Saturday, 26 April 2014

Tokyo and the Wheelchair

So we arrived in Tokyo  and got a taxi to our Hotel.  Hi was called Keio Plaza and was in Shinjuku - beside the train station.  The room was absolutely fantastic.  We were on the 30th floor and it was huge.  The bathroom was one of the best disabled rooms that we had ever had, although it had a bath, it had a bench seat and a bath chair and another small stool for his feet in the bath.  For once I didn't have to go back to the front desk to ask for a bath chair.

The hotel was well located, however once we found out the Train Station was one of the busiest in the world - average 2 million travellers a day - so Sully decided that he would not be trying to catch a train to the airport.  The first day we were there Sharon, Bruce and I did a tour to Mt Fuji that we had organized from Australia. However it was terrible weather and apart from a great big tourist photo, we did not see any of the mountain.  Di, our wonderful travel agent from FlightCentre Booval, was unable to find a tour that would take the wheelchair.  Sully just pottered around the area.  The next day Sharon and I went and found the quilting shops we had been waiting all trip to visit and Sully and Bruce wandered around the area near the Hotel.  On the final day, Sully had found out about the Observation Deck at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building which happened to be beside the hotel.  This had free entry and was well organized, only allowing so many people at a time so that it was not too crowded.  There was even a section for wheelchairs and prams.  However, again, Mt Fuji was in cloud.  When we were going down the lifts from the 45th Floor, the guides let them know a wheelchair was coming down, and where everyone else got out on the first floor, we stayed on

until the ground floor.  It is obviously a stop for lots of tourist buses, but we had got there early so we did not have to cue at all.  After that we went and had lunch and then walked to a park we had seen from the observation tower and enjoyed sitting under the cherry blossom trees and watching all the locals enjoy picnics in the sun.  That was a great way to finish our holiday.  Sharon and Bruce caught a bus from the hotel to the Airport which cost $31.00 each.  However, as it had steps into the bus, we were unable to get to the airport that way.  We tried to book a car online, but they didn't have anything for the time we wanted, so we organized a car through the Hotel.  This cost $242.00 Aus, and was a set amount.  The service was very good, and as we were coming into the Airport, the cherry blossoms were dropping their was a lovely memory to take away from a terrific holiday.

Friday, 25 April 2014

On the Bullet Train with the Wheelchair

So after two fantastic nights in Kyoto, we needed to go to Tokyo and of coarse we wanted to go by Bullet Train.  Di, our fantastic Travel Agent from FlightCentre Booval, had investigated it and found that buying the tickets cost a lot more from overseas.  She suggested that we buy them in Kyoto.  Our hotel had a free shuttle service to the Train Station, so as Sully needed some down time, Sharon, Bruce and I went to investigate.  We easily found the Information Area.  They had a couple of volunteers who could speak English and who explained exactly where we needed to go to buy the ticket.  There were plenty of options to pick from and we chose the one leaving around 11.  It cost just under $300 for each couple, where as it was close to $300 per person if purchased outside the country. While we were buying the tickets, the lady from the Information Area came in and asked us to come back to her once we had purchased the tickets, to organize getting on the train the next day.  This we did and the station staff took copious notes about the time, type of wheelchair and anything else we may need.  They asked us to come back to them the following day and we would be directed from there.
However the following day, none of the staff from the previous day were there, and all we were told was where to get onto the train.  This did cause some worry, as the doors did not look wide enough to accommodate the wheelchair and none of the staff seemed to know what was happening, or indeed speak English.  However five minutes before the train was due to arrive, a gentleman arrived with a book, asked Sully if that was his name and then motioned that he would be helping him onto the train.  It all went like clockwork, except that Sully was taken in the door of the train and then we all had to get our luggage to the back of the carriage, and Sully had to work his way down the train to his seat.  There was just enough room for the wheelchair, however there was plenty of room between the seats and Sully managed to dismantle the chair and Sharon and I had a wheel each, and Sully had the main part of the wheelchair on his lap. And then an hour into the journey - it took just over 2 hours in total - a conductor turned up to advise that someone would help Sully get off the train.  And sure enough, someone arrived to help him out the door at the right station.
All in all, it went very well.  However, a little more information at the time of boarding would have worked a little better - I believe at one stage I may have said 'as long as you are in Tokyo by the time the plane leaves, I don't care how you get there" or words like that, as we were both getting a bit hot under the collar about how he was going to get on the train.
At the Tokyo end, we caught a taxi to the Hotel.  We ended up with two taxis, as the luggage we had accumulated along with the wheelchair made it a little less squeezy in the cab.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Kyoto, Japan and the wheelchair

