A lot of people ask me how I manage to travel or globetrot independently in a wheelchair? First off, my faith in God and I would like to share a quote often quoted by the LDS church, from preach-the-gospel.com
“Life with God is not immunity from difficulties, but peace in difficulties” C.S. Lewis
My burning desire to live independently is the compelling force and rudiment to my travels. Basically everything people achieve boils down to deep desire. When people wonder how I manage, to some extent I feel like a super hero and I shared my secret in my previous post ‘The Power of an Early Morning Shower’.
Planning the Journey
It has been said that failing to plan is planning to fail an oxymoron of logistics. The supposedly easiest and straightforward transportation to go there was by flying. Ideally I wanted a direct flight from the U.K. to an Airport near the tennis venue. The nearest Airport to the Monte Carlo Country Club, Monaco is in Nice (Côte d’Azur International Airport) and the only direct flight I found was from John Lennon Airport, Liverpool. On the 19/04, despite my efforts of waking up early in the morning I missed my train which was departing from Leeds train station at 08:06 and arriving at Liverpool South Parkway train Station at 09:47 and my flight was leaving at 12:40. The next train was leaving in an hour but to be cautious i carried on the journey with the same taxi that had dropped me off at the train station. The driver was waiting for me in case I had missed my train. On our way to Liverpool off the M62 (on road to the Airport) the taxi driver asked me what I like about Liverpool I told him that I don’t know much about it but my nephew has a penchant for visiting the city which he dubbed the U.K. capital city of beauties.
“They might have the beauties but have the shittiest highways”,
said he as the car was going on incessant bumpy rides. Consequently I got to the airport with plenty of time to spare but at a costly price. Anyhow I only have myself to blame, for I ran around like a headless chicken in the morning despite having everything packed a night before.
The Airport was a bit quiet and had very nice and friendly staff, at one point they even agreed to keep an eye on my bag while I used the bathroom. After about an hour boarding commenced and was assisted to take my seat before any other passenger started boarding. After about 2hrs 30 min the flight landed in Nice. Normally i get to be reunited with my chair as soon as I’m assisted out of the plane. But on this occasion I had to wait a considerable amount of time and I was starting to feel a bit anxious and we were waiting by a conveyer belt which I surmised was for delivery of special heavy equipment. “So how is my chair going to be lowered from the belt” I asked the ground staff pushing me in a manual wheelchair. He told me that that was the only way. I was then taken to an office to present my concerns. There I was told no more than two words ‘wait here’. When I was taken back to the special baggage carousel my chair was already on the floor but how it got there I will never know. The only thing on my mind was to leave the airport and go to my hotel. Disappointedly and annoyingly my chair monitor was indicating a faulty left wheel. Therefore I asked if the staff at the airport could help me take off the wheel and reinsert it properly. To my great relief the chair was in good working order afterwards. Consequently with speed I expeditiously went outside to find a taxi to go to my hotel. When finding a hotel to stay wherever I visit I prefer a hotel near the airport or public transport hubs. So that I can get to my hotel with ease and take an immediate respite. According to google maps the hotel is only 4km away or 8 minutes drive.
To my horror there was no wheelchair taxis about, “there’s only one taxi with a ramp in the whole of Nice” I was told. One of the drivers offered to take me with his van and I expediently hoped into the taxi and a couple of other drivers helped him lift my chair into the boot. Alarmingly my chair was slightly big for his boot hence the boot wasn’t shutting properly. However he reassuringly and insisted that he will drive slowly, after all the Hotel was within proximity. Thankfully I got to the hotel safe and sound, the hotel concierge helped the taxi driver to off load my chair. From past experiences it came as no surprise that the taxi fare was so high. According to the taxi metre the fare was €24.50 though the driver only asked for €20.
The following morning I inquired how to get to the tennis tournament using public transport. The train workers were on strike so had only one option, the bus. From my experience in Paris I knew that buses were a viable option but my wary was the faulty electric ramps.
I was instructed to take bus number 9/10 to Garibaldi and take a straightforward short walk to Notre Dame Du Port. When I got to Du Port (bus station) bus number 100 to Monaco was jam packed predominantly with tennis fans. There was no way I could have fit my chair in the bus however the bus driver highlighted that the electric ramp was out of order. The next bus had a faulty ramp as well but the driver was willing to help me get on, as he was contemplating how he could assist me a black French dude was walking past and asked me if I wanted help. He was speaking in French but I got the context of what he was on about. I positioned my chair on the entrance of the bus, the black dude heaved the front of my chair from a side angle simultaneously a young French lad was trying to lift the front of my chair from inside the bus. In that situation I was supposed to accelerate into the bus but bearing in mind that the young French lad was huffing and puffing in front of the chair, I was reluctant to move forwards lest I run him over. Lo, the black dude was livid, I couldn’t get what he was saying but his face was full rage and annoyance. Throwing his hands left right and centre I guess he was annoyed because I didn’t put some gas soon enough because I had to be careful. Albeit the brother was the epitome of humanity.
