Changes

Experience makes things grow. We have been going on holiday with a wheelchair over 12 years now. In the meantime we have seen quite a few changes. Accessibility is much more of an issue and gets a lot more attention, there are also more possibilities.
We have been in many more places in many more countries. Also we are developing new ventures.


All this was the reason to renew
our website which now also will be the new home for this blog. Therefore you will find both the archive and new stories there, and this blog is discontinued. If you want to keep following us, please move with us.

 

Autumn in Aquitaine

1 September 2017

After our trip around Central Europe we were both in need of some quiet time for our next holiday. But as it includes accessible accommodation I thought it would still be nice to share it with our followers, even if it is now a while ago.

On the way down: Rennes

Our first stop is a bit too far away to drive in one go, so on the way down we make a stop in the capital of Brittany, Rennes, for two nights. This gives us a chance to recover from the long drive down and also gives us a chance to have a bit of a walk around the city, which we wouldn’t do if we were only there for one night. So we have found a hotel in the centre of the city: Hotel Anne de Bretagne, which allows us to walk around the old centre from the hotel. It is difficult to find a parking spot in front of the hotel to check in and then I find out that they didn’t understand I wanted to reserve a parking spot in their garage. They don’t have a spot for the first night, but I can get in the garage the next day, so I unload the luggage and find a disabled parking spot in one of the side streets.

There are a few steps at the entrance of the hotel, but there is a fold-out ramp which the receptionist puts out when I need it. It blocks the sidewalk in front of the hotel which is why it can’t stay out. Our room is on the ground floor, but you have to get through a few doors to get there. The room is quite roomy with a separate seating area. The TV is in the middle and can be turned either towards the bed or towards the seating area. The double bed is a nice height for us. However, then we run into problems, because the door to the bathroom opens towards the bed. The bed is so close to the door that the door can’t open completely, which means you can’t get around the door to get the wheelchair in the bathroom. A quick question at reception and they help to move the bed towards the window. That doesn’t leave me a lot of room to get around the bed, and hubby needs to sleep at the wrong side of the bed, which makes transfers a bit more difficult, but he can get into the bathroom. That is quite big again, but the design leaves a bit to be desired. There is a nice wheel-in shower with a sturdy shower seat (but hard, so hubby doesn’t like it), a double wheel under wash basin and plenty of grab bars around the bathroom. However, the toilet is placed in a niche in the wall, which leaves absoutely no room for a carer to help with a transfer. The disabled toilet around the corner in the corridor is slightly better, so we decide to use that during our stay to prevent me from doing my back in trying to get hubby on the toilet.

As we have been driving all day, running into traffic jams getting into the city, we want to get straight out for something to eat. Unfortunately, the receptionist has no clue about accessible places near the hotel and I don’t really want to use the car again. Most places we find in the area where she sends us are not accessible. In the end I order a takeaway pizza which we eat in the hotel room.

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The next day we find a nice coffee place near the hotel. They don’t sell croissants but are quite happy for me to get some fresh croissants in the bakery around the corner and eat them with our coffees. Then we walk towards the old centre. The street where we are on has a nice wide sidewalk with nicely dropped curbs. However, as soon as you get in the older bit it is mostly cobbled and on a hill, and sometimes you have to look for a smooth sidewalk, or places to cross. Especially the Tourist Information Centre is difficult to get too, although they do have a special entrance for wheelchairs. We still have a nice walk around and enjoy the architecture and history of the place.

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As the weather is lovely we have lunch somewhere on the street. The tables are quite close together as usual, so it is not easy to get the wheelchair in, but it is better then having to try and get inside somewhere. Late in the afternoon we go back to the hotel, so we can use the toilet there (I didn’t see any accessible public toilets). On the way back we see a nice Crèperie which looks accessible enough, reasonably close to the hotel (so what we needed the day before, but couldn’t find). But of course it doesn’t open until after 7 pm. This leaves enough time for a nice rest and a drink before dinner.

Ile d’Oléron

Where it was nice and sunny walking around Rennes, the next day is quite wet, so I am happy I can take all the luggage to the parking garage under the hotel and pack the car without getting wet. We have breakfast in a roadside restaurant driving further south, and lunch in a carpark in a village in the Vendée. We are going back to the Ile d’Oléron, where we have been several times before. So I won’t describe the accommodation at l’Accolade again. If you want to know, you will have to look through earlier posts. For us, it is the perfect spot to combine peace and quiet with respite care. Unfortunately, new French regulations are making it difficult for the organisation to continue with their good work.

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Because we have been here before, we don’t feel the need to go and see a lot of things. We can just relax. If we want to drive around the island to see some of our favourite spots we can do just that. Or go out to one of our favourite restaurants for a spot of lunch and then take the scenic route back. Just one day we go for a longer drive to visit a historic town that we haven’t seen before, Talmont-sur-Gironde. The village was fortified by the English King Edward I, and was important during the 100 years war. It is quite touristy. There is a big parking lot by the entrance of the village and it is lovely to walk around, although as usual there are a lot of cobbled streets, but there are lovely views over the river as well. The two weeks fly by, and soon its time to pack and continue south.

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Pyrenees

We love trying out new places in areas we haven’t been to before. Especially if we have seen the area watching the Tour de France on tv. So for the last week of our holiday we have booked a holiday home we have found through social media. The Dutch owners call it Gevonden Glimlach, which translates as ‘found smile’. It is located just outside the small village of Ferrières in a valley in the Pyrenees, south of Pau. The house is situated in a garden next to a fast flowing mountain stream, with mountains rising high all around you. The spot is really idyllic. The house has been made suitable for wheelchairusers which doesn’t mean accessibility is always easy.

