Places I visited

Christmas atmosphere in London

For years I dreamed of going to London for Christmas. The atmosphere, the decorations … London seems to be the ‘place to be’ in that period. Unfortunately … also very expensive … and so it remained until November2013 by dreaming …

What preceded it …

Until then the long-standing ‘problem’ of ‘what to do with New Year’s Eve’ occurred again.

For me, the moment of midnight … the transition to the new year … the countdown to … a moment of magic and goosebumps … preferably between a lot of people, friends … and there has to be fireworks!

Because I didn’t get what I wanted at home, the thought came up: Why not go and watch the fireworks in London … celebrate my birthday at the Thames in a bunch of people ?

After consulting with Kyrian (my son, convinced fairly quickly) I started arranging and booking, as much as possible online.

We would use the Eurostar; I would overcome my fears of death by traveling to London under a mass of water to the great pleasure of Kyrian who said my thoughts were crazy …

Because we live close to Hasselt station and have a bus stop right outside our door, I initially wanted to take the regular bus to the station. But because they already refused me a few times (because of no reservation) and there is not always an accessible bus, I did not want to take any risks and I contacted the ‘Belbuscentrale’.

I was a new customer and they would first come to measure the dimensions of my wheelchair before I could make further arrangements. “Pfff … such a hassle …” was my first thought, but … not even half an hour later there were two friendly gentlemen at my door! That was fun !

The next day I could call back because then everything would be in their iles and I could make my final reservation.

At the station we would take a train to Brussels South, where we would then take the Eurostar to Pancras Station in London.

I was particularly uncomfortable because we had a timetable that we really had to respect, and my experience with train travel and assistance was not that great … So … exciting …

The journey

On Friday morning the Belbus was 5 minutes earlier than my appointment on the spot! That started well! I registered at the Hasselt station and received a call for assistance. This one also came around the corner a little later and even helped us on a train earlier than planned.

An hour later we drove into Brussels South where assistance was also waiting for us to get off the train. If this continued to go so well … Happy feeling !

In Brussels South we had an hour and a half to get on the Eurostar, but you do get your time there. Shops, a GB, coffee shops … You don’t have to go hungry or thirsty there!

Checking in for the Eurostar seems a bit like at an airport. You must show your boarding passes, identity card, baggage are checked … They therefore also ask you to be present at least 45 minutes in advance.  You get a ‘luxury place’ which apparently also includes a small meal, which was a very nice surprise for the price we paid (88 € per person round trip).

In about two hours we were on British soil. And to be honest … you don’t notice the feeling of ‘being under the water’ … it’s barely half an hour … So my fear was unnecessary; o).

Also in Pancras Station, assistance was waiting for us, everything went very smoothly and we could immediately take a London Taxi that is also reasonably accessible for ordinary mechanical wheelchairs, if you are not too big.

The city

The Thistle hotel was fine. Just a pity that the wellness area was in the basement and that the elevator down had been defective for months. I had informed the hotel by email that I would come with a wheelchair, so it would have been thoughtful of them if they had told me this. As compensation we received a free breakfast, but especially for Kyrian, swimming would have been a surplus because that was precisely why I booked this hotel…

We visited quite a lot on 4 days, despite the bad weather. Rainy days in London … don’t speak to me … And as many told me, it was incredibly busy. I had been there years ago and then it was busy too, but now … you can’t get a picture of this if you haven’t seen it yourself. The bargain period starts there from December 26, you are still in the middle of the holidays … I had listened better and postponed my trip, but ok!

Places that we visited, among other things, with the big advantage: in a wheelchair you don’t have to wait anywhere, you can simply cross the (everywhere) meters long queues:

  • Buckingham Palace … not possible to reach … sways of the people, even on the hundred-meter-long avenue in front … people are really pushing to see the changing of the guards …
  • Madame Tussauds, free entrance for wheelchair users and a discount for guide, assistance and guidance on site!
  • M&M World, a must-see for chocolate addicts !
  • Tower Bridge, outside powerful towers and bridge, but quickly returned due to bad weather and late in the day.

– fireworks on the Thames on New Year’s Eve, definitely worth the effort to experience, but the incredible crowds (250,000 people on an area with a radius of + 500m …) is a downer. Someone with claustrophobic tendencies I strongly advise against this! ; o) The bells of Big Ben at 00u gave me goose bumps from my crown to my smallest toe …

We have done almost everything with public transport. Subway and bus are almost all adapted, but as said, you have to understand the system a bit. The London taxis are also spacious. With a mechanical wheelchair and if you are not too tall (read ‘high’) you can easily enter it. Not that cheap, but you do have the luxury of being on the spot without much effort.

Conclusion

London is easy to do with a wheelchair, but next time I would go in spring or summer. The bad weather and the incredible crowds were a bad combination. It was sometimes very difficult to get somewhere; umbrellas, crowds of people everywhere, lots of noise from sirens, etc.

But it remains a city trip recommended to do by (electric) wheelchair !

Loving my life and surrounding myself with friends and positive people. My goal is trying to make the world more aware of accessibility for wheelchair users on holidays and other leisure activities.

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