Wheeling Warsaw – A Warm Welcome

Willkommen! And bienvenue! Welcome!
Fremder, étranger, stranger
Glücklich zu sehen
Je suis enchanté
Happy to see you
Bleibe, reste, stay

Joel Grey

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Yesterday I sent the delegates a reminder about OIFE’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) 2018. This made me think of our visit to Warsaw (Warzawa), Poland in May 2017, which happened because of our 2017 AGM, that took place exactly one year ago. The Polish OI-organisation were our hosts.

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I’ve always had the impression that Polish people are a bit reserved and hard to get to know. There are almost 100.000 Polish people in Norway and they seem to spend time mostly with other Polish people. Perhaps it’s a language thing. Or perhaps they just don’t want to waste time on silly Norwegians, when they can use their time on earning good money instead. Because my other preconception about Polish people is that they are proud and very hard working people.

Before the meeting, the Polish OIFE-delegate Aneta had searched the city for hotels that could cater for 10 wheelchair users or more. This turned out to be a challenging task. Hotels in Warszawa are not very expensive, but they don’t have a lot of wheelchair accessible rooms. Fortunately Best Western Hotel Portos had three wheelchair accessible rooms and the other rooms were also doable. In addition the places next door (a two star hotel and a one star) could also offer a couple of wheelchair accessible rooms if needed. The wheelchair rooms in Best Western Portos were very accessible and had some nice universal design details like adjustable mirrors and wardrobe hangers that could be lowered. Of course this resulted in me forgetting my leather jacket in Poland. Both because the weather in Warzaw was nice, but also because I could actually use the wardrobe hangers. Something I never do…

But thanks to a collaboration between my Polish and Norwegian travel friends, I got my jacket back a few months later. It came together with my tempur travel pillow, that I have become completely addicted to and tend to forget in various places.

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Pedestrian street Nowy Swiat was a nice place to wheel with lots of shops and cafés

Another not so charming “disability access feature” in Best Western was plastic under the sheets in the beds. Perhaps some disabled people need that, but I think they belong to a minority. It reminded me of hospital and was sticky and uncomfortable to sleep on. But besides the plastic sheets, Best Western hotel provided a very pleasant stay with good & flexible service and tasty food.

And I had no reason to worry about how we would get to know the Polish people. Both the hotel staff and the Polish OI-organisation did their best to make us feel welcome with tasty food, drinks and they had even written a special song for our honorary president. So even if there were some smaller language barriers, we felt truly welcome. Dziękuję! (Thank you in Polish).

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The square by the Sigismund’s Column is the entrance to the old town

But relax, I will not bore you with details from our discussions about strategy and financial reports from our AGM. André and I arrived one day early and stayed one day extra, so we had some time for sightseeing as well. We were curious how it would be to move around in the Polish capital with a wheelchair, but it turned out that we had no reason to worry. Yes, the old town in Warzaw has a lot of cobble stones (so we did not check out much of that), but the rest of the rather flat city has broad streets, avenues and sidewalks with perfect curb cuts.

It was absolutely no problem to move around with the wheelchair. The great challenge however, was to find a wheelchair accessible toilet. We never really found a “big accessible toilet”, but we found a normal toilet that was big enough in an waffle & ice cream shop with one small step to get in.

If you are tired of wheeling Warsaw, taxis are cheap. And from the Best Western Hotel it cost around 10-12 euros to get to the city centre. There was also tram and bus available, and they were both supposedly accessible, but we never tried.

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On our first sightseeing trip to the city centre, we asked the taxi to let us out by the Palace of Culture and Science. This is a big skyscraper resembling the Empire State Building in New York, containing a lot of different stuff like museums, concert halls, schools, restaurants and a viewing terrace at the top. On the outside the building is very impressive, but on the inside it was more or less confusing. We spent some time looking for an accessible entrance, that we found in a hidden “back alley”. After going through some corridors, we found the tourist area, where we tried to communicate with a security guard and ask him how to get to the viewing terrace. With a mix of Polish & sign language, we understood that we had to take a special elevator to go to the viewing terrace at the top. When we got there however, we realized that there were 6-7 steps to get down to the viewing terrace and restaurant.

We were then approaced by another security guard, who we finally understood, was trying to explain that he had a device (“stairclimber”) to help us down the stairs. Since I’m allergic to these devices after some painful airport experiences, we decided to skip the viewing terrace and go explore on the outside instead. We had already wasted an hour by figuring out the different entrances and elevators in this impressive but totally confusing building. I am sure there are potentially interesting things to be seen there, as the doll house museum for instance. But I think it’s an advantage to bring an assistant and a local guide who speaks Polish.

After palace of confusion, we decided to be boring tourists and have a snack at Hard Rock Café, which is probably one of the more expensive restaurants in Warzaw – a city where you can sleep, eat and drink for a very reasonable price if you investigate a little. We actually paid less than 30 euros for the room the last night in Best Western!

Hard Rock Café is situated in the modern business part of Warzaw with skyscrapers and modern architecture. One of the skyscrapers was missing a piece though. Maybe somebody stole it…?

Our next visit to the city centre was Sunday afternoon, after the meeting was finished. The taxi driver let us out by the Sigismund’s Column, a huge landmark from the 17th century. This is the entrance to the old town and also the start of an area with cobblestone streets, squares and alleys. It looked pretty charming, but André is allergic to cobble stones because of some tricky front wheels. So we decided to have a glass of wine, enjoy the ambience and head in another direction afterwards.

We wheeled in a relaxing Sunday tempo through the streets of Warsaw, passing a lot of old distinguished buildings, statues and parks. People were out in the streets doing different activities and we observed everything from strawberry salesmen, religious chanting & dancing to a demonstration for something we never understood what was. Perhaps also something religious? Polish people are good Catholics and it’s not unusual that you can see Polish people queueing outside the few Catholic churches in Oslo, where the protestant church have more of a marketing problem.

Enough about religion. I would definitely recommend Warzaw as a destination for a spring break. But if you are totally dependent on using a wheelchair accessible toilet, I would probably do some research in advance.

