Welcome to part 2 of the blog Have Wheelchair Will Travel, written by Donna Goodacre. It’s a chronicle of her families trip around the world. No big deal you might say, plenty of families travel. Well, when one member of the family uses a wheelchair, it actually is a pretty big deal. However, their motto is Have Wheelchair Will Travel – and so they did.
We pick up their story again in France…..
We boarded the Mont St Michel ferry at 22.30 for a 23.15 sailing to Ouistreham. We had booked one normal and one disabled cabin on-line from Australia, and they were quite adequate for the six hour journey. It was much cheaper than the Eurostar train, and the kids could see that we were actually going to another country, even though it was dark. Getting on and off was no problem, and we managed to board a bus without a platform for the half hour trip to Caen, as Neil and the female bus driver helped Richie up the steps. There are plenty of taxis available at the port, however, and if you don’t mind a bit of expense, they would be a much easier way to go if you have a collapsible chair.
Once in Caen we bought 4 tickets to Paris. We could not organise this from Australia, but it was no problem (being able to speak French helped me on this trip more than I had anticipated).
When we arrived at St Lazare station, however, we were told that the RER train from here to Noisiel, where our motel was, was not easy to access, so we were taken on an unofficial tour of the bowels of the Paris SNCF system, going past pipes, dirt and concrete, emerging at a bus stop where we caught a bus to the Gare de Lyon. The French porter was wonderful, carrying Neil’s ginormous pack all the way, even though he was only knee-high to a grasshopper. You can say what you like about the French, and I have encountered a few things in my travels on my own, but as far as looking after us with the wheelchair goes, they were extremely accommodating.
Not so accommodating, however, was the Gare de Lyon. This would be the most frustrating railway station I have ever encountered, and my French did not help at all. Admittedly it is an old station, but even its one wheelchair ascenseur (lift) was out of action. To cut a long story short, we ended up getting to the platform we needed in a goods lift! From there everything was easy, getting the RER train to Noisiel, then to the hotel (l’Hotel des Deux Parcs) by accessible bus.
We had only three full days to explore Paris, and that included visiting friends, so the first thing we did for the kids was visit Disney (formerly Eurodisney), which was only a couple of accessible train stops away, at Marne-la-Vallee (Disney Station). Richie got a discount and we got one free carer, as you do here on the Gold Coast theme parks. Everything we needed was accessible, as in all Disney parks, and although it was freezing cold, we had a good day, topped off by dinner at one of the few remaining Planet Hollywoods.
The next day we visited friends in St Remy Les Chevreuse, on the outskirts of Paris. Once again the train trips were uneventful in that there were no problems with accessibility, and we had to change once at Chatelet. It took two hours each way.
Christmas day dawned bleak and cold, but it didn’t matter because it was Paris! We spent the day in the city, catching the RER Line A to Chatelet, then Line C to Notre Dame and the Metro to the Eiffel Tower. I would not recommend the Metro for wheelchairs unless you have someone big and strong to lift the chair up the stairs!
We spent an hour or so there, and Neil and Richie went up to the second level using the lift, which does cater for wheelchairs. It cost 8,40 Euros for the two. After that we decided to visit the Louvre, but after investigating the Bateaux Mouches we decided not to go on the river, as the departure point was difficult to get to and it is better used for long sightseeing trips (rather pricey). We ended up going by bus which was not accessible, but a friendly tourist helped us with the chair.
Once at the Louvre we discovered that Christmas Day is the only day it is closed, so we walked through the Tuileries Gardens and then the whole way via the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe, which was a great experience, and took us all afternoon. Chelsea and I walked underground through the tunnel which comes up under the arch, but it is not accessible to wheelchairs. Just on dark (around 4 pm) we found an entrance to the RER line and made our way back to Noisiel. I should point out here that the owners and staff at Les Deux Parcs Hotel were very helpful, the rooms were clean and accessible by lift, and the bar/restaurant was good value. A small hotel, but highly recommended.
On Boxing Day we left Noisiel and made our way via Chatelet-Les-Halles (Line A) to Charles de Gaulle airport (Line B), on our way to New York, via London. The trip took an hour with connections, which was good, but we had a bit of trouble finding the right terminal (2B). Quite confusing if you haven’t done it before.
The flight was only half an hour, but because of the usual overcrowding at Heathrow we had to park in the middle of nowhere, and everybody except us could get off down the stairs! They ordered a high-lift, which didn’t arrive, and after an hour of tea and bikkies and embarrassed apologies from the cabin crew, we got off the way we had initially suggested, down the stairs (Richie slid on his backside!)
At around 5.50pm, with no time to look around, we flew out from Terminal 4 at Heathrow on our eight hour trip to JFK in New York, New York.
To be continued …