Finland, where accessibility is a value

Christmas is coming and, for children (even those who are still children inside!), it’s approaching the time to write the fateful letter to Santa Claus and, maybe, send it directly at home, in Rovaniemi, in the charming Finland. Why don’t you take the chance (if you’re not afraid by cold, obviously) and “deliver” it in person?

Shouldn’t you believe anymore in Santa Claus or being interested in taking pictures of elves and reindeers, you still have excellent reasons to visit this evocative country. One for all of them? The northern lights, which are typical of the Finnish winter, particularly in the North of the country. But also lakes, sleigh tours, national parks…

Finland - northern lights

I think I hear you: “Great, but… with all that cold, will Finland be accessible also to who has reduced mobility?”. Well, the answer is yes! Indeed, doing some search, I discovered that Finland is one of the most accessibility-oriented countries in the world. This because, as in all the Northern Europe countries, people with a disability are fully included into the community, to the extent that, for instance, there’s no “protectionist” law for disabled people at work: simply because there’s no need to have one, since Finland is among the countries with the highest employment rates for disabled people!

Since the ‘70s, well in advance compared with many other countries, Finland has been applying policies to create services which could be accessible to all users, regardless of age, disability and anything else.

Finland - Helsinki Cathedral

Helsinki Cathedral

Helsinki, Turku, Tampere and all the other main cities in Finland have public transport networks that are almost fully autonomously accessible for who has a disability: the subway lines are 100% accessible, urban buses are for the majority and also trams are becoming increasingly “for all”. There are also many cabs allowing access to people on wheelchair, without requiring the transfer from the wheelchair to the seat. But pay attention: these services almost free (they cost as much as the public transport ticket) for disabled residents, while they cost a little bit more for tourists (but the amount is, all in all, affordable).

Public buildings, museum, malls: everything is designed and built to ensure accessibility and usability to everyone. And there’s even more: monuments and historical interest sites have also been, gradually, adapted, equipped with ramps and other expedients that make them totally usable from everyone, both tourists and not.

Finland - lake

Do you love the environment and, rather than in the cities, you’d be interested in exploring the savage and uncontaminated landscapes of Finland? Good news about it as well: many national parks and environmental attractions are equipped with boardwalks and ramps (that are useful both for disabled people and for children in the stroller); there are a lot of shelters equipped also for disabled people along the excursions routes, as well as sites enabling also sport lovers with any disability to safely enjoy their passion.

Are you ready to discover this amazing country? Cover yourself properly and enjoy your trip! 🙂

Accessible Austria: a destination for all tastes

What’s the first thing coming up on your mind, if I say Austria? Probably: Vienna, Salzburg, Mozart, waltz, mountains, Christmas markets and, of course, Sachertorte! In conclusion, a lot of reasons to visit this small country, rich in fascination and history. But is it also accessible to who has “special needs”? the answer is yes, starting from public transport.

Whether you pick airplane or train to get there, Austria will welcome you in fully accessible airports and railway stations, also thanks, in many cases, to huge interventions made in these last years to make them suitable for both motoric and sensory disabled people needs. Urban public transport is almost totally accessible, both in Vienna and Salzburg, that was awarded at the most accessible city in Europe back in 2011: buses equipped with lowered platforms, to help passengers hop on (in addition to the standard ramps allowing passengers on wheelchair to hop on and off), are the standard everywhere; almost all subway stations are equipped with elevators and paths for blind passengers. Do you prefer moving using a private car? For disabled people, many city parking areas are free, showing the appropriate symbol on the car windscreen.

Austria - Vienna, Schönbrunn realm

Vienna, Schönbrunn realm

The commitment to ensure the highest accessibility standards also expands to museums and touristic attractions. Do you want to live the atmosphere of Vienna during the era of Princess Sissi? The magnificent Schönbrunn realm is equipped both with steps-free accesses and elevator and offers the chance to benefit, upon request, from touristic tours suitable for your specific disability. Do you want to visit the Belvedere? Disabled people and their companions can benefit from discounts on the entrance ticket, tactile paths for blind people and reserved elevators. And the same is valid for many of the most famous museums, both in Vienna and in Salzburg.

Austria - Salzburg

Salzburg

But Austria is also among the countries which contributed more to the classical music history. Why don’t you take the chance to attend a concert of the Wiener Philarmoniker (they also play for free, once a year, in front of Schönbrunn castle) or to visit the houses where lived geniuses of the calibre of Beethoven and Mozart, without forgetting about Schubert and Haydn? In many cases, those buildings are accessible also to who has a reduced mobility and guide-dogs for blind visitors are always welcome.