We sailed into Kobe and had arranged for a couple of nights in Kyoto.  We wanted to catch the Bullet Train to Tokyo and our wonderful travel agent - Di from FlightCentre Booval - had suggested that the train station in Kyoto looked more wheelchair accessible than the one in Kobe.  So we arranged for a pickup off the boat and headed to Kyoto. 

We didn't realize that our timing was perfect.  The driver told us that the Cherry Blossoms had come out the day before.  We had no idea that they only flower for a week each year and it all depends on the weather for the timing of this event.  So we were very excited about that piece of information.  We had booked at the ANA Crowne Plaza Hotel.  This turned out to be a great location.  The room was well set out except it had a bath and did not have a shower chair.  After a visit to the Front Desk, staff turned up with a couple of things that we could use, that turned out to be very acceptable. 

We decided to go for a walk to the Nijo Temple, which was just across the road from the hotel.  It was very interesting.  Going into the Temple however required the use of the Temple Wheelchair.  This made it interesting, as it was a wheelchair that Sully need help with, but after I agreed not to use it as a weapon, everything went quite smoothly from there.  As it was school holidays, there was a small markets in the grounds and we had lunch there.  Although Sully could not make it to the top of the Observation Platform, everywhere else turned out to be not too difficult to get around.

The next day we went for a walk to find Markets we had read about.  These markets were massive, and great to walk around.  We had lunch at a restaurant called 'Liptons' which turned out to be very English.  We then managed to find a wheelchair accessible toilet, but it was locked.  We couldn't find anyone to help us to open it.  Sully then found another toilet on a map, but it was a fair distance away.  Once we got there, it was not accessible either.  At that point, we put him into a taxi to go back to the hotel.  We were quite surprised at the lack of accessible toilets, as on a previous visit to Osaka, Japan, we had not had any trouble finding them.  The biggest problem in Japan is finding someone who can speak English well enough to understand us. 

That night we went for a walk and found a Japanese restaurant for tea.  We managed to get Sully into the restaurant and found a place for us all to sit.  It was an interesting way to order though....we had to order on a machine and then give the tickets from the machine to the waitress to order the meals.  Fortunately a local helped Sharon and I decipher what we wanted (of coarse only written in Japanese), and the meal was delivered looking like what was on the screen.

Back to Busan with the wheelchair

This was the second time we had sailed into Busan, Korea.  The Port had changed quite a bit with a lot of new buildings going up in the last three years.

Even though there was a shuttle bus available, we knew that we would not be able to access it with the wheelchair.  So we got to the front of the wharf and asked the Holland America rep where we could get a taxi.  All we got was ' I told you in my presentation yesterday that getting a taxi would be difficult' and he turned his back and walked off.  That certainly impressed we turned around and discovered we were standing under a 'Taxi' sign.  And in a couple of minutes taxi's started turning up, although they all had gas cylinders in the boot, which made getting the wheelchair in difficult.  However I saw a girl from Busan Tourism, and after a discussion, she came up with a solution.  She rang someone who owned a Taxi van.  She then asked us to wait until he arrived.  When he drove in, she went up to him and had a discussion.  Not only had she organized us to go into the Fish Markets, she had also organized for him to bring us back for the total price of $40.00 Aus.  She also helped us into the van and gave us her number if we had any problems.  Certainly improved our day....pity all in the Service Industry couldn't at least try and help.

