An Epic Accessible Tour of Romania – Days 1 & 2.

Disclaimer: all of the amazing photographs that you see in this blog were taken my travel buddy Kathryn Cooper – click on her name to visit her website. Thanks once again Kathryn!

Romania far outweighed all of my expectations, from fascinating Gypsy villages and rolling hills and mountainous resorts, to spellbinding architecture and streets steeped in history – the birth country of Vlad the Impaler (A.K.A Dracula) really has it all!

I was invited to Romania by an accessible tour company called Sano Touring and together we tailored an awesome itinerary spread over six days and encompassing as much of Romania as we could possibly fit in. You too could participate in a similar tour, and I can highly recommend booking through Sano Touring!

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Somewhere on the road, in Transylvania.

Not only are the staff and guides at Sano Touring thoroughly wonderful people who are full of knowledge about Romania, but they really take their time to plan an absolutely amazing accessible itinerary, covering all bases right down to the fine details. I cannot recommend them highly enough – and Romania is such a gorgeous country, as I’m sure you’ll get a sense of through the pictures posted on this blog and the others that come.

Day 1 of the Romania trip involved arriving in Cluj-Napoca somewhat behind schedule as my travel companion Kathryn, and I, checked into the Opera Plaza Hotel, a little after 9pm and all but mustered the energy to guzzle down some scrumptious dinner before hitting the sack and sleeping right through to the morning. The hotel itself was stunning, and the rooms were perfect for me in my wheelchair, with a nice large roll in shower and a very comfortable king-sized bed. The breakfast in the morning was also something special, and with so much choice of locally sourced food, it was perfect for setting us up for a very busy day ahead!

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Breakfast of champions, just one small section of what was to offer at the Opera Plaza Hotel.

Our first port of call on the itinerary involved a tour of Cluj; checking out the University Campus and the famous central square, which is dominated by the Gothic-style St. Michael’s Church and is also home to a large statue of Mathias Rex – an old king of Hungary, adding a splash of contentious history into the mix.

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St. Michael’s Church, in Cluj – perfectly accessible for having a look around.

Rather fortunately, St. Michael’s Church was also quite accessible, with a level-access entrance that was barrier free and wide framed doorways which are to be expected from a church. The slab-stones within the church aren’t the smoothest of terrains for wheels, strollers or crutches, but with a little bit of caution, it is manageable and well worth checking out as it’s free to enter.

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The exterior of St. Michael’s Church, with a glimpse of Matthias Rex’s statue on the left.

From Cluj, we headed straight on through to Alba-Iulia, passing some rather incredible Gypsy villages along the way as we traversed our way through stunning Transylvania countryside. When you’re driving through such a breathtaking area, you soon forget about the torment of being stuck on single carriageway roads for hundreds of kilometres given that there’s so much to be in awe of.

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Kathryn snapped these two ladies whilst I was driving through one of the many villages.

The central area of Alba-Iulia has all been recently restored and refurbished, and the grand designs and architecture make for a great afternoon of mooching around. With stalls selling local food and a fair helping of things to see – plus an awesome vantage point to see some breath-taking scenery and take lots of photographs – Alba-Iulia should be on your hit-list of destinations to stop at when in Romania.

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Fortified walls are a common theme in Romania.

For those that need an accessible toilet, there’s even a stair lift for wheelchairs down into the underground toilet facilities, which is something I didn’t necessary expect to find in the middle of Romania – but then again, the country is full of pleasant surprises.

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A stunning shot in Alba-Iulia!

Whilst you’re in Alba-Iulia, or anywhere else in Transylvania for that matter, I highly recommend that you try out some Langos, which is a delicious traditional snack, which has its origins in Hungary but has spread and been adapted all around Eatern Europe. The bready-doughnut style texture, mixed with a whole variety of toppings (I chose sour cream and cheese) is really heavenly.

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Delicious Langos, a MUST TRY.

If you would like a more detailed account of everything that is accessible in Romania, keep an eye out for my Accessible Romania Guide that I will be producing in the near future, and which will be available as an e-Brochure.

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Old Windmills at the Astra Open Air Museum.

From Alba-Iulia we then pressed on through the remainder of the afternoon and made our way to Sibiu, where a tour guide was waiting to show us around the Astra Open Air Museum – which offers a fascinating insight into how Romanian life used to be – and in some cases – still is a bit today; with the use of primitive technologies, passed down from generation to generation.  All of the monuments and structures in the open air park, represent the values and traditions of Romanian village life.