In a future blogpost I will tell you about the best & worst of Warzaw.

 

 

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Wheel the World – Up in the Air

I’ve been up in the air
Out of my head
Stuck in a moment of emotion I’ve destroyed
Is this the end I feel?
Up in the air

30 Seconds to Mars

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I’m sitting at an airport again. I’m waiting for my flight back to Oslo after a short business trip to Helsinki. Only 24 hours away this time. Hand luggage only. No big deal. But every time I travel, the check-in and security people are equally surprised that I know the drill..

Boarding pass ready.
Backpack off.
Computer out.
Liquids in sealed plastic bag.
Shoes and jacket off.
Wait to enter the gate.
Lift your arms.
Smile.
Be patient.
No, #MeToo does not apply here.
They will touch your boobs and your behind.
It’s because of security, you know. 
Security beats everything…

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Oh, you’ve done this before…?

As if wheelchair users never travel…
Of course I have! At the moment I have tickets to 18 individual flights in TripIt – my travel app. So don’t be surprised if I we meet again in a few weeks, months or days.

And yes I know the drill. The many trips I have made since I became a frequent traveler have tought me some lessons. The most important one?
Well, it sounds like a short story from Roald Dahl:

Expect the unexpected!

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Rollercoaster walkways at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris

Because according to Murphy’s Law – most things can go wrong, with the worst possible timing. And they do. And that leads me to my second most important discovery:

Most things work out eventually. Don’t panic!
And don’t stress too much – even if you are allergic to airports!

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Just be creative, flexible and a little bit paranoid.

And preferably a little bit stubborn. Sometimes airport personnel feel the need to be unneccesary paternalistic if you happen to be in a wheelchair. Sometimes they blame it on security. Other times they only blame it on the rules, that are suprisingly different from airport to airport. And they can also change from time to time. Which also means you can bend the rules. But only to a certain extent, if you are stubborn enough…

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Flying over the Swiss alps

When I was leaving for Helsinki some 24 hours ago, quite a number of small things went wrong. When I was checking in at the new universally designed Norwegian counter, I discovered that I had forgotten to book assistance. At another airline or airport, this could have been a major disaster. But the lady at the Norwegian check-in dealed with it in a very relaxed way.

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Counters in the new Norwegian terminal at Oslo airport can be lowered. Yes to universal design!

However – learning from past mistakes, I went straight to the Norwegian ticket office after check-in, and booked assistance for the return flight the correct way. While I was there, I checked my seven other planned Norwegian flights. Turned out to be a smart thing. Assistance was only booked correctly for one of the trips! And this was not because I am chronically forgetful. It turned out that there was a bug in Norwegian’s booking system for disability assistance.

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Soon landing in Copenhagen.

Booking assistance for two disabled people at the same time with different codes (WCHC and WCHS), turns out to be too much for the system. At one of the flights I had gotten a WCHC (carry to the seat), the next WCHS (not able to walk steps) and the third nothing. Even if I had booked it completely the same way. Wheelchair users are not supposed to travel together, are they? And definitely not without a personal assistant. And when one of them can walk to the seat and the other can not….then it’s just too much to handle. Of course. Any idiot must understand this. Robot or human.

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When you are a WCHC (or a Charlie as the pros call it), you need one of these torture devices…

Conclusion:
Even if Norwegian at the moment has one of the easiest and most convenient solutions to order disability assistance online (2-3 extra clicks before you pay the ticket), you cannot really trust the system. If you don’t get an e-mail confirmation with the right code on it, you should call and double check. That’s what we do as wheelchair travelers.
We double check.
And triple check.
And then you ask to confirm.
Again. And again.

Healthy paranoia I call it. It makes the end result more successful and the trip potentially less annoying. You avoid some disasters. And discover problems at an early stage. And some people wonder why disabled people are so good at logistics…

Pulling off a big international conference with 250 participants? No big deal. I’m used to traveling internationally with a wheelchair….

Oh, but I only mentioned the check-in. When I came to the gate it turned out that the bridge to board the plane was out of function. Obviously it could not handle more than minus ten degrees celsius. It was frozen. No problem! I had booked assistance. Assistance guys were there and they had an ambulift (see photo) that would take me into the plane instead of using the bridge. Turned out that the ambulift was frozen and stuck as well. Some short minutes of knocking and swearing later – the ambulift was working again and I could board the plane. Don’t panic until you really really have to.

And if you panic. Alchohol usually helps. But not too much of it.
(photos from Brussels Airport).

So here is my piece of advice to the beginners in the air travel game:

Always order assistance in advance!
Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s not. And double check if you are in doubt.

Don’t accept no for an answer!
Sometimes you might have to argue an hour on the phone with a guy with the worst French accent in history. Because you are not supposed to be able to walk 3-4 rows when you bring your own wheelchair. In Singapore Airlines it’s against the laws of nature. Either you can walk the whole plane or you are completely paralyzed. It’s logic.

And if the person at the counter tells you that you have to leave your own manual wheelchair at the check-in – then do by all means argue! In 98% of the cases it will work. Unless you are in Russia with a flat tire…

And if the check-in counter denies you to go to the gate yourself (even if you know that its doable), then argue some more. It might succed or it might not. If you are in Geneva, Switzerland you can forget about it though…

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Sin barreras means “Without barriers” in Spanish. But the paper work the company (in all Spanish airports) demands in order to give you services is definitely not without barriers. Of the bureaucratic time consuming kind…

Book assistance even if you don’t think you need it!
You’re a wheelchair user, but you think you don’t need assistance? Think again! Somebody needs to carry your wheelchair down from the plane door to the luggage. And the crew will definitely not be happy to do it. And sometimes your flight might be redirected to a bus gate or the boarding bridge might be broken. Expect the unexpected! If you don’t have assistance when these things occur, you might have a problem. You don’t want to be “the wheelchair” delaying the whole flight, do you?

