When Wheelchair Cards Collide

First rule of Globe Rollers Club: no roller gets left behind.
First rule of Globe Rollers Club: no roller gets left behind.
Gelato Addiction gone rampid.
Gelato Addiction gone rampid.
Beautiful man in a wheelchair.  This picture was taken by a lurking Madeline at the fro-yo counter. Is it love?
Beautiful man in a wheelchair. This picture was taken by a lurking Madeline at the fro-yo counter. Is it love?
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Our third wheel found her wheels!
Finally, a music festival that accommodates the blades. Oh, and wheelchairs, too...
Finally, a music festival that accommodates the blades. Oh, and wheelchairs, too…
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One hungry girl.
The globe rollers are always appreciative of a handy construction man. Right up to the moment when they begin to creep...
The globe rollers are always appreciative of a handy construction man. Right up to the moment when they begin to creep…

Greetings rollers! Roxy and Madeline here to fill you in on our Polish adventures. First stop, Warsaw.

In order to get to Warsaw from Bratislava, we would have to take 2 trains. We almost missed the first one, as Roxy tried to explain to an old Slovakian woman at the station that she would need an accessible train accomodation. There was a lot of sign language involved in the process, and definitely a large amount of dignity was lost. Anyway, the message was received in the end, and we were met by three neon-clothed men with a gigantic elevator ramp to help Roxy (and an always eager rollerblading-rights-fighter, Madeline) up to the train entrance. The train was extremely accessible and for once it seemed like this train journey would actually be comfortable. 15 minutes later, when we had to switch onto our second train, which would last 6.5 hours, we were hit by reality as we remembered it: small seats, no where to place the wheelchair, and a tiny bathroom that even Madeline had to squeeze into. As Roxy’s smother would say, “You can’t even change your mind in there!”

We survived the trip and met Roxy’s friend, Vera, at the Warsaw train station. It was amazing to see her, but we all knew that one thing was missing: our third wheel lacked wheels! We decided we would love her anyway and would find wheels for her along the way. We took a taxi to our hotel and noticed a gigantic flight of brick stairs in front of the hotel.

Madeline carried the luggage up the stairs, blades and all, and asked the receptionist where she could find some strong betches in the mood for heavy lifting. The receptionist made a phone call and this is when a questionable old man ushered Vera and Roxy to a sketchy ally with dim – to no – lighting and finally opened an even sketchier backdoor. Vera and Roxy, feeling desperate and in a “Screw it all, I’m tired” mindset entered the dark room. As the old man shut the door, we couldn’t help but be reminded of that final scene in Saw when the villain assures, “Game over!”. Any awful fate one could think of could have been possible, but Vera and Roxy hoped that little eye contact and continuous momentum would preserve their lives. These techniques did the trick – or this entire nightmare scenario was merely in their heads – and the girls survived to see Madeline once more. Madeline had never looked more beautiful to Roxy.

The next day, the girls slept in and got ready for the big event of the day: the Orange Warsaw Festival. We went down the hotel elevator and were once again confronted with the sketchy man of little words. This time we all followed him and felt safer, as there was thankfully daylight involved and murder seemed to be a more distant possibility. But this was not the reason that we left the sketchy ally-way in tears of laughter.

When we followed the man to the first elevator, we found the most amazing gift we could have hoped for: A SHOPPING CART! Of course Madeline and Roxy were elated by the fact that their search for some sort of wheel-involved modus of transportation for Vera was finally over. Vera, on the other hand, was skeptical and weirded out by the fact that we could view a shopping cart as a viable object of transport comparable to a wheelchair or rollerblades. She was so young and innocent back then… Anyway, Vera had to get in the shopping cart. This was non-negotiable. After all, the cart had wheels and that was all that mattered. Vera got in the cart and Madeline drove her through the sketchy hallway all the way to the back-ally door, where the man had been holding the door. He had no idea that we had taken the cart, and was even less aware of the level of insanity we posessed that drove us to coax Vera to embark the shopping cart. There is a big chance that he is still standing in the same position next to that ally door, scratching his head, contemplating whether the madness he had witnessed indeed took place. Either that, or he has seen the light and has decided to use a shopping card as his main form of mobilization. We hope the latter.

Once at the festival, we bought tickets for half price (wheelchair card!) and were escorted to a van where Madeline and Roxy immediately spotted a randomly placed wheelchair accessible porto-potty. Whilst obviously being in a state of awe by the amazing facility, we requested for the porto-potty to be transported to the main festival area. We suggested that the toilet could be strapped onto the roof of the car that we would be taken in to the main stages. The guy who was going to escort us laughed this idea off and assured that there would be enough bathroom facilities once we got there. He was immediately blessed with the name, Toilet Man. He was slightly offended, but once we dropped our Globe Rollers (TM) name, he knew he was lucky to to be graced by our presence.

We were driven to the festival in a van by a man who looked identical to Einstein, and thus he will be further referred to as “Einstein”. He had a very accessible van equipped with lift for the wheelchair, and once Madeline saw Roxy being lifted in the van, she knew she could not enter any other way. Some may view this as rediculous. We view it as a way of life.

We arrived at the alternative entrance to the festival, where we were guided to the main stages by the Toilet Man, who explained that the festival takes place on a horse racing track and that employees were to lay down hundreds of meters worth of hard rubber boards that people could walk on around the festival, in order to preserve the track’s grass. He also explained that the festival tried to take extreme measures in order to make it as wheelchair friendly as possible. Roxy and Madeline were extremely pleased with the Polish festival’s efforts and felt like they were treated like royalty after traveling in parts of the world where the word, “accessible”, seemed to be have been forgotten or even ignored. It is refreshing to return to a reality where everyone is thought of as being important. These people were kind to us and we were thankful to be around them. Thanks to these accessibility facilities, there was a greater opportunity for us to appreciate the amazing food, music, and people we found at the festival and we had a great time. Thank you, Toilet Man. And thank you, Einstein. Never change.

The next day, it was time for Vera to leave, but we had a few hours to kill before she would be late for her plane, so we decided to venture into the city and explore as Dora so elegantly does. We took a taxi to the city center and spotted a familiar “free walking tour” banner and decided to ask what the tour would entail. The tour guide responded in the thickest, loudest Polish accent we had ever heard and told us that the tour would be “very challenging” for us. We nearly fainted of laughter and, as usual, got gelato instead of engaging in any cultural activity.

