Day 3 (Yerevan) – Trekking to The Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial

Well I can’t say that we weren’t warned about the lack of accessibility outside the city! One planned the route to The Genocide Memorial on Maps which looked pretty easy for Superbunny, however one forgot that we are in a former Soviet state. If you followed my travels around Zagreb, Riga etc, you may remember reading my quarrels with Soviet road design, mainly the construction of wide avenues that can only be crossed using underpasses with steps being the only way down and up. Granted, Yerevan has many more street level crossings and even a few stairlifts on some underpasses, however it still means extra planning.

Since I stepped foot in Armenia, society has been very welcoming and willing to lend a hand if they see you struggling or need help despite the language barrier. On our route to the Memorial, it was necessary to cross one of these avenues but unfortunately the stairlift down to the underpass was out of order. No worries though, a passerby pointed for us to cross the road and proceeded to stop 6 lanes of traffic for us (the drivers all seemed to adhere and stop).

Despite this, as soon as you step out the city centre, the road layout makes it difficult for even an abled person to cross, let alone an electric wheelchair…

The climax of all this happened when the pavement on a 6 lane road became too narrow for a wheelchair and the opposite pavement contained steps…we tried! It was thus back to the hotel for a change of wheelchair and a taxi (costing around £2) before eventually reaching the The Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex.

As we visited on Independence Day, the museum element was closed, however there is an accessible entrance. The memorial is situated atop of a hill overlooking the city of Yerevan and in the shadows of Mount Ararat (supposedly the resting place of Noahs Ark…fun fact of the day) hence providing majestic views…

The next mission was to reach the Dalma Garden Mall which is almost adjacent to said memorial, for some food, easy right? Well no, road designs strike again as there is a dual carriageway separating the two with the only safe crossing being a footbridge with steps, how many times are we going to dice with death on this trip? Dalma Garden Mall is just your average shopping mall containing a variety of shops and a food court, nothing special to see…

As one was using the manual wheelchair, we decided to try our luck using the ggTaxi app (the Armenian version of Uber) where 95% of the vehicles are big enough to fit such wheelchair, worked perfectly!

As the conflict with Azerbaijan worsens, it has been difficult to navigate the city without getting caught up in protests or road blocks so our eating options are limited this week, however, still enough to sample the Armenian cuisine.

The original plan for tomorrow was to catch the train to Lake Sevan (largest lake in the Caucasus), however the only train leaves at 8am with the station being a 25 minute drive from the hotel. As Superbunny is going to stay at the hotel regardless and the drive to the Lake is only around 67 minutes, we are now going to taxi it (costing around $17.50 each way), let’s see what Armenian motorways are like!

Day 2 (Yerevan) – The Pink City

Before I start discussing the accessibility of Yerevan aka The Pink City, I have been reliably informed that the cost of the accessible bus from the airport costs around $0.70 each way, we were definitely ripped off there!

Before visiting Yerevan, I found little information on the accessibility of the city bar the fact that there are drop curbs in existence (only from a quick scout on Google) so I was unsure what to expect. One was therefore surprised to discover that the city centre is very easy to roll around in Superbunny with drop curbs in appropriate places in addition to ramps wherever steps are located.

One of the only good things of the original Soviet built streets is the wide pavements as we also saw in Zagreb, perfect for a smooth roll.

As today was a recovery day from the mammoth travel day, we took a general wander around the city (which is very walkable) taking in the sights such as Republic Square…

As I mentioned yesterday, we had planned a meeting with the president of the Disability Rights Agenda NGO. We discussed various subjects gaining an insight into the lives of disabled people in Armenia and the negative consequences that the current conflict with Azerbaijan is having on said individuals. Regarding the accessibility of Yerevan, we learnt that it has increased in the past few years with the introduction of low-floor buses etc.

Tomorrow we take a stroll outside the centre to Tsitsernakaberd Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex. We have been warned not to expect the same level of accessibility outside the centre, see how we get on!

