Wheels in Warsaw

One of my school friends, Phil, moved to Warsaw about three years ago to continue his studies to become a doctor. I finally got around to booking to go see him this month and my mate Dan decided to come along too.

We had to ring a couple of hotels to see what kind of accessible rooms they had, and after a wasted half hour and £30 we scratched Novotel of our list and booked with the Mercure Grand Warszawa who could guarantee an accessible room.

Ryanair were easier to deal with, the online booking makes it very easy to choose which kind of special assistance is required and they will send you emails to remind you to check in. I confirmed everything with a representative on their Live Chat and he also checked us in on our return journey back (people with disabilities may be required to sit in certain areas on the plane).

We had to wait a bit on landing for the lift to come to the plane, but we got pushed to the front of the queue at customs and Dan’s checked in bag was ready for us and then we were headed to the City.

A taxi from the airport cost us PLN160 through a bloke called Adam (+48)607814821. It’s a flat fee so we booked with him to take us back to the airport on Monday as well.

Check in at the hotel was breezy and we explored the room (pretty well laid out and accessible) and had a rest before heading to dinner and meet up with Phil.

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For dinner we headed to Nowy Swiat, one of the main roads in Warsaw and met Phil at La Cantina. Last time I visited Warsaw they had a pretty good range of gluten free pizzas. Unfortunately this time – recovering as I was from the previous night’s Christmas party celebrations – I couldn’t eat all of it! What I did have was absolutely delicious though.

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The food at La Cantina is delicious but unfortunately the service is terrible. It was a Friday and very busy, but we still had to ask 3 times for our bill. Apparently this kind of service is standard in Poland and our catch phrase for the weekend quickly became ‘This is Poland’.

Before leaving and heading for a good night’s sleep we arranged with Phil to meet up with him and his missus Saturday night to go see the Christmas lights.

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Me and Phil

One of the things Dan really wanted to do was go to a gun range. We asked the concierge Saturday morning to book us in at Strzelnica Warszawianka which was about a 10 minute car ride from us. We couldn’t get in until 6pm, but this gave us time to go visit the Neon Museum.  The Museum is in the Praga District on the other side of the river. I may have mis-Googled the place and we rocked up an hour early. Luckily we saw signs to a ‘Slow Weekend’ as we drove in and thought we would check that out. Having no idea what this was about we were pretty chuffed to see an indoor market! We ended spending around 2 hours in there, wandering up and down the aisles and spending way too much on candles.

We made our way back to the Neon Museum where we were pleasantly surprised to find that we both got in for free! Thanks Dan! The museum was smaller than we expected it to be, but it was interesting to read about the history of neon and see some of the cool signs.

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After seeing no taxis in the area, we made the decision to walk back to the hotel. This was a 5 kilometre journey and it was cold. We did see a beached whale on the way back though and a very interesting dangerous wheelchair ramp heading down to a subway.

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Beached as bro

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Dan and I were pretty proud of our achievement of walking the 5km (OK, it may not seem that far, but pushing that far, on different cambers is difficult – and well, I’m, just lazy) so we treated ourselves to a nap before the gun range.

We made the mistake decision not to check if they were accessible, so when we arrived at the range it was a surprise to see that it was down 2 flights of stairs in the basement. Luckily, we had a very strong Polish gun instructor who didn’t see the problem.

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Dan is the also the weight of a stick so Old Mate had no problem carrying him down the 2 flights and then back up when we had finished.

You pay by the ammo and have an hour on the range. Dan and I shared a firing point and chose to fire an M4, an UZI and a 357 Magnum. I was pretty proud of my UZI efforts, especially as I thought I had missed the target completely!

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We met up with Phil at his place – Dan showed off his floor to chair and stair climbing skills up a short flight of steps – and were joined by his girlfriend and his flatmate to go explore the Christmas lights and a bit of the Old Town.

Unfortunately Phil lives at the bottom of a very steep hill and about a three quarters up the hill Dan gave in and asked for a push for the rest of the way.

