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Posted by Chelsey on June 22, 2009
I flew into Heathrow, took my bags to Gatwick, stored them and then got the bus to Oxford to pick up my suitcases. Stepping out onto George Street was like going home. i went to my favourite coffee shop, Combibo’s, after getting my laptop from WISC. Then I had dinner with a friend to sleep on her floor. When I told her about all the insanity that had befallen me over a month she concluded that in a previous life my name was “Adolph H.”
The next morning i went to Blackwell’s one last time then got my suitcases and headed back to Gatwick. Due to timing of a concert ticket, I had to store my suitcases and go into the city for the night. Or I just needed an excuse to get back to my city.
I stayed at the Palmer Lodge again, this time up on the third floor, the attics where servants would once sleep. I loved it. I think the difference in me could be seen as I had to climb stairs to get to my room and I did not care. Staying with people on all floors of flats without lifts taught me a lot. I can do more than I thought.
The first night I went to the Apple Store. I lost my iPod on the plane, you see, and I knew I could not make it through the next days without one. You will soon see why.
That night I enjoyed the hostel, enjoyed having my laptop and relaxed. The next day I wandered around Piccadilly Circus and went book shopping. Then? I saw Taylor Swift at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire where i had a month and change before seen Lily Allen.
She was wonderful, although I missed the country songs of her US set. Partially why I got my friend Taylor Swift tickets in Atlanta for her birthday. (Concert addict, me?)
After the concert I did the tube-tube-train dash to pick up my stored laptop and get to Gatwick on the second-to-last Gatwick Express out of Victoria. I had researched on sleepinginairports.com, but I knew better. I don’t sleep well with lights and people around.
So I watched Grey’s Anatomy on my laptop.
The next morning I change into my Taylor Swift concert shirt, pushed my bags on a trolley that veered left and boarded a plane for Atlanta.
There were misadventures involving credit cards, wheelchair pushers who did not help me organize my things after security, the realization that it would have cost LESS to ship my bags, and a delayed flight into Pensacola, but eventually I made it home, in one piece.
And I’m ready to go again.
Posted by Chelsey on June 22, 2009
I went to Istanbul on a similar mission as Athens: to see a friend. My friend Holly likes to point out that I go places for one reason. She’s right. Because then if you get that one thing done, you’re happy and everything else is an amazing bonus.
My friend Nesli and I met in Avignon two summers ago. We were on a youth exchange program to go to the Avignon International Theater Festival. It was the trip that sparked my travel bug and I was so happy to get to reconnect with someone that I had met there.
The stop ended up being the one in which I learned the most about a different culture and way of life. I was glad to be with people I knew there, Nesli and her boyfriend Ozon mostly, because they led the way and helped me on the uneven streets and busy roads. In turn, I got to better absorb the atmosphere without worry.
Istanbul is people. It is tonnes of people. It is also, in my opinion, where can see the most interesting fusions of culture. The European designer store right next to the ancient mosque. It’s fascinating.
We also went to the Blue Mosque and Galata Tower
But the best part of Istanbul for me was just sitting drinking coffee with my friends and discussing difference. Perhaps I was just still ill from Athens, but I’m not sure. I think I just liked the casual chats. You get to know a place through its people.
The last night, we went to a gig where Nesli’s brother’s band was playing. They sang English covers alot, but towards the end of the night (morning…the gig didn’t start until midnight), they sang Turkish songs and her friends tried to teach me Turkish dancing. It was an experience I will not soon forget.
The next morning I got on a plane. The stewardesses had English accents. I have never been so glad to hear accents that were definitively London.
Posted by Chelsey on June 22, 2009
I awoke in Vienna at eight in the morning to find that I could not find my contacts. The case just plain wasn’t there. And then my locker, which opened with a keycard, wouldn’t open. So I trekked blind, and I really mean blind, down to the reception desk to ask about it.
Push the door shut, they said. It’ll open.
Well, it did. I got my glasses. The two Asian girls in my room were told to please keep an eye out for my contact case. One of them discovered… the contact. No case. I KNOW i did not just take out my contact and put it on a table, for Pete’s sake. But no case.
I then made my way to the trainstation to get the airport bus. I went to take out cash at the ATM where…. I had no debit card. I spent my bus ride on the phone with capitalone. They had to reset my pin, so halfway though the identity questions the call gets dropped. Whatever, I thought, my phone is halfway dead, I’ll take care of it in Athens.
