Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Highlights and Lowlights


It hasn't been a very busy travel year for us as we've had other, real-life issues to deal with but we did get some in.  Here are some of the highlights and lowlights of the year.



AIRLINES: We did not have a bad flight this year. Southwest and Alaska both took very good care of us and we had very enjoyable flights. Hard to say which one is a better bet this year but Alaska is getting very aggressive with their pricing and destinations as we head into the new year. Look into it if you'd like to get away to a warmer climate for awhile.

On the other hand...



AIRPORTS: Have nothing good to say about three of the four airports we transited through this year...LAX, BWI, and LIR...but ONT still is a pleasant but very dead place to fly in and out of. Maybe now that the city of Ontario is taking over the reigns from LAX, they can revitalize this very convenient and much underused facility.



HOTELS: Shenandoah Inn, the mom and pop motel in the Motherlode that could, is still one of the most enjoyable and relaxing places we've ever stayed. Located in the heart of California's Gold Country with friendly and competent owners Ken and Marie, I can feel my stress melting away as soon as I hit their driveway.

We had a so-so stay at the Springhill Suites in Baltimore but found a fantastic Courtyard by Marriott when we moved over to nearby Washington D.C. We also had a pretty miserable, and cold, night in another Courtyard in San Diego at the beginning of the year but a couple of stays at Homewood Suites completely made up for that, a very nice and consistent brand (four stays at four different locations with four very nice experiences).

And I'd be remiss to not mention the very nice and understated Borrego Springs Resort, an oasis of relaxation in the middle of Anza Borrego Desert State Park in California.

RENTAL CAR: We don't rent cars very often but when we do, we usually have a good experience. Not really posted for 2015 but coming up very soon on this blog, we had an absolutely nightmarish experience with Alamo in Costa Rica who tried to gouge us out of another $600 for insurance on arrival. Put a shadow on the entire trip.



FOOD: This one's easy. Two outstanding restaurants encountered on our journeys this year, I don't even have to bat an eye over trying to pull them out of my memory...Supano's in Baltimore and Taste in Plymouth, California.

Supano's is like dining with your Italian aunts and uncles, you know, the ones who make the most exquisite dishes you've every tried and ladle it out with friendly banter and converstation with the ever-present Sinatra soundtrack in the background. We absolutely fell in love with this place and their staff.

Taste is one of those great California restaurants that take their food to another level of taste and refinement. It's located in the most unpretentious location and the atmosphere shows it. Great, relaxed, and friendly service with some of the most delicious, handcrafted entrees you'll ever have.

Both restaurants are expensive but worth every single penny, and more.



If you want good, cheap food, our champion is still Los Tacos de Huicho, the best little taco shop in the world way, way off the beaten path in Bakersfield, California or the very good (and cheap!) steakhouse at Molino Viejo in San Quintin, Baja California.

So there you have it, the highs and lows from...what for us...is kind of a quiet travel year. Next week, we break out the new posts for 2016 so be sure to join us for another year of fun and accessible travel adventures.

Darryl
Copyright 2016 - Darryl Musick
All rights Reserved

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

HITTING THE SLOPES: Adaptive Skiing in the U.S.A


There are several programs in the U.S. geared to helping those with special needs to learn how to ski or even just to go out for a day of fun on the slopes with a couple of professional guides.


Fair warning, though...these programs can be very expensive. Count on spending well over $100 per day. Still, probably more fun than Disneyland which would cost just as much.


There are a few organizations and charities that might be able to lower the cost via scholarships and charitable funding. In my area, Southern California, Ability First organizes a ski weekend camp in the San Bernardino Mountains and Casa Colina in Pomona also offers ski trips for those with special needs.

Here is the start of our list of adaptive programs in the United States...contact the program of your choice for costs and information. Click on links to visit each one.




ALASKA

Challenge Alaska runs an adaptive ski program at Alyeska Resort near Anchorage.
Eaglecrest Ski Area near Juneau has a program.

ARIZONA

The Arizona Snowbowl offers adaptive skiing near Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon.



CALIFORNIA

Lake Tahoe Area -
Alpine Meadows at Lake Tahoe has one of the older, more established adaptive programs around.
Heavenly Valley now has an adaptive program.

Bear Valley, east of Sacramento, has an adaptive program.

The U.S. Adaptive Recreation Association is based at Bear Mountain in Big Bear, 2 hours east of Los Angeles
Skiing legend Nic Fiore started the ski school at Badger Pass in Yosemite National Park and it carries on in his name.
Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra runs the program at California's most popular ski mountain, Mammoth.
In Wrightwood, just north of San Bernardino, Mountain High has an adaptive ski school.



COLORADO

Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center has programs at both Breckenridge and Keystone ski areas.
Crested Butte offers adaptive skiing provided by the Adaptive Sports Center.
Durango Mountain Resort has a program run by the Adaptive Sports Association, which also offers scholarships.
Steamboat Springs is a great ski area and they have an adaptive program.
National Sports Center for the Disabled runs the program at Winter Park.

CONNECTICUT

Ski Sundown in New Hartford has one of the more affordable programs in the country.



IDAHO

Recreation Unlimited runs the adaptive program at Bogus Basin near Boise.
Higher Grounds runs the adaptive program as Sun Valley.
One of my favorite Idaho ski areas, Scheitzer, also has a program.

INDIANA

In Lawrenceburg, Perfect North has the adaptive program.
Paoli Peaks in Paoli offers an adaptive program.

IOWA

If you're near Dubuque, Sundown Mountain Resort can help you out.

