Monday, October 29, 2012

Barcelona in a Wheelchair

Excellent weather
Original work by Antonio Gaudí
Natural beauty

Barcelona, Spain was our most favorite city [besides Edinburgh] in Europe. It is not only a beautiful beach city, but the most wheelchair accessible city I have been to in Europe so far (including metros, buses, sidewalks), even offering designated wheelchair friendly beaches. We stayed at Barcelona Urbany Hostel that was very close to a stop for our hop on hop off bus (very convenient).

There was so much to see and do.  Some of my favorite things were visiting the naturalistic artwork of Antonio Gaudí: La Pedrera, Casa Batlló (not all accessible. cool old lift to get to get to the top), Parc Güell (what a perfect place to go for a long walk, but windy incline for wheelchairs), and especially the Sagrada Familia. I was extremely impressed with the futuristic designs of these structures, including accessibility for the most part. My favorite destination was the Sagrada Familia, which is an unfinished cathedral by Gaudi. We were awed by such beautiful, intricate stained glass. The light shining through from the beautiful Barcelona sun just rainbowized the whole cathedral with such vibrance. I also thought the statues were really cool looking with the narrower, almost cartoony features as opposed to other statues that are meant to look more realistic. Wheelchair accessibility was an added bonus (although there is not an accessible lift to get to the top. You can make it in the lift if you can walk up a few steps to it) and we got in free (talk to the attendants at the side gate, don't wait in the line)!

On top of La Pedrera- limited accessibility
Sagrada Familia. Just imagine how much more grandiose this would be if it were finished...

Stunning stained glass of colorful light

The food in Barcelona was absolutely delicious. The big thing in Spain is tapas which are little appetizers that offers a great variety of seafood, paella, drinks, which is perfect for tourists who want to try a little bit of everything. Though, everything was just a bit pricey when converting the euro to the dollar...but that's expected in Europe so just avoid the headache and anxiety don't do the math. Rationalize all the way that you are being just like everyone else and pay it. The food is so worth it!
Tapas: sausages, mussels, and batatas bravas around Las Ramblas
AJ about to devour his prey: paella
I loved the very kind and friendly people who were so helpful to us. The night before our trip, I burned my feet while taking a hot shower (I tend to burn my legs a lot without knowing, and the water in Scotland gets scalding hot really fast)! I woke up with two huge blisters, the size of my palm but there was not much we knew to do about it and had to head to the airport at the crack of dawn. Well, while at one of the bars in Barcelona, one of my huge blisters popped and I panicked. I felt we needed to see a doctor right away to prevent an infection. We only had an address in our travel book and no sense of direction to read our map. People were so willing to help us read the map along the way and get us to where we needed to go. I was so thankful.

The culture of ciestas was a bit inconvenient as a tourist looking for food during certain hours, but it also gave us an opportunity to slow down a bit and relax.

I couldn't get over how wheelchair accessible Barcelona was. That definitely was perfect on my wheels. The metro was wheelchair accessible at just about every stop (finally!). The weather couldn't be any better. AJ and I talk about going back almost everyday since getting back to Edinburgh, especially during cold and rainy days. We definitely recommend Barcelona!

A bit of Barcelona:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Lisbon in a Wheelchair

Seja bem-vindo a Portugal! Welcome to Portugal!

Over the parliamentary recess in October (I know this is really old, but I've been so busy!), AJ and I spent a few days in Lisboa, the capitol of Portugal. AJ and I always try to experience as much of the culture of the places we visit as we can, and Portugal sure does have a lot of culture to offer.  As you can imagine, I was super excited to visit the city I had learned so much about and to speak Portuguese! As expected, the Portuguese was different from Brazilian Portuguese, yet still so beautiful! Portugal is known for its unique music style of fado, long history of navigation, as well as delicious bacalhau (salted and dried cod fish) and pasteis (sweet or savory treat in a cup shape), so we made sure to check those out. We booked two days on the Sightseeing Portugal bus and off we went! (Note: the green line of this company does not offer regular sized buses that can accommodate wheelchairs, so don't pay for all of the lines! It was still a convenient option for the most part. You can explore regular bus routes or the metro.)

Lisboa was pretty wheelchair accessible. I was able to  wheel down the streets with little problems. There were some slopes that I struggled getting up, so AJ would give me a push here and there. The shops are also a little more cozy and some had steps without lift options, so that was a bit tricky. I think it was most difficult when I wanted to try on clothes, but stalls were not accessible. There is a bit more Lisbon can do in terms of catering to wheelchairs. But I understand the economy is tough here and they're barely keeping afloat. Wheelchair accessibility probably doesn't make the list just as it isn't in many other places. I'm just saying it would be a bit more enjoyable if I could get around with more ease.
However, I had fun in this beautiful city. Some of my favorite places included: the Museu de Marinha (Sea Museum), Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, and the Museu de Fado.
Right next door to the museum is the Mosteiros dos Jerónimos (Jeronimos Monastery), where we found Vasco da Gama (ocean explorer) and Luis de Camões' (beautiful poet) tombs. The monastery is very ornate with intricate carvings and cloisters. We went through it pretty quickly, but got a good view of it. It was fully wheelchair accessible and free!
Mosteiro dos Jerónimo
The Museu de Marinha was awesome as it had lots of artifacts from the extensive navigation the Portuguese were involved with over the years. They were the leaders in this field, hence the many Portuguese speaking countries around the world. We saw belongings of the famous, Vasco de Gama (famed for his navigation around the world. We also saw models of some of the most modern ships of the time period, maps of the world from each era, info. on notes from Brasil, which I got super excited about, rooms on different ships made for kings, and fun navigation tools like compasses. I would have loved some of these things for my "vintage" collection. Maybe next time they'll loan it to me? We easily spent a few hours there.  We also got discounted tickets for being students, and it was wheelchair accessible except for the floor up (there were no lifts). However, the restroom at the shop next door was accessible (thankfully).