After about 40 minutes the bus arrived in Monaco after driving through a beautiful and scenic route with hardly any traffic, I suppose that it was designated for specific vehicles similar to the concept of bus lanes in the U.K.
In Nice I was helped to access the bus, similarly I accessed a bus in Paris 2016 at the mercy of people’s help and to get off I reversed and banged my rear wheels first and that was a success. Therefore I replicated the same strategy however this was a more extended drop than I anticipated, when the wheels hit the ground I feared the worst as my chair felt like tipping over. The tournament venue happened to be less than 100 metres away and throngs of tennis fans were making their way to the stadium through spiral staggered stairs. I couldn’t go down there hence I looked around for an accessible alternative but disappointedly I couldn’t see any.
Therefore I looked around for someone to send to notify the tournament officials and see if there was an alternative accessible entrance. Luckily as I turned round I straightaway met a guy wearing a badge though not in uniform and I asked if he was aware of a disabled accessible route. His name was called Roland and he pointed out that there was a way to get to the main entrance but I had to get there using the main road going against the oncoming traffic. On one hand in my mind I was already contemplating of going back to my hotel to avoid any further risks, on the other hand it was hard for me to give up my dream to experience the most prestigious venue in tennis. Also I had come so far to throw the towel when the venue was only a stone throw away. On a lighter note Roland offered to show me the way and after working out the maze we finally got to the low lying highway leading to the Monte Carlo Country Club. Eventually I got to the entrance. If it wasn’t for the bend were cars generally slow down it would have been similar to playing Russian roulette.
After the stewards inquired about the access they called the tournament manager and I was taken through the VIP access which was decorated with posters of winners from 1897 up to the current winner Rafael Nadal x11.
Accessibility of the Courts
Despite having a ticket for the magnificent centre court but not a wheelchair accessible ticket (I couldn’t procure one because of limited information about disabled accessibility of the tournament), so straight away I was led to a court where the doubles final was taking place but with a modicum of spectators. There i was seated among the ‘ball kids’ not an actual place designated for wheelchair users
Therefore I assumed that the centre court wasn’t disabled accessible or it was full. At the time of writing I have sent two emails enquiring about the wheelchair accessibility of the centre court but haven’t received a response yet. Fair play, the venue at large is accessible and has facilities for the disabled. The tennis courts at Monte Carlo Country Club were established in 1928 ten years after the end of WWI which left about 9.5 million people permanently disabled, that said the architects should have taken the physically challenged into consideration.
Nevertheless I managed to take a snap shot of the centre court from a loft point of the stadium near the lift to go up to the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel and Resort.
Monte Bay Hotel & Resort
Back to Nice
Around 5pm I had had enough of the sweltering heat and was ready to go back to my hotel. Bearing in mind that I needed to go on the main road to my bus stop I asked some ladies who were leaving to escort me there. Luckily they agreed and left me at a bus stop for the bus I required. However there was not enough space for the bus to stop for me because of the improperly parked cars. As a result the first bus drove past and left me admiring the super cars of Monaco.
If I had continued to wait there I wasn’t going to get to my hotel because the buses kept on passing. Therefore I asked someone to show me the nearest bus stop free of parked car. “No Anglais” she said shaking her head. So she went and summoned a couple of police officers who happened to be over the road to come to my aid. Linguistically they were not proficient in English but once they got the idea of what I wanted they escorted me to a conveniently located bus stop, where inconsiderate drivers couldn’t park. I wish the ladies had taken me there because it was only one stop ahead.
However the stop had no raised platform to facilitate the easy access of wheelchairs and as I was wondering where the ramp will be lowered, the bus pulled up to a stop. “veux-tu celui-ci” the driver exclaimed, I assumed it meant ‘do you want this one’. “Yes please” I said. Then the ramp gradually extended till it hit the ground but it looked precipitous. I didn’t want to miss yet another bus because it was getting late. That said I went guns blazing up the ramp and almost made it but my chair couldn’t push any further when I had reached the top of the ramp. That was risky and dangerous at best, how I managed to defy gravity is beyond me, I was like Michael Jackson performing the hit single ‘Smooth Criminal’ in 1987. If a fly had landed on my forehead I’m sure I would have tipped over. To my great relief some people rushed to my help to give me that little push I needed to go over the line.
