Friday, October 06, 2017

Accessibility: the Vilaine

I thought it might be worth summarising some of our good and bad experiences of using facilities for wheelchairs and a disabled user in west and south Brittany and the Vendée as far south as the Île d'Yeu, and observations on travel in and to France generally. I'm doing this from memory, so particularly good or bad experiences stand out.

I'm posting this in several sections but will try to link them all together.

For those who have not read the rest of the blog, these reports relate to locations where we have taken our Westerly Storm with Sam, who suffered a massive stroke in 2012 and has right-side weakness. He is lifted on and off the boat using a halyard and harness and normally moves around marinas in a wheelchair pushed by me. He can walk short distances along finger pontoons if they are stable enough and he has something to hold on to. We find very todal areas like north Britany difficult as we can generally only get Sam up and down ramps two or three hours either side of high water.

The Vilaine

The Vilaine from Arzal inland is protected by a tidal barrage, which was originally intended to reduce the frequent flooding. The whole area is very popular with yachts, especially British ones. It is very sheltered but is still subject to occasional strong winds even in summer – we saw a 47-knot gust at Arzal and know of someone whose electronics were destroyed by a lightning strike at Camoël.


Port d'Arzal/Camoël: We got to know this very well as Kalessin spent the winter here. We really liked the location but found a car was essential, as the only food on site is the little épicerie (and restaurants of course) and buses are far from regular. There is a boulangerie and small store in the village but it's at least 2km away. The big advantage is that it's inside the barrage and therefore tideless, so we could get Sam on and off at any time of day. One disadvantage is that the older finger pontoons on both sides of the river have a step down from the jetty. If you ask and keep asking, the capitainerie can allocate a place on the new pontoons where the jetties have been extended, which are all on one level although they are still not very wide. Away from the pontoons access is very good around the marina.

Of the three toilet blocks the best for disabled access (and the newest) is the upriver one on the Camoël side with lots of space, good lighting and hot water. I don't think the other Camoël block would have been usable, although there is a disabled access shower, but there are steps. On the Arzal side the access for a wheelchair into the toilet block is tight and the accessible shower a bit tatty with fixings sometimes coming off the wall - it's much bigger than the ordinary showers so is often used by able-bodied people.

La Roche-Bernard: The crucial word here is Roche, as pretty much everywhere is up a very steep hill to the top of the rock. The marina itself is ok although a bit up and down as you walk along the pontoons. There is said to be one berth with a hoist but we saw no sign of it and didn't ask about it. Accessible facilities are ok, but like the ones at Arzal space is very tight. We took Sam for a trip on the petit train, which starts outside the marina, and although he didn't get to see the heart of the old town it was a good option.

On a visitor berth in Redon
Redon: We went to Redon to get good transport access, as the marina is 10 minutes walk from the TGV station. Visitor moorings are on the port side as you enter the basin and are close to the road but also to the facilities, such as they are. The finger pontoons and jetties were ok and the ramp not too steep (and also non-tidal, of course). The loos and showers to which we were given a key are in a very tatty portacabin. The shower was big enough for Sam to use and it was possible to get a wheelchair in, from memory there was a single step. The floor of the shower was vinyl over some kind of board which had probably rotted underneath. Therefore the floor sagged somewhat and there were places where Sam would not have been safe to stand. Using the shower was an adventure... but slightly exhausting.
Sam in the Cours Clemenceau

We explored the town of Redon which is quite small but pleasant with a few very steep slops up to the ramparts. The Cours Clemenceau is a pretty garden area with views over the river which we could get Sam up to in the wheelchair.

Accessibility: France generally, ferries and hotels
Accessibility: west and southern Brittany
Accessibility: the Vilaine (this article)
Accessibility: the Vendée t/c

Accessibility: west and southern Brittany

I thought it might be worth summarising some of our good and bad experiences of using facilities for wheelchairs and a disabled user in west and south Brittany and the Vendée as far south as the Île d'Yeu, and observations on travel in and to France generally. I'm doing this from memory, so particularly good or bad experiences stand out.

I'm posting this in several sections but will try to link them all together.

For those who have not read the rest of the blog, these reports relate to locations where we have taken our Westerly Storm with Sam, who suffered a massive stroke in 2012 and has right-side weakness. He is lifted on and off the boat using a halyard and harness and normally moves around marinas in a wheelchair pushed by me. He can walk short distances along finger pontoons if they are stable enough and he has something to hold on to. We find very tidal areas like north Brittany difficult as we can generally only get Sam up and down ramps two or three hours either side of high water.


