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An Interesting Weekend in Gdansk, Poland
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An Interesting Weekend in Gdansk, Poland

First of all, Gdansk was a way more attractive town than we had envisaged. I expected just the area around the waterfront to be attractive, but there were huge long streets (in fact, one of them is called Long Street) with beautiful architecture, pedestrianized areas, and fountains. It was also equipped with some dropped curbs and some adapted toilets, so it wasn’t as challenging as I feared it might be.

Second of all, I found that the people that I encountered (and I don’t know if they were visitors or locals because the town was very busy) were not helpful to wheelchair users. My husband regularly struggled to lift my wheelchair when there wasn’t a dropped curb, and whereas in other locations people would immediately approach to offer assistance, this never happened in Gdansk. When we first arrived at Glowny station, my husband could not find a lift to help me get off the platform, so I ended up having to struggle down the stairs. Nobody offered to help! Finally, a couple did approach to ask if they could help and when I asked them where they were from, they told me they were from Germany! We did later encounter a

Finally, a couple did approach to ask if they could help and when I asked them where they were from, they told me they were from Germany! We did later encounter a specialized lift that could take wheelchair users up the side of a staircase. It was being used when I spotted it and we approached the operator to indicate that I needed to travel in the lift next. The operator did not respond in a positive manner and even tutted as if we were asking him to perform some alien task. When we did emerge at street level, there was absolutely no way to cross the busy intersection except via an inaccessible subway and we ended up having to take a taxi just to get across the road.

However, I would thoroughly recommend a visit to Gdansk. From the last week in July and for the three weeks following, the town hosts St Dominic’s Fair, which sees the town covered with stalls selling everything from food, alcoholic beverages, jewelry, standard market ware, paintings and all manner of other items geared for the visitor. Whilst there are ramps put over any electric cables, these are quite aggressive and not easy to navigate for the wheelchair user, however, whilst there are a lot of people, I did not find the crowds to be a problem, the only area in which they were really difficult to get past was a bottleneck area on the waterfront and everybody seemed to get trapped here!

The National Maritime Museum, which is handily located on the waterfront, has an adapted accessible toilet and you do not need to go into the museum itself in order to use it (it is on the lower ground floor) so we based our days around this toilet. On the other side of the waterfront we also discovered another adapted toilet in the State Opera building, but as it was particularly cold on that side of the water, we hurried back over! There was also an adapted toilet in the branch of Costa coffee, located on Long Street, but it is not level access to the coffee shop itself!

If you are a wheelchair user who does not like to be approached with offers of assistance, then I would very much recommend Gdansk. However, if you are like me and you do appreciate the odd helping hand, then you need to be prepared! Accessibility is definitely on the agenda; like I say, we did find a couple of adapted toilets and the majority of the pavements had dropped curbs. The public transport was supposedly wheelchair accessible but even at the major stations (such as the airport and the central terminus), there was not level access and a train conductor had to lift your wheelchair up onto the train or down onto the platform. This would not be possible if you were in a power chair as I think the step is too large (a height difference greater than that ever encountered on a curb). So there is definitely an attempt to make the city more inclusive and accessible to wheelchair users but I would say that they are not quite there and there is a distinct lack of understanding about the importance of e.g. level access!

On a definite positive side was the hotel in which we stayed. It was the Ibis Stare Misto and it had excellent level access throughout and the best adapted bathroom I have ever had in a room. My hands have been affected by my disease so I struggle to wheel across carpets. The bathroom was located quite, but not uncomfortably, close to the bed. There were drop rails around the toilet so side access could easily be achieved if needed. There were also rails to the left and right of the sink, a roll in shower with two or three wall mounted grab rails and a permanent fold down shower seat. The only difficulty I encountered there was the doors. The wheelchair accessible room was located at the far end of a corridor, through another door. There was only one other room behind the door so the entryway was quite awkward and you had to turn immediately to get into your room. If you were by yourself, you might find this a challenge to navigate.

Activity-wise, we passed most of the time just meandering around the town. It is a seaport so there is fantastic and fresh seafood on offer but if you do not love seafood there is a wide selection of other dishes on offer and they do not seem to be overwhelmed with potato and cabbage! Nearly all of the restaurants have an outside seating area and where this seating area is a raised platform, it is often ramped so a lot of places are wheelchair accessible.

There are some cobblestone areas but these are not the most aggressive cobblestones and they are not too bad in a wheelchair. Along the waterfront, there are a couple of short staircases and there is a ramped section, however, this seems to be designed more for children’s pushchairs than wheelchairs as they consist of two parallel lengths with stairs in between. The wheels have to be lined up exactly with the parallel lengths and then you can be pushed up or down. The ramps themselves are quite slippery and the steps in the middle are necessary for the person pushing you to have a grip. We wanted to go on one of the boat cruises that went up the river to the mouth of the Baltic Sea. My husband was told that the tall ships were wheelchair accessible (they would just lift me on and off) and so we ventured down. The staircase down to the ships was longer than the ones that we had previously encountered and as it was steep I tried to help my husband by clambering down the stairs out of the wheelchair.

We wanted to go on one of the boat cruises that went up the river to the mouth of the Baltic Sea. My husband was told that the tall ships were wheelchair accessible (they would just lift me on and off) and so we ventured down. The staircase down to the ships was longer than the ones that we had previously encountered and as it was steep I tried to help my husband by clambering down the stairs out of the wheelchair. Unfortunately, I could not manage this as the ramps were right next to the handrails and I ended up slithering very ungracefully to the bottom! When I landed at the bottom in a crumpled heap that was the only time that people helped us! Still, it was worth it to go on one of the tall ships but the journey itself was less than interesting although it did go past the place where the first shot of World War II was fired which is quite historic! Lech Walesa, a Polish politician and labour activist who co-founded and headed the Soviet bloc’s first independent trade union and won a Nobel Peace Prize in the 1980s, later becoming Poland’s president in the 90s, is originally from Gdansk and there is a museum dedicated to him so if you are history buff then there are definitely things to interest you.