Day 1 (Yerevan) – The Charles De Gaulle Airport Experience

Can you believe that it has been 4 years (nearly to the date) that one has ventured outside of the Europe region? It’s about time therefore that one returns to veering off the beaten track into the unknown in terms of accessibility. The next few years are shaping up to be a very exciting time to explore the world in an electric wheelchair as major infrastructure projects, especially in Asia are expected to be completed which will, not only open up said countries to disabled travellers but also change the lives of residents with disabilities…more details will be revealed over the coming months! Anyway, let’s discuss this Armenian adventure…

As there is no direct flights from the UK to Armenia, one planned to fly from Bristol to Paris (Charles De Gaulle) where we would have a 7 hour stay before heading onto Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. As Easyjet arrives at T2 at CDG and FlyOne Armenia departs from T1, it gave us ample time to explore the airport and the CDGVAL transportation system.

Now, I have heard bad things about Charles De Gaulle and wheelchairs hence one was expecting some kind of drama so was pleasantly surprised when Superbunny was waiting on the jet bridge less than 15 minutes of landing! Once through the usual border control, we began our jaunt through the various T2 sub terminals to the free CDGVAL which transports you to T1 and T3. As T2 is home to a TGV station and the last time one visited France was 2015, it was only appropriate to have a gander around…

The CDGVAL has it’s own dedicated station away from said TGV station complete with elevators and level boarding making for a smooth roll and off albeit when the doors trap you…

In a matter of minutes, the concrete jungle of T1 appeared where we would spend 5 hours of our lives at. Before coming to Armenia, one purchased a few Apple AirTags so I could keep track of both wheelchairs in case we got separated. This came in handy as the policy at CDG (like Oslo) is that electric wheelchairs must be left at check in before passing through security etc. AirTags are also useful to ensure the wheelchairs are on said plane.

After another 4.5 hour delayed flight on a rather relaxed airline (don’t know if that is a good or bad thing?) , we touched down in Yerevan where one had organised an accessible taxi to take us to our hotel courtesy of VMA Assistance. Until very recently, buses to and from the airport were not accessible, however, I believe that a new bus route was inaugurated in the summer with low-floor buses. The only issue is that the schedule ceases at 11pm and we landed after this time, ahh well, times are definitely changing for the better though?

Before exiting the terminal, we still had the issue of reuniting with Superbunny. There was some confusion as to whether or not the Ambulift would be utilised, however as it was past midnight, I think the staff simply wished to clock off hence it was a manhandle down the steps! The AirTag proved useful again in tracking Superbunny which had been put with the rest of the luggage.

One paid 370 Euro for a return trip to the airport in Yerevan. For this price, we gained THREE staff and TWO taxis (one for the luggage and the other for the wheelchairs)…can’t complain with that! As predicted, one received a fuss and has already been asked to return to Armenia…

As we eventually reached our hotel at 2am, tomorrow is a rest day with a gentle wander around Yerevan planned and then one has a meeting with the president of the Disability Rights Agenda NGO for Armenia to discuss rights etc in the country…should be interesting!

Day 5 (Milan) – Hotel Ibis Milano Centrale

Before I begin waffling on about the Milan Malpensa airport experience, let’s briefly discuss the hotel room. As Ibis is a global chain, you know what to expect (mostly!) in terms of accessibility. Ones room was called ‘luxury’ compared to the other rooms due to its size, amenities and environmental controls, quite a contrast from the hotel in Athens…

Anyway, back to today, thunderstorms were predicted for the morning time, however we were presented with a light show and the loudest thunder claps one has heard for a while at 1am. Trudging through the soaked streets at 6am, we headed back to Milano Centrale to catch the Milan Malpensa Airport Express. Although the station is gigantic in size, its easy to find the dedicated platforms situated on the far left.

Approximately 60 minutes later, we arrived back at T2 which is dedicated to EasyJet hence its prudent not to expect luxury! After a while of insisting that 105kg was acceptable on EasyJet, we were hurried to the gate even though the flight wasn’t scheduled to depart for another 2 hours…efficiency once again.