 
Roscoff Marina: This is a vast, relatively new marina, and the distance from your berth to the capitainerie may be considerable. There is a disabled access lift for use at low water, visible as a little cabin on the top level in the photo above, unfortunately out of order when we were there in June 2016. Access around the marina is generally excellent with very wide jetties and promenade areas and a relatively smooth ramp to the pontoons. I can't remember the detail of the disabled shower, I think Sam must have been too clean to need it when we arrived.

L'Aberwrac'h: We didn't attempt to get Sam off the boat here, nor from the moorings at Sainte-Evette. We have never found a way to transfer Sam to and from a dinghy alongside the boat.

Brest, Moulin-Blanc marina: We spent a week here in July 2017 and another unexpected two weeks in September 2017. We asked for an accessible berth in advance and were placed on the visitor's pontoon straight down from the capitainerie, where the boat is alongside a very wide, accessible jetty. One minor hiccup is that at high water, especially at springs, the little ramp connecting the main ramp becomes steeper as the main ramp becomes flatter, It took all my strength to get Sam up it. Otherwise the access everywhere was very good although distances quite long. There was a choice of disabled bathrooms but we used the men's facilities in the block under the Tour du Monde restaurant because it had a sturdy shower seat. The second time we used it the washbasin was no longer working. The car parks get very full and it is rarely possible to find a disabled space especially in the summer and at weekends.
In Brest we went to Océanopolis, one of France's biggest aquariums, which we would recommend for both disabled and non-disabled users and is just behind the marina. You need to take some proof of disability (eg a blue badge) to get a small discount for the disabled person, none for the carer. We also went by no. 3 bus into the city centre. The buses were great with wheelchair ramps available (although it took two goes to lower one of them so they are obviously not often used) but the city centre is somewhat dull. If we did it again I would get off the bus at Octroi and walk down the main street, which is a very long hill, instead of getting off at Place Liberté and walking up it!
It's well worth going to the botanical gardens, which are stunning, although we cheated and drove Sam to the lower car park, and didn't go to far in because the valley slopes quite steeply.

Port Vauban showing wide jetties

Ramp at a couple of hours before HW, still very steep and inaccessible for Sam. There is not enough space to turn a wheelchair or even lift it round on to the upward ramp unless you had several helpers
Camaret, Port Vauban: We went to the outer marina, Port Vauban, at least partly because it had lots of space on alongside berths and very wide jetties. However a comment on a CA report made me aware that the ramp is steep even at high water, because it goes to the top of the high sea wall. I went to investigate and not only is the ramp steep, but at the top is a little downward ramp which is far to steep for safe access of a wheelchair and offers nothing to hold on to. I could't think of a way to get Sam past it, so he stayed on board. Facilities at Port Vauban are in a small historic building and are down a number of steep steps, so are completely inaccessible. I didn't go into the facilities in the town centre marina but they looked rather old and tired.


Access to the citadel is bumpy but manageable for a wheelchair
The marina seen from the citadel in fog
Concarneau: this was the third time we had tried to get to Concarneau, this time with success in July 2017. We could have taken a berth at the very inner end of the visitors' jetty which would have been alongside the main walkway. I'm not sure if it would have been worth it however, as it was quite noisy. This is a base for the Glenan sea schools and every crew member from every one of the boats would be walking past your cockpit. It was marginally more peaceful on our own finger pontoon. The facilities are accessed through the capitainerie and it was one location where i never found the disabled showers, if there are any. The public toilets on the other side of the building are accessible but not very attractive. We took Sam into the citadel which was manageable but very crowded, and spent a lovely couple of hours in the maritime museum which was quiet, easy to get around, interesting and free for both Sam and for me as his carer.

Benodet,  Port du Penfoul: We were on the Benodet side of the river. Reasonable finger pontoons and jetties and good access around the marina. If you moored on a hammerhead, disabled access might be better, but there is a very strong tide running through the marina which is stronger the further out into the stream you are. This was the first time that Guy showed me how to lash the finger pontoon to the boat – if you use a short rope and make it as tight as possible, you stabilise the finger pontoon with six tonnes of yacht. Modern showers with disabled access. The town is also fairly easy to get around with a couple of small hills but the wheelchair is manageable all the way along the seafront.

Lorient: The visitor's pontoon has alongside moorings but was already rafted up two or three deep when we arrived, possibly with sea-school boats. We were allocated a finger pontoon instead. There are new-ish facilities with adequate disabled access, although again I don't think Sam used them.