Although it’s a bit difficult to make it up towards the old houses in the village, given that the hilly paths leading up to them are not designed for those with mobility needs – i.e. me in my wheelchair – there’s still plenty to keep you occupied and with so much to see, I found myself having no real desire to go inside the buildings, but rather, I enjoyed rolling around the smooth paths and just taking in all that there was to see… which was a lot!

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Donkey in a field.

Whilst I was at the Astra Open Air Museum there was also a traditional Romanian fair taking place for that whole week, and so there were many stalls where people from the surrounding areas could come and sell their products. This whole experience made for a much more interesting atmosphere as it made the village appear to be ‘lived-in’, and thus, it was far easier to envisage what life must have been like during those eras.

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One of the many traditional stalls at the Open Air Museum – this lady is selling painted eggs (the large ones are Ostrich Eggs); she paints the shell and then pierces a tiny hole in the egg to drain the yolk and egg white… leaving a perfectly pristine painted empty egg shell.

Later that night we headed back to the Open Air Museum to have a meal with our guide Miki at one of the Traditional Inns, which is a perfect place to grab some authentic Romanian food. Let’s just say, I was full of delicious Polenta and Romanian beer by the end of the night!

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Just one of the HUNDREDS of traditional structures at the open air museum.

We’d also checked into the Hilton Sibiu, which again had excellent facilities for me in my wheelchair, and a very cool layout for the hotel itself. I’ve never stayed in a hotel where all of the main corridors face outwards into the main lobby area. Having seen this design quite a few times in movies and so on, it was cool to finally not only be able to see it first hand, but to be staying in such a place! I’d definitely recommend if your budget allows, and the pool area is also really awesome (even if we didn’t have enough time to go for a swim given that our schedule was so action packed).

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The open balconies at Hilton Sibiu.

Overall, it was a very warm welcome to Romania, and something which was both insightful and engaging. Having the freedom to drive wherever we liked was also liberating, and it was nice to not only be bound by the stereotypical haunting grounds for tourists, but instead, to be receiving a much more in-depth look of the REAL Romania – again, all thanks to the awesome Sano Touring! 

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Chasing Castles and Extreme Weather en route to Romania.

Have you ever been faced with a mammoth challenge, just as you’ve started to come down with a heavy cold? Well how about tackling a 1,700 mile (2,735 kilometre) drive from Newcastle upon Tyne in the UK to Cluj, Romania? This feat, is something which I’ve just pulled off – coughing and spluttering my way across eight different countries, ploughing through countless rolls of toilet roll (for blowing my nose, you dirty buggers!!) and all the while, somehow mustering the strength to continually hurl abuse toward my travel buddy, Kathryn (don’t worry – she finds it all hilarious for some unbeknownst reason).

Kathryn is a professional photographer from the state of New York, and we met via couchsurfing and now here we are, hurtling our way across Europe together on a quest to find Dracula.

I’m in Romania to sample the delights that this country has to offer after being invited to visit by the good folks at Sano Touring. Along the way, we’ll be investigating all the top accessible hotspots within the country as well as reporting back to you guys on what’s awesome and what’s worth a trip over for!

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‘Castle on a Hill’ – Koblenz, Germany. Shot by Kathryn Cooper.

Two days ago I woke up in Koblenz, Germany and yesterday morning I arose in the middle of no-where, Hungary, at some run down motel on the side of the road – if it wasn’t for the fact that the motel had a quaint edge to it, I think we both would have felt a bit more uneasy as the place definitely also gave off a murderous vibe too – but it’s all part of the fun! The night before last we also drove a little off the beaten track in Austria and stumbled across a gorgeous castle on The Blue Danube River – which required a little extreme off-roading just to get a perfect shot – I never thought I’d be driving a Mercedes down a steeply sloped cycle path that ran right next to a river before; it was a little nerve wracking, but totally worth it.

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A spontaneous castle on the Blue Danube – shot by Kathryn Cooper after I illegally drove down a riverside bicycle path. 

Yesterday we stopped off and had some Vegan Goulash in Budapest at Napfenyes Etteren, which was really great and super delicious, although after growing tired of Paprika flavoured crisps in The Netherlands, all I could think about was those when tucking in. Napfenyes is perfectly located in the heart of the city. Those of you who follow me on either snapchat (@ hawkle) or Instagram might have seen earlier that we battled the wind and headed on over the main bridge in Budapest to take some snaps – all before jumping back in the car and heading across for the Romanian border.

Speaking of the Romanian border, we were almost turned away and refused entry because I didn’t have the appropriate documents for the car I’m driving. After much deliberation, the official on the border check decided to let me pass, but not before politely letting me know that if I didn’t have the correct documentation on my way out of the country, there’d be “big problems” for me. Yikes!

