Day 5 (Zagreb) – The LHR COVID Mess

…and the answer to that cliffhanger is no! Honestly, I have never seen Heathrow in such a state…

Anyway, the hunt for the wheelchair began when we arrived back to Zagreb airport. The airport itself looks a little out of place with its architectural design seeming to have been ‘plonked’ in the middle of the countryside. We tried our luck at check in and managed to seek someone who, very kindly, went to Arrivals to double check that the wheelchair wasn’t there subsequently narrowing the search to ‘somewhere’ at Heathrow.

As in Lisbon, airport security is upstairs hence we were chaperoned through various backdoors which eventually led to an eerily quiet location ready to be picked up by the van which took us to the plane…here is where the mess starts! As Zagreb airport is fairly quiet, we taxied straight out to the edge of the runway and then stopped…the plane wasn’t allowed to take off because Heathrow weren’t responding to confirm the total weight was acceptable. After 20 minutes, we were off, 2.5 hours later, it was touch down and then stop. Due to staff shortages, flights were being delayed meaning all the gates were occupied meaning yet another 30 minutes on the airfield. We finally connected to T5 where the assistance awaited but it was then time to justify that one could actually sit in a chair without injury requiring the manager to come down to assess. The next challenge for them was to find Superbunny, luckily we were in deep conversation with two managers discussing the mess that Heathrow is currently in which passed the time!

After negotiating the chaos of passport control and passing through the baggage hall, it was time to head to T3 Lost Property via the Underground. Unbeknown to us, Lost Property closes at 4pm and, as it is dealt with by an external company, Heathrow can’t access that area after that time! Anyway, the wheelchair is now in the hands of an electronic system and will supposedly be delivered to Bristol when it is found…we will see!

My travels take me to Oslo in Norway next from the 12th – 15th September; one of the two remaining countries that I have yet to visit in Northern Europe. Once again we are flying from Heathrow…surely they will have more staff by then??

Day 4 (Zagreb) – Where Is The Lake?

After an exhilarating day yesterday visiting Ljubljana, today was more of a calm day in preparation for our return to good old Heathrow tomorrow. The plan was to explore the opposite side of the city and have a wander along the river. Over breakfast, we discovered that there is actually a lake with a beach beside the river hence that became our target.

As per usual, we enlisted trusty Google Maps, however, it failed to recognise the steps leading from said bridge over the river down to the path. A large detour was necessary through a very exciting Zagreb housing estate…you can’t say that you don’t experience culture being in a wheelchair! Finally, we hit the path, you can’t really say that it’s a river path as it was hard to see the actual river but a nice stroll all the same…

Looking down on Satellite view, said lake didn’t look that far so we walked, walked and walked…no sign of beach. As I needed to get back to the hotel to do some work, we ditched that idea and took one of the many off shoots back to the main road. By pure chance, this road was the one with the TOWER…

Now, I said yesterday that I would check out the accessibility of the public transportation in Zagreb and this road provided the perfect opportunity. As in many cities across Central and Eastern Europe, Zagreb is home to a tram network, however, the rolling stock is a mix of old and new. Only the new stock is ‘low floor’ but still has quite a large step to negotiate (with a pull down ramp) when boarding…

Buses are probably a better option as they have the conventional ramped access.

Later on, we were shocked to discover that the PA (who had the day off) actually found said lake in just 50 minutes compared to our 2.5 hour trek!!

Tomorrow we head back home into the mess of LHR, will we find the wheelchair?

Day 3 (Ljubljana) – Trains, Castles and Bridges

Today was the return of European train travel (well since 2015) as we headed Ljubljana in Slovenia. The thought of getting old struck me when the floor near the information point was lined with sleeping British teenagers or in their early 20s clearly inter-railing Europe…oh what it was like to be young and innocent!

