Wheeling Oslo – The Secrets (The House)

Our house, it has a crowd
There’s always something happening and it’s usually quite loud
Our mum, she’s so house-proud
Nothing ever slows her down, and a mess is not allowed

Madness

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We had just discovered the world famous bar Himkok. But it turned out that there were more hidden gems in the small and discrete Youngs gate around the corner from Youngstorget in Oslo. One of the hidden gems is called Kulturhuset (Cultural House), and used to be located across the street next to the bar Internasjonalen. At the former location, I had only visited because of some seminars and to use the toilet when I was desperate in the area of Youngstorget. But a while ago Kulturhuset moved into a very old but completely refurbished building.

 

 

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We were checking out the building on a late Saturday afternoon, so it was hardly any people there. This gave us plenty of space and opportunity to move around and see what the building could offer.

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At the entrance level, there is a back alley with a bar. You can take the normal lift up to the mezzanine level, where you find the main bar and a café serving light meals (salads etc) and a concert stage.

At the second floor you’ll find a beer bar, with a remarkable variety of rare and special beers. Expensive of course (hey, you’re still in Norway), but the lady behind the counter had impressive knowledge and gave good advice based on the kind of beer you normally preferred. There’s also a big library bar where you can sit and chill or have a glass of wine while reading, if you prefer that. There are also some event rooms that can be rented for ping pong, concerts, happenings or special occasions.

Same for third floor. In addition to event rooms, you find the game bar, with large shuffle boards and table football. Because of these boards, the large room is kind of narrow, so it might be hard to actually get to the bar counter on a crowded night.

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But happy hipsters are usually not the worst to ask to move, so it might be doable. Who knows? If I remember correctly, there were nice and accessible toilets on both second and third level.

They even have a rom called the Laboratory and one called “The secret room”. I wonder what goes one there. Probably something intellectual. Like the periodic table of social issues…

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When I came back from the toilet, André was chatting to another beer nerd, who had left his group at the neighbour table.

– Guy: “What do you think about the wheelchair access here?” 
– Me (thinking pessimisticly): Oh, no, what comes next? Some kind of disability joke, or something?
– Guy: “You see, the construction company I work for, was in charge for the rehabilitation and the universal design of the building. And I was wondering what you thought of it.”
– The two of us (positively surprised): “We think it’s great. Even if the building is very old, you have made it very accessible. You did a great job!

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Politics or ping pong?

Some days ago I actually discovered that the building is one of the three finalists in the Architect Award of Oslo City. So obviously we’re not the only ones who thought the beer loving engineer did a great job.

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The library bar

Kulturhuset might not be the place I will hang out every week-end. I like trying out new places and places where you can get some food. But if you’re looking for a place to grab a beer after work in the city centre, it’s a very good alternative. Especially if your friends or colleagues are picky beer lovers. Or wheelchair users who are in need of a nice accessible toilet.

But shh….don’t tell anyone. It’s a secret!

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Wheeling Oslo – The Swim

This summer I went swimming,
This summer I might have drowned
But I held my breath and I kicked my feet
And I moved my arms around, I moved my arms around.
Loudon Wainwright
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The summer 2018 will be hard to forget… (Aker Brygge)

André moved to Norway in March 2017, meaning that winter 2018 was the first he got to experience in Oslo. And little did I know how bad it was going to be. Snow came early and it just never went away! And we got tons and tons of it. A snow record actually. We had not had that much snow in Oslo for 35 years! In the end, the trucks did not know where to put it. The snow storages were all full and the budget for clearing away snow was blown many months ago.
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Winter 2018 will also be hard to forget…

And the worst thing was…the snow never went away. Usually in March we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. But no. The snow stayed and stayed. And even ski loving friends and colleagues of mine, began to complain, telling me they were longing for spring. And even worse…we didn’t have a single plane picket to fly away from the white nightmare and spend a week or two at a sunny & therapeutic place.
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Cargo at Sørenga is the best place to watch the sunset

Not until April did we get rid of the disgusting white cover. Then we enjoyed some short and intense weeks of spring, until summer 2018 exploded in May. We got tropical temperatures and sun, sun, sun. And this is how it continued. May, June and July was more or less one long period of sunshine, heat and swimming. Unforgettable and deserving of a blog post, don’t you think?
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We spent quite some time at Sørenga & Barcode during summer 2018

