Monday, April 15, 2013
My Trip to Paris, France in a Wheelchair
The overnight flight from Houston Intercontinental airport took 8 hours 45 minutes, and left town at 3 pm central standard time. It was almost impossible for me to get any sleep. For some reason, I’ve always had a hard time getting any on airplanes. Just 3 or 4 hours after dinner service would’ve been nice, but no dice.
We landed in Paris, France, at 6:45 am (French time). Baggage claim was close to our gate, as was customs, and we breezed through both without any problems since we had an airport person usher us through. He even took us to the taxi line where we piled into a mini-van style taxi before leaving on the 45 minute drive (40-50 €) into the city to the Hotel Prince and what I’d hoped was a wheelchair accessible room.
Situated in the 7th arrondissement, we found the Hotel Prince to be in a quaint part of Paris that is only 8 or so blocks from the Eiffel Tower. It has one accessible room on the bottom floor which is spacious (by French standards) and costs 130 €/night. No roll-in shower, but I wasn’t complaining about that. Paris is a very old city and accessibility is obviously an afterthought here.
Our rooms weren’t ready so we dropped off the luggage and crossed the street to a sidewalk café for a celebratory drink and then an early lunch. Afterwards, we got into our rooms and took a good long nap until about 5 o’clock. Oddly enough, we were fresh and ready to do a little exploring before finding another place to dine.
Not surprisingly, the first place we struck out for was the Eiffel Tower which was only eight or so blocks away from out hotel. All the sidewalks had cut curbs and I found it smooth wheeling there and back. In fact, most of the city, that we covered on foot, was easy to get around. We hung out around the Eiffel on the ground for about an hour. There were long lines to go up and wheelchair users can only go to the first level anyway so we decided to stay down. It was a grand sight to see.
On the way back, we stopped at a corner café to have dinner on the sidewalk as the sun set and with the Eiffel looming over our heads. What I didn’t know was that they light it up at night with a million dazzling lights that periodically put on a show of their own. I found something else out that day too, that you aren’t supposed to tip after meals in Paris like we do in the states. You’re supposed to only leave a few euro if your service was superb. The tips there are already figured into the price of the meal.
All of our waiters were friendly and most spoke a little English. I didn’t notice any of them getting annoyed with us unlike some of the stories I heard about over the years. Perhaps that’s because we came during the tourist season and the French people are expecting an influx of American tourists.
Day two, dad and I went down to the Eiffel to try to get on one of the double decker tour buses because they told us that they had an accessible one. Well, maybe they did, but we got to the location and waited for more than half an hour. Then they tried to just get me on the next bus and park in the opening just inside the door on the bottom floor. I think maybe they saw that we were about to leave and wanted our money, but I’m too old to fall for something like that. I told them ‘aint happening’ and we took off down the Seine river on foot toward the Musee d’ Orsay. The river cuts Paris almost in half and a lot of landmarks are on or near it. Again, keep in mind that these places are a fair piece apart from each other, a couple of miles sometimes, but getting there was easy and I wanted to see the city on foot anyway. Musee d’ Orsay is the impressionists’ museum and a lot smaller than the Louvre. Another nice surprise is that disabled guests get free admission to all the museums in Paris. Merci’ beaucoup!
Tip: Follow the crosswalk signals or you take your life in your own hands.
Another neat thing about this city is that everything you need is right around the corner. We did a little exploring around our hotel and found a supermarket, a bakery where we had breakfast on the sidewalk every morning, a fine cheese shop, a butcher, several bars and cafes, fruit stands, delis, a small park, you name it. Every little side street had several charming little shops it seemed like. These places come in handy if you want to eat in Paris on the cheap. We quickly discovered that all our money was going to eating at the sidewalk cafes and restaurants. You can, however, pick up cheaper meals at the supermarket & deli and take it to the park or back in the room.
One of the little differences while dining in Paris is that the waiters leave you alone for long periods of time. In France, meals are more of a social event and are supposed to be enjoyed without a lot of interruptions. Don’t expect them to be coming over to constantly fill your glasses or check on you, it won’t happen. I really started to enjoy this too by the time we left.
After Musee d’ Orsay, dad and I kept going down the Seine until we got to Notre Dame. What a site! Dad was impressed with the architecture since it is one of the oldest structures in the city and the first to use flying buttresses to support the walls. I was impressed with the inside of this cathedral. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. We got in and around very easily. They do have stairs up to where the hunchback used to hang out but that isn’t accessible, and there are a few steps up to the area behind the altar that I decided not to do but dad could’ve gotten me up them fairly easily if I’d wanted to go.
By the time we made it back to the hotel, the day was over and it was time for dinner.
The next day we took on the Louvre, once again on foot. And let me just say right now, you’re going to need at least three days if you want to do it right. The place is huge. It’s also bustling with tourists, which is a drawback because it’s not easy enjoying the unbelievable artwork with twenty people hurrying by snapping pictures of everything with their digital cameras. It’s also difficult to not get swept up in the fast pace. Take it slow and appreciate what you’re seeing. The highlights are the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory as well as the many wall-sized painting and sculptures by Michelangelo. It’s tricky finding your way around in the Louvre so you have to find out where the elevators are and where you want to go. Study the maps.
That evening, the four of us walked down to Champs Elysees to see the Arch De Triumph which was commissioned by Napoleon. Another must see of the Paris sights. Before we found a quaint little restaurant. Of course, most of the places in Paris are this way. Expect a lot of places to have a step up into them and not very much room to get around in.
We didn’t attempt the Metro (subway) because very few terminals have working elevators I heard while doing research for the trip. The only other option, other than a cab, were the public buses that we didn’t bother with either. We also didn’t go on one of the riverboats that go up and down the Seine which are accessible. Maybe next time.
Tip: Be aware that if you phone for a cab to pick you up, the meter starts as soon as he leaves.
We took a cab up to Montmartre which is another cool place that overlooks the entire city and is a popular place for tourists. There are places to eat and drink and several local artists have their work on display.
Another thing to know when you go to France is to give everyone a simple greeting the first time you meet someone or enter a business. And do it in their language. If you do this, the people are more willing to help you. Overall, Paris is an extremely charming city, especially at night. It’s not cheap though while the euro is stronger than the dollar.