I know what you’re thinking. Eiffel or Monparnasse? Notre Dame or Sainte-Chapelle? Pont des Arts or Pont Neuf?
Well, no. When you are a reduced-mobility traveler (or if you’re accompanying one), your main challenge is to make sure you can get to a restroom in time.
Reduced mobility is usually not the only health problem, an older person might be facing. You need to be able to find the place quickly. Sometimes, very quickly.
If it sounds as if you’d better off staying home, no, you’re not! Paris is worth a little sacrifice even if it comes with a lot of planning.
As you know, I’m in Paris right now with my scooter-bound mom. This is going to be a short post, as I just want to get a few things out. I’ll write a more detailed report later on.
In Paris, a restroom is called toilet. It’s not a dirty word. Try asking for a restroom or a bathroom or something sillier, like a man’s room or a lady’s room, or, god forbid, a powder room, and you will draw a blank stare more often than not.
“Pee-pee?” a lady guessed finally, when my mom inquired about the nearest restroom.
The City of Paris has done a lot in the last decade to accommodate people in wheelchairs. Accessible road crossings; accessible public buses; accessible parking spaces; and accessible toilets, too, but there are simply not enough for a tourist Mecca like Paris.
Most major museums and places of interest have accessible toilets. At least, the ones that are accessible, since there are ones that are not. The Arc de Triomphe, for example, isn’t.
Churches might not let you in. A Nottre Dam security guard sent us outside on a wild goose chase.
Which is why this is important!
There is a great app available for iPhone and Android, aptly called Toilets in Paris. It lists new hi-tech free automatic toilets called Sanisettes. The app is somewhat buggy, but it’s a lifesaver. Don’t leave your hotel without it.
Still, the problem is, not all Sanisettes are wheelchair accessible. Far from it. There were no accessible toilets in the vicinity of Sacre Couer, as I found out the hard way. We had to cut our Monmartre visit short. Way too short!
Sure, the nature can strike anyone at any moment, but seriously, if you’re in central Paris, you can always walk into a cafe and “buy” yourself an access with a cup of coffee. That might be an expensive “visit”, but the coffee (or should I say espresso) in Paris is universally good.
If you are in a wheelchair—no such luck!
Every cafe in Paris is a step up, and every toilet in every cafe in Paris is a flight down the stairs. Now, you might say I have not been to every cafe in Paris, and this is true, but the point is, most of them are.
And besides, they are too small to roll in a wheelchair anyway.
If you do need to travel with a disabled relative or friend, forget everything you think you know. You don’t take a cruise in the morning, stroll along the Jardin du Luxembourg and the Latin quarter in the afternoon and climb the Eiffel or Monparnasse Tower in the evening. Your travel pattern will be completely different. You will be taking one sight a day and count your blessings if things don’t go wrong.
For one thing, if your loved one is traveling in a motorized wheelchair or scooter, your batteries will get drained quite fast in Paris if you are not careful, and then it’s back to the hotel room. Two factors are playing against you: cobblestone streets and a hilly terrain. You can forget these cheerful manufacturers’ specifications. Their batteries have never been tested in Paris.
If you are the one who’s pushing a wheelchair, you will get exhausted in Paris very quickly. You can think you’re a trooper, but pushing it up is not as glamorous in the summer heat as it sounds. And it doesn’t even sound glamorous to begin with. I have no idea why I said that. I might’ve wanted to use the word “glamorous”.
If you are a disabled traveler and go at it alone, my hat goes off to you. I have no idea how you do it. You must be the most organized and disciplined person in the world! Kudos!
If you are not super-duper organized, then do a lot of research whether you’re going on your own or accompany a loved one. Plan carefully and manage your expectations. Even healthy people can’t see Paris in a week.
And why would you want to? There will be another time. My mom has already started planning.
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