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…

Wheeling Oslo – The Cocktail Trail

She’s fuddled my fancy, she’s muddled me good
I’ve taken to drinking, and given up food
I’m buying an island, somewhere in the sun
I’ll hide from the natives, live only on rum

Procol Harum

When I woke up this morning, my first thought was I’ll never drink again. At least not cocktails. They are so small, colorful and seemingly innocent. But in reality powerful and dangerous. Just like a person with OI (brittle bone disease), when I think of it.
Only not this morning…

And it’s perhaps not so strange. Things got a little bit blurry after this conversation happening at one of our new favourite hangouts Human Mote:

Bartender: “So, what is you favourite drink then?”
André: “Maybe the VPB Daiquiri?”
Bartender: “Ah, you know what? I have strawberries in today. You want me to make you a strawberry daiquiri?”
Both of us: “Yes, please!”

The bartender guy at Human Mote looks a little bit like Steve Buschemi. This makes him a little bit scary. But with a bow & tie he also comes across as friendly. Underfundig, as we say in Norwegian. I never know what he’s thinking. Probably a good trait for a bartender.

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Anyway. There seem to be a new cocktail era going on in Oslo at the moment. For a while it was only beer, beer and beer. And microbreweries popping up on every corner. Or basement. But I don’t like to drink beer that much when I’m in bars. Usually bars have crappy disabled toilets. And when you drink beer, you have to pee. A lot. So I prefer cocktails.

And the possibility of wheeling into a decent cocktail bar in Oslo, is pretty good at the moment. But where’s the list of the good ones? Especially if you’re in a wheelchair. Since it’s not there – I decided to make it myself. My simple advice for cocktail lovers visiting Oslo. Just don’t overdo it!

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To be honest, it was hard to make a top 12 list of the best cocktail places in Oslo. So don’t overanalyze the order. Because some bars have really good drinks but are almost inaccessible. Some have the best music, the best ambience, the best access, the best bartenders and some have the nicest toilets. Some don’t have toilets at all (well at least not accessible). And some are just outrageously expensive, but too cool to be left out…

The ultimate list:

  1. Pigalle
    Pigalle is pretty hidden situated upstairs from the restaurant Olympen (Lompa). The restaurant serves traditional Norwegian food like kjøttkake and komle. But the bar serves very nice cocktails and longdrinks in a spacious room Art Deco style. Besides the drinks and the interior, the best thing about Pigalle is that they play soul and funk music the whole year around. And this kind of music is hard to find in Oslo. The drawbacks is a tiny elevator where you have to hold your breath to squeeze in if you’re in an electrical wheelchair. And last time we were there, the guy in the restaurant actually locked the whole elevator when the restaurant was closing. Fortunately the key was located speedily and we could rush to get the last 37-bus home, which stops just outside the door.

    Drink recommendation: Turbo Mate

  2. Human Mote
    I feel a little bit like this bar could be situated in Twin Peaks. I don’t know if it’s the interior, the bartenders or the red neon sign on the wall. Maybe just the vibe. Because despite it’s location at the before so tragic Tøyen senter – Human Mote is hipster heaven. It also has some accidental Russian tourist from the Thon Hotel around the corner. The poor Russians only drank the overpriced Norwegian tap beers. They did not know what they were missing. The bartenders at Human Mote, will not chat you to death, but they do know how to mix a good cocktail or two. Toilets are accessible. The drawback is that the bar only have high tables (benches) and barstools around the counter.

    Drink recommendation: Personfrykt Daiquiri (or the secret strawberry daiquiri)

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  3. Nodee Sky
    Nodee Sky has one of the very few accessible rooftop terraces in Oslo. And not any rooftop terrace! Situated in the middle of Barcode, Nodee Sky has a view to the Sørenga and the Oslofjord. The drinks are pricy but tasty and the snacks are also very nice. Try the reindeer springroll!  You access the bar through a sideways elevator which is more like a cable car. This is a cool gimmick, but not so efficient. And since Nodee Sky unfortunately doesn’t have accessible toilets upstairs, it’s quite an expedition to get to the toilet on the 1st floor. When you get there however – it’s the nicest disabled friendly toilet you have seen. Protip is to be at the rooftop early – because of security they don’t allow too many people at once at the rooftop bar. And I’m sure it will be a very popular place in the summer months.

