Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Paris in a Wheelchair

Paris is famed for its romantic scenery, Eiffel Tower, delicious French cuisine, museums, and it's all true, but let me tell you something not too many people think about, wheelchair accessibility. It's rough.  Strolling through the streets of Paris was an interesting experience in a wheelchair. The metro had limited stops with lifts, so walking was the better option to avoid the high prices of Parisian cabs and windiness of buses (or you can ride to the nearest metro with a lift, get off, and walk the rest of the way. Check metro site here). It took a considerable amount of time to walk from one landmark to another, and those sidewalks were an incredible nightmare to deal with because of narrowness and lack of curb cuts.  One evening, we were wheeling along a sidewalk back to our hostel, when the sidewalk came upon an abrupt stop, leading us right into oncoming traffic.  That was pretty scary. This experience left me completely curious of how people get around here in wheelchairs. I found this site after for accessible taxi info. However, it was really nice to walk and see what people do in their spare time like hanging out at the park (and there are many beautiful parks. I love the mundane things).

Here are the top decently wheelchair friendly spots I observed:
  • Eiffel Tower (cannot go to the top of the tower in a wheelchair, reduced fare. purchase tickets ahead of time here)
  • Notre Dame (no elevators to get to the top, once over steps, it's easier to get around, donation based)
  • Louvre Museum (Many, many hidden elevators, plan extra hours just for the search, but entrance is free for a wheelchair and companion, and skip the lines! Amazing artwork. It's so worth it!)
  • Sacré Coeur (a tram takes you up to the village, will need a push to get up a steep hill to get to the church, donation based)
  • All of the arcs like the Arc de Triomphe (definitely accessible)
  • Gardens and bridges (love lock bridge over the River Seine, accessible)
  • Most restaurants along Champs-Elysées have outdoor seating (otherwise they're underground and small on the inside, restrooms are not accessible as they're tiny and you have to go downstairs to get to them), most others including bakeries are not so much
  • Musée d'Orsay (Modern and full elevators, free)
The French were surprisingly very kind and helpful to us. Some boys in nice Sunday suits helped my husband carry me in my wheelchair down some metro stairs. Contrary to popular belief, the French can be nice, even to Americans.  Just outside Notre Dame, a man we called, "the bird man" placed cracker crumbs in my palm and taught me how to woo little birdies. We had a lot of fun with him and other little passerby children with their parents. It was so kind of him to share and care!
Feeding Parisian birdie
Outside of the Louvre Museum
The Mona Lisa, up close and personal
Arc de Triomphe
Food at the Sacre Coeur market
Bakery on the way to the Eiffel Tower
View from Eiffel Tower at night
Many posh things in Paris
We were fortunate to have stumbled upon a wine festival (in October) at the Sacre Coeur, where there booths selling delicious artisan breads, duck egg paste, cheese and potatoes, wine, and other local foods. There was also a live band playing French music while we ate. And inside, it was mostly wheelchair accessible. We enjoyed the simple beauty of it. Unfortunately, unable to take photos.

Eiffel Tower, beautiful view of the city and artwork
Jewelry shop in Cambodian!
Despite the hassle, I had an incredible time in Paris with AJ. The city really does have a lot to offer in way of romance. We took a lot of time just breathing in the moment together, along with the pastries (esp. macarons!), of course. We always have fun exploring new places together, even when it gives us a headache--we just laugh about it later. It's not the cleanest city (as aren't many major cities), but it was packed with goodness, including Cambodian shops! Although it does rain a lot, a sturdy golf umbrella will do the trick.  I definitely recommend Paris, even for those in wheelchairs. I hope I've said enough that you never let anything stop you from living your dream, even if it means traversing multiple steps or crossing the crazy traffic of France in a wheelchair. Adventure on!

A special treat: here we are on the Eiffel Tower!