In the beginning we were just euphoric and enjoying it with every inch of our body. We ignored emails, to do lists and spent as much time as possible outside. Because we thought – this can never last. If you have tropical summer in the beginning of May, it’s bound to give you a backlash at some time.
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Enjoying sun & summer at Cargo – Sørenga

But no, the backlash never came. Except for the few rainy days we had in June, when we had visitors from Switzerland. Talk about bad timing! After a while we just got used to it. And at some point it got so warm that the only sensible place to be, was the beach. I’ll remember the evening swim we had at Malmøya for a very long time. How often can you take a sea bath after seven o clock in the evening in Oslo without freezing? Never…
On a sunny day the sea bath at Sørenga looks more like a pile of ants (first photo with a view from from Ekeberg restaurant)
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After closing the very poorly constructed disabled “sea pool” for disabled, Oslo kommune has created an alternative solution in the “children’s section” at Sørenga Sjøbad.

So the challenge in 2018 actually consisted of finding a free spot at the beach. Oslo have many opportunities for swimming both in lakes, outdoor pools, the river and the ocean. But this summer the water was full. It was crowded. Pretty crazy…
Enjoying sunshine & waves at Solvikbukta…
But fortunately we do know about some hidden secrets and accessible beaches. We managed to enjoy 2-3 beach days at Malmøya for instance, before the summer storm came and took the universally designed ramp.
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Sunbathing at eight o’clock in the evening

My best suggestions when you want to find an accessible place for taking a swim in the Oslo area and surrounding is:
  1. Storøyodden beach (at Fornebu 20 minutes outside Oslo) – read more in my blog post from last super summer 2013
  2. Solvikbukta – Malmøya beach (especially adapted for disabled) – but the storm took the ramp only a short while after we were there
  3. Sørenga Sjøbad – partially accessible
  4. Tjuvholmen Sjøbad – only for those with strong upper bodies
  5. Nydalen badeplass – Akerselva river
  6. Frognerbadet (outdoor pool)
  7. Tøyenbadet (outdoor pool)
  8. Hvervenbukta – accessible but I never tried swimming there
  9. Hvalstrand – Asker (30 minutes outside Oslo)
  10. Sognsvann – fresh water lake
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Don’t feel like swimming? What about dancing instead…?

There are also some good websites with advice on where to find accessible places to swim or take sunbaths in Oslo:

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Nydalen badeplass in Akerselva river is accessible via a ramp
And here’s some more photos to illustrate the crazy summer of 2018:
This summer I swam in the ocean,
And I swam in a swimming pool,
Salt my wounds, chlorine my eyes,
I’m a self-destructive fool, a self-destructive fool.
Storøyodden beach – read more about wheelchair access here
This summer I swam in a public place
And a reservoir, to boot,
At the latter I was informal,
At the former I wore my suit, I wore my swimming suit.
At Tjuvholmen you can have a glass of wine, do people watching, visit art galleries & museums, chill at the beach (not accessible) or take a swim at the sea bath (doable for some). Or do some sightseeing with your unicorn floating device if that’s your thing…

This summer I did the backstroke
And you know that’s not all
I did the breast stroke and the butterfly
And the old Australian crawl, the old Australian crawl.

This summer I did swan dives
And jackknifes for you all
And once when you weren’t looking
I did a cannonball, I did a cannonball.
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And if you’re desperate, you can always find a fountain…

Wheeling DC – Burning Men & Wet Women

I set fire to the rain,
And I threw us into the flames
Well, it felt something died
‘Cause I knew that, that was the last time
The last time
Adele
It was exactly six years ago since we were there. In July 2012. The same two friends & colleagues, the same city, the same street and the same weather. We had been to the same conference, hosted by the same organization – the American OI Foundation.
The two friends were Inger-Margrethe and I, the city Washington DC, the street Pennsylvania Avenue and the weather was…let’s say brutal.
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The first time, we were not prepared neither mentally or equipment wise. So just a few hours before our flight was going back to Oslo via Heathrow, the weather gods decided to poor a big bucket of rain on us, on our way back to the hotel in Washington DC.
In 2012 we stayed in the Liaison hotel, which was at that time affordable. And with the tropical temperature, it was a great experience with its rooftop pool and the duck pancakes from Oprah’s former chef.
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This time around (2018) the Liaison had grown completely out of our price range, so we stayed in the AKA White House instead. And I suspect that the AKA White House is also normally out of our price range. But we got a very good deal at Hotels.com for the 24 hours we were spending there. Especially since we were upgraded to a gigantic suite without extra charge. Sometimes it can pay off to have a wheelchair and bambi eyes. Even if they are only exposed in an email.
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When your hotel room has a guest toilet, you know you have made a good deal…