Austria - Sachertorte

Sachertorte

Would you like to taste the local cuisine (and its very well-known patisserie)? A lot of restaurants, cafés and nightclubs are fully accessible to disabled people as well. And, should you be passionate for Christmas markets, you’re in the right place: in Austria, you’re only spoilt for choice, among so many options.

Enjoy your holiday!

 

Prague: a city to discover and live

Have you just come back from summer holidays and are ready to leave again, yet? You can always plan a long weekend in one of the most enchanting European capital cities: Prague, the wonderful Czech Republic’ capital city, which, year after year, attracts millions of tourists from all over the world.

Prague - St. Wenceslas Square

St. Wenceslas Square

Sure, Prague isn’t totally accessible, yet, also due to its tight streets paved with cobblestones. But also who has movement issues (whether using a wheelchair or not) can enjoy the fascination of this city, rich in history and magic, which is moving forward as regards the accessibility of monuments, museum, public places and transport network.

Let’s start from public transport. Surface transit is gradually adequating to the needs of passengers with reduced mobility, replacing the oldest vehicles with others ensuring full accessibility. The subway network is moving forward towards accessibility too, with most of the stations equipped with elevators and clear info, also for blind people in the newest ones (guide-dogs are always welcome, also in monuments and public buildings). Furthermore, disabled people and their companions can access for free.

The most well-known and visited monuments in the city are improving their accessibility too, adding elevators, ramps, equipped bathrooms and dedicated accesses. Let’s see some examples:

Prague - The Castle

The Castle

  • The Castle, symbol of the growth of the nation, whose building started back in the IX century and went on for the following eleven, is made up by a majestic complex of religious buildings, fortification and offices representing all the architectonical styles and historical periods and cover 45 hectares. Originally, it was the Bohemian princes and kings’ residence, while nowadays is the presidential location. Disabled people and their companions can access for free the administrative area of the Castle and the Gallery. Among the churches that can be visited inside the castle complex, we must mention Vivian’s Cathedral, St. Wenceslas and St. Adalbert, a majestic gothic building, started in the XIV century and finished only at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, that is accessible through a ramp at the entrance and can be visited without any barrier in the interior part (there’s also an equipped bathroom) and St. George’s Basilica, in Romanesque style, almost fully accessible, despite it was built back in the X century. Always inside the Castle, there’s the ancient Royal Palace, built again many times throughout the centuries, accessible to people on wheelchairs through an electric stairlift, to visit, among the others, the majestic Vladislav Room.
  • The Ancient City Hall, which has been hosting the city authorities since the first half of the XIV century, has one of the city symbols, the astronomical clock with the statues of the 12 Apostles appearing on its top every hour from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm. Accessibility is granted by a ramp at the entrance and several elevators, enabling to access the tower as well: here you can enjoy a wonderful view of the city.
Prauea - The astronomical clock

The astronomical clock

  • The Charles Bridge, built by Charles IV back in the XIV century to replace the Judith Bridge destroyed by the Moldova overflow, connects the Ancient City to the Malá Strana district. One of the most visited attractions in Prague, the Bridge is just a little bit longer than 500 m, has two fortifications delimiting its extremities and, along the path, statues of saints.
Prague - Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

But Prague doesn’t just mean history and monuments. The city hosts, all over the year, festivals, concerts, exhibitions, which are usually accessible for everyone.

Are you tempted to leave, but, before booking your journey, would like to solve other doubts? Here you have a few references:

Enjoy your holiday!

Slovenia: an (accessible) paradise close to Italy

In the heart of Europe, there’s an authentic paradise: Slovenia. Among seas and mountains, with a unique cultural and environmental richness, Slovenia is a small state, but rich in treasures to discover. For Italian people, since it borders with Friuli-Venezia Giulia, it’s the perfect destination also for last minute holidays, all over the year.

Slovenia - Ljubljana

Ljubljana

In these last years, the Slovenian government is very committed to improve the country accessibility, making it more usable also from people with motoric, sensory or psychic disabilities, but also families with little children.

All the buildings, both public and private, built in Slovenia in the last years are fully accessible. But they’re working a lot also to adequate the existing ones, including historic monuments and natural parks, as well as urban spaces, with sidewalks equipped with ramps, reserved parking lots and ATM placed at a height accessible also from a wheelchair and, in many cases, equipped with Braille instructions for blind people. Furthermore, since 2011, the Slovenian Disabled Workers Association releases the “Handicapped people-friendly city” certificate to the cities actively committed to promote the disabled people’ inclusion.

Cities and touristic attractions offer discounts to disabled people and, sometimes, even free entry. Let’s see together some of the Slovenian symbols that are accessible to everyone.