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Once over the border and into Romania, we just had to pull over to grab that shot – taken by Kathryn Cooper after we dodged the traffic and found a spot by the roadside. 

On the drive to Cluj we were subjected to all four seasons in one short three hour journey. What started out at 35 degrees Celsius, suddenly manifested into flash floods and hailstones so big that I was worried my windshield was going to crack – as cars pulled over and took shelter on the side of the road. At one point, the drainage system overflowed and the road and surrounding fields were awash with deep brown water… which made me nervous as it was definitely the deepest water I’d ever driven through and we were literally in the middle of nowhere. Hopefully the picture below illustrates it well enough.

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Flash floods and broken drainage systems; welcome to Romania – shot by Kathryn Cooper as I nervously drove through the quite deep water. 

We also passed through a rather heavy thunder storm and although Kathryn wasn’t able to capture any incredible lightening shots, we did snag this one picture of the skies illuminating and the wind turbines overlooking the highway.

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Illuminated Skies – shot by Kathryn Cooper (whilst I drove). 

Now we’re in Cluj and ready to begin our epic trip around Romania. I’ll keep you guys posted via the blog and through social media, so stay tuned!

Is Eindhoven the coolest city in The Netherlands?

Toronto, Sydney, Wellington, Eindhoven, – you’d be forgiven for assuming that the latter city doesn’t belong in such company, but then again, you’d be wrong. What causes me to group these four cities together has nothing to do with size, climate, or geographical location, but rather that all four of these awesome cities share the same hip and cool vibe, mixed perfectly with a dash of style and the arts and finished off with a healthy dollop of creativity and innovation. Eindhoven really does hold its own on the world stage, and is suited perfectly to the type of accolades that come along with other progressive cities around the globe.

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An epic shot of Eindhoven city centre, courtesy of the Eindhoven365 website. 

When the average person thinks of The Netherlands their mind almost instantly lands on Amsterdam, with a few also perhaps picturing Rotterdam too – at a push. You’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who’s first thoughts of The Netherlands centre around Eindhoven; but all that is surely soon to change!

I was lucky enough to be invited to visit Eindhoven a few weeks ago and upon arriving, I was instantly impressed by the undiscovered beauty that this amazing city has to offer.

Reinvention

Eindhoven oozes creativity and reinvention, with the city that was once a hub for all things Philips now finding its own voice and putting the vast majority of old factory spaces to brilliant use.

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One of the many amazing Cafe’s that have made excellent use of old Philips warehouses.

Unlike other industrial towns that may have otherwise fell into derelict disrepair, Eindhoven has well and truly risen like a phoenix from the ashes and you only have to take a wander around Strijp S to see what a sprinkle of imagination can do for a place. Pop up stores, boutique cafes out of the back of old factories, giant food halls erected in old warehouses and even the odd hotel built inside an old light tower – Eindhoven really has stayed true to its roots and reused every last piece of space they can get their hands on.

Hipster

With so much choice in Eindhoven for everything from accommodation to where you’re going to eat dinner that night – it’s easy to see why this awesome city is far from conformative. Perhaps using the term ‘hipster’ is the wrong way of describing the general vibe that the people of Eindhoven give off, but what’s true to say is that folks in this city aren’t afraid to express themselves, in whatever way that might manifest itself. Oh, and another thing – for all you vegans out there, you’re sure to find plenty to eat and drink in Eindhoven, with almost all of the cafes and restaurant I visited having at least one or two completely vegan options on their menu!

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The Coffee Lab is right outside Eindhoven Central Station and offers some of the best coffee in town!!! Their Vegan Sandwiches and Cakes are also delicious. 

Steampunk

When walking through certain sections of Eindhoven, it felt like I was rolling through the set of a Mad Max film, with so much of the industrial feel that Eindhoven was synonymous for throughout the years, still being used to full affect today. The idea of steampunk is not lost on the eye when taking in all that Eindhoven has to offer, with this once bustling industrial town now home to some of the finest eateries and art cafes you’ll find in The Netherlands – and all built with expressionism and through a willingness to keep close ties with the cities humble beginnings.

Art

Art and design are strong pillars in the foundations that make up Eindhoven, with the cities resurgence centring largely on style, elegance, ingenuity, and sleekness.

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Piet Hein Eek at Strijp R infuses a fine mix of art decor and great snacks. 