I got to the hostel, having not eaten to preserve cash for the taxi to Athens Backpackers. I hand my card over to the very nice guy behind the desk and…. “Sweetheart, this was declined.”
Back on the phone with Capitolone, I had my things all spread out on the lobby floor as I read my bank account number off from the checkbook I very luckily travelled with. Finally CapitolOne accepted that I did not steal my identity and I rambled my story off to the wonderful guys at AB who were much amused.
But it got better. The next day I went to Western Union to pick up my Visa 911 Cash. I felt achey, tired and a little weak, but that’s traveling for you, right? I wandered around the Museum, got some coffee.
Had a very nice chat with a Greek man who had studied at the University of Chicago. He told me about Byron coming to Athens and directed me to his street.
At the hostel i chatted for a while with the guys downstairs, called my roommate (who was studying there) and made plans to meet in two days and went to bed. My side hurt, a lot, but I figured I had strained it with my bag.
Now, Katie told me Athens was not “Chelsey Friendly” but I assumed she meant the uneven roads, zoom zoom guys on scooters and the stairs.
Fast-forward to two in the morning. I sat in the hall with the night receptionist and a pediatrician who happened to be staying at the hostel. One of my roommates got them when I woke up crying in pain all through my abdomen. The doctor told me what I already knew: It could be my appendix. I tried to sleep again, dithered a little, but when the pain centralized in my side I knew. I had to go to the ER.
Cue the lassiez-faire Greek ambulance drivers, a doctor who was very impatient, a tech who did not understand “it works better without a tourniquet… and a surgeon who said it was not surgical. I was eventually diagnosed with a “viral infection” and given antibiotics, so I’m pretty sure it was a “bacterial infection”.
I had to get a security guard’s help to get a cab, and he was not too happy about it. I got back to the hostel to ask directions for a hostel and then gradually get my strength up to get up off the couch and get my prescription filled. Gareth, behind the desk, ordered me to get food. I did, then went upstairs and slept all day.
The next day, I spent mostly at the hostel. It hurt to breathe, which is not conducive to exploring. That night I got to see Katie, my roomie and best friend in the world. It made me happy and feel better, though she says I was not a feeling good Chelsey.
I planned to see the Acropolis the next day. I mean, I was staying at the foot of it. But… the next day was May Day. Athens basically closes on May Day. So for how my day really went, I give you this exchange:
“Gareth?” I need my key back. I left my phone in my room.” Gareth laughed. i replied, “The best part? I realized it when i went to call Orbitz. My Olympic air flight has been cancelled and you’re booked so I need to get on Turkish air tonight.”
That crisis, at least, was solved and I spent another day in the hostel lobby watching the guys who work there goof off and be awesome. They finally put me, Bad Karma Girl, in a cab that night and I went off to continue my adventure in Istanbul.
Posted by Chelsey on June 22, 2009
I arrived in Vienna at nine or ten in the morning (love night trains) and got my stuff to the hostel. I was determined to explore because I had a tour booked the next day in Salzburg.
I made it to an internet cafe to print tickets for the last week of my travels and then wandered into a park. I sat by the fountain for a while and just watched people. It was an absolutely gorgeous day and I have to admit that I did not go into any of the museums for which Vienna is famous. I wandered around the park and then went in search for a bookstore.
I found The Pickwick a nice little cafe and bookshop with a DVD store at the bottom. I stayed for a while and read, chatted with the guy working and just enjoyed it. Then I went down and walked by a tributary (i think) of the Danube.
It was very nice, and I fell in love with Vienna. If only i liked German.
The next day, I overslept. I had booked… The Sound of Music Tour. And I almost didn’t go. Because, really. Was I that much of a tourist dork?
Except that I paid for it. Cue the mad dash for the train that got me there five minutes before the tour left. And I saw some of the most beautiful scenery i have ever seen in my life. Never mind that I knew most of the trivia from my Anniversary Edition DVD. The mountains and the lakes were so breath-taking. I am not exaggerating at all, and I am normally not one for scenery.
The guide was pretty adorable too.
The next day was my trip to Athens which began the weirdest week of my life.
