Strolling in Spain

Wheelchair Accessible Travel In Spain - 2004

By Howard L. Chabner and Michele E. DeSha

 © Howard L. Chabner and Michele E. DeSha 2004

 

Come along as Howard Chabner and Michele DeSha explore the access of Spain's principal cities and their attractions. Howard and Michele previously shared their visits to Rome and Paris with Global Access.

I.            INTRODUCTION

This article is the fruit of our May 2004 trip to Spain.  We stayed in Barcelona, Granada, Cordoba, Seville, Toledo and Madrid, in that order, and spent a day in Segovia.  We discuss the cities in the order we visited them.  This article is intended as an introduction, a starting point for your research and a way to convey realistic expectations.  We hope it will help you plan an access strategy based on your interests, budget and mobility capabilities and limitations.  This article assumes a basic familiarity with Spain. 

 

This article is dedicated to our friend Bob Gustke and to the memory of his late wife, our friend Patricia Gustke, who traveled the world together, Pat in her wheelchair, Bob on foot.  At a time when good access anywhere was only a dream, they traveled to places far less accessible than Europe, planning as much as possible and improvising as they encountered obstacles.  Pat wrote with wit, passion and humor for major newspapers about their travels.  Unfortunately, her articles aren’t available online. Whenever we hit barriers on our trip, we remembered their stories, smiled and our perspective was restored.  

 

Many thanks to George Clapper for typing this article, and to Lucy Arevalo for writing the English-to-Spanish dictionary of access words (see below).
 

This was our first trip to Spain.  Though we’d heard good things about access, we were impressed with the serious and sincere efforts to provide access.  We saw travelers and Spaniards in manual and electric wheelchairs every day.  To be sure, many barriers exist, and there are some significant flaws in accessible design, but we found that people are receptive to suggestions for improvement and that access is steadily improving.  There is a desire to do the right thing, even though the execution may be flawed.    

 

In planning our trip we used the Internet and other information sources but not a travel agent.  We traveled on our own.  Michele speaks Spanish, which was helpful and added to our enjoyment.   

 

We have tried to be as accurate as possible, but of course accuracy is not guaranteed.  The reader should confirm all information, especially access details, directly with hotels, museums, transportation providers and other facilities.  As in all research, primary sources are much better than secondary ones.  Also, things change.  It is essential to re-confirm information shortly before acting on it. 

 

Because one’s physical capabilities, limitations and equipment affect the access achievable under a given set of environmental and design conditions, and one’s point of reference colors one’s perception of access, we’ll tell you about ourselves.  We are fortunate to live in San Francisco, where wheelchair access is generally excellent. Howard has muscular dystrophy and uses an electric wheelchair.  Michele is able-bodied.  On this trip Howard used a Quickie P110 folding electric wheelchair that is 25” (63.5 cm) wide, weighs 100 pounds (including the batteries, which are removable) and has gel cell batteries.  Howard is six feet (1.83 meters) tall and, when seated, 57 inches (1.45 meters) high.  He cannot walk and can transfer to an inaccessible car only with great difficulty.  We drove from city to city in a large but inaccessible car, and limited transfers to the bare minimum. 

           

In planning our trip we sent questionnaires to numerous hotels inquiring about access.  A form of hotel access questionnaire is Appendix A.  You are welcome to adapt it for your own use.  A metric conversion guide is Appendix B.  A dictionary of key access terms in Spanish is Appendix C.  This article (including the appendices) may not be reproduced or used for profit without our written permission, but readers are welcome to reproduce or use it for any other purpose. 
 

A Call for Advocacy.  Researching your trip, the trip itself and the time after your return are great opportunities to educate and advocate for access.  If we learn in our research that a hotel, transportation provider or museum isn’t accessible and providing access appears feasible, or that something is accessible but could be improved, Howard often sends an immediate email with detailed recommendations.  On our trip we provide feedback in real time.  After we return we write detailed letters advocating better access, including appeals to government officials. We aren’t only critical - we try to acknowledge and appreciate good access, and we also recognize the logistical and architectural difficulties and limitations in making old buildings and ancient sites accessible.  Our communications have usually been well received and our efforts have helped spur access improvements.

                                 

            Howard has written letters to the mayors of Rome and Paris about access issues, including the need for more curb ramps, and to the Rome and Paris airports.  When writing to government officials, we send copies to local disability organizations if appropriate.  We’ve sometimes found that a request or recommendation from us, as foreign tourists, can lend additional credibility to similar advocacy by local individuals and disability organizations.  Sometimes our efforts add to the cumulative weight of those made by locals.  Ironically, it may be easier for officials to ignore or delay action on a complaint by a local than one by a foreigner.