MAINE

At Sunday River, the program is run by Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation.
Maine Adaptive also runs a program at Sugarloaf Resort
Wachussett Mountain in Princeton offers an adaptive program.

MICHIGAN

Michigan Adaptive Sports runs programs at Pine Knob, Schuss Mountain, and Crystal Mountain.

MINNESOTA

Giants Ridge offers an adaptive program near Duluth and Grand Rapids.
Also near Duluth, Spirit Mountain offers a program run by Courage Center.
In Makato, the Mankato Area Adaptive Ski Program runs a program at Mount Kato.

MISSOURI

Snow Creek in Weston offers a program for the Kansas City area.

MONTANA

Is there a better place to ski than Big Sky? Don't know, but there can't be too many and they're open to adaptive skiers too.
Near Bozeman, Bridger Bowl has an adaptive program.
In Whitefish, you can go adaptive skiing at Whitefish Mountain.

NEVADA

See Lake Tahoe Area under California, above.



NEW HAMPSHIRE

In Gilford, you can find an adaptive program at Gunstock.
New England Disabled Sports runs a program at Loon Mountain.
One of the oldest adaptive programs is the New England Handicapped Skiers Association at Mount Sunapee.
In the Mt. Washington area, Atitash has an adaptive program.
Waterville Valley has a free first timer program for adaptive skiers.

NEW JERSEY

Ski Campgaw is your spot for adaptive skiing in the Garden State.

NEW MEXICO

Near Ruidoso, Ski Apache has an extensive adaptive program.
One of the world's great mountains, Sandia Peak, has a program run by the Adaptive Ski Program.

NEW YORK

Near Lake Placid, Belleayre has an adaptive program as does Whiteface Mountain.

NORTH CAROLINA
Up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, you can find adaptive skiing at Beech Mountain and Cataloochee Ski Area.

NORTH DAKOTA

Near Minot, Bottineau resort has Annie's House for disable skiers.

OHIO

Near Mansfield, Snow Trails offers an adaptive program.
In Zanesfield, Mad River offers a program run by The Adaptive Adventure Sports Coalition.

OREGON

Near Bend, Mt. Bachelor offers a program run by Oregon Adaptive Sports.
In Coburg, Hoodoo offers adaptive skiing.
Remember "The Shining?" Well, another of the world's great mountains welcomes special needs skiers...Mt. Hood.

PENNSYLVANIA

Near Mercersburg, Whitetail has an adaptive program run by Two Top Adaptive Sports.
Pennsylvania Center for Adaptive Sports runs a program at Camelback Mountain near Tannersville.

SOUTH DAKOTA
Near Sioux Falls, Great Bear Recreation Park offers adaptive skiing.

UTAH
The National Ability Center runs one of the country's premiere adaptive programs at Park City.
At Snowbird, a little south of Park City, Wasatch Adaptive Sports runs a program.

VERMONT
Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports hosts an adaptive program at Bolton Valley.
Stowe Mountain Resort caters to special needs.
Near Warren, Sugarbush runs an adaptive program.

VIRGINIA
Near Lovingston, Wintergreen Mountain is your destination for special needs skiing.


WASHINGTON
Mt. Spokane offers "therepeutic recreation," including adaptive skiing, run by the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department.
Closer to Seattle, Mt. Baker offers adaptive skiing.


WEST VIRGINIA
Snowshoe Mountain offers adaptive skiing as does Silver Creek Resort in the same area.

WISCONSIN
In East Troy, at Alpine Valley Resort, Southeastern Wisconsin Adaptive Ski Program operates.



WYOMING
Many consider it the best ski mountain in the world, special needs skiers can also find a home at Jackson Hole.

If you live near snow in the U.S., chances are you live near a program. Give it a shot!

Happy skiing...

Darryl
Copyright 2013 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, December 20, 2015

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Cranberry Margarita


This one's short, simple, sweet, and delicious. What we're drinking this week is a variation of the traditional margarita on the rocks, substituting cranberry cocktail for most of the sweet and sour.  We're using Fresh and Easy's cranberry cocktail, which has no added colors, so ours comes out pink.  If you use Ocean Spray's, it comes out redder.  If you want a really red drink, add a splash of grenadine.


Watch the Video!

INGREDIENTS - two drinks

2 1/2 oz. tequila
1 1/2 oz. triple sec
juice of one small lime
1 oz. sweet and sour
3 - 4 oz. cranberry cocktail



Put all ingredients into a cocktail shaker half filled with ice.  Shake and strain into margarita or cocktail glasses.

We don't salt the rims on these and the final tally is about 200 calories.

Cheers!



-Darryl

Friday, December 4, 2015

TRIP REPORT: Monterey and Pacific Grove - Part 2

We've had a great, first day in Pacific Grove and Monterey (see Part 1 here), it's time to complete the trip.


In the morning, we went to First Awakenings for breakfast.  It’s nice that the inn has a continental breakfast, but we want the full meal.  This spot, in an old fish cannery just around the corner from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, really hits the target.

We have some really superb omelets, along with their great bacon and sourdough toast to start off our day.  This gives us some good nutrition and energy for our next activity, a hike across the bay to the 17-Mile Drive.
There’s a nice, wheelchair accessible boardwalk across the sand that bisects the beach from The Links at Spanish Bay golf course.  It’s about a half-mile walk across till you get to a little point where the 17 Mile Drive comes out of the woods and a vista point is available.  Since it’s a drive, you can take your car here – for a fee – but it’s an easy walk from our inn and we get some exercise along the way.  It’s also a great way to get up close and personal with the ocean.

