Tag Archives: Rick Steves’ Easy Access Europe

The Kindness of Strangers

23 Oct

Paris, France 2009

Over the years I have heard that Parisians are rude.

I have never found that to be true — well, with the possible exception of *that one* taxi driver in 2002.

In fact, while visiting Paris in 2009, Carrieanna and I found the exact opposite to be true.

As noted in a previous blog post, we were in Paris to celebrate Carrieanna’s birthday.

I have viewed The City of Lights from the top of the Eiffel Tower, and I wanted Carrieanna to have that same experience. It was my birthday gift to her. And we would go at night, to enjoy that spectacular view.

We had already determined that we would not attempt this on her actual birthday, which fell on a Saturday, since it was very crowded that night. Instead, we would go on Monday night and make this our last great adventure in Paris. (We would be returning to Amsterdam on Tuesday.)

There’s a miracle story here, but let me share another one first.

To understand why I call these “miracle stories,” let me quote Rick Steves, in his [mostly] very helpful book “Easy Access Europe.”

“Unfortunately, Paris … has a few sights that are best left to non-disabled travelers (or more adventurous slow walkers): … Sainte-Chapelle upstairs chapel … the top level of the Eiffel Tower ….”

We were happy to prove him wrong, with the help of kind strangers!

Earlier in the day, after visiting both the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay — yes, it was a VERY busy day! — Carrieanna and I took a taxi to the Ile de la Cité, to see the beautiful stained glass at Sainte-Chapelle.

“The interior of this 13th-century chapel is a triumph of Gothic church architecture. Built to house Jesus’ Crown of Thorns, Sainte-Chapelle is jam-packed with stained-glass windows, bathed in colorful light ….”

“… climb the stairs into the sanctuary, where more than 1,100 Bible scenes – from the Creation to the Passion to Judgment Day – are illustrated by light and glass.”

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, France 2009

“Unfortunately, the upstairs chapel (with the stained-glass windows) can be reached only by climbing a narrow spiral staircase.”

Umm, maybe. Unless you encounter a kind ticket attendant, who was a charmed by Carrieanna’s smile and offered to take us the back way (which included a tiny construction elevator and a keyed door).

We were taken through the King’s Entrance (built to allow King Louis IX easy and private access the chapel) …

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, France 2009

… and, voila!

We were inside the chapel, admiring the glorious stained glass of Sainte-Chapelle!

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, France 2009

(Carrieanna in the chapel)

After spending an hour or more in the chapel, Carrieanna and I were escorted back downstairs and to the street, where we thanked our escorts for providing us with this amazing opportunity.

And then we enjoyed a little river-side respite and people watching …

Paris, France 2009

Paris, France 2009

… knowing that we had another grand adventure in store later in the day — ascending the Eiffel Tower!

Carrieanna’s father shared our story in his letter to Carrieanna’s Aunt Becky:

“…Jeri and Carrieanna head off by taxi to the Eiffel Tower. Our last night in town.

“They reach the second level. Carrieanna says the guards explained to her that people in wheelchairs are not allowed at the top level, although blind persons are allowed at the top.”  (We didn’t understand that logic either.)

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France 2009

“She decides that despite ’17 very steep stairs’ up to the elevator to the top, she will do it. She finds a fellow American who says he was in a wheelchair for a while, who is willing to watch her chair for her while she goes up. His wife and daughter already are on their way up, and he is just waiting for them on the second level. (As it turns out, his wife and daughter came down much earlier, and he sends them home in a taxi while he waits for Carrieanna and Jeri!)

“After the 17 steps, they wait 45 minutes, with no place to sit, which is very demanding on Carrieanna’s legs. And then, the Top! And she loved it. She felt so proud of herself!”

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France 2009

To quote Carrieanna, “Don’t say it can’t be done unless you try.”

Because … Anything is Possible!

A Day in Paris!

10 Aug

I believe I first became infatuated with Paris as a seventh grader, when I chose to take French as my foreign language class instead of Spanish, which would have been far more useful, but not nearly as romantic!

However, it wasn’t until 2002 that I actually visited the City of Light, and that’s when I fell in love with Paris. And realized that a 12-day visit was not enough. I wanted to go back someday.

That “someday” occurred in late fall of 2008.

