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Visiting Paris Using a Wheelchair
You might think that life is so complicated for wheelchair users that that they would rather stay home and not look for complications in France. But it is not so! Wheelchair travel is getting more and more common, even in France. Sandra Brown is a quadriplegic who loves a challenge and decided to move to Paris. Today, she comes on the show to share her secrets about visiting Paris using a wheelchair. She found out that Paris isn't as difficult as she feared, so long as you know a few tricks! She also loves food and gives wonderful recommendations of French dishes and Paris restaurants nobody should not miss.
To Prepare for Your Trip:
In this episode we discuss wheelchair travel and wheelchair access in Paris. We also discuss travel hacks that may make it unnecessary for you to pay extra for specialized services. Sandra explains why you are better off sourcing everything you need yourself and shares details of how she does it.
What do you love about living in Paris? What do you dislike about living in Paris?
I'm not fond of the cold long winter. That's the only thing I don't like. Different things might bother me from one day to the next but nothing stays with me. In terms of what I love about living in Paris - there's a lot to do all the time from street markets to covered ones, to exhibitions and new exhibits at galleries. There's always a new street to investigate, a new conversation to be had. Paris in itself is very picturesque and it's not always necessary to line up for hours to see the beauty inside a building. You can look at all the beauty of the buildings on the outside.
I get real joy out of my French language interactions with shop keepers - it's so exciting to be understood and understand a whole conversation!
What are some things you can do in Paris that you feared you couldn't?
I never really thought there were things I could or couldn't do. When I decided to live here I already had the attitude that it is what it is - a really old city with lots of people. I had no judgements or expectations and I have an adaptable approach to my life here.
How do French people react to people with a disability?
Of course I can only talk from my own experience as there's many factors that, in any part of the world and regardless of a disability or not, will encourage people to help you or not. I find French people overwhelmingly helpful and extremely courteous. They are often surprised that I'm alone and far to polite to ask questions. They often assume I need help when I don't but they simply think they should make my life easier. It's not because they think I can't do something - they just think why would you not want us to help you?
What is your favorite thing to do in Paris?
One thing I like to do is just wander around looking up at the architecture, particularly the intricate work done around by craftsman so long ago. The second thing which is apparent to my blog readers is I love to research food to eat, not just French food, but from the great range of international cuisine in Paris. While traditional French food will always have its place, the world is much smaller now and tourists and French people alike expect to be able to access the food they are seeing on social media.
What restaurants do you recommend in Paris?
That's a huge question but I do have my favourites that in my opinion I consider authentic French experiences.
Cafe de la Paix near Opera Garnier - French classics such as the fish dish Sole Muniére in a beautifully decorated dining room.
Au Petit Sud Ouest near the Eiffel Tour but most customers are French or 'foodie' tourists. My 'go to' restaurant for duck and foie gras dishes. There's not much else on the menu bar desserts and salad. Owners greet you and serve you. Beautiful, intimate, friendly, relaxed, homely environment. Very good prices. Can reserve online.
Au Pied du Sacre Coeur near the Sacre Coeur hidden down a dead end street. Sells French food from frogs legs, to onion soup, to boulibaisse and duck. Very high standard of consistency in a relaxed environment in a very French setting. Can reserve online.
Le Louchébem is an old rotisserie restaurant in the first arrondissement. It is very popular with locals and if you don't like seeing meat hanging and cooking when you walk in the door I wouldn't recommend it. They sell amazing Paris mash. Very buttery.
Restaurant Kei - is a modern Japanese French fusion restaurant with an extraordinary degustation menu. It's experimental dishes from food you know and the chef is a humble and creative person. Dining here must be booked. The service is faultless. It's not somewhere you eat regularly as it is a little expensive - but it's a dining experience.
Passage des Panoramas - is a covered passage off the Grands Boulevards in the 2nd arrondissement. There are a variety of French bistros, and international restaurants from Indian, Turkish, Chinese, Japanese to name a few. There's also antique book shops and jewellery shops.
One of Sandra's favorite pâtisserie in Paris is called Sébastien Gaudard
What hotels can accommodate a wheelchair user?
Many hotels are newly renovated in Paris and many list that they have wheelchair access. You must ensure they have wheelchair adapted rooms, not just accessible. Simply write to the hotels you are interested in staying at, in English and ask if they have the facilities you need eg a step free roll in shower. Also ask for the size of the room as some are much smaller than a wheelchair user need, and ask about any other details you need.
Why don't you use travel companies that specialize in disability travel?
It's not necessary, many are over-priced and I think they play on people's fear of not being able to enjoy themselves or find a hotel that suits them or equipment that they need. Plus I think it is not fair to play on people's need to have a accessible place to sleep. This information should be free.
When you are planning a holiday to Paris (or anywhere), give yourself plenty of planning time and focus on solving one question at a time. Most of what you want to do or see is wheelchair accessible. Don't believe rumors or stories from travelers who were here four years ago. A great deal has improved and continues to improve.