Whether its immersing yourself in the culinary & sensory mashup that is Kazerne, perusing the magnificent craft and woodwork on display in Strijp R or relaxing and unwinding in Eindhoven’s fantastic Inntel Hotels Art Eindhoven (the artsy clue is in the name) – you’re sure in for a wonderful treat.  Needless to say, you will have had your fair share of daily art even before heading to the likes of the Van Abbemuseumwhich, if I may say so, is well worth paying a visit!

Architecture

Given the great uniqueness that surrounds Eindhoven and its regeneration, the architecture within the city is like no other. The inspiration that can be gained from Eindhoven’s buildings is so great that thousands of stylists, designers, and architects flock to the city each year to get a first-hand glimpse at the cities design. From train stations shaped like radio transmitters, to underground bike stalls that look like Metro entrances, to there even being a tunnel named the tunnel of silly walks which was opened by the legendary John Cleese, star of Monty Python.

Places to eat and drink

You’ll never be short of options for food and drink when spending time in Eindhoven – with at least 28 Michelin Star eateries scattered throughout. On my tour of the city I was fortunate enough to dine at both Kazerne and Calypso. The former offers a dining experience with a difference, as you indulge is absolutely sublime food, surrounded by art installations all around you in what looks to be an old warehouse of some sort. Calypso, on the other hand, is a much more intimate affair – but the food is no less exquisite and the throng of rather cool locals will leave you revelling in the ambiance.

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Kazerne really is something quite special, and the food is just simply amazing. (picture courtesy of Moderne Hippies)

In terms of something a little more café-esque, why not check out Piet Hein Eek, situated in the heart of artsy Strijp R and offering some rather divine cakes, cheese spreads and soft drinks, as well as the obligatory good coffee. The settings in which the café is housed aren’t half bad either. If coffee is your thing though and you happen to be nearby the train station, then you’d be a fool not to call by the Coffee Lab and try what is quite simply put – the best coffee in town – lovingly prepared by some of the greatest coffee Barista’s in the whole of Europe. Quite an accolade, I’m sure you’ll agree.

In terms of options for bars, you’ll seriously be spoilt for choice when looking for a place to drink in Eindhoven. To list all the amazing watering holes that you could possibly frequent would lead to a rather exhaustive list, so instead, allow me to wholeheartedly recommend three of my favourite bars. The Secret Garden leaves you feeling like you’ve stepped into another world, with so much going on around you it’s almost like a bit of a sensory overload. New York fire-escape style iron staircases trail off to the ceiling from behind the main bar and it’s simply fascinating just watching members of staff run up and down carrying plates of hot food or retrieving yet another bottle of prized red wine. Usine was another epic bar and was the one that I visited most, given its dangerously close proximity to the hotel where I was staying. It may be my poor judgement when it comes to style, or it might have been the several beers I’d had before entering, but there was something about Usine that reminded me of being in a 1950’s style American Diner, with a French renaissance twist added in there – either way it was very much like stepping back in time, which is probably why I loved it so much!

If you fancy yourself as a bit of beer connoisseur then the Stadbrouwerij (City Brewery) is definitely worth a shout. When I visited the kind folks that work there were awesome enough to allow me to have a couple of testers – and once you’ve tasted finely brewed beers, it does make you wonder why you’ve been wasting your time drinking generic Pilsners for so long. Seriously refreshing and delicious and with Stadbrouwerij being so close to Eindhoven’s longest and busiest bar streets, it’s the perfect place to start off your day/night of drinking (if you’re into that sort of thing!).

Where to stay?

I’ve mentioned already the Inntel Hotel Arts Eindhoven, which is smack bang in the middle of the city and not too far away from the main train station. Inntel Hotel Arts is definitely a spot of luxury, but prices aren’t too astronomical, so you can afford to treat yourself and indulge. Stay tuned on my blog for an upcoming post dedicated entirely to the Arts Hotel – as it’s certainly worth a honourary mention all by itself.

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Each of the rooms at the Inntel Hotel Arts Eindhoven is individually designed. 

Alternatively, you may wish to check out the incredible Student Hotel which is similarly situated in the heart of the city, just spitting distance from the train station. The tall building dominates the Eindhoven Skyline and you’ll find rooms there to suit every need – from short stay business trips, to long-term stays for students and young professionals. The design of the hotel is extremely modern, with all the popular amenities that you would generally expect to find in a hotel, plus many more – such as a communal kitchen, a fully kitted gym and an auditorium where – if you fancy – you can give a talk to, well… whoever will listen, basically.

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The Student Hotel Eindhoven is the right mix of essential and modern; perfect for those on a budget.

What to do?

Generally speaking, Eindhoven is just a wonderful city to look around and soak up the sights – but if you’re looking for something a little more specific, then why not visit one of the cities many awesome museums?