Unfortunately, I could not manage this as the ramps were right next to the handrails and I ended up slithering very ungracefully to the bottom! When I landed at the bottom in a crumpled heap, that was the only time that people helped us! Still, it was worth it to go on one of the tall ships, but the journey itself was less than interesting, though it did go past the place where the first shot of World War II was fired, which is quite historic! Lech Walesa, a Polish politician and labour activist who co-founded and headed the Soviet bloc’s first independent trade union and won a Nobel Peace Prize in the 1980s, later becoming Poland’s president in the 90s, is originally from Gdansk and there is a museum dedicated to him. So if you are a history buff, then there are definitely things to interest you.

All in all, I was really impressed with Gdansk, it’s way more wheelchair accessible than I expected (although not perfect), the town was much prettier than I expected, it holds historical significance and the food was wonderful! Definitely an interesting destination, though I wouldn’t recommend it for power wheelchair users.

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  1. wsokol
    Thanks for your post. I am planning to visit Gdansk this summer, but based on what I know about this city and this country, accessibility is rather poor, especially by the US standards. Last time I was there, they did not even have a mobility lift for boarding planes (we arrived from Copenhagen on a small plane that could not use a jetway). I use an electric chair that is pretty lightweight (50lbs), which I plan to take with me, but I can walk short distances with the aid of a walker. From what you write I gather that I will not be able to access trains at the airport due to the gap between the train and the platform. That train is a new addition, it was not there during my last visit a couple of years ago, so one would think it is mobility accessible. Or is it only the main station, which is rather old and accessibility is a known issue there? We are planning to use public transit around town - I heard that buses are accessible - but we will rent a car to go out of town. I was told that many trains are not accessible and obtaining assistance on the stations can be problematic.
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    1. Susie Twydell
      Susie Twydell
      Hi, definitely I think the trains are new, but the one to the airport was supposedly wheelchair accessible but there was a height difference between the platform and the train of about 6 inches and I also have a power chair and I doubt that it would be able to do that. However in the city centre a power chair would be great and I found that the National Maritime Museum disabled toilet was a good option because although there is a disabled toilet in the Costa coffee, there is a step to getting to the coffee shop! If you are visiting the whole country, then I would like to refer you to this article from Goodnet which ranks Gdynia, a city just a little bit further up the coast, as 1 of the world's most disabled friendly cities because of the transport! https://www.goodnet.org/articles/6-most-disabilityfriendly-travel-destinations if I can be of any further help, you can contact me directly through wheelchairworld@gmail.com. Happy travels!
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  2. wsokol
    So I am back from my trip to Poland, and here are my observations. I spend most of the time in Gdansk, but we also rented a car an traveled around the country. 1. Public transit. Regional trains have wheelchair accessible ramps, but you need to ask a conductor to use it. There are designated places for wheelchairs at train stations, usually in the front of the train for the conductor to notice a person in need. However, sometimes you need to ask the conductor for the ramp, and having a companion definitely helps. Long distance trains is a mixed bag - the older rolling stock run by the company TLK in generally inaccessible. The newer stock (run by EIC or POLREGIO) generally is, but you need to ask for assistance. Some trains have ramps, but they are not aligned with the platform and assistance is needed. Buses are marked as accessible and according to the company rep, some have ramps others do not, but I did not test it. 2. Streets. Most streets have curb cuts, but only few are properly designed. Most still have an edge about an inch high, which may pose problems for electric wheelchairs. Sidewalks are a mixed bag, some are relatively even, other pretty uneven. Plenty of cobblestone in the old town. Possible to ride on them, but rather uncomfortable. 3. Buildings. Some are wheelchair accessible, especially newer ones. Older are not. Some restaurants are accessible, but many are not. In general, public sector does a better job in making buildings accessible than the private sector. 4. Steps - generally not accessible. Some of them have ramps that have the same slope as the stairs (see here https://scontent-iad3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/37303471_10216727145676162_4649735898206830592_o.jpg?_nc_cat=0&oh=99b50a8350d537d6b14dffb3557d0c21&oe=5BF9E27C) , which is ridiculous. Impossible to use by anyone , including able body people trying to use them for luggage. 5. Elevators (lifts) - many public facilities have them, including railway stations, museums, shopping malls, and public buildings. 6. People - most people we encountered were helpful and made a difference in overcoming obstacles posed by inadequate accessibility. Speaking the local language is helpful in smaller towns where few people speak English, but not necessary in large cities. I found that while most people try to help, they do not know how, so you need to be able to communicate to explain what your needs are. For example, I got stranded at an archeological site and their security personnel came to the rescue seeing me on their security cameras - but it took some explaining how they can be actually of help. 7. Car - there are parking spaces marked for the disabled people, and Poland is one of a few EU countries that accepts handicap parking permits from outside the EU (http://www.disabledmotorists.eu/en/world_map/europe/). I forgot to bring mine, but I did not have any problems finding parking and sometimes parking attendants allowed me to park in a marked space without a permit. Driving, especially on motorways, is another story - they have a speed limit 140 km/h (90 mph) on motorways, lower on other roads, but this is only a suggestion, and many drive much faster than that and are pretty aggressive if you do not make way for them. I found driving there pretty stressful and recommend taking public transit instead, if possible.
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