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To get into the house, you have to get up a steepish ramp, and another ramp has to be put down on the inside of the threshhold because the door won’t close with the ramp down. So the wheelchair user always needs help to get in and out. Once inside there is a large living-diningroom with woodburner and sliding doors to the terrace and gardens. With help you can get the wheelchair through these doors without ramps. Behind the living room is a nice kitchen, a showerroom and separate toilet, none of which are accessible, because the door isn’t wide enough. In the living room are stairs leading upstairs where there are several bedrooms, but I have hardly been up there. There is an accessible bedroom and bathroom connected to the house too. However to get to it you have to get out the front door again. There is a door into the room next to the front door, but there you run straight against the wall of the bathroom and hubby’s chair can’t make the corner. So you have to go around the corner and enter the bedroom through french doors to the garden. Again assistance is necessary. The room is quite large, but not very cosy, looks more like a professional kitchen with the kitchen removed. Having said that, there was a kitchen block in a cupboard in the corner. There is a profiling bed and a normal bed, but I have to move the profiling bed all the time. One position to be able to open the outside door, another to get the wheelchair in the bathroom. There is a big dresser in the room, but that is already full, so basically no room to put your own stuff away, so you have to live out of your suitcase, which is continually in the way. The bathroom is on the small side and basic. A washbasin on one side with mirror, a washbasin on the other side under the stairs that you can get your legs under, but no mirror and no room to put things down. Toilet with grabrails, and just enough room for transfers, and accessible shower. As we are well into september nights are quite cool and having to go outside to another room to go to bed or toilet is not always nice. Having said all this, because the location was so idyllic, we really enjoy our stay here and put up with the difficulties. It is so nice and quiet that we love just staying in and around the house, listening to the water flowing quite fast in the brook alongside the garden or to the bells of the cows and sheep being transported from the fields high in the mountains to the fields in the lower valleys, creating alternative traffic jams.

Still we have to leave the house sometimes, especially as there are no shops near by. We usually combine going to the shops with a visit. One of these trips brings us to Pau. Even if the city is on a hillside and not everywhere is easily reachable in a wheelchair we have a great day there. The tourist office supply a city ‘walking’ tour for disabled and elderly, so you can see the sights and views towards the Pyrenees, avoiding steps, most cobbles and steeper streets. It also mentions disabled toilets and parking spots. Actually, some streets are paved with a modern cobblestone, which looks very much like a cobblestone but is nice and flat on top. We have a lovely lunch somewhere outside along the tour and visit the castle of the later King Henry IV (of Navarre), although we don’t have enough time to visit the castle gardens.

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On two other occasions we drive around in the mountains surrounding us, drive over the cols that the cyclists go over in the Tour de France, enjoying the views and some of the villages along the way. On one of those drives we pass through Lourdes, but decide against stopping and looking around  as it is very busy with tourists, even this time of year.

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On the way back: Poitiers

Because of the distance we are making two stops on the way back home. The first of which is in the city of Poitiers. This is an important city in the region of Aquitaine, one heavily connected with one of it’s most famous rulers: Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of Henry II of England, but also Duke of Aquitaine in her own right. With a little help of Tripadvisor we have booked a room in the Hotel de l’Europe. The hotel is at the edge of the old centre of Poitiers, very close to the City Hall and the lovely square in front of it. It looks like it is an old coaching inn renovated to a modern hotel. You drive through an arch from the road and park your car where I can imagine the coaches used to be stalled at an overnight stop. Our accessible room is not in the main building, but  in one of the annexes next door, and it is on the fourth floor. Both the room and the bathroom are a bit tight, but perfectly adequate. We have a lovely walk around the old town from the hotel and have a lovely dinner on one of the squares close to the hotel. Next morning we have breakfast in a bakery near the hotel before we move on.

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First we make a stop at the Abbey of Fontevraud, where both Eleanor and Henry are buried, together with Richard the Lionheart. It has been a while since we were here and it is lovely to see how they have developed the area. However, one of the improvements was not to our liking. Where before you could enter the abbey through the gate, now you have to go through the shop, which means you have to go up the ramp especially created for easy access, and therefore has been paved with cobblestones! Not the best idea. And then you have to go down a very long ramp at the inside too. Just going through the gate was a lot easier. Access to the church is a lot easier though, although you have to go the long way around. A nice visit, which means this is not just part of the long drive home, but more part of the holiday.

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From here we go to our next stop, the familiar B&B-hotel in Rouen, where we have stopped many times before. The next day we take the motorway towards the North, not the one to Lille, but the one to Calais, and stop in Boulogne to have a look around the old walled city centre. We find a parking with disabled parking facilities but walking around the old centre is difficult. It is all cobbled, hardly any dropped curbs, and usually the side walks are not wide enough anyway. After we have seen the basilica and the outside of the castle we give up and just have lunch somewhere outside. It isn’t until after we leave that we see there is a lovely level walk around the outside of the city walls.

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From here it is not far to get home, so after a lovely meal on the road that’s another holiday finished.

Roll’ around Central Europe part 5: Sightseeing on the way home

After the two weeks of relaxing it is time to go home. As we can’t drive it in one go anyway, it offers a lovely opportunity to do some more sightseeing, starting in:

Bratislava

After a lovely drive cross country from Veszprém to Gyor we return to Slovakia to visit its capital city, Bratislava. This is the first time we cross a border where we have to wait a long time in a traffic jam due to all the HGV-traffic. It is not until the centre of the city that we cross the Danube again.

Accommodation

This time we had found a hotel using Tripadvisor. We wanted a hotel in the old centre of town, so we wouldn’t need the car while we were there. We chose the Radisson Blue Carlton. The hotel is right at the edge of the traffic free zone of the old town, but you can reach it by car, and the hotel has it’s own underground parking. The hotel is more expensive than the hotels we usually go for, but as Slovakia is a fairly cheap country it is not that bad. And it has it’s perks too. The whole hotel is airconditioned (lovely, as the temperature is still high) and after checking in a bell boy returns to the car with me and puts all the luggage on a trolley and accompanies us to our room. Afterwards he offers to park the car for me and they keep my car keys at reception so they can bring the car round to the front of the hotel again when we are ready to leave. The people at the reception are very helpful with information about where to go, although they have little idea about the accessibility ofplaces.

The room is on the fourth floor, but you can only use the lift with the room key. The room is quite large and overlooks a lovely garden on the back of the hotel. Although there is a lot of furniture there is still plenty of room to manoeuvre with the wheelchair, and for us both to sit down and relax. The bathroom is very spacious too, with a separate roll in shower, so you don’t have the problem of a wet floor hindering transfers after someone has had a shower. There is a connecting door to the next room, so it might be that this is useful if you bring a carer.
There is a restaurant in the hotel where breakfast is served, but we prefer to have breakfast somewhere in town. The bar with lovely historical features is useful in the afternoon during a thunderstorm.