But enough about hotels. This blog post was supposed to be about burning men and wet women. Or art & the weather if you find the original topic a bit cheesy.
Back to 2012 and Pennsylvania Avenue. The sky opened and the rain poured down on us. First we got wet and then we got soaked. We tried to get a taxi. But nobody would stop. Especially with the wheelchair in sight. So we just had to walk & wheel back to the Liaison. Wet, wet, wet. Before we could rush to the airport, we had to visit the accessible toilet at the hotel, remove all our soaking wet clothes and put on dry ones. Just minutes before our taxi came to pick us up and drive us to the airport.
This time around it was July 2018. Not as intensely hot & humid as in 2012, but pretty close. Because of the weather forecast we had bought an umbrella (which I forgot at the first café we visited) and rain capes. But the weather looked good. No use for the rain capes. Before we were outside the Trump Towers…
Then the sky opened again and the rain started to poor down accompanied by intense lighting and thunder. First we sought refuge under a sun screen and then in an Italian restaurant. But it did not seem to stop. And we soon had to go back to the hotel and our pre ordered shuttle to the airport. But before that we were planning to stop by the Renwick art gallery to check out the exibit Burning Man. Might as well hit the road…
So out we went out again. In the rain. And the flooding streets of DC. And when we passed the White House, a security guard came and told us agressively to get out of the way. The area was flooding and it was not safe to move outside anymore. Security warning! A few minutes later we more or less dived into the basement entrance of the Renwick and a voice came over the loud speakers:
– “Security warning: Because of heavy rain and flooding, it is not safe to move outside. Please stay inside the building for the next 3-4 hours.”
Oh there goes our trip to the airport, we thought. While trying to remove our raingear, which had caved in during the most heavy downfall. Once again I was wet inside out including the pillow of my wheelchair. I was seriously hoping that the art would get my mind off my wet underwear.

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And it succeeded! Burning Man was one of the most fascinating art exhibits I’ve ever been to. You don’t know what Burning Man is? Google it! It just takes too many words to describe. And since I’m too lazy to climb mountains or write a lot of text – I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
And the rain stopped less than one hour later. We managed to get back to the hotel and even managed to get some food on our way. Same procedure as last time. The problem was that my pillow was more soaked than I thought. So even if I put on dry clothes at the hotel, my bottom was wet again when we got to the airport.

Fortunately Dulles International Airport (dull as it might be) have lower dryers (or whatever they are called) at the airport bathrooms. So there I was. Drying my behind and my pillow on a drying machine at the airport. Because the thought of sitting 8 hours on a night flight on a wet pillow didn’t seem particularly tempting nor healthy.

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Mission accomplished. Pillow and bottom dried up.
Plane delayed, but only a little bit.

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We were on our way back from Washinton DC again.
After the weatherwise deja vu of a lifetime.
Come rain or come shine.
We’ll be back.
Some sunny/rainy day.
Sometimes you have to look carefully to see the whole picture…
(Peepholes from the exhibition Burning Man)
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Wheel the World – The Mountain

Listen baby, ain’t no mountain high
Ain’t no valley low, ain’t no river wide enough baby
If you need me call me no matter where you are
No matter how far don’t worry baby
Just call my name I’ll be there in a hurry
You don’t have to worry
Marvin Gaye
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Photo: André Wittwer