On the 23/04 I asked the concierge to book me a taxi to go to the airport and shockingly the taxi fare was revealed as €40. That was disgusting daylight robbery and straightaway I asked if there was a public bus to the airport. “There is no other option Sir” said he with a crafty smile. Automatically I knew that he was lying through his teeth. After I asked another, I was told to take the Airport bus, number 98 from an immediate bus stop outside the hotel. Helpfully one of the concierges escorted me to the bus stop.
When we got to the bus stop, yet again, there were parked cars not allowing buses to pull up closer to the curb, in general this seems to be a commonplace issue. After a few minutes my bus came, the driver had no option but to stop in the middle of the road and lo the ramp was even more precipitous than the incident in Monaco. This was problematic the driver could see that so he got off the bus and offered to help. With the driver coupled with the concierge’s efforts the steep ramp looked surmountable otherwise it was a no no. Consequently and after about 10 minutes got to the airport with plenty of time to spare. While there an incident occurred which I didn’t like and I posted the following on social media.
Got to the Airport betimes to allow external factors like traffic congestion and buses with faulty ramps. It’s funny to me that the staff gilets read ‘here to help’ but they don’t want to look after my bag for a little while, I need to use the bathroom and that. “No sir, for security reasons, you should have someone with you”. Understandably I could be carrying a time bomb. But the notion that disabled people should have a buddy or support worker when travelling is quite consistent and quite wrong. Especially, when I only needed someone to keep an eye on my bag. Can a brother have a little peace, Tupac said frustrated at things. #wheelchairGlobetrotting #HeadfirstThrillsonWheels
Dumb & Dumber
Back at Liverpool John Lennon Airport I was assisted last as usual and given my chair which was in good working order. The grounds staff escorted me to the entrance of the building and we parted ways “take a left when you come out of this building and you will see the taxi rank” he said. The guy manning the taxi queue directed me to go to a special pick up zone for wheelchair users, with regards to transportation accessibility, I was all smiles being back home. When the taxi driver put out the ramp I tried to move into the taxi but shockingly my chair started beeping and the monitor displayed an error signal. I automatically assumed that it was the left wheel which had given me problems in Nice. Therefore I asked the taxi driver to help to take it off and reengage it properly. “No-no-no I won’t touch that” he vehemently and insistently refused. I then called the guy manning the taxi queue to see if he could help me. When I explained what had happened and how he could help me he simply nodded his head like a dumb bearded dragon. Off he went without saying a word then he (Dumb) came back speaking on his phone alongside his work colleague. Since he was on the phone I spoke to his friend recounting what had happened. “We will come up with something, don’t you worry” said he assuringly. “Let’s lift the chair and put it in the taxi” suggested Dumb speaking like a dumbo while sustaining his phone close to the ear. Then the taxi driver interjected and rubbished that idea. His work colleague then suggested that they should find me another electric wheelchair and leave the faulty one at the Airport. This was the most absurd thing that I have ever heard in my life that’s when I realised that he was even dumber. To exacerbate my frustration all these shenanigans were occurring while I was seated in the cold. I therefore suggested that they call an easy jet engineer for me. When the engineer came I told him to ask for a helping hand from Dumb, the guy manning the queue but engineer was reluctant to do so. “I don’t think he will you know” said he. Thereafter I turned on my chair to highlight the error and contrary to what I thought earlier, the right wheel was the faulty one. From this perspective it would have been a puzzling endeavour or worse if Dumb and Dumber had straightaway agreed to take off my left wheel, can you imagine that. Having said that I got off my chair and stood alongside it and let the engineer do his thing. His ingenuity saved the day, he managed to slightly heave the scooter by placing his ‘work and utility footwear’ underneath the ‘rear wheel ejector wheel’. The whole process was as brief as 2 minutes or less. Can you also imagine if I had consented to Dumb & Dumber’s wide of the mark suggestions.
Liverpool South Parkway
Consequently I took a taxi to the train station, my ticket was an open return with no specific time. “Unfortunately you have missed the last Leeds train which left at 22:09” said one of the women in the ticket office turning her head to look at the information screen. To my great relief I was informed that the train was running late. Hence I was told to make my way to the platform and that someone was coming to assist me with the ramp. As a result of the train delays I fortuitously made it otherwise I would have slept in Liverpool.