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From the heart of England to Finland: Day 1 / 31 July 2009

Paul Darke blogs a trip to Ghent, Belgium on his way to Scandinavia.

Today we set off from the glorious UK Midlands towards Ghent in Belgium. Just over 300 miles. Left at 9.30am and arrived at our hotel at 8pm. Only remembering to put the clock forward once at the hotel. Needless to say the hotel parking was full and we had to park in the street outside. This saved us €16 but added a little extra insecurity over the car packed with our travel gear. The ferry from Dover was Seafrance’s Moliere - their newest ship and, as such, the most inaccessible. We had trouble getting from the car to the lift ans there were few ramps from the interior to the outer decks. It is a bizarre world we live in.  Raymond Chandler once wrote that Capitalism was shoddy people making shoddy things for shoddy people. Seafrance and its passengers captured this. It is amazing how people have such little respect for one another. They do not even like one another let alone any one who may be different.

To travel by car instead of flying costs an absolute fortune. I do not fly out of fear (one of many). Although one sees more and goes more places the cost is amazing. Insurance for the car is £120. Personal insurance is £100 (for the family). Hotels that are accessible are costing an average of a £100 night. Ferries (keep reading to see the number we take) are over £400.

Thankfully we are staying with friends for some of it. Camping carnet’s are nearly £15. Exchanging pounds to Euros and Swedish and Danish Kroner costs about 2%, plus petrol of course. Fear costs - quite a lot in this case. Visiting galleries across Europe to Scandinavia is worth it. There is no price too little to see friends I haven't seen in over 10 years.

Weather-wise we have been lucky. Leaving the rainy, chilly Midlands to travel to warm and sunny Gent is a bonus. We have done little but travel today. Apart from a wander around Ghent in the evening after a nice mean, rare steak with chips. (I am but a pleb at heart: another €50 for the 3 of us). The most amazing building we saw was the Mental Asylum alongside the canal. It was a vast cavernous building of black brick curved along a bend in the canal. Sadly, it was shut and we have to get up early in the morning and head off to Lubeck (only 450 miles).

It is amazing to note how in the past they used to build - with public funds - vast buildings for the disabled and the incurables. But will they build us anything now? Where is the national theatre of Disability Drama? Where is the national gallery of Disability Art? Where is the archive of disabled peoples’ lives? Instead they take our buildings back and turn them into flats!

The tram that goes round the city is moderately accessible (a bit of a step on and off the newer trams) and a better way around the city than wandering in a wheelchair: Ghent is a bit of a cobbled hell!

I could not do this journey as a wheelchair user without the physical help of my partner and the additional assistance of my teenage son. More importantly, I do not think I would want to. Being human means we all crave human contact and I am no different. Being fat also makes it much harder and an ‘accessible’ hotel room is never as accessible as the hotel thinks it is. Off to bed now - tired and not looking forward to the very long drive tomorrow.

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