We started near the start of Krakowskie Przedmiešcie and headed toward the Old Town. The road had been pedestrianized for the night for the turning on of the Christmas lights. There were a lot of photo opportunities, which we all took advantage of, and even a light dusting of snow!

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Warsaw had a small Christmas market going on which we decided to check out. It was up 3 very steep, crumbly old steps and their ‘ramp’ was similar to the subway photo above. A lovely local offered to help pull Dan up and then we had to brave the crowds (and the cobblestones). The markets only went for about 50 metres but nothing caught our eye. Our next big task was trying to find somewhere to eat – Dan and I were starving after all that shooting. After walking about 45 minutes we found a place that had a free table! And it was one of my favourite cuisines, Thai! It was also close to our hotel, so after a feed and a quick Polish lesson, we headed to bed.

Phil had told us that the Uprising Museum was free on Sundays so after a lazy sleep in, we headed there… to find a very big line. We got about a quarter through the line – half of that was with a group of rude Frenchies who got all up behind us and talked over Dan’s head – before we got to queue jump.

The museum was very atmospheric, but to me it didn’t really seem to flow or have any kind of timeline. Also, the floors had been made to have a cobble like effect so Dan either had to back wheel balance or bump along with legs bouncing around. Also, the toilets were downstairs, through a lift that was roped off and no staff member in sight. We spent a fair amount of time there and saw everything but headed back into the Old Town area for lunch. After a bit of Polish cuisine we headed to …. McDonald’s! They were a bit confused by my order – a Big Mac meal without the bun, but with a lot of weird looks at me, they managed it. The service was a lot better at Maccas than it was at the first restaurant we went to, they offered us free cake and opened doors for us.

On the way back to the hotel I found an organic shop that I thought might have some gluten free goodies. Leaving Dan out in the cold (the shop wasn’t accessible) I found some delicious goodies – some cocoa cupcakes and pasta for 50p!

After a quick afternoon nap, we made our way at the decent time of 7pm to a restaurant that was recommended to me for their gluten free options. Wiesz Co Zjesz was about a 10 minute stroll from the hotel. There were a lot of options and as it was our last night in Warsaw, I treated myself to a 3 course meal, which cost about £15. Phil joined us as well, he got the pierogi and was pleasantly surprised by how delicious it was (apparently they are a bit hit and miss).

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After saying goodbye to Phil it was still relatively early so we hit the hotel bar for a night cap before hitting the hay.

We had a leisurely start to the day Monday as we packed up and checked out. We had booked our taxi mate Adam for the return journey to the airport. Our flight was delayed about 90 minutes due to the snowstorm that had hit England over the weekend but we made it home safe and sound by Monday night.

Thoughts on Warsaw’s accessibility:

So, obviously, I am not an expert on this – having two working, walking legs, but from what I could see – the pavements were ok, not too cobbly, with some parts being better and smoother than others. Most places were up a few steep steps, so depending on the skills and confidence of the chair user, navigable with assistance. All the taxi drivers we had were extremely helpful, although I’m not sure if they have accessible taxis as I didn’t personally see any. Warsaw seems to be getting more accessible, but due to the age of some of the buildings it probably won’t ever be 100%. At the moment, it’s para-accessible, but not tetra-accessible.

As mentioned above, I only have an ‘outsider’ opinion on the state of accessibility so I asked Dan for his views on it:

I agree with Rachael, Warsaw is almost wheelchair accessible, but only for the independent manual chair user. The problem being, which we saw regularly, was nearly every shop had one step going into the premises. The footpaths were very wide and not crowded. Some streets were cobble stone, which was tiresome after a while, as I was being bounced and shaken constantly. The local people were friendly and I didn’t feel like everyone was watching me – any more than usual, that is. I found that everywhere we went, as Rach said, the service was slow but quite pleasant when flagged down.

In all, I really enjoyed my time in Poland. But as for accessibility, if you’re not a strong manual chair user it would prove difficult to cope without constant help. Personally, I’m not overly happy to have unless absolutely necessary, which it was at times.

 

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