Barcelona & the Pyrenees Tour
by Shlomit Grossman © 2001  

September 2001, Shlomit and Boaz Grossman, of Israel,  took in the Spanish beauty of Barcelona and the Pyrenees.  Boaz, who is a paraplegic, found easy rolling throughout Barcelona and excellent access in Pamplona, Ainsa, Zaragoza and Bilbau. All photos Grossman © 2001

Dear disabled friends:

We are a couple in our 50s, but young in soul and spirit, and we travel a lot around the world. My husband, Boaz, is paraplegic due to his 1967 war injury in a degree that confines him to the wheelchair, except for a few steps with the help of canes. He is also a big guy so that his wheelchair requires at least a 70 cm wide doorway to get access. I'd like to share with you the wonderful experience we just had touring Spain for two weeks. The trip was carefully planned and was a success.

Guide: We prepared our trip with the help of the Internet mostly, but also the Lonely Planet Guide to Barcelona, some local Israeli guides, maps of Michelin 1/400000 Espania/Norte and Espania/Noreste . Most important: a guide I found in the web called Spain, which gives the most precious information in regard to the disabled traveler. Its link is http://europa.eu.int/comm/enterprise/services/tourism/tourism-publications/documents/spain.pdf The above document helped a lot in getting hotels in the smaller cities.

Itinerary: We planned the trip for two weeks (which we find optimal), our targets being Barcelona and vicinity ( 1 week) and the Spanish Pyrenees. In detail:

1. Barcelona, Montserrat (a day tour) and Costa Brava (a day tour)  - 7 days stay, accommodation in Barcelona

2. Scenic Pyrenees: 1st day: Barcelona - Andorra ( N-152 to Puigcerda, N-260   to La Seu d'Urgell, N 145 to Andorra). 2nd day: Andorra - Pont de Suert ( back to La Seu d'Urgell,  On the C1313  to Coll de Largo, L522  & C 1412 to Tremp, N260  to Sort, C147 to there a detour to the national D'aguestortes and Lake de Sant Maurici,C1412  to  Vielha and N230 to Pont de Suert ) 

3rd day: Pont de Suert - Ainsa (on the N260 to Torla and the gate to the national park of Ordesa , Back through Ainsa  and on the A138 to Torreciaudad, and Back to Ainsa)

4th day:  Ainsa - Pamplona (from Ainsa on the N260 to Boltana, on the A1604 to Castillo de Leres, on the N230 and N 330 to Jaca and on the N240 to Pamplona)

5th day:  Pamplona - San Sebastian - Zumaia - Pamplona

6th day: Pamplona - Bilbau ( N1 and A68)

7th day: Bilbau - Zaragoza (on the A68)

8th day: Zaragoza - Barcelona (on the N11) z

Transportation:

Rented cars: We found out that Europcar has hand controlled cars to rent which can be reserved through direct e-mail with them Reservations.es@mail.europcar.com.

The service was kind, but it took two weeks of inquiries and correspondence to finally have a reservation. Three facts are worth mentioning: a. The cars are a bit small, at least for paraplegic big guys ( Nisan Primera).

b. The hand control is, god knows why, on the right side of the wheel, the opposite of the one used by Boaz. It is on the same side as the gear stick, and it is difficult in parking and similar situations where you have to use both gas+brakes control and switch between reverse and drive gear.

c. The car is rented without aids as a "knob" on the wheel .One should bring his own. Also, handicapped signs and license (like the ones that hang in front window in the US are recommended). The cost of the car for 12 days (we were the first 2 days without a car) was 111000 ESP. The car was picked up in Barcelona airport and was returned there.

On the first two days of our trip, we used and got introduced to the following transportation means:

Taxis - One from the airport (with four pieces of luggage and the wheelchair) were all managed in a regular airport yellow taxi to the disbelieving eyes of the driver. In the city of Barcelona the taxis will take willingly a wheelchair passenger once he can sit on a regular seat and let his folded wheelchair be put in the rear baggage space. The drivers are nice and the fees reasonable.

Buses: Some of the local buses in Barcelona are equipped with stairs that unfold to a ramp and the wheelchair can be wheeled to the bus. Unlike  NYC, the driver does not step out to help the passenger but waits until he is wheeled in  and positioned himself. Drivers were sometime not talkative. When we wanted to get off the bus, we had to wait until the regular passengers went down then the doors close - we were sure that the driver did not notice us waiting to exit, but then the ramp was opening - all this without the driver saying one single word to us. You can see which buses are equipped with these ramps by a wheelchair sign on the front and rear of the bus.

Subways: We found out that one subway line in Barcelona, the L2, which is the central line, is fully fitted to wheelchair passengers. Each station along the line has lifts from street level to the cashiers and from the cashiers to the ramps where the train is fully leveled so the entrance and exit are very smooth. This was a real treat because it was also very rapid and with a high frequency.