Google the toilets!
Google your aircraft type before choosing seats for long distance flights! This way you can see the layout of the plane, including where the toilets are. Choose a seat near a toilet even if the plane have an onboard wheelchair.  All long distance flights inside Europe, the US and cross-Atlanic are obliged by law to have a wheelchair onboard and provide assistance from your seat to the toilet door. But remember that the seats in the row in the back of the plane usually cannot be tilted!

                Go easy with the food & wine if the toilets are too far away…

Yes, you can!
Unless you are travelling with an assistant (or its obviously completely impossible) – tell people that you can evacuate yourself, if you are asked. If you do it by crawling, rolling, climbing the walls with your teeth or jumping out the window, I don’t really care. And they don’t either. Some airlines will deny you (as a single traveler) access to the plane, unless you can document that you can evacuate yourself in an emergency. Some airlines will not let you travel without an assistant at all. Brussel Airlines are among them. They just don’t want to take the responsibility for you. You have to take it yourself. That’s life. Get used to it.

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All by myself…

The photo above is from the episode when I was forgotten in the plane at Oslo airport. You can read about it in this blogpost.

Be paranoid!
Double check that you actually have assistance when you check in. Both Norwegian and SAS have bugs in their IT-system to book disability assistance. It would surprise me that others did not have it as well.

Always check in at the counter!
Some self service machines lets you print a tag for both your luggage and your wheelchair. But the machines cannot confirm your assistance. Always confirm your assistance at the desk!

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In Oslo Airport most people who don’t use wheelchairs check-in on self service machines. In Canary islands they did not invent those yet…

Always get a luggage tag for your wheelchair!
And preferably get a “delivery at aircraft door tag” if available. If your wheelchair gets lost in space (yes it can happen) – at least it has a chance of finding its way home. If it’s not tagged it’s lost. In space. Possibly forever.2017-10-18 18.46.35

Be early at the gate!
If you spend too much time messing about in the tax free, they might have started boarding when you arrive at the gate. And if they have started boarding, you will be the last one to board the plane. And this is a hazzle. Especially if you have a window seat. And if you have to board last, it might not be room for your wheelchair in the luggage compartment. Which might cause even more scratches on it than necessary.
So don’t be late!

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Afraid of getting bored because you are too early? Do some people watching! Few activites beats that…

Remind the crew!
Double check with the crew that you will get your own wheelchair at the door of the aircraft. Even more important on stopovers. You seriously don’t want to spend three hours in an airport wheelchair if you don’t have to. They are torture devices. Most airports will provide your own wheelchair at the door automatically, but not all. And some are just impossible because of “rules” or “security reasons”. You can never argue with security reasons. Almost. So just give up getting your own wheelchair at Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It will not happen.

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One size fits all…

Don’t panic!
Double check (again). Don’t stress! And don’t panic if things don’t go as planned. If you manage to stay calm and constructive, you will get better service.

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Harahorn gin – the best gin around and the only one carried on SAS flights at the moment.

Enjoy!
And don’t forget to enjoy!

Traveling is fun. As soon as you get the hang of it…

 

Wheeling Oslo – for Foodies & Goodies

Your table manners are a crying shame
You’re playing with your food, this ain’t some kind of game
Now, if you starve to death
You’ll just have yourself to blame
So eat it. Just eat it!

Weird Al

A: What are we having for dinner tonight?
Me: I don’t know (same answer in 99% of the cases). What’s in the fridge?
A: Not so much…
Me: Do you really want to cook at home? Then we have to shop also…
A: I could cook, but I don’t want to clear up the mess afterwards. Do you want to do that?
Me: Not really. Wanna go out for dinner?
A: Yeah!

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Not always the situation…

Fortunately for us lazy foodies, it’s pretty easy to find a good restaurant in Oslo nowadays. Even if you get around with an electrical wheelchair. When I moved to the city 23 years ago it was on the contrary hard to find accessible restaurants; especially if you needed an accessible toilet (which were mostly used as storages). And if you had friends who also used wheelchairs, it was usually too crowded most places. I was so annoyed by this, that I ended up making a list of accessible restaurants and toilets, which I published online. Unfortunately it was almost impossible to keep it up to date. The turnover in the restaurant business in Oslo is crazy. So you have to pay attention of what’s hot or not. Or closed…

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Nodee Barcode – winner of the nicest accessible toilet

But times are changing for the better. The need for my alternative restaurant guide is not the same anymore. And things especially changed after the Anti Discrimination Act & the New Building Construction Act came in 2010. All new buildings must now be accessible. And if you do major changes to an older place, you have to make that accessible too, even if it requires extra investments.

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Food art at Brasserie Paleo

So today there is a lot to choose from no matter what cuisine you’re fan of or how thick your wallet is. The challenge now is to find the best restaurants, since everything is changing so fast. Not even the restaurant columns in the newspapers can keep up. So I decided to do a list again…

Here it goes – a list of my favourite restaurants in different genres with complete wheelchair access and accessible toilets (as usual I wouldn’t put too much weight on the ranking order…..soooo hard to choose):

  1. Cargo
  2. Aymara
  3. Brasserie Paleo
  4. Nodee Barcode
  5. Postkontoret
  6. Stock
  7. Südøst
  8. Champagneria (Mathallen)
  9. Sørenga Sjømat
  10. Trattoria Popolare
Sunset

Sørenga sunset (22.40) seen from Cargo’s outdoor serving

Cargo
And the winner is….Cargo! Some might think it’s a strange winner – because Cargo is not really fantastic. It’s just really really good. The popular restaurant is huge and perhaps not super charming. But they have very tasty food (especially the pasta), good wheelchair access and a fantastic location in the summer months. A good place for people watching. And where else can you see fantastic sunsets in the harbour area half past 10 in the evening, while sipping to a glass of wine or a nice cocktail?

Recommendation: Lobster linguine (to share) with meringue icecream for dessert.

Aymara
We just discovered Aymara a few weeks ago and it was love at first bite. If we should complain about something, it would be the service which was a bit zombie. But Aymara’s Peruvian food and drinks were great. And the ambience is just very very nice and feelgood. Situated on the central West side (south of Solli plass), you might spot some celebs too. So make sure to book a table in advance!

