Feet first: Trip to Roland Garros, Paris

[With South African Tennis fans]

Travelling brings me happiness and fulfilment in my life as I said before I seek to explore the world till my last breath.

I’m of the opinion that there is more excitement in planning a journey than the holidaying, better yet if I make it to my destination I feel the exhilaration of victory and threefold if I make it home from my travels.

Therefore thinking about my second trip to Paris didn’t give me the buzz that I normally experience when I’m planning to go on one of my solo expeditions. However it was the most comfortable and flawless trip I have ever made so far. I learnt from the awry experiences on my first trip to Paris. As 2pac said in his song ‘Ghetto Gospel’ in the 4th verse

I make mistakes but learn from every one

And when it’s said and done

I bet this brother be a better one…

In 2016 I nearly had costly incidents but thankfully and fortuitously I made it home safe and sound. That said mistakes are part of progress, they can either make us or break us but if you can learn from them the probability of a better experience on the next go, is high. In general life can be viewed as a series of experiments wherein mistakes and failures can be used to correct our past and consequently get the desired results.

Better yet I booked the same hotel, Hôtel Hor where I stayed at in 2016, which is only a few minutes walk from Gare Du Norde (an international train station). The hotel is convenient as it offers a quick escape to recumb after a long day.

On 04/05 I got to London Kings Cross and made my way across to St Pancreas railway station with ease despite having no assistance to carry my bags. I remember there was a time when the railways staff from either station used to assist disabled people to carry their luggages across but in 2016 I learnt that the policy no longer exist. When I arrived at the Eurostar check-in desk my train was due to depart in an hour. In general the Eurostar travellers with special needs are advised to arrive 60 minutes before departure. However they were some late arrivals due to board the departing train before mine. One lady in particular was excessively sweating out of anxiety. “I’m sorry I was delayed by the faulty traffic light and mobbed by kids around here (Camden) and they have taken my sandwich” said she with a French accent and intense apprehension. Maybe she expressed genuine issues but that sounded fabricated to me. However aware that she was desperate and sorry looking I let her in front of me in the queue because my deceased mama used to tell me to help people if I can. After I checked in I was led to the waiting lounge were it was announced that our train was delayed. Instead of setting off at 16:30 the train set off at 17:00.

The Eurostar

At the time of writing the Eurostar is the most spacious and most practical mode of public transport that I have used thus far. If needs be I can use the toilet with no problems whatsoever, actually I find it easy to use the toilet in the Eurostar than using the European and American disabled toilets. Writing about my experience in New York I argued that using the bathroom is a punitive endeavour, European bathrooms/ toilets are the same. I hope they will learn from the U.K. (and Commonwealth countries) and Asia. However I once argued that the best bathrooms and toilets for disabled people need to be custom built not a one size fits all policy.

When I’m in the Eurostar I feel relaxed and drink liquids for I have the assurance of a quick access to the toilet in my wheelchair. However in July 2016 some disabled folk expressed their disgruntlement for the bikes parked in disabled toilets of which Eurostar argued that it was an interim solution to tackle storage problems at the time. They also highlighted that such measures would only happen if and when no passengers have requested the wheelchair space or the facilities. After the incident they acknowledged that there were in the process of modifying the luggage space on new trains to include additional accommodation for larger items including fully assembled bikes. From my perspective I had a pleasant journey and the food was amazing. Disability can be beneficial at best and marginalised at worst. On the train I posted the following on social media.

“Yet another course of sumptuous food all for £29, that’s why I fell in love with the Eurostar in 2016 (first time I used it). #rg18 #WheelchairGlobetrotting #HeardfistthrillsonWheels #FeetfurstThrillsonWheels”

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Psychedelic Rock Night

When I arrived at Gare Du Nord this time around I knew my way out and the directions to my hotel hence I straight away went out and turned left to head to my hotel. Summer time the sun don’t go down till late, I got to my hotel at circa 20:00 and it was still as bright as the day. So I asked myself what to do now? I knew there was an English bar and restaurant around the corner called St Christopher’s. The place were most English speaking Tennis fans (staying around Gare Du Nord) and tourists alike go. I was aware of it but I had never been so I decided to go there. Though it is around the corner from the hotel I was wary if the place had a disabled toilet. The first thing I did was to inquire if they had one and was shown were it is (upstairs).