Ljubljana, the wonderful Slovenian capital city, is investing a lot on the fully accessibility of public transport (the mission is almost accomplished, both for buses and for the railway station) and museums, art galleries and the most important touristic attractions. First, the Castle (in Slovenian, Ljubljanski grad); the symbol of the city, whose construction started in the IX century and today hosts exhibitions, concerts and other cultural events, can be reached by everyone thanks to a funicular railway equipped to host also disabled people. Even the city zoo has a dedicated access for disabled people. Furthermore, visitors with the city touristic card (Urbana) can benefit from free entry.

The Postojna caves (Postojnska jama), 20 kilometres of galleries and salt with calcareous concretions, every year attract thousands of tourists from all around the world. Since the end of the Nineteenth Century, they are equipped with electric lights and a small train enabling to visit them staying comfortably seated, at least for the first part of the caves. The Postojna caves have also a dedicated access for disabled people.

Slovenia - Postojna caves

Postojna caves

The wonderful Bled and Zbilje lakes, perfect for walking immersed in the environment or (mostly the second) for rowing lovers, are increasingly accessible for all, including disabled people. The same is valid for the thermal baths (such as the Dobrna and the Zreče baths) and for the Triglav national park, which has also two laboratories for blind people.

Slovenia - Bled Lake

Bled Lake

So, have I convinced you to visit Slovenia? I hope so!

Discovering the “barrierefrei” Germany

Germany is one of the most accessibility-oriented countries and, for years, has been investing resources to make cities, public transport, offices and touristic attractions increasingly “barrierefrei” (literally: barrier-free), to enable everyone to fully use them, no matter what your physical condition is. Unfortunately, total accessibility is still a mirage, but, compared with other countries, Germany is a safe haven for people with movement issues or sensory deficit.

The most important German cities, from Berlin to Frankfurt and Munich, provide both citizens and tourists with very detailed info services (also available online), allowing to plan and live a holiday without worries.

Germany - Berlin

Berlin

Let’s start our virtual tour from Berlin, the capital city of Germany and one of the most desired destinations for travellers from all around the world, mostly young people, thanks to its modernity, its cultural and economic ferment (Berlin is one of the most important start-up incubators), vivacity of its night life and much more. Its public transport network is totally accessible, both as regards the surface transit and the subway lines, both for motoric and sensory disabled people. If we talk about monuments and touristic attractions, you say “Berlin” and think about the Brandenburg Gate and the ruins of the wall that, for more than fifty years, divided the city and Europe in two. But Berlin has much more to offer, also to travellers with motoric limitations. For instance:

  • the Pergamon Museum, hosting three permanent exhibitions devoted to ancient art, Islamic art and Asian art, respectively;
  • the Reichstag palace, equipped with entrances and itineraries reserved to people with motoric disabilities, but also Braille signage in the whole structure and scale models of the building enabling blind people enjoying the experience using touch and, for deaf people, sign language interpreters;
  • the Friedrichstadt-Palast, the biggest variety theatre in Germany; Potsdamer Platz, where past and present meet and represent the International Film Festival’ backdrop; Alexander Platz, with its majestic TV tower, from the top of which (reachable using an elevator) you can enjoy a breath-taking view over the city, and a lot of museums, allowing you to live again the light and dark past of Germany.
Germany - Frankfurt

Frankfurt

Frankfurt, besides being the financial heart of Germany, is an important cultural center and nodal point of the national transport network. But, above all, it’s among the world cutting-edge cities for accessibility. Maybe this is also since many of its historic buildings were destroyed during the World War II. But even the surviving ones, over time, have increasingly become “for all”. To mention just some of many things to see:

  • Goethe’s house, where he also wrote “The sorrows of young Werther”, isn’t, unfortunately, accessible to who uses a wheelchair; in compensation, it provides blind people with dedicated guided tours, plus the chance to access with guide-dogs.
  • Römerberg, the historical center of the city that hosts the municipality, and Paul’s Church are more accessible. The latter is the place where German democracy arose and has a dedicated access for motoric disabled people.
  • All the city museums and parks have at least an accessible entrance.

Would you like visiting Frankfurt, but aren’t sure how to orient yourself among the things to see? The city offers a website and a PDF brochure in English, which can be downloaded for free, with constantly updated info.

Germany - Munich

Munich

But you can’t talk about Germany without thinking about Oktoberfest, that takes place yearly between the end of summer and the beginning of fall in Munich, another city that’s at the forefront about the accessibility of its spaces. Here, public transport is totally accessible and – hear ye! – free for those presenting a card certifying their disability. Furthermore, there are also guided tours of the city supported by a sign language interpreter, to make them accessible to deaf people as well.

