When: April 28th 2012- May 6th 2012
Total length: 8 days
Area of Hotel: Chelsea
Weather: A couple of days were rainy, others warm with an average 13°C
Please note: This city was part of a 3 country trip, consisting of 18 days total. See Paris and Bruxelles for additional info on how I traveled in between countries.
We took Air Transat, as it was the least expensive ($729 tax incl), having us land at Gatwick Airport. This was an overnight flight and the only option for times. Therefore we left at 8 PM, arriving in Gatwick at 8 AM (6hr 50 min flight). Be aware that Air Transat does not provide flights on Saturday evenings.
To get ready for the overnight flight, I suggest taking a nap the previous day to try and adjust your internal clock. By the time you get to your hotel, you could be awake for almost 24 hours. I was the only one of the group who did this, and I was happy I did! My friends looked like zombies!
Day 0 (Heading to hotel in London)
We boarded our plane at 8 PM and got ready for a looong flight. This was also the first time I had to use the bathroom on a plane (see Air Travel tab). Something that I suggest to pass the time would be to buy a book on cd. I downloaded it on to my ipod, and it was great.
Upon arriving, we deplaned and went to a convenient private washroom along the way to the luggage carousels. Then we got our luggage and needed to get a train from the airport to Clapham Junction (an hour train ride). The train station was attached to the airport.
Trains: The trains in London require a ramp to be placed out to get on. You can ask a worker to put it out at the station. They recommend that you call in advance, which is not realistic. We did, but arrived earlier than expected. The trains come so often, so we did not worry about it. After purchasing our tickets, they called ahead to the next station to let us know we were getting off at Clapham Junction. However, no one was there! So my friend just blocked the door when we needed to get off and shouted for someone. Make sure someone blocks the door then, I would be terrified if I got left by myself!
Clapham Station: This station was approximately 15 minutes away from our hotel. It was all accessible, which was great. However, by this point we were tired and a bit confused on how to catch the bus to our hotel. Realistically, we had a lot of luggage and no exact change to take the bus, so taking a taxi (approx 9 pounds) is easiest. When you exit the station to the street, there are black taxis all around.
Taxis: London taxis are great! Almost all are accessible, with a ramp that comes out. You need to be sitting side ways in the car though, and there are no restraints. We were able to fit 3 suitcases, one wheelchair, 2 people and 3 carry ons all into one car.
Arriving at hotel: since we got to London so early, by the time we got to our hotel, it was only 11:30. And our room was not ready until 2, so we had to wait around in the lobby. There was an accessible private washroom (a bit narrow) next to the lobby. We were able to put our suitcases in a locker room behind the desk (we kept our important documents with us).
Since we were really hungry, we ventured out to the grocery store located directly beside our hotel.
Hotel Lobby at Jurys Inn, Chelsea
Grocery store: Tescos are a chain store in London. The one across from the hotel was useful since our room did not have a fridge. Everything was relatively reasonably priced (for London). There were fresh fruits and veggies, snack foods, wine, and premade sandwiches.These were great for days out when we wanted to save money on meals.
It is very hard to find a hotel in London that is not only accessible, but affordable! My first choice would be to rent an apartment. It is difficult though because of old buildings and shower/bathtub combos. Apartments book fast! So start planning your trip early. Also note, the busy season in London begins June and lasts until September.
After much research, I found the following that was accessible: http://www.boutiquelondonlets.com (Chrome, Waterloo and St.James had better showers). We did not stay here, as it was expensive.
We did stay at Jurys Inn in Chelsea (http://londonhotels.jurysinns.com/jurysinn_chelsea). This hotel is iffy at best. But there were slim pickings. I had emailed numerous times to ensure that I had an accessible room with roll in shower. Of course, when I got there the shower had a tub. We were given that room (see pics below) that night, as everything was booked up and were put into the proper room the next day. I was compensated for the room when I got home. So make sure that you email them and BRING that email to the hotel.
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The above photos were the first room we were given. The mix up was that this was deemed accessible, with a tub. The room was spacious, and the beds were twins. The beds were also on wheels.
Below: the second room given with roll in shower.
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Shower: As you can see, there is a seat in the shower. It is tiny! I am small myself, and could hardly fit on the seat. There is also a shampoo dispenser right in line where your head should lie back. If this might be a problem for you, rent a commode or find a plastic chair. I found the bathroom dingy and not very clean.