Excursions

As we are only in town for two nights, we leave for a walk around town as soon as we have settled in. There is a lovely riverside walk along the Danube but we also want to have a first taster of the old town. It is mostly pedestrianised and easy to walk around with a wheelchair, even if it is partly on a slope. The historical quarter is not very large and there is a lovely atmosphere, with a lot of people on the streets, street artists and musicians. There are many squares with lots of restaurants, bars and coffeehouses, all with a terrace outside. We find the restaurant that the receptionist recommended, but unfortunately there is a raised deck for a terrace and there are two steps to get up to it and stairs to get to the restaurant. After complaining a bit about the lack of accessibility the head waiter is willing to look for a solution. There is a table on the side walk near the entrance to the bar. This is not meant for dining guests but for people who only want to have a drink. They are willing to serve us dinner there. Weird that you have to make such a hullaballoo about it, though. Having said that, the food is very good, traditional Slovakian food.

The next day we look at all the historical buildings in more detail, following a walk described in our tourist guide. There is just one street that is cobbled that we can’t avoid. In the end we don’t see everything because of a heavy thunderstorm. We manage to get back to the hotel before it really gets wet. Again the advantage of having a hotel so close to the city centre. We have plans to visit the castle on the hill above the city centre on our way out of town, but get lost in the one way traffic system and decide to leave it for another time.

 

Prague

We leave Bratislava on the road to Brno. Instead of going straight on on the motorway we turn a little to the north here and west later to see more of the Czech countryside. The original idea is to stop in one of the towns in Moravia, but we get stuck in a traffic jam and decide to follow the lead of other drivers and take an alternative route. As I haven’t looked at the map but just follow the GPS I now bypass a lot of the towns I thought we would go through. The drive is lovely though, until we get caught in a horrendous thunderstorm. The disadvantage of this very warm weather we have been having. So just a quick stop for a cup of coffee at a petrol station has to do. Without any further problems we reach our next hotel.

Accommodation

This time we have gone for a hotel in the (to us) familiar chain of B&B hotels. The hotel is not too far from the old city centre of Prague and close to the river and has a garage under the hotel. After unloading the car we check out the room, which is on the 4th floor. As it is a budget hotel we don’t expect a large room with luxury. The room is of an adequate but odd size, as it is in the corner of the building, which isn’t square. So although there is plenty of floor space it is still a tight squeeze to get the wheelchair around the bed, which is necessary for us because my husband can only transfer to the right side of the bed. As usual there is no room under the bed for a hoist, lucky that we don’t use them. The bed is of an average height and reasonably comfortable, although not too wide.
The bathroom is fairly large for a budget hotel and has a roll-in shower with a separate shower seat, all the usual grab rails and a roll under washbasin.
In this instance, breakfast is included in the price so we take it in the hotel. The first evening we ask the receptionist for advice on restaurants near the hotel that are accessible. The first restaurant is up some stairs, so not accessible at all. The second one has an area that is accessible, and an area up some steps, but the waiter is not really willing to work with us. You feel that basically they don’t want a wheelchair in their restaurant, so we leave, to tired to fight it. In the end we find a little restaurant with some tables outside. The food is nice, but sitting on the sidewalk of a busy road less so.

Excursions

Although we have been assured that public transport is accessible we decide to walk into the old centre of Prague, which is quite doable from this hotel. We start off with coffee at the very atmospheric coffee house of Municipal house, with access through the main entrance of Municipal house. We spend all day walking around the old centre, although we have to dodge showers. Of course a lot of streets are cobbled, but it is still nice to see all the old buildings from the central square to the Charles bridge and the jewish quarter. The weather is still good enough to have breaks for coffee and lunch outside, so accessibility is less of an issue. As we are only here for the day we don’t go for musea or the castle area.

On the road to Dresden

The next morning we leave Prague to the north. Just before the border with Germany we leave the motorway to follow the Elbe river and enjoy some of the countryside. We make a short stop for lunch in Königstein and drive by the castle on top of the hill. According to the information there is wheelchair access to the castle, but the weather doesn’t look too good so we decide to drive on. Not long it starts to rain, and continues to do so until we arrive at our next stop.

Accommodation

Again we have chosen a hotel from the B&B chain. The hotel is just outside the centre of the city. It appears to be very busy at the hotel, and the one disabled parking spot is taken by a non-disabled guest. It is by a rear entrance of the hotel that does not open from the outside, which makes loading and unloading a bit tricky. Fortunately the hotel manager is quite helpful. Most guests arriving are told to find parking elsewhere, but we are allowed to keep our car even if there is no parking available. The room is on the ground floor. It is small but adequate, with two single beds. The bathroom is also small but adequate, with a wheel in shower and grabrails all around.

 

Excursions

The first night we try to find a restaurant not too far from the hotel, still dodging showers. When we find one I have to go inside to ask for an accessible entrance, and we have to walk all the way around the building to be able to get in. However, the food and service are excellent.
The next day we walk to the centre (rather me walking and pushing the wheelchair), which is about 10 minutes away. There is a lot to see and do. The tourist information has a very extensive guide with everything wheelchairaccessible in the area. And fortunately most in the city centre is more or less level. Good paving in most areas, although there are some cobbles around as well. It is amazing to see how a lot of the historical buildings have been rebuild, with most having good accessible features, like the little platform lift that takes you into the Frauenkirche. You just have to ring the bell and wait your turn, because they can only let one wheelchair in at a time. We also visit the Zwinger museum, and walk past the Semperoper. We pass the Residential Palace because we don’t want to do more than one museum in a day. The only place we haven’t visited is the Church next to the Palace, because no-one answers the bell at the accessible entrance. At the end of the day we are quite tired and eat somewhere close to the hotel again.

The next day we drive around in Saxony for a bit. The first place we visit is the pleasure palace of Pillnitz. Some lovely buildings and museum, with special wheelchair access, and a lovely park too, although after all the heat we have become used to it is a bit chilly. Although in Germany you technically need a special card stating you are disabled they do let us in for the special rate for the disabled (free for the carer).

Afterwards we drive past the castle at Moritzburg and then go to Meissen, the old city famous for its porcelain. The old city centre and castle are on top of a hill, but fortunately there is a free parking on the road leading up to it with a lift to the castle. The castle itself is accessible, done in a beautiful way letting you explore this historic building without it being obtrusive. You get a special key that operates a lift, which you have to return before you leave. Unfortunately all of the castle hill is cobbled and very uneven, so we walk around as little as possible but have a lovely dinner on the square in front of the castle, although we get caught in a heavy thunderstorm only protected by the parasols.