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For a real sense of what Eindhoven is all about, make sure you pay the Philips Museum a visit.

For example, the visiting the Philips Museum in the centre of the city, really helps to give you a better understanding of what Eindhoven is all about and how the city came about to be founded in the first place. Eindhoven itself was built to house all of the employees of Philips and their families, with a real Marxist feel and existence emanating from the city walls – as Eindhoven, in its creation, housed everything Philips Electronics employees could ever want, need or desire – from hospitals, to even a football team, with the grand PSV stadium still standing proud to this day.

Accessibility

Given the modern designs and feel of Eindhoven, it comes as no surprise that you’ll often find excellent accessibility within the city. For an accessible accommodation choice, the aforementioned Student Hotel Eindhoven has some brilliant rooms, with disabled friendly bathrooms that will match the needs and requirements of just about everyone. Unfortunately, the Inntel Hotel Arts doesn’t have a stand-alone ‘accessible’ room, but the suites are very spacious and if you’re able to get around without the aid of your wheelchair, then it’s certainly roomy enough to be deemed as reasonably accessible – I was able to fit my wheelchair into the separated toilet, for example, and if you were travelling with a portable hoist, then there’s stacks of space to squeeze this in there for usage with the bath etc, especially if you opt for one of the hotels beautifully spacious open-plan suites.

 

 

 

Tackling Tokyo in a Wheelchair

Since returning from Tokyo the most frequently asked question I’ve received has been; ‘how was Japan?’, and after carefully considering my response, my condensed answer is now always; ‘Japan was beautifully unexpected’.

Despite never having prioritised visiting Japan in the past, once I caught wind of the fact that Cathay Pacific UK would be keen to send me to Tokyo to investigate accessibility ahead of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games – I was immediately sold on the idea.

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Due to not being terribly au fait with all things relating to Japanese culture, the result meant that I had the blissfully beautiful experience of discovering Japan’s richly diverse traditions from a place of genuine curiosity and learning. From the moment I landed my senses were instantly bombarded with all manner of delights.

There are a few positive stereotypes that I’d heard about Japan and these mostly (if not entirely) turned out to be accurate. For example; Tokyo is indeed an unfathomably clean city. The mind boggles when trying to consider that 13 million registered inhabitants across an insanely busy megatropolis can keep their city streets so neat and tidy.

Another social cliche that was quickly confirmed was how orderly and polite everyone was. Whether it’s queuing to enter a packed out Metro – or bowing repeatedly as diners vacate restaurants – Japanese folk offer an air of graciousness in an otherwise sickeningly fast paced world.

Even though Tokyo is densely populated, I rarely felt claustrophobic in any way. Naturally there are many famous areas that are extremely overcrowded – such as Akihabara (Electric Town) – but it all adds to the charm of the city and it’s easy to escape the madness.

Before arriving in Japan, I’d become increasingly concerned about just how expensive the country was meant to be. I was really surprised to find that compared to other westernised cities, Tokyo wasn’t actually that pricey at all. To give an example of how reasonable some places were – I ate a mountain of sushi at a random eatery somewhere in the heart of the city and my final bill came to less than £7. It’s hard to verbally contextualise just how much I ate, but the equivalent amount of Sushi in the UK would have cost me in excess of £30!

Many of the activities within Tokyo were actually free of charge, and you can gain a lot of memorable experiences – such as viewing the cities entire skyline at night at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building – without having to fork out a single penny.

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One angle from the panoramic view at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building.

What to expect in Tokyo in terms of Accessibility

Accessible Transport

The Tokyo Metro system is enough to turn even the most logical brain into mush. It’s complex, it’s chaotic and it’s anything but straightforward. It obviously goes without saying that as a wheelchair user it’s probably best to try and avoid the Metro during busy rush hour times – although certain lines still remain reasonably quiet.

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Not all Metro stations are barrier-free, although I did notice that several of the stations that didn’t have access were undergoing some form of reconstruction in what looked to be access adjustments ahead of the 2020 games.

You can find out more information as to which stations have barrier-free entrances, by checking out the Japan Accessible Tourism Center’s rundown on the Tokyo Metro System.

All of the local buses that I saw around the city had ramps and spaces for wheelchairs which was good to see, however, the coach from Tokyo to Mt Fuji was not accessible at all and my wheelchair had to go in the under-carriage with all the luggage. I’m fortunate enough to be able to get myself up onto a coach via the steps, but I know for many this would be nigh-on impossible.

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One of the many accessible buses that roam around the streets of Tokyo.