On feet: Barcelona turned out to be the smoothest walking city we traveled--probably because of the Olympics. The transition from pavement to roads was an olive oil one, even in the older parts of the city. Barcelona gets the highest grade!

Lesser grades go to the other cities like Zaragozaís walking center near the Lady of the Pillar Piaza and Bilbau, which does not have enough ramps on the walking path along the river.


Sites:

Barcelona: Vivid, beautiful and interesting. Surprisingly convenient to the disabled tourist in walks and accessibility to sites. Part of the places were not fully accessible, like the famous Gaudi church of the holy family "Familila Segrada" where some paths are not accessible, and the entrance is through a ramp, which is a little steep. Gaudi's Park Guel was also only partly accessible, but the accessible part is worth a visit. But you walk the beautiful avenue of "Paseig de Garcia" and the Gauidi buildings are in front of you, like fairy tales objects. The architectural village "Pueblo Espaniol" is only partly accessible. It was a little commercial, but the display of all the houses designs is fascinating. In all the sites with a limited accessibility, we had to pay a ticket only for me which was of course at least very considerate. The beautiful port is a walker and a wheelchair paradise as has ramps all over, and there is a lot to see and visit.

Costa Brava: here I'll comment only on the Dali Museum in Figures, which is a magnificent attraction, especially to Dali fans. The museum used to once be a theater and the upper part, which contains the major part of the display, was not accessible to our sorrow. The rest of this one-day tour was a symphony in green and blue. We drove to Dali's home in Port Ligat and the neighbor town Cadaques, with their white houses, all glittering in the sun. The afternoon was a scenic and quite difficult drive in the southern part of the Cost Brava, on the GI682 road - Don't miss it!! It overlooked the partly hidden villages of San Feliu and Tosa del Mar and last - Blanes from which we took the highway to Barcelona.

Monserat:  A huge monastery on the peeks of the Monserat Mountains, which reminded us of  the Meteora in Greece. Steep and bizarre rocks  - one has to see it to believe that nature is the greatest of artists. The monastery is a panoramic viewpoint. It is accessible, and with the wheelchair sign, we got our car to the very top. One building, though, is not accessible--the monastery museum to which you go down on stairs with no ramp. Besides this, every place there is accessible and there is also a comfortable disabled bathroom.

Andora: Andora is built on a mountain, and reminds visitors of a fairy  tale from the Grim Brothers. It is steep and hard to walk unless you are on the main street in the center. One thing to remember: always look for elevators that bring you to the upper street so you don't have to climb the uphill road.

National Park De Auiguestortes (near Espot): The place is a pearl, usually accessible only until the parking. With our disabled sign, we got a special ticket from the eager to help staff. We could go with our car (while other hiking or with the park's jeeps) to the ice cold, dark blue Lake De Sant Maurici . There we found a wooden path enabling a wheelchair to go right to the waterside.

National Park Ordesa: Not accessible but if you go to the parking, you can follow the park's bus after you get a special ticket. But, unlike the park we visited before, you could not go on from the parking. We were told that the walking is very stony and difficult, so we left it at the entrance to the park. The entrance itself, near Torla, is very beautiful and you see the frightening Monte Perdido from there. What we missed was the remarkable scenery of the canyon.

Bilbau Gugenheim Museum: Fully accessible and huge. We entered from the river walk on the other side, which had us go uphill. Entering from the other side is easier.

Zaragoza: The site in this city is the Pilar huge square with the basilica "Nuestra Senora del Pilar" (our lady of the pillar). The square is impressive. The basilica, present building from the 17th century, is fully accessible and fascinating. It is full of statues and carving and is extravagant.

Departure: Barcelona Airport is easy to navigate to, but one has to note the entrances to the rental cars return. If you missed the right entrance, you may have to make another round as I had to. We departed several days after the shocking events in the twin buildings of the World Trade Center. One advice I can donate: Take the minimum in your hand luggage (except for medicines of course). Put in the suitcase scissors of any kind, screwdrivers etc. because the security check will not let you take them with you on the plane, rather you will have to put it to the staff's care or to say goodbye to the things. As always, we took the wheelchair with us to the door of the plane, and insisted on getting it before going to the ground. That way we avoid breaking parts of the chair when treating it as a regular baggage piece.  

Hotels:

Barcelona - We stayed in a disabled personís room at the 4-star Melia Confort Apolo (Tel. 0034-934431122, Fax 0034-934430069). The room was spacious in all aspects. The bathroom had a bath and was very spacious (we brought a folding bath chair). All the facilities in the hotel are accessible, and above all the staff is warm and kind and serves with a kind of hospitality you rarely find . The cost was modest relative to the services level: 24000 ESP (including VAT) for two people (breakfast not included). The hotel is located within walking distance from the Center avenue of the Rambla, the old quarter Barrio Gotico, the Marina Port Vell and Montjuic hill, which makes it very attractive. In front the hotel, is a bus station and a subway with a lift for wheelchairs. The area is a little low-class with many immigrants, which we found fascinating and colorful.