The last day we leave Dresden early in the morning to make a long stop in Leipzig for breakfast at the famous Café Kandler, after we visit the St Thomas church where Johann Sebastian Bach used to be the main musician and where he is buried. Both the café and the church are accessible, although I don’t see any accessible toilets around. But we are just on the way and don’t need them yet, and there are plenty at one of the many roadside restaurants along the motorway taking us back home. We finish this trip with dinner at the familiar shopping mall Centro at the edge of Oberhausen, which has amazing facilities.

 

Roll’ around Central Europe part 4: Hungary

Moving on, along the Danube

Well relaxed we set off on the next leg of our holiday towards Hungary where we have booked a holiday cottage for a week. Rather than taking the quickest way, along the motorway, we drive cross country to see a bit more of the Slovakian countryside. The roads are fairly good, even if you get on the smaller country roads. We stop once by a petrol station along a short stretch of motorway. There are disabled toilets, but we didn’t use them. When we get closer to the Danube, the land gets flatter and more agricultural.

 

 

We cross the river Danube at Esztergom, not realising until we are on the Hungarian side, that the best view of the city is actually from the Slovakian side, but by then we don’t fancy driving back over the bridge again. We shortly stop by the riverside to look up to the castle and cathedral, but don’t fancy the trek up the hill in the heat. So we continue along the river enjoying the views driving around the bend in the river where it turns south.

 

We stop again a bit later, in the village of Szentendre. Most parking is at the edge of the town, but we find a spot along the river, where there is a nice riverside walk and a lot of restaurants. A nice spot for lunch, in the shade, as it is still very warm. The roads going up from the riverside to the quaint village centre square are very cobbled and steep so I leave my husband by the restaurant while I run into town to get some money from the cashpoint (Hungary doesn’t use the Euro) and to take some photographs.

The road keeps following the Danube right to the centre of Budapest. As we arrive there the road along the river is closed off by the police because there is a flying show with old aeroplanes over the river. That also explains the extensive traffic jams. From Budapest we turn onto the motorway towards lake Balaton and arrive in Balatonvilágos by the end of the afternoon.

Accommodation

The village of Balatonvilágos is one of the first you get to on the south-eastern shore of the famous Lake Balaton. It is squeezed in between the the motorway and the lake shore, in a slightly elevated position above the lake, so it is not easy to walk to the beach from the village. Our holiday cottage is on the motorway side of the village, with just some fields between the house and the motorway, so there is some traffic noise. The noise is both from the motorway itself and the traffic taking a short-cut from the motorway to the lake passing by the house. There are actually two houses situated on the terrain. The owners are staying in the smaller of the two and are arriving later on the same day. The terrain is quite a bit lower than the road in front of it. The owner manages to get up the hill with his handbike, but I don’t fancy pushing my husband up it. The sidewalk is on the same level as the garden, but it is not very wide, so not easy for a wheelchair and there are not always dropped curbs at the streetcorners. There is a village shop and a café a bit down the road, and there is a disabled toilet in the café.

From the garden to the front door there is a bit of a slope again. There is a nice table to eat outside right next to the front door, but then it slopes down quite sharply, so I don’t dare to leave my husband in the wheelchair near the table on his own. The front door first leads to a sort of lean-to sunroom, which is almost completely filled by another dining-room, leaving just enough room for the wheelchair at the head of the table, but that leaves no room for anyone else to pass by. From the sun room there is another door to the living room, which is reasonably large, but quite full with furniture, which makes it cosy, with a sitting area and dining area, but it leaves not a lot of room to manoeuvre with a larger wheelchair.

On the side of the living room are two double bedrooms, both are wheelchairaccessible but in different ways. One has a double standard bed, but with a separate monkeypole, the other has a double bed, but with a profiling bed inside. The front bedroom is on the sunny side of the house and therefore warmer, the other bedroom is slightly cooler. Behind the kitchen is a bathroom, with both a roll in shower and a bath with a hoist. Here again there is quite a lot of furniture in the bathroom making manoeuvring with my husband’s large wheelchair quite difficult.

There is a nice garden around the cottage, but as it is very warm during our stay we don’t sit in the garden much. Also, the garden furniture is a bit low, for someone my age and ability…… So I usually sit at the dining table outside next to the front door, with the sun screen down.

Having said that, it is a lovely cottage and it is certainly accessible. And we were quite lucky to find it after our first reservation fell through just a few months before our holiday because the owners sold the place.

Excursions

Because of the heat we spend quite a bit of time in and around the cottage relaxing, but of course we also want to see a bit of Hungary. So one day we drive all the way around Lake Balaton, using a lakeside road where we can. We stop for coffee in one of the towns on the lakeside, Balatonszàrszò. There is a lovely little park with some bars around it, leading all the way to the lakeside, where we sit for a while in the shade enjoying the views. There are even public disabled toilet facilities.

Later we stop again on the north shore in the village of Tihany. Even this early in the season it is quite busy with tourists in town, but we manage to find one of the few disabled parking spots in the centre, while it isn’t blocked by the tourist train. We don’t fancy walking up to the church but do walk around town a bit. We also have a late lunch.

Another day we drive to the old capital city of Székesfehérvár. At first it is difficult to find disabled parking facilities, but after we find the tourist information they show us where to find a suitable parking spot. I leave my husband drinking coffee and move the car. Afterwards we have a lovely walk around town. Some streets are cobbled and difficult to handle, but other streets are pedestrianised and have lovely paving. It is obvious that a lot of renovation is going on, but there is already a lot to see and do.