 

We urge you to use your trip as an opportunity to help move the ball forward on wheelchair access - you will already have the information and the impressions will be fresh in your mind, so writing an effective letter or email won’t take much extra time.

II.                GENERAL

 

Smoke Warning

 

The rain in Spain may fall mainly on the plain, but the smoke is almost everywhere.  Our strong impression is that far more Spaniards smoke cigarettes than the French, Italians or Israelis, let alone Americans, let alone Californians.  Almost every restaurant, bar and café has old-fashioned cigarette machines; even many nice hotel lobbies do.  Cigarettes are relatively inexpensive and many Spaniards smoke unfiltered ones.  Non-smoking sections in restaurants are virtually unheard-of.  Some hotel elevators even have ashtrays.  We mention this not to scare anyone away, but to prepare you. 

 

One way to mitigate the smoke somewhat is to eat when the restaurants first open – which is early for Spaniards but late for many Americans – and there are fewer locals.   The disadvantage of this, of course, is you will have less interaction with Spaniards and will eat in an almost empty restaurant.  It’s also imperative to request a non-smoking hotel room; even though there is no guarantee it will be truly smoke-free, the chances are that a smoking room will be very smoky.

 

Museum and Monument Access

 

Access at most major museums and monuments is quite good.  We encourage you to try to tour all major museums and monuments that interest you - they are likely to be at least partially accessible.

 

            Store and Restaurant Access

 

Stores and restaurants typically are up one step, and the proprietors are very willing to lift your wheelchair up it.  Some have recently installed permanent ramps that, while typically too steep even for a person in an electric wheelchair to access independently, make access easier than the step alone would have been.  Many cafes and restaurants have outdoor tables.  Most branches of the major department store, El Corte Ingles, have level access. 

 

ATM Access

 

Michele used ATM’s at a variety of banks in various locations.  Most were too high or in a bank up one or more stairs.  We saw a few accessible ATM’s. 

 

Electricity and Charging Your Wheelchair

 

Spain uses 220-volt AC power.  The standard plug has two prongs and a hole for the ground pin (the ground pin protrudes from the wall outlet).  This is the same plug as in France, and different from those in Italy.  Plug adapters are available at any good travel store in the U.S.

 

If you use an electric wheelchair, we recommend obtaining a wheelchair battery charger with settings for 110 and 220 volts.  It eliminates the need for a separate converter.  A surprisingly small, lightweight and inexpensive charger with dual settings is available from MK Battery.   www.mkbattery.com.  Also try Lester Electrical.  www.lesterelectrical.com.

 

We highly recommend gel cell batteries, which are non-spillable, safer and more acceptable to airlines than wet batteries.

 

We experienced no problems charging Howard’s wheelchair in hotel rooms.

 

III.            PUBLIC BATHROOMS

 

            Spanish public bathrooms, whether accessible or not, generally are quite clean even though few are staffed by attendants.  It was easier to find accessible bathrooms than we’d expected, although there are some important widespread design flaws.  Most accessible bathrooms are large enough for comfortable maneuvering and are equivalent in size to those in California (and larger than in many U.S. states).  The main design problems are poor placement of grab bars (which sometimes block the transfer space), inaccessible toilet flush buttons or buttons that require too much pressure, and inaccessibly high hand dryers.  Also, many of the door lock handles are small and, for people with limited grip strength, difficult to twist.

 

Almost every museum that is accessible has an accessible bathroom.  Most branches of the major department store, El Corte Ingles, have an accessible bathroom.  Even some restaurants – though certainly not the majority - have accessible bathrooms.  Fortunately, employees at stores and restaurants are very willing to direct you to the bathroom even if you aren’t a customer.  There is a gracious understanding of urgent needs.

 

IV.              TRANSPORTATION - GENERAL

 

            Buses

 

Most cities we visited have many accessible bus lines.  The majority of buses have the wheelchair symbol.  We used buses only in Barcelona and Granada.  The accessible buses in the other large cities appear similar in design to those in Barcelona but, except those in the old section of Granada (which are of a different design), we didn’t try them.  See the sections of this article on transportation in each city for more detail.

