocuous, playful, but venturing inwards the mood becomes oppressive, dark, disorienting as the blocks get taller. (After visiting this and the Jewish museum, I cannot imagine how Amy could bear to visit the remains of a concentration camp. I already have a picture of such brutality, misery, deprivation and abuse that I couldn’t stand any more.) Jews still face persecution. Security here is even tighter than at the Jewish museum. The lift is not working when it’s time to leave. So i climb the steps using crutches. German efficiency a myth?

On the way home we see the Brandenburg gate at sunset. Lights on the gate. Buskers. Lovely.

Wednesday 23rd

We walk/wheel to Museum Island to visit the national art museum. It’s a gorgeous building with columns and statues. Inside there’s a special exhibition of Waggener’s, the founder’s, collection. He collected contemporary art, ie from the 1830s and 40s. It’s realism, much from the students of Dusseldorf’s school of art. Absolutely perfect detail, with magnificent use of light.

The permanent collection includes works of Monet, Manet, cezanne, Renoir and Rodin – the thinker. I hadn’t known it was here so it’s like a gift from out of the blue! It’s smaller in real life than I’d thought but so wonderful. I want to keep looking at it, especially with a Cezanne on one side and a Renoir on the other. When would I ever see that scene again? I don’t want to leave. There’s a Delacroix nude … Some paintings just have to be seen in the original … this is one.

The permanent collection is a history of German art, and includes a room devoted to Lieberman’s work. I feel privileged to have been able to see so many priceless works of art by so many geniuses (what’s the plural of genius?)

Lunch is against a backdrop of the Dom and the Spreig River. Relaxing, and with that view, provides space before visiting the Pergammon.

What a dramatic entrance! The alter of Pergammon is stunning, breathtaking. Germans were obviously not only leaders (pillagers?) in archaeology in the nineteenth century, but tremendous restorers of treasures from antiquity. The recreation of the Ishtar gate is another highlight, but walking into the room with the Islamic palace walls is as dramatic and surprising as the Pergamum altar. The palace was donated to the Germans because their archaeologists were regarded so highly and the king who donated it believed they could recover, restore and preserve large portions of the the palace walls. Looking at the other works on display I can see why they had such a reputation. From here on, could only be an anti-climax, but no!

The number one exhibit quietly sneaks up on you. As I enter the next room I’m not sure what I’m looking at. It’s the Islamic Aleppo Room. From Syria, built around 1600, the elaborately painted panels of wood look as if they have just been painted. Each panel is 2.5 metres high and laid out to form, not a square, but a series of walls (with intricately carved wooden doors) that would have surrounded a fountain. They are behind Perspex, in a temperature and humidity controlled environment to preserve them.

The museum has easy wheelchair access, lifts to every floor, but no accessible toilets… Who cares…

Thursday 25th August

We take Bus 100, a route we’ve been told is a good way to sightsee. We have a leaflet with all the landmarks and monuments listed. I’d recommend this to anyone, rather than a sightseeing bus.

I want to visit Bebelplatz to see the memorial to burning books. It’s a hole in the ground through which can be seen shelves in lining the walls of a cube. There are enough shelves to hold 20,000 books, the number burnt by the nazis 10 May 1933. It must have been a spectacle at the time – bebelplatz is bordered by the Humboldt University and the State Opera House. There’s a plaque beside the hole. On the plaque is written a poem dedicated to preventing something like this ever happening again.

Also in one corner is St Hedwig’s Church, the first Catholic church to be built in Berlin after the Reformation. It was built in the 1760s. It’s a circular church with an altar at ground level and another below ground, but completely open to view from above.

We wander around, not really looking for anything, just enjoying being in Berlin. We find the Shinkel museum. It was a church, Friedrichswaresche Kirke, that Shinkel designed but is now a museum dedicated to him. It’s officially the Staatliche museum of the Berlin National Gallery. Whatever, Shinkel designed and sculpted many of the ornamental statues inside and outside churches and important buildings. It’s a beautiful building inside, full of statues and with great acoustics – a woman, staff, is singing the same phrases over and over in English. A bit weird but it sounds wonderful.