Anyway, as per 2015, I pre-booked assistance with both Croatian and Slovenian railways (as it’s two separate systems which is rather annoying) and as soon as we informed the assistance team on the platform, the mobile ramp/lift was rolling down to greet us (Zagreb is one termini for the Euro City routes so was already waiting for our presence). Now, when I booked the train, I was notified that there wasn’t any wheelchair spaces so I didn’t know what to expect but all became apparent when I was lifted up to the door…

It was my arch nemesis, the DEATH train coming back to haunt me! That is probably a slight exaggeration, let me explain. If you read my inter-railing blog back in 2015, you may remember that there was this one train (from Vienna to Katowice) that was completely inaccessible and contained narrow walkways with sudden drops when you reach the door. Yes, that was our train to Ljubljana also. Essentially, as you enter the carriage, you have to turn a corner to access the walkway which runs down the carriage with the compartments spurring off. Of course, said corner also contains a drop where the steps leading to the opposite door are leaving not much at all for any wheelchair to safely pass. The only way is to hug the wall, let the wheels skim the drop and hope for the best. However, the fun doesn’t stop there as you have to then navigate the walkway and shove yourself into your compartment…

After a 40 minute delay, we were off! The train to Zagreb to Ljubljana is estimated to take 2.5 hours, however, it does not take into account the additional 20 minute delay at the border when both the Croatian and Slovenian border force jump onboard to stamp passports. Although both countries are bordering one another, the scenery difference is stark; although the Zagreb region of Croatia has a hilly backdrop, as you travel deeper into Slovenia, the hills start to become mountains for which the railway line weaves it’s way around, a little like Austria (all this to a background noise of a group of British inter railers falling out with each other).

Anyway, we arrived at Ljubljana shortly after 11 and guess what…no ramp to be seen! However, after a little hand gesturing, all was dandy. Despite Ljubljana being quite a modern station, it still lacks platform elevators hence stair lifts were used to access the subway. What is odd is that there is an elevator from the subway to street level!

As usual, the area around the station is delightfully tacky yet has accessible restaurants to take advantage of. Even more so than Zagreb, everything in Ljubljana is within walking distance hence its only a 10 minute walk into the centre…

As in Zagreb, most of the surfaces are smooth and even when there is cobbles, smooth pavements are present making it ideal for Superbunny.

One of the main draws to the city is it’s castle and its funicular (another one!) so we just had to go! As the castle was renovated and the funicular was built in 2007, both parts are fully accessible and you are able to ride the latter for FREE if you are disabled!

Whilst at the castle, we headed off to a lesser know tourist spot to marvel at the cityscape…

With a few hours left of our Slovenian excursion, it was only right just to head back down to the centre, take in the sights and get lost in the process (oh and avoid downpours!)…

It was then time to step back onboard DEATH train. The additional issue this time being that the train was coming from Frankfurt meaning that the compartments would be fuller. Not to worry though as a very helpful Slovenian woman took charge once I was onboard and, in effect, kicked out a British group out of a compartment (even when they tried to kick off themselves) so I could enter…don’t mess with Slovenian women! As we neared Zagreb, the guard came and asked if we needed assistance and proceeded to call through to ensure the ramp was waiting…like being back home! Slight issue with the ramp not lowering though…

Tomorrow is our last day in Zagreb, the plan is to wander down to the river and just a general gander. I also need to suss out the accessibility of the public transportation…

Day 2 (Zagreb) – Old Town and Smooth Streets

As per my previous post, the plan for today was to explore the city and, in particular, the Old Town. One thing that is immediately noticeable when wandering up to the centre is how wide and smooth the pavements are, even drop curbs can be seen at nearly every junction, perfect for rolling about on (beats some of the well known cities for accessibility)…

Anyway, we marched through the main square and into the tourist hotspot of the Old Town containing the main sights such as Zagreb Cathedral…

Now, most of the ‘Old Town’ parts of cities that I have visited i.e. Tallinn have cobbled streets presumably to preserve the ‘authenticity’ of the area which is understandable, not so great for Superbunny. However, it seems that more and more cities (first in Bratislava and now seen in Zagreb) are removing said cobbles and replacing with a smooth surface imitation. This makes for perfect rolling and enjoying the sights without being bumped to death…

Like most European cities, most of the shops and restaurants have a step up, however, everywhere has outdoor seating which solves the latter (unless you are muggins who has a phobia of pidgins in which case you have to hunt for a shopping centre or the occasional restaurant that has level access!). This Old Town had very much of an Austrian vibe also.

Next up was the Funicular railway (apparently the shortest one in the world according to our airport taxi driver?). I Googled this beforehand and thought that there was no way that this could be accessible but the driver was adamant so we gave it a shot. Turns out that he was correct as a stair lift was uncovered to transport Superbunny up the steps to the entrance from which it was level access…just a little tight getting into the thing…what is a bit of paint scratching though? Anyway, it presented marvelous views of the city…

It is a 6am start tomorrow as we head to Zagreb station to catch the 7:02am train to Ljubljana in Slovenia for the day…oh I do love a bit of European train travel and the associated antics!

