My next adventure: Southern India (Chennai, Pollachi,  Kochi) – August 2024

Month: October 2022

Day 4 (Riga) – The RIX Experience + Plans for 2023

…and the answer to that cliffhanger is that Superbunny did indeed return to Gatwick in one piece and fully alive, congratulations Riga!

Anyway, after a morning of catching up on work emails and prepping ones lecture for the forthcoming day, we ventured out to catch the route 22 bus to the airport. Unlike the casual 12am wander to the hotel on Monday night, the bus stop was located on the same side of the road as us eliminating the need to use said underpass and, more importantly, the requirement to see Doris! Like the majority of buses in Riga, the 22 was equipped with an automatic ramp enabling Superbunny to roll on and off, definitely the best transportation method as the trams are a mix mash of Soviet and modern rolling stock meaning that you never know what will turn up!

It seems that catching the 22 in the daytime as opposed to the 12am journey is a whole different experience taking the scenic route around various Latvian housing estates before ending its voyage at Riga airport (RIX). Although said airport is deemed to be the busiest airport within the three Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), it is pretty quiet meaning that AirBaltic could take their time to work out how to handle Superbunny. This also meant for a rather pleasant experience through to boarding the scissor lift (if not a little trek past empty gates) and subsequently the plane. Now, I never understand why major airports in the UK such as Gatwick and Heathrow are reluctant to bring either wheelchair up to the gate rather send them to oversized baggage, would be so much easier but there you go!

Well, that is that then, every country in Northern and Central Europe (not counting the self-governing states or Serbia, the latter being a bone of contention by many) has been rolled around by moi coinciding with the end of 2022 (and the start of the busy work season!)! So where to in 2023…Southern Europe of course. I thought that I would take the opportunity whilst the world is coming to the end of the COVID pandemic (apparently ‘the end is in sight’ for all countries according to WHO) to explore more of the Southern end as, let’s face it, only Spain and Portugal has been rolled around. The plan for next year is to make ones way west to east along the top of the Mediterranean (kind of!) starting in Malta sometime in April (with a day trip over to Sicily in Southern Italy via catamaran) then onto Athens in Greece (with a day trip over to the Greek island of Crete (bucket list time!) via plane), back to Milan in Northern Italy (with a day trip down to Florence utilising the high speed train network…should be no DEATH trains in sight?) finishing the year off by visiting somewhere east of Greece (torn between several ideas but will most likely be in the ‘crossroad’ section between Europe and Western Asia). Now, if you have been to places in Southern Europe (Especially Malta and some parts of Greece), you will know that it isn’t the most accessible places in the world so I suspect Superbunny will be confined to the hotel room at times but hey, that is the fun of traveling with a disability?

Until then, let’s enjoy a ‘pondering’ photo of one marveling at the architecture of Riga…

Day 3 (Riga) – The Lack of Latvian Health and Safety!

Today has been much warmer than yesterday (although I have just been told that it’s raining…fantastic) making perfect walking conditions for the short walk to the Latvian Academy of Sciences within which an observations deck can be found. On the way, we passed the same woman that was in the lift on Monday night (who a PA has aptly named Doris)…she did not look happy with us!

Anyway, the tower soon loomed over us and we followed the wheelchair signs around, around and around…until we reached an ominous fire exit door equipped with a concrete slab acting as a ramp…

As we entered said door. we were greeted by a series of steps with a precarious stair climber lift to one side. As we had entered into a basement area, there was no one to assist us thus we simply operated it ourselves, getting onto the thing was difficult enough due to a tight turning circle. In the UK, these kind of lifts have some kind of barrier to prevent you from falling off said platform, not in Latvia! What is worse was that there is a ramp connecting said lift and the top of the steps to navigate also. In the middle of said lift journey, a mechanic appeared and precariously we navigated the obstacles (only one scary part to be seen)…

I really think that this mechanic guy thought that we were students as he sent us to a floor that can only be described as a hospital, even had the smell! Realising that this was the wrong floor, we headed up to the top floor where we were greeted with two doors; one presumably leading to some seminar rooms and one sign posted with ‘Panoramic Riga’ on leading to a series of steps. After deciding which PA would have the pleasure of walking up numerous steps, we video chatted to marvel at the views…

(Note the lack of safety netting etc!)

After that thrilling experience, we headed through the Central Market, crossed a few roads and took a riverside walk…

The fun didn’t stop there though, after a while, it was decided that we would hop on to a bridge and circle back through town. I knew beforehand that said bridge had a lift connecting the footpath at the bottom to the bridge deck. What I didn’t realise was that the platform was corroding away with just a plank of plywood to catch you if it fell to imminent death…ahh well, such is life!