After Vera left a few hours later, Madeline and Roxy left for the train station to travel to Krakow. This is where the ultimate dilemma presented itself: what happens when wheelchair cards collide? We stood in the wheelchair accessible line for train tickets for the train that was supposed to leave 15 minutes later (punctual, as always). We waited behind a classy, well-dressed woman in a wheelchair. Normally, in a situation that involved any waiting in a queue, we would play the wheelchair card and that would be that, no matter how classy and well-dressed someone may be. But in this case, we were restricted from crossing beyond the invisible wheelchair card border that had been placed between us and the ‘other’ (‘Lost’ pun) roller. We did not dare get in front of the sophisticated ‘other’ and knew our only fate would be to stand in line behind her.

The ‘accessible’ desk did not appear to be very accessible in this situation… We tried using a different desk to get tickets, but the guy behind the counter was unwilling to help us. It may have been because he was instructed to direct us to the accessible desk, or the fact that Madeline and Roxy had been laughing – to the extent of wailing – as a reaction to the stress they experienced on the way to the station. To others we must have looked like we had lost all marbles. Who knows if we ever even had these marbles people speak of…

Anyway, of course we missed our train and decided to find more gelato until our next train, which departed an hour and a half later. On our way to the station’s shops, Madeline suddenly began to run toward something. Roxy thought she may have spotted an e-cigarette or rollerblade store and followed her blindly. Soon, however, Roxy noticed that she was running toward the elevator at which a young, handsome dude in a wheelchair was waiting. She turned her head while running and frantically whispered, “this is what I’ve been wanting to find for you!!”, and continued to run like a gazelle in the wild, toward the innocent good-looking man.

Madeline quickly asserted a conversation and we noticed that the guy was extremely cool and even more good looking than the distance had offered us. But alas, the elevator doors opened and we parted ways to look for the fro-yo place we had been recommended as a substitute for gelato.

A few minutes later as Roxy was ordering her 5 pound tub of fro-yo, she turned around and the guy from the elevator had reappeared. Even though she was happy to see him again, there was fro-yo involved and in the battle between guys and food, food always wins. Madeline had already ordered and thus continued the conversation with the awesome man. We exchanged information and will forever be ‘friends’ in cyberland with this beautiful man.

Who knew that Poland contained so many hot wheelchair people? Why is this? We wanted to google it but came to the conclusion that we were both too morally ashamed to do so. We’ll never know.

The train to Krakow was short and smooth, and after a short, but expensive, taxi ride we arrived at our hostel, which was supposedly wheelchair accessible, which it was. Oh yeah, except for the flight of brick stair cases we had to climb in order to get to the elevator. Insanity. We recruited a nice Polish man and got into our hostel. We explained to the receptionist that climbing a staircase is not commonly considered to be coined the term, “wheelchair accesible”. She understood immediately and told us this same conversation had happened before. She subduedly told us that the manager did not care to change the hostel listing to “wheelchair unaccessible”. We, therefor, did not care to not kick her ass. JK, we didn’t, but it would have felt good at the time.

The room was beautiful and we decided to get some groceries for the morning. We bungee-jumped off the stairs and ventured to the grocery store, which was located up another grey brick flight of stairs. Is this a communist Polish hobby, we wondered? This time, there was not an available second to devote to recruitment, as before Roxy knew what time it was, she flew up the stairs like M. Poppins. It was surreal, but nice. Gotta love those polish lifters.

The next day, we joined a walking tour of the city and had an incredibly cool guide, who continuously claimed to have 12 children, but we strongly believe this was a ploy to get tips, which he would then spend on the Polish version of Palingka. Whether he were to spend his money on Palingka or children, we decided both were valuable causes and tipped him well. We then journeyed on to an incredible lunch spot in the Jewish Quarters (AKA the Jewish Headquarters, in Madeline’s world), where we had the best pierogi’s and latka, and the best food on our journey so far. We then hurried over to Schindler’s Factory for one of our few museum adventures.

This is when the most flabbergasting experiences of our journey occurred: one of Roxy’s front wheels FLEW OFF!! You read this correctly. It did not loosen, or slightly fall of its axe, no, it face-planted in the bushes on the side of the road. And the craziest thing about this was that Roxy heard a thump and thought she had lost a screw, but instead witnessed a phantom wheel while still rolling.

First of all, who knew a wheelchair could still hold up, let alone ROLL without a fourth wheel. Second of all, HOW CAN A WHEEL JUST FLY OFF A WHEELCHAIR? Obviously we didn’t let this stop us from getting to Schindler before the museum closed and Roxy went rolling on without a fourth wheel, newly aware that her whole wheelchair could suddenly lose vital elements, but up for the challenge.

Going up or down any kind of slant or step was no longer an option to engage in solo and Madeline and random strangers helped along the way. The philosophical question we got out of this predicament was: if a wheelchair loses one wheel and it still rolls, is it still a wheelchair? Same goes with rollerblades, but we’ll roll that bridge when we come to it.

After the museum, we realized this ghost-wheel situation was not a problem we could ignore any longer and decided to grab the wheel by the screws. We first went to a nearby hardware store, where no language was needed to communicate the fact that we had encountered a type 1 mechanical difficulty. They tried their best to help but lacked the right screw sizes. We then reached for the next best life line: gelato. We stood in front of the gelato shop and contemplated life and our recent wheel related pickle and were given a helping hand from Buddha. Loud voices and annoying laughter: it could only be construction workers.

We blindly ran over the tram tracks, gelato in hand, while noticing that two trams were approaching from both directions. When we realized we hadn’t sacrificed our gelato’s in order to be able to run to the other side quicker to ensure safety instead of merely hoping for it, we knew we were deeper into our gelato addiction than we had thought. Of course the construction men were happy to help and not only resussitated the broken wheel, but also cleaned Roxy’s other wheels and tightened Madeline’s rollerblade wheels. Then they started to take a walk toward creepyville – as construction workers can quickly venture to – and we decided to bounce ASAP.

We boarded a train to Vienna that night, which was a pickle on its own. But we’ll get to that in our next post. Next stop, Austria! Happy rollin’

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The D Word

On top of Castle Hill Funicular in Budapest. Piece of cake!
On top of Castle Hill Funicular in Budapest. Piece of cake!
This is the moment when it all went down hill…(not in a good way)
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Wings for our wheels in the pavement of Bratislavan streets ­čÖé

We arrived in Budapest at 11 am on Tuesday. The first class sleeping car (paid for with the wheelchair card) was a bumpy ride and we had very little sleep. Roxy had the bottom bunk, and Madeline took the top. We were thinking of reversing that for the blog’s sake, but the journey to the train had been too long and tiresome.