The Port-Louis Capitainerie and bridge to the visitors' pontoon

Port-Louis: We liked Port-Louis a lot and would not bother going back to the Lorient city marina again. Excellent facilities in a new capitainerie building with a lovely view out over the river. Both ladies and gents had two disabled showers. After experimentation we ended up in the smaller shower in the ladies because there was more for Sam to hold on to. The ramps to the pontoons go over a bridge arrangement which is always disconcerting. The town is uphill whichever way you go to it, so we didn't get Sam much beyond the seafront moules restaurants. We didn't try getting Sam on the little ferries across the river, which might have been interesting.

Port Haliguen: We have been here several times but although convenient I find it very soul-less, perhaps because of the huge sea walls. Both in 2016 and 2017 we were a long walk from the capitainerie albeit on different sides of the marina and we didn't get Sam off the boat. Facilities were a bit disappointing but there are plans for massive further development so no doubt they will be much better in future. The beaches are lovely, however.

Fabulous aerial photos of the marina at La Trinité, click through to see them at full size. Romeo is the closest pontoon to the bridge and connects to a walkway at the far end
La Trinité: We were chucked off the visitors' pontoon and sent to Pontoon R which is actually the wavebreak. With luck and determination we got a really good spot on the inside of the jetty - outside is quite unpleasant in any kind of weather. The jetty was plenty wide enough to get Sam straight into the wheelchair but there was an extremely annoying raised barrier in the middle of the jetty which Sam had to climb over, and little bridges connecting the jetties which were rather hard work. Pontoon R is around half a mile by road from the rest of the marina and the town, but fortunately there are accessible but rather dilapidated facilities at that end of the marina. It's worth walking round to see the racing yachts and the Philippe Plisson gallery.

Accessibility: France generally, ferries and hotels
Accessibility: west and southern Brittany(this article)
Accessibility: the Vilaine
Accessibility: the Vendée t/c

Monday, October 02, 2017

Accessibility: France generally, ferries and hotels

I thought it might be worth summarising some of our good and bad experiences of using facilities for wheelchairs and a disabled user in west and south Brittany and the Vendée as far south as the Île d'Yeu, and observations on travel in and to France generally. I'm doing this from memory, so particularly good or bad experiences stand out.

I'm posting this in several sections but will try to link them all together.

For those who have not read the rest of the blog, these reports relate to locations where we have taken our Westerly Storm with Sam, who suffered a massive stroke in 2012 and has right-side weakness. He is lifted on and off the boat using a halyard and harness and normally moves around marinas in a wheelchair pushed by me. He can walk short distances along finger pontoons if they are stable enough and he has something to hold on to. We find very todal areas like north Britany difficult as we can generally only get Sam up and down ramps two or three hours either side of high water.

We found France generally to be disabled-friendly. This is surprising, especially as we have found Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands all somewhat disappointing in various ways. Almost every marina makes some effort to provide disabled facilities, although a key weakness is grab rails in the showers - but France is by no means alone in this and the UK can be even worse.

Sam tends to use portable options for going to the loo when possible as we don't always have time to find and get to a disabled toilet when we are out and about. So we have not explored every possible disabled toilet! We have a loo on board Kalessin, which he can use with a bit of help. And we use a lot of wet wipes. But he does like to have a shower every few days if we possibly can.

In the motorway service areas or aires it was particularly nice in hot weather that there is often a wheelchair accessible picnic table under shade of some kind.

Brittany Ferries: You can book a disabled access cabin but there are a limited number of spaces on the car decks from which you can get a wheelchair from the car to the lifts. A member of the booking team normally phones the day after making a booking to say whether they have disabled parking or not. On one occasion we were allocated a less accessible space which Sam just about managed, but he can't get through a six-inch gap between cars. On the fast ferry to Cherbourg we parked in the bow and used a ramp to get to the passenger deck. On the St-Malo ferry we always book a disabled access cabin, even for daytime crossings. These are small and windowless but much better designed than those on the Stena Harwich ferries. Brittany Ferries staff are very helpful, someone greets you on the car deck and gives you a card to show where you have parked, and they will usually try to clean cabins quickly so you can settle down.