An old compass
AJ and model of a great boat
We had lunch at Pastel de Belém, a well-known cafe which was apparent with the long line for both take away and sit in. Those were some of the best pasteis AJ and I have ever had. A pastel can be a sweet dessert or savory treat. The famous pasteis are made from a secret recipe from long ago. Only a few people know it. We compared it to other pasteis throughout the city and there was none other like it. I also had the pastel de bacalhau and loved that too.
scrumptious pasteis in the making
Lastly, the Museu de Fado was also an awesome place to visit. We learned about the history of the music and artists. I fell in love with the beauty of the style of music, unique to specifically Portugal. I loved listening to the accent and seeing the passionate expression of the artists as they sang. The music had variations of sentiments. I especially liked the ones that were more fun and chill.  The museum was fully wheelchair accessible as it is a more modern building.

Fado is joy, fado is pleasure because fado gives us life, and in fado I want to die...
We stayed in a really nice hostel, Lisbon Destinations, a converted historic train station. It was so spacious, well decorated and clean. It was located right in the city center, surrounded by shops and delicious restaurants including our favorite, Hard Rock Cafe. However, the shower stalls were not accessible.

Overall, a great trip to Lisboa! I can't wait to visit the rest of Portugal.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

On Board HMY Britannia

One the best days in Edinburgh so far in terms of weather shined through today on our 30 minute walk from our flat to Leith to visit Her Majesty's Yacht, the Brittania. We're still waiting for our invite to the Jubilee, which might have gotten lost in the mail, oh well. I didn't know this, but the yacht is connected to the Ocean Terminal mall. It is fully accessible and with our student ID's we received a small concession.

Ever wonder how luxurious of a lifestyle the rich live? Come on board the Brittania. There are many elaborate rooms, furniture, artifacts from all over the world--way cooler than any cruise I've been on. My favorite room was the large living room with beautiful floral printed couches, salmon curtains, a baby grand piano and card tables, where the royal family would hang out. It's really special thinking of how even the most powerful can share time with family.

There's so much history on this ship. I saw many pictures of powerful people all around the world including Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, etc. who have come aboard. This is a fun peace making ship/home. 

AJ carried me downstairs to the quarters where shipmates bunked. It was super crowded, but interesting to see how they lived. AJ had to carry me through that whole floor, so I'm not sure if it would be worth it for someone with the same mobility needs.
AJ and I had a light snack at the Tea Room, a little restaurant up the top of the yacht. We got to ride in the royal lift, which the royals would use to avoid going down stairs in large ball gowns. It is now designated for mobility disabled visitors. We enjoyed a pleasant view of the Leith port through the large glass windows. AJ had a fruit scone and I had Porelli's home made ice cream with 3 different flavors: Scottish table (butterscotch-like), mint-chocolate chip, and strawberry. Each flavor was equally delightful.

Friday, October 5, 2012

An Attitude of Gratitude

The other day, I was reminded by a talk given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland that gratitude is essential in life because we just don't know what the future holds.  From my personal experiences over the years, I've learned that time on this earth is short so enjoy those moments of both happiness and sadness. 

The secret to enjoying life despite everyday struggles--pain, sickness, stress, etc.--is having an attitude of gratitude: look for those simple blessings or remember funny and comforting moments to be happy about. For example, when I am wheeling up a steep hill (especially the one behind the BYU library), I think to myself, "I can do it, keep wheeling, little by little, I'm almost there."  When I get to the top, I congratulate myself with a pat on the back. Having the ability to accomplish that simple task is a blessing to me and I'm thankful for that strength--not only physical strength to push myself, but an inner strength to live. Whenever I seek those blessings, I feel so happy because I can see the huge role He plays in every aspect of my life--I am not alone. Someone wonderful is watching over me.

Sometimes, challenges seem overwhelmingly difficult. Yes, it does get annoying not being able to reach things that are higher than me, or push up hills, or get around stairs. Sometimes, I have bad days and just want to give up and throw in the towel. But I remind myself, "If not this, then what?" I feel everyone has challenges of some sort. What challenge am I willing to take on? It could be worst and scarier. Should I press it? No, these challenges are for me, personally. I need these challenges to progress and I become better person, which I feel I am now because I made that commitment not to quit, ever. I want to keep growing and learning, and I want to be able to help someone else who is going through their trial, just as others have helped me. I am so grateful. I feel I've accomplished so much already and no matter what the future holds, I'm ready and I know I'll be grateful then too.

There are so many simple things to be grateful for in life. Seek them and we'll be tons happier. 

Today, I am grateful for scones. They're so simple and delicious!