Accessible taxi’s – that are usually used for local disabled people within the city – can be chartered for sightseeing purposes. Regular taxi’s that operate throughout the city are usually old and small and may not be suitable for accommodating a wheelchair user.

Tokyo Accommodation

During the ten nights I spent in Tokyo I stayed in a wide range of accommodation types, from hotels and hostels, to couchsurfing and AirBnB. The latter offered an insight into the lives of local people, and I was impressed to find that a great number of AirBnB listings in Tokyo were moderately suitable for wheelchair users in the respect that they were often open plan and with elevators within the buildings.

All of the hotels I stayed in within the city centre of Tokyo were fully accessible, with disabled friendly rooms available and lifts, automatic doors and ramps at the entrance all in place to make your stay as easy as possible. Japan is famous for convenience and ease of living and this certainly extends into the field of accessibility.

I was pleasantly surprised by how affordable many of the hotels within Tokyo actually were. Compared to other major cities such as London, New York and Hong Kong, the cost of finding a place to stay in Tokyo was very reasonable and you can find a really nice place to stay for as little as £30-£40 per night.

Restaurants, Cafes and Shops

Tokyo is a city made for food, and with that, you’re never short of choices when it comes to restaurants. Contrary to what you might believe, sushi isn’t that easy to come by unless you’re situated next to the sea. The likes of Ramen and Katsu Curry being the main stables in Japanese cuisine and can be found just about anywhere you go. Although some of the restaurants were a little on the small side, I never had too much of a problem finding somewhere to sit that was accessible in my wheelchair and it was surprisingly easy to find restaurants that had toilet facilities for the disabled.

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It was a similar story with many of the cafes and shops that I visited – often the buildings would be narrow with not a great deal of room to get around, but fortunately for me there was never really any instances where I became stuck. Add to this the naturally kind nature of Japanese people and I was never too far away from being granted some greatly welcomed assistance.

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The view as we approached one of the gates to the Imperial Palace Gardens.

Recommendations on what to do in Tokyo…

I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find enough activities to fill all the time I was planning to spend in Tokyo – but boy how I was wrong. There is no shortage of things to do in this great city – so here are just a selection of the things I got up to – all of which were perfectly fine for me in my wheelchair.

Mt Fuji

Less than a couple of hours by train or bus from Tokyo and you’re suddenly face to face with one of the most famous mountains in the world – Mt Fuji. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the mountain is hidden above the clouds, but when I spent a night at the base of the mountain I was lucky enough to get full views of this majestic volcano and take in all of it’s gigantic beauty.

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Meiji Shrine

One of the major tourist attractions within Tokyo is the phenomenally beautiful Meiji Shrine which seems to appear out of nowhere deep in the heart of the city. The peace and tranquility that the shrine offers is a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of the surrounding busy streets.

The shrine offers plenty in terms of walks and nature trails, with the obvious attraction of stumbling across ancient religious monuments and temples. Of course, the shrine itself is quite overcrowded as it is one of the most popular tourist areas in Tokyo.

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Senso-Ji

Senso-Ji offers a fantastic opportunity to indulge in a spot of memorabilia shopping as well as it being yet another fantastically awesome temple. If it wasn’t for the throngs of tourists, Senso-Ji would be a very relaxing setting for one to enjoy searching for a little bit of inner peace.

Here’s a piece of advice – if you enter the tourist information office opposite the walkway to Senso-Ji, you will find the most amazing lookout tower and cafe, with the best views of the sprawling magnificence below you.

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Tokyo Tower

For an awesome view of Tokyo’s skyline, I recommend visiting Tokyo Tower. There is a small fee to go upstairs via lift to the lookout decks but it is totally worth it and you can even enjoy something to eat and drink whilst you marvel in the horizon and the epic living portrait that infiltrates and energises your eyes.

The tower has almost a striking resemblance to that of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and it’s grandiose presence is only bolstered by the fact that Tokyo Tower is the second tallest building in the whole of Japan.

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Imperial Palace Gardens

The Imperial Palace Gardens in Tokyo dominates a vast section of the cities landscape, covering a hefty chunk of land enclosed by a walkway that tops 5 km. On any given day you will see hundreds of runners running around the outskirts of the gardens, making it a popular spot for both locals and tourists alike.

The gardens are extremely well preserved and easy to get lost in. It’s hard to believe that you’re smack bang in the middle of one of the world’s busiest cities. The peace and quiet within the Imperial Palace Gardens is astounding.

There is of course the famous Imperial Palace situated inside the gardens, but unless you organise a dedicated tour, you’ll be hard pressed to get anywhere near it (at least from my experiences) unless you head up to the viewing area within the gardens, which requires climbing a crazily steep hill – one which isn’t exactly wheelchair friendly, nor is it good for the hips for those who intend on walking it.