Posted by Chelsey on June 22, 2009
My main goal in going to Zurich was this: See Ingrid Michaelson. I saw that she was doing a European tour while I’d be traveling and so I booked a ticket.
I carried said ticket around with me for three weeks.
I arrived in Zurich around nine or ten in the morning, got lost in the station and met up with my host, Christina. We had a really lovely breakfast at her adorable flat. I showered. Got the bus and then the tram to a shop to by Swiss Army Knives (MINE IS PINK) Ate dinner and got to the venue.
And my ticket was gone.
I went up to the guy at the door who, thankgod, spoke good English babbling about buying online and I COULD LOOK IT UP ON GMAIL FOR YOU OKAYS?
And he got on his walkie talkie and explained the situation. A few minutes later he nods. “We have you in our records. And he said to tell you that Oxford is a long way to come.”
The show was amazing; I was this close to the stage in the tiny club:
And Ingrid and Allie were both looking gorgeous.
Ingrid was fantabulous as usual and RECOGNIZED ME from when I saw in Atlanta. And not even in October at the Hotel Cafe Tour because I had to be rescued when my ride abandoned me then and didn’t get to say hello. From two years ago when I went to see her open for Matt Nathanson.
And I got back to my host’s flat, without getting lost. Does. Not. Happen.
The next day we explored Zurich, which is very pretty, although I was mostly impressed with their transport. With the exception of older buses and trams with stairs it was all very accessible.
I got the train really late that night, and I’ve got to say the Zurich mainstation at night is kind of creepy. In fact, I honestly have to say I saw the most creep in Zurich as opposed to anywhere else. In the concert line there was a guy on crutches begging. In the country that’s supposed to have amazing public aid. I don’t know what to think about that.
The mountains were beautiful though.
Posted by Chelsey on June 22, 2009
When I left Ottignies I was rather grateful to be on my own again. I stayed at the Flying Pig Downtown Hostel where everyone was really sweet.
The first day, I did a touristy boat tour, going to the museums and major sites. The Anne Frank museum touched me in a way that I did not think it would. I went up every narrow flight of stairs thinking that were something like this to happen now, I would not make it, really .
But I was also proud that I made it up those stairs, even as I empathized with the older couples being shown to the emergency exits when they couldn’t climb.
I also read The Diary of a Young Girl for the first time while i was there, which I had not read before. I think I connected much more with Anne than I would have were I younger, and her voice embedded itself in my mind for a while. Such a normal teenager in such horrible circumstances, and then I read another book that focused on the stories of six women who encountered Anne in the camps. What a horrible awakening to horror for the girl…
What also made an impression in Amsterdam was the Rijksmuseum. I love Dutch art, particularly Ver Meer and some of his more famous works were on loan from Washington so that made the visit even more special. (Picture taken just before I got told off for taking it)
The second day I had to go to a doctor to get a bruise on my foot looked at, so I decided to change my night train booking and stay an extra day. I probably should not have booked all my trains in advance, really. The doctor’s visit went well, as did the adventure to find a pharmacy.
Added bonus? It was free cone day at Ben&Jerry’s, and though I usually do that with my friends in Atlanta it was awesome to be able to do it in Amsterdam!
The third day I went to some bookstores and the flower market.
The market was not what I expected, I really expected open air.
I really loved Amsterdam, for the water and the architecture. It reminded me a little bit of Kensington, to be honest which i loved. I also found some nice graffiti!
That night I set off for Zurich.
Another important thing for me about this leg happened that night. There was a young family sharing my compartment who had not booked a lower bunk. They had a child, a little boy of two or three who sang to himself happily. They wanted to switch, but I could not. The conductor made them wait as each stop boarded to see if the holder of the second bottom bunk boarded until eventually they set the child up in the top bunk with his father. All went well, but I felt guilty for not being the twenty-something who could happily sacrifice a bottom bunk and also glad that i had stayed in Amsterdam a day. My ticket for the day before had been a middle bunk, and I realized it would not have been as easy to change as the ticket agent had said…
Posted by Chelsey on May 21, 2009
Can I please just point out– and after six trains in Belgium, I know– that Belgian trains have ridiculously high steps? And it’s not just me, when I returned home a friend of mine and I were discussing Belgium and he agreed. Epically high, a stranger pulling you up, nearly dropping your cane steps. It also does not make things better when you take the wrong train. Sorry if I expect the train on my platform five minutes before mine leaves actually goes where I need to go…
But that’s beside the point. I went to Belgium to meet Maude, another young woman with Dermatosparaxis. I stayed with a woman who had once been her tutor. At her house I got to know her very nice daughter and two granddaughters, as well as her study abroad student from France. I also got to talk with several people about disability attitudes and such.