After the the confirmation I felt that I could seat and relax, to abled people the availability of toilets is a trivial issue but for me and from a disabled person’s point of view it’s a paramount issue. After buying me a tall glass of coke I drank it over the counter were I mingled with a lot of people. While there, a comely young man introduced to me as Dylan an American and asked if I care to join him and his friends. I obliged and made my way gingerly to their table lest I spill my drink. At the table I was introduced to his mates, they were peripatetic and staying at a hostel. “What are you drinking, can I buy you one” he asked with a friendly gesture. Very generous I thought he was and I instead offered to buy him one. “Thanks man but I would rather buy you one because it looks like you need to save money for your European tour” I said with a friendly countenance returning the compliment. I gave him some euros and he went to buy us some drinks. From thence I recall having a nightmare, I was being chased by John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson trying to run but wasn’t going nowhere then John shot me at the back of my head and boom! I was wide awake. Not on the bed but still in my chair and my phone received a Whatsapp message and the time flashed as 03:30. Though I remember the name Dylan from St Christopher’s bar & restaurant I don’t think he is the culprit for he seemed like a genuine guy. However I had every reason to be suspicious of him particularly when I realised I was his only friend on his facebook account.

There is a reason I had the nightmare, for there is a group of guys who were seating on a certain table that I took a snap shot of from the counter, I think one of them did it when I went to the toilet.

However at the time of writing Dylan has requested to be my friend using his real account.

In Paris

I felt like I did more than I managed to do last time I visited there. Other than tennis which I enjoyed a lot I managed to visit more places of significant importance including George’s Pompidou (Post-modern building); Forum des Halles (shopping centre) and the Effel Tower. I was able to visit more place due in part to the efficiency of public transport. Noticeably as a disabled person transportation was all free, I was never asked to produce a ticket or a disabled pass. At the Effel Tower I met two girls who were travelling Brenna Dilger and Jemma Merret, from America and Australia consequently, like the guys that I met at St Christopher’s they were staying at a hostel in Paris but wether it was the same hostel or a different one, I don’t know. We were both looking for the main entrance as we was conversing and going round we met an Asian middle aged bloke. “Are you guys friends?” He asked with with a drawing pad and a pencil in his hand. “Yes I guess we are now friends we just met” Jemma gave the response. “Sir let me draw you, with your nice beard and nice cap I think it will be a good one, if you don’t like it you don’t pay” said he targeting me with his laser focused eyes. Before I even said anything he started drawing on his pad and after about five minutes he was done. “For you sir it’s €38 I normally charge €50 for adults” he said with a cheeky and crafty smile. Before you know it I was looking into my wallet, despite Jemma’s efforts to destruct my impulsive purchase. I didn’t even like the drawing and realised that I had just been hustled. “I can’t believe you bought it just like that” said Jemma incredulously. It happened so fast so to justify the incident I acknowledged that he was a man just trying to feed his family and I helped him out. I learnt to watch out for ravenous wolves when abroad simultaneously the hustler taught me a great lesson- in order to get what you want you have to be confident in your craft.

Fbk

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At the Effel Tower: instagram

Built environment

My travels by and large reverberate around Tennis which happens to be my favourite sport. I digress, really and truly, I think I would have become a professional tennis player if it wasn’t for the accident that disabled me. The tournament was founded in 1891 and out of the the three main courts namely Philip Chatrier, Susan Longley and Court 1 the latter in the only one without disabled access however the former which is the principal court has a dearth of access to the restaurant and the main shop. The one without access is due to be demolished and will be replaced by a new and accessible one.

After the match I went to buy some food from the best restaurant about. Disappointedly it ain’t got disabled access however the staff is available at man’s disposal. When the chef learnt that I had supposedly come a long way (Africa) to watch the tennis he gave me an extra piece of ham more than enough to suffice my hunger #rg18 #phillipechatrier @ Court Philippe-Chatrier”

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If and when I go abroad I like to assess the accessibility of the towns including the wider neighbourhoods particularly the inner cities. In general most inner cities are subject to various social ills such as crime and anti social behaviour coupled with poor housing and poor infrastructure. One afternoon I felt the need to use the toilet when I was waiting for my bus around Gare de I’Est so I went to Burger King which was just around the corner. I was told to take a platform lift to access the disabled toilet on the first floor. Straight away I went up but when I wanted to make my way out I couldn’t get the elevator to work. From my past experience I know that platform lifts are temperamental that said there are unreliable, I once slept in a restaurant. Lucky enough the lift was quickly fixed to my relief.

On my penultimate night in Paris I decided to go down town to buy me some African food. I was impressed by the accessibility of the infrastructure further more the food was super amazing.

Below is photo I took on my way to Château d’Eu (inner city Borough)

One lad trying to intimidate me with the looks, it brings back memories, ‘straight outta’ high school I was initiated as a hustler, thug in Mufombi, Zimbabwe before I found my sense of purpose.

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Return Journey

My journey back was flawless despite the fact that I missed a 21:33 train to Leeds which would have got me home around 01:00 therefore had to wait for the last train leaving London at 23:30, coincidentally I got home at 03:30 which is the same time woke up after a mysterious night. What could be the significance?

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