    Drink recommendation: Ginger Rush & reindeer springrolls

  4. The Thief
    The Thief has several bars, but we have only tested the cocktails in the lobby bar. The rooftop bar at the Thief is also accessible, but with one of these small stairlift where they can never (almost) find the key. Because of high walls, the view is not nearby as good as in Nodee Sky. The Thief is the most expensive hotel in Oslo and their cocktails are nothing less. They have chosen to give all their drinks names from famous movies and they all come in very special glasses. And even if pigs don’t fly, some of the drinks at the Thief actually do. Toilets are accessible and the bar is pretty spacious with low tables. Drawback is the prices. And it’s a little bit pretentious and over the top. But sometimes it’s ok to be a little bit over the top, don’t you think?

    Drink recommendation: Inception

  5. Bar Boca
    Bar Boca should not be on this list, because it is not accessible with a wheelchair. They have a high step (like 25cm) to get in, which many of the bars and restaurants in the area Grünerløkka have. However – they have a nice outdoor serving with benches and the bartender will come out and take your order. And regarding the taste of the drinks – I think we might have an overall winner here. Their cocktails are small but incredibly tasty. The Green Prince was so good that André had to ask for the recipe. And when he e-mailed the bartender the next day, he got an answer within 5 minutes. Good service!

    Drink recommendation: Clover Club

  6. Bar Vulkan
    I was a bit disappointed by the food when we tried the sharing concept at Bar Vulkan a few years ago. But their cocktails never disappoint. They have only one low table, which is more for flowes pots than people, since it has no chairs. But we bring our own chairs, so we have decided this is our table. Access is good, and accessible toilets are available nearby. The ambience is a little bit anonymous maybe, but the service is nice. And the location next to the Akerselva river and the Food Court (Mathallen) is hard to beat.

    Drink recommendation: Pornstar Martini

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  7. Nedre Løkka Cocktailbar
    We had a bad start at Nedre Løkka Cocktailbar, which is a huge bar and restaurant over two floors in the lower end of Grünerløkka. The accessible entrance (or what we thought was) via a ramp, turned out to be locked. And when they finally found the key, the door opener did not work. But we got in eventually. Unfortunately all the lower tables were taken by dining guests, so we just hung out next to the bar using a flower pot as a spare table.

    The ambience in Nedre Løkka is nice and according to the owners it’s inspired by New York and the history of Grünerløkka. They have a spinning bar which is lit in a nice way and a lot of green plants decorating the old brick walls and ceiling. If you want to go to the second floor, you can forget about that. Even if they have a very nice big elevator! The bartender told me that when they installed the elevator (something they HAD to do), it killed the electrical system in the whole building. And if they have to replace that in order to make the elevator work again, I don’t really see that happening. But supposedly it’s just more of the same that’s situated on the 2nd floor. Toilet downstairs is accessible.

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  8. Südøst
    Südøst has been around for a while and is one of my favourite places to dine out in Oslo without going bankrupt. They serve Asian crossover food & great cocktails. The restaurant & bar is accessible via a ramp and so is the huge and nice outdoor serving situated next to the river walk. Even the nightclub in the basement is accessible via a lift (where they sometimes store their vacuum cleaners). And so are the accessible toilet.