Anyway, we went into the Fish Markets - the second biggest in Asia.  It was certainly interesting with every sea creature imaginable there - fish, crab, prawns, eels, urchins, oysters, pippies, octopus, squid, sea urchins, jellyfish, and the list goes on.....the only thing we didn't see was sharks.  The place certainly smelt fishy but wasn't all that unpleasant.  We also went for a walk and found a street market that went for miles.....there were aisles of hardware shops, kitchen shops, fabric shops and again, anything else you could want.  Unfortunately there were not any wheelchair accessible toilets, but there were plenty of public toilets that weren't too bad.  We had satays and sausages on sticks for lunch for a street vendor.  Keeping our fingers crossed, we headed back to our pre arranged taxi pick up spot and, after only waiting a short time, our taxi arrived.  All in all, it was a great experience.

Beijing and the wheelchair

As the Port of Tianjin was three hours from Beijing,  Di - our wonderful travel agent from Flight Centre Booval - had suggested we do an overnight tour of the city, staying in a hotel for the night.  We agreed on a tour with Beijing Champagne International Travel Services with a stay in Beijing at Sunworld Hotel.  This turned out to be a great idea.

We left the boat around 7.30 and we met our guide Semon and our driver and we transferred into a car and left the port.  It took nearly 3 hours to get to our first stop, which was an enamel factory and shop.  We had quite a bit of time to look around - and shop - and then we were told we were going to have lunch at a restaurant 2 floors up - just one problem, it was only accessed by stairs.  Although Sully was not at all happy, Semon had organised for several of the cooks to come down and carry Sully and the wheelchair up both flights of stairs.  I went to the top, as this was going to be too good a photo opportunity to miss, and after a few minutes I heard a large grunt and up came Sully surrounded by the cooks.  I have a great photo of not only Sully with the cooks, but our wonderful tour guide giving the victory sign behind him.  For the record, Semon ordered all the food for us and the meal was wonderful.  He said they feed around 4000 people a day....but the service was excellent and speedy.
After lunch we headed to the Great Wall.  Although the smog was horrendous, the sight of the Wall was wonderful.  It is certainly a great feat of engineering and you can see why they call it the world's longest graveyard, as many of the workers were killed  while working on the wall.  We managed to be able to park the car right at the top of the Wall  and got out.  Not only is it breathtaking, it is everything you see in the photos and more.  There are millions of steps and many, many steep climbs.  Sully sat at the top and I ventured off with Semon, but after several flights of stairs down, I realised that I had to climb back up, so called it a day and headed back to Sully.  As with all of the sights, it was just us and thousands of others, but there was plenty of room to move around.  While not in any way wheelchair accessible, Sully was able to appreciate the whole experience, just by sitting at the top.

From the Great Wall, we were taken to the Temple of Heaven.  This is where Emperors once prayed for peace and harvest.  It was one of the most holy places for the whole country for more than five centuries.  It was used as a complex of sacrificial buildings for the Ming and Qing emperors.  There were a lot of elderly Chinese who obviously go there for social gatherings.  We saw people playing games, knitting and cross stitching and just gathering to chat and sing and do exercise.  Semon told us that people over 65 are given a seniors card that allows them free entry to parks and free transport so that is why so many of them were there.  The Temple itself was a magnificent building and Sully was able access the lower courtyard of the building - with help from Semon. 

From there, we headed to our Hotel.  The room was small but adequate.  However, the bathroom was normal size, with all the required items added.  This made it very squeezy, and the bath just didn't work without a lot of effort.  Sully decided with all the smog, one unwashed Westerner would not make any difference, so just had a birdbath.  The restaurants were great, however they both had very steep granite ramps, so help from the staff was needed.