At the vista point, we marvel at the view and have fun watching the many chipmunks that scavenge the area for food before walking back.
In the evening, we head over to Carmel to window shop and have dinner.  We’d never been to the Hog’s Breath Inn, formerly owned by the former mayor of Carmel…Clint Eastwood, so we thought we’d try it out. 
Underneath a jazz radio station and music shop, the restaurant has a large dining room and a pub, separated by a really nice outdoor area with multiple fireplaces, free-form tables, trees, and a large, painted backdrop on the building next door.  Way out back is the very cozy pub that looks like it was lifted from a Tolkien book.
This looks like the perfect setting for dinner!  We tell the maître‘d that we’d like to sit out here and have dinner but he tells us that this is only the bar and just appetizers are served here.  If we’d like dinner, we’d have to eat inside in the dining room.
In we go.  As lovely as the outdoor area is, the indoor dining room has all the charm of a high school cafeteria.  I don’t care how good the food is here, I can’t believe it’s served in such an austere setting so we go back outside and just have a few apps and a couple of drinks.  It turned out very nice but, really, either redo the dining room or ditch the silly “no dinner outside” rule.
The next morning, we get in the car for a drive up the coast.  We head in the general direction  of Watsonville to see what we can find. 
Past the navy’s language school, you come into Marina where you can learn how to hang glide.  Continuing on we get to Moss Landing.
We stop to take a look at this beautiful fishing village.  There are a couple of restaurants and some antique shops but it’s mostly a working fishing fleet here so our time is short-lived.  Eventually, we make it to Watsonville where we buy some freshly picked strawberries to take with us and head back to Monterey.
Back in town, we walk along Fisherman’s Wharf and have free samples of the clam chowder that each restaurant is giving out.  It’s good but I remember coming here in the past and having one of the worst dinners in my life.  After the wharf, we go over to Cannery Row where we have a cocktail at a waterfront lounge with a friendly bartender.  Unfortunately, it has since closed.
Dinner tonight is back in Pacific Grove, this time across the street from Passionfish at International Cuisine where we have a couple of very good pasta dishes along with some good red wine, but still not as good as Passionfish, which will go down as the best place we saw on this trip.
Another sunset with our Watsonville strawberries and champagne, another night in our cozy little inn, and then it’s back to L.A. where we have a couple of days to rest before we pick Tim up from camp.

Darryl
Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, November 30, 2015

TRIP REPORT: Monterey and Pacific Grove - Part 1

Welcome to Central Coast Week here at The World on Wheels where we'll focus on that part of coastal California that lies south of San Francisco and north of Los Angeles.  Finshing up, it's three articles focusing on Monterey, Pacific Grove, Carmel, and Santa Cruz.  Keep reading, each article follows the other below.  Thanks for joining us for this trip along California's Central Coast...


From Los Angeles, Monterey is just about perfect for a weekend getaway.  Not too far away so that you spend a good deal of your precious weekend just driving to and from your destination but far enough that you really know you’re not in L.A. anymore.
This lighthouse is just down the block from our inn.

Letty and I have a week off from Tim as he goes to camp.  As any caregiver can tell you, these moments of respite are preciously few and far between.  We have to stay close enough so that we can respond in an emergency, so we’re limited to the far western part of the United States.  This time, my wife said she wanted to be near the ocean.
Our hotel for this trip is the Deer Haven Inn in Pacific Grove, right across the street from the back gate of Asilomar State Park and Conference Center.  It’s basically an old motel that’s been renovated and spruced up to be more like a bed and breakfast.  Nice and quiet, the inn also has frequent specials where you can get a room just a block from the beach for well under $100.
The room itself is nicely decorated, has a king-size bed, and decent bathroom.  A light continental breakfast is served in the tiny lobby which you can enjoy on the adjacent deck when the weather is nice.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia
Tony R under CC-BY license



Across the street is Asilomar, an expansive conference center with lodge-like accommodations.  In fact, if you can get a good rate here, this historic hotel would be my preference in the area.  Boardwalks will let you get across the adjacent sand dunes over to the ocean and the beach that separates Pacific Grove from Pebble Beach.
These are not lawn ornaments

Another boardwalk will let you walk south between the beach and the golf course, or north along the tide pools along Pacific Grove’s shoreline.  I particularly like the walk to the north where dozens of resident deer wander along the shore and are almost tame enough to come up to you.  Almost…once they get about ten feet away, their inherent shyness returns.
A curious local

Just a short drive from here is Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey.  Both have many dining options, but many just don’t try as hard as they might when they already have swarms of tourists flowing through the doors.  Instead, a quick check on Chowhound and Yelp reveal a better option.
Just inland a bit from Cannery Row is the cute little downtown section of Pacific Grove.  On a quiet corner is Passionfish.  Specializing in seafood, this restaurant puts its energy into great food and wine and tries to cut out the fluff of the dining experience.


Let me explain that a bit because it sounds as if I steered you to a food counter with good food.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Passionfish is a beautiful dining room with great waiter service, but they will serve food on plain china that they got at a discount, or put wine in pretty generic stemware…things like that.  What results is extraordinarily good food (and wine) at prices around 20% below comparable competitors in the area.
Letty had the scallops, delicately cooked little critters served in a delicious mustard sauce while I…not a seafood lover at all…had the duck dinner that had the most delicious glaze on it.  Wonderful, wonderful food with a sterling wine to go with it.  The owner made sure to come by, make us feel welcome, and to make sure we enjoyed the dinner.  We did!
After dinner, back at the inn, we hiked across Asilomar…past some of their guests having a dune-side barbecue and bon fire…and over to the beach where we splashed around the tidepools watching the sun go down.

