- Posted by Push Adventures
- On January 18, 2016
- 0 Comments
- accessible, europe, eurostar, push adventures, train, travel, troubles
It was 2008 and Scott and I headed to Europe on our first holiday together. It was awesome and we did have a ball but it was an eye opener in more ways than we were expecting.
We checked into our first hotel in London that was meant to be accessible but discovered it was only accessible by calling for use of the chairlift attached to the building to climb the five or so steps to the entrance, anyway we checked into the windowless box of a studio and the plans slowly disintegrated from there.
We’d used a reputable Australian travel agent to book half of our hotels for the trip and we’d also brought a Eurail pass to catch the train around Europe thinking this was surely the most accessible way to tour Europe. Luckily we were very young, naive and determined.
Catching the Eurostar to Paris was amazing, the accessible seating was in first class, topped of with a glass of champagne lulled us into a false sense of security! Our hotel in Paris did have a lift, albeit 60 cm squared – not big enough to fit a wheelchair in and only accessible once you maneuvered over a step at the hotel entrance. So I carried the wheelchair up two flights of stairs and Scott caught the lift. We got the room up sized so we could get around and the hotel staff were accommodating now we were on their doorstep. Drinking a little more champagne and getting engaged made us optimistic once more. Next stop Amsterdam, although the hotel was on the outskirts of the city the trams and bike paths make this city very accessible.
On to Berlin, the train ride was cramped to say the least, the Eurail ticket we purchased back in Australia didn’t provide any information whatsoever regarding wheelchair or accessible seating so we had to learn on the run. Most of the time it required Scott pulling himself up out of his wheelchair and hovering in the doorway while I quickly threw our bags and his chair aboard and then we would fumble our way to some seats.
Eurail did look after us when we provided them with feedback from our experience and at a glance their website includes a ‘Travelers needing assistance’ section.
Pulling into Budupest, the intercountry train also happened to be the commuter train, so very cramped this time (picture wheelchair folded on top of our luggage and bags on our lap and under our feet) as the train was packed out on the morning commute. We asked the ticket conductor whether there was a ramp to assist us disembarking, he said no. Yet we arrived in the station to see four movable ramps sitting not 20 metres away from our carriage, I asked another station employee for assistance but to no avail. Tempted as I was to get one myself, we just decided to do what we always do and disembark without any help.
Quick learners as we are, we headed to the train station in advance and see if we could get some customer assistance as it was starting to get a little stressful to get around. We headed over to the customer service counter to plan our departure a few days later, thinking they could surely move a ramp to assist us, but after a very heated conversation in two languages we were informed they required a weeks notice in writing to provide assistance. To say we were frustrated was an understatement. Unfortunately our hotel was also a disappointment, and we really didn’t get to experience the beautiful city of Budapest at its best. An accessible tour bus also left us high and dry, with an amazing view of the city, but with no way home but to ask a local for some help. As you can imagine we were pretty keen to leave Budapest and hopefully get back to some accessible ground. So knowing there was going to be no assistance at the train station we arrived with plenty of time to get aboard to discover it was a swiss train and it was all up from there. We arrived in a snow covered Zurich and had a wonderful few days there before we headed back through Hong Kong (that’s another story) to our own soil.
A couple of years later we had the opportunity to live in Italy for six months, yes it was amazing! But not without its own travel troubles, however we mainly found what Italy lacked in accessible infrastructure they made up for in customer service and of course amazing food, coffee and spritz.
It may have been over a spritz or two where Push Adventures came to be and as they say ‘the rest is history’.
Feature image Prague.