Three days ago Facebook was so kind to remind me that it was one year since I went on the mountain trip of my life. I come from Norway, so I have seen and driven through mountains my entire life. But this was the first time I was actually going to the top of a big one. And I had to go to Switzerland to succeed with my mountain expedition. Because I’m not one of those people who you will see crawling on a pile of rocks on my knees to prove that “Yes, I can!”.
Kudos to those who do, but I prefer to do it the lazy way…
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Switzerland is great for that purpose, because they have been so friendly to build cable cars to ascend several of their highest mountains. And not only that – they have been so kind as to make these establishments accessible for wheelchair users as well.
So on August 2nd 2017, we were going to the top of Schilthorn – a summit in the Bernese Alps of Switzerland. It overlooks the valley of Lauterbrunnen in the Bernese Oberland, and is the highest mountain in the range lying north of the Sefinenfurgge Pass.
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And André’s Swiss friends were kind enough to drive us to Mürren, where the first cable car station is situated. After André moved to Norway, we have no car to get around while in Switzerland. And I doubt that it’s possible to get close to Schilthorn by public transport. It seemed to be mostly private cars and tourist buses as far as I could see. But I did not really check.
At the parking place in Mürren one the first things you see are impressive walls of rock, stunning waterfalls, the first cable car and paragliders.
Look out!
The station at Mürren has an elevator to get up to the level where you enter the cable car, but between the ticket office and the 2nd level there is a long stretch of stairs. So either you buy tickets first and go out and around the building again. Or you can have your friends buy tickets for you, as we did. Right outside the station there were accessible parking.
In Mürren you find the first station of many. Because when you are ascending a mountain as high as 2970 meters, you cannot do it in one stretch. There are actually five stations to take you up to the summit called Piz Gloria, where there is a revolving restaurant and a James Bond museum…nothing less. But the logistics works pretty well (Swiss style) even if there are a lot of confused tourists around.
Schilthorn was one of the mountains where they shot the famous cable car scenes in one of the earlier James Bond movies. And because of that they decided to build a Bond museum at the summit. Nothing wrong with a little help on the advertising, is it?
The entrance to all the four cable cars is level free. There might be a small gap – but it should be possible both with manual chairs (as we had) or electrical wheelchairs.
So it’s smooth sailing. The biggest challenge you might face at Schilthorn are Asian tourists in a hurry. Because there was no mercy when waiting for the elevators to take us up to the restaurant. The Asians wanted to go first. And they squeezed together – in good old fashioned Tokyo subway style. We were not in a hurry, and had no need to be squeezed in the elevator sandwich. So we waited…
The first thing we did, when we reached the top was to have a meal in the revolving restaurant. There is however one high (moving) step to get down to the tables with the best view – so be aware of this if you bring an electrical wheelchair or poor balance.
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While you eat a better (but touristic) meal, you can enjoy a 360 panorama view of a very impressive mountain chain. It takes around one hour for the restaurant to go all the way around. And even if it’s a strange feeling – it does not go so fast that you get dizzy. Unless you drink too much wine of course…
After that you can go outside to the viewing plattform. Where you also have a more or less 360 degree viewing possibility to the same area.
Some of the plattform is painted in pink, to give you as good photo reflection light as possible when taking your selfies with the mountain background. We got some help from a fellow tourist, because we didn’t have the essential accessory…the selfie stick.
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Looking good, heh?
After taking our time to watch the magnificent view and taking the elementary selfies,  we also checked out the Bond museum. Fun! But to be honest – it’s the view I will remember and not the museum…
I cannot really remember if there were accessible toilets – but I’m pretty sure there were.
And then it was time to descend. We had the ‘premium seats’ this time. I had butterflies in my stomach because I’m a little bit afraid of hights. But it’s hard to beat that view!
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And when we were safely on the ground again, all the participants agreed that it had been a very nice day for a trip to the mountain top.
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Or as we say in Norwegian:
“Alle var enige om at det hadde vært en fin tur!” 

Wheeling New York – The Hotel

You gonna love me, like nobody’s loved me
Come rain or come shine
Happy together, unhappy together
Wouldn’t it be fine

Days may be cloudy or sunny
We’re in or we are out of the money, yeah
I’m with you always
I’m with you rain or shine

Ray Charles

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We did get to enjoy at least one NYC sunset at the rooftop terrace

– ‘Wouldn’t it be great with a spring break in New York?’
– ‘Yes, that’s a great idea! Because then I can buy another guitar.’
– ‘Hmm, are you really sure that it’s smart to buy an electric guitar as a souvenir?’
– ‘Hey…I cannot go to New York without buying a guitar…’

So we searched the web for a decent hotel (and guitar shops) and booked a direct flight with the Norwegian Dreamliner. Departure was only two days after we had arrived home from Vienna. But two days is enough to relax and do laundry, isn’t it?