Day 1 (Zagreb) – A Lost Wheelchair

Before I start waffling on about my travels this time to Croatia and Slovenia, I thought it thrilling to mention that Lisbon decided to give one COVID, such a nice present to bring back from Portugal isn’t that? Perhaps it means that I won’t bring it home this time, who knows…

Anyway, let’s talk about the epicentre of the UK, London Heathrow which is currently in my bad books. As the flight was scheduled to depart at 08:55, it was decided that we would leave old Bristol at 4am to give ample time for everything…apparently not! After a trip around the car park for 20 minutes at 6am, we entered the fantastic T3. Now, check in at Heathrow is usually fast and seamless, oh no, not this time. To be fair to the guy, he just had it out with the person in front of us being very picky about his seating arrangements. As usual, we dropped off the manual wheelchair at oversized baggage, headed through security and headed to the gate with 20 minutes to spare…time flies when you are at LHR and it is at this point that the fun starts. One always thinks that every plane out of Heathrow has a jetway attachment so I can leave Superbunny at the door, no, our plane was out at stand meaning that we were rushed into the van, Bristol style! On the journey across the airfield, we learnt all about the staff shortages from one of the managers who got roped in to assist us. Shortly after taking our BA seats, we were informed of a 30 minute delay due to baggage belt issues, this was then followed by a very apologetic announcement by the captain that some checked in luggage was to be left behind at T3, luckily we only brought hand luggage. It then dawned on me that we had checked in the manual wheelchair, meh, surely it would be a priority right? Our 30 minutes were up and ATC literally kicked us out of T3 meaning that we were tugged to, what the captain called a ‘scenic’ point of the airfield meaning that we could watch the runway whilst we waited for our slot…how nice of LHR!

After just a 115 minute flight, we touched down at Zagreb, I’m sure that captains are becoming more friendly as the guy came out to us and reassured that he had signed to confirm that Superbunny was onboard (learn something new everyday!). As protocol, we were rushed through the back to the baggage collection which, with only 2 or 3 planes visible was eerily quiet. The only thing we were waiting for was the manual wheelchair, we stared at the oversized baggage shoot for 30 minutes, nothing came, waited in ‘Lost and Found’ for 60 minutes only to be told that the UK is a mess and they can’t do much hence I have now tasked a PA back home with the nice job of finding out where exactly it has gone!

Now, it took me about two weeks to find an accessible taxi to take us from the airport to the hotel, turned out to be an accessible minibus courtesy of TravelAble (poor driver was waiting for over 2 hours). The end i.e. the hotel was in sight!!

We are staying in the Hilton Canopy which is a 5 minute walk from the train station in preparation for the trip to Ljubljana on Tuesday…also directly above the tram track…always love a clickity clack whilst trying to sleep? Anyway, the room is just as you would expect from a Hilton accessible room…

As our taxi driver mentioned, all the sights in Zagreb are within walking distance so the plan for tomorrow is simply meander around the city side of the river…

Day 4 (Lisbon) – The T2 Experience + Croatia Itinerary

…and the answer to the former cliffhanger is a big no! As predicted, the hotel booked a large taxi rather than a wheelchair accessible vehicle thinking that Superbunny could just fold up resulting in the staff frantically seeking one at 6.30am, easy right? Of course not! The Metro subsequently became our preferred option.

As I explained previously, our Easyjet flight to and from Bristol utilises T2 which is located on the other side of the airfield with no safe way of walking between terminals (it was pure chance that the assistance van dropped us at T1 when we arrived). T2 does not have access to the Metro hence it is necessary to catch a shuttle bus from the station to said terminal. As per usual, the bus has a ramp and a wheelchair space (which is a little tight but works all the same) and takes around 3 minutes.

Although T2 was designed with the vision of creating a ‘more functional and modern space’ for passengers than T1, personally it felt like meandering around an extra large cow shed! However, the main perk with this design was the dedicated security area for passengers requiring assistance, although it appeared as if we were entering the toilets…Anyway, our flight was scheduled for 10am and we were asked to wait in a certain area until assistance came to collect us. The time was now 9:25am and no one was in sight hence we headed to the gate by ourselves. Of course, the majority of passengers were already queuing so barging was in order. After a few conversations amongst different departments in Portuguese, the assistance resumed, even Bristol showed up immediately, shocking!