Want to try a slightly cheaper and more laidback version of Peruvian kitchen? Go to Nikay in Folketeaterpassasjen! Toilets can be found in the hotel next door.

Recommendation: Ceviche

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This is how happy/blurry you get after a whole evening at Aymara!

Brasserie Paleo
Usually hotel restaurants are charmless and boring. But Paleo has found the recipe to please both hotel guests and the locals. Paleo serves socalled stone age food, which typically includes vegetables, fruits, nuts, roots, and meat while excluding dairy products, grains, sugar, legumes, and processed food. I’m not a health freak when it comes to food, but the meals at Paleo both looks and tastes like an art piece. And they do spectacular vine tasting dinners once a month, where you can learn about the changing character of wine depending on the food you drink it with. Almost impossible to find information about the wine tastings on their webpage though. It’s a bit of a secret. Shhh, don’t tell anyone!

Recommendation: Winetasting dinner

Nodee Barcode
We have tried both Nodee Sky and Nodee Barcode (ground floor) and my personal favourite is Nodee Barcode. It’s less pretentious and all the courses in the tasting menu were great. This included the creme brulee I managed to squeeze down even if I was full. Service is good and professional and they have the nicest accessible toilet. Nodee is a good place for people watching unless you want to be romantic and sit in a more secluded corner, which is also possible.

A good competitor in the same genre is Mr. Bay at Tjuvholmen, which because of their Steak “Xate” has been one of my favourites for many years. But you need help from the staff to enter the back entrance at Mr. Bay, so I decided to list Nodee instead.

Recommendation: Six course tasting menu

Postkontoret
When we don’t want to cook in the middle of the week, we go to Postkontoret in Tøyen. It’s pretty close to where we live and they serve some of the best Italian pizzas in town. The place is closer to a bar than a restaurant and it’s more or less always full of hipsters and couples on more or less successful dates. Many of the tables are high or have steps, but they do have 5-6 smaller tables that are possible to use with a wheelchair. Service is low key. Order in the bar and pick up the food yourself when the gadget beeps. But staff is always friendly and it’s not very expensive.

Good alternatives in the neighbourhood includes Grådi and Nord & Natt (both accessible). And a competitor in the pizza department is Il Vero in Barcode. Charmless place, but their pizzas are very good!

Recommendation: Rudolf (the reindeer)

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The reindeer pizza in Lofthus Samvirkelag is even better – but the place is not really accessible.

Stock
“What kind of food do they serve here?” said the taxi driver when he let us out in the middle of Barcode. “Hmm, just normal fish and meat dishes”, I said. “In normal portions”. Because I have to admit it. I’m a bit tired of the sharing menu concept, which is more or less a plague haunting all the Oslo restaurants. Sometimes I just want to go out and order a main course and know how much food I will get. Keep it simple stupid! It does not mean that the food is simple at Stock. It’s both tasty and well presented and service is great. Make sure you taste the home made knekkebrød with cream butter you get before the meal. It’s delicious!

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Stock is a romantic and pretty quiet place – suitable for a good conversation (or the hearing impaired). And it’s not too difficult to get a table in the week-ends. Make sure you tell them that you are in a wheelchair if you prebook however – many of the tables are not accessible because of height or steps.

Want a cheaper alternative with a slightly similar concept? Try Pila! A hidden jem in the basement of DogA – the centre for design next to Cultural Church Jakob.

Recommendation: Whale (yes, we do eat it here) for starters and deer for main course

Südøst
The Südøst Asian Crossover has been one of my favourite places for years.

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Celebrating 40 @ Südøst

Food is not fantastic schmantastic, but tasty and good value for money. And the ambience is very nice in the high ceiling room with a fireplace, which was housing a bank in the older days. Especially the tasting menus (345 or 485 NOK) gives you a lot of food for a reasonable price compared to many other places in Oslo. You can bring your best friends here and pay for them without going bankrupt. Start or finish off the meal with one of the many good cocktails. In party mode? Head down to the nightclub in the basement afterwards – where you can party all night long.

Looking for other places to eat that will not burn a hole in your wallet? Check out Vippa or Mathallen (The Food Court), with their many small booth alternatives.

Recommendation: Crazy duck or the set menus Yin & Yang

Champagneria (Mathallen)
Everything tastes good in Champagneria, which is situated in Mathallen (The Food Court). The restaurant is small and has only a few low tables. But it’s possible to fit at least two wheelchairs at the same time. They serve classic Spanish tapas and toilets can be found in the basement of the food court. Service is usually friendly.

Recommendation: Try everything! It’s all good…

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Sørenga Sjømat
We’ve only visited Sørenga Sjømat once, and one of the reasons why I add it on the list is that this restaurant needs help. Misunderstand me correctly – the food was great, but the huge newly opened restaurant was almost completely empty. And we fear it will stay that way unless they use large amounts of money on creative marketing. Because Sørenga is a summer place, and to open a huge fish restaurant (and fish shop) in this area in August instead of spring, seems like incredibly bad planning to me. But Oslo needs more good and accessible fish restaurants, so we encourage everyone to visit just to keep it alive. And the best thing is – you can order half portions of almost all the courses. Something which is unfortunately still a rare concept in Oslo restaurants.

Recommendation: Sørenga sjømatsuppe (fish soup)

Trattoria Popolare
The trattoria is one of André’s favourites. And even if wheelchair users have to enter via a ramped back entrance (knock on the window if the door is locked), we add it because we need a true Italian place on the list. Trattoria Popolare serves original Italian food in a very charming, but horribly noisy room with mirrors and black & white floor tiles. A romantic date place for people who knows sign language. Service is friendly and sometimes a bit weird. If the place is full (like during Oslo Marathon where every table in Oslo was taken) – put on your Bambi look and wink to the butler. He’ll find a solution! In the summer time they have a huge outdoor serving on the piazza, perfect for people watching on the East side.

Hungry now…eh?
Well, then you have a problem – because most restaurants in Oslo are closed on Sundays.

Come back another day & bon apetit!

