Three weeks in Europe – Patrick Nolan & Roisin O’Hagan
I had been hoping and waiting for some time for this long-talked-of, big family trip to Europe. I’d dreamt of seeing Manchester United play for what felt like forever. My mum weaved some mum magic and secured tickets to a game. Woohoo, we are off on an adventure!
Friday 7°April 2017, we arrived. Was it utopia? No but close! Manchester UK, 23°, blue skies and the home of the Red Devils. Mum had planned and booked this trip a mere 8 weeks prior, this involved ensuring that my 190kg powerchair was securely put into cargo hold and me in my seat of our Qatar flight, accessible accommodation throughout the UK, France and Spain, a mixture of hotels and Airbnb, reserved seats on trains in Europe – an essential requirement of European train travel! There were of course obstacles along the way, we expected that, but those challenges were overcome with a little bit of innovation and humour!
Cancelled trains, no problem, inability to book wheelchair seats from Australia, managed. Having said that, I’m pretty sure we gave a couple of station masters near heart attacks rocking up with the powerchair, 6 people plus luggage, however the assistance and consideration we received was amazing. Every person we came across bent over backwards to get us on our way! We learnt the ropes, through a lot of sign language and pigeon French and Spanish and navigated the excellent and accessible public transport systems of the UK, France and Spain (including the metro in Barcelona).
This is what our 3 weeks looked like. A tour of Old Trafford, and saw everything Manchester United. Next stop, the Stadium of Light, Sunderland, where we watched Manchester United FC smash Sunderland FC. On to London, where I wheeled along many a Monopoly-board street, visited Hamleys toy store, cruised by Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, and of course indulged in the buffet breakfasts of the famous fry-ups.
The Eurostar (1st class as a wheelchair user) to Paris, fast pass up the Eiffel Tower (and looked at it from our loungeroom window a block away), ate cheese and beautiful baguettes, snails and frogs’ legs, patisseries … daily mouthfuls of pure ecstasy. Checked out the Arc de Triomphe, oh and caught an up-close-and-personal viewing of the Mona Lisa in the Musée de Louvre (the very kind security guard gave me special access). On to Avignon, the Pope’s Palace (one of the few places I couldn’t access), old paved streets, outdoor cafés and more glorious food, a day trip via train to Arles, another beautiful old town with a Roman amphitheatre (like the Colosseum).
Up next Barcelona, España, Gaudí’s art – from the park named in his honour to Sagrada Familia (just happened to be across the road from our apartment, very cool) – more delicious food, Catalan cuisine, yum! Our final but most spectacular destination, San Sebastián, oh the tapas … San Sebastián was the most beautiful place in the world I’ve ever been to. We wandered the streets, checked out the Bay of Biscay, watched another football game, relaxing.
What a trip, sunny days, welcoming, helpful people, and the most wheelchair access I’ve experienced despite visiting cities and towns that are over 2,000 years old!