Little did we know that it was going to be a tropical sunny May month in Oslo.
And some very very rainy May days in New York.
We were kind of mentally prepared before we arrived though. The weather forecast from Yr had been warning us for a while already, on what kind of weather we were in for. So gore tex rain gear was packed.
But sometimes not even gore tex is enough. On May 20th 2018 the whole New York City was more or less flooded and just getting a bottle of coke from the grocery shop on the corner included a risk of drowning.
Fortunately we had a very nice hotel to seek refuge in during the worst rainy days. The first time I visited New York was in July 2015. Then we stayed in Night Hotel Times Square, which was an ok hotel, but very noisy because of construction work. And with its location very close to the Times Square, it was central indeed. But it was kind of stressful having to pass the busy square several times a day.

This time around I wanted to try something different. I had fallen for the good old fashioned rooftop photo from Hotels.com again. When I saw the photo of the view from the rooftop terrace at Hotel 50 Bowery NYC, I just knew we had to stay there.

Situated in the middle of Chinatown, the rather tall building is surrounded by low buildings on all four sides. This offers an amazing 360 degree view to the entire Manhattan from the rooftop bar The Crown and its two separate rooftop terraces. And unlike many other rooftop terraces I found at my first trip to NYC, these two were huge and wheelchair accessible with see through walls.
And what was the first thing we heard when we closed the door to our hotel room? Norwegian of course. When you have found a nice hotel somewhere, you can be sure that some other Norwegians have found it before you.
They are everywhere…

Actually we ended up celebrating Norway’s constitution day at our hotel as well. Our original plan was to take part in a May 17th Parade on Broadway. But it turned out that the parade was postponed until the week-end. And the rest of the May 17th extravaganza was going to take place on the Thursday afternoon in Brooklyn. So when we accidentally discovered on Facebook that one of the biggest May 17th events was going to take place in our hotel, the choice was very easy. The event even had free admission! And thanks to the friendly staff at the reception, we made sure that we got on the guestlist.

And that is how we ended up celebrating May 17th 2018 on top of New York, together with Norwegian students, their friends, a Norwegian marching band and American guys just looking for free drinks during Happy Hour.
Cheers & hoooray!
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Besides the fantastic rooftop terrace, Hotel 50 Bowery NYC was a very good choice in general. These were my favourite things about the hotel:
  • The service was probably some of the best I have experienced – the whole staff really did their best to make you feel welcome
  • The hotel room was nice and the beds were comfortable
  • The bathroom was wheelchair accessible with a wheel-in shower and I could actually reach the shower head (although complicated to figure out as usual).
  • The mix of modern and old fashioned Asian decor was cool
  • The Crown bar had good drinks and DJs – but if you like peace and quiet the place is not for you. As one of the older guys said before he left – “This is a place for millenials; not for me…”
  • The sound levels in the hotel room were acceptable. Even if the hotel was situated in a busy intersection, we could still sleep even if we could vaguely hear sirens and car honking 24/7
  • The carpets were easy to wheel, something which is hard to find in the US

The hotel restaurant Rice & Gold offered tasty and spicy Asian fusion dining, which was ok. But I must admit that I was a bit tired of Asian fusion food after having to eat there three nights in a week because of the awful weather. And the service in the restaurant did not match the one at the hotel.

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Another issue, which might stop us from using this fantastic hotel again, was the location. Because the sidewalks of Chinatown turned out to be in a much poorer state than those of upper Manhattan. Several places curbcuts were missing completely and a few times we had to ask people for help to cross the street.

During our stay all the subway stations in Chinatown and Soho had lifts out of service, so we had to rely on wheeling ourselves or getting a taxi.

