Zagreb – July 2022

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…

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