Condor Ferries: We travelled only on fast ferries in daytime. On the St-Malo to Guernsey ferry we were parked on a ramp with good access to the passenger deck. On the Guernsey to Poole ferry we got Sam out and I then parked in a normal tight space. When we returned to the car Sam managed to get into a back seat on the right-hand side; if we'd had to wait to get him into the front side passenger seat it might have taken an extra 20 minutes at a guess. On both ferries we asked about the best seat for Sam and were given "reserved" seating which was easy to get in and out of, instead of the allocated seats. On the St-Malo to Guernsey ferry all passengers have to get off in Jersey for a passport check. We had a dedicated crew member to help with this but it was a pain in the b*m. Staff were again very helpful but not as organised as Brittany ferries.

Hotel F1, Saint-Malo: we have stayed here several times, partly because it is cheap. It looks very unprepossessing and is a bit shabby and the windows are small, and there are no ensuite bathrooms – you have to go down the corridor to use the loo or shower, although we get used to this after several weeks on a boat! However it's on a road in a retail estate which is close to the main roads and to a huge Carrefour supermarché, and 10 minutes from the ferry port, but is quiet overnight. The triple ground-floor rooms have plenty of space for a wheelchair, and a corner table which is comfortable to eat at. The double bed is adequate for one night and if not I could use the upper bunk. The staff whom I think must be husband and wife are very friendly and helpful.

Hotel Domaine de la Barbinais, Saint-Malo: We have stayed here once and it is lovely, with a huge disabled room where you can park right outside and walk in, and a huge wet room although the floor is a little slippery. However the room rate is about three times that of the F1 and if you eat in the nice restaurant you aren't left with much change from €200 for two people.

Accessibility: France generally, ferries and hotels (this article)
Accessibility: west and southern Brittany
Accessibility: the Vilaine
Accessibility: the Vendée t/c

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Giffgaff warning: Channel Islands

I have raised this on various social media but thought I should blog about it too in case it is useful for anyone who, like me, has a mobile phone on giffgaff.

Guernsey, and the other Channel Islands, are not in the European Union. This means that technically they are outside the EU roaming agreement which means that whatever bundle or package you have on your mobile phone can now be used in other EU countries too. This is particularly annoying because they are part of the +44 zone, so your phone does not recognise that it is outside the UK and you have to manually turn off mobile data.

My phone is on giffgaff which works well in the UK and in France. Under the old arrangement they charged me on Pay as you go when in Guernsey but it was at a manageable rate.

Under the new arrangement, no calls relating to the Channel islands are included in your goodybag. Phoning Guernsey from the UK costs 8p per minute to a landline, which is four times the cost of calling France or even China! Much worse, however, phoning Guernsey from France costs £1 per minute. And both making AND receiving calls in Guernsey also costs £1 per minute.

Here it is again bigger in case you missed that:

Making a giffgaff call from
Guernsey: £1 per minute

Receiving a giffgaff call in
Guernsey: £1 per minute

Making a giffgaff call from France to
Guernsey: £1 per minute


You can check prices by going to https://www.giffgaff.com/roaming-charges and entering Guernsey, which is helpful although shocking.

Now let's try that again with Vodafone (whom we gave up on when the local transmitter in Suffolk stopped working). If you have a contract or bundle, charges are as follows:
Making a Vodafone call from
Guernsey: 0p per minute

Receiving a Vodafone call in
Guernsey: 0p per minute

Making a Vodafone call from France to Guernsey: 0p per minute 

If you're on normal Vodafone pay as you go, rates are the same as in the UK.

I think the prices from giffgaff are shocking. In fact my account couldn't top up fast enough to keep up with them and I was cut off during a call to Robin from Brest. I couldn't afford to accept calls when in Guernsey.

Giffgaff says of itself "...we believe in something simple. A better way to do mobile...It's why we work our socks off every day to keep you." Dear Mr Giffgaff, please work your socks off to charge me sensible rates for the Channel Islands which are after all less than 30 miles in a straight line from France.

Warning to other giffgaff users: if you're going to the Channel Islands, take a different phone, or a different SIM from a more helpful provider.

There is an interesting discussion about this at https://community.giffgaff.com/t5/Contribute/Roaming-price-hike-in-Channel-Islands-Isle-of-Man-amp/m-p/20370095#M500627. It seems giffgaff didn't start planning for the EU changes until a month before they happened, in spite of having almost two years' notice. As one poster comments, "I really wonder how much additional revenue this will generate for GiffGaff and if it really worthwhile, considering the ill feeling generated amongst many GG customers." Giffgaff say they will be reviewing usage after September 2017, so perhaps they may be able to consider a better approach in future..