The beds were extremely narrow and Madeline’s did not have a bumper keeping her from rolling off during the night. If she were to have rolled off, she would have dropped 6 feet right onto Roxy’s chair. No matter how good she is at falling, there was no way that fall would have gone well. There was a cabinet on the wall side of Madeline’s bed, with just enough space to squeeze her head under while she slept. Yes, it was uncomfortable. But there was a method behind her madness. See if she were to move during the night (which she does, aggressively), her face would bump against the bottom of the cabinet and she would be woken up before falling off the bed. Madeline woke up with bruises all over her face.

Budapest is a beautiful city and happens to be where Madeline’s father’s side of the family is from. We took a free walking (rolling) tour of both the Buda and the Pest side of the city. On the Buda side, we had to take several detours from the group in order to climb up the castle mountain. The tour guide pointed us to a never-ending ramp and told us to meet him and the rest of the group at the top of the stairs. He said he would wait there for us. We ended up waiting for him. Funny how some people think that walking is faster than rolling. Funny, the tricks we play on ourselves…

We stopped at a water fountain and filled an empty bottle which Madeline immediately chugged. Roxy opted out for a fresh bottle of cold seltzer bought from a stingy Hungarian woman. Then we headed toward the market place to try some infamous langos. This is a traditional Hungarian food that is sort of like a large, fried pancake with sour cream, cheese, and any other toppings you’d like. Roxy got pepperoni and Madeline went with a classy vegetarian option. One hour later, and Madeline was SUFFERING.

The cramps came on hard and fast. Madeline went back to the hostel to sleep it off while Roxy enjoyed sipping a beer on a terrace and then venturing out to explore the city some more. Later in the day, these two rollers regrouped and found a cozy spot to have dinner. Madeline was feeling a bit better after a nap and a walk so she ate her fill.

The next morning, we were meant to go to Slovakia. Madeline hit the snooze button over and over again; she was feeling woozy and extremely hot. Was it the langos? Or the tap water? We’ll never know. She finally got to the bathroom and tried (but failed) to pull herself together. Then she remembered the thermometer her smother forced her to pack. Everything Madeline’s mother forced her to pack has saved the day at some point during our journey so far. So shout out to our NYC smother.

Madeline’s fever was 100. It later climbed up to nearly 103. There was no way we were going anywhere today. Madeline slept and slept as Roxy rolled in and out of the room bringing fluids and crackers for her sweaty friend. A few days before, Roxy had thanked Madeline for carrying her bag from country to country. Madeline replied saying, “one day, you’re gonna save my ass and we’ll be even”. That day had come. Roxy brought Madeline soup and Gatorade. At one point, Madeline woke up from a nap to find that Roxy had done all of Madeline’s dirty laundry. She really came through.

The next morning, Madeline woke up with explosive energy. She had sweated off her fever and was ready to make up for lost time! We pulled into Bratislava, Slovakia, around 2:30 and had a walking (rolling) tour to catch at 4. We dropped our things off at our new (and less wheels friendly) hostel and rolled out for the tour.

Bratislava is rightfully resentful of hollywood’s representation of their city. The only two movies that are about their city are Eurotrip and Hostel. In Eurotrip, the city is depicted as cheap and grimy. In Hostel, the story is about two backpackers who visit Bratislava and end up being chopped up into little bits. Madeline asked our tour guide if she wanted to chop the director of Hostel up into little bits. She was not amused.

That night we had a delicious meal at a local Slovakian restaurant. We ordered one dish and our waitress nodded and prematurely walked away. We called her back and said we weren’t finished ordering, then proceeded to order two more. She claimed, “it’s too much!” But we assured her that all three dishes were of equal importance. Because of our feverish setback, we only had one night in this country so we had to pack all the tastes into one epic meal. Our feast was incredible.

That night, Madeline buckled over in pain once again. She may have been lying to herself about feeling better, attempting the “fake it till you make it” approach to traveling on a bad stomach. Meanwhile, Roxy was petrified of the bugs flying around in our hostel room. She swatted and begged for Madeline to be willing to move somewhere else, but it was midnight and Madeline was in no condition to go anywhere. That’s when Madeline remembered another trusty item her smother had forced her to pack. Bug spray! We drenched our bodies in it and hit the hay.

The next morning Roxy found out that Madeline had been up almost every hour of the night due to issues we won’t talk about. Check out time was in half an hour. How is a 10am check out time even legal? Roxy chugged coffee in the hostel kitchen with a beautiful man from Urugauy while Madeline tried to pull herself together enough to be able to leave the room. We checked out just in time and stored our luggage.

Roxy grew more and more concerned as Madeline sat on the lobby couch, sweating, while saying she was fine. Roxy took the wheel and went out to search for a pharmacy. Our train left in 3 hours so we had time for Roxy to play doctor. She came back with medicine and when she saw Madeline, she decided it was time to go to the hospital. Three days of gradual illness were enough to make Roxy seriously worried. She dragged Madeline out onto the street in search for an emergency room.

Madeline roll-limped behind her friend as Roxy desperately asked passer-Byers “emergency? Hospital?” They shook their heads and kept walking. Ten minutes into the walk, Madeline had to roll back to the hostel to take care of some…business. Roxy agreed to let Madeline postpone her Slovakian hospital visit for now, but only if Madeline calls her smother and gets her medical opinion on the matter.

Madeline did as she was told and Roxy FaceTimed her smother as well. Madeline had whispered her symptoms to her smother and asked her if she was going to die. Madeline’s mom reassured her that she would live to see another day, but suggested that she go to a hospital and get hooked up to an IV to treat the dehydration. Madeline decided that if she wasn’t going to die, she was going to skip the Slovakian hospital adventure.

Roxy’s smother gave Madeline tips on what to eat and what not to eat. She was very discrete, but still very much a smother. She insisted that Madeline stay away from chocolate, even though this is a staple in Madeline’s diet. Then when Madeline’s mom chimed in, she said “drink lots of water! Diarrhea is very dehydrating” MOM! DON’T SAY THE “D” WORD! But it was too late…beautiful fellow hostel guests were sitting all around us in the lobby and they heard every word. They snickered at our exchange and scooted as far away from dreadfully ashamed Madeline as possible.