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There are a wealth of different activities that you can take part in whilst in Tokyo, and to list them all would be somewhat exhaustive. Needless to say, you’ll never get bored in the Japanese capital, even after spending a couple of weeks there – or even a month or two!

Other notable mentions of things to check out in Tokyo include:

  • Sumo Town
  • Ginza District
  • Tsukiji Fish Market
  • Tokyo Skytree
  • Tokyo Disneyland

Check the short video below to see a Time-Lapse I recorded whilst taking a ride on the brilliant Yurikamome Line which I can highly recommend. The trains are completely driver-less which gives a really cool dynamic to your ride and means you can also get really close to the front and rear of the train for those perfect shots!

In closing I would like to emphasise once again what an amazing country Japan is. I’m humbled by the fact that despite having no pre-existing hunger to visit, Japan has slotted itself nicely into my top 3 travel destinations – just pipping Vietnam into second place and narrowly missing out on my top spot which is currently held by New Zealand (personal opinions of course)!

I think what I appreciated the most about Japan was perhaps also one of the most subtle aspects of the country. Japan is the first place I have ever been to where I experienced no one staring at me. It probably has a lot to do with the Japanese culture of respect and humility – but it made a refreshing change from constantly feeling judged by the looks that others give me.

I would just also like to take a moment to thank Cathay Pacific for giving me the opportunity to find out more about this fascinating and beautiful country and for placing their trust in me when asking me to write about Tokyo on their behalf. Stay tuned for my comprehensive review of the airlines service – which is coming soon. I also have some great footage of my time in Japan which I am currently piecing together and I look forward to releasing a video on my YouTube channel in the near future.

 

 

Is this one of the coolest hotels in London?

A few weeks ago I was offered the chance to stay at citizenM Tower of London, which is a wonderful centrally located hotel, right in the heart of London town. I’d previously heard a lot about the chain and there many hotels – stemming from New York to Amsterdam – and I’d always been keen to check out what all the hype was about!

Their website boasts of welcoming you to a ‘new kind of hotel’ – and with 24 hour food, 1 minute check in times and free movies on demand in your room – it’s easy to get swept up in the frenzy.

The rooms alone lend themselves to an environment suitable for any dweller of the sheets, with fantastically large beds, copious amounts of cushions, ambient setting mood lighting at your fingertips and of course – the pièce de résistance (for me at least) the overhanging widescreen TV that sits at the foot of your bed, which gives you all the access you need to a wide range of movies – and you might be surprised by what you find there (hint, hint, wink, wink *not for children*). Oh and not forgetting to mention, if you’re looking to chill and watch some Netflix, you can always use AirPlay to connect your device to the big screen – what more could you want?

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The shower situation within the room was seriously cool – with a futuristic style capsule and the aforementioned mood lighting settings just the right scene for relaxation. I should probably also mention that everything within the room can be controlled by the iPad that is provided. The TV, the lights, the blinds, the climate, the curtains, even the music – it’s all interchangeable and managed at the touch of a button.

The hotel staff were very courteous and kind; exactly what you’d expect from a mainstream hotel. You’ll see for yourself upon your arrival that there’s not much need for any assistance, as the self check in/check out service is so painless and simple. It really does only take a minute before you’re heading to the lifts and making your way to your room.

Start the day off right

What’s better than starting the day off with a freshly made coffee? I was astounded to find that when heading to breakfast on the ground floor at citizenM, I wasn’t faced with pre-made coffee or a coffee machine perched on a rogue table somewhere next to the croissant. Instead, my order was taken at the bar and fresh coffee was brewed and poured – cafe style!

The breakfast was also delicious and far more varied and abundant than your average hotel. We sat on a large communal table, which was full of people from all backgrounds and ideal for stimulating interesting conversations. If that’s not your thing then there’s also slightly more private seating options dotted around the place, as well as some tables outside for those who want to enjoy breakfast al fresco style!

But if non of these options are grabbing you, you can always just  take your breakfast up to your room and chill with breakfast in bed.

One eye on accessibility

Of course, any review that I write wouldn’t be complete without first taking a look at things with my accessibility hat on. I’m pleased to report that in keeping with the ultra modern vibe that citizenM protrudes, they also ensure that they’ve covered all bases with respect to inclusive accommodation. Lifts, ground level disabled toilets, accessible canteen area, approachable staff, automatic doors at the entrance, roll-in-showers and larger rooms to accommodate a wheelchair – it all bodes well, and there’s genuinely nothing to be concerned about when booking at citizenM Tower of London.