Stay tuned for Part 2...


Darryl
Copyright 2010 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Friday, November 27, 2015

CLASSIC TRIP - London/Paris 2004 Part 2

UpTake Travel Gem

UPDATED:  Photos we thought were lost forever have been found so please enjoy the following report with newly added photos.

Spring Break in 2004 found us spending a week in London with a side trip to Paris.  Part 1 of this report found us on the trail of Jack the Ripper and riding high into the sky on the Eye.


Tuesday

Today, we're going to visit the British Museum. There are no accessible Tube stations in that area. I'm sure we can find an accessible bus route there but today I pop for a taxi. It costs £11 as opposed to the £3 a bus ride would have cost but it was more comfortable and faster. Incidentally, it is extremely easy to find an accessible cab in London. Since 1986, it's been mandatory that all new cabs are accessible. A few older cabs are still on the road, but newer accessible cabs abound. Just flag one down, no need to call ahead or pay extra. There's plenty of head room, wide doors, and ramps.



We get there about 45 minutes before the museum opens so we have a decent breakfast at a café across the street.

There is an accessible entrance on the opposite end of the building from the main entrance. You will find a lift there to take you to any floor of the museum. Admission is free for everybody…one of England's biggest bargains.

In the middle is a great rotunda…the Great Court…a bright space with a reading room, snack bar, and several gift shops. From this central location, you can visit many galleries to each side.



We visit the Greek wing and see a reconstructed temple and the famous Elgin Marbles. These are the statues that would adorn the Parthenon in Athens except that the British got 'em, took 'em home, and put 'em on display here. They are stunning. There is also the controversy because Greece wants them back while the British say they are more capable of preserving them.


Mummies at the British Museum

Upstairs in the Egypt wing, we see many mummies. Below, on the ground floor, we get a close-up view of the Rosetta Stone - the historic find that was the key to unlocking the Egyptian hieroglyphics.

After leaving the museum, it's a walk through Soho and the West End doing a little souvenir shopping along the way before ending up in Piccadilly Circus. Called the Times Square of London - with it's bright, flashing, animated billboards - the comparison is apt.
About two blocks away is Leicester Square where we have coffe and ice cream overlooking the pretty area.

After this light lunch or snack, we head over to Her Majesty's Theatre and take in the matinee of Phantom of the Opera. Wheelchairs sit 19 rows back from the stage and pay £21.00. One carer can get in at the same price and everybody else pays the full fare of £45.00. Upon arrival, a member of the staff will escort you to the accessible entrance around the corner. There is also a large accessible bathroom near the seats.

The play was great and the staff at the theatre was very helpful. We had seen this play in Los Angeles several years ago…although this was Tim's first time…and noted that the London production included a few more scenes that weren't in the L.A. edition.

After the play, we went to a nearby Tex-Mex restaurant called the Texas Embassy and had dinner. Tim decided to take advantage of English beer laws by ordering a Corona with his meal. In English restaurants (not bars or pubs), the age for drinking beer is 16 when accompanied by parents. Tim is was 17. Even though, we limited him to the one beer.


Enjoying the Brews at the Texas Embassy

The alarm went off at 4:45 this morning. This wasn't a mistake but it sure seemed like it at the time. No, we'd planned this because we had a 6:30 train to catch. Over at Waterloo station, we boarded the Eurostar to make the two and a half hour journey under the English channel over to Paris. This would be the first of our two day trips out of London.

The staff at the Eurostar station were efficient if a bit snippy at this early hour. A ramp was
employed to get the wheelchair on the train. Here's another perk of using a wheelchair: Wheelchairs can only fit in the First Class car. So, for an economy fare of £104 round trip, you can ride in the lap of luxury while attendants bring you meals and drinks to your seat. One companion can ride for the same price. Any more than that pays full fare. A non-refundable, non-exchangeable, 21-day advance purchase round-trip First Class fare runs £165 and goes up from there (you can also ride in economy for about half that and meet up with your party at the terminus).


Boarding the Eurostar

After leaving London, the train gets up to its 186 mph cruising speed and the scenery starts to whiz by. This morning, there is a heavy fog and not much to see as we enter the tunnel. Twenty minutes and 31 miles later, we emerge and are still in fog.

The fog lifts before we hit Paris but the outskirts could use a heavy veil to hide them. A shanty town, piles of trash, and more graffiti than I've seen in New York or Los Angeles combined greet us as we roll into the station. It's not what I expected to see but thankfully it only gets better.

From the Gare du Nord station in Paris, we want to take the RER to the Chatalet station. Getting to the train is no problem, there is a lift from the main hall down to the platform. Buying tickets with a credit card, for me anyway, proves to be quite a challenge.

I do not have the necessary coinage to buy the tickets from the machine. Even though it says it will take a Visa card, when I try to use it an error comes up saying it will only take American Express, Diner's Club, or Carte Blanche. I go to the ticket window and try to buy the tickets, but my Visa won't work. For some reason, although it worked fine in England and the U.S., my Visa card just won't work anywhere in France…as we were to find out later. I pay with paper currency at the window and get our tickets. Luckily, the woman at the booth spoke just enough English and I could get out just enough French that we were able to complete the transaction.