Of course you can’t go to Hungary without going to Budapest. It is just over an hour from our cottage, but worth it.  We decide to start off in the old city of Buda, assuming there must be disabled parking facilities near the famous Matthias church. Traffic into town is extremely difficult, very busy, and that doesn’t change all day, but we find the road to the citadel. At a certain point there is a barrier over the road and the signs by the barrier are only in Hungarian. From the corner of my eye I see there is a parking site around the corner and there is a disabled spot available so we leave the car here. We later find out that the barrier over the road is there because there is paid parking all over the citadel. Our solution is very convenient and free. Close to where we are parked there is a lift going up to the citadel. The roads in the citadel are cobbled, but the sidewalks are fine. We walk towards the Matthias church which has wheelchair access through the entrance. However you have to get tickets first which are available at the other side of the square (special rates for disabled access). Parts of the church are on different levels with steps, but most of it is accessible. We have to leave through the entrance door which is swiftly cleared when I approach with the wheelchair.
Afterwards we have lunch under the trees on the other side of the square, but there are loads of nice places around. After lunch we visit the tourist information centre that has a lot of information about accessibility around the city. However, the heat has made us lazy. We have a look at the views from the fisherman’s bastion and walk around a bit.
The plan afterwards is to take the car to the City Park in Pest and walk around there. However we get stuck in traffic and by the time we get to the Park we don’t really have a lot of time and energy left to walk around so we leave that to the next time.

The last excursion is when we are on the road for the next part of our tour. On the way from lake Balaton to Bratislava we stop for lunch and a walk round in Veszprém. After driving around a bit in the centre of town we find a perfect parking spot on a square just under Veszprém Castle. Lovely restaurants around the square where we can sit outside and enjoy some lunch. As the road to the castle is again very cobbled and looks fairly steep my husband decides to stay at the restaurant while I have a quick run around the Castle area which is surprisingly large with many references to Maria Theresia and Sissi. Renovations have been started but a lot more is still needed. Lovely views from the castle hill.

Roll’ around Central Europe part 3: Slovakia

The idea for this tour around Central Europe more or less started when friends told us about the possibilities for spa holidays in Slovakia. Being a full time carer plays havoc on my muscles and I quite liked the idea of a week relaxing those muscles and being pampered. It turned out to be a bit more difficult to organize a spa trip with someone in a wheelchair. But with the help of the friend who sometimes sent mails in Slovak, and with the help of the Slovakian organisation of the disabled we found a place to go to.

Piešťany

It is an old Spa town, with many hotels offering spa facilities. According to the tourist guides even Beethoven came here to take the waters. The main spa centre is on an island in the river near the centre of the town. A lot of buildings here have Art Nouveau influences.

Accommodation

We are staying in the Hotel Maj, which is more on the outside edge of the town. Most of the staff at reception speak a bit of German, but English is more of a problem, although all emails beforehand were in English. The hotel looks a bit like past glory, with a definite hint of Eastern Block. Access to the main hall is good. There are a few parking spots near the hotel reserved for disabled drivers. However, a disabled passenger can’t get out of the car in these spots, so you have to load and unload in front of the front door and park afterwards.

Our room is on the first floor, with a lift to all floors. The room is of adequate size, although I have to move some furniture around to be able to get the wheelchair next to the bed. Fortunately there was furniture to move, because the beds could not be moved, and again no room under the bed if a hoist had been necessary. There is a small balcony, but this is not accessible. The bathroom is definitely small, the grabrails next to the toilet are not very solid. Fortunately there are larger disabled toilets on the ground floor. However, they are in with the normal toilets, so either I as a carer have to walk into the men’s toilets, or I have to take my husband into the women’s toilets.

The spa arrangement includes breakfast and dinner and two treatments a day. It is possible to add more treatments to the plan if you want to pay extra. The first few days we spend in and around the hotel. Nice and restful. We spend a lot of time in the bar as that is the only room that is permanently air conditioned, and temperatures are still quite high. The food is not especially good, but not very bad either. Drinks in the bar are relatively cheap. We start the week with a meeting with the Spa doctor, one of the few people in the hotel who speaks English very well. She seems very capable when we discuss my husband’s health situation and the possibilities they have in providing him with treatments. She composes a very nice treatment plan for him, which is mainly aimed at providing some soothing treatments to his shoulders and the paralyzed arm, and to alleviate the spasms he has in this arm and hand. It also means I don’t have to transfer him constantly in and out of his wheelchair, as they don’t seem to have hoists. As we are both in her consulting room she then proceeds in adapting my treatment plan as well so it is even more fitting to my needs. The only problem that remains is that my first treatment starts every day at 7.30 and I have to get my husband out of bed before that, so it is rising early. As it turns out, that is also nice considering the temperature outside. To give you an idea of the treatments: I start every day with a Pilates class of 20 minutes, and then have massages (traditional or with machines), mud wraps, bubble baths, etc. And of course I have free access to the pool so I go swimming every day. The pool is not accessible, but then my husband finds going into the pool too much of a hassle even if he enjoys being in the water.
Anyway it is a nice way to relax after the city trips in Austria.

Excursions

Of course we can’t stay here for a full week without seeing anything of the area. So we visit the town centre one day. It is busy in town, so all the disabled parking spots are taken and we have to park in a garage in a shopping centre, which is payed parking. There is a lift to the ground floor, but then you have to exit the shopping centre through a revolving door with a carpeted floor which is not easy with a wheelchair. A large part of the city centre is pedestrianised with more or less flat tiles. Plenty of shops and cafés.

We also cross the pedestrian bridge to the Spa island, which is a very green and pleasant area. Afterwards we visit the local museum which is very interesting even if it is small. It shows some of the very interesting archaeological finds from the area, although most of them are in a museum in Bratislava because they are very old.

Twice we go out for a bit of a drive in the area to see what it is like, and it is quite nice, rolling hills, nice views. There are lots of old castles and we drive around two of them: Bojnice and Beckov. And of course we see a lot of the countryside when we travel cross country to our next destination.

Roll’ around Central Europe part 2: Austria

On the road

For the second leg of our tour we travel on from Germany to Austria, crossing the border near Passau. The old centre of Passau is located on an island in the Danube. As the roads into the centre are quite steep and cobbled, we just make a quick stop on the Danube quai. After that we drive on to a restaurant just outside the town with lovely views over Passau and the Danube. It is lovely sunny and quite warm so we can sit outside, but have to share our table with other guests.
Although the restaurant claims to be barrierfree, the toilets may not have too many barriers, but are still not wheelchair accessible. When I finally manage to get the wheelchair to the toilet, the door isn’t wide enough and the wheelchair would have to stay out in the hall if I could have managed to transfer my husband to the toilet through this narrow doorway, where kitchen staff are continuously running backwards and forwards. Fortunately I have my own solution for just such problems…….