    Drink Recommendation: Pink Floyd (but only in watermelon season)

    internasjonalen

  9. Internasjonalen
    Internasjonalen used to be one of my favourite bars in Oslo, but now it’s a bit worn out. I’ve been on dates there, I’ve danced, partied, talked, smiled and enjoyed good cocktails. They used to make some of the best cosmo’s in Oslo. Internasjonalen is situated in the middle of Youngstorget and there are concerts happening both inside and outside (but upstairs mostly). Music there is usually good. Only the first floor is accessible and there is a step to reach the 2nd part of the first floor. So the number of low tables are limited. And the bar counter, inspired by the old Soviet style is high high and usually crowded. So it pays off to bring a tall friend who can order for you or to have a good eye to the bartender.

    Drink Recommendation: Cosmopolitan

  10. Vesper
    We have just tried the outdoor serving, which had an abrubt end. Since Vesper is situated in an housing area (Barcode), no alchol is to be enjoyed outside after 23.00. I bet the bartenders love taking the rounds chasing all the people in (or away) when the clock strikes. Oh, actually I read on their Facebook-page now that from July 7th  all the places in Barcode can serve outdoor until midnight. Good for them! Vesper is a good place for people watching along the new Dronning Eufemia’s avenue. And the drinks are not too bad either. They have both high and low tables inside. And since the bar is pretty new, we’re pretty sure the toilets are accessible also.

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  11. Fuglen
    Rated as one of the best cocktail bars in Oslo, we were perhaps a little bit disappointed to be honest. The cocktails were good but not as awesome as we had expected from the bar who has exported itself to New York and Tokyo besides Oslo. The interior and ambience is cool, in a combined antique, furniture shop and bar/coffee bar situated close to the law faculty in Oslo in the not so cosy street Pilestredet. Accessible with max 1 wheelchair, but very little space to move around.

    Drink Recommendation: Coffee?

    Foto fra Bølgen & Moi

  12. Bar Bastard
    To be honest, we haven’t been here. Yet. But if they have brought their bartender from Bølgen & Moi Tjuvholmen, I’m sure it must be good. They always had good drinks there. Bar Bastard is accessible from the street, situated in the newer (and less touristic) area Tjuvholmen close to Aker Brygge, with it’s many tourist traps.

    Drink Recommendation from Bølgen & Moi: Watermelon in Easter Hay

Too expensive in Oslo you say? Well then, buy yourself a decent shaker and make a cocktail at home? Here’s a recipe of one my newfound favourites:

Cucumber Gin & Elderflower Martini
3 parts gin
3/4 parts elderflower liqueur (St. Germaine)
4 fresh cucumbers lices muddled
1/2 part fresh lime juice
1/2 part simple suryp

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  1. Muddle the cucumber in a shaker until completely pulverized!
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and a cup of ice!
  3. Shake vigorously for 10 seconds!
  4. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass!
  5. Garnish with cucumber!
  6. Enjoy!

 

Wheeling Edinburgh – Why Not?

Why not (why not)
Take a crazy chance
Why not (why not)
Do a crazy dance
If you lose the moment
You might lose a lot
So, why not, why not

Hilary Duff

Did I convince you to go to Edinburgh in the previous blogpost from Scotland?
Well, here are my top 10 reasons NOT to go to Edinburgh:

  1. It is hard to find accessible restaurants, so we ended up at Jamie Oliver’s place twice. But this is not a bad place to be. Food was good. And to be honest, they have very honest waiters:

Me: Can we have two of the Jamie Oliver’s special cocktail as an aperitif?
Waitor: No, you don’t want that.
Me: Oh, really? Why?
Waitor: It’s very sour.
Me: But I don’t like sweet drinks. I tend to like them a little bit sour.
Waitor: But you will not like this.
Me: So, it’s not sour? It’s very very sour?
Waitor: Let’s just say he wasn’t that lucky with this drink. I don’t know what went wrong, but you seriously don’t want it.
Me: Ok, we trust you! Let’s have a mojito and a bramble instead.

2. Hills, hills and hills. The only flat area is the main street from what I could see. But if you want to go anywhere from there, you will face some hills. Some of them seriously steep, in the direction of the castle.

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3. Cobble stones! Some places you have to cross the street on some of the very worst kind. Without an assistant – I don’t think I would make it.