Unfortunately the rainy weather conditions in Bristol did not favour the cable on Superbunny finally accepting defeat…good timing that!!

My next adventure takes one to the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, on the 19th September with a train journey to explore Lake Sevan, the biggest lake in the Caucuses. As there are wheelchair accessible taxis available in Yerevan (surprisingly!), Superbunny will be joining to see what the city has to offer access wise. It’s also the first time that Superbunny will journey on connecting flights (heard bad things about Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris though) so that will be interesting to say the least!

Day 4 (Milan) – Modern Milan

As one explored the historical side of the city on day two, it was time to explore the modern side of Milan including TOWERS (how I have missed towers this year!). The city seems to have two distinct areas for this purpose, one, very coincidentally (well…) is located near our hotel. I have always wanted to visit the Bosco Verticale (Vertical Forest) ever since it crept up in various architecture blogs hence that is what happened…(it’s two apartment blocks so the view from below had to suffice!)

The M5 Metro is conveniently located to the rear of said buildings and takes you to the CityLife district which is a little like Canary Wharf in London with a gigantic shopping mall located below several skyscrapers. Opposed to the M1, M2 and M3, the M5 is relatively modern hence has level access, elevators etc making for a smooth journey.

Although the area only boasts three skyscrapers, it was enough to fulfil ones tower quota for the trip…

As I mentioned, the area has a gigantic shopping mall including shops and restaurants and you know that said places are ones preferred location to eat as they are enclosed away from pigeons right? It’s just my luck that one decided to fly in (doors automatically shut mind you) and become trapped, what is it with this trip!

Anyway, the final stop in Milan was the Branca Tower observation deck, however the challenge was to get to the thing as it is located in a park which has been shut since the tornado last week (to be fair, it did look like a mess with numerous debris, even around it’s perimeter). Trusty Maps refused to accept that the park was shut hence logic was required to reach the entrance.

As the tower was constructed in 1933 for the Triennale, I did imagine it to be akin to the Petrin Tower in Prague with the smallest lift possible to reach the top. However the difference between Czechia and Italy is that the latter country has way more health and safety rules meaning that even ones manual wheelchair would be too heavy and big for said lift…ahh well, we tried!

As the day was hotting up and the remnants of the tornado were becoming endless, we hopped on the M1 back to the hotel (with the same assistance as per the M2…can’t fault it really!).

It’s an early start tomorrow as we head back to Milan Malpensa Airport via Milano Centrale and return to rainy Bristol.

Day 3 (Florence) – Wonders of Florence

Today was a ‘train’ day (let’s call these days this from now on!) as we headed down to Florence on the Frecciarossa from Milano Centrale. When booking, I was instructed to be at the assistance point 30 minutes prior to departure (one is usually told this in the UK, however 30 minutes means 10 with me, thought I would behave this time) and, like that, a guy from Sala Blu (Assistance division of Italian Railways) was waiting for us to assist through the station and onto the subsequent train…

It always intrigues the way that different countries load Superbunny onto trains, the majority of European countries use swivel lifts and Italy is no exception (bar the fact that this one actually worked unlike Croatia!). The swivel lift is a simple piece of equipment where you drive on, it lifts up to the level of said train and then staff twist the thing so you can drive straight onto the train (although nothing can beat a good old ramp to whizz down when one is in a rush in the UK!)…

Spacious wheelchair space also…

After reaching speeds of 300km/h through the Italian countryside, said train pulled into Florence. When visiting European cities, there is always the issue surrounding level access into restaurants (even in Milan) thus I was pleasantly surprised to have a plethora of accessible restaurants to choose from, perhaps due to the number of tourists?

Our first stop was to marvel at the gigantic Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore which is much taller than imagined…

The accessibility entrance is located to the side although not signposted whatsoever…just bang on the door with a ramp until someone let’s you in! Again, disabled individuals can enter for FREE!