Roxy rolled out one final time to get all of the items our two smothers suggested. This bag of goodies was essential for Madeline on their 8 hour train ride to Poland. Roxy is such a good smother.
Accessible My Ass:
Door frames that are 20 inches wide are not accessible. Therefore, a hostel with these door frames that is listed as accessible, is lying. Unless of course, this is a nudist hostel and everyone else has to also pee with the door wide open…

Wheelchair Card:
We booked a hostel in the city center that claimed their facilities were wheelchair accessible. And guess what…they were! We were completely shocked. We had booked a 14 bed mixed dorm room for $8 a night each. When we arrived, they asked us if it was ok for them to bump us up to a private room with our own bathroom, because they weren’t sure if there would be enough room in the dorm for our wheels. We played it cool and said, “yea, that’s alright” but when we entered the room, Madeline rolled laps around Roxy as they both giggled with excitement. Budapest, we have arrived.

The same thing happened at our hostel in Slovakia, but with less grace. We showed up and they gave us a key to the mixed dorm room. When Roxy asked if it was accessible, the woman at the counter said, “I don’t know.” You don’t know? “I don’t think there are any bottom bunks left. Do you want a bottom bunk?” Is that a question? She recommended that Roxy ask one of the bottom bunkers to move up to a top bunk so that she would have an actual place to sleep. Roxy suggested that she, herself, ask someone to move, rejecting the receptionist’s request to have Roxy do her dirty work. The receptionist thought hard about it, then gave us a private room to stay in for the price of dorm beds. Winning!

The Wheels Deal:
Smothers, if your child FaceTimes you from far away lands complaining about digestive problems, don’t say the D word. Talk in code and be mindful of the fact that beautiful people could be listening in.
Wheelers, if you are experiencing symptoms of bacteria in your gut, take some time away from your wheels and let your fellow roller run the errands. There’s always time to roll tomorrow.

We got on our train and Madeline is finally making her recovery. Next stop, Warsaw, Poland! Keep on rollin.

The Lifting Squad

Train rollin
Train rollin

Blog #7 of the Globe Rollers. So far, we have rolled through Istanbul, all over Bulgaria, and are currently in Romania. This country is all about their steep staircases and thieving cab drivers. But before we go into all that, let’s keep it light and give you a list of Romanian pros.

Pros:
The architecture in this country, particularly its capital, Bucharest, is absolutely stunning. There is a heavy influence of French and German architecture, and that fused with the Romanian twang makes for incredible structures.

The history of this country is unbelievable. Similar to Bulgaria, Romania was a communist country for decades. In Bulgaria, we took a survey of its people and found that most who lived during Bulgarian communism did not actually have a problem with it. They reported that things costed way less and they were able to take more paid vacations. It seemed like the older generation in Bulgaria missed the way their country used to be. But in Romania during communist times, things were different. Chucheski was a dictator that remained “president” for 25 years and took communism to an even more extreme. The architecture in the city of Bucharest was largely created under Chucheski’s orders. Some churches were preserved, but many historical buildings were destroyed so that more communist structures could rise. One of these structures was the infamous Parliment. Which brings us to…

Accessible My Ass:
Roxy and Madeline took a free walking (rolling) tour of Bucharest on our first day in the city. During the tour, we learned a lot about the city, its buildings, and its history (hence, our showing off in the “pros” section of this post). One building that was particularly amazing was the parliament. Apparently, it is the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon. We did not go inside of the parliament during the tour, but made a note to visit it the following day.

That night, we looked into the buildings touring hours and ticket prices. The building was open the following day, sunday, from 10-4. As for ticket prices, well, the wheelchair card allowed us both free admission. So nice of them to let us in for free, right? Sounds too good to be true? Well, that’s because it was.

We arrived at the parliament on Sunday around 2 pm. We could lie and say it was because we were busy rolling around seeing other sights, but we don’t want blog-lies on our conscious. In truth, the breakfast buffet at our hotel was just too delicious. We stuffed ourselves with eggs and Romanian sweet rice pudding with cinnamon and then needed a siesta directly after.

We roll into the parliament around 2 pm. The guard at the gate outside of this gargantuan building insisted that we could not go in as the elevator does not seem to run on weekends. He spoke in Romanian and angryarmflapslish. We decided to ignore his arms and “R” rolls as he pointed at our wheels in protest, and carried on through the entrance.

Inside the front doors there is a fairly sophisticated security point. We went up to the ticket desk and asked for “two please”. The woman behind the counter explained in a detached tone why we could not be admitted. Apparently, if we have wheels, we must call two days before and let them know about our plan to visit the parliament. We asked if everyone has to do that and she said yes. At that very moment, she addressed two non-wheeled people who had just approached her desk. They asked for two tickets, she asked if they had made a reservation, they said no, and then she assigned them to a tour group and directed them toward the security line, just like that.

Apparently reservations are optional for walkers, but mandatory for rollers. When we confronted her about this, she said that it is more complicated for us. She would have needed to accommodate our rolling ways by making sure the elevators were working. As we were told by the guard at the entrance, during weekends at the parliament the elevators take a break from working. With this being the second biggest building on the globe, that seems a little nonsensical.

Roxy then went off to search for a bathroom as Madeline picked a fight. The woman wrote down an email address on a sliver of paper and told Madeline to make her former complaint out to that address. “Next!”

Roxy and Madeline regrouped. We looked up the giant flight of stairs that led to the first floor of the walking (rolling) tour of the infamous Parliament. A security guard came up to us and said, “it is not possible” and that is when we decided we had to do it. Don’t tell us we cannot do something. It only makes us want to do it more.

We rolled back over to the information desk puta and gave her plan B. Since she is unable to accommodate the wheels, we will figure out the logistics. We will find a team of fierce lifters for every flight of stairs and all she has to do is allow us to go on the next tour. She passed the subject onto her colleague, who passed it onto his manager, who approved our mission. We’re goin up!

Despite our protests of, “but we’re the Globe Rollers!” Madeline’s rollerblades had to be forfeited at the security checkpoint. You win some, you lose some. As soon as we got through security, we started recruiting our lifting squad. We scanned the area and picked out three of the strongest, kindest looking men we could find. After choosing and approaching the second man, people caught onto what we were doing. They started looking at us eagerly, hoping they would be chosen for the ultimate lifting squad. We couldn’t take all of them and although many were disappointed, we ended up with the best team wheels could buy.

Our tour guide met us at the bottom of the steps and guess who it was, the info desk puta! She dodged our piercing eye contact and recited her introduction to the tour. When it was time to begin the climb, everyone grabbed a corner and Roxy floated up into the air like a crowd surfer. Pictures and videos were not allowed on the premises. But if they hadn’t sent us to Romanian prison at that point, we figured we could get away with breaking one more rule.

