We’re now very happily back in Paris after our mad dash around the world, not easy especially with a wheelchair .. or two.
Using every form of transport available to a wheelchair user we started from Paris with the manual wheelchair (the service people in France were unable to repair Stewart’s fabulous Invacare GTX SR) using the excellent Eurostar train to London. Then we took Virgin Atlantic to New York for three nights where we collected Stewart’s ‘new’ (second-hand) power wheelchair. On again with the two chairs using Air New Zealand from New York via LA to Auckland. During our five-day stay we took a light plane north to the Bay of Islands and then taxi from there to Kaipara Harbour (over 100 kilometres back south west) and from there another taxi into Auckland (100 plus kilometres south east).
The Google map to right shows our route and most destinations.
Meanwhile Stewart’s new power chair was sent to Christchurch for modification so he was back in the manual chair. Just to mix it up from Auckland, still with the manual chair, we flew with Emirates to Sydney where we collected a hired power chair and used the Murray’s bus (only recently made wheelchair accessible) to Canberra for just over a week. Then we took the country train to Goulburn for four days and on again with the same train service to Sydney. At every connection we had to use taxis given the amount of bags we had with us as well as, at times, two wheelchairs. Never again .. we both said.
So, in keeping with the mood of our rushed tour, here are some of the highlights as we remember them!
In amongst the rather depressingly dark, sun-starved streets we found a brilliant event, Twelfth Night with Mark Rylance and Steven King. Great entertainment, from watching them dress on stage to the brilliant all-men cast (just like in Shakespeare’s day), we loved it. Also a short but high quality visit to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and seeing some of the works from our favourite artists.
We were lucky to find Mohummad, our taxi driver, because he was kind enough to look after our new power chair to be collected by a Christchurch-based company to modify the wheels (softer, bigger tyres). He made sure it was collected after we’d left for Sydney, and had the modified chair for us when we arrived back in Auckland, thank goodness.
From Auckland we took a light plane (interesting for Stewart and his manual wheelchair) north to KeriKeri, Bay of Islands, where we toured the very old haunts of Stewart’s ancestors on his mum’s side, the Shepherds. We had a great night out with Ken and Rhonda Blakie, fellow European waterways boaters who sold their barge last year and have ‘retired’ nearby.
Returned to Auckland via Kaipara Harbour where friend Sam Hunt lives, using another excellent taxi service owned by Alec. Sam told us we had to stay at his local ‘pub’ a totally charming, small B&B, Matakohe House, a great find (thanks Sam); it’s owners Alex and Lyn are the best hosts imaginable, great food and enormously caring.
The Capital of Australia, and where Stewart was born and his mum Jean lives. The focus of our trip this year was all about family, spending time with Jean, Uncle Bob and Aunty Roma was at last the treat we were waiting for. With Jean we enjoyed discovering in Canberra one of Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurants, which had opened the day we arrived – his chain is certainly expanding rapidly.
It was a longish stay in Canberra and luckily we found one of the best hotels we’d ever experienced, Mercure Canberra, which opened in 1927 (as Hotel Ainslie) and keeps much of its original architecture (beautifully low-rise) and rightfully is classified by the National Trust. Incredibly, when we asked for the bed to be a little higher, first they placed an extra mattress beneath but this made it a little too high. No problem, they searched around and found longer legged casters and changed them all. The result was a bed at the perfect height. The bathroom also was a unique experience complying fully with the international access standards. We ask, why can’t other hotels around the world achieve this?
A train trip of less than 100 kilometres towards Sydney took us to Goulburn, and around 20 kilometres from town back along Lake Bathurst Road is Stewart’s brother’s family property, Connen Hill. Here we could enjoy our most relaxed and happy time with family. Again the bathroom and bedroom were the easiest to manage.
Surry Hills (Sydney)
Our final destination in Australia was our home city of Sydney.
Since our apartment has a happy tenant and we were to stay only 10 days, we booked into the Sebel Surry Hills. Not a pleasant hotel, but the Surry Hills area is probably the most vibrant and interesting area of Sydney these days. It was the ideal base for the many gatherings with Sydney-based friends and family, finding an arty and interesting cafe or restaurant was easy. Also, using the modern and friendly library with free WiFi, window shopping and ambling the historic streets, to fill in between meetings, were thankfully excellent options to being within the hotel.
The family gatherings in Sydney included a special meeting of the Sydney members of the Clan MacLennan, with guest of honour Clan Chief Ruairidh and his fiancé Gillian, over from Dores near Inverness in Scotland.
Finally, after the long haul from Sydney returning on the same route we arrived once again in London, staying for two nights. The Victoria and Albert museum was a treat spending most of our time on Level 6, their recently reopened huge furniture gallery.
Meeting with our friends Lesley (London) and Graham we revisited old haunts around Limehouse: A drink at the Narrow on the banks of the Thames, eating delicious Chinese further down river; Giggling over the antics of the London Black Cabs as one broke down before we could depart in it, the second didn’t have a ramp for us, finally we found one but it set the frequent challenge of getting into it. Some Black Cabs are too narrow for Stewart to place the wheels of the electric wheelchair without them being on the space where the ramp folds back after use. We therefore have to open the far-side door, drive the chair until the foot plate projects out of this door, fold the ramp back into the floor, and then reverse the chair so it is no longer projecting into the road and both doors can be closed.
On our last night before ‘home’ in Paris, we were excited about the big show we’d built high expectations for, Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments at the Palace on Shaftesbury Avenue. Great venue, but we were disappointed with the show. We think we’d expected too much .. and by now we were more than ready for home.
As Stewart often says, in years gone by many Japanese tourists travelled with their cameras on whistle-stop tours and really didn’t have a ‘holiday’ until they got back home and experienced everything through their photographs. That’s a little like we feel about this trip to Australia and back, and we only have ourselves to blame!
We’re recovering well .. loving being back in one of our favourite places, Paris.
Our Christmas tree and lights are up although it won’t be long and we will be travelling again. This time, by train only, to Cornwall and the Hawkey family Christmas celebrations. We will be staying in ONE hotel, inspected on our last visit to Cornwall, and so we know exactly what we will have to deal with!
We wish everyone a happy festive season .. and all the very best for 2014.