We continu our trip through the lovely countryside towards the first of two cities we want to visit:

Salzburg

A few years ago I read an article somewhere on the internet about accessible travel to Salzburg, which was the basis of this tour. Unfortunately, I can’t find the article anymore, but there is a nice website. From the links in the article I chose a hotel with accessible rooms, which seemed to be not too far from the old city centre.

Accommodation

Hotel Zur Post is a very friendly place on a busy road into the city centre. There is a small parking lot next to the hotel, but there are no designated disabled parking spots. Our room is on the ground floor at the rear of the hotel. The room is spacious enough, but I have to move some furniture around to create enough room around the bed for the wheelchair. Fortunately we don’t need a hoist, because there is no room under the bed, as seems to be happening a lot in hotels. The room is not on the sunny side of the hotel, which is fortunate because it starts to get quite hot while we are in Salzburg.

The bathroom is quite adequate with a toilet with grabrails, a roll in shower, and an accessible washbasin. However, the mirror above the washbasin is too high for someone in a wheelchair. And to be quite honest, after the bathroom we had in Germany I guess every bathroom was going to be a disappointment. The biggest problem we have with the bathroom is that the door opens towards the bedroom. So I have to open the door completely before I can push the wheelchair in.

We only have breakfast in the hotel once, but that is also because we prefer to just have a cup of coffee with a croissant or something small somewhere in a café, rather than take the more expensive hotel option. Having said that, the breakfast in this hotel was excellent with an extensive buffet, but of course I always have to walk twice to get my husband’s breakfast too.

The hotel reception have a brochure with all information about accessible places in and around Salzburg. We choose some restaurants from this brochure. One of them is a bit outside the city, which means less parking problems. The food is simple, Austrian style, not very expensive and very nice. We enjoy our meals outside there. It should have an accessible toilet inside, but we never needed it, so didn’t try it. The other restaurant is on top of the rock overlooking the old city centre. It can be reached with a lift from one of the parking garages. People in wheelchairs and their carers get a free ticket for the lift. The restaurant was more expensive, and we had to pay for the parking, but the views were absolutely worth it! There definitely is a disabled toilet, but haven’t seen inside.

Excursions

The city centre of Salzburg is basically cut in two by the river running through it. On one side of the river you have the old city centre, the Altstadt, with the cathedral and the castle, and the house where Mozart was born, on the other side of the river the slightly more modern centre, with the Mirabell Palace and  the main shopping streets, and a house where Mozart lived (so not so very modern). Most traffic is excluded from the Altstadt, but with a Eurokey and a Blue Badge, you can get through and try to find one of the disabled parking spots. However I found most were occupied by white vans belonging to shops. Because it was going to be quite hot we had decided not to drive into the city but to park the car in one of the Parking Garages built into the rocks of the Mönchsberg-mountain. Granted, it was not cheap, but at least the car was not boiling hot at the end of the day. Of course we could have tried public transport, but again, not something we fancied in this heat.

Walking around the Altstadt is quite doable, as it is almost flat, but of course as expected there are a lot of cobblestones, making some parts a bit unfriendly on the behind of someone in a wheelchair. There is a steep little ramp to get into the Cathedral, but if you need more room to get inside they are quite willing to help. In the heat we decide against trying to get up to the Castle as most of it is not accessible anyway. We just enjoy the atmosphere of the old squares and streets, and sit down with a drink on one of the terraces.

On the whole, accessibility is well organized, but not so well signposted. This is very obvious our second day in Salzburg when we go across the river to the Mirabell gardens. We find the disabled parking spot easily enough, but finding an accessible entrance to the garden is another story. In the end it is quite close to where we have parked the car, just not signposted. In the summer heat it is lovely to walk around in the gardens and to have a coffee under the trees. However, it was obvious that it is going to be too warm to walk around the city for a second day. So we go to another garden instead, the gardens of Schloss Hellbrunn, just a few miles outside Salzburg, with plenty of parking. Although it is surrounded by hills and mountains, the park is quite flat, with fairly wide paths. This pleasure palace is famous for its trick fountains, but in the heat of the day we don’t fancy walking around in a group. So we only walk around the rest of the park, find the gazebo from the Sound of Music and sit down in the courtyard for another drink and a late lunch. There are disabled toilets in the coachhouse, but we haven’t seen them.

One of the most enjoyable things to do in the heat is driving around in the countryside around Salzburg with the airconditioning on in the car. First we drive up one of the mountains on the eastern side to enjoy the views over Salzburg. Seeing the green fields makes you want to burst out into song: The hills are alive….. After that we drive around three lakes in the Salzkammergut: the Fuschlsee, the Wolfgangsee and the Mondsee. Gorgeous turquoise lakes between the beautiful mountains. One lovely viewpoint after another, no worries about accessibility. We stop for lunch in Sankt Wolfgang, where we have to stay in the centre as the roads towards the lake are a bit too steep.

Moving on, along the Danube

After a few days we move on, further east. We first go towards Linz, where we join the Danube again. We stop for a quick walk around the city centre and a cup of coffee and then continue along the Danube. It might not be very blue, but the views are quite often breathtaking. It is just a bit hard to find places where you can safely stop and take pictures (and not lose too much time). There is a main road which basically follows the river and brings us right to the centre of the next city we want to visit:

 

Vienna

Of course we had to come to Vienna, once we had decided to travel around Central Europe. During preparations I found several blogposts of people visiting Vienna in a wheelchair, so I was confident we would have a good time.

Accommodation

In this case I found a hotel using the search possibility for wheelchair access on Tripadvisor. I wanted to be reasonably close to the Belvedere Palace and not dependant on public transport. From all the possibilities I chose the Hotel Beim Theresianum, which is close to the main train station.

It is around 38 degrees when we arrive at the hotel, so once I have unloaded my husband and all the luggage I am exhausted. Our room is on the ground floor, but on the other side of a courtyard garden, so it is quite a long walk from the entrance of the hotel. There are no luggage trolleys, so I have to carry all the luggage myself. I park the car in the hotel parking which is not easy so I don’t want to have to get the car out again. But the best news: the hotel is completely airconditioned! Even the bedroom. So it is very comfortable in the room, which is a nice size, with plenty of room around the bed. There is even a fridge we can use. There are sliding doors to the courtyard garden, but we are happier in the room than outside. The bathroom is comfortable, with a roll in shower with a glass door, a good size washbasin and toilet with grabrails. The only thing is that the toilet has an automatic flushing system which is set off every time I have to walk around the wheelchair, or when I transfer my husband from the wheelchair to the toilet.