If you specify ahead of time that you require an accessible room then a staff member will assist you during the self check-in process to ensure extra smoothness.

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Final remarks

To sum up; citizenM is a very comfortable place to stay. All your needs are taken care of expertly and you’ll feel thoroughly refreshed after a night or two. The location of the hotel just adds to the charm and if you’re lucky enough to snag a room that has views of the the Tower of London then you’re in for a real historical treat, fit for Queen Elizabeth I herself – only you have the benefit of a beautiful warm bed, instead of the cold four walls of the tower across the street!

citizenM hotels describe themselves as being ‘your home away from home’, and I can definitely confirm, I felt thoroughly at home at citizenM Tower of London! (Even if I did miss my bus to France due to tube strikes the next day…. doh!)

Interviewed for a Podcast!

In 2016 I was approached by a lovely guy named Ric Gazarian and asked if I would be willing to be interviewed for one of his podcasts which he records in conjunction with his blog – GlobalGaz. The podcast features travellers of the same ilk – those who are on a quest to visit all 193 UN registered countries – and who’ll stop at nothing until their mission is complete.

Due to the nature of how popular GlobalGaz’ Counting Countries podcasts are, I of course felt extremely honoured to be considered and with that, I had great fun ‘chewing the fat’ over Skype and answering lots of interesting questions.

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If you would like to hear my interview, you can listen to the podcast on GlobalGaz’s website by clicking HERE!

You can also subscribe to the podcast via iTunes – so that you never miss a single episode of this thoroughly interesting series!

Don’t forget to show GlobalGaz some social media lovin’ by clicking on the following links:

Twitter – @GlobalGaz 

Facebook – GlobalGaz

Instagram – GlobalGaz

A response to being featured on the front page of the Dominion Post

Let me start by stating how grateful I am to have been featured on the front page of the Dominion Post today ( 10th January 2017) – it came as quite a surprise to me when I woke up and found my inbox full of messages from across the other side of the globe, letting me know. I do, however, want to set the record straight on a couple of points.

I was asked by my friend Emily Yates to write a short, three hundred word summary, on a city of my choosing that I thought rated highly in respect to accessibility – which I knew would then be used in a piece for The Independent. I did not, at any time, state that I thought Wellington was the most ‘accessible city in the world’, although I did decide to go with Wellington as my choice of accessible destination on the basis of my own personal experiences whilst in the city.

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Let’s be clear on one thing – no city is ever 100% accessible for all. Wherever you go in the world, should you have any sort of access needs, you’re going to come up against obstacles at some point or other.

People often seem to forget that the term ‘reasonable adjustment’ in respect to making buildings more accessible, is just that – reasonable adjustment. The term loosely protects listed buildings and/or buildings that would require severe reconstruction work in order to be deemed ‘accessible’. It’s just a fact of life – some buildings won’t be accessible, and with that, some restaurants, bars, cafes, places of work etc. will be extremely difficult for a disabled individual to enter. Wellington is no exception to this, and there are many areas that still require work – even little things, like when the main toilet doors at Wellington Station were closed and I used to have to sit and wait until someone was exiting before I could quickly sneak in whilst the door was still temporarily ajar.

Also, I’d be a fool to say that Wellington’s naturally hilly terrain isn’t tough on the old shoulders when getting about, but I stand by (excuse the pun) my claims that logistically Wellington is great – with electronic boards that notify you when the next low-level bus is arriving and excellent staff help on most local trains in and out of the CBD, I really did feel like I was spoilt for choice.

Out of all the city’s I’ve been to across the world, Wellington is by far leading the way when it comes to ensuring access is a high priority. Since I left the city in May 2016, I’ve seen wonderful progress continue to be made by the likes of Erin Gough – a Wellingtonian disability rights activist and all round super woman – who is striving to make every last stretch of New Zealand’s capital accessible for all.

From the massive array of services offered to disabled visitors at The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, to the simple fact you can pick up a mobility scooter to use around the city, for free, by simply visiting the Wellington City Council building down by the water front – I really feel like Wellington has a boat load to offer, not to mention the fact it’s one hell of a trendy city with breath-taking scenic views!

I think Wellington is fantastic, and also an extremely inclusive city, and that’s why I felt it richly deserved a mention in the list of top destinations to travel to in 2017 if you’re disabled.

If you would like to read the article that accompanied my face on the front page of the Dominion Post then you can do so by clicking HERE!

I’ll be creating an Accessible Guide to Wellington eBook later this year – so stay tuned for that!