All the main sights of Florence such as the Ponte Vecchio and Pitti Palace are within walking distance and can be done in a few hours…

Providing that you stick to the pedestrianised centre, everything is pretty accessible. Granted that there is a small number of cobbled streets, however, Superbunny seemed to have no problem tackling these (either that or one has become accustomed to such areas after visiting Riga in Latvia or Tallinn in Estonia). The issues start when you begin to venture out of the centre where the pavements narrow considerably and you have buses approaching that are the width of the road…good for hunting Gelato places though!

As our train back to Milan wasn’t until 20:55, there was plenty of time to sample the Tuscan cuisine and general wandering. Outside the city centre, Florence is home to a tram network which uses modern rolling stock with level access alongside buses with conventional ramps.

Although our wandering and cuisine sampling was passing the time, it was decided that we would try our luck catch the 19:55 train instead (trains from Milan to Naples stopping at Florence seem to run every hour). With the assistance of Sala Blu, we were able to change our tickets for just 5 euro per person.

Tomorrow, we explore the modern side of Milan by catching the M5 to the CityLife district with a visit to the Branca Tower to round off this Italian adventure.

Day 2 (Milan) – Landmarks and Metros

Last week, Milan experienced a powerful tornado thus you are likely to stumble across fallen trees (even a crushed car near the hotel) if you are wandering around the city currently which is a little difficult if it’s blocking the pavement!

As a result, a few parks were closed thus it was the road way down to the centre, quite pleasant to wander the streets without watching out for potholes or drop curbs for once…

Eventually, the marvel of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II presented itself before us, it probably goes without saying that it is nice and accessible whilst packed full of designer shops and restaurants…

Rolling through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II leads you swiftly to the Duomo di Milano…

Now, as I am attempting to do this trip on a budget, I was in two minds whether to go inside. However it transpires that a disabled individual and one companion can enter for FREE and, even better, access the rooftop via a lift…who wouldn’t say no to that!!

I will say that the walkway to access the rooftop from the lift is quite narrow, Superbunny only just managed it (with a little manpower). However it provides panoramic views over the city…

The next stop on the list (bar McDonalds) was the Naviglio Grande canal located to the South of the city for some food. Now, you know how picky one is about restaurants being inside away from my furry friends, we found a nice quiet restaurant without many pigeons around, 10 minutes later, the outside seating became a bird party. This was fine until the people seated started to become frustrated with said birds and, yes, a few decided to fly in for a brief moment before realising that it was the inside. Needless to say, the owners had to close every door and window for one to re-enter!

Anyway, after that ordeal, it was time to sample the Milan metro, however, before I discuss that, let’s briefly talk trams. The city uses two types of rolling stock (as in many European places), unfortunately Milan opts for the older stock on the majority of lines (perhaps to maintain the feel of Milan?) which are completely inaccessible with steps leading up to the vehicle hence the metro or the buses are the best way to traverse the city in a wheelchair.

Milan has 4 metro lines with another under construction (as of 2023) with nearly every station being accessible. However, it is worth noting that some stations have stair lifts rather than elevators which can be confusing if you are used to seeking out lifts in back alleys…

From prior research, I knew that the rolling stock on the M1, M2 and M3 had quite a big gap and step up hence needed to ask the staff for a portable ramp. As per the London Underground, the staff contacted the destination station with ones location in order for Superbunny to get back off…

Tomorrow, we head back to Milano Centrale to board the Frecciarossa (high speed train) to Florence taking just 2 hours! Who knows what Florence has to offer a wheelchair user…

Day 1 (Milan) – Milan Malpensa Airport Express

It may seem incomprehensible that one has visited over 40 countries but is yet to visit Italy which is practically on the UK’s doorstep? Well not any more as the exploration of Milan and Florence begins.