The parliament was more than it was chalked up to be. The ceilings were taller than any we had ever seen. The rugs were bigger than any swimming pool we had ever floated in, and the chandelier were more than swinging-from worthy. It was a palace. And we felt right at home.

At each level our team gravitated toward us and resumed their roles as “the lifting squad”. We ended up getting friendly with them. An Irish man by the name of David gave us a detailed agenda of where we need to go in Ireland when we visit the country in a few weeks. A french man by the name of John tried persuading us to come to Paris, while also telling us about how inaccessible Paris is in his pessimistic french way. At one point, the girls in the tour group started feeling left out of all the fun, so they began fanning Roxy as she rose to the top of the crowd at every staircase. She really was the queen of the parliament.

All the while, we really needed to pee. Our main motivators for going into the parliament in the first place were 1) they said we couldn’t do it and 2) there wasn’t a bathroom on the ground floor. We kept asking our puta tour guide where the bathroom was and she kept insisting that we would have a resting stop soon, where we can all use the bathroom. Half way through the tour, the resting stop came. She neglected to mention that the bathroom was down a narrow flight of stairs. When do they end?!
The lifting squad came before they were ever called for and down we went. After we did our bidness, we were greeted at the women’s bathroom exit by the lifting squad and floated back up to meet ms.puta and the rest of the gang.

At the end of the tour, puta tour guide pulled us aside and said that someone was coming to bring us back downstairs to the ground floor. This seemed strange. Who else would we need, other than our lifting squad? She said there was a secret elevator that the woman meeting is would take us down on. So there was an elevator the entire time. All of the arguing and lifting we did to get on this tour, and there was an elevator that the entire Romanian parliament team was hiding from us. Was this a test? We had a million questions, comments, and concerns, but we decided to just let this one go and turn it over to the blog.

We grabbed the French man from our lifting squad because he was the most entertaining. The lady met us and took us down some hidden hallways and locked doors. We insisted that she give us a bonus tour on our way out, and she did with a laugh. In the elevator, the French man talked about how it was his french way to have beautiful women surrounding him. We had second thoughts about taking him as our VIP lifting squad member. But then again, as the French guy said, “Shits happen”.

Dracula’s Castle:

After two days in Bucharest, we took a train out to Brasov, a beautiful town north of Bucharest where Dracula’s Castle perches close by. On the train, we met a lovely Romanian guy. It was so refreshing after only meeting horrible taxi drivers, puta tour guides, and grabby train conductors for the past few days. The Romanian man signed up for helping us safely lock up our baggage at the station when we arrive, and help us get on a bus to Dracula’s Castle. We were only going to Brasov for the day then catching a train to Budapest that night.

Halfway through the trip, our train car doors open and in walks…the Irish lifting squad member! He had spotted us getting onto the train and came by to say hi. He also had a few more tips to give us for Ireland. The tips rolled off his Irish tongue quickly. We wanted all the help we could get, but could not understand, let alone process all that he was telling us. So we gave him Madeline’s phone and had him record a voice memo. David-Irish-lifting-man gave us a detailed agenda for our week in Ireland, then popped a squat in our car and got into some heated discussions. We talked about economics, immigration, racism, sexism, and then we threw abortion in for a bonus round. Interesting hearing about the viewpoints people from other countries have on these issues. Interesting, while also infuriating. But let’s not get into that.

Nice Romanian man helped us off the train and took us to the luggage storage booth. As soon as Madeline unloaded her dangerously heavy backpack, she snapped on her wheels and nice Romanian man’s eyes lit up. At that moment, he truly understood the essence of the Globe Rollers. We went outside to find a bus that did not exist. So he called us a cab and negotiated a fair price with the driver. Thank you nice Romanian man.

Our taxi driver drove us 30 minutes to Bram where Dracula resides. He pulled up next to a giant cobble stoned walkway, leading to an even more giant hill and said “Dracula”. He pointed to our wheels and said, “I dunno…not so possible.” Oh no…he said it! Now we have to.

We piled out and looked at the journey ahead with dread. But we had come this far, and were not turning back now. The ticket man at the gated entrance before the giant hill took one look at our wheels and told us we could go in for free. What is it with Romania and giving free tickets to places that are utterly not wheel friendly? It seems that blisters and tears of laughter were the currency we were paying in.

The hill was tough. It required many laughing/crying breaks along the way, but we eventually made it. Next were the steps to the castle. We summoned a crew and made our way up. Then we approached the castle. There were about 100 stairs leading to the entrance and not a gorgeous young man in sight. Everyone around was 70+ and looked at us with great empathy. An old woman who was perched on a bench near by assured us that this is not a place we can visit. She explained that there were many stairs inside the castle. What was she suggesting? That we couldn’t do it? Damnit! Now we have to…

Roxy looked at Madeline and said, “I knew this day would come. It’s time for plan B”. Madeline pondered on what plan B could be and asked Roxy if she was about to walk. Roxy said, “Yes, I’ve been lying to you all of these years. Now the jig is up” and brought herself to sitting on the bottom step. She scooted her seat up to the next step, then brought her legs up to follow. Madeline watched in awe, then snapped out of it when Roxy said, “now lift my legs. Like a bride” So one step at a time, we shuffled up those 100 stairs as the old people below watched with amazement.

Unfortunately (or fortunately for the blog’s sake), this was only the first of many shuffles up staircases. The inside of Dracula’s Castle was a maze of narrow, winding staircases. Because of their narrowness and the twists and turns that made up the character of these vampire-esque staircases, it would be impossible to lift Roxy and her thrown up them at the same time. So we resumed to the stair-shuffle and every time, acquired a willing and honored entourage. At one staircase, we gathered a group of three guys. Two were from the UK, and one from Romania. They wanted to know how they could help so we told one to film, one to bring Roxy’s thrown behind us, and the third to just enjoy the view. When we got to the top, they admittedly felt a bit useless, but we assured them that their moral support was greatly appreciated. Plus, the film footage one of them got was GOLD. Ellen, here we come.