On the second day we were collected from the Hotel and taken to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.  The Square is huge - can take up to a million people.  Semon explained the history of the Square and we both found this very interesting.  From there we headed to the Forbidden City.  There were lots of ramps and with the help of Semon, we got to most places we wanted to go.  Again he explained the history of the place, which again we found very interesting.  It was somewhere you must see if you go to this city.  We even managed to find a wheelchair accessible toilet.

From there we were taken to a cafĂ© where the locals eat and we absolutely enjoyed the meal which included dumplings and lots of local delights.  Although my brother-in-law Bruce says that stabbing your food with chopsticks does not count as eating with chopsticks.....I managed to stab enough food to feel like I had certainly had enough to eat.

It turned out that hiring a driver and an English speaking guide was the best way for us to get around this very large city.  We were able to get dropped off very close to all the attractions, to get around most of the attractions with the wheelchair and I felt very comfortable going off with Semon to the parts that Sully could not reach.  It cost us $566.00 each and this included the car, driver and guide, all admissions that we had planned, the overnight stay in Beijing and two lunches and a breakfast.  Our only cost - except for a couple of souvenirs - was dinner.  We were dropped back at the ship in plenty of time.  I would certainly recommend this a great way to tour Beijing.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Shanghai and the wheelchair

Our first port of call on our HAL cruise was Shanghai.  We were really looking forward to this town and it didn't let us down.  On the first day I did a shore excursion with Sharon and Bruce.  Unfortunately the shore excursions do not work for Sully as they involve walking up stairs on buses.  He went for a wander around on his own.  The ship was docked right in the city, so he managed to clock up quite a few klms, even though he was on  warning from me to behave himself. 

But the next day our wonderful Travel Agent Di (from FlightCentre Booval) has organized a car to pick us up and take us around the town.  It was organized through 'Quickbeds' and the company name was CTI Shanghai Ltd.  Our guide's name was Joel and the driver was Mr Jung.  He asked where we wanted to go and gave us a few suggestions.  Joel suggested we start at 'The People's Park' so off we went - no wheelchair parking but we did manage to get Sully and the wheelchair out of the car without too much trouble.  Lots of people were in the park, doing their daily exercise which included the standard Tai Chi and even some people fishing in the park lake.  It was a lovely peaceful place in the middle of such a big city and a great way to start the day.  We then went for a walk, which included crossing an 8 lane highway - with the help of a policeman.  There was actually an underground walkway which of coarse included steps, but this did not stop Joel and we made it across in one piece.

  We happened past Shanghai Museum as it opened at 9am so in we went.  It was a great time to be there - lots of tours were coming in as we left.  Joel suggested we pick one floor -it contained 4 floors, so we picked the top floor.  We went to the Jade, Furniture, Costumes and Coin sections.  Everything was extremely well laid out and written in both Chinese and English.  And of coarse they had wheelchair toilets - so all in all the perfect outing for us. 

We then went to the Jade Buddah Temple.  It cost 10yuan each to get in and unfortunately Sully could do little more than sit in the main area and check things out from the various doors.  Joel tried to get him in through a 'Staff only' door, but without any success.  It also was a lovely quiet spot in the middle of an extremely busy city.  Mr Jung again found a great spot to park, so getting in and out of the car was not too much of a problem.

Joel then took us to the second floor on one of the local hotels for lunch.  We were the only Westerners in there, so we were guaranteed of local cooking.  We had shrimp, eel, jellyfish, noodle soup and, of coarse, rice.  It was a great lunch, although I am not sure we will ever eat jellyfish again - it really did taste like rubber.  We then went for a walk through a mall next to the hotel and then we were taken to another silk factory.  We were taken back to the ship with time to spare.

  It cost us $135.00 each for the day, and it really was the best way to see the city.  We were able to understand Joel with very little effort.  He explained the history of everywhere we went, and was able to answer all our questions.  The driver knew his way around and they both mastered the wheelchair without too much effort.  It was worth every cent.