A problematic issue - the parking. The hotel has a link to a private parking, which is expensive (3000 ESP per day) and quite difficult to manage. In the streets - crowded, but you can find in the area places with paid tickets (on weekend - free). In the hotel neighborhood, there were no places reserved for disabled drivers, but we found some near museums and sites. We counted on the wheelchair badge hanging in front of the car in places where space was reserved for wheelchair drivers.

Andorra - We reserved a disabled room at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Andorra La Vella (Tel. 00376874444, Fax 00376874445). The hotel is situated in the center of the city, right below the municipality building. It took us a while to find it, so our suggestion is to ask from the hotel to fax you  with the confirmation instructions how to get there. The room was very small, the bathroom convenient but with a funny flaw to shower-- the seat was such that the valves were in the back of the disabled person--hard to operate and by random movement the hot water operated unwillingly. The surrounding of the hotel is difficult to walk aside from the main street as it is steep, but the views are breath taking (not from the room where you saw a very close neighboring house). The cost was relatively cheap because we are members of the Holiday Inn priority club : 16700 ESP with parking per night.

Pont de Suert - The Hotel Can Mestre (Tel. 0034973690306, Fax 0034973590514), was a two-star hotel we found in the Spanish guide for disabled people. We were told in advance that because it was a renovated old house, the elevator begins after climbing several steps from the rear. As we had no alternative, we took the managerís promise to help us with the chair to the elevator. We did not regret it - The hotel is situated in the heart of the old small town - the Piaza Mayor, and there was a feast with dancing and music there that evening. We were helped upstairs and the room was large and old stylish wooden topped with an accessible bathroom - one could not ask for more there. The cost (7000 ESP) included a nice breakfast in the first-floor dining room. When departing, we were helped by the manager and workers downstairs to the car.

Aisa - The town had no hotel with a disabled room. The hotel we finally chose was the three-star Apolo Hotel, (Tel. 0034-974500888, Fax 0034-974500836, e-mail: apolo@pirineo.com) a  brand new hotel , accessible to the room, but alas - the bathroom was not accessible to the wheelchair as the doorway was too narrow. We managed with mutual efforts, but it was a pain in the neck.  The hotel cost was very reasonable: 7400 ESP for night, 3100 ESP for two dinners with wine, and 2000 ESP for two breakfast buffets. The hotel is not far from Aisa main center, but you have to drive to the medieval part of the city, which is the more beautiful one.

Pamplona - We stayed in the three-star Abba Reino De Navarra Hotel (Tel. 0034-948177575 Fax 0034-948177778), situated across the Japanese garden and by the university area. The hotel is accessible, and we got the sixth floor disabled room with a magnificent view. An important fact to bear in mind is that in three-star hotels, as much as they are nice, the staff does not include bellboys, and it depends on the staffís good will to help you carry all the extra luggage that a disabled traveller usually carries. We always tipped these nice boys and girls -- even if they were managers that gave us a hand. We stayed there two nights, making it a base for tours to San Sebastian area. It was not expensive: 16800 ESP per night. The location is convenient, near many restaurants and coffee shops.

Bilbau - We stayed at the Barcelo Hotel Nervion 9 Tel. 0034-944454700 Fax 0034-944455608, e-mail: hotelbcnervion@barceloclavel.comThe hotel was situated by the river, not far from the Gugenheim Museum, which we visited by walking from the hotel. Parking on the street is crowded, so we used the hotel free parking. No elevator to the parking so that only I could park and exit the parking. The cost was reasonable: 17000ESP, including breakfast buffet. The staff was very nice.

Zaragoza - This town was the last before we returned for two days to Barcelona. The hotel we reserved was the modern renovated three-star Hotel Oriente (Tel. 0034-976203282). The hotel is situated in the Coso street, which is a busy center city location. It is very convenient but troublesome with parking. The hotel has a private parking which is near by. The location is also in walking distance from the old city and the Lady of the Pillar church and Piaza. The staff was young and nice and the room very nice and fully equipped. It also had the bathroom chair with the valves in the back of the seat...Why couldn't the architect think of installing the valves in the side?  The cost was reasonable: 15000ESP, including breakfast.  

That's all guys, as I have no intention to wear you out too much. I skipped the part of the wonderful tapas bars, the seafood restaurants, the deep tasty Spanish wine and at the top - the wonderful figs you pick up on the roads. There's still time to tour the area, till October. After that - you'll have to wait for spring as the Pyrenees are too cold in the winter.

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