At each level, Madeline would snap on her blades and roll along the narrow hallways, the two of us peeking in rooms and posing for selfies. The castle was pretty cool, and we were happy to be there, but most of all we were proud. Proud to be rollers rolling in foreign lands, in inaccessible world wonders that we were certain no wheels had ever touched before. Even though the places we were visiting were unique and lacking in both the New York City and Dutch world, half the fun was the challenge of climbing the different monuments. Sometimes we looked around at groups of tourists and felt like they were missing out on so much of the fun because they didn’t have wheels. It is only a matter of time before the world catches on…

We climbed back down the castle with ease. Once you go up with wheels, going down feels like a piece of cake. When in doubt, gravity will take care of the task at hand. When we got to the gate with the doubtful guards, we showed them photos of us at the top of the castle. They could not BELIEVE that we managed to go up there. They obviously wanted to understand how, but the language barrier made the details of our legendary Globe Roller’s venture up Dracula’s Castle forever a mystery to those guards.

Wheelchair Card:
That night, we were meant to catch an 8:20 night train to Budapest. Unfortunately, the time table on our eurorail app was incorrect. We showed up at the station at 8:13 with tickets in hand, only to find that the train left one minute ago.

We were running a bit off schedule because after the castle, we wanted to treat ourselves to our last Romanian meal in the Brasov city center. We found a restaurant with a terrace that was willing to bring one of its tables out from the shade and into the sunlight. We were sitting in the parking lot, next to the bathroom, but it was still a beautiful place and we achieved our dinner-tan.

Roxy got a bit tipsy at our meal. She had two large Ursus beers to take off the edge from our Dracula’s Castle shuffle. When it was time to race out of the restaurant, she peed while Madeline called for a taxi. The taxi came and then left. Madeline went back to desperately call for another one. When she got back to the road to wait for ride #2, Roxy was chatting up a man in a van. He was good looking and spoke zero English, but really wanted to understand. As we were running late, Roxy was flipping her hair and asking for a ride. Madeline vetoed the option of having a strange man in a van drive us anywhere, and that’s when the taxi pulled up. Thank Goddess.

After we picked up our stored luggage, we ran over to the underground hallway where a multitude of different staircases lead to different platforms. Madeline and Rox frantically asked a stranger where to find our train, while a screaming ticket lady tried to tell us that our tickets were now useless. She snatched them out of Madeline’s hands and said “buy tomorrow! You can’t take train tonight.” DON’T TELL US WHAT WE CAN’T DO! Madeline snatched the tickets back while Roxy asked the friendly stranger whether it would be a good idea to take a cab to the next stop and hopefully get there quicker than the train. The stranger said that would be a good idea but that we needed to hurry! He then spelled out the name of the next station as Roxy and Madeline ran out of the underground station. Which one of you cab drivers is up for an adventure?! Valim saw our distress and immediately started loading our things in his trunk (giggidy?) He gave us a price to drive us to the next station our train would be stopping at. It was two and a half hours away and it will leave that station in two and a half hours. He gave us a price that three nearby Romanians confirmed was a good deal, and we were off!

Valim made the trip in one hour and fifty minutes. He weaved through traffic and raced through the few stoplights that exist in this part of the world. For once, our lives were in the hands of someone else’s wheels. During the ride, Roxy needed music because Madeline was too anxious to be any fun at all and Roxy still needed to enjoy her buzz. We were driving through endless mountains and the radio signal was terrible. So when music wasn’t playing, Roxy either sang acapella or played as many songs as possible on her 4% batteried iPhone, while belting along.

Finally we made it to the train with time to spare. Valim was so proud. And we were proud of you too, Valim. When the train pulled up, we were excited to see what it had to offer. On the eurorail app it was listed as accessible. It was not accessible in the least bit, so they bumped us up to a first class sleepers cart free of charge. Gotta love that wheelchair card.
The Wheels Deal:

By the time we arrived at the night train, we were exhausted. It had been a very long day and we were so ready to sleep on a train, just like in the TCM movies. Despite the train’s advertisement of accessibility, it was far from it. We had to lift up onto the train, then take a wheel off to get through the train hallway. Our first-class sleeper car barely had room for a wheelchair which meant that the only way to get around was for Madeline to swing from railing to railing like a monkey, grabbing PJs and toothbrushes along the way. What exactly classifies a train as accessible? Elizabeth?

Next stop, Budapest. Happy rollin!

Meet...the lifting squad.
Meet…the lifting squad. (Illigal photo taken in the parliament)
Parliament? Yea, we did that.
Parliament? Yea, we did that.
At the tip-top of the parliament.
At the tip-top of the parliament.
This...is the only way? Bring on the step-shuffle!
This…is the only way? Bring on the step-shuffle!
The VIP lifting squad (frenchie on the left, Irish on the right, Madeline being upstaged)
The VIP lifting squad (frenchie on the left, Irish on the right, Madeline being upstaged)
On our way up to meet Dracula!
On our way up to meet Dracula!
The view half way up Dracula's Castle.
The view half way up Dracula’s Castle.

A Shower View

Varna: the land of hot sun and blue skies. This is where Bulgarian families go to vacation with their little ones. It is on the east coast of the country right by the ocean. Here, you can stay at an all inclusive resort with your family for less than $100 a night. Here, the children can play in the kiddie pool while grandpa gets wasted at the open bar. Here, there are no Americans in sight and there are definitely no rollers.

Accessible My Ass:
Booking.com has officially lost some serious trust-points. After several defeats on airbnb, we decided to switch to Booking.com. Although we had a great time meeting our Bulgarian smother through airbnb, the hosts on the website are entirely too inaccurate about their living space’s accessibility.

Finding a place through airbnb always required sending out emails to 20 different hosts, asking them if there place REALLY is accessible. 19 of them will either reply saying “No it isn’t. Sorry about that” or just a cowardly “my place is actually booked for those nights.” The 20th response may say it is accessible, but when we show up, we always have to do some sort of gymnastics to get Roxy and her chair through the bathroom door.

We roll the pool
We roll the pool

image

Booking.com also has a “wheelchair accessible” option and Roxy seems to trust this site’s accuracy a bit more. Booking does do a slightly better job, but on occasion, still remains inaccurate. Unless the booking regards a stay at a Hilton, Marriott, or any other chain hotel of which the level of accessibility is usually known and remains relatively constant in every country.

The booking.com place we stayed at in Veliko T─ârnovo had some serious wheels pride. They had a big ramp into the lobby and wide, open doors. When Roxy rolled up to the front desk, the receptionist refused to see her at the front of the desk and insisted that she come to the side where they had a mini desk with a giant blue wheelchair sign hanging by Roxy’s head. Roxy begrudgingly rolled over with Madeline rolling closely behind. Madeline then took a photo of an exhausted Roxy by the sign and mini desk, which Roxy has vetoed being posted on this blog. So you’ll have to use your imagination for that one.