With a few new cables for Superbunny and the Cerberus heatwave keeping to the south (for now!), we took the 1.75 hour flight from Bristol landing in Milan to 27C. Upon disembarking onto the ambulift (which arrived before the passenger shuttles…now that is efficiency!), the captain explained that they were unable to turn off the chair in Bristol. Most airports would simply leave it after checking that it wouldn’t move but no, Bristol had to mess around with the cables and rip apart the one that I have yet to replace meaning that the chair won’t turn on unless the connection has been made (swear that one should train to be an engineer), Ahh well, perhaps by the next trip to Armenia, every cable will be brand new!

Anyway, enough of the usual airport drama, let’s discuss the Milan Malpensa Airport Express which transports you from the terminal to Milano Centrale in around 60 minutes (slightly longer from T2). As one had already bought tickets online (saving around £40), we headed onto the platform in the hope of catching said train that was scheduled to leave in 1 minute. Luckily, the driver saw some British tourists approaching and kindly waited for us to board. Akin to the Heathrow Express in London, the train doors are level with the platform (well, there is a really small gap if we are getting picky!) thus easy to roll on and off.

Our hotel (ibis Milano Centro) is conveniently situated around 10 minute walk from Milano Centro making it easy access to said train, the metro network and high-speed train services (which we will be using to travel to Florence)…wonder who booked that?

Tomorrow we plan to head into the centre and take in the usual tourists sights including the Duomo di Milano and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II plus sampling the Milan Metro

(I must say that it is nice to be back in a city with actual drop curbs!)

Day 5 (Athens) – Athens International Airport

The answer to that is a surprising yes! As Athens is a major airport similar to London Heathrow or Gatwick, checking in an electric wheelchair seemed to be a breeze for staff making the journey to the plane go without a hitch for once (bar having to inform the baggage handlers that it’s not possible to take the whole controller off!

After a mini tour of the UK with work and a few running repairs to Superbunny (most likely caused by the amount of wheeling up and down drop kerbs that didn’t exist!), I will be travelling to Italy for the first time (even though it’s so close to the UK!) on the 26th July. During this, one will be exploring Milan and taking the high speed train to Florence!

Day 4 (Athens) – A General Wander

The noise of said dual carriageway was replaced by the sound of music emanating from the nearby Athens Concert Hall last night, what better way to fall asleep than listening to a bit of Greek music?

As mentioned yesterday, the plan for today was to head down to Piraeus (again!) on the M3 to take a stroll along the waterfront taking in the sights of Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center. However, you may be wondering also what is happening with the Acropolis situation? After several attempts, the hotel managed to contact said attraction last night who informed them that the elevator had been fixed but only for a few hours before braking again! The thought then crossed my mind, what if I get stuck up there with Superbunny and have to wait hours on end until it is fixed, do I really want to to take that risk? Rather not!

Anyway, the M3 was, again, successful in transporting us down to Dimotiko Theatro (which is located in Piraeus) to make a connection with the tram. This metro line has been invaluable for the past few days taking one from the airport, down to the ferry terminal and connecting with the trams. I think Athens may have given a calling as the latter two stations only opened in October 2022!

The tram stop is located adjacent to the metro station elevator and is like any other modern tram network with level access etc. Some lines go up to near the Acropolis but we decided to take a journey along the waterfront. What one thought was the stop for the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center was actually the one for the Peace and Friendship Stadium, still an architectural marvel nonetheless…

It needs to be said that the area around the stadium and waterfront is a story of two tales; on one hand you have a thriving harbour dotted with restaurants offering a variety of Mediterranean cuisine (including grilled squid) and on the other you have half constructed and abandoned apartments, perhaps as a result of the Greek financial crisis? Oh and a bridge over a waterway with planks either missing or bodged with wooden boards…not for the faint hearted!!

As usual, trusty Google Maps decided to take us on a tour of Piraeus before heading back to the M3…who knew it could be so hilly…

Tomorrow we head back to old Bristol via Athens International, question is will they look after Superbunny?

(Oh and if you are in Athens, you need to try the cakes at ΑΤΤΙΚΑ Αρτοποιεία!)