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Not the worst example…

4. Things seem to be out of order…

5. Haggis! Served at an international conference! I wonder if anyone dared to taste…

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6. The intense smell of gas in the bathroom of the hotel (Doubletree Hilton)

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7. You might get killed if you don’t look right. Or was it left…?

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8. It rains a lot. But as you can see, not always…

9. Hotels are expensive (at least the ones we could find)

10. You will hear bagpipe music. Again and again…

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Farewell to Edinburgh…

 

Wheeling Venezia (Venice)

Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge, yeah we’re coming to a town
And you’ll always know your neighbor
And you’ll always know your pal
If ya ever navigated on the Erie Canal

Bruce Springsteen

My travel friends Ingrid & Olivier just went to Venezia (Nov. 2016). Since this is not exactly an obvious city to visit with a wheelchair, I asked if they could do a guest blog.

Eh, voilà – here it is:

Venezia is flat. There are no cars, scooters or bikes. All paths have big stone tiles, that are easy to wheel on. Not like a kitchen floor, but easier as the tiles outside Oslo Town Hall.

underlag

Venezia has many big and small canals which divides the islands into smaller areas. Bridges over the canals binds the areas together. Most bridges have stairs/steps. There are no fixed dimensions on the stairs, but most have steps on average 15 cm height and around 40cm length. There are ramps for all the bridges along Canale di San Marco from Piazza San Marco to Giardini Binnale.

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Bridge with steps

For moving from one area to another without using bridges, you can use a boat. There are numerous stops for boats (public transport) and I believe all areas has their own stop. The Vaporettos as the public transport boats are all accessible with a manual wheelchair. So are the stops. Dependent on the height of the water, there can be a hight distance to the boat, but there are always ramps and staff who can assist you. Be aware that most stops have more than one pier (different lines and directions) and some places I saw that the piers for the same stop was on different sides of the canal/bridge. This was not visible on the route map, and I could not find a more detailed map which gave you the full overview. If you end up in the wrong place, it is good to know that all routes in all directions stop at San Marco, where it is easy to change pier. San Marco also have a ticket booth with English speaking personell. Ticket price is 1,5 euro for wheelchair user + assistant and is valid for 75 minutes.

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“The airport boat” Alilaguna is also accessible with a manual wheelchair. You have to sit on the deck with the captain and the luggage, and they write on their pages that they can only fit one wheelchair at the time.

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Most shops, restaurants and Osterias (wine bars) have one step of around 15-20 cm to enter. In the winter season there are few outdoor restaurants available.

If you first get in somewhere, there are surprisingly many places that has a spacious WC. On our second day all three restaurants/bars we visited had a disabled friendly toilet. On one of the winebars we visited (that also served food), it turned out they had a ramp at the back entrance.

The St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica San Marco) and all other churches/buildings we visited had at least one step to get inside. Often followed by another step down.

We stayed in the Best Western Montecarlo a few hundred meters from the St. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica San Marco). On Booking.com it said in the description that the hotel was “disabled friendly”. When I booked, I had written that I had a manual wheelchair and I had asked for a “wheelchair friendly” room. This was what we got: A 15 cm step to enter the hotel, a super small T-shaped elevator, where I could just fit when I backed in and turned 90 degrees, a bathroom door with 2 cm clearance for my wheelchair (ca 55cm). I managed because I have a small/short wheelchair and because I traveled with my non-disabled boyfriend, who could assist me.

I was very happy to stay close to the St. Mark’s Basilica. Within the canal area, we had a relatively large area without the need to cross any canals. It also turned out that the bridges along the main canal had ramps. The San Marco area has in addition a lot of tourist trap restaurants, but also some good restaurants and wine bars. San Marco is the main hub for transportation and they have a tourist office, who is very helpful in guiding you to wheelchair accessible routes for sightseeing.

November is definitely low season. In spite of this, there were many tourists everywhere, but no long queues or stress. I can vividly imagine that high season can be troublesome.