Must-see attractions include:

  • the Rathaus, the city hall, with the Glockenspiel, the carillon clock with animated characters that move during the day, at the clock’ sound;
  • the Residenz, the royal palace, one of the most majestic in Europe, with an entrance inspired to the Florentine Palazzo Pitti;
  • the Frauenkirche, the gothic cathedral of Munich, heavily damaged during the war, but come back to its old splendour, after years of restoration, at the end of the Twentieth Century.

Also in this case, there’s a PDF brochure providing with accessibility info, but, unfortunately, just in German.

Do you need more info before planning your journey? Check the accessible tourism website (partially available into Italian as well) created by the German National Tourism Authority!

Lisbon, surprisingly accessible

If Barcelona is my favourite city in the world, Lisbon, the Portuguese capital city,  follows it closely. I visited it a few years ago and I was totally enchanted by its magic and its breath-taking landscapes, as well as by the friendliness of local people.

Sure, when you think about Lisbon, with its tight and steep streets, with cobblestones and, often, without any sidewalk, the last thing you’d link to it is the concept of accessibility for who has motoric issues due to disability, age or anything else.

Yet, in these last years, also Portugal committed a lot to make this and other cities accessible to tourists and, first of all, citizens. Of course, there’s no way to change orography, but they’re acting where they can, starting from the public transport network. In addition to surface transit (including the unmissable tram no. 28) equipped with a platform to ease the access of people with motoric issues, Lisbon has one of the most accessible subway networks in Europe (luckily, since to go from the entrance to the platforms you’d often have to walk various flights of stairs…).

“To me, there are no flowers that can match the Lisbon chromatism under the sun” 

Fernando Pessoa

As regards monuments and attractions, indeed, if you must use a wheelchair, it could be tricky visiting the typical Alfama district, but Lisbon offers so much more to see!

  • São Jorge’s Castle, not that accessible for people with motoric issues, has ad hoc itineraries (and various resting areas to catch your breath), as well as the chance to access with guide-dogs for blind people.
  • Things go better in another “must see” for whoever visits Lisbon: the Belém district, fully flat and well paved, with the suggestive Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, where the church and the lower part of the cloister are fully accessible and there’s a tactile path for blind people. And, since you’re there, don’t miss the Confeiteria de Belém, to taste one of the symbols of the (excellent!) Portuguese patisserie: pastéis de nata (literally: “cream patisserie”)!
  • Another totally accessible part of the city is the area that hosted the Expo back in 1998. On the occasion of the global expo, the Parque das Nações district was built, reclaiming an ancient landfill on the Tagus. Here you can also get lost among gardens, museums (all of them are 100% accessible) and visit the Oceanário, the largest aquarium in Europe.
  • Also the main part of the city center can be visited without many issues: from Campo de Ourique, with its liberty architectures, to the congested Praça Marquês de Pombal, to reach Avenida Libertade and Parco Eduardo VII.
  • Do you want to take breath-taking pictures of the city panorama? Go to the Miradouro da Graça, fully accessible 24/7.
  • But you can’t leave Lisbon without doing at least two other things: a flying visit to the House of Fernando Pessoa, the poet and writer symbolizing Portugal, who also wrote one of the most beautiful city guides, and a night listening to fado, the Portuguese people sing which had in Amália Rodrigues its most famous interpreter. You can enjoy it “live” in many city places and restaurants.

Do you want to visit this wonderful city? Keep a check on the Portugal Acessível website by Associação Salvador, a “directory” of accessible places all over Portugal, constantly updated also through the users contribution. And beware of saudade!

Lisbon - Belem

Lisbon, Belém

Barcelona, meu amor!

Well, I admit it: even though I feel deeply and proudly Italian, my favourite city is located a little bit more on the West… Barcelona.

The capital city of Catalonia immediately seduces you for its enchanting atmosphere, the cordiality of its inhabitants, the very successful mix between ancient and modern you can breathe everywhere, starting from its most famous monuments: the Sagrada Família and the architectures by Antoni Gaudì. Not to mention the weather, always pleasant, the tapas, the ramblas… How could you help falling in love with it?

Yes… But what if we deal with a disability or have a little child in the stroller with us? The city has walked a long way, in these last years, to become one of the most accessible in Europe and, even though there’s still something to fix, things have certainly improved, even for who wants to use public transport to visit and taste it.

