davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
So yesterday brought my Athenian odyssey to a close. My body was ready for it, I've pushed it rather further than it was really happy with, but there's always that element of reluctance to end a holiday (particularly when flying from mid-30s to 16C).

I checked out of the hotel about 10:30, waddled down to the Megaro Moussikis metro with bags on the chair (given a couple of kerb-cut-less corners), bought my 8 euro ticket to the airport and then had a 20-odd minute wait for a train going that far. I initially didn't think there was a wheelchair space (I'd worked out they were the first and last carriages, but not all trains had them marked, and the airport service was one of them), but then realised I was sitting next to it, it just  happened to have had most of the wheelchair symbol scuffed away. I'm not sure the three tourists standing in it realised what they were doing, but it would have been a faff to access, so I just stayed where I was.

I got to the airport just gone noon, unfortunately my flight wasn't til four, so I had time to waste, in fact Ryanair sent me away again the first time I tried to check my bag, but eventually I got myself checked in and again I was allowed to keep my own chair as far as the gate. Assistance turned up as scheduled and I got my first experience of boarding via an aisle chair - not a fan! (Mostly I was using assistance to avoid being trampled in the rush to board, technically I guess I could have walked aboard, but without sticks or crutches it was easier to take the ride, and no need to explain myself).

Straightforward flight back to the UK, the pilot kept putting the seatbelt sign on every half-hour but we never actually had any turbulence. Then assistance off at Stansted, which was interesting. I could have taken over once they got me off the ambulift, but with no idea where to go I let the guy pushing take charge, and he only had one speed, flat out. I'd assumed with the flight due to land about 6PM I'd be lucky to be on the Stansted Express before 7:15 at the earliest, he got me on the 6:15... (okay the flight landed half an hour early, but I was still last one off the aircraft). One slight complication when we managed to trap part of the ramp onto the train between wheel and pushrim, but fortunately it came free when I had him reverse. Then Stansted to Tottenham Hale to Stratford to Stratford International to Chatham, separate trains for each leg, longest gap between legs about 7 minutes, arranging assistance on the fly, and not a hitch - they only seem to screw things up if you give them time to! A last taxi-ride up the hill and that moment of relief when you realise the house is still standing.... (What? Doesn't everyone assume it'll have burnt down/blown up/blown away in their absense?)

And the wheee!? I checked my email before heading down for breakfast at the hotel, not assuming there would be anything there, and there was an email I wasn't expecting until later, and it wasn't the 'sorry, but' I'd conditioned myself to expect. It seems I'm through to the second round of Pitchwars, with author KT Hanna and editor Jami Nord helping me beat Graveyard Shift into better shape for attracting an agent's attention over the next couple of months (1500+ entries, 125 'mentees' going through, I ended up with two mentors as KT had two pitches she couldn't decide between, mine and another, so got a wild-card space for me with Jami co-mentoring, I've yet to hear their thoughts on what needs changing, though KT noted in one of the emails she loves the voice, but thinks it's too wordy in places).

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: Me, at the wheel of a yacht (Sailing)
 A longer post to follow when I'm home and in reach of a better keyboard, but we finished the sailing portion of my holiday on Friday and today was back to Athens from Poros.  Itinerary was Poros to Ermioni to Tyros to Navplio(n) to Navplio(n) to Ermioni to Poros. The double Nafplio(n)/Navplio(n) leg should have been to Astrous, but was diverted because we had a slight rudder casualty with me at the wheel* that necessitated the owner of the yachting company driving 4.5 hours to get to us, doing running repairs in the dark and then sailing us on the emergency tiller back to Nafplio and mooring us at first attempt (impressive stuff) ready to get parts rebuilt the next morning - whoops.

* Me: We've lost the rudder!
Everyone else: No, we're turning just like you want
Me: We're turning to port, I've got the wheel hard over to starboard.
Everyone else: Oh shit! Oh fuck!

We also got a lot more use of my wheelchair than I'd anticipated, but not for me...

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!)
davidgillon: Me, at the wheel of a yacht (Sailing)

To Do )Tada
Tada! )
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
Had an interesting time booking my ticket to Heathrow for Friday at Chatham station earlier. The clerk couldn't get his head around my wanting to book a wheelchair seat, but not actually being in a wheelchair at the time (I only live 5 minutes away, but the slope between my house and the station is steep enough in places you accelerate in the chair even with both palms hard against the pushrims and a foot on the ground!). He actually said he couldn't sell me a discounted fare if I wasn't in the chair, which is plain wrong. I can't get the discounted fare anyway, but it has nothing to do with whether I'm using a chair when I buy it. As I pointed out to him, no one checks what I'm sitting in if I book online.

He also managed to ask if I had any proof I was disabled - held up both arms, looked meaningfully at left crutch, looked meaningfully at right crutch....

He was genuinely trying to help, he just wasn't very good at it!

Tweeted about it when I got home, and Southeastern will be hearing about it from both a twitter friend who advises them on access, and is Chatham based, and by the access charity Transport  For All. Made it clear it was a training matter, not an individual problem.

And I've just had an email from Aegean Air, who I'm flying with on Friday, announcing that e-check in is now open - which is fine apart from the fact I've already been told I can't use e-check in because I've booked assistance. I think they're trolling me....