 

 We took a couple round trips on different lines in Barcelona.  The accessible buses in Barcelona are low (lower than the typical American bus) and have a retractable ramp on the side.  They are similar to the accessible buses in Paris, though not quite as well designed, and better than those in Rome.  The ramps are wide – almost as wide as the double door, which reduces the chances of falling and, because they are deployed with the bottom edge on the sidewalk, are not too steep.  Also, the bus kneels a bit, which also makes the ramp angle gradual.  Unfortunately, however, the ramp has a large bevel or lip at the upper edge (where the ramp connects with the bus), which is difficult to climb over and would be dangerous without assistance (whether in a manual or electric wheelchair).  The ramps worked and the drivers were proficient and courteous, always deploying the ramp safely at our desired stop.  Unfortunately, not only are there no tiedowns, but the wheelchair seating area is narrow and has a pole in the middle, so one must protrude into the main aisle; it’s impossible to maneuver your wheelchair parallel to the length of the bus.  But the buses are low, the drivers drove well and the routes were mostly flat, so the ride was smooth and the absence of tiedowns wasn’t as dangerous as it might seem. 

 

Taxis

 

Accessible “Eurotaxis” are available in Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and other major cities.  The Eurotaxi is a minivan with a ramp at the rear.  It’s similar in length to a Dodge Caravan, with plenty of space for luggage.  The height in the wheelchair area is a bit lower than the typical lowered floor minivan in the U.S. but the vehicle is otherwise comfortable.  We took taxis in Barcelona and Madrid; Howard was able to fit, but he had to lean forward a bit and his head touched the ceiling.  (Howard is six feet (1.83 meters) tall and, when seated, 57 inches (1.45 meters) high.)  The drivers were skilled and courteous and the taxis relatively new and well maintained.

 

Generally, it’s necessary to call a taxi in advance.  In most places the fare includes meter charges to your location from wherever the taxi is when you call.  Airport pickup is a flat rate.  Fares are reasonable, at least compared to San Francisco.  We contacted our hotel in Barcelona a few days before departure and asked them to order an accessible taxi for our arrival at the airport; upon our arrival one was waiting.  In Madrid we ordered an accessible taxi one very rainy late morning and waited only 20 minutes.  Phone numbers for the taxis are listed below, in the discussion of each city.

 

Car Rental

 

Despite extensive research we were unable to find an accessible minivan or van to rent.  Any reader who finds one is encouraged to share the information with the website where this article is published.  We drove from city to city in a large but inaccessible Peugeot 607, and limited transfers to the bare minimum.  Once in a city, we parked the car and didn’t use it until we departed for the next destination.  The 607 has four doors and extremely comfortable leather seats, including a passenger seat with electric height and angle adjustments.  The adjustable leather passenger seat made transfers somewhat less difficult.  The well-designed trunk is wide and long but not low, making it relatively easy for Michele to stow the wheelchair because she didn’t have to bend down.  The Peugeot’s handling, acceleration and ride were superb, and Michele enjoyed driving it.

 

Peugeot Open Europe.   This program is available to U.S. residents.  You can “purchase” a brand new Peugeot, drive it in Europe for a period of 17 days up to six months, and “sell” it back to Peugot at the end of the period.  You must pay in dollars.  The “purchaser” avoids paying value added tax that would apply to a rental.  Complete insurance and roadside assistance are included.  The car can be delivered to, and picked up at, major European airports.  In some cities it may be possible, for an additional fee, to have the car delivered to, or picked up at, your hotel if you explain your special circumstances.    www.auto-france.com.  1-800-572-9655. 

 

V.            HOTELS - GENERAL

 

            Although bus access is good, we still believe that for hotels, as for real estate, the three most important factors are location, location and location (assuming the hotel has good wheelchair access).  Strolling through a beautiful, interesting neighborhood is one of the most enjoyable things about traveling, and it’s best not to depend entirely on transportation to get to museums, monuments, stores and restaurants.  Staying at a central location also makes it easier to stay out late, and Spain is a night owl’s paradise.

 

            Hotel access is a mixed bag.  In our research we encountered good general awareness of the need for accessible rooms, but it was difficult to find them in some cities.  The state of the art doesn’t include roll-in showers; we were able to find only one hotel with a true roll-in shower.  As with public bathrooms, there are widespread design flaws in hotel bathrooms such as poor placement of grab bars (which sometimes block the transfer space) and inaccessible toilet flush buttons or buttons that require too much pressure.  Also, even hotels with fairly good bathroom access had several barriers that would be obstacles for a solo traveler, such as heavy room doors and inaccessible electrical controls, light switches and closets.  But the good news is that the obstacles are manageable, especially for someone traveling with an able-bodied companion.  Most hotel personnel we encountered were eager to help and receptive to suggestions for improving access.

 

Much of our trip involved intercity driving, so we required parking in most cities.  Don’t assume that a hotel offers parking.  Parking is scarce in the center, so it’s important to inquire about parking at your hotel and, if the hotel has parking, reserve it when you reserve your room.  Parking is typically not included in the room rate.  Many hotels that don’t have on site parking have an arrangement with a nearby parking lot.