Next, we find the new guardhouse. In it’s life it’s been used as a number of memorials, but is now dedicated to those who died in WW2. An unknown soldier, and a concentration camp victim are buried underground along with dirt from battlefields and concentration camps. A single sculpture, “Mother With Dead Son”, sits in the centre directly below a circle open to the sky.

It’s been an interesting way to see Berlin and to realize how many monuments there are, and how imposing the architecture is. It’s easy standing on Under den Linden opposite the university to look left then right and visualize how magnificent it must have been in the nineteenth century to walk or ride down this avenue lined with statues, churches, and monuments, all intricately detailed in the style of Greek and Roman sculpture. Every corner of every building, every column ornately sculpted …

The World Clock in alexanderplatz is kind of fun. We’ve been through the platz every day to catch the u Bahn and not noticed it. I’m delighted to see that it has Wellington time. It’s 3.30pm Thursday in Berlin, and 1.30am Friday in Wellington. The map below even shows NZ! Underneath the clock, a busker plays a semi-acoustic guitar. All Berlin buskers seem to play music from the 70s … Beatles, Bob Dylan, Bread, Rolling Stones … I love it, it’s my teenage music.

Our final view of Berlin is at the Haufbanholf, turning back to see the sun on the Reichstag dome … How appropriate!,

Berliners are friendly, smiling, wonderful people who are always eager to help and are not afraid to try and communicate, even if they don’t speak English. And always smiling, whether their English is good, limited or non-existent. So easy going! I’ll remember that while i’m waiting outside the Neuese museum a couple of security guards waiting near me, offer to share their “bon bons” with me. So nice …

Notes on accessibility:

Trains are not wheelchair accessible, nor are buses, even though they drop down. I think there’s a ramp but as long as I have someone to lift me in my chair, the drivers don’t bother. Lifts down to the ubahn, or underground train stations, are difficult to find and are often out of order. I walk up steps with crutches, someone carrying my wheelchair. There are plenty of offers to help. Or we use the escalator, my wheelchair held on a step with me tipped back in it. When things get messy, someone steps up to help. There’s a gap between the platform and the train, and a step up as well. It would be impossible to use a wheelchair on trains without help. It’s not easy to wheel everywhere because of crooked bricked or cobbled paths that trap the front castors of the wheelchair. There are some kerb crossings and sometimes there’s only a tiny step down to the road. Often the kerbs are high and would require much greater wheelchair skills than i have. The streets and transport within Berlin is not as friendly to people with limited mobility as I’d expected. I’d suggest that a person travelling independently in a wheelchair use taxis. They’re surprisingly cheap. Roughly a euro a kilometre. And the city is generous to the diabled. Often you have to pay to use public toilets or toilets in cafes, but toilets are free to the disabled! Entry fees to museums are often heavily discounted or free to the “severely” disabled ie 50% or more. ACC in NZ uses an American scale and according to it I’m over 80% disabled and I imagine that Berlin would use a similar scale.

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I have been so consumed with resolving issues arising from sudden and unexpected health problems that I have had no time or head space to think about the glorious adventure that lies ahead for us – traveling through Europe!

Sixteen sleeps and we’re on our way!

This weekend is almost totally devoted to researching the cities we’re visiting. We want to prioritise our sightseeing and I need to research accessible transport and attractions.

I have a brand spanking new wheelchair (I’ve hardly used one for about six years) because I’ll need to be able to cover distances at speeds over 1.5pm per hour! I’ll have my bionic walking device with me too because there are some places that wheelchairs just can’t go, and because I need to walk for at least an hour every day to stay mobile. Besides, strolling down the the Champs Élysées is just far cooler upright! Somehow, I think that Venice will be easier to negotiate walking too.

However, when speed and distance count, I’ll be spinning the wheels. Message to other half: I hope you’re fit enough to keep up with me in my wheels!

We leave August 21st. First stop Berlin …

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