Tickets in hand, we head down to the platform the "B" line of the RER. The RER is Paris' commuter railroad. Not completely a subway but not a full-size train either. The train arrives and we squeeze on board. It is packed like a New York rush hour and it's a very tight fit.

Luckily, we are only going one stop but somewhere along the way, I do feel fingers in my back pocket. I try to turn around but there are too many people and we're packed too tight to see who it is. Fortunately for me, I keep my wallet in the front pocket. Unfortunately for my would be robber, I only had a used Kleenex in my back pocket…enjoy your loot mon frere!

At the Chatalet station, we transfer to the "A" line of the RER. This involves leaving the station to get to another lift. To leave the station, you have to talk via an intercom to get security to release the exit gate for you. The person that answers doesn't speak a word of English. We finally get the idea and buzz the intercom again and ask "Sortie, s'il vous plaît" (exit, please) and we get buzzed through.

We find the lift and take the RER "A" line two stops to Charles de Gaulle station where we plan on seeing the Arc 'd Triomphe but as we try to leave, we find the lift to the street is under repair with no alternate route available. Okay, so we scratch the Arc off the list and head back to Chatalet.

There, we transfer to the 14 line of the Paris Metro and go two stops to the Pyramides station. The lift out of the station puts us one block away from the Louvre. An hour and a half after arriving in Paris, this is our first view of the center of the city…we'd only seen it underground up until now.

The Musee du Louvre is an immense building that is three blocks long. We enter via the famous pyramid entrance where security takes us out of line and escorts us to the lift. The round lift descends and puts us in the ticket hall where long lines snake up to the many ticket counters spread around the room. An information station in the middle offers brochures designed in several languages that spell out access in the museum.

Another security guard takes us out of the ticket line and escorts us up to the ticket window. Kids under 18, disabled persons, and the unemployed are all entitled to free admission. Adults pay 7.5 Euros.

The museum is very crowded. It is like a holiday in summer at Disneyland. We take in some paintings and sculptures but it begins to dawn on us that we will not have time to see much here so we head over to the Italian masters wing to see the Mona Lisa. Again, there is a huge line spanning down the three block long Grand Gallery but it moves fast and when we get close to the room where it is displayed, security again takes us out of the line and escorts us right up to the front where we are invited to view the painting at our leisure.

It is a bit of a thrill to see such a famous painting but I must say, I don't get all the fuss. I know there's a lot of mystery behind the painting…is it actually a self-portrait? Da Vinci's mistress? What about that smile? Notice how the eyes follow you?…but to me, there are clearly more beautiful and compelling works of art in this building.

The crowds really wear down on Tim and we only have the day, so we take our leave of the Louvre and continue on. By the way, the bathrooms on the ticket hall level next to the lifts are the least crowded and accessible toilets here. They are also kept very clean. Probably because they are well hidden.


Paris Scenes. Notice the Queue in the Upper Left Waiting to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre

It's time to head across the Seine to the Left Bank and we wander along the narrow streets looking at the shops, bakeries, and restaurants. Being in Paris, we must splurge on a good French meal.



We end up at the Café Le Saint Germain where we sat at a small table on the sidewalk. It was too small to sit inside but the day was nice so it worked out well.



The waiter suggested a veal special which my wife ordered. Tim had a roast chicken dish with fries while I had a duck braised in its own fat with sautéed potatoes. One word…delicious! We shared the three plates. All were very good with the top marks going to the veal. The sautéed potatoes were like little puffy pillows with just enough garlic on them…the best garlic fries I've ever had (and I've had some of the best). A bottle of nice red Bordeaux helped to wash it down. My wife talked me out of staying for dessert. I really wanted to try the caramel crepes offered, but she wanted to find a little bakery to try.

A little walk later, we found our little bakery. It was good, but not spectacularly so. I shoulda held out for those crepes!



Finally, we come out from the buildings and into the park that houses the Eiffel Tower. So much has been said about it that I'll limit it to the fact that it is really beautiful and really big. Unfortunately, today's security concerns limit wheelchair users to the second level…about a third of the way up.



We find a wheelchair accessible bus that goes back to Notre Dame and we take the RER from there back to Gare du Nord and board the Eurostar for the trip back.



A couple of notes about Paris. We've all heard about the typical arrogant French person who looks with disdain down their nose at English speaking Americans. With one limited exception (one of the bartenders at the Eurostar boarding lounge), I found every French person I came across that day to be friendly, gracious, and as helpful as they could be. The stereotype could not be more wrong as far as I'm concerned.

This is not to say Paris is all it's made up to be. We were a bit disappointed by the crowds and general cleanliness and it just didn't register with us as such a magnificent city, but the people there were just fine.

Accessible transportation in Paris is much better than I thought it would be. Although there are few accessible RER and Metro stations, those few stations are located at key points. There are many, many wheelchair accessible buses here and maps at each stop. Look for the international wheelchair symbol next to the route number. Be forewarned, however, that the driver must close all doors before deploying the ramp. It may look like he's going to leave you in the lurch, but once those doors are closed, the ramp will come out, the doors will reopen, and you can then board. There are no tie-downs on Parisian (or London) buses.

Thursday



Another train ride. Fortunately, we don't have to get up in the wee hours. We catch a taxi over to Paddington Station and board our train over to Bath…a quick 90 minute ride away on the 125 mph train.

A note about British trains and wheelchairs. You are required to book a reservation for your wheelchair at least 24 hours in advance or be at the mercy of station staff with help boarding the train. What you need to do is go to the ticket window of National Rail at any train station and buy your tickets more than 24 hours in advance. Then go to the Station Reception (every station has one, just ask where it is) and have them reserve space for you on every leg of your train journey.