 

Many hotels offer a buffet breakfast that is generally not included in the room rate.

 

            In planning our trip we sent access questionnaires in English to numerous hotels, mostly three- and four-star.  The questionnaire, with minor improvements and turned into a form, is Appendix A.  You are welcome to adapt it for your own use. 

 

In Spain, as in France, “accessible” in describing a hotel room means merely that there are no barriers such as stairs and there is sufficient doorway width and other space for a wheelchair to travel to, enter and move around the room - that there is, in effect, what Americans would call an “accessible path of travel” to and within the hotel room.  Hence, an “accessible” room may have a completely unusable bathroom and inaccessible elements such as light switches.  Moreover, there doesn’t seem to be a uniform, generally accepted standard for “accessible” - many hotels consider a room accessible if it is literally, but just barely, physically accessible.  “Adapted” means that the room has been modified to allow a wheelchair user to use the bathroom and other features are usable by people in wheelchairs.  Unfortunately, however, almost all adapted rooms reported lack roll-in showers.  In many hotel and third-party websites, the presence of the wheelchair symbol means only that the hotel is “accessible,” not necessarily that there are any “adapted” rooms.  This is especially true of the tourism sites for the cities.  Therefore, unless you are able to use what Americans would consider an inaccessible bathroom, when inquiring about access, ask whether the hotel has an adapted room. 

 

In our discussion of each city, we describe where we stayed.  We also list other hotels that told us they have adapted rooms and those that told us they don’t have any.  We include the latter to provide a more complete picture of the current state of hotel access and to emphasize a caveat:  if you inquire about those hotels and are told they have an adapted room, be sure to double check and get specific information; perhaps they’ve renovated the rooms since our inquiries.  Note that, although we use “adapted” in categorizing hotels, the hotels we list as not having adapted rooms aren’t necessarily even “accessible.”  Also, we omit the many hotels that failed to respond to our inquiries. 

 

We visited a few hotels but most entries are based solely on the written responses we received; therefore, we cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information.  Accuracy depends entirely on the respondent, typically a reservationist; we did not specifically ask the hotels’ general managers to respond.  We asked follow-up questions when a response was ambiguous but did not send a second round of surveys to ascertain whether the answers would be the same both times. 

 

 We’ve heard that four- and five-star hotels are legally required to have adapted rooms, but many four-star hotels don’t.  We inquired about only a few five-star hotels, so can’t generalize about them.

 

            Almost needless to say, it’s imperative to contact the hotel directly to verify access, as one would in the United States.  Don’t rely on the central reservation systems of hotel chains or, even worse, third party reservation websites.  The information provided by the hotel sometimes contradicted those websites, some of which display the wheelchair symbol irresponsibly and misleadingly.

 

VI.         ACCESS FOR BLIND AND VISUALLY IMPAIRED PEOPLE

 

This section is quite limited.  We report those aspects we observed; we know that we’ve missed many important items.

 

Barcelona.  There is no bevel at the sides of the curb ramps and curb cuts – there is a straight vertical edge, which poses a potential danger for a blind person approaching the intersection from the side or standing too close to the edge.  Around the dirt perimeter of the trees and plants along the sidewalks there are wide, deep (perhaps 10 inches) empty holes with no grates covering them.  This poses a danger to blind people, who could easily step in them.

 

            Seville.  Many major crosswalks have audible traffic signals.

 

Madrid.  Many intersections have gradual curb ramps with textured surfaces for blind pedestrians.  Many major crosswalks have audible traffic signals.

 

VII.      BARCELONA

 

Barcelona – Terrain

 

            The Gothic quarter and most of Eixample are basically flat, with a very gradual slope downward toward the waterfront.  Montjuic is a steep hill.  Some of the outer neighborhoods, such as the area around Parc Guell, are hilly.  

 

The vast majority of intersections in the city center have curb ramps or curb cuts. Many curb ramps, especially in the Eixample, span the entire width of the crosswalk. A clever design, this eliminates the common problem of an able-bodied pedestrian standing in and blocking the small ramped area.  Unlike in some European cities, the curb ramps are smooth and continue all the way down to the street; there are no 1” or 2” high ledges presenting obstacles at the bottom.  Many curb ramps are steeper than the U.S. standard of 12:1, but not much.  The only problem is that there is no bevel at the sides – there is a straight vertical edge, which poses a potential danger for a blind person approaching the intersection from the side or standing too close to the edge.  Many restaurants and stores in Barcelona have ramps, albeit short and steep because of space constraints.  Overall, we were impressed with the efforts in Barcelona to provide ramps, both in the streets and in buildings.  