In just over 3 weeks, I will be travelling to the capital of Croatia, Zagreb for a few days. During this time, I plan to explore the city in addition to catching the train to Ljubljana (capital of Slovenia). If you recall my Inter-railing trip in 2015, you will know that the trains that operate through this part of Europe aren’t exactly new and accessible…said train to Ljubljana doesn’t even have a wheelchair space hence Superbunny will be confined to the hotel that day. Oh and accessible taxis are scarce in Croatia, took around 2 weeks of various companies chatting with each other just to arrange an airport transfer. Also, it is a 4am start to make the 8:55am flight from Heathrow much to the delight of PAs!

Day 3 (Lisbon) – Cable Cars and Sea Creatures

Before we delve into todays happenings, there are two nuggets of information that I omitted from the past two posts. Firstly, if you are attempting to navigate the Lisbon Metro, it’s useful to know that some drivers like to shut the train doors rather quickly after arriving at the station even when you are between said doors, oh, and the lift doors clearly do not have sensors on as the PAs have quickly discovered! The other nugget being that people in the street are adamant on selling you Marijuana…

Anyway, back to today, sticking to the plan, we headed to Parque das Nações for a gander. The weather today has been a mix of sunshine and heavy downpours thus we worked around said downpours. Although the area has been redeveloped, there is plenty of street art to keep one occupied whilst wandering…

A short walk from the Metro led us to the Estação Oriente train station which is recognised internationally for it’s architecture and you know what my love for trains is like!

Whilst wandering around the station, I noted that Portugal adopts the same way of boarding a wheelchair as the majority of its European counterparts (bar the UK) do in the form of a mobile lift which you simply roll onto and then the staff winches you up and positions the lift enabling a smooth transition onto the train…why do Network Rail make it so complicated in the UK???

The next heading was towards the Telecabine Lisbon cable car which runs along the waterfront providing views of the surrounding areas. Upon arrival, it was clear that there would be no way of getting Superbunny on due to the step up thus we suggested to the staff that I would walk on etc. It seemed as if their biggest concern was us leaving an electric wheelchair at the station thus the guy began to Google Superbunnys dimensions shortly followed by a ramp ushering us to board the ‘adapted’ car (at least said ramp was made properly rather than a wooden plank as in Russia!)…

After disembarking (much to the delight of a PA), the downpours began and it was decided that we would have a wander around Lisbon Aquarium which muggins entered for FREE with a PA receiving a 50% discount…it’s difficult to spend money even in a country like Portugal! Spectacular views of penguins etc awaited us…

It’s a 6am start tomorrow as we head back to the airport for the 10am flight back to old Bristol. Definitely T2 this time meaning that a taxi is preferred otherwise it’s an early Metro and Shuttle Bus…The cliffhanger here is if we can source an accessible taxi and how long will Bristol keep said plane waiting?

Day 2 (Lisbon) – Lifts and Tarts

The plan for today was simple; catch the Metros Red and Blue line down to the waterfront (Well…Praça do Comércio) and then meander our way back to the hotel through the historic centre stopping by the Santa Justa Lift and other sights of interest…

Although the streets around the majority of Lisbon are made to look like cobbles with mosaic patterns, the surfaces are, in fact, rather smooth to roll around on (a little like Bratislava). After a short wander, we stumbled upon the majestic Santa Justa Lift…

As you approach said structure, you will note that it is enshrouded by steps. Following advice from another blog, one PA went to inform the relevant individuals, however, as we were waiting beside the lift, the operator spotted us and quickly took us to the accessible entrance. In addition to this, the operator accepted our Metro cards…

Although it is only accessible to the midpoint (and the alternate entrance and exit have steps, it still provides panoramic views of the city…

The remainder of the day consisted of a journey to the hotel without using Google Maps, passing through parks, various monuments, oh and sampling a Portuguese Custard Tart…fun times!

The plan for tomorrow is to hop on the Metro (again!) to explore the Parque das Nações area which was initially built for the 1998 Expo and has since been expanded into a modern space (in contrast to today) consisting of an architectural gem of a train station (which keeps appearing on various TV programmes), an enjoyable cable car and more!

Day 1 (Lisbon) – Oh Bristol, you never learn!