Likewise there's no need to use a travel agent to book your flights and arrange aisle chairs for the plane. You can do all this online and again reiterate your needs when you check in. Travel agents have no more power than you do when it comes to organizing flight needs. If you do it yourself you know what you're getting.
How to get equipment/supplies in Paris
Pharmacies in Paris have most if not all of the creams/lotions/products you need. Paris might be thousands of years old but their healthcare system is definitely 2016.
There's a great website that will tell you where the nearest open pharmacy is in Paris. By law some pharmacies have to be open on Sunday's. It in French but you are only typing in an arrondissement number etc.
You can also per-order products from Amazon France and have them delivered to your hotel to be ready when you arrive. This will eliminate having to travel with extra luggage.
There is a comprehensive website listing multiple places in Paris where you an hire all types of disability equipment. I can personally vouch for one called Tout le Confort du Malade which is where I get my motorized wheelchair serviced. One of the staff speaks English but I can assure you all staff are able to help you.
Tout le Confort du Malade - 198 rue Lecourbe - 75015 Paris
Paris Info Website: this list put together by the Paris Tourist Office lists places where you can rent medical equipment in Paris. These pharmacies can deliver to your hotel room.
Do not forget to ask the hotel concierge for any assistance you need, they are always more than happy to help anybody staying at their hotel.
Other places in France you've visited and enjoy. Some places that weren't as good.
I loved Chambéry as it was surrounded by mountains and very picturesque. Dijon is very wheelchair friendly, including the accessible tram and easy to access restaurants. Many streets have been recently upgraded and don't allow cars. However Dijon had only one hotel with a fully adapted room when I inquired four years ago so I don't know if that's improved.
I also enjoyed Lyon although the station was not close to the old part of Lyon. Closer to Paris, there were no accessible toilets on the street that I saw in Versailles however from memory the Galleries Lafayette department store had adapted toilets. Saint Germaine en Lye is a suburb near Paris which is very pretty. Don't underestimate the suburbs near Paris as a place to visit.
Travel Hacks for Wheelchair Users
Take photos of your equipment and medical supplies to show the pharmacist etc or email them to the rental company.
Tickets - Don't pre-book tickets to museums etc. You usually get free or reduced entry and you simply make yourself known to a security guard etc who will guide you to the accessible entry ahead of any queue. Just ask if entry is free or reduced. You don't have to be a French or European citizen to get free entry etc.
Organize your day - There is no point wandering around a city this big unless you want to. It's much bigger than you think.
Accessible toilets - there are automatic free self cleaning toilets on many streets in Paris particularly in the Right Bank. Costa coffee, Pret a Manger, McDonalds, KFC etc usually have accessible toilets. I'd create a map of their locations using Google maps and carry it with you (if you don't have wifi). Most museums that have wheelchair access also have accessible toilets. All the popular ones definitely do. They also have comprehensive websites which can be translated to English.
Don't be disappointed/Be adaptable If something you wanted to do isn't accessible then choose something else and move on.
Many restaurants on Yelp are written as accessible but what they mean is they have outdoor tables. It is better to look the address up on Street View or email or ring the restaurant (or add your hotel too). Many restaurants in Paris are very proud of their new wheelchair access. My reviews on Yelp usually discuss the wheelchair access and if I don't it means there's access inside.
This is where you can book a wheelchair accessible van with driver in France. Join Us in France has no relationship with this provider, but since Sandra recommends it, we're comfortable recommending it too.
This is where you can book a taxi on-line in Paris. No need to call, it can all be done over the internet!
Transport in Paris
I use a motorized wheelchair but I don't really use public transport in Paris. My wheelchair battery lasts for over a day of continuous use. When I do I use taxis http://www.taxisg7.com/
mainly because they come to my door. They're ridiculously expensive though. You can easily open an account online and pre-book. However pre-booking does not guarantee you an accessible cab will arrive on time.
Only Line 1 of the Metro is accessible. Don't waste your time using it as inevitably a lift will be broken down. However buses all have a ramp built in. I've never used the buses as I simply haven't needed to. However I know other wheelchair users have and find it very easy - except during peak times when they are crowded. A private van/driver like http://ptitcar.fr can be expensive but the service is very reliable, and you can book a driver for day trips if the train line doesn't have an accessible stop.
AccesPlus to travel on the train with SNCF. This service is really good and entirely free. It can be used by anybody who requires assistance while traveling on the train in France.
Transport out of Paris
There is a website which shows which stations have wheelchair access on the SNCF lines. Booking train trips for wheelchair users can now be done on line using AccessPlus. Send AccessPlus an email for more details.
Restaurants in Paris that always have wheelchair accessible bathrooms: McDonald's, Prêt à Manger, Costa Coffee, KFC, self-cleaning bathrooms, Galleries Lafayette (and other large department stores).
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Discussed in this Episode
- Accès Plus SNCF
- Disabled Travel
- Paris in a Wheelchair
- Train Travel with wheelchair
- Wheelchair Travel