| Lauren West is 26 and lives and works in London. Lauren works at Muscular Dystrophy UK as Trailblazers Manager, MDUK’s young campaigners network. Lauren has SMA Type II and is a full-time powered wheelchair user.
For my birthday this year, I decided I wanted to go away. However, like many disabled people, I hate flying so I’m always looking for train travel options. So far (outside the UK), I’ve visited Lille and Amsterdam. This year, we decided on Paris.
Finding a hotel was a bit tricky. Paris isn’t known for access so I knew it was advisable to pick a chain hotel. But even the well-known chains like Holiday Inn looked pretty poor for access with rooms so small they’d struggle to fit my large wheelchair and portable hoist.
So, after reading a fellow Trailblazer’s blog (thanks Emma), I settled on the Hilton Paris Opera. Booking was easy and done direct with the hotel. They even sent me out an accessibility pack highlighting everything I could possibly need to know about the hotel – great! The Eurostar tickets were booked which is so easy because you can make wheelchair bookings online. Everything was ready to go.
On the morning of 18th July, we headed to St Pancras International which conveniently is a step-free tube station. On checking in, the staff member radioed to request a ramp. We went through security and passport control with very little issue and we were soon boarding the train using a pretty epic ramp.
It looked like we were on a newer train with the wheelchair space opposite the companion seat with a nice big table. Soon the train was on the move and it was a super smooth ride (compared to most UK train journeys)! One perk of being a wheelchair user on the Eurostar is you get to sit in ‘Business Premier’ for a cheaper price than standard tickets. So on our way out we got served breakfast of croissants, pastries, yoghurt etc.
We arrived in Paris at 2pm (local time) to find the ramp (actually it was a platform lift) waiting. We got off with no problems and starting navigating to our hotel. It was about a 30 minute walk but in the 35 degree heat, it felt a lot longer.
We checked in with very little problems, went up to our room… and this is where the problem started. It was very obvious we were not in an accessible room. In fact the door into the ensuite was so narrow, there was no way to even get in. So back down to reception we went. After some hushed voices, we were told ‘sorry there’s no accessible room for you tonight, however we can move you into an accessible suite tomorrow’. I explained this wasn’t acceptable because I couldn’t use the bathroom. I was greeted with the same thing that there’s no accessible room. However, they decided to show us some other rooms in case they were fine. The bathroom doors were exactly the same so it was a no go. Entering panic mode, we were told to wait in our allocated room. We then had a phone call saying there was nothing they could do apart from wait for a cancellation. Not a solution obviously. So we went back downstairs and this time we asked to speak to the manager. He told us the same thing. I again explained this is not acceptable as I need access to the bathroom. At this point, he went onto the computer and magically found us a room suitable. After four hours, we were finally taken to a room which was perfect. We settled in and soon the hoist that I had hired arrived in the room. Panic over!
We spent the remaining time of Tuesday wandering around Paris in a really beautiful park with the most adorable baby ducks! After a lateish dinner, we headed back to the hotel.
Wednesday was my actual birthday so after a leisurely start we made our way to the Louvre. Getting into the Louvre was a total maze. Paris really needs to invest in more signs. But after using a lift, walking through a shopping centre, going all through the museum entrance, we finally made it in. The Palace was absolutely incredible and on the whole accessible although we were met with one broken down lift that made one wing inaccessible. When we got to the Mona Lisa we were shepherded to the front where we had uninterrupted views. We spent hours here so once we got out it was time to head back to the hotel and to dinner.
Thursday was another touristy day. This time was a fully accessible boat cruise. And it really was fully accessible (on paper). The ramp from the dock down onto the boat was very steep. If you’ve ever seen the black cab ramps where they go directly onto the road, it was like that. However, I reversed down with two staff guiding me and it was totally fine. They were plenty of places to sit on the boat both inside and out. We choose to sit outside. The cruise lasted an hour and ten minutes and passed all the key sites of the Seine including the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay. It was a great way to see Paris and you’ll be glad to know it was much easier getting off the boat. That night we decided to do the Eiffel Tower. Again, Paris really needs more signs. With some help though we found the accessible entrance and we were whisked away to get tickets and got taken to the front of the queue. The lift up to the first floor was huge and felt surprisingly safe. Level one is pretty high up so is totally enclosed. If your chair doesn’t elevate you may have a bit of trouble seeing over the edge. It was pretty amazing and I would definitely recommend it at night-time. It was also a bargain at 4 euros per person.
Friday was our final day. Here we went to the Musee D’Orsay which had good access overall and you could actually use the main way in for once! After this we took a short stroll to the Jardin des Tuilleries which is beautiful but a bit bumpy. We then walked back to our hotel which our diversion to the spectacular L’église de la Madeleine which had a lift around the back.
After gathering our bags, we made our way to the Gare du Nord where the Eurostar is. It was really easy to check in and we ended up with some time to spare so we chilled in the fancy Business Lounge which offers free drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and snacks. Soon it was time to board the train. We weren’t on a new train this time so it was a bit more cramped (and very bumpy) but still absolutely fine. As it was the evening, we got a complimentary three course meal with wine which was delicious.
So overall verdict on Paris. Access to all the main attractions exist even if you have to go a convoluted route. Buses are pretty good. Most have 2 wheelchair spaces and a buggy space. Even more impressive, when you press the ramp request button the driver actually does it. However, the drivers can be a bit relaxed on where they park so you can’t always get on and they won’t move the bus. Streets are very mixed. Some are lovely and smooth and some make you feel like you’re on a rollercoaster. Always be prepared to get to the end of a street and find no drop kerb! Overall, it’s definitely worth a visit and it really is a beautiful city. But just don’t expect UK levels of access!