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And I can confirm it:
Getting a taxi as a wheelchair user in New York is hell! 
Being two wheelchair users together doesn’t exactly make it any easier. And with the rain we had more than 50 per cent of our stay, both wheeling and finding a taxi was substantially more difficult. We tried the socalled Accessible Dispatch several times, but concluded that this was more or less a joke. At least without the app, which we could not download in the European app store.
Even if you got a confirmation by email that a taxi was on its way from the dispatch, you never really knew when or IF it would show up. If it wasn’t for a Belgian woman who threw herself into the street and stopped the whole crazy NYC traffic, we would probably be stuck on that corner in Greenwich Village still…
I will be ever so grateful that she more or less risked her life to get us home on a night where my bodily batteries were pretty flat after wheeling the entire High Line and half of Lower Manhattan. Merci beaucoup Madame!
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Wheeling the High Line

So the area was a challenge indeed. Perhaps a scooter would have been the solution because the worst curbcuts could usually be avoided. Or taking the bus.

But in a perfect world – I’d like to move the Hotel 50 Bowery NYC to another place in Manhattan. The problem is that then you would not have the fantastic view.

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Oh sigh.
I guess you cannot have it all…

Wheeling Oslo – The Secrets I

Oh! Can you see me, here I am
Standing here where I’ve always been
When I feel like giving up
I promise inside your heart I’d still find
Yeah, yeah
You’re my safest place to hide, oh yeah
You’re my safest place to hide
The Beach Boys
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I have lived in Oslo for 24 years now. And one of the things that I love about the city is that I keep discovering new places, restaurants, beaches, walking paths, bars and so on. It’s like the city is in a constant state of metamorphosis. Or places going bankrupt leaving space for new ones if you want to be cynical…
Sometimes I feel that I should keep some of the gems as my own private secret. But then again…if it’s too secret, nobody will visit and they end up going bankrupt as so many business before.
So here’s the first post in my new column “Wheeling Oslo – The Secrets”.

 

One of the coolest hidden secrets in Oslo is the cocktail bar Himkok. In the middle of the city centre, they have their own distillery where they produce their own gin, vodka and aquavit. The New York Times has voted Himkok as the 20th best cocktail bar in the world. In spite of this, it is still not overcrowded. At least not if you show up early. A lot of it has to do with the very discrete entrance and the lack of marketing. This is a place you have to know about, and the owners obviously want to keep it like that.

 

My first encounter with Himkok was on Facebook. I had recently written my blog about the cocktail trail in Oslo, and I was such an amateur that I wrote that Himkok was not wheelchair accessible without doing my homework properly. Something which spurred a sligthly grumpy reply from Himkok, stating that they had both an accessible entrance, wheelchair friendly toilet, ramps and elevator. Even if the bar is situated in a very old refurbished building. So I apologized, deleted the Facebook comment and promised to pay them a visit and write a blog about if afterwards.
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And it’s true. Himkok is completely wheelchair accessible. The cider bar is narrow and it can be hard to enter this way, because people might have to move for you to pass. But if you turn right just after the main entrance, you can enter through the main cocktail bar. The main bar has more space but only high chairs and table. No matter which bar you prefer – it’s good to be early. Even if Himkok is still a hidden secret, there are enough cocktail lovers in Oslo. So later in the evenings it’s supposed to be packed.

Himkok is divided into three parts:

The main cocktailbar with very advanced self invented drinks with a constantly changing topic and menu. The topics are usually connected to some Norwegian theme, like the national costume bunad or Norwegian berries for instance.

Then there is the cider bar, where you in the summer season can sit under the open sky on two different levels. This is the only bar that has low tables. There is an elevator to get to the 2nd level, where you also find another bar/nightclub, with simpler (normal) cocktails and a dancefloor for late evenings. In the night club, you have either very low or high tables and a bed, where you can take a nap or strike a pose among the happy hipsters of Oslo.

The disabled friendly toilet is downstairs between the main bar and the cider bar.
The crew is service minded and will help you carrying the drinks to your table if you are afraid of spilling the (rather expensive) valuable drops on your zigzag way to the table. Because in Himkok there is not a lot of space for maneuvering. But we have visited twice with two power chairs at the same time, and it works out fine unless there are too many people or you are too drunk…
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And here I am. Almost forgetting the most important thing – the cocktails.

Yes, they are expensive. But they are also exceptionally good.
But shhh…don’t tell! It’s a secret…

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.