I tell you this because it almost proved disastrous to us. We went to the Station Reception at Waterloo and the lady booked us to Bath but said we'd have to book passage back once we got there. On arrival at Bath, we were told since we didn't book passage back at least 24 hours in advance, we were screwed. I explained what happened and was told to try with the platform boss when we wanted to return. I was told I probably wouldn't get on the train with the wheelchair…luckily, the platform gentleman was more understanding and helped us with a ramp.

Okay, enough of our troubles…on to Bath!

On arrival, we pick up a town map in the station. The station is centrally located and we will not get farther that five or six blocks away the entire day. First order of business is to get lunch. I had wanted to go to the Pump Room located at the Roman Bath but it would be a good 90 minutes before we could get fed there, so we wandered around to see what else we could find.

On the back side of the bath, in a small lane, we found a hole-in-the-wall called Café du Globe which had a two-course lunch special for £7.00. For me, it was a delicious tomato herb soup followed by panzarotti filled with ham and spinach and covered with a delicious tomato and melted cheese sauce. Tim had bacon and cheese jacket potatoes (potato skins) with a lasagna and my wife had a salad with salmon. All were very delicious and the price was reasonable. Plus, the wheelchair fit inside and the table was big enough for all of us.

After lunch we head over to the Roman Bath. The Romans discovered this hot spring in 43 A.D. and built a public bath. In the 19th century, the ruins were unearthed and the bath restored. The public can no longer swim in it (a modern facility where you can has opened across the street) but you can still visit the ruins, which are 20 feet below the level of the ground.


At the Roman Baths
This brings bad news/good news for access. The bad news is that the stairs to the bottom will not allow you up to the edge of the pool. The good news is that you can still see everything from the accessible terrace above. To compensate, the wheelchair user and their party are admitted free and even given portable audio tour units to use at no charge.

The bath itself is pretty remarkable and the tour very interesting. Afterward, we decide to explore the town.



Bath is a beautiful town with many nooks, corners, and alleys full of interesting shops, pubs, and places to eat. We pick up many souvenirs here and walk along the river with its stunning views of Bath Abbey. Several shopping lanes remind us of Diagon Alley in Harry Potter with their narrow walkways and quaint storefronts. The local market offers many items such as packets of cheese and smoked bacon for 40 to 80 pence per package.




We end our day here with a plate of chips and a few ales at one of the local pubs. The train back is full so the conductor on board bumps us up to first class for the journey back.

Friday

This is our last full day here so we decide to clean up some loose ends close to the hotel so we don't wear ourselves out.

We start out by walking across Westminster Bridge and seeing the Cabinet War Rooms. This fascinating tour takes you underground to see the bunkers where Winston Churchill and his staff planned the fighting in World War II while hiding from the German bombs raining down on the city. A lift takes you down and an audio tour guides you through. It's a bit cramped and
claustrophobic but gives you a real good feel of what is must have been like to be hunkered down here.

Rooms on display include the map room (left just as it was the last day), Churchill's bedroom, communications room, staff quarters, and even the tiny kitchen and dining room. It's well worth the £7.00 admission (disabled and one carer free).



Directly across the street is St. James park, the flowered and beautiful front yard for the Queen's house. We start to stroll through the park and I open my guidebook to read about it. I notice that in 25 minutes, the changing of the guard will take place at the other end of the park , Buckingham Palace.



Stepping up the pace, we make it to the other end of the park just in time to squeeze in with the crowd to see the short parade of the guards and their band as they march over from their barracks to relieve their comrades at the palace.

Afterward, we walk back through the park towards Westminster Abbey. Along the way, we find Bruno's, a café in the St. James Park tube station, that serves delicious panini sandwiches and pasta. Their pasta carbonara is among the best I've had and a bargain at £4.

After lunch, we tour Westminster Abbey. Again, disabled plus one carer gets in gratis but inside very few of the side chapels are accessible. Still, you get a close up view of royal graves such as Edward II and Richard III. Charles Darwin is buried here along with Sir Isaac Newton. In poet's corner, Lord Byron rests with his colleagues. Nearby, a gentleman who lived over 150 years is buried.

The tombs can be very ornate or very simple. The abbey is very big inside and ornate. This is really a must see when you're here.



We head back across the Thames and take a quick bathroom break at the hotel. Across the street is the Imperial War Museum. There is a stunning and important - if very depressing - holocaust exhibit here. Wheelchair users can't help but gasp as the first exhibit explains how the Nazis started by exterminating physical undesirable such as the disabled before moving on to his final solution. Note: this exhibit is not suitable for small children or those easily nauseated.
Admission is free and the museum is completely accessible.

Wanting to stock up on some last minute souvenirs, we head to the nearby Elephant and Castle shopping center. This turns out to be a depressingly drab mall and we quickly head back where we have one more delicious pizza dinner at the Bar Room Bar pub.

Tomorrow, we have nothing more to do except pack and ride the tube back to Heathrow to await our eleven hour ride home.

-Darryl
Copyright 2004 - Darryl Musick

Monday, November 23, 2015

CLASSIC TRIP - London/Paris 2004 Part 1

UPDATED:  Photos we thought were lost forever have been found so please enjoy the following report with newly added photos.


Although we've now been to London a few times...including when the underground was bombed...it had to start somewhere.  Back when Tim was in high school, we thought that Spring Break would be the perfect time to get our feet wet with some overseas travel.  Come along with us as we make our very first trip to London and Europe.