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Bridge with ramp

If you are not bothered by one step to get in places, Venezia is a possible destination with a manual wheelchair. Choose the area to live in mainly according to what you want to do and what kind of transportation opportunities you want.

It is not necessarily impossible to travel with an electrical wheelchair, but it takes thorough investigation and planning ahead. I would also consider to bring a foldable ramp to enter the Marcus church and other sights.

Have a nice trip!

I & O

Wheeling Edinburgh – Top Ten

Well a Scotsman clad in kilt left a bar one evening fair
And one could tell by how he walked that he’d drunk more than his share
He fumbled round until he could no longer keep his feet
Then he stumbled off into the grass to sleep beside the street
Ring ding diddle diddle I de oh ring di diddly I oh
He stumbled off into the grass to sleep beside the street

Traditional

Here are my top 10 reasons to go to Edinburgh:

  1. It’s a small charming city – where you can see a lot in just a few days.

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2. The pubs (aka Husband Daycare Centres). If beer and gin are among your favourites, you will enjoy yourself in Edinburgh. Oh, I forgot the whiskey. How clumsy of me…

3. The Scottish humour & outspokenness

4. Transportation, which is mostly accessible

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5. The parks (with their very special park benches – dedicated to dead people)

6. Their nice sightseeing tours with an accessible bus (Hop on Hop off) – this photo is from the Holyrood Park.

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7. The Jamie Oliver restaurant

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8. People are drunk early in the afternoon when there is an important match (for some Norwegians that might create a feeling of being home?)

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9. They have a nice castle, but I don’t think it’s very wheelchair accessible…

10. They voted YES to European collaboration!

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Wheeling Edinburgh

Such dusky grandeur clothed the height,
Where the huge castle holds its state,
And all the steep slope down,
Whoose ridge back heaves to the sky,
Piled deep and massy, close and high,
Mine own romantic town!

Sir Walter Scott

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When I was in Lisbon I spotted this sign about a collaboration between Lisbon and Edinburgh. How fitting, I thought. The two cities I have visited in 2016 because of conferences, that I might not have chosen otherwise.

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And to start with the most important message:
Edinburgh in Scotland, UK is ever so charming, but it is not very wheelchair accessible. As a wheelchair user, I would think twice before choosing it as a holiday destination. Unless you have some important business to do there.

At least bring an assistant! The reason for this is mainly steep hills, cobble stones (the bad kind) and few restaurants with wheelchair access and/or toilets.

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Well, I had business to do in Scotland the last week of May 2016. I had brought my companion Inger-Margrethe, who had offered to help me when the hills got too steep or the cobble stones too bad. We were attending the membership meeting of EURORDIS and a big European conference on rare diseases (ECRD) together with my neighbours Rebecca and Knut Erik. And before this, we were paying our colleagues in the Brittle Bone Society in Dundee a visit. So we also got to try public transportation, which was better than the wheelchair access in general.

Most trains, buses and trams seemed to have some form of wheelchair access. The black taxis had ramps (however quite steep), which made them easier to get in and out of than a normal taxi. Some of the sightseeing buses (Grayline) were accessible with an automatical ramp. The Grayline stop was next to the Waverley station and we did the Hop on Hop off tour on our last day in Edinburgh. It also seemed possible to take wheelchair accessible transportation to the airport (tram). But we chose taxi instead, because of our luggage. Carrying a bag in streets with nasty cobble stones is a risky project, and we did not want to go home with any broken bones.

We stayed in the Hilton Double Tree (Edinburgh city centre), which was mainly chosen because of walking distance to the conference hall. The Sheraton, where the conference took place was way out of our price league.

The disabled friendly room in the Double Tree was nice, with a big and not too hard bed. There were two major complaints though – and the first was the noise. Our room had a big oldfashioned decorative and poorly isolated window facing the street (see photo below).