Rich, my sweetheart, wanted to take his daughter (and me, of course) to Paris in April of 2009 to celebrate her 27th birthday.

Because Carrieanna uses a wheelchair, Rich wanted to make sure that she would be able to get around well enough to enjoy the city.

So he and I planned an 8-day trip to Amsterdam – a favorite destination – in November of 2008, during which I was to take the train to Paris for a day to check accessibility.

Prior to our trip we studied the Paris chapter of Rick Steves’ “Easy Access Europe – A Guide for Travelers with Limited Mobility.” (A very useful book; I highly recommend it.)

We also made a fairly detailed itinerary for me to follow, so that I could get as much information as possible in the few hours I would be in Paris.

And finally the day arrived. Rich and I had been in Amsterdam for three days, and on Friday, Nov. 14, 2008, I spent A Day in Paris!

As I wrote in my journal:

“The Adventure begins!

“I rise with the 5 a.m. wake-up call (although I’ve been awake off-and-on since 2 a.m.), and dress carefully for cold weather, and an all-day excursion to Paris.

“Our taxi gets us to Central Station in plenty of time. We go to the Thayles information desk (at Central Station), and get information* about taking a wheelchair to Den Haag and Paris next year. …

“Finally the train arrives, and I’m off to Paris! By 8 a.m. it’s light, though overcast and gray. …

“I found a taxi across the street [from Gard du Nord – the train station], and went to the Hotel Brighton.”

We had already made reservations for a three-night stay in April of 2009. We chose  Hotel Brighton, a four-star hotel, because it had handicap-accessible rooms.  We were also delighted with the location!

Advertised as being “in the heart of Paris,” Hotel Brighton is located on rue de Rivoli, directly across from the Tuileries Garden. During our stay in April we had a view of the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, the Eiffle Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe from our upstairs suite.

(Here’s a sneak peak of our view in April)

“The gentleman at the Brighton’s front desk was fairly flustered by all my questions,** but was helpful – and grateful for the €10 tip.”

(The elevator at Hotel Brighton. Large enough for the wheelchair – barely!)

“Upon leaving the hotel, I cross rue de Rivoli …

… and head toward the Louvre (parallel to Tuileries Gardens).

“I wandered a little in the area between the Louvre and Arc de Carousel, enjoying being there! I gleaned the information and pictures about accessibility to the Louvre and to the Gardens. …”

[“Easy Access Europe” gives accurate and detailed tips on how to find the accessible entrance, which I visually confirmed.]

“A walk over a bridge across the Seine …

… to the Musee d’Orsay entrance …

(Note the slanted curb cuts.

Wheelchair users will need to be careful to maintain their balance.)

” … where I bought some roasted chestnuts (nothing special) and then crossed the footbridge over the very busy street (Quai Des Tuileres).”

(View of Musee d’Orsay from across the Seine.)

“Back into the garden area …

(Tuileries Garden, with Hotel Brighton in background)

” … where I walk towards the Place de la Concorde and, more importantly, the Musee l’Orangerie.”

(Because this museum was closed for renovation at the time Rick Steves published “Easy Access Europe,” he does not rate its accessibility. I was delighted to find that it was fully wheelchair accessible!)

Here I enjoyed two large oval-shaped rooms, each with four large murals of  ‘water lilies’ painted by Monet.

“Two full rooms, wrapped by the water lilies murals. Incredible!”

“Other notables include Matisse, Renoir, Picasso, Cezanne, and other impressionists.”

(Renoir)

“And the garden area contained some Rodin statues. Well worth the visit.”

(Rodin’s “The Kiss”)

“I walked extensively in the rue de Rivoli area, in search of a market, without success. So I caught a taxi which took me to Montmartre and the tourist shops I wanted.”

(Sacre-Coeur)

(While the grounds of Sacre-Coeur are lovely and offer a panoramic view of Paris, the interior is not wheelchair accessible. )

“I found gifts, and a market for bread and wine and chocolate. … and  after buying a baguette with tomatoes and cheese for a late lunch, I walked and walked and walked and walked, in search of a taxi.

“I found myself in Quartier Pigalle — not a great area — and finally located a taxi to take me back to the train station.”

(Gard du Nord)

“Right on time, and a full train, we left Paris at 6:25. I napped and reflected on the journey back, grateful for the fun opportunity – Paris for a day! – and aware of the challenges.”