We had always wanted to range out from the North American continent but were hesitant because of accessibility. Even Canada and Mexico are quite a chore in a wheelchair, what would lands farther away be like?


What Jet Lag looks like...taken about 1/2 hour after our arrival


Finally, we took the gamble and booked airfare and hotel to London. I had read quite a few reports about how inaccessible the public transit was, save the taxis, and how there were not any curb cuts and few accessible buildings. Let me put to rest right here that London is inaccessible. It is very accessible and you shouldn't let a thing like your wheelchair stand between you and a great trip to this beautiful and historic city.

Come along and judge for yourself…


Saturday

The hardest part about this trip is the flying. From Los Angeles it's a ten hour, nonstop flight…overnight! We chose Virgin Atlantic and paid a $40 premium over such U.S. carriers as American Airlines and United because many people had recommended Virgin to us. British Airways had a lower price but also charged for wheelchairs over 30 lbs. (we originally planned to take the power chair but changed to a manual when Lester Mfg. told us it would cost at least $200 for a voltage transformer that would work with the battery charger). Virgin had no such restrictions.

The seats are your standard small economy seats but the airline did seat us in the bulkhead seats for extra legroom. Virgin also supplies each passenger with a goodie bag that includes a sleep mask, booties, toothbrush & toothpaste, and earphones for the in-flight entertainment (no charge). The in-flight entertainment consists of over 300 hours of movies (all uncut and a range of ratings - parents have the option to lock out the more mature titles from their children), TV shows, documentaries, news, sports, and more. Each seat has its own individual video monitor so everyone gets to watch whatever they want

An on-board aisle chair provides access to the bathroom. On the 747 going over, the only modification was a small aisle in front of the restrooms that could be blocked by curtains. On the Airbus 340 on the way back, a full size accessible toilet was available - the biggest bathroom I've ever seen on a plane.

The plane landed at Heathrow International at 11:45am. A dour immigration official quickly stamped our passports and we were on our way.

Taxi companies wanted to make us take two cabs with the wheelchair and luggage (it's debatable whether we would have fit with our two bags…at least it would have been very tight). The Heathrow Express - a high-speed train between the airport and London - would drop us off on the wrong side of town at Paddington Station. I had booked our hotel, the Days Hotel Waterloo, specifically because it was near an accessible Tube station (Waterloo - 3 blocks), so we took the Tube.

From Heathrow, you buy your ticket and find a station attendant. They are easy to find as they wear bright orange vests. The attendant takes you to a lift where you can descend to the platform. You board a Piccadilly Line train…which has about a 6" step up into it…and change trains at the Green Park Station to the Jubilee Line. The Jubilee Line will take you to Waterloo. Cost was £2.80 compared to £13.00 for the Heathrow Express and approximately £50.00 for a cab ride…double that if you need to take two (on a subsequent trip, when the Underground wasn't working, it cost us the equivalent of $110 to take a cab from the airport - ed).  After a 45 minute ride, we walked out of Waterloo Station and continued on to our hotel.

The Days Hotel is directly across the street from the Imperial War Museum in the Southbank/Lambeth (SE1) area of London. It's centrally located and has a couple of wheelchair accessible bus lines running by it and is a five minute walk from the nearest accessible Tube and train station. It's also within walking distance to Westminster Bridge and the London Eye.


An Overview of Our Hotel and Surroundings (from the London Eye)

There are two fully accessible rooms here (rooms 12 and 14), both on the ground floor, with roll-in showers although the sleeping area is rather small by U.S. standards. Each room will sleep three adults or two adults/two small children. On each floor above there are also larger "family" rooms with just a bit more room that will accommodate a wheelchair but have small, non-roll in, showers. Our rate was £407.25 for the week, or about $740.

We arrived at the hotel around 4pm. Too early for bed, even with our jet lag, so we went for a walk over to the London Eye to get our bearings.



Coming back to the hotel, we went to dinner at the Three Stags pub across the street from the hotel. Our first meal - at least for me - was to be the worst one of the trip. My wife enjoyed her fish sandwich, but the cheeseburger I had there was very bad. The hand-pumped ale was first rate, however. Luckily, the food only got better from here.

We hit the sack around 7:30 to get a good night's rest to start our trip on.

Sunday



After breakfast, our first attraction was to ride the London Eye. This is (was at the time) the world's largest Ferris wheel with clear, glass capsules that can each hold twenty five people.



Wheelchair riders get a discounted ticket and one person gets to go on free as an attendant (or "carer"). The current cost for adults is £11.50  £18…around $20  £30…yes, things can get very expensive here especially with a weak dollar. Disabled riders are £14.30.  Attendants (or carers as they are known as here) go along for free.  You can get tickets and a time ahead of your ride but it really isn't necessary. We did, when we walked over the night before, but when we came back there was very little in the way of a line and wheelchairs get to skip it anyway. Up to eight wheelchairs are allowed on board the Eye at any given time.

The Eye is completely accessible. The wheel is stopped and a ramp quickly deployed so you can roll right in. The capsule is big enough to roam the entire cabin in your chair.

There is not a hint of a thrill ride at all. The half-hour journey is silky smooth and gives riders a stunning view of London. I recommend you do this first thing as you can easily see where everything is and how far away the sights you want to see are.



You can buy a view guide for £3.00 at the entrance that points out the major landmarks while you're in the air. Two souvenir photos of your party on board cost £10.