There are several nice little restaurants within walking distance of the hotel, although not all of them are wheelchair accessible, as there is more than one step to get in. We eat near the hotel twice, and once in the city centre.

Excursions

There is so much to see and do in Vienna, but as we only have two days here we start with a walk around the city centre. To get here we walk down the hill from our hotel. Nice wide sidewalks and plenty of dropped curbs at the street corners. At the bottom of the hill is Karlsplatz, so that gets us right in the centre of things to see. We just walk around the sights which is quite enough for a first day. Walking around the Hofburg Palace we suddenly get caught in a tropical thunderstorm. I guess that was to be expected with the temperatures they are. Sun one minute, heavy rain the next. Fortunately some nice tourists hold a big umbrella over us while I dig up our ponchos and make sure we are covered. Five minutes later the sun is out again. We stop for a cup of coffee and then visit the butterfly house in the gardens of the Hofburg. They ask for proof of handicap to be eligible for the discounted entry. Apparently just being in a wheelchair is not enough. Unfortunately the card that counts as proof is only available to Austrian and German disabled people, and I don’t have a photocopy of our blue badge. After the Hofburg we just wander the streets, trying to avoid the more cobbled streets. We visit the famous Demel bakery and the Stephansdom. Here we can use the tip from one of the blogs I read and go into the metrostation to use the disabled toilets. We have our own Eurokey, but otherwise it is available in the main toilets. The toilet is not terribly big, but useful. We finish our walk in the Stadtpark, enjoying the cool of being under trees and enjoying all the statues. After dinner we continue back to the Karlsplatz where we have planned to try the metro out to get back to the hotel. Across the street from the Musikverein is a lift which says it is the disabled access point to the metrostation. However, it only gets you into the park. There is a metro entrance as well, but no lifts. So we walk through the park to the next metro-entrance. There is more than one line stopping in this station, and as it turns out we need the line right at the other end of the station. We take the lift to the platform, where there is a sign where the disabled access point to the train is. We take the train to the Central Station, which is close to our hotel. It is quite a bumpy ride and no possility of attaching the wheelchair to anything. And then once we arrive at the station, we have to walk to the other end of the platform to find the lift to go up again. So our experiences with public transport were not that positive. However, it got us back to the hotel without me having to push the wheelchair back up the hill.

The next day we want to visit the Belvedere Palace. I have read it is very accessible and of course it is full of nice paintings. We walk to the Palace but again, the signposting is not very good. So after walking down a bit of a hill to get to the entrance I find I have to go back up to get a ticket. And the ticketoffice is not wheelchairaccessible. We buy a wheelchairticket to the Upper and the Lower Belvedere Palace, but no-one mentions that you cannot get to the Lower Belvedere Palace through the gardens with a wheelchair……..But I get ahead of myself. After having seen the Palace from the gardens we get inside and find it is very useful on such a warm day, as it is nice and cool inside the Palace. There is a lift in each of the two wings of the Palace, but it does not always stop at the same level, so sometimes you have to go down to the ground floor, and change to the other lift to get where you want to go. Both the architecture of the Palace and the paintings are very enjoyable, and so are the views from the windows, so we spend quite some time here. And then we want to go to the second Palace. A nice walk through the park with lovely views over Vienna you might think. And then suddenly you get to stairs. I don’t think the bit in the middle qualifies as a ramp…… Not signposts how to get around it. So when we get back to the top of the garden we decide to leave the rest and find somewhere to eat.

Before we set off on the road again we drive through the Vienna Woods to Kahlenberg for another lovely view over the city. Big parking lot, but no disabled parking bays, and no dropped curbs around.

Anyway, it all depends on your expectations, but for us this was a very nice citytrip.

Roll’ around Central Europe part 1: Germany

Setting off

For this year’s summer holiday we decided to go somewhere different. I must say that it already took me out of my comfort zone during the preparations. Even when booking I couldn’t rely on my favourite foreign languages: French and English. And a lot went wrong beforehand this time. First I found out after mailing with a Spa resort for months that after all that I couldn’t bring my husband along, because although they had accessible rooms, actually having someone in a wheelchair coming to the hotel was a problem. After that, the holiday cottage I had booked for a week in the middle of our trip was sold, so our booking was cancelled just a few months before we were due to leave. To top all that off, my husband was admitted to hospital a week before the holiday.

In the end we set off as intended mid June. Stop for petrol fairly soon after crossing the border into Germany, and then again shortly after that for a lunch in a roadside restaurant. Most reststops in Germany have plenty of disabled parking and disabled toilets. If you don’t have your own Eurokey for the toilet there is usually an attendant close by to open the door for you.

As we don’t have too far to go this first day, we have plenty of time for a little detour, although I hadn’t planned one for this day. So when I see the name Dillenburg on the Road signs I decide to get off the Motorway to visit this castle where the ancestor of the Dutch Royal family was born. Not planned, so no idea if it was accessible or not. The castle was situated on a hill above the town. I find a parking not too far from the castle but decide to explore on my own. I see there are parking places closer to the castle but don’t manage to get there in the car, so my husband decides that seeing my pictures will be enough for him.

After this little interlude we drive on to Frankfurt where I had booked a room in a B&B hotel, a chain of budget hotels we know well from our travels to France. I had booked it in March, so you can image my surprise when I found out when checking in that there was a problem: the room I had booked for two was actually a single room! Apparently it is quite usual in Germany to only have a single room being made wheelchair accessible. Don’t know how others solve that when they need a carer’s help. Fortunately the manager behind the desk manages to find me another room in one of the other B&B hotels in Frankfurt that is a double, and still available. After all that I miss the exit on the Motorway and have to drive a lot further, so in the end it is still fairly late when we finally get to our hotelroom. As expected from a budget hotel, the room is not extremely large and luxurious, but perfectly acceptable. On the ground floor (but parking is in the basement with a lift to all floors), with two single beds, which makes access with a wheelchair easier. Bathroom with roll in shower, and grabrails everywhere with enough room to manoeuvre with the wheelchair.

