The challenge of how the hell to navigate Superbunny around, let’s say, two of the lesser accessible countries was a big draw when planning this adventure! Before I start blabbing on about the logistics of everything, it seems that, from watching numerous vlogs on YouTube (as you do), Google Maps has become a prominent navigation tool amongst travellers alike making me feeling more at ease in the knowledge that we are amongst the common using said app!
Anyway, this strategy is rather complicated due to various reasons but all should be dandy (in theory!). As I mentioned in the previous post, the ‘complications’ actually start here on the ground in the UK! The majority of flights to Vilnius in Lithuania are operated by Ryanair. Now, Ryanair, the ‘low cost’ airline that they are refuses to carry Superbunny as its dimensions are ‘too big’ for their aircraft which I know for a fact is a load of crap. Come on, Superbunny has travelled on a twin propeller plane for god sake! Long story short, we are now having to stay in central London for the night (which ain’t cheap) simply so we can fly with a different airline out of London City, all because Ryanair wishes to keep its costs to a minimum. That’s enough ranting for one post!
Now, Lithuania, during the planning process, we soon discovered that there is no such thing as a wheelchair accessible taxi company (or if there is, it’s very well hidden). Luckily for us, we are staying in its capital within which a service called ‘Maltieciai’ operates which, in essence, transports people around the city. The only downfall to this service is that it only operates on weekdays which, theoretically, means that if you are in a wheelchair, haven’t access to a wheelchair accessible vehicle or unable to use public transportation, you are basically screwed on weekends. Now, muggins here decided that it would be a great idea to travel to Minsk on a Sunday thus posing another obstacle!
The original plan was to take a flight between Vilnius and Minsk but, upon further research, this method posed a whole array of issues, the primary one being that I am unsure how well equipped Vilnius and Minsk airport are for transporting electric wheelchairs given the taxi situation. The other one being that Minsk airport is located in practically the middle of nowhere (43km out of the centre) and with Belarus having no accessible taxis to my knowledge, I would rather not arrive in the country plonked at the end of a motorway with little civilisation to ask for help! Instead, we are traveling down via train costing approx. 60 euros for 4 people. The benefit of this is that we depart and arrive in the centre of both cities (actually a stones throw away from our hotel in Minsk) with civilisation to assist if necessary. The one thing to note, however, is that Lithuanian Railways aren’t the best when it comes to booking assistance, no one ever seems to be at the call centre or responding to emails! Luckily, they do say that you can book at the actual station 48 hours prior to departure, you can now guess what the plan is for the first day in Vilnius! The station is conveniently located the opposite side of the city to our hotel, however, you do pass through the Old Town hence killing two birds with one stone. This day will definitely be a manual wheelchair job as the Old Town seems to be similar to Tallinn in Estonia in terms of steps into the majority of shops!
We are staying in the good old Ibis whilst in Vilnius (hopefully without any screeching trams in the dead of night this time!) which is situated in which area you may ask? Of course it had to be in short proximity to the financial district! Lessons learnt from Prague is that shopping centres are a good shout for tea every night and, guess what, the financial district has one.
I think the second and third day will be a ‘make it up as you go’ thing, see what happens there!
On the fourth day, we have the pleasure of traveling 3 hours down to Minsk. When booking the train, I had the option of 7am or 4pm, no guesses as to which I booked, 4pm of course! The theory behind this (bar not having to get up stupidly early) is that we are able to arrive at the station in plenty of time (after a 40 minute walk from the hotel because, remember, the wheelchair transportation doesn’t operate at weekends) to eliminate any potential issues. Another good thing about all of this is that the actual train has a lift (like many European trains) so it should be fairly straightforward…providing it works!
We are staying in the Hampton whilst in Minsk, posh I know…only because it is one of the few accessible hotels! As we only have two days in the city, an actual plan seems a good idea! It was pretty easy to devise really as Minsk has the Svislach River dividing it, one day one side (including a TOWER!) and then catching the metro (renounced for its Soviet architecture) to the other exploring The National Library of The Republic of Belarus and then having a wander down Prospekt Nezavisimosti (basically the main street) to Victory Square. The latter will definitely be a manual wheelchair day as, although a handful of stations have lifts, the step from the platform to the train is way too high for Superbunny (although low floor trains are being introduced shortly).
You may now be wondering how are we going to get back to the end of motorway airport? Ahh now, brace yourself, Minsk may not have publicly known accessible taxis but they do have ACCESSIBLE BUSES TO THE AIRPORT! One last complication, however, you can only fly into London Gatwick from Minsk rather than City meaning the van has to be transported across London.
Certainly will be an adventure…