 

 

 

 

 

Wheeling Barcelona – the Gaudí Way II

Barcelona
It was the first time that we met
Barcelona
How can I forget
The moment that you stepped into the room
You took my breath away

Freddie Mercury

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The Exhibition Centre is situated left of the cathedral

The Gaudí Exhibition Center
The Gaudí Exhibition Center is situated in the medieval Pia Almoina building, home to the Museu Diocesà de Barcelona. It is located next to the Cathedral in the heart of Barcelona’s old town. Around 12 million tourists and visitors transit the large square bounded by the Cathedral and museum every year.

And maybe it’s an advantage to visit the center before you see any of Gaudi’s buildings? I myself prefer it the other way around. Sometimes you just want to be surprised and mesmerized by a whole new universe, without knowing too many facts in advance.

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A replica of the lizzard from Parc Güell

The main entrance of the exhibition center is not accessible for wheelchairs, but we asked a local guide. And she told us that there is a wheelchair accessible entrance through the souvenir shop in the basement. So we bought our tickets there and entered the museum through the back entrance. Besides the main entrance, the whole museum is very accessible. They have a normal modern elevator, big enough to fit two small wheelchairs and there were also disabled friendly toilets.

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The current temporary exhibit was about a cartoon of a crime novel, featuring some of the Gaudi buildings. The permanent exhibit is more about Gaudi’s different inspirations and the methods of his work. And it had the coolest kaleidoscope…

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Don’t you just love kaleidoscopes…?

La Pedrera (Casa Milá)
This is one of Gaudí’s main residential buildings and one of the most imaginative houses in the history of architecture. This building is more sculpture than a building. The façade is a varied and harmonious mass of stone that, along with its forged iron balconies, explores the irregularities of the natural world.

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Also at La Pedrera the start of the sightseeing (meaning the ticket office) is a bit inaccessible. But we approached the guards and they helped us to buy tickets (bring cash!) and showed us to an accessible entrance. After that most of the building is accessible to some extent. Meaning that the space on the rooftop that can be accessed with wheelchairs is very small. This is because the rooftop consists of a lot of stairs and different levels. But you do get to see the view and the special Gaudi sculptures without any problems, so it’s definitely worth it.

From the rooftop we took the normal elevator down to the attic, where there is an exhibit about the working methods of Gaudi. It also has some of the furniture he made on display. The attic is completely accessible and there are ramps between the different levels. The room itself is worth the visit.

La Pedrera has two different elevators and the first is a modern elevator open to all the visitors. The second is an oldfashioned one, that is only used by staff and wheelchair users. Ask one of the staff to help you! If you are tired you can take a nap at the little bench there.

With the oldfashined elevator you can access the apartment. Which is a wonderful old mansion with furniture and details intact. The owner must have been very proud of it. And if she’s the one portrayed – she looked as if she was as well. Or maybe a little arrogant perhaps…?

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Parc Güell
I visited Parc Güell for the first (and only) time in 2015. Before that I had visited Barcelona only with disabled friends and no assistant. And in Parc Güell you really need someone to help you, because the hills are many and too steep to manage by yourself, even for the strongest wheelchair users. The park is situated North East in the city – and the easiest way to get there is to go by bus.

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Since parts of the park has a limitation on how many people can be let in at once – they have a time schedule. So calculate some time for the experience. It is a big park to walk through. But you’ll get to see many of Gaudi’s creations, his mansion (if you bother to stand in line) and wonderful views to the whole city centre including the skyscrapers at the beach and La Sagrada Familia. And a lot of tourists…

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And with these caleidoscope photos I say thank you for the attention! See you in another destination next time. And always remember that the devil is in the details!

Wheeling Barcelona – the Gaudí Way

Las Ramblas, I’ll meet you
We’ll dance around La Sagrada Familia (Barcelona)
Drinking Sangría
Mi niña, te amo mi cariño (Barcelona)
Mamacita, rica
Sí tú, te adoro, señorita (Barcelona)
Nosotros, vivir la vida
Come on, let’s be free in Barcelona

Ed Sheeran

IMG_0894Antoni Gaudí was an architect from Reus, Catalonia, Spain. He is the best known practitioner of Catalan Modernism. Gaudí’s work was influenced by his passions in life: architecture, nature, and religion. His work enjoys global popularity and continuing admiration and study by architects. His masterpiece, the still-incomplete Sagrada Família, is the most-visited monument in Spain. Between 1984 and 2005, seven of his works were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

The devil is in the details, they say. And since Gaudi was deeply religious, I guess he would rather say it is God. Choose which one you want! But whatever you choose – be sure to take your time when exploring Gaudi!

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Mosaics at Parc Güell

Now come and join me while I show you my highlights from my visits into the exceptional universe of Gaudí:

La Sagrada Familia
The first time I visited La Sagrada Familia (2004) I only saw it from the outside. I cannot remember if it was because it was not open for the public at the moment or if we just didn’t bother because the queues were too big. But the latter would be a big mistake. This church is like nothing you’ve seen before. My feeling when we first entered it, was like entering a science fiction movie. Wow, is not a strong enough expression. And since the church is still under construction (and probably will be for many years to come), it will probably be different every time.

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La Sagrada Familia exterior – 2004

The church is accessible for wheelchair users, but I cannot remember if you are able (or allowed) to go up in one of the towers with a wheelchair.

Get ready for an out of the ordinary experience…

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La Sagrada Familia interior 2010

Casa Batlló
Casa Batlló, which is probably my favourite Gaudi building, is the result of a total restoration in 1904 of an old conventional house built in 1877.  Gaudí used for it the typical constructive elements of the Modernisme (Catalan Art Nouveau) that include ceramics, stone, and forged iron.  Even though it was highly criticized by the city during construction due to its radical design that broke all the bylaws of the city, in 1906 the Barcelona City Council awarded it the recognition of being one of the three best buildings of the year.

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The house is only partially accessible for wheelchair users, because there is a quite high and uneven threshold to get in. So a power chair might struggle.

And the lift inside is old fashioned and super tiny, so only the very small (or even foldable) wheelchairs will fit. And it is the tour in the upper levels, that is really something to see. Only parts of the building is open for tourists.