On the worked as it was meant to side, picked up my Euros earlier - but was so thrown by the station thing I didn't just forget to lock the car in the car park, I left the windows wide open! Also got caught up on things like printing out directions, bookings etc on the new printer.
davidgillon: Text: You can take a heroic last stand against the forces of darkness. Or you can not die. It's entirely up to you" (Heroic Last Stand)
I just spent a very irritating 15-20 minutes on the phone to Aegean Air, letting them know I'm a wheelchair user for the flight out to Athens (even bloody Ryanair, who are notoriously bad with wheelies, had it integrated into their booking process for the flight back, but Aegean still haven't quite figured out they can use the internet to handle it to - or even that they need to make it easy for people to find out that they need to phone them). I've no doubt the Greek lady I was talking to is perfectly pleasant face-to-face, but she had a fairly high-pitched voice that the phone was doing interesting things to - mostly making it even screechier, and that wasn't a good combination with her accent. Add in a bad line that was forcing us both to yell to be even partially understood and even plinky-plinky Greek elevator music was a welcome break. I think everything's sorted and I've got the right level of assistance booked (seeing as that's minimal support that shouldn't be an issue - as long as I get to the gate one way or the other I can get aboard under my own power), but to be honest the connection was so bad I genuinely don't know for sure what level she's booked. A minor irritation is that if you're a wheelie they won't let you use online check-in and insist you do it two hours in advance at the airport, though that shouldn't be an issue.

Doubly irritatingly the whole thing has set my headache off again.

There's an interesting contrast between the two hotels in the email replies to the note I tagged onto my bookings - which basically said "I'm a wheelchair user with limited ability to walk, I don't need a wheelchair accessible bathroom, but do need step free access to my room", the one I'm overnighting in at the start essentially said "you'll get what you're given", the one I'm staying in for the four days after sailing said "Dear Mr Gillon, We've booked you into one of our rooms with wheelchair accessible bathroom, all rooms can be accessed by lift and there is step free access to the bar and dining room. We hope you enjoy your stay with us." Guess which one impressed me more! (Not too bothered about the overnighter as we don't arrive until midnight and check out in the morning, I just need somewhere to crash for a few hours).

Booked x4

Jul. 14th, 2015 01:13 am
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
 I'm sailing in Greece (the Argolic Gulf) with friends for a week in late August, and while everyone else has long since booked flights I had to wait until I'd gotten my gall bladder op out of the way and then another month after that while waiting for the last wound to get around to finally closing. So when I finally came to look a few weeks ago flight prices had already shot up. But I realised if I put the return flight off until mid-week I'd actually save enough to cover at least half the cost of a few days in Athens. Only if I'm doing sightseeing not just sailing then I want the wheelchair with me, not crutches. So then I was faced with booking hotels, with no idea which ones were wheelchair friendly, and my brain just locked up every time I tried to look at the booking websites.

But I've had an unexpected houseguest the past couple of days, the friend who booked the sailing, and who does a lot of foreign travel for both work and leisure. So tonight I had him talk me through the process, and the best websites and I seem to have ended up with a decent set of bookings.
Out on Friday 21st on the 4:30pm flight from Heathrow with Aegean Air - nice convenient departure time with plenty of time to get across to Heathrow. We flew with Aegean the last time we did this and they were excellent (though I do need to ring them and point out I'm a wheelchair user as their online booking system seemed to have no facility for noting that). And that's the same flight as another member of the group, which should take some of the stress off. Only drawback is we don't land until 10pm Athens time.
Overnight in hotel number 1. We won't get to the hotel until nearly midnight, but it's the same hotel as my friend, so again with the lowered stress. His girlfriend is flying out on an earlier flight, so presumably we'll meet her there. (£32/night - incredibly cheap)
Saturday morning in Athens, I think the plan is the Acropolis, but I'll need to be wary of being a spare wheel on their romantic trip.
Down to Piraeus in the afternoon to meet up with the rest of the party who are flying in from Munich (including one friend I've not seen since 2008, and my organising friend's 14yo who I've not seen since he was 3), then hydrofoil out to where we pick up the yacht (which is huge, I didn't realise we'd booked a 50 footer until my friend mentioned it today, the biggest we've sailed previously was a 45 footer).
Sailing in a flotilla Sunday through Friday.
Back to Athens on Saturday 29th and where everyone else heads off to the airport, I head back into central Athens to hotel number 2, where I'm booked until Wednesday 2nd September. (£50/night, not quite as cheap as hotel 1, but still damned good value for a 4 star in central Athens in peak season).
Fly back on the 2nd on the 4pm flight with Ryanair (whose booking system did let me specify wheelchair user), which gets me into Stansted at 6pm, which should be nice and convenient for train back home.

So really relieved to have that all booked, but it's going to be the first holiday with the chair and the first time flying with it, so expect a bunch of panicked pleas for advice from wheelie friends as we get closer to the day.

Going Dark

Sep. 10th, 2014 05:20 pm
davidgillon: A pair of crutches, hanging from coat hooks, reflected in a mirror (Default)
I'm headed up to my folks in south west Durham tomorrow (Thursday) for a couple of weeks, which is something of an internet dead zone, so any chance I get to get online is likely to be intermittent and probably not conducive to DWing. So if I go suddenly silent that's from stepping back out of the 21stC, not anything dire.

Plans while I'm up there:
Celebrate my birthday with family
Sit down for some serious editing work on my work-in-progress urban fantasy, which needs to lose around a third of its wordcount.
Catch up on some of the books sitting waiting to be read on my kindle

Hopefully to be avoided:
Family, especially sister dearest, pitching a paddy over my asking for a referral to wheelchair services.


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

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