2 April 2017 by victoriaknowe
“You certainly get around” was a recent comment from an acquaintance. Choosing to take it as a compliment, I agreed heartily and gave inner thanks that, thanks to the kindness of many friends, my recent injury (a badly sprained ankle, complete with crutches and plaster cast) hasn’t been as limiting as it could have been.
Witness to this was a trip to Vienna last weekend. I have to say that Vienna is not my favourite city in the world. While beautiful and culturally significant, I find it somehow too grand for my tastes. The city is built on an imposing scale (as one would expect from the capital of an empire) but it means that the grandiose architecture as well as the large distances between buildings and locations leave a person feeling rather dwarfed, and what’s more, exhausted. The city is full of tourists, and I always feel that there is a marked feeling of unequal status between “locals” and “tourists” that prevents a visitor from feeling really at home. Then there’s the wind. Don’t get me started! If there’s one thing I hate more than wind, I couldn’t tell you what it was. Those who know me to be rather mild mannered would be surprised at my attitude after I have been forced to stand in a windy place for a while.
But moaning about Vienna aside, it was a nice trip. We were fortunate enough to have a super friendly and helpful member of hotel staff, who not only made good recommendations but was kind enough to provide us with free tickets to a museum. We perused one of Mozart’s former apartments. Would you believe – he had 13 different addresses while living in Vienna? Another person who got around a lot. We admired some old portraits and manuscripts and stared morbidly at his death certificate. The dinner that followed was my first taste of the deliciousness that is Bulgarian food. If you can ignore the constant folk music playing the the background, it is truly exquisite – and the crockery is an art form in itself.
Aside from scenery and food, one of the new discoveries that arose from the trip was the handy availability of wheelchair hire. Incredibly cheap (it is apparently subsidised by the city), extremely convenient (the chair was delivered and collected from our accommodation), and offering a huge degree of unexpected freedom to a temporarily mobility impaired girl such as myself. My wheelchair was lightweight and easy to maneuver. Not that I did much of the said maneuvering myself (being injured has to have some perks) but it was nice to have the possibility.
It was interesting to experience life for the first time from a wheelchair. Many years ago I completed a week of volunteering at a holiday home for disabled people. As part of the training it was impressed on us that, as people with fully-functional legs, we should never sit in a wheelchair as it was disrespectful to the people who weren’t able to get up and walk away from one. We all took it very much to heart, so this was really my first experience of life from a chair.
The first thing to report is that it is not nearly as comfortable as it looks. Although you are sitting down, there are so many bumps and jolts (the prevalence of cobbled streets was another thing to add to my blacklist for Vienna) that it’s hardly relaxing, and I found that I needed to be constantly alert for upcoming jolts which were painful for my ankle, as well as dozy pedestrians who weren’t looking where they were going.
Secondly, it was much harder to talk to people from such a low position. Aside from anything, you often simply don’t hear what’s said at normal head height, and it’s very tiring to constantly be straining to hear, so after a while I stopped bothering to try and listen. It must have made me seem a bit apathetic, but was actually due to fatigue. Then there’s the factor that people seemed to feel uncomfortable conversing with a person in a wheelchair and they often talked to my companion instead of to me. It’s hard to blame them as I have felt the same awkwardness myself, but it was enlightening to experience it from the other side.
On the positive side, it was heartening to find how well the city (or at least the parts that we visited) was adapted for wheelchair access. We had no problems with public transport or the museum and other visits. There was always an elevator or alternative route for wheelchairs, and I even had the excitement of a wheelchair lift for a grand total of 4 stairs. I could have walked down them using my crutches but the staff seemed so excited to be able to work the lift that I didn’t have the heart to deny them their joy.
The journey of discovery continues!