Last weekend, Ollie and I went to Budapest for three nights for our first anniversary. We had a lovely (albeit exhausting) break, although the accessibility didn’t end up being as straight forwards as it should have been…
We had to be up at 0330AM on Saturday to get to Gatwick for our early flight, so by the time we arrived in Budapest, I was totally exhausted. On the way, the assistance at the airports worked out perfectly, getting me on and off of the plane using the aisle chair and the ambi-lift. We had our transfer to the hotel and when we arrived and went up to our room, I was greeted by gorgeous flowers and chocolates that Ollie had organised in advance as a surprise for our anniversary! The thoughtfulness of this gesture meant so much to me!
We had planned to explore on that first day, but we were so drained we decided to just relax for the rest of the day in the hotel room so we could make the most of the rest of our trip.
The following day was our first full day, and we decided to go on the hop-on, hop-off tour busses which we had brought tickets for prior to going away. We thought this would be easier as we were told the busses have ramps so it would be easy for Ollie to get me on and off in the wheelchair, and it would be a way for us to see the most possible in the short time that we had there. We walked to St. Stephen’s Basilica which was the first landmark we saw which was absolutely stunning. Despite the weather being freezing cold, it was so bright and sunny which made everything look even prettier!
We waited for the tour bus by the Basilica which was the first stop; when the first bus came along, we explained to the driver that we would need the ramp, when he said that it was ‘stuck’ and we had to wait 20 minutes for the next bus, no apology or anything. A bit frustrated, we reluctantly waited for the following bus which, when it arrived, the driver told us that his ramp wasn’t working either. This really got to me as I should be able to access these busses as easily as any able bodied person, but unfortunately, as with a lot of things, that just wasn’t the case. There was a group of four Irish people who saw what had happened, and very kindly offered to carry me on with Ollie so that is what we did. I was so grateful to these people for getting me on the bus, but as well as the annoyance that the busses were something that I couldn’t access, there was also the humiliation of being carried on with everyone watching when the last thing I want is attention drawn to me.
We rode around on the bus and saw various landmarks, although when we got to some stops, the drivers were going on their break and so we had to change to another bus. Out of all of the busses we got onto (which was probably about 6 in total) only one driver had a functioning ramp. He had to get out of his cabin and manually pull the ramp out, and so I wonder if it was sometimes the case that the drivers couldn’t be bothered to get it out. The treatment was absolutely disgusting and without the kind strangers we met, I couldn’t have got on and off the busses.
As well as the beautiful architecture of the the Parliament Building, one of the most poignant things we saw for me were the ‘Shoes on the Danube’. This is a memorial of the Jews who were killed during World War Two; they were ordered to stand on the river bank & remove their shoes where they were shot so their bodies fell into the river. This memorial represents the shoes of each Jew shot which were left on the bank.
Monday was Ollie’s and my anniversary, and we had pre-booked the Szechenyi thermal baths. The building itself was absolutely beautiful and the outdoor baths are natural hot spring waters which were so lovely and warm which was a stark contrast to the weather!
I did some research before we went, and the website said that there was a wheelchair accessible entrance and also lifts to access the various areas of the baths. However, when we got changed and got ready to go to the outside pools (the most popular part of the baths), we found that neither of the two lifts were working and so the lifeguards decided they were going to carry me down a huge, steep flight of stairs. They said that the lifts needed fixing, but when we saw them they were totally rusty and full of rubbish, looking like they hadn’t been used for a long time. The lifeguards could speak very little to no English which made the situation even more daunting, especially when one of the men at the front of the chair picked it up by the footplate which could have easily detached, but I couldn’t make myself understood! The lifeguards were all at different heights, a lot of them in flip flops on the slippery wet stairs which would only have taken one wrong step for them to slip. The men were also all at different heights, and so I was tipped forwards going down the stairs, holding on to the handles of my chair for dear life as the people waiting to come up the stairs stood and stared.
I was absolutely mortified as it was another situation where so much attention was drawn to me (which I already have enough of being in the chair and with my nose hose), and all I want is to blend in like any able bodied person would. This obviously also meant that I had to be carried back up the stairs in a similar fashion.
It was also disappointing as, whilst we were in the outdoor pools I needed the toilet. We found the disabled toilet which needed to be unlocked by a member of staff, one of which we eventually found who came to unlock the door for us to reveal that the disabled toilet had actually been used to store large, bulky items with everything thick with dust, meaning there wasn’t even space for my wheelchair and I to get into the loo. The employee removed a few of the items, but the toilet was in a disgusting state and with all the stuff that was still in it we couldn’t even get my chair up to the sink to wash my hands.
Ollie and I complained to a manager at the baths who refunded my money and gave me a bag of ‘spa toiletries’, but really I’d have preferred to have been able to access the facilities like everyone else without the humiliation that was caused.
We went out for an Indian meal on the evening of our anniversary. It was lovely although the dishes were very different to how they’re made at home. I was very sick when we got back to the hotel room, but fortunately my tube stayed down and this once it was worth it for me to feel like a ‘normal’ couple and actually go out for a sit down meal.
On our last day I was pretty exhausted (nothing new there) so we had a lazy morning before we had to check out, then just had a wander around a few of the local shops before getting our transfer back to the airport. I thought I’d had my fair share of incidences of inaccessibility for the trip, but I didn’t know how wrong I was! Our plane was delayed by around an hour and a half, and when we finally were able to board and the assistance arrived, they took me to the steps of the aircraft in my wheelchair and asked if I could walk up them. It was pretty clear that I couldn’t (and the ambi-lift and aisle chair to my seat had been pre booked), and so they proceeded to tell me and another disabled customer that they were going to carry us up. I honestly thought (and hoped) that they were joking, but they really weren’t. They said it was ‘too windy’ to use the lift despite it being windier at Gatwick who used it with no issue. They carried us up in the aisle chair infront of all the other passengers staring with just one tiny strap across my lap. It was insanely embarrassing, but more than that absolutely petrifying as these two men struggled to get me and the other lady in the chair up the stairs and onto the aeroplane.
When on board the manager of the aircrew flying with us explained that it was utterly against health and safety to carry us up like that, and taking the conditions into consideration the lift could have been used (like it was at Gatwick when we arrived home). The EasyJet staff filed a complaint about how the situation was handled and told the other disabled customer and myself to do the same which I’m going to do this weekend. Meanwhile, Ollie and I tried our best not to let the lack of accessibility ruin our trip.
It was so lovely to spend time together and explore a new place to spend our first anniversary in before coming home to three surgeries before the end of the month (the first of which was yesterday). I can’t believe where the last year has gone, but Ollie has made it the best year of my life during which so many memories have been made. There is more I’d have liked to explore in Budapest which we ran out of time to see, but I’d like to be assured that all of the ‘broken’ ramps and lifts were sorted first so I didn’t have to endure anymore fireman lifts!