 

Barcelona – Transportation

 

Buses.  We took a couple round trips on different lines.  For a detailed description of the accessible buses, see “Transportation – General,” above.  The ramps worked and the drivers were proficient and courteous.  We didn’t have to wait more than 12 minutes.  In Eixample the streets have truncated corners, a clever, unique innovation in urban planning and street design.  One good effect of this is that the bus ride is smooth around the corners:  turning a corner means turning 45 degrees, going straight for a short distance, then turning 45 degrees again – there are no 90 degree angles. 

 

Funicular (to Montjuic and the Miro Museum).  The station at Avignuda del Paral-lel (near the end of Carrer Nou de la Rambla) is accessible via elevator. The Montjuic Parc station is up many stairs and is accessible via a large, modern, well-maintained stair lift.  There is a gap of several inches between the platform and the funicular car, so some assistance is required.  We don’t advise trying to walk and roll to Montjuic – the streets are extraordinarily steep and some have stairs.

 

Metro.  We didn’t take the Metro but were informed that many stations are accessible.  In various places we saw people in wheelchairs waiting for or emerging from   Metro elevators. 

 

Information.  Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona has a good website with bus and metro information, including an English section.   www.tmb.net

 

Taxis.  We contacted our hotel in Barcelona a few days before departure and asked them to order an accessible taxi for our arrival at the airport; upon our arrival an accessible Eurotaxi was waiting.

 

We used:  Juanjo; Monorolumen Adaptado:  Phone 011-34-609-324-006.

     Others:    Barna Taxi and Taxi AMIC .   Phone 011-34-934-208-088.

 

          Barcelona Taxi.  Phone 011-34-933-581-111.

  

Barcelona – Hotels

 

Where We Stayed

 

Hotel Apsis Atrium Palace.  Four star.  Gran Via Corts Catalanes, 656.   Phone 011-34-933-428-000; Fax 011-34-933-428-001.   www.hotel-atriumpalace.com.

 

This 80-room hotel, opened in 2003, has much to recommend it.  It’s conveniently located in an elegant neighborhood near Passeig de Gràcia at the beginning of Eixample, only a few blocks from most of the Modernist architecture yet close enough to walk to the Gothic quarter and the trendy El Born neighborhood.  This 1888 neoclassical building has been carefully restored with attention to detail in a style that is modern and sleek rather than charming.   Our room featured a lovely (though inaccessible) balcony with large doors and a good view; even though it faced the main street Gran Via, it was quiet with the doors closed.

 

Service was attentive and sophisticated; the hotel was spotless; it was very reasonably priced; hi-tech amenities including wi-fi Internet access are prominently featured; the bathrooms are marble; and there are a beautiful (though small and inaccessible) pool, Jacuzzi and sauna.  There is a good café off the lobby.  One nice touch:  a few days before our arrival we received an informative email from the hotel containing sightseeing suggestions, current cultural events and helpful website links.

 

The front entrance has a gradual ramp and electric glass doors.  There is an accessible bathroom off the lobby.  There are two elevators, one small and one smaller.  Howard fit in both but could use the smaller only with the wheelchair footplates in the shortened position.  Although the elevators are too narrow to turn around in, there’s no need to because they have front and rear doors (a design common throughout Spain).  The buttons in the elevators have Braille markings but they and the call buttons in the hallway are very high and difficult to reach.

 

We stayed in room 502.  We were told there are two other identical adapted rooms.  The bedroom is medium size and has a long, wide hallway that enhances the spacious feeling and affords very good turning space.  There is very good natural light, excellent recessed lighting and well-placed light fixtures.  But some important items are inaccessibly high, including the receptacle for the master cardkey necessary to turn on the electricity in the room, and the hair dryer and phone in the bathroom.  The room door is very heavy and has a tight closer; it would be impossible for most people in wheelchairs to open and close the door.

 

The room has two bathrooms – one accessible, which is medium size, and one regular.  Each has a large bathtub; there is no roll-in shower.  The bathtub has one short horizontal grab bar on the side wall and one small built-in handle on each side. So there is no way for most wheelchair users to transfer to the tub.  The shower hose is very long, though it and the controls are hard to reach.  Fortunately, the sink is deep and wide, so one can wash one’s hair using the shower hose.  There is little space on the sink for toiletries and no vanity or shelf.