  • Barcelona’ subway network crosses the whole city and is almost completely accessible for everyone, thanks to elevators and Braille signage in the overwhelming majority of its stations.
  • And what about buses? In Italy, who has motoric issues knows how hard it can be finding one that’s equipped, mostly in some cities… Well, in Barcelona that’s a different story: surface transit is totally equipped to allow access of wheelchairs, strollers and people with motoric issues, without any need to use weightlifter manoeuvres.
  • Are you a little lazy and don’t like to wait for public transport? Cabs are a good option, both because there’s an entire line (Taxi Amic) that’s equipped to transport wheelchairs and because, compared to the Italian standards, prices are decisively more affordable.
Barcelona, Parc Güell

Parc Güell

And what about the most famous monuments and attractions of the city? Good news as well, both in terms of accessibility and of discounts reserved to disabled people and their companions!

  • Sagrada Família – Even though it isn’t fully accessible (for instance, people with motoric disabilities cannot reach the towers), the Catalan city symbol can be visited also by disabled people. Should your disability pass 65%, you’ll have right to free entry for yourself and a companion, exhibiting your invalidity certificate. You can request a wheelchair or other aids before accessing the church, to comfortably visit it.
  • Parc Güell – Here, since it’s located on a hill, there’s some issue for people with movement issues, but, all in all, you can overtake them with a little help from a companion. Moreover, at its entrance, you’ll find informative panels in Braille. Even in this case, disabled people enter for free, while their companions pay a reduced ticked. For any question or specific needs, you can directly get in touch with the park management, sending an e-mail to parkguell@bsmsa.cat.
  • Battló House – There aren’t particular discounts to visit this monument, but the good news is that there’s an elevator, enabling also people on a wheelchair accessing almost the whole house (apart from the terrace). Blind people can request an audio guide in Braille.
  • Milà House aka “la Pedrera” – Here there are two elevators and, even though terrace has steps and gaps that make access tricky for people with a motoric disability, you can find a platform enabling everybody to admire it in all its splendour.
  • Camp Nou – Do you love soccer? Then, you can miss the opportunity to visit one of the “temples” od this sport! Even though people with motoric disabilities cannot visit the whole structure, you can still see the museum and the cups room and enjoying the view of the stadium from the second ring.

For more information about the accessibility of public transport, monuments and attractions, you can check a very curated website (available in English, Spanish, Catalan and French), where you can also buy tickets to visit the monuments we’ve talked about.

So, have you booked your journey already?

 

 

 

Accessible Iceland

What does come to your mind, thinking about Iceland?

Probably, cold weather, Björk and Sigur Rós if you love music, or its capital city, Reykjavík, that, in the past, hosted important events, from the world chess championship’ final between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spasski in ’72 to the meeting between Ronald Reagan and Michail Gorbačëv in ’86, a fundamental phase of the “thawing” process between the two global superpowers at that time.

If you, just like me, love reading crime novels, you probably have dreamt about visiting this fascinating country reading the novels by Arnaldur Indriðason. Instead, if you’re watching the football European championship, you probably have enjoyed the achievements of its national team, that even booted England out.

But would you ever tell Iceland, with its breath-taking landscape and its extreme climate (after all, the Arctic is just a few kilometres far from the island), is a destination suitable for people with mobility issues? I would have been the first to answer “No”, but then, accidentally, surfing on the Internet, I bumped into a website advertising a tour of Iceland designed for disabled people, showing that this land has a lot to offer to has to deal with daily limitations and obstacles as well.

Iceland

Once you land at Keflavik international airport, during your first approach to the Icelandic capital city, you can’t miss a visit at Hallgímskirkja church, the sixth highest building in the country, where you can enjoy a breath-taking view of the city. If you love arts, you can’t miss the National Museum, which, in addition to various exhibitions, hosts a permanent exhibition allowing to retrace the history of Iceland, from the times of Vikings to nowadays. If music is your passion, don’t miss Harpa concert hall, inaugurated in 2011 in the same place where once there was the ancient city harbour. Even though it can seem to be “out of this world”, even Reykjavík has a “shopping district”, Laugavegur, so prepare your credit card!

But Iceland is especially known for its unique landscapes, such as Þingvellir national park, UNESCO’s world heritage, in the South-Western part of the island, near the Hengill volcanic area, where you can find itineraries which are accessible to wheelchairs as well.

Do you feel cold or, simply, need relax? Don’t miss the Seltún geothermal area and the suggestive Blue Lagoon, which is totally accessible, from the locker rooms to the pool, ‘til the lagoon.

Are you ready to leave? Prepare your passport and your European Healthcare Insurance Card (EHIC), which could be useful, should you need healthcare assistance, and Bon Voyage (“enjoy your trip” in Icelandic)!