Maude and I had very different upbringings. I am very lucky to have parents who see my disability as just another part of me, and let me live my life as ordinarily as possible– just with added bandages. Maude’s parents were more careful, and justifiably so. It’s a scary thing when the merest bump could lead to a long battle with infection.
But, I also learned how grateful I should be for American school inclusion and for my friends who never saw me as different.
One day while I was there my host and her exchange student took me to Bruges, an adorable city outside of Brussels. I used a wheelchair that day so that we could see as many sights as possible. They were very helpful, but I have to admit I cannot imagine being a wheelchair user on all of those cobbles!
I don’t have a lot of commentary on Brussels itself, we only went for one day. I can say that the Cathedral of Saint Michel is GORGEOUS and so much more awe-inspiring in person. Also, it has a handicapped bathroom, fun fact.
Travelling, though, is more than seeing he sights. It’s about cultural exchange. I got to speak French in my three days there, and that was so encouraging, to see that I could really manage. I also hope I got to inspire some thoughts about what a disability does and does not have to mean. I think that was part of my motivation for traveling in the first place….
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Posted by Chelsey on May 13, 2009
I was met in Copenhagen by Frederick, the boy I was couchsurfing with. I had flown in, been seen to the train by Wheelchair!lady and arrived in the Central Station on my own. He escourted me to his abode. It was a house converted into a sort of communal living place, ten people sharing kitchen and bathrooms. I can’t say it would be my ideal living situation as an adult, but he liked it.
Changing, I found the first roadblock in my trip. I had scraped my shoulder. Royally. Bloodily. Call my mom and freak-outily. But I managed to bandage it and hope that it would be okay for lugging my bags just two days later. I then went in search of the Little Mermaid Statue.
I wandered that freaking park for hOURS before I found her, perched on the rocks on the edge of the sea. I wandered through the little neighborhood at the top of the park, around and out. I had had such a tiring day of travel, and I thought about giving up, but I just could not do it. I had come to Copenhagen for the fairy tale elements and I wanted to see her. So I wandered.
Once i found her and found my way out of the park I seriously considered taking a cab back to Frederick’s. But I didn’t. I got on the train, then the metro, then the bus and found my way back. And aching feet and all, I was proud.
Copenhagen’s metro was tiny compared to what I was used to. Two lines, that connected with above ground trains. It was strangely sterile and automated with no friendly, if bored, voice telling me to ‘mind the gap’.
But it had lifts. Elevators. Little boxes that took me, my cane, women with prams, old men and bicycles up to ground level. What a thought!
My next few days were spent wandering the city with one of Fredrick’s friends, and then it was off to Brussels!
Posted by Chelsey on May 11, 2009
Well, I’m home now, but I have decided to write this blog about my trip in retrospect. I just did not have enough computer access while travelling to write, so I’ll take it from here.
The last place I updated from was Edinburgh where I spent four days. Edinburgh is not really a city in which being mobility impaired is an easy thing. Lots of hills, and stairs. But you know what? Whenever I climbed a massive staircase or made it up a hill I was proud. Proud that I did something I should not have been ‘able’ to do. What that says, I am not exactly sure, but it’s the fact of it.
From there I went to Glasgow, where I saw P!nk in concert. Most of my time there was downtime, but for the concert. In the super-long walkway between the venue and the train a very drunk woman came up to me and asked if I was ‘doing okay’ and to tell her if I needed help. A very nice offer, but she looked as though she needed the cane more than I did at that point.
The next day I had to get up early for my train journey between Glasgow and Stansted, because I am an idiot who did not realize that Glasgow has an airport. Anyway, at my last change, from Peterbourgh to Stansted I noticed a sign next to the stairs at the station. “If you require assistance, please inquire at customer services inside”. I smirked at it as I hauled myself up the stairs, across the bridge, down the stairs. I had eight minutes to change trains. If I had needed assistance there is little way that I would have made it. Asking for help is not adequate replacement for a lift in this case.
Next up: Copenhagen