 

The toilet is problematic.  There is one wall-mounted fold-down grab bar on the side nearest the wall, and no fixed grab bars.  The fold-down bar is too close to the toilet, reducing one’s leverage.  Most important, there is insufficient space between the toilet and the sink for a wheelchair.  Also, the toilet is similar to those common in France – it’s very short (i.e. the distance from the front of the toilet to the wall behind it is short because there is no tank behind the seat).  The toilet height is okay.  Moreover, two toilet paper holders protrude from the back wall, impeding placement of a wheelchair for a side transfer.  So, only someone with a very strong upper body who is able to transfer from the front could transfer to this toilet.

 

If bathroom access weren’t an issue, we’d recommend the Atrium Palace without qualification.  But we recommend it only for wheelchair users traveling with a companion and who either don’t need to transfer to use the toilet or have great upper body strength.

 

Other Hotels to Consider

 

The following hotels told us they have adapted rooms though, except as otherwise indicated, without roll-in showers:

 

Hotel H10 Gravina.  Three star.  One adapted room.  Renovated in 2001.  Gravina, 12.  Phone 011-34-933-016-868; fax 011-34-933-172-838.  www.h10.es; h10.gravina@h10.es.

 

Hotel Majestic.  Four star.  Four adapted rooms.  Passeig de Gràcia, 68.   Phone 011-34-934-881-717; fax 011-34-934-879-790.  www.hotelmajestic.es reservas@hotelmajestic.es.
 

Le Meridien.  Five star.  Four adapted rooms.  Renovated in 2002.  Ramblas, 111.  Phone 011-34-933-186-200; fax 011-34-933-017-776.  www.lemeridien.com; www.lemeridien-barcelona.com.

 

Prestige Paseo de Gracia.  Four star.  One adapted room.  We were unable to ascertain the existence of a roll-in shower.  Passeig de Gracia, 62.  Phone 011-34-932-724-180; fax 011-34-932-724-181.  www.prestigehotels.com; paseodegracia@prestigehotels.com.

 

Hotels Without Adapted Rooms

 

The following hotels told us they do not have adapted rooms:

 

            Hotel Colon.  Four Star.  Avenida Catedral, 7.  Phone 011-34-933-011-404.  www.hotelcolon.es.  They told us they will be making rooms adapted in the “near future.”

 

            Hotel Neri.  Three or Four Star.  Calle Sant Sever, 5.  Phone 011-34-933-040-655.  www.hotelneri.com.

 

Barcelona – Monuments and Museums

 

Cathedral (Barri Gothic).  There is a steep but short semi-permanent ramp at the side entrance (to the left as one faces the front).  The floor inside is level but most of the chapels are up stairs.

 

Synagogue Mayor (Major Synagogue).  Calle Marlet, 5.  (Near Placa Sant Jaume in the Gothic Quarter.)   Phone 011-34-933-170-790.  www.calldebarcelona.org.  This newly restored synagogue, dating from the late Roman period, is down several steep stairs and isn’t wheelchair accessible.  But if you wait at the entrance in the narrow street, an enthusiastic English-speaking guide will come out and explain the history of the synagogue and Barcelona Jewish history.  The website has good photographs of the interior.

 

La Pedrera (Gaudi’s Casa Mila).  Gaudi’s dazzling, organic masterpiece cannot be described in words.  If you like the photographs of it, you won’t be disappointed; if you don’t, see the real thing before judging it.

 

There is a small but accessible modern (more or less) elevator from the ground floor to the attic.  Be careful backing out of the elevator at the attic – there is a stairway nearby.  The attic, with its famous vaulted brick ceilings supported by catenary arches (an arch shaped like a chain suspended upside-down from two points), has an extensive, well-documented museum with models of many of Gaudi’s projects and thorough explanations of his methods and innovations.  From the attic you can take the same elevator to the roof.  The elevator landing at the roof consists of a steep compound-angled steel floor; anyone in a wheelchair – manual or electric - will require assistance.  From there you can wheel to one small area on the roof; the remainder is full of stairs.  It’s exhilarating to be on the roof and one can see a lot from the accessible area.

 

One apartment (there are four large apartments per floor) has been restored with typical period furniture (but not Gaudi’s furniture) and is part of the tour.  It’s accessed by the old, original elevator from the ground floor.  This is a different elevator from the one to the attic/roof; it’s still used by the apartment tenants (yes, many of the apartments are still being rented and occupied).  Howard just fit with no room to spare; both tires brushed the sides of the doorway.  For people who can transfer easily or stand a bit, a narrow wheelchair is available that fits in this elevator.

 

The employees were very helpful and the audioguide is comprehensive and rich in detail.

