davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
I don't generally recall dreams clearly , but both nights sleep since I got back from Athens have featured dreams with me very prominently using wheelchairs and leg braces, and then I wake up to a rod of pain where my lumbar spine should be. Yes, spine, I get the message, you didn't like the nasty cobbles. It's all right, they're gone now. (Well, at least until the next trip into town).

I just realised I haven't renewed my Butrans patch, whoops.
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
 After yesterday's resting-up (my hips aren't screaming today, but I repeated the ibuprofen/ paracetamol cocktail given likely developments), I wanted another try at the city, but had some trouble settling on a target. Eventually I decided on just heading in and seeing how things developed. My first win came quickly, I finally worked out where the disabled access is at Megaros Mousikki Metro Station - this is the Concert Hall stop about 150m from my hotel right next to the U.S. Embassy. Unlike the main station access it's actually on the same side as the Concert Hall and my hotel, but a couple of inaccessible junctions without kerb-cuts have been driving me to the other side of the road. It's obvious when you see it, a glass-sided kiosk for the lift, a bit like those for Munich's S/U-Bahn, you just have to be looking in the right direction.

The lift gets you to the ticket-hall, €1.20 flat fare, unless you want the airport which is €8, then another lift to the trains. I had the perennial problem with my chair of getting the big front castor stuck sideways between platform and carriage, but another passenger grabbed my footplate and yanked me out - usual heart-in-mouth moment as to whether he rips it off, but it held and he moved faster than I could say 'don't!'. I just went one stop to Evangelismos (disabled access hidden in the hedge), with the thought of finishing off the Benaki Museum and taking a look at the War Museum, but the Benaki is closed Tuesdays and the War Museum entrance is down a hill and up steps. I thought about heading over to the Agora, the bit of ancient Athens I most wanted to see after the Parthenon, but my access notes suggested only about 30% was chair-accessible, so I decided to move on to Syntagmos Square, which was fortuitous as I got to the front of Parliament just in time for the changing of the guard, all hob-nailed boots with pom-poms and ludicrously high-stepping marching with distinct foot-waggling (and notable wobbling in one case). I have a high tolerance for military ceremonial, but this takes it to extreme levels. (This all takes place on a marble square with access from Syntagmos Square side, but up two marble steps with no ramped access - this seems to be pretty much an Athenian default for formal locations, wheelie access means going up backwards, either by climbing out and hauling the chair up yourself or having someone else do it for you, I'm not certain a powerchair, even with kerb-climber, could manage it).

That done I spent several minutes looking for the disabled access into Syntagmos metro station, which is just to the side, as I was likely coming back that way. I gave up after checking both sides of the road for 50m and went down into Syntagmos Square itself, emphasis on the down, it's a slope right on the edge of my chair's capabilities, even with both wheelchair-gloved hands firmly on my pushrims. There is access half-way down the slope if you can manage steps, but for level access you need to go all the way to the bottom. The Square is quite pleasant, mixed concrete and marble with water-features and trees, but seriously hot outside of the limited shade, the main reason I went in was I knew there was another metro entrance, and yes, disabled access tucked away in a corner. (The lifts are fairly well sign-posted inside the stations, but I didn't see a single sign on the surface at any of the stations I visited, even though all of them have prominent 'you are here' maps).

I'd decided to head down Ermou again, effectively Athens' Oxford Street, but I needed a drink and  to break into a €50 note, and it seemed unfair to inflict that on any of the little streetside kiosks and vendors, so I found myself in Macdonald's, ordering a McFlurry and a large coke. It's a pretty good illustration of the state of access in Athens that their flagship branch, at the junction of Syntagmos and Ermou (so think Parliament Square meets Trafalgar Square meets Oxford Street), on the prime corner location and in a new building, has a step up at the entrance.

