8. In search of the sun in Europe
Barcelona, Spain & Paris, France
My travels were, undoubtedly, to continue, but where ?. It was Easter time so flying anywhere at short notice would be difficult ant very expensive. With limited time and on a limited budget I decided to travel through Spain and France. I could get a cheap flight to Barcelona and back through France on the train, giving me the opportunity to experience deep sea transit !. – The channel tunnel.
The precedent had been set, early starts had become the travelling reality. A 6am start and another airport run. Once we disembarked from the plane there were language difficulties, from baggage handling staff to taxi drivers. The problems faced with trying to handle, position, dismantle my wheelchair were very difficult with not being able to explain what to do.
The hostel was a large renovated monastery which looked pleasant and but was a long way from the centre – peaceful but isolated, not my scene. The language problems also became apparent at the hostel, it was really depressing me that I couldn’t listen too or converse with other fellow travellers. I then had a terrible institutional style dinner – in silence. The entire atmosphere made the hostel feel like a prison. I just wanted to return home – very very soon.
The sole good point that day was meeting one of the very few wheelchair travellers I have met. His name was Alan, a lawyer from Brazil, who was travelling Europe by train – he was an inspiration about Barcelona – he told me about wheelchair accessible buses and where to go.
I went down the steep hill to catch the wheelchair accessible bus. I took the bus all the way through Barcelona to the centre, town hall square, which was actually a circle !. The atmosphere, people and buildings were typically European.
I still felt lost and had nowhere to go, with no guide book and no-one to ask, I got back on the bus to return to the hostel. I bought some bread and cheese from a very European style patisserie. My thoughts were still of how to get home.
I sat on the balcony at the hostel in solitude, it was a warm sunny day and I looked out over the beautiful Spanish country-side. I sat and thought about my trip and realised that, although Europe was distinctly different to my travels in America, it wasn’t necessarily worse just different. I was actually enjoying my travels in Barcelona, despite the previous days negativity.
This was Europe and most people could speak some degree of English plus it was a multi-national hostel where many people’s first language is English, so blatantly I was worrying about nothing and any language problems were immaterial.
With the gloom lifted, I headed for the personal disabled shower. I must mention that, even to this day, I have never known a better shower, the water was steaming hot, the water pressure was so strong, I sat in the shower for nearly 1 hour, being massaged by the water.
The next morning, I woke with a fresh sense of vigour. Again I took the bus into the centre but this time armed with my tourist map of Barcelona with accessible bus routes marked. I wheeled down to the beautiful old cathedral then down to marina, which had some amazing yachts on show. I could really see the beauty of Barcelona with the warm sun shining. I then wheeled through Barcelona park and through to the Spanish version of the Arc de Triumph. I then took the bus to the Olympic village and wheeled along the beach front, where topless beach babes adorned – although the sun was shining the wind made it nippley, sorry, nippy !.
After a very busy and fulfilling day, I returned to the hostel where I ate a weird combination European style dinner of cheese, salami, turkey burgers and croquette’s. After dinner had an informative chat with Alan about travel in a wheelchair. I went to bed exhausted but having had a wonderful and fulfilling day.
Took several buses to the station to get a train ticket to Paris, a sleeper train the following evening. After a long search to find the hostel booking office and a disaster from wheeling through dog mess, I joined the booking queue – the 2 hour queue. Eventually it was my turn but all the hostels in Paris were full which would mean either staying in an expensive hotel or not staying in Paris.
I caught the bus back to the beach, where I hoped to see more topless girls. Sadly it has too windy so I sat at a promenade restaurant where I tried a traditional seafood paella. Before returning to the hostel and the fantastic shower !.
I checked out and took my bags to the train station to leave in the lockers. I took the bus to Mount Conjuric, where the Olympic stadium are then a tram to top, where there was an amazing view of Barcelona. I took Metro to Sagrada Famila, a half finished cathedral then a bus back to beach – Where there was more topless young girls. I then took a bus to top of, the supposedly famous, Les Rambles, I wheeled down Les Rambles and saw the amazing sunset.
Supposed, the bus stop at the bottom of Les Ramble was where I could get a bus to the train station, I waited for 90 minutes and still no bus. I had just enough time to make it under my own steam so I hurriedly wheeled to station. I arrived with minutes to spare, I looked at their clock – 21.13 – I looked at my watch – 20:13 – I had missed the train !.
An hour of panic ensued but I decided to get the same train the following night, I changed my watch and returned to the hostel.
I checked out, again, and took my bags to the train station to leave in the lockers, again. I spent several hours ‘people watching’ at town hall circle !., then took a bus down to the beach where I spent the rest of the day ‘people watching’.
I arrived at station with train leaving earlier than I thought, so another rush down the platform to my carriage – the last of 87 carriages !. The train had just started to move as I was being ‘manhandled’ to my sleeper compartment.
After a reasonably good night’s sleep, the train pulled into Paris station at 8:15am, I was to spend the day in Paris and get an evening Euro star train through the channel tunnel back to London. Paris, being a huge city, had multiple stations and I had arrived at a different one to where the Euro star trains departed. I took a taxi past the cathedral of Notre Dame to the correct station, bought an evening Euro star ticket and took another taxi to the Eiffel tower. The view from up the famous Paris icon was amazing, although the city wasn’t as classically European looking as my view of Barcelona. I then sat in the sun in the park below the Eiffel tower ‘people watching’ before taking a taxi to the Arc de Triumph and wheeling down the Chanes Ellysae.
My train was booked for 8:15pm, being rush hour in Paris, I decided to head back to the station at 5:15pm. I waited an hour for a taxi, but nothing so I decided to hurriedly wheel back, after wheeling for an hour and a half, I found a taxi which only just got me to the station in time. I hadn’t enough French Francs for the fare so I convinced him to take double the fare in Spanish Paesators.
Going through the channel tunnel means a border crossing with passport control and customs officers. For an unknown reason the customs officer decided to search me, unfortunately I had bought a souvenir knife in Barcelona – he found it. I missed my train, got a telling off, a fine and a record on my passport that I was trying to bring an illegal weapon into the country !.
I caught the Euro star an hour later and arrived back in London at 11:15pm. Only 8 days after my initial flight to Barcelona.
My first European experience taught me many things ; Barcelona is a beautiful city, the wheelchair accessible public transport makes it fantastic. Although Paris is one of the great European cities, no wheelchair accessible transport makes it less accessible and more expensive in taxi fares.
I hated Spain for the first 24 hours due to the language difficulties, but after 24 hours I realised that full verbal communication need not be necessary for enjoyable travelling experiences. Only knowing the words yes, no and thank-you made me realise language difference is immaterial
But the most important being that solo travel = freedom and challenges make travelling enjoyable.