Our next booking.com was not as successful. They had a tiny step that led to the hotel lobby. It was about two inches high and really required no effort from either of us. But when they saw Roxy roll up out of that taxi, a woman came running out with a one-foot-long ramp and placed it down next to the tiny step. The ramp looked like they had built it that morning when they saw that someone who uses a wheelchair was coming to stay there. Either that, or they saw us roll up, grabbed a plank of wood from the basement, and plopped it out in front of us like a red carpet. Meanwhile, we had to get up a giant curb about 10 feet from the hotel entrance. So where exactly is the logic?

Ten minutes after checking in, we rolled up into the (also tiny, but doable) elevator and made our way to the pool. We were here to spoil ourselves after an intense week of trains and sight seeing. We made our way toward the pool behind the lobby. It looked so beautiful in the pictures and was really the main attraction at this middle-of-nowhere hotel.

We were met by a big ass staircase to the pool. “Surely there must be another way to get to that pool” we thought. So we circled the perimeter looking for an alternative route. After scoping it out, Madeline suggested that we get the group of beer drinking men near by to help lift her up the stairs, but Roxy was in no mood. She was promised a hotel with all wheelchair accessible facilities and that was what she was going to get. That’s the thing about Roxy. You don’t want to fuck with her. She’ll go with the flow, but if you A) lie to her or B) tell her she can’t do something, you won’t get away with it. Look up the definition of “fiercie” in the dictionary. If that were a real word, her picture would there.

Wheelchair Card:
Madeline and Roxy have a good cop, bad cop thing going on. Madeline is the good cop because she cannot seriously approach a hotel receptionist and say “I can’t rollerblade up those stairs. You need to fix this.” So Madeline smiles and says “thank you” while Roxy lays down the law. It usually works really well, especially with the invaluable wheelchair card.

The hotel manager did some stuttering and some poor negotiation – not even apologizing for our inconvenience once – but we eventually settled on an agreement. We would have to travel down a hill to another hotel each day, pay a semi reasonable price to use their facilities for the day, and then come back to our hotel to sleep. We would be given a free dinner and free mini-bar goodies. The other hotel would give us free lunch and access to the open bar and the gym (bar for Roxy, gym for Madeline). We were losing sun so we took the deal and headed out.

The other hotel was beautiful. It costs twice as much as ours and in this case, we got what we paid for. At that point we had missed the free lunch that would be given for the daily fee. When we explained what had happened at our hotel to the receptionist at the hotel we were experiencing FOMO for, the receptionist listened very understandingly and gave us half off for the day. Gotta love that card!

We spent the day basking in the sun and drinking beers and Shirley Temples from the open bar. We spread out by the showers right next to the pool. The showers are out in the open and before we write what we are about to write, let us make it clear that everyone involved were in full bathing suits. We loved our view of the showers. It was the most accessible spot for us to rest, but also the most entertaining.

Until that day, we never knew how much we love watching foreigners take showers! Keep in mind that there was club music blasting and 90% of the adults there were hammered. So every time someone got under the cold shower by the pool, they would be overcome by the rhythm and start swaying their hips from side to side. Occasionally an older gentlemen with a generous belly would shower/dance in circles, pumping his fists out in front of him and nodding his head slightly off the beat. We had the best seats in the house.

That night we were given an incredible meal by our night-hotel. First, a fresh salad, similar to a greek salad but with a Bulgarian cheese slightly creamier and more deliciois than feta. Next, grilled veggies. Then for the main course we had fresh salmon filet and for desert, chocolate banana bread with strawberries and whipped cream. Hungry yet? We were the only ones in the restaurant and were treated like VIP by the very friendly waiters.

The next morning we had to catch a 9:20 train. We had breakfast, packed our bags, and headed out. During our taxi ride to the train station, Roxy jokingly asked the taxi driver if he wanted to come to Bucharest, Romania with us. He was very seriously interested. She then half-heartedly asked him how much he would charge to drive us all the way there. After a fast negotiation, we agreed on a price and rolled right past the train station. ROADTRIP!!

The price was 4X as much as our extremely cheap train tickets would have been. But by train, it would have been an unaccessible 3 hour ride, a transfer (during which Bulgarian men would be liberately touching Roxy’s wheelchair and our luggage), and then another 5 hour train ride to Bucharest. Trading all of that for a quick 4 hour drive there was just too hard to resist at 9 in the morning. The taxi driver blasted Taylor Swift (damn that girl with her catchy tunes) and we rode off into the horizon.
The Wheels Deal:
It isn’t clear whether the problem with hotel accommodations is a problem with sites such as Airbnb and booking, or if the problem is just that we are in Eastern Europe. We emailed Airbnb, suggesting that they further question hosts that list their property as accessible. We suggested they then ask things like, “how wide is your bathroom doorframe?” And, “are there any steps in your home? If so, how many?” Airbnb replied with a generic “thank you for your feedback!” So much for that. Luckily, one of our friends who happens to be a disability rights lawyer back in NYC emailed us saying she was “all over” the Airbnb thing. Go Elizabeth!

Although we did end up spending our day at a luxurious hotel, watching Bulgarians take showers, we had to commute there and spend extra money. We tried checking out the beach, but there were several obstacles that got in the way of that. For one, there was a monstrous staircase at the only entrance to the beach. Secondly, nowhere was there a beach wheelchair to be found (or beach rollerblades). Rolling with thin wheels on sand does not go over well. When we asked the luxurious hotel about a beach wheelchair, they looked utterly confused. They are possible to rent, however one must start that process well in advance, and during our go-with-the-flow globerolling, this was unfortunately not possible.

The cab ride to Romania was more than fun. But if we are to be honest, a large reason for skipping the train was because of its level of inaccessibility. The ups and downs with all our stuff really takes all the energy out of us rollers. The inevitable grabbing hands and shaky trips up and down stairs was too daunting for such an early morning. Come on Eurorail, get with it!

That’s all the bitching we’ve got for today. In two days we’ll fill you in on our adventures rolling around Bucharest, Romania! Keep on rollin ­čśÄ

Jesus Take the Wheel

The gillatic view of Verliko T─ârnovo
The gillatic view of Verliko T─ârnovo

After rolling around in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, it was on to our next stop; a more obscure hilly town called, Veliko Tarnovo. Reason number one for stopping in a smaller unheard of town in Bulgaria was to not have to deal with the long, boring, and inaccessible train ride straight from Sofia to Bucharest – I mean, how many episodes of Lost can you really watch in a row? But reason number two was: we felt like we hadn’t seen much of Bulgaria and its hilarious natives and felt like we would really miss something if we would leave Bulgaria after only two days. So we ventured on in the land of cobble stones, hills, and $1 beers

The restaurant we just could not leave.
The restaurant we just could not leave.