Tomorrow, we catch the 22 bus route back to the airport and then back to old Gatwick…better be nice to Superbunny this time!

Day 2 (Riga) – An Old Town Wander

It is always nice to wander around a city that is quite compact rather than spread out like London and NYC, especially if you only have 48ish hours! This is true for Riga as the main sights are all within a 25 minute walking radius of the hotel and it is so that we began our exploration of the Old Town in the heart of the city.

Having wandered around Tallinn and Vilnius, I knew that I was letting myself in for a bumpy ride throughout the historic city with Superbunny due to the cobbly streets. Despite this, we marveled at the main sights (braving the freezing wind!) such as the Town Hall, Riga Castle and the Freedom Monument…

Wandering around Riga (outside of the Old Town), it seems that Latvias interpretation of accessibility is rather mixed. We have already discussed said underpasses (some of which have been retrofitted with ramps instead of steps), drop kerbs are of plenty and mostly in the correct places, however, as usual for Europe, the majority of shops and restaurants have one or two steps to enter the place. By now, we have learnt to simply seek a shopping centre for said arrangements. Our hotel is in a perfect position for this as it backs onto TWO shopping centres plus the train station (of course!).

Whilst we are discussing hotels etc, let’s talk about ones room within the Mecure Riga Centre. Being an international chain, I chose the safer option as I was unsure what Latvias legislation regarding disability is like. It’s a pretty standard room bar the single beds which is rather annoying if you like to spread out…

The shower seat situation is rather odd, however, as the dials are directly behind meaning that you have the handle sticking in your back throughout…

Tomorrow, we head in the opposite direction to the Old Town to a TOWER located within the Latvian Academy of Sciences and then where the lighter winds take us…

Day 1 (Riga) – Oh, Gatwick, you had to break Superbunnys new companion!

Here we are at the end of the first year of constantly exiting and re-entering the country after old COVID and what a way to finish than visiting the last country in Northern and Central Europe that one hasn’t explored yet, Latvia!

As I mentioned in my previous post, Riga took a little more planning due to the accessibility of said country which almost went to plan (come on, something always has to throw a spanner in the works!). For the first time this year, we entered the airside section of London Gatwick with oodles of time and even had time for a sit down meal…I know!

Now, LGW has a different approach to assistance than Heathrow where you are required to ‘check in’ at the Special Assistance point akin to Bristol (but not as bossy!) and then the baggage handler (ish) comes up to the gate to discuss how to disengage Superbunnys batteries etc which is a nice touch…if only LGW do what I say! By coincidence, our seats looked directly onto the baggage belt, unlike Heathrow, Gatwick uses solely manpower to heave wheelchairs onto the belt for which the brand new manual wheelchair (that BA paid for) experienced a near fall going up and then who knows what happened. Annoyingly, Superbunny was pushed around the back so one couldn’t see what it enjourged until the other side.

We are flying with AirBaltic who utilise one of the newest Airbus’s claiming to be the most greenest plane in the sky etc…very odd experience indeed! Instead of the cabin crew making announcements, you are treated to a screen above your head that plays jingles during the flight to tell you to ‘have a snack from the trolly’…and then in Latvian!

Anyway, we arrived in Riga around 22:30 local time (I hate flying forward in time!) and were immediately greeted by the old scissor lift and a fussy woman who reminded me of an old friend in looks and personality. She reassured us that both wheelchairs were onboard and swiftly arrived with the manual wheelchair…must be one of the quickest turnarounds on record! As usual, we were escorted through passport control only to be presented with Superbunny sitting on top of the oversized baggage belt with no way down! Luckily the two PAs this time were able to lift it off the end to avoid a nosedive. However, when attempting to turn on said wheelchair, nada! Realising that it was approaching 23:30 and the prospect of missing the last bus into town thus becoming stuck at the airport until 5am, we turned it to manual after trying a few cables (to no avail) and pressed on through the car park to the bus stop. On the way, we also noticed that the wheels on the manual wheelchair have been bent by the straps…GATWICK!!

As per my research, bus route 22 is fully accessible with the vehicle being equipped with the usual ramp and TWO wheelchair spaces! It takes approximately 30 minutes to reach our stop after which we disembarked and found our way to the notorious underpass that I was banging on about in my previous post. Luckily both lifts were operational at 12am, however, when we called the second lit, we were greeted by a woman slumped on the floor, it was immediately obvious that she was either heavily intoxicated or on some kind of crack as she fell straight into the lift door several times attempting to stumble out, oopsies, welcome to Latvia!

Reaching the room at past 12am, we took Superbunny apart to find that the power cable from the battery had been either disconnected (which would have taken some knowledge to know where it is!) or been knocked out, all dandy now!

Tomorrow, we simply plan to be common tourists and meander around the Old Town area…

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