As featured in The Huffington Post
Paris – one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world. I have been there twice. The first time was at least ten years ago as a non wheelchair hair user and the second time a few weeks ago as a wheelchair user. Complete different experience.
The first time I was able to use the “metropolitain”. Although, I was struggling a bit with the stairs because my condition was already kicking in, I managed anyway. I remember long stairs to go in and out the underground stations. Therefore, I walked most of the time. I tried to use buses instead, but because the second day I was there was Sunday, the service was reduced. I remember that mini break as the most exhausting I have ever done. So much so, that I never really enjoyed, appreciated and liked Paris as much.
This time, on the contrary, I loved every moment of it. Only one little hiccup, when I arrived with the Eurostar train at La Gare du Nord, they completely forgot about me, so I had to wait twenty minutes to get the assistance.
As soon as I was free, I entered the main area of the station, looking for the information point to get the underground map and see which stations were accessible. I was optimistic, maybe after ten years, at least some of the stations would have been accessible by now. Well, that was the most difficult challenge of the day, upsetting but also hilarious at times. Try to make yourself understood by French people, most of them do not speak English or cannot be bothered to make an effort. So, I am Italian and the part of Italy where I am from our dialect is a little bit similar to French. I also studied French for many years, but as you know, if you do not practice you forget. Therefore, I was trying to speak French mixed up with some Italian dialect and then gave up and switched to English. One of the most hilarious episodes happened when I was at Monparnasse station and had to get off at Denfert Rochereau. So, I approached a staff member telling him where I had to go and asking where the lift to access the underground was located.
He went: “No metropolitain...bus. Here to here...bus”
I went: “Excuse moi, la station c'est accessible. Sur la map il y a le lift”!
Him: “No metropolitain, bus!”
Me: “No bus, avec la metropolitain!”
Him: “No no no avec le bus.”
I gave up! I am quite stubborn especially when I think I am right. Before asking I looked it up on the internet and I found a map where all the accessible stations are indicated and the ones I had to go to were fine, according to this map. But, when I was there the reality was completely different. After I asked about the accessibility at three different stations, the answer was always the same! I could not believe that none of the underground stations were accessible. In Paris the only accessible transport are Trains and Buses.
Have a look at my video Paris on Wheels
Although, I was not able to use the underground, this did not ruin my mini break. Since I am a wheelchair user I have learned, that nothing goes as planned and you always have to be prepared to rearrange, adapt, find a solution and make the most of it.
I was there with my boyfriend, and our first stop was The Eiffel Tower. If you are not a wheelchair user then the queue to go up the tower can easily be hours. Well, we got up there in ten minutes. You should have seen people's faces. I enjoy myself so much in these moments. If I am in a bad mood I tell them if they want to swap? Nobody ever said yes please! Bare in mind though that the lift only takes you up to the second floor. From there, to get to the very top there are only steps. However, do not worry you get a pretty good view from there, even being only on the second floor.
Another place where we went in to visit was Victor Hugo's house. There is one side that is free and another side where they have the exhibition that is ticketed, but hey, we got in for free and the place is fully accessible. I do not know if they let in for free all the people with disabilities, but if you like that sort of things to visit, it is worth a try.
We also went to see the Sacre Coeur church, which is the one on top of a hill and lots of steps to get up there. But, do not worry; there is a funicular/cable railway that takes you up there. Once we got there, we wanted to have a look inside, but I could not find the accessible entrance. Apparently, we did not look hard enough, it is at the back of the church. We did look, but it must be very hidden as neither of us could see it.
I am a weird traveller, most of the time I cannot be bothered to get into places, especially museums. Those are the one I usually remove first from the list of things to see in a city. I am more fascinated by the architecture, which you can see from the outside . Also, I like to explore the non-touristic side, which is less overcrowded and cheaper. I like to see the real Paris, the one Parisians live in. Therefore, I cannot tell you about the Louvre, which I think is accessible, but I only took a picture in front of it.
Overall, Paris is quite accessible apart from the underground. Pavements, most of them are quite big and in good condition with slopes to cross from one side to the other. The bus service is very good. They are very big and can accommodate even two wheelchairs at the same time. To know which bus you need we simply used google maps or you can download the RATP app. Also train stations are accessible. If you get to Paris by plane, the train station that takes you to the centre of the city is accessible with assistance.
Suggestion, be prepared with some French sentences and if they do not seem to be up to help you just ask someone else, there are some nice people in Paris, despite the usual stereotype!