 

Casa Battlo.  Gaudi’s expressive, colorful, exuberant and airy masterpiece on the “Street of Discord” was recently restored with careful attention to each extraordinary detail.  The main entrance is level.  However, the only elevator is the original one; it has folding wooden doors and was a couple of inches too narrow for Howard’s wheelchair.  So Howard was admitted for free and given an audioguide.  On the ground level are the entrance lobby with a beautiful stairway, including the wooden “spine” railing, and the radiant courtyard/light well with aqua blue scalloped ceramic tiles.  These areas alone are well worth waiting in a long line.  The complete tour includes the primary residential level, rear terrace, attic and roof.  While Michele toured the inaccessible areas, Howard enjoyed waiting in the lobby and listened to all segments of the superb audioguide to learn about the inaccessible areas.

 

Parc Guell.  Accessible bus 24 from Passeig de Gracia goes to the park, which is located on a hill in the outskirts of Barcelona.  Other bus lines also go there.  The main entrance is at the bottom of the park.  The main bus stop is several streets below the main park entrance, but those streets are extremely steep, the intersections have steep compound angles and vehicular traffic is heavy.  It’s far better to ride the bus uphill past the main entrance and ask the driver to let you off at the upper entrance to the park.  (It may not be an official bus stop but the driver was cooperative.)  From there, a reasonably level path leads to the upper park entrance. 

 

From the upper park level a steep stone path with railings leads down to the Gaudi house/museum.  The house entrance has one stair.  The ground floor is accessible but the basement and upper floor are not. 

 

A series of fairly steep dirt paths leads down from the upper park level to the top of the pavilions (where the beautiful, serpentine benches of colorful ceramics are located), from there to the bottom of the pavilions, and from there to the main (lower) park entrance with its main gate flanked by whimsical buildings.  Howard required some assistance on those paths and a person in a manual wheelchair would need to be pushed in many areas.  Also, each level has stairs on one side and a path on the other, but the path at one level isn’t on the same side as the path at the next level, so it’s necessary to switch sides from one level to the next.  There is a large clean accessible bathroom (with an attentive attendant) near the café at the main (lower) park entrance and a smaller, unattended accessible bathroom near the café at the upper level. 

 

After your visit, we strongly advise backtracking uphill through the park, leaving via the upper entrance and catching the bus there, rather than exiting the main entrance and trying to negotiate the steep streets downhill to the main bus stop.

 

Sagrada Familia.  There are entrances at the front and back, both of which are up steep slopes from the sidewalk. There are tricky compound angles and assistance is required for electric and manual wheelchairs.  The cavernous interior is accessible.  (The interior is cold and windy; a jacket or sweater is advisable no matter the weather.)  One can roll alongside the construction area via wooden walkways with railings; the walkways are steep in a few places and people in manual wheelchairs may require assistance.  The elevator to the tower is up several stairs and is too narrow for a wheelchair.  The large basement has informative, extensive exhibits on Gaudi, including some of Gaudi’s actual models and photographs of construction of the cathedral.  The basement is accessed via a steep ramp and assistance is required for electric and manual wheelchairs. Wheelchair users are charged a reduced admission fee. 

 

Music Palace of Catalonia (Palau de la Musica Catalana).  www.palaumusica.org. This emblematic jewel of Modernist (Catalan Art Nouveau) architecture by Lluis Domenich i Montaner – architect, architectural historian, professor and legislator – was recently restored and modernized with deep respect for its historical significance, unique regional character, rich ornamentation and superb craftsmanship.  Featuring a dramatic stained glass ceiling and windows, gorgeous floral motifs of colorful ceramic, and intricate brickwork, it’s considered one of the world’s most acoustically outstanding concert halls.  The main entrance has stairs just inside the doorway, but there is a level entrance around the corner near the box office.  The main floor and upper balcony are accessible via a modern, medium size elevator.  Other areas are accessible via ramps.  Building tours in English are given a couple times per day; it’s advisable to go there and reserve tour tickets in advance.  Tour tickets may also be purchased on the website.  The guide was knowledgeable, witty and proud of the building and her Catalan heritage.  In Barcelona we tried to get tickets to a concert but they were sold out.  Had we known when we planned the trip how extraordinary this concert hall is, we would have purchased tickets to a concert - any concert - in advance. 

 

Hospital Sant Pau.  St. Antoni M. Claret, 167.  Phone 011-34-932-919-000.  www.santpau.es.  Another Modernist masterwork by Domenich i Montaner, this architecturally and medically innovative complex is off the tourist path but well worth a visit.  In order to afford the patients fresh air and abundant light and prevent the spread of germs, it comprises numerous separate buildings connected by underground tunnels.  It’s easily reached by accessible bus lines, including several lines from the streets that intersect Passeig de Gracia.  The site is a moderately steep hill and is quite windy.  Entering the main hall, with its stained glass windows, vaulted ceilings of rose-colored ceramic brick, arched doorways and ornate mosaics, one knows immediately that this is no ordinary hospital.  The buildings feature turrets, towers, complex brickwork, huge windows and roofs of multicolored ceramic tile.  Some buildings are up steep driveways.  Tours are given once per day; we arrived too late and explored the buildings on our own. 