[Future posts will describe our April 2009 adventures in Paris — including our miracle story of getting to the top of the Eiffle Tower!]

 

*Additional questions we asked at the Thayles information desk:

  • How early should wheelchair users arrive at the train station (both in Amsterdam and in Paris), in order to board Thayles? Is there an access ramp available at each station?
  • How soon can we make the train reservation? (We eventually chose to have the staff at the Ambassade Hotel in Amsterdam get our train tickets for us.)
  • Where is Comfort 1 (First Class; the accessible section of the train), and how does it compare to general seating?

**Questions asked of the desk clerk at Hotel Brighton (with some responses):

  • Location of taxi stands nearby (Just around the corner)
  • Can the hotel get museum passes for us? What is surcharge?
  • Best way to cross rue de Rivoli to get to Tuileries Garden (There are crosswalks at both ends of the block.)
  • Are there curb cuts? (Yes)
  • Can Carrieanna access our room? How? Are there any steps into either room? (She could easily wheel from her room to ours; there were no steps.)
  • Approximate cost for taxi to Eiffle Tower.
  • Location of the Statue of Joan D’Arc (a favorite historical figure for Rich; we found this about two blocks away from the hotel entrance)
  • Do they have maps of any of the museums? (The hotel did not.)
  • Any information about access to boat tours? (Pamphlet available in hotel lobby)
  • Where are the grocery markets in the area? (Three blocks or four blocks away; somewhat hard to find unless you have directions — which the hotel was happy to provide)
  • Who do they recommend for wheelchair rental in Paris? Can the Brighton arrange for that rental? (We rented a wheelchair in Amsterdam and brought it with us to Paris.)
  • Do they have any other suggestions for wheelchair users?

Rolling through Amsterdam

25 May

(The following post was written in May of 2007, although some of the photos are more recent.)

Just back from eight days in Amsterdam with my 25-year old friend, who gets about primarily in a wheelchair . . . and with her dad, my boyfriend.

Three essentials:

1)      Understand beforehand that Amsterdam is expensive . . . and worth it.

2)      Plan and communicate with your hosts by email and telephone; let them know your needs, desires, limitations and capabilities.  Planning includes reading Rick Steves’ “Easy Access Europe.”

3)      Steps are everywhere and will limit access.  If you can manage any steps at all, you will increase your access.

If you have not been to Amsterdam, you may not understand what a “world treasure” this gem of a city on canals truly is.

The gem has many facets: canals, 17th Century engineering and architecture, Van Gogh, Anne Frank House, Rembrandt, coffee shops and cafes, canal boats, diamonds, parks; light and water, reflections and shadows, great art and architecture.

Be sure to bring your camera and extra batteries!

After experimenting, we quickly learned that the best place for the wheelchair was either in the bike lane or on a wide sidewalk.

Understand that the bike lanes in Amsterdam are very special.  The bikers know where they are going and the rules of the road, one of which is: no pedestrians in the bike lane, or suffer the consequences.

Not once did we hear objection to a wheelchair in either a bike lane or a very narrow streets shared by all sorts of vehicles.

Carrieanna used a foldable, manual wheelchair.  It was easy to fold and store.  We arranged to rent it through our hotel.

Early on she purchased a bicycle bell at Waterlooplein street market and attached it to her rental chair.  You might be surprised at the number of people who are oblivious to their surroundings; people who cannot see either wheelchairs or their users.  A bicycle bell helps these people orient.

Remember that preserving the old sometimes limits the new.

Elevators are found in larger, more modern hotels, and in the major museums; lifts are available at Rembrandt Huis and at Concertgebouw.  Check “Easy Access Europe and the Internet for information about wheelchair accessible toilets; there are some spread around town, although not many.

One Must Do If At All Possible: canal boats. There are many options; we chose Canal Bus, which allows you to ride all day and half the next day, and to get off or on at many different spots around the city.

Each boat will require you to negotiate four steps into the boat and usually a couple of steps at every dock.  Carrieanna had focused four full months of physical therapy on dealing with steps and with uneven surfaces; she did very well with all that we encountered in Amsterdam.

The trip was Carrieanna’s graduation present for earning her bachelor’s degree from California State University – Monterey Bay, after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.  She says, “Don’t say it cannot be done until you have tried.”  So, go for Amsterdam, wheels … or not!

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