Sinuses thoroughly chilled, I headed down Ermou, which was as bad as I remembered it from Sunday, with steep slope, paved to the sides with slippery bricks, and cobbled in the centre, with sharp rather than rounded cobbles - good for grip, I suppose, if you're walking, but appalling for ride in a chair. And unlike Sunday everything was open and crowded with shoppers and street-vendors, which meant I was constantly zig-zagging between surfaces, and my back was soon screaming (even on the level surfaces on the way down Embassy-row and past Parliament I 'd been hitting broken slabs or dropped drain covers every 50m or so that brought me to a jarring halt). I saw the second wheelchair of my Athenian stay (I'd passed someone being pushed on Sunday) halfway down Ermou, unfortunately it was someone begging (there are quite a few beggars about given the economic situation, one thing I've not seen outside of Greece is them approaching people sitting in cafes, though the guy in the chair had simply parked himself in a good spot). I needed something to eat by this point, so started using the chair as a walker and exploring the cafes filling the side streets. Even using the chair as a walker was too judder-y on four wheels, so I had to tip it back onto two, which of course means you can't really put any weight through it, so just as well I wore the AFOs - I keep forgetting I have them on when I'm in the chair, then stand up and think Oh, thank God! for the support. The state of the pavements and the lack of other chair users may explain the are you mad? looks I kept getting as I wheeled around, though people in general were fine about making space for me and so on.

Prices immediately off Ermou were a little too touristy, and the offerings a little too main-meal style - I really only wanted a snack as my stomach has been a little unsettled, so I went a street further over, catching occasional glimpses of the Parthenon looming overhead, and found myself on a large square in front of a church at the edge of the Plaka district - I think it was the Agios Eleftherious from my map, but I'm really not sure, and a cafe/bar on the Plaka-side had a menu offering what I wanted at reasonable prices. I settled on a small 'special pizza', and a large mug of Alfa beer, but the first things down my throat were a couple of ibuprofen as my back was making it really clear it had had enough (it was 2:30 now and I'd left the hotel about 11). The pizza was tasty, though I left most of the base as I'm not a fan of the Greek semi-deep pan style and I didn't think €6 in a touristy area was outrageous, the ice-cold half-litre of Alfa (€4.50) was very welcome.

Snack finished, I headed back up the hill (walker-style) to Syntagmos and the Metro, where I reverted to wheels and spent an interesting ten minutes trying to find the lift to the Airport side of line 3 - Marina side immediately obvious, Airport side tucked away down a corridor you can't even see without heading into the pedestrian tunnel to the elevators to the platform. Once I was finally in the lift I ran into one of those annoyingly helpful but clueless people who don't seem to understand that reversing a chair out of a lift and popping a 180 isn't actually difficult. He ended up forcing me against the edge of the lift and impeding everyone until he got out of the way. Incidentally, Syntagmos Station was where I saw my third and fourth wheelchairs of my stay, a powerchair in the lift from the square and a manual in the lift to platform level - four in three full days out-and-about in a European capital city and tourism centre is pretty shocking, IMO. The train was packed, but people were pretty good about getting out of my way - the web says there are dedicated wheelchair spaces on the airport trains, but damned if I could spot them.

The lift at Megaro Mousikki delivered me to the surface almost in sight of the hotel, but it was quickly clear my back wasn't up to wheeling, or even sitting, so it was back to using the chair as a walker. (On reflection, waddling past the U.S. Embassy muttering 'Ah, Big Brother', and 'Well, he's obviously the outer layer', at security kiosks and sensor masts, and civilian security guard respectively may not have been entirely wise). A quick stop at a kiosk for a couple of soft drinks and I was back at the hotel with my Athenian Odyssey pretty much done. Back in my room it was a case of air-con on and fall into bed. Three hours sleep later and my back is a whole lot happier.

