With the August Bank Holiday looming and no real holiday taken as such this year so far, we decided to take a quick trip to Zurich in Switzerland for the weekend.
Why Zurich? Well we were using frequent flyer miles and as we booked it two days before travel on one of the busiest weekends of the year flights to the more popular destinations were booked. So, Zurich it was and also, why not Zurich?
I’ve spoken a few times about the brilliant wheelchair Mr Wheel Chic Home uses and we constantly surprise airline crew and other passengers with how small it folds down and apart from usual stresses you get at an airport we usually board without incident.
With some airlines, you have to pay to reserve your seat, but if you’ve requested the suitable level of wheelchair assistance you don’t have to pay. Wheelchair customers generally get an aisle seat and usually they will try to cooperate to seat you as close to a door as possible. Certain airlines (who shall remain nameless here!) who don’t allow pre-booking and who encourage a scrum at the gate, we don’t travel with. It’s too stressful.
We get boarded first, as usual and in this case we are in the first row. The problem when we travel is that Mr WCH uses the chair and not his Functional Electrical System (FES) which is a series of electrical pads, wires and big black box that goes in his pocket. It gives him in effect an electric shock to help lift his left leg. You can understand why we don’t use it at an airport! The problem is, without this, he can’t walk very well at all and so trying to navigate to Row 22 is always going to be an issue, unless he gets carried in the onboard wheelchair to his seat. He is not ready for that level of support at the moment.
So we hobble to the first few rows where we can.
On arrival at Zurich we find our way to the railway station. Those Swiss types, efficient as they are, have an easy process to buy tickets and get on the train. There are wheelchair symbols on certain coach doors (as in the UK) but on the platform, a train guard put us on the first carriage and we sat with another wheelchair user next to the toilet (as usual!) and in the galley by the door. I sat on the stairs (who doesn’t love a double decker train by the way!). Luckily it’s a quick nonstop 8-minute journey to the main railway station in Zurich.
Once we reach the Railway Station at Zurich we head to the furthest end of the platform and travel in a lift that travels diagonally up to the street level! It was almost like a little funicular railway. It’s a smallish lift but easily takes a large scooter and companion with luggage.
Our Hotel for the next couple of days is the Marriott, which is a flat 10-minute walk/roll from the station. There are two options, cross the bridge and take the pavement along the river, or go through the park and cross the river at the other end. We took both during our trip. The park has a light layer of gravel, so smaller wheelchair castors may get stuck, but we were using the Front Wheel which helps Mr WCH navigate uneven surfaces.
The hotel is a tall tower block, and is recently refurbished. The entry to the hotel is tricky on a wheelchair, there’s either cobbles from the underpass if you come from the bridge, or bollards and no lowered kerbs that aren’t covered by cars or taxis.
The lobby is accessible and the lifts are small but ok for a manual wheelchair and a couple of people. A large scooter may struggle.
When we checked in we were told there were no disabled rooms in the hotel at all. This was a little bit of a shock to me for such a forward-thinking country as Switzerland. They may not be in the EU but I thought they would be efficient in everything!
We chose an executive room overlooking the river, city and the lake in the distance. It was a lovely room and we chose it because it had a shower and no bath.
However, the bathroom was tiny, the door was too narrow for the chair and there was a small step to the shower, which had a lovely high end granite (but slippy) floor. However there was a towel rail which was strong enough to use as a grab rail and with some tricky maneourving we managed to get Mr WCH in and out of the shower without incident.
If you are a full time wheelchair user with little or no lower limb movement, I will suggest this hotel is not for you. There are no accessible toilets in the public areas at all. The bar is up a step with no ramp although there are other chairs that are half in the bar and half in the lobby. We chose to sit there.
The two restaurants are inaccessible unless you ask the concierge to escort you and they will take you through some other route via a locked door to the restaurants. We didn’t bother as the executive room meant we had access to the fully accessible lounge with snacks, wine and beer. The selection was decent and we ate there for breakfast and for dinner in the end as there was plenty of hot food, breads, cheese, wines and desserts to keep you happy – and it’s included in the room rate. Win!
The city itself is split into the newer part of town, all fully accessible although some of the lowered kerbs weren’t particularly low. The trams are all wheelchair friendly but you don’t really need to use them, it took 15minutes for us to walk from the hotel to the Old or New parts of Town, 25 minutes to the lake and that was all we needed! Be careful when crossing the roads as the tramlines might cause issue with certain wheelchairs, but we managed ok. It does make crossing some of the roads a little bumpy.
Around the city there are lots of water fountains (so take an empty bottle to refill) and also a fair number of public toilets, most of which have at least one accessible bathroom which need a special key. Restaurants and coffee shops were helpful and unlocked doors for Mr WCH but we got stuck at the airport, as before you go through security all of the disabled loos need a key. Which you have to get from the service counter. Which is downstairs and the other end of the terminal…
The old town is a lovely series of winding cobbled streets up and down hills and with lots of shops, restaurants, bars, coffee shops to keep you amused for a good few hours. There are two halves to the Old Town, one part on each side of the river. I encourage you to wander round both.
In a wheelchair it’s difficult over the cobbles if you don’t have a front wheel or helpful friends as the castors will get stuck. The old town streets are sometimes steep and uneven, so a manual wheelchair user will be unable to get around alone, but with help it should be fine.
We took a boat trip on the lake. There are a few different options, we chose the 1.5hour short trip. The boats are pretty good in terms of accessibility – the crew have a small ramp they can unfold to get you on and off the jetty if you require, but it’s a small bump up of about 2-3 cms and there is a disabled toilet on board. The boat ride was very pleasant, in fact we could have taken the longer route which is 3 hours with out a problem I think. It helped that the weather was lovely!
There are river boats that offer a shuttle service or cruise, but these are not accessible. The boats are low in the water with steps (think Amsterdam) and there are several steps down to board them.
Not all shops are accessible, as in the UK (especially if they are older buildings) and sometimes he had to wait outside, but largely most things were accessible even if it was going through the kitchen to get to the restaurant toilet or asking for someone to unlock the loo for you.
There are some lovely churches in Zurich, again all accessible and the museums too. You may come across the odd set of steps but we found that people were helpful, someone even asked if Mr WCH needed help to push him when I was struggling with the two suitcases and the crutches and they helped push him over the tricky part of the pavement.
If we were to come again I would definitely look for a more accessible hotel (but as I collect Marriott points this was main reason for choosing it!).
It’s a pleasant town, being pretty compact and you can get around on foot and wheels fairly easily. It’s a lovely spot for a couple of days, recommended.