 

Next morning we don’t take breakfast in the hotel, but set off immediately and get some coffee and croissants at the petrol station nearby. The first bit of Motorway, between Frankfurt and Würzburg is quite busy, and there are a lot of road works making traffic even more busy. But the weather is nice and we enjoy the countryside. Today we have planned a stop around lunchtime, in the historical town of Regensburg. The disabled parking spots I locate in the town centre are all occupied so we find a parking spot in a garage.

Regensburg is a historical town, so loads of cobblestones. Accessibility is not helped by the fact that there are a lot of road works in the city centre.  However, we have a nice walk around the centre, visit the cathedral, have some coffee and cake in the sun and then walk to the Danube where there is an old stone bridge which stood model for the famous Charles Bridge in Prague.

 

 

 

 

Accommodation

After this short break we continue our trip. We stay off the Motorway and take a more scenic route into the Bavarian Woods area to our first destination: a village called Bodenmais. We are staying in a B&B called Landhaus Meine Auszeit. What a place it is! Large room, large bathroom, very flexible in the furnishings so you can move everything according to your needs. Extremely friendly and helpful hosts, gorgeous breakfast, great views. The downside of the views is that the road leading to the guesthouse and up to the parking lot is quite steep. This means you always have to take the car if you want to go somewhere, although I have heard some people in powerchairs manage to get up and down the slope. From the parking lot to the entrance of the guesthouse there is a platform lift and you get your own manual and remote control for the lift.

The lift brings you to the terrace just outside the accessible room, which has double doors out to the terrace. There is also a ramp to the front door around the corner. Weather permitting it is possible to eat breakfast on the terrace with the added bonus of the great views over the valley and the village. Otherwise there is a large breakfast room which is right next door to the accessible room. When you enter the room from the hallway you get to a small ante room with a coat rack and space to store things.There also are plugs to recharge powerchairs or mobility scooters. From this ante room there is a sliding door to the rather luxurious bathroom with plenty of space. There is a roll in shower with grabrails on either side of the corner and a small fold-up seat which can be moved to another position, although a shower chair could be provided. The shower curtain can be moved completely out of the way to help acarer. The wash basin is nice and flat with grabrails on either side, and a good mirror and lighting. The toilet has room on either side for a wheelchair and fold-up grabrails on either side. The toilet is at a nice height too, and you can comfortably lean back (without setting off the flushing system) if sitting longer is a problem. The other door leads to the bedroom, which is normally furnished with two beds which are at a comfortable height for us (I manually transfer my husband from his chair to the bed), but which might be a bit high for people with smaller wheelchairs. The beds are very comfortable and we are provided with plenty of pillows. It is possible to have one of the beds replaced by a profiling bed, when mentioned at time of booking. Hoists can similarly be provided on previous request. There is plenty of room for a wheelchair on either side of the bed, but yet again the set up is very flexible and the hosts will gladly move anything. On the other side of the room enough cupboards to put away clothing so you can sit comfortably.

Although the village is a popular tourist attraction and quite busy during the day it wasvery quiet at night so both of us slept like a log the first night. But not before we had a lovely dinner. After driving a long way, walking around Regensburg and moving all the luggage up on the lift I didn’t really fancy getting hubby back on the lift, in the car to drive to a restaurant, eat and drive back and again on the lift. The hosts come up with a great solution. A restaurant nearby has their menu on the website. We choose something from that menu, our order is phoned in to the restaurant. Half an hour later I drive down to the restaurant with some plates, and back to the B&B with the full plates where we enjoy a great dinner on the terrace.

Every morning breakfast is a feast. Great choice of breads, fruits, meats, cheeses, yoghurts, cereals, and always a freshly homebaked bit of pastry. A table close to the buffet with room enough to get the wheelchair close by is reserved for us, and if we choose to have breakfast outside, everything is moved to a table of our choice. During breakfast one of the hosts drops by, always full of suggestions of things you can do that day, including information about the accessibility, disabled parking etc.

For the first few days of our holiday we were really looking for some peace and quiet, to relax and recharge. This really was a perfect place to do just that. We do go out and see some of the surrounding area and the attractions, but also spend quite some time at the guesthouse, either inside or out. Free coffee and tea are available all day in the breakfast room, other drinks are available in a little kitchenette area by the front door which is available to guests with an honesty system payable when you check out. There are no cooking facilities, but a table to sit down, cupboards full with cups, glasses and plates, a fridge to keep some personal things and a wash basin to wash up.

Excursions

Of course we visit the town where we are staying. There are disabled parking spots dotted all over town. However, some planning is necessary. The town centre is on top of a hill, and one side of that hill is too steep for wheelchairs. In the centre are some nice bars and restaurants and the local church. Most shops are further down the hill towards the train station. The pavement is fairly flat, but the roads around the central square are all cobbled. Another thing not to miss when visiting this area is all the glass-producers. There are countless larger and smaller shops selling the local glass. Some of the larger shops also have demonstrations of how the glass is made, or workshops where you can make something yourself, or a museum.

But a bigger attraction around here is nature. On a sunny and warm afternoon we drive to Bayerisch Eisenstein where we take the Gondola lift to the top of the Grosser Arber mountain. Accessibility is reasonably well provided, although not very well signposted. There is a lift from the parking area to the gondola. At the gondola there is a separate entrance for disabled people and people with pushchairs. You ring the bell, someone opens the gate and then helps you with the gondola. One of the gondolas is stopped, the seating benches folded up, a ramp put in the entrance and the wheelchair is pushed inside. After that there is a little room left for a second person, especially if the wheelchair is quite big as my husband’s is. Once you get to the top of the mountain the same happens automatically in reverse order. Outside the views over the surrounding area is magnificent. There is a walkway to a viewing platform, and from there you can take a lift down to a plateau where the restaurant is. Because the weather was so nice there were so many walkers that the terrace was quite full, and we could only find a place at a table on the outside in the full sun. Not all terraces were accessible either, but we had a great time. There are disabled toilets in the station of the Gondola lift.

Another day we went into the Bavarian Woods National Park for a treetop walk. Again very accessible and very enjoyable, up to a point (that was the point where my vertigo flared up!). Loads to see and do. You could easily spend a whole day here. The only thing I found puzzling was why the disabled parking bays where situated furthest from the entrance. However, parking was free with a blue badge.