Figuring out the Metro today actually changes my plans for tomorrow back to what they originally were. I'd switched to planning on taking a taxi to the airport given I couldn't find the disabled access into the Metro, but now I know it's just 150m away on this side of the road I'll just take the much cheaper Metro option, though annoyingly I'll have to waddle rather than wheel given the lack of kerb-cuts (which rather nicely sums up the very mixed access situation).





davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
 I woke up this morning with my left hip screaming in pain. I'm not sure whether it's a consequence of sailing or Athenian pavements, but left hip is genuinely not happy and my right hip isn't a ball of fun either. It took butrans, 2x400mg Ibuprofen, and 2x 500mg paracetamol to get me standing with weight on my left leg (to put it in perspective, the ibuprofen and paracetamol are the prescriptions I didn't use post gall-bladder surgery as I didn't need them). I decided my body was clearly calling for an easy day and settled for a couple of hours people-watching with a beer in hand at a pavement cafe about 50m from the hotel (even that needed me to climb out of the chair to get it across the road as the island the cafe is on on doesn't have kerb-cuts).

I'm back at the hotel now avoiding the heat and even on the fifth or sixth floor above a six-lane road I can still hear the cicadas singing. The plan is to head out in a little while to find something to eat, but even that's going to be limited to the local area. Hopefully I'll be up to more tomorrow.
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
 Our party split up once we got back to Athens: two flying to the UK, two to Munich and two staying in the apartment one of them owns. Meanwhile I caught a taxi to my second hotel. No problem with check-in, but then I came to use the lift - and my chair was wider than the door. The receptionist was convinced it should fit, but the edges of the doors were hitting wheels, never mind pushrims, so I have to climb out and half-collapse the chair every time I want to use the lift.
 
The room is great, even the accessible bathroom (mostly) makes sense, but the arrangement of furniture means you can't get the chair into the window half of the room, I'm not even certain it would be possible without taking at least the coffee table out and probably the drawers as well. That isn't too much of a problem as the room looks out on Vassilious Sofias Ave, which combines being the road past parliament, embassy row, and a six lane motorway (eight lane for the more adventurous). Glad I brought a good pair of earplugs!

Breakfast today was good, also leisurely, then I headed out to meet my friend Julia, and decided to be adventurous by wheeling all the way. Considering the whole embassy row/road past parliament thing, accessibility is pretty dire. If you find a good kerb-cut then 50% of the time it either has a dumpster in it or someone is using it for parking. Half the kerb-cuts don't have matching kerb-cuts on the other side of the road and I only saw one traffic island with kerb-cuts to match those on the pavement. Even the Hilton didn't have kerb-cuts.  By the time I was half way there I was muttering dark threats against whoever is in charge of pavement maintenance, there's a man who needs to spend a few days in a wheelchair trying to navigate his city.

Julia and I met at the Benaki museum at about 1pm, but only got about half of it done before it closed at 3pm (Jules had already done the Parthenon, the jewellery museum and part of the open-top bus ride before we met up), then we wandered past Parliament to take pictures with the Efzones on guard, through Syntagma Square, then down Emlou, the main shopping street (mostly closed given it's Sunday), finishing of with a meal in a streetwise cafe (moussaka for Jules, a chicken and pork gyros for me, which had so much meat it beat me). And then I caught a taxi back to the hotel as I was pretty knackered - and it's up hill all the way (fare 7 euros, I pay nearly as much for the 5 minute ride between the station and my house - and more on Sundays!).

davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
 Got to the hotel about 23:45 Athens time, up before 7AM to grab breakfast, then taxi to Acropolis to be in queue for it opening at 8AM. Glad I decided to go with stics, not chair. Theoretically wheelchair accessible and actually wheelchair accessible are two different things! Bit like the hotel, whose lifts turn out to be smaller than UK standard wheelchair, and the bathroom, which has all the right bits, but in a not very sensible arrangement - e.g. towel rack at above standing head height in a wheelchair accessible room. Rest of room is okay (once I rearranged the furniture), but only here the one night so not a major issue.

Acropolis and Parthenon are spectacular, even half-shrouded in scaffolding, also saw Greek military doing their flag ceremony (not too sure about their singing!)

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davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
David Gillon

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