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From the inside looking out…

Cascada Fountain at Park de la Ciutadella
The Cascada Fountain is over the top as much of the Gaudi’s work. But I love it. It is situated in a huge park, called La Ciutadella in the Eastern part of the city. It’s a nice place for a Sunday walk. And it is totally wheelchair accessible to wheel around on the different paths, where some have asphalt and some have sand. But we struggled to find an accessible toilet when we were there in 2010. Maybe it has improved since?

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Palau Güell
This is the palace residence of the Güell family. The exterior shows a sober façade that doesn’t resemble other projects made by Gaudí. On the other hand, the interior and the roof make up for the lack of “Gaudiesque” elements in the façade. I have only seen it from the outside.

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View to Palau Güell from the Gaudi Hotel.

The Gaudi Hotel
I love Gaudi, but I cannot say the same about the Gaudi Hotel. The hotel is situated on a side street in the Southern part of La Rambla. The hotel was wheelchair accessible, but the main problem was the noise. Until late at night you have noise from drunk people in the street coming out of the various bars. And only a few hours later you get the noise from the garbage trucks. Between those hours, there was a problem with very low violin music coming through the ventilation system. Very low, but just loud enough to be annoying. So bring airplugs! Since we stayed there in 2008 – I cannot remember how the bed was, but my gut feeling tells me it was too hard.

The same goes for the hotel H10 Raco del Pi, which was the third hotel we tried in Barcelona. Super charming small hotel in a quiet street in Barri Gotic. But their beds were like sleeping on a rock. Horrible!

The first hotel we tried in Barcelona was called Hotel Regina, which is just around the corner from Hotel Jazz. I would not really call it wheelchair accessible, because their elevator was way too small even for a tiny chair and the ramp to get to it was way too steep. We needed help from the oh so charming receptionist, who gave us lollipops and announced that he loved Norwegian women. And oh…when the upstair guy showered, it kind of rained down through a lamp in our room. Probably not too safe…

Read more about Gaudi in the next blogpost!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wheeling Barcelona – Again & Again

Barcelona
It was the first time that we met
Barcelona
How can I forget
The moment that you stepped into the room
You took my breath away

Frank Charles

Is it your first time in Barcelona?“, the receptionist asked.

No… (I had to think), it’s my sixth time actually. And the third time in Hotel Jazz. You have the best beds, so I keep coming back to you.”

Oh, good to know“, he replied. “I have never tried them myself.”

Even if your hotel have become f…ing expensive and way too popular on Trip Advisor, I thought. You still have much better beds than your competitors. But what was this smell?! When we checked in on September 4th 2017, the whole reception was smelling intensely of a mix of soap and perfume. Yuck! It did not get any better when we entered the corridor upstairs. And in the room the smell was even more intense, if possible.

It’s the spray“, I said to André.

I bet they use this air freshener spray to cover that they sometimes have a problem with smell from the plumming system“.

I think I prefer a hint of toilet odor, I thought and felt like having an imaginary asthma attack. “Can we open the window? I am suffocating!” Fortunately we could and we kept it open for most of the stay.

Later we went down and begged the receptionist to take it easy with the spray. And it worked. Hotel Jazz delivers. Again and again. Just like Barcelona.

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The upper level of the rooftop terrace at Hotel Jazz is accessible via a wheelchair lift.

And the beds are really good. Which was essential this time. I had just finished my assignment as the project manager for the 13th International Conference on Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OIOslo2017). My job was hosting 250 participants from 40 countries over a period of five days in Oslo. After three whole years of planning. I had lived and breathed OIOslo2017 for a very long time. It was time for a break…

Because two days after the conference ended, my Mac broke down. The day after my e-mail had severe problems. And a few days later, my body came close to a breakdown as well. Finally, I could let my shoulders down, after keeping them too high for a very long time. So my plan for our week in Barcelona was too do as little as possible, without boring André to death. And we managed pretty well. Barcelona is probably one of the best cities in the world to do exactly…nothing.

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People doing nothing outside a bar in Raval

But of course…nothing means of course something. It means waking up late, getting up even later and then spending the rest of the day wheeling around aimlessly with some wine & tapas pitstops before a late dinner in a good restaurant. Hotel Jazz has a nice breakfast buffet, but we were far too experienced – knowing that we would never make it before the buffet closed. At least not this time. We hate buffets anyway…

Hotel Jazz is situated just five minutes wheeling from Placa Cataluna and there are plenty of options for a snack nearby. And a cup of coffee. If you wheel straight down from Hotel Jazz for approximately five minutes, you come to Placa de Vicenc Martorell – a small very peaceful square with some (I must admit) mediocre cafés. Not even the same cafés as the first time I was there. But I keep coming back for the relaxed ambience.

And even if André found a refridgerator magnet in his ice cream at Chelo Café, we kept coming back there for several days. Not because of the service. Or their carrot cake. Or the alternative “spices” they used. But because their espresso was heavenly. One of the best I had ever tasted. And their bocadillo with Spanish serrano ham was not too bad either. And it was peaceful. Away from the hustle and bustle at la Rambla. Although quieter than normal, which was probably because of the recent terror attack. Besides some flowers at the entrance of la Rambla, the city was pretty much back to normal. The Catalans obviously know how to take their city back. Fear is the path to the dark side…

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And this is just one of the things I like about the city. Here’s a list of other qualities I love about Barcelona, which makes me come back again. And again. And again.