Upon my return from Uzbekistan in October 2019, it never even came into consideration that my next travels would not happen for another 2.5 years! Anyway, yesterday was the day that I finally exited the country and what better place to begin than trusty Bristol airport…

For those who regularly follow my travels, you will have come to the conclusion that I rather dislike said airport as it is clear that the sight of Superbunny (electric wheelchair) sends them into panic mode. As per protocol, we cleared security in plenty of time (it may have been a good idea to check both wheelchairs for spanners beforehand?) and took our customary seat in the ‘Passenger Assistance’ area until our names were called. Now, the flight was scheduled to depart at 13:45pm, 13:40pm approached and we were still stuck in the ‘area’. Luckily, one of the PAs was already on the plane so we had privileged knowledge of what the unfolding situation was like. Essentially, at Bristol airport, if your plane is far away from the terminal, you are required to travel across the airfield in an accessible van for which there is currently a shortage of ‘airfield’ drivers to drive said vehicles. As 14:00pm approached, our fellow passengers were beginning to get rather agitated about the situation despite the captain explaining that the situation was beyond their control. Eventually, we arrived on the concrete apron around 14:15pm to discover the dispatcher (or the equivalent in airports) simply chilling in the sun whilst the captain came down to lend a hand for whatever is needed (the thought of a young captain coming to our savior very much pleased a PA!). After all of this palaver, the flight seemed to go rather fast with complementary food and drink to compensate followed by a debrief from the captain.

Now, the original plan was to arrive and catch the Lisbon Metro to a 5 minute walk of the hotel. This was deviation from when I discovered that we would actually be arriving into T2 where an additional shuttle bus would be required to access the Metro located outside of T1 thus it was easier to catch a taxi. Fortunately, the driver of the van used to remove us from the plane decided to drop us at T1 as we only had hand luggage (presumably…very strange if not!) making the Metro the cheapest option.

I would say around 50% of the Metro system in Lisbon possess lifts which is great compared to 33% of the London Underground. However, the only caveat is that the train isn’t quite flush with the platform making for a small step. There is an option to request a ramp from staff (if you know a little Portuguese) or simply perform a wheelie! All in all, it’s a great way to explore the city…

We are staying in the Evolution Lisboa hotel for the duration, the Portuguese version of accessibility is very similar to the UK. Apart from the mod cons of all the rooms (automatic blinds, Bluetooth connectivity, USB chargers etc). One of the benefits of the accessible rooms is a very spacious wet room with two shower chairs to pick from…

The plan for tomorrow is to catch the Metro down to the waterfront and then meander our way through the city centre stopping by the Santa Justa lift and sampling the famous Portuguese Custard Tarts!

Let’s (hopefully!) go travelling again…

Two years ago this week, governments around the world were scrambling around trying to stop the spread of COVID, in the UK, old Boris finally announced a nationwide lockdown on the 23rd March and then…silence! The world was able to take a breath as we all hid, nature was able to reclaim it’s habitat and cities such as Delhi were clearly visible due to the pollution levels hitting record lows…pity that we haven’t learnt from that period of tranquillity.

Anyway, as the world is very slowly emerging from the depths of the pandemic and learning to live with COVID, it seems the right time for me to travel once more and explore more of what the world has to offer. However, as the war on Ukraine seems to have no sign of stopping any time soon, the plans for this year will be in reverse in the vein hope that peace will be restored by the Winter months (we can live in hope but who knows with the horrific scenes currently playing out).

Bar the Madrid trip, you will note that I have yet to visit the entirety of southern Europe thus I will be doing exactly that this year. To begin with, I have planned a few days in Lisbon (Portugal) between the 14th and 17th June followed in July by a few days in Zagreb (Croatia). However, let’s face it, I can’t visit Europe with some kind of train excursion thus I will be taking the 2.5 hour train whilst in Zagreb to Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. According to many sources, Slovenia is the only country in Central Europe that I haven’t visited but that fact seems to be a little controversial with some saying that Romania and Serbia should be included.

Regarding accessibility for Superbunny, it seems that Lisbon is pretty much there (which one would expect from a popular tourist destination) in terms of rolling around the city, just perhaps a little bumpy! Less is known about Zagreb and Ljubljana, however, from a quick scoot around on trusty Google Maps, it doesn’t look too bad but we will see…(and hopefully Superbunny won’t leak this year!)