 

Picasso Museum.  The museum is housed in a series of interconnected ancient palazzos.  The entrance is through a rough cobblestone courtyard, but access is good in the buildings.  The elevator is fairly large.  All changes in level between galleries have permanent ramps, some of which are medium steep.  There is a small accessible bathroom with insufficient transfer space adjacent to the toilet.

 

Miro Museum (Fundacio Joan Miro).  This museum is perched atop Montjuic hill.  The best way to get there is via the funicular.  We had tried rolling/walking from the bottom of the hill but encountered one street with stairs and another far too steep to navigate.  This unattractive concrete building in 1970’s Brutalist style has very good access, abundant natural light and large white walls.  There is a fairly steep slope from the sidewalk to the front entrance; people using electric wheelchairs won’t require assistance but most people in manual wheelchairs probably will.  A large modern glass elevator serves all floors.  All changes in level between galleries on the same floor have permanent ramps, some of which are medium steep.  There is a small accessible bathroom with insufficient transfer space adjacent to the toilet. 

 

Barcelona – Restaurants with Accessible Bathrooms

 

Taller de Tapas.  This tapas bar in the trendy El Born neighborhood has a large variety of delicious tapas.  The fish and seafood are particularly good.

 

Cacao Sampaka. This innovative chocolate café and store in the Eixample serves delicious, intense but not overly sweet hot chocolate, truffles, other chocolates and cocoa beans.  It is the creation of the brother of the E Bulli chef.  There is also a location in Madrid.

 

VIII.       PEURTO LUMBRERAS – PARADOR

 

On the way from Barcelona to Granada we spent a night at the Parador de Peurto Lumbreras.  Six hours’ drive from Barcelona (with mostly forgettable scenery) and two hours from Granada (with the spectacular Sierra Nevada mountains), Peurto Lumbreras is a convenient stopping point, but we are not aware of any sites or monuments there.

 

Parador de Puerto Lumbreras.  Three star.  Avenida Juan Carlos I, 77.  Phone 011-34-968-402-025; fax 011-34-968-402-836.  www.parador.es; pto.lumbreras@parador.es.

 

Access is quite good, especially considering that the parador is a modest building at a stopover location, not a destination.  Still, a wheelchair user traveling alone probably would require some assistance.  There is a very good restaurant (try the delicious local specialty dessert of lightly fried orange leaves with honey and cinnamon).  All the employees were extremely gracious.  There is a large parking lot, and parking is included in the room rate.  The rate is reasonable.

 

There is one small step at the entrance.  Inside, there are several stairs and an old stair lift too small for Howard’s wheelchair.  So Howard went the long way to our ground floor room, through the lounge, kitchen and dining room; the kitchen hallway has some moderately steep slopes that would be difficult without assistance for a person using a manual wheelchair.  Going this way was only a trivial inconvenience.

 

The bedroom is relatively large and quite well designed, with plenty of room to maneuver a wheelchair.  The bathroom is very large. There is a bathtub with many grab bars and a very long shower hose.  Best of all: though technically there is no separate roll-in shower, the main bathroom area has a drain the middle, with the floor sloped toward the drain.  There is a small wall-hung fold-down bench in the main bathroom area, so clearly it’s intended that people shower there.  There is plenty of transfer space alongside the toilet and a well placed wall-hung fold-down grab bar.  The sink has a large area for toiletries.  Bathroom access was better at this parador than in all our hotels except in Toledo.

Granada


Cordoba & Seville

Toledo, Madrid, Segovia

Additional Information & Appendices A, B & C

 

Editor's note: Don't miss the following access reports by Howard & Michele Chabner. Just click on the title.

Paris Passerelles - Wheelchair Accessible Travel In Paris 2003

Paris Appendices: Hotel Wheelchair Access Questionnaire, Metric Conversion & Hotel Wheelchair Access Survey Results) 

 

Paris Passerelles Supplement 2005

Burgundy, Perigord (Dordogne) and Paris 2007

 

Rome,  Florence, Vicenza &  Naples, Italy 2003-2006

 

Rolling in Rome 2003

Vicenza, Florence & Rome 2005

 

2006 Navigating Naples 2006


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