The room itself was cramped because of the fold out bed that could only be passed by a wheelchair if it was folded in. We turned it completely sideways so I could fit.
Electricity and Adaptors: For those who use electric wheelchairs and require medical equipment that needs to be plugged in, doing this in foreign countries is something that needs to be researched. For all my equipment, I phoned the vendor in advance to ask if anything special was required other than a simple adaptor (nothing was needed). Also, research which adaptors are needed! We short circuited the room by not using the correct kind. We were going to use a Canadian power bar to reduce the amount of adaptors needed, which actually starting smoking and caused the room to short circuit multiple times. We had to get the handyman to come in! They gave us multiple adaptors, so we didn’t have to purchase extras.
We did notice that our hairdryers, cellphone and laptop chargers got extremely hot when put in the wall, so keep a close eye on them. My hair straightener didn’t work at all, and when I got home it was still broken. So bring the least amount of electronics as possible. My aerobed melted and sparked (we think it was because of the power bar and wrong adaptor), so we had to buy a new one. My suggestion is bringing a hand pump one to avoid using adaptors at all.
Room Service: Than night (after our long nap) we ordered in room service. It was pretty good and well priced. We had paninis and fries.
Day One (Kensington Palace, Harrods)
Bus: That morning we went to the train station directly behind the hotel to get our bus passes. For a wheelchair, it is free to use the bus (UPDATE 2014: No longer free to take bus). HOWEVER; the attendant is not. We were told that the attendant was free. For two days my attendant was fine and was not asked to pay. The third and subsequent days were nightmares. Bus drivers would yell at you! I couldn’t believe it. We went to the main station and were told that the policy had changed a few years ago, so only some drivers know the rules, and others do not. A regular weekly bus pass is 29 pounds. This is for unlimited use of the bus, tube and train. We did not try the tube, as it was mostly inaccessible.
On our way to Kensington Palace, we walked by this restaurant and decided to stop and eat. The atmosphere was so chic inside. The artichoke soup was delicious.
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This was our favourite place we visited in London. The accessibility throughout the old palace and grounds were amazing. When we first arrived we were told that the hallways were extremely narrow, and we might not be able to even get into some rooms. We took our chances and found that the hallways were fine. I had plenty of room to get through.
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Above: There was even a mini elevator that came out of the floor to get from the gift shop to the café and washrooms (private).
We then walked over to Harrods
This place was amazing (of course!). We went two separate times since we got to the store too late the first time. It closes early on Sundays.
There is an amazing indoor marketplace with every food imaginable. Restaurants are scattered throughout the many floors. You can eat at diners, have High Tea or grab ready made foods from the market. We ate at a diner, which was alright, but the music was way too loud. I would have preferred to have eaten at the High Tea place but it was too busy and we were starving.
Day Two (Buckingham Palace, St.James Park, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, London Aquarium, London Eye)
This entire day we walked from one place to the next (with the exception of the bus to get there).
We had to first stop by Argos to pick up a new air mattress. It was interesting, because you order what you want from a catalogue at the front of the store, purchase it and then receive it. My mattress was about 14 pounds, and was a hand pumped one.
Washrooms: If you need a washroom, just stop by any hotel. We walked right in and there were public washrooms on the main or lower floors.
Since it was only May, we couldn’t get inside. Basically all you can do is stand in front of it and take pictures. We would have loved to go inside, which is allowed beginning June.
Walk along St.James Park
We then walked along St James to get to the Big Ben. All the gardens were in full bloom, which was gorgeous. Sidewalks are all paved and smooth for easy wheeling.
Again, something that takes only two minutes to take a picture. Just a note; downtown London was busy at this time, and it was only May. I think it would be a nightmare during the Summer months with many more tourists.
Down the street from Big Ben was Westminster Abbey. The lineup had to have been almost 200 people. We decided not to go inside because it was closing soon. Someone did come up to us saying we could butt the line to go in, but we declined. It is about 13 pounds to get in. A bit expensive for a half an hour’s look through. It was gorgeous from the front, which was good enough for us!
We walked across the bridge to the other side of the Thames to the London Aquarium. The attendant fare was free, and if you bought your London eye and Aquarium pass at the same time, you received a discount. It was a pretty nice aquarium, but definitely geared more towards kids or those who do not know a lot about sea animals.
Archduke for Dinner
We wanted to see the London Eye for sunset, so we decided to try dinner at the Archduke first. It was amazing! They had an atrium for us to sit in, and a delicious menu.