And there were both traffic (from three streets) and drunk people late at night, creating some challenges in getting asleep. To be honest – I would be helpless without ear plugs, that I had fortunately brought by accident.

The second thing to complain about was the bathroom. The access was perfectly fine, with grab bars and a wheel-in shower. However – there was an intense smell of gas in the bathroom, that came through the ventilation system. Especially during the night. First of all it made me worry that the whole bathroom could explode. But the smell was also making me pretty nauseous.

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But…fortunately we did not explode. We lived to tell. And in the next blogpost you can read about my top 10 reasons for going to Edinburgh (as a wheelchair user).

Until then: Cheerio lads!

Wheeling Lisbon – The Art

Everyday is like a blank canvas
You know you can paint it anyway you want it
You can draw black clouds, you can make the sun shine
Color in a rainbow, or use black and white
Open up your eyes and, your imagination

Demi Lovato

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What to do on a rainy day in Lisbon? We thought it would be a good idea to take a taxi to the new modern art museum MAAT and see what it was all about. MAAT is situated by the river West of Lisbon and it takes around 20 minutes to drive from the Rossio square (around 10-12 euros with taxi). When we got into the car, the sky opened up and heavy rain poured down. According to one of the waitors the day before, it had not rained properly in Lisbon for 3 months – so I guess the locals were happy. We were not equally thrilled by the timing of the weather gods, but it was a nice excuse to do something cultural.

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The taxi let us out in front of something we thought was the MAAT. Turned out to be the Electrical museum. Since it was raining cats and dogs, we decided to check out this museum first, before we wheeled the last meters along the river to MAAT.

The electrical museum was…a museum about electrical stuff. Lightbulbs, switches, turbines, water power, power plants etc. Maybe not in the middle of my interest field, but it was a nice pedagogical museum with good wheelchair access (except for one step to the ticket office). There were ramps and lifts as well as nice wheelchair toilets. It also had a pretty special exhibition about photos and objects from murder crime scenes. Unfortunately the texts were all in Portugese, so it was not that easy to understand what it was about, and how death was related to electricity…

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The MAAT was a peculiar experience. The entrance was free, and we soon realized that this was because the museum was not 100% finished. There were still construction work being done one some of the windows and the toilets were not working yet. And where was the art? It was not a lot of it. Perhaps they ran out of money after constructing this nice monumental building? I guess it would not be the first time in history that such a thing happened.

The main art piece at the moment was a big installation/performance with the topic of UTOPIA:

“Once upon a time in a city near a river and close to the ocean, there was a place called Pynchon Park. A group of extraterrestials had decided to gather humans in order to observe their behaviour. The place looked like a huge white arena surrounded with ramps, covered by a net and filled with giant coloured carpet books and balls for the humans to play and flirt together…”

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Somehow the topic reminded me a little of Fadlabi’s project Kongolandsbyen in Frognerparken in Oslo. Who’s watching who…?

To be honest, the piece did not do it for me. And I continued into the main exhibition area, which consisted of some video installation and a few artpieces. In spite of the lacking art, the building was very cool. I really liked it. It was kind of a mix between Kiasma in Helsinki and the Oslo Opera House. With lots of nice photo opportunities.

And I liked the design symbols. And also the fact that the ramps were perfectly made, according to the rules of universal design. Even the rooftop was easily accessible with manual chairs, because they had made the ramps in perfect dimensions. MAAT is definitely worth a visit. Just don’t have to high expectations regarding the art. Yet.

And the MAAT is also a perfect starting point for a hike along the river. We did a photoshoot under the bridge and ended up in the sailboat harbor, where they had a lot of newly built restaurants. All accessible with ramps.

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From the symbols in the bicycle lane, the path seemed to go 3-4 km further. I guess it would be possible to wheel/walk along the river until you reached the city centre again. But it was soon getting dark and we were getting hungry. So we saved that for the next visit.

And since this is the last blogpost from Lisbon, I guess there is only one thing left to say:

Au revoir!