The next morning it was “7 AM the usual morning line-up” and we had a short but empowering breakfast on our┬áfavorite Bulgarian smother’s terrace, showered – Roxy that is, Madeline does not seem to have the shower gene – and rocked our usual 20 minutes fashionable-lateness. On to the train station we went! You know the type of people who just can’t manage to get anywhere on time? No matter how many alarms are set, before-bed preparations are made, and specific time-management planning is done? Hopefully those people are accompanied by someone who has their shit together and is capable of dragging that unorganized person out of the door, come rain or come shine. Unfortunately that is not the case in this situation. Both Madeline and Roxy are complete messes when it comes to getting out of the door on time. There is always an extra egg to scramble, Jessie J workout to twerk to, or instant Bulgarian coffee to drink. So, of course, we arrived at the Sofia train station looking like two headless chickens running around, trying to find any sign resembling words close to the English, Dutch or German language. Just anything that doesn’t include numbers or Pi-resembling symbols at the beginning of words. But nothing. Of course we were immediately approached by Bulgarian men working at the station, who smothered us by grabbing Roxy’s handle bars as if her wheelchair is a suitcase and tell us that our train to Veliko Tarnovo “leaves 10 minutes ago” – which, after the men started counting down from “10”, we realized means “leaving in 10 minutes”. They also told us that we had to get the tickets downstairs, and of course there were no elevators and the escalators were not moving. Roxy would normally let the men lift her down the stairs, but hey, they weren’t that cute…

Girl’s gotta have standards. Anyway, we decided that Madeline would go down to get the tickets and Roxy would stay with the luggage and try not to bitch slap the men who seem to be extremely consumed with “helping” us. Madeline returned and the men frantically notified us we had to go down anyway to catch our train, which, by then, “leaves 5 minutes ago”. “We go now!” The men picked Roxy up as Madeline rushed the suitcases down ASAP in order to get down to catch Roxy in case shit goes down. Shit luckily did not “go down”, but Roxy did utter the words, “Madeline, I might die today” many a time.

The men finally took us to the right platform, asked for money, and when we said we had no time to give anything, dropped all our stuff and disappeared into the Bulgarian sunrise. We were finally helped into a first class car by the Bulgarian PoPo and chilled with them in a language that was neither English nor Bulgarian. Surreal, but nice.

After approximately 4 hours and two trains later, we arrived in Veliko Tarnovo. Seemingly residing in the middle of nowhere, we had no clue what kind of people or events we were about to encounter, but freakin psyched to no longer be trapped in the urine-soaked train. It’s always a good thing to touch wheel on soil. After a 5 minute cab ride we arrived at our Hotel complete with a Jesus shrine. What else could we have possibly desired? We entered our psychedelic orange themed room and knew one and only one thing for sure; there was no way we could resume to Bucharest tomorrow. No way in hell (Jesus pun intended). So we decided to finally see Bulgaria a bit more and take an extra day in Veliko Tarnovo.

We slept in the next morning, had breakfast, and started our journey through the small town. First, to find a ukulele for Madeline. But when that quest failed, to eat Italian gelato. God, we love this place (Jesus pun still intended). We then found the most beautiful view of the town’s mountains and private estates and finally relaxed for the first time in for what it seemed like, a very long time.

We continued our journey and arrived at a crossroads: continuing down the hill of a nicely smooth asphalt road, or decline down the very steep cobble-stoned road of doom and terror. So we did what any other irrational person would do and headed down the wobbly path from hell.

Madeline started sloping down the hill and Roxy had no choice but to follow her fellow roller (first rule of rollclub: never leave a fellow roller behind). We rolled down the side of the road where the path was still smooth and we had a railing to hold onto if and when times got rough. We thought we could handle the challenge until this beautiful path stopped and the only choice of stone was cobble. Large, unleveled, steep cobble stone. So we made our way down, while holding onto cars, bushes and for dear life. Madeline looked like she was Nordic Walking without the sticks, stumbling along the way, while Roxy was attempting the skiing method in which she was zig-zagging in order to lower her speed and be able to hold onto either side of the walls as she was thrown by the tyrant that is…the cobble stone.

The reactions of the people of Bulgaria watching us at the side lines were diverse: some were cheering us on, some were holding their breath, some were trying to run toward us but too afraid to risk their own lives. Others were simply shaking their heads; aware of the fact that our downhill journey might end sooner than we hoped it would. In short, we were a sight for sore eyes.

We then arrived at another crossroads: we could either continue down the steep cobble-stoned road, created by Judas, or we could go beyond every boundary we had already trespassed in the last few minutes: go down cobble-stoned steps, AKA, the double-whammy. A fisherman sitting near by, who had grabbed Roxy before in fear as she hit the side of a car, shook his head as if we could not master this challenge. He pointed at the cobble stoned steps, then at Roxy’s chair and said “danger!” Roxy mumbled that he only made her want to do it more. The both of us looked at each other and said, “Fuck yes, we’re doing this!”

At one extremely difficult moment when both of us were stuck somewhere along the cobble, Madeline had an extremely dumb thought. See, Madeline has detachable rollerblade wheels. They were stranded, so she thought maybe they should both just take off their wheels and go the rest of the way by foot. Again, extremely dumb. Incase you did not notice this small detail, Roxy is in a wheelchair. So she doesn’t roll 24/7 by choice. Straight up forgot her bestie is in a wheelchair. So awkward…

A few near death experiences later, we were offered help from an awesome bulgarian tour guide and an older, but humorously youthful Brazilian couple. The tour guide and the Brazilian man carried Roxy down the many stairs, joking and laughing along the way, as if this was part of their tour. We felt blessed and honored to have met them in this time of obvious need and they seemed to enjoy helping and making light of life.

Once down, we met a beatiful blonde woman, who is married to a famous blind Bulgarian singer. She told us she loves people who are blind and/or in wheelchairs. Sounds like a case for Dr. Phil. Then we carried on to a restaurant with a view of the entire town. We sat there for 4 hours, drinking selzer, Bulgarian beer. Eating traditional cuisine and facetiming our loved ones to show them what magnificence we had found in this unknown village in Bulgaria. This is where we found the kindest people and the most captivating landscape and architecture on our journey so far.

It got cold and we decided we should get going before darkness blinded our eyes to uneven cobble