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The London Eye
This was a neat experience, but something I would only do once. Going at sunset was really pretty. They had a ramp and would stop the wheel so people could get on. It is about a 20 minute ride.
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Day Three (Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio Tour)
Harry Potter Day! We took a tour bus to Leavesdon. The airplane hangar was where they filmed the Harry Potter movies. As a HP fan, it is a must!
The bus left twice daily from a bus station in London. You had to call in advance to book your tickets, and to ensure that it was an accessible bus. They would bring out a ramp to get on.
Note: There were no tie downs, and I did slide one time when the driver went around a corner quickly. On the way back I asked for them to mindful of that. You could sit in the aisle between two seats to make sure you don’t slide too far.
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They had accessible private washrooms at the studio.
Something that I was a bit disappointed at was that it was a self guided tour instead of a tour guide walking us around. However, there were tvs on loop that would have various HP actors and crew giving behind the scenes info.
They had a pretty cool gift shop, but I could not believe the prices. All I wanted was a chocolate frog and it was 13 pounds!
The Hand & Flower
After getting back to Chelsea, we decided to eat at the Hand & Flower restaurant. From the little time we spent walking around here, we didn’t see many restaurants, and even less accessible ones. Luckily we spotted this delicious restaurant and bonus, it had wifi!
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Day Four (Hamley’s, Carnaby Street, Les Mis, Topshop)
This day we walked from one place to the next (with the exception of taking the bus to get there).
This is a giant kid’s store, really great for kids (of course). There was a shake place in the middle that was pretty good.
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There was an accessible private washroom here, but really loud music, so have your attendant close to the door so they can hear you!
We then walked around Carnaby Street quickly. I would have loved to have walked in here longer, but we were on a tight schedule!
Fratelli La Bufala
We stopped for lunch here, before heading to the theatre. The pizza was delicious! We told them that we had to go soon before the play started. They were great at making sure we had our food quickly. The restaurant was right across the street from the theatre.
Les Misérables (Queens Theatre)
We sat in a balcony that was narrow and would narrow the closer you wanted to get to the stage. It was still a good view. I would definitely recommend wikipedia-ing the play before hand (or watch the movie) if you do not know anything about the story. A bit confusing otherwise!
During intermission I had to go to the bathroom (it’s a loooong play), and they rushed me down some side doors to the private accessible washroom. You have to be quick though, the intermission is only 15 minutes, and there could be a long lineup if the ushers don’t get you there first!
This had to been some of the best pasta I have ever had, the portions were large enough to share. Also, wifi!
Day Five (Tower of London)
Plan ahead! It took us 2.5 hours to get from the hotel to here! We had to take 2 buses.
I have mixed feelings about the Tower of London. That is because a) it was one of my favourite things in London and b) it was the least accessible.
- It was 17 pounds for me to get in. AND that was a discount for wheelchair users.
- Parts of the walkways were cobblestone (other areas were paved). Some parts were worse than others. I feel that it would be especially difficult for manual users at some parts, so take someone strong to push you!
- Many of the places (towers) had stairs, so no going there
- You could go on guided tours, and the bobbies working there were very accommodating. They made sure that you were in the front of the group, and even explained the parts that I couldn’t get to see. There is a church that the tour passes, but there are stairs. So he kept the door open and talked really loud.
- The Crown Jewels exhibit was really cool. You could also visit another building and see the gift shop in the basement. There is a narrow elevator to go downstairs.
- I loved the old history of the place, being almost 1000 years old, haunted (allegedly) and of course beheadings!
Day Six (British Museum, National Portrait Gallery)
We walked from the British Museum to the National Portrait Gallery.
We were absolutely starving when we got there (note: the entrance has an elevator to bypass the stairs and admittance was free for all) so we decided to eat in the restaurant. Super fancy! We loved it, and the food was delicious.
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We walked around the museum for a while, but soon grew a bit bored. It felt a lot like the Royal Ontario Museum at home. I did however really enjoy getting to see the Rossetta Stone.
National Portrait Gallery
I loved it here, it wasn’t crowded and I liked seeing famous paintings I recognized from either movies or school. The elevators were a bit confusing since they only went to certain floors. Again, the admittance fee was free.
It had been two hours after lunch, so naturally we were hungry again. We ate in the café located in the basement. They had cakes and pastries, along with teas and drinks. Cute spot!
We went back to Harrods and Topshop for some quick shopping.
Next stop, Paris!