London was hot – too hot even for the Londoners..
Personal fans sold out. Even the Show we took in was almost unbearable. At eight in the evening the debate was still raging –should the doors be open or closed? Were they letting in more heat, or would people suffocate if they shut them? Transport in London does not exist for the disabled tourist, only for residents and taxis are very expensive, so we walked. Between London to Folkestone we had to travel in the guard’s van. The ferry crossing was simple but on arrival at the station in Boulogne, we started to worry. The ramps were different over here. They were half-moon shape, because the trains were that much higher than in this country, but worse than that, there was only one of them!
“You definitely informed them a wheelchair was coming?” I asked.
“Couldn’t” he replied, rather too late for my liking. “There’s no communication between British rail and SNCF: it was impossible to book all the way through.”
“But we are in European Union!” I remonstrated.
“Not where trains are concerned,” he told me, correctly. I checked on my return.
The train arrived, the guard did not have time to look for the missing ramp, so various passengers were enlisted to hoist the wheelchair aboard with a terrified occupant.
“How are they going to get me off at Paris?” he wailed. “I couldn’t stand going off front wards!”
A degree of hysteria had crept in, with no idea how we were going to exit the train. However, with a disability the travel in France is First Class, and it was pleasurable. It was quiet and relaxing, preventing him from worrying too much about his exit strategy.
We need not have worried. A platform lift was there to assist in exiting the train. The operator was very friendly, and realised Shand’s degree of concern. He made soothing noises in French. Reassurance was given.
With the operation over, I asked this kindly lift operator how far it was to the hotel Shand had booked. He looked astonished. “That is at least a mile away.” he said in French. I asked in which direction. He thought for a minute and then said with an air of confidence “I will take you!”
“How are you going to take us?” I asked, again wondering if he understood the complexity of the situation.
“Nous marchons au pied!” “We will go on foot,” he announced happily in French, and loading all our bags effortlessly into a station trolley, he set off at a canter. We rushed along behind, making every effort to keep up.
He delivered us safely at our destination, wished us a good holiday, and said he would expect to see us at the Gare du Nord on our return journey. These little touches – these people who took time to go the extra mile –literally! – they really had no comprehension how much difference it made to our holiday and our feeling of well-being.
Paris was expensive, and there was no wheelchair transport.
Shand had booked a room with no air conditioning, and we realised that this was a mistake after one night. Keep the windows shut, and you suffocate with heat – open them and you suffocate with fumes from the traffic. We were quite happy to leave after a couple of days, and take the SNCF to Nancy. Again, the First Class treatment was wonderful, and the journey passed quickly. We disembarked at Nancy station, and I tried my French out again.
“How far to this hotel?”
This time the looks were more than astonished, as I was informed that it was in excess of seven miles. Tired and hot,I was not amused. I asked Shand what he had been thinking about. He was equally confused, and told me that he had understood that the hotel was in the middle of the town. There was one of a similar name in the town centre, but confusion between languages meant that we were booked into the one several miles away. In high dudgeon I decided we needed to walk again. The guard had been following the heated discussion by looking from my face to Shand’s with growing incredulity as the row had escalated, but it was obvious he had understood very little until I started to pick up the suitcases to walk
“Mais, Non!” said the station guard “Nous avons GIHP!”(Pronounced JEEP) I had never heard of this, and asked for an explanation. It turned out to be disabled transport.
“We cannot wait until next week,” I said abruptly, not prepared to be mollified, and with decades of jaundiced experience of disabled transport in Scotland
However, I was assured it would only be quarter of an hour, and although I was more than sceptical, the man was right. For £5.00 we bought a book of tickets that would cover us for ten journeys. It was amazing. What towns had this system, we wanted to know? Just Nancy, Metz and Strasbourg, was the answer
How much notice did we have to give, and how late at night did they run? I asked
I was regarded with astonishment and incredulity. I was informed that as we were paying, we returned when we wanted to, if it was the middle of the night that was fine. Twelve hours notice was usually enough. We used it every day.
It was absolute bliss. This transport made our holiday. There were very few English-speaking people there, and so they made a real fuss of us. They suggested interesting places that we might like to see, they told us about their famous park, (Parc de la Pepiniere, if I remember correctly) which was not just a park as we think of it, but more a community centre, zoo, and public gardens with gaming facilities. Beautiful floral clock displays, fountains, and quiet rose gardens lit at night – something for families and those wanting peace. It was very cleverly constructed and very popular.
My real bit of excitement here was when the police woke me from sunbathing, and angrily demanded that I remove myself. I did not understand at first, because other people were sunbathing in the park. They explained that you could only sunbathe in certain areas!
Every night the was son et lumiere in Stanislas Square, and it was lovely to be able to stay out and enjoy this, where at home we would have been bundled away before it started because transport was so restricted. The shops were good, there were excellent markets, the days were warm, and the accommodation was one of the highest standard of design I have ever come across. It was one of the Novotel group, and very cleverly done. On first sight, I thought the room would be far too small, but it worked well. The toilet was planned with great precision. It was really cheap – something like £5.00 per night including breakfast – much cheaper than a bed and breakfast at home.
All too soon we had to make the homeward trip —– and that was epic!