After our ride, we walked along the riverwalk with the River Thames along our left side. Not too far afterward, we came along Shakespeare's Old Globe Theatre. This is an exact reproduction of the famous theatre where Shakespeare premiered many of his plays. The original burned down hundreds of years ago and buildings were erected on the original site about a block away (you can take a short walk over and see the circle on the ground that marks the original location of the theatre wall - ask any docent for directions).

American actor Sam Wannamaker came over in the 50's to find the Globe and was dismayed that there was little to mark or commemorate it. He made it his life's work to raise the funds, do the research, and rebuild the Globe.

Today, it stands along the Thames and still puts on performances from May through September. We popped in to take the tour. The cost is £8 10.50 for adults, £6.50 8.50for students…and carers are free!


Our Tourguide at the Globe

Even though it's an as exact replica as could be, the theatre is still accessible. Our tour guide, John Sheppard, takes us into the yard where three balconies overlook the middle ground where the Groundlings would (and still) stand to take in a cheap play. Standing in the open-air middle ground only costs £5 to see a play.



Being Easter, after the Globe we head over to Westminster Abbey. To get there we take the Jubilee Line Tube from London Bridge Station, about two blocks from the Globe, to Westminster Station. Both have lifts with little or no gaps between platform and train. Westminster Abbey is about 200 yards from the station exit.



Touring is strictly forbidden on Sundays here, but we go in for the Easter service. We get to listen to the marvelous pipe organ and hear the beautiful singing of the men's and boys' choir. We were seated right in front, about ten feet from the coronation spot where British royalty have been crowned for centuries. One poor chap behind me happened to open up a tour book and was reprimanded - that's how strict the Sunday tourism prohibition is.

I'm surprised that Tim found it very interesting, usually teenagers aren't thrilled to have to sit through a 70 minute church service. We'll come back later in the week for visiting.

For dinner, we found a very nice pub one block away from the hotel, the Bar Room Bar (or BRB) at the Tankard, which serves delicious wood-fired pizzas along with their ales and lagers. It also had a large, fully accessible bathroom.

Monday, April 12th

Today, we have plans from morning until night!

First, we have a traditional English breakfast of fried eggs, sausage, bacon, beans, and toast at the Waterloo Deli adjacent to Waterloo Station in the Lower Marsh market. The food is good- if a bit fried - and the coffee is like most English coffee…weak. The £3 price is very reasonable considering our hotel charges £6 for the same thing.



We take the tube from Waterloo to London Bridge Station. Cross London Bridge (just a basic bridge nowadays, nothing to write home about) and after a bit of a walk, we end up at the Tower of LondonAgain, we only have to buy two tickets because carers are free. I'm getting used to this! It saves us quite a bit of money with this policy.

After being escorted onto the grounds, we wait inside the gate for a Yeoman Warder led tour…better known as a Beefeater. The tour guide is very professional, knowledgeable, and - best of all - has a great sense of humor.

He is also sensitive to the wheelchair and makes sure Tim is in the front at all times.



First stop is Traitor's Gate where prisoners would come in from the river. We see the ravens and the site of the chopping block where such high-profile prisoners as Anne Boleyn were beheaded…more common prisoners were executed off of the grounds on Tower Hill immediately to the north. After explanations of all the buildings on the grounds, the tour ends in the chapel and we're sent off to the building next door to see the crown jewels.



The World on Wheels Crew at the Tower of London

There is quite a queue to get through but the jewels are pretty spectacular.



Next, we walk across the famous Tower Bridge (the one most people think of as London Bridge) and have lunch at a hot dog stand along the riverwalk. As with the burgers here, Londoners need to go a long way to make hot dogs as good as the U.S.

The afternoon is spent resting off our jet lag and in the evening we return to the tower. This time we take the Jubilee Line to Canada Water Station, transfer to the Docklands Light Railway, and take that to Tower Hill Station. It's an accessible route but we probably could have just taken an accessible bus line to get here quicker.

Dinner is at the Liberty Bounds pub across the street to the north of the Tower of London. We have a steak pie and fish and chips. Both are good but the pie is very heavy and we're only able to get about half of it down.

Afterward, we head across the street to the exit of the Tower Hill Tube station. We meet up with our Original London Walks tour guide, Donald Rumbelow. People come from all over the world to take a walk with Don because he spent 30 years in the City of London Police Force and became the world's foremost expert on the London serial killer commonly known as Jack the Ripper.

On the Trail of Jack the Ripper with Donald Rumbelow

As the light of day fades, Don leads the pack of walkers (and one wheelchair) off into the dark streets of Whitechapel where the murders occurred in the 19th century. Although much has changed, a good portion of the area looks as it did at that time including the Ten Bells pub where the prostitutes hung out. The Ten Bells is still in business today.

Don tells of how the investigation was seriously botched by departmental rivalry. The City of London and Scotland Yard had competing jurisdictions. With the boundary line running through Whitechapel, the killer worked both sides and police didn't cooperate with each other…to the point where evidence was destroyed or ignored.



He points out the locations where the five victims were found and he dispels the myth of the happy, attractive London prostitutes as portayed in the movies. A vivid picture of 19th century London emerges during the two hour tour.

It's a lurid, graphically described tour through some haunting streets. It's also a lot of fun. I have to say that, like at the Tower, Mr. Rumbelow took great care in seeing that Tim in his chair had a front row seat the entire tour.

When it's over, we find an accessible bus route that takes us back to our hotel.



Stay tuned for Part 2 and Paris!

-Darryl
Copyright 2004 - Darryl Musick