  1. It’s impossible to be bored.
    How can you be bored in a city that has something for everyone? Beach in the middle of the city, shopping paradise, fantastic buildings and architecture, charming streets and piazzas you never knew existed, tapas, four times as cheap wine as in Norway, one of Europe’s most famous soccer arenas (for those who care about soccer), Gaudi, bars, the harbor and I could go on…IMG_1109.jpg
  2. The wheelchair access
    After Barcelona hosted the Paralympics in 1992 – the city has developed a plan to make the city accessible for all. This does not mean that it is easy to find a hotel with wheel-in shower (the Spanish loves their bathtubs), but if you really need one you can contact Barcelona Enabled. And yes…Barcelona still have their share of shops and restaurants with the famous one step to get in. But they also have a lot of places that are accessible and it’s reasonably easy to find an accessible toilet. The best thing about the access though is the curbcuts. They are all perfect. You hardly have to use any effort to cross the streets and together with smooth surfaces, this makes it very easy to wheel.IMG_1889.JPGHowever – every time I come, I’m equally surprised how hilly the city is. From the harbor up to Placa Cataluna – it is all uphill. And the hill continues from there. It’s not too steep, but it’s a long stretch and the the last meters before you reach Placa Cataluna is always a pest. Especially when you have stuffed yourself with tapas. But why wheel, when you can take the bus? All of Barcelona’s buses are accessible with automatical (halleluja) ramps. This includes the Airport Express and the Bus Touristic (sightseeing bus). And most of the subway is supposed to be accessible as well – although I have never tried it. Tourist attractions are also mostly accessible. If the main entrance is not – try asking if there is another one. It usually works…
  3. Gaudi
    Genious or madman? Doesn’t matter. I love his crazy projects, the patterns, the colors, the waves…everything. Go see them all! But not in one day. You cannot do Gaudi in a hurry…
  4. The tapas
    I have a love/hate relationship to the food in Barcelona. Love because tapas can be amazing. Hate…because it can be so hard to know whether the restaurant you are entering is bad or fantastic. It’s very hard to judge by first impressions and local knowledge is everything. Or pure luck. There is only one clear rule – stay as far away from La Rambla as possible! Most (or all) the restaurants around and at La Rambla are tourist traps where you pay twice the price for bad quality food.

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    Tapas at Taller de Tapas

  5. The beach
    Where else can you visit a fantastic, totally wheelchair accessible beach in the middle of a city? Few places I would guess…2004_1010Barcelona20040080
  6. The shopping
    In Barcelona you can get almost anything you crave. It’s not super cheap, but they have everything from local hipster design to Gucci and Versace (check out Passeig de Gracia) and most other brands you’d care about.IMG_0955
  7. Watching people
    Make sure you have a coffee or a glass of wine at Café Zürich on Placa Cataluna! This is a stayer among the constantly changing restaurants in Barcelona. It’s the perfect place for people watching.IMG_0942Or one of the many outdoor tables in Barri Gotic (the old town). You will encounter the usual suspects like beggars, thieves (watch your wallet!) and street artists. No matter what square you are in, they will find you and entertain you. Or bore you if it’s the sixth time you hear that song. But hey…it’s better than stealing, right? But please, choose another song than “I just called to say I love you” to do your juggling act! You would bring in much more money that way. If you’re into skateboards – go to the area Raval! In the area around the modern museum MACBA there are hordes of them. Obviously skating is the new retro in Barcelona. And breakdancing. Who knew the 80s would get hip again. Or was in 90s? I’m officially old…IMG_0968
    In Raval you find more veggie places, more hipsters, less tourists, more marihuana smell, more grafitti, more gay bars, cheaper restaurants and more alternative whatever you’d like. And modern art.
  8. Getting lost wheeling…
    Perhaps not always a good thing. But I do it every time I’m in Barcelona. Doesn’t matter if I’m sober or drunk…I get lost again and again. And again. The narrow zigzag streets makes it almost impossible to keep the direction and GPS is your best friend (although that can also confuse you at times). But the good thing about getting lost is that you constantly discover new things. New streets, new shops, new squares, new cafes and bars (or did it just change from last time?), new art pieces and new places to watch people. It’s like Pandora’s box or Forrest Gump’s box of chocolate. You never know what you’re gonna get…

Come Spa With Me!

Relax, take it easy
For there is nothing that we can do.
Relax, take it easy
Blame it on me or blame it on you.

Mika

It was our first visit to The Well – the huge dayspa that opened less than two years ago. The spa is situated in the middle of nowhere (in Kolbotn) 20-25 minutes outside of Oslo and supposedly the biggest dayspa in any of the Nordic countries. And that’s not the only thing special about it. At The Well, clothing is optional every day in the week except Tuesdays. On Tuesdays swimwear is required, unless you’re in one of the many saunas – where everyone has to be naked no matter what day it is.

I myself, I had never really been naked in public before. Except from the time when I was 9 years old and my nudist wannabe dad brought me to the Maspalomas desert to sunbathe among the dunes surrounded by fat, old naked Germans. Well, I just guess they were German. It’s not as if I had longer conversations with them. I still remember this childhood memory because it was such an absurd experience. Once and never again.
Until now…

It’s not that I’m very shy. It’s just not very Norwegian to throw your clothes off every now and again and walk around freely. We are a little bit too inhibited for that. I guess the same goes for the Swiss. So neither André or me had been naked in public until this cold and dark Saturday in February 2017, when we had decided to try the naked spa. We had considered bringing swimwear just in case. But the Well has this special rule, that you either have to buy their swimwear or go naked. They claim this rule is due to hygiene reasons. Because their their bikinis are specially made for the spa and they dry faster than normal swimwear. According to a friend of mine this is actually true, but the main reason is probably business. After all the spa is owned by Norwegian zillionaire Stein Erik Hagen, who likes to walk around naked while earning money. Because nothing comes free at the Well. Entrance costs between 295 NOK and 495 NOK (for a whole day) and if you want spa-treatments you have to pay extra for this, like you have to do in most spas. Not even water comes for free! Or this is not exactly true. The water you can have for free – but you have to pay for a glass or bottle to put it in. Bringing your own? Forget it! It’s the rule.

The Well have many of them. Which gives me slight flashbacks to institution life, where a long list of rules (some more meaningful than others) is part of everyday life. A concept which brings out the defiant child in me. Or naughty teenager even. But so far I was handling the amount of rules. It helps to be mentally prepared…

Finding it hard to find swimwear our size in normal shops, we doubted that the standardized swimwear was a good idea. So we had decided to go full monty. Besides – the rule in the saunas was clear: No swimwear! And who wants to take on and off a wet sticky bikini every 5 minutes anyway? At least not me. That’s way too much hazzle.

I was very curious how I would react to the nudity though. And how people would react to my body, which is not exactly standard. And would all the people there be nude? Or only a few? So many questions about to be answered…

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Wellness Pool (photo from thewell.no)

“Don’t worry – almost everyone is naked, so you don’t feel that weird there” a naturally shy friend had told me. So I managed to convince both myself and André that this was going to work out perfectly fine. However when we came into the main pool area (Wellness Pool) we saw something quite disturbing. They were all wearing bathing suits! We scanned the dim ligthed area and could hardly see anyone lowering their naked body into the pool after removing their towel (or peshtemal that is also possible to buy). “We’re the only ones naked!” I thought hiding behind my towel and seriously considered to abort the whole mission. Either my friend had fooled me or the people who go to spa in the week-ends are more shy.

After a short strategic discussion, we decided to go for it anyway and do a recognition round to check out the facilities. The first thing we discovered was that the main pool (Wellness Pool) had many steps to enter (maybe 10-12). Probably to make it as discrete as possible for the people swimming around naked without being stared at from the people in the lounge right next to it. But it made me kind of disappointed.

The Well was built recently, which means the Disability Access Law from 2010 applies. And when the staff spotted us, they quickly began to reassemble the wheelchair hoist to get into the pool. And despite my scepticism against mobility aids that are not used on a daily basis, it actually worked! It was only one problem…

The pool hoist was white, huge and making a loud (at least in my head) beeping noise. And in order for you to get from the floor level and into the pool you first had to take a big “flight” up in the air, with the help of the staff. Which meant you would be visible for EVERYONE in the whole wide room. Including the people sipping to a glass of chablis in the lounge bar. Even with clothes on I would freak out using that thing. And naked it was….not an option. Not. Not. Not.

The staff guy approached us visibly proud that they had the technical stuff in order.
Guy: “Do you want to enter the pool? We have a pool hoist and we will help you.”
Me: “Uhm, I think we want to check out the premises first. And maybe we just climb the steps instead.”
Guy: “But it’s much safer for you to use the hoist. That is why we have it!”
Me: “Uhm yeah. It’s great that your place is accessible. It’s just that….we….want to take a look around first.”
Guy: “So you promise to find me when you want to enter the pool, right?”
Me: “Uhm yes of course!”

Liar liar, pants on fire! But they were not on fire.
Because I didn’t have pants on…remember?
Unfortunately…

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Onsen (photo from thewell.no)

We went upstairs to check out what was on the third floor. The good thing about The Well is that the normal elevator is situated within the spa itself, making it very easy to move between the different floors. On the top floor they have different saunas both indoor and outdoor and a quite big outdoor pool, which is only open in summer season. There were some jacuzzis outside, but they also had a few steps to enter. And with 2cm of snow on the ground, steps was not really an option. So the only thing we found, which we could test outdoor, was a low heated pool just in our height, making it possible to slide over to the edge from the wheelchair seat. The low pool was called a Japanese Onsen. And compared to the pool downstairs, most people were actually naked out here. So we didn’t feel that freaky. And the Onsen experience was actually nice. To sit watching the forrest outside in February in a pool that holds 38-40 degrees celsium was pretty relaxing. And I had an interesting discovery connected to the nudity concept. Because when the majority is naked – nobody stares at your body! They don’t dare basically. So the normal curious stares you might get in a swimming pool as a disabled person were not there. People were minding their own business. Being mindful as hell of course. But I kind of liked it…

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Varmt kildebad (photo from thewell.no)

The bad thing of bathing outside in February is that you actually have to go inside again. And the air is freezing. Not to mention your wheelchair. But we survived. We heated ourself up again in some of the many saunas. Some easy to enter with the wheelchair and some not (because of the layout). We also tried the grotto (kildebad), which is a pool with pure mineral water holding around 36 degrees. You can bring your wheelchair into the grotto room, but make sure you have breaks on!

One of the attractions the Well are the experience showers. But unless you have a wheelchair that can handle water, these are naturally not accessible. And since some of the saunas have limited access, my conclusion was that even if The Well is socalled universally designed, there are not that many of the attractions you can actually enjoy when you’re in a wheelchair. Especially not in winter time.

Eventually we tried the normal pool also (Wellness pool), by climbing the steps wrapped in the already pretty wet towel. And it was ok. The lighting above the pool area is blue, misty and very comfortable. So you cannot really see that much nudity as you would expect. And the people who are outside the pool are not tall enough to see in. And it IS a special experience swimming around naked, with “everything hanging loose”. However the Wellness pool is not really a swimming pool. It has many different sections with different jetstreams and massage thingies spread around. But I personally prefer to have the possibility to go for a swim when I visit a spa. So when we had tried out the pool I exchanged my very wet towel with the slightly too big bathrobe and we had a glass of wine in the bar in front of the fireplace. Trying not to stare too much in the direction of the tropical sauna. Because of the naked people there. Only a glass wall between them and me…

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After the wine glass we decided to leave The Well and go home. Will we ever go back? Yes, maybe once to try it out in summertime. But it will never be one of my favourite spas because of the way to access the main pool. I’m also not a big fan of all the rules, the stiff prices and the fact that you cannot spend the night there – making it impossible to change in your own hotel room. In the Well you have to use the handicap toilet to have an accessible shower. They do provide wheelable shower chairs in both the men’s and the women’s section. It took some time for them to organize though. And unfortunately the plastic wheelchairs was one size. Meaning too BIG!

So I prefer other spas. During the last 5 years, I’ve tried quite a few of them within 2,5 hours driving distance from Oslo. Six of them I regard as partially or totally accessible for wheelchair users. And here is my verdict on which ones are the best and the worst:

  1. Farris Bad
  2. Son SPA
  3. Støtvig Hotel
  4. The Well
  5. Holmsbu Spa
  6. Strömstad Spa

 

Follow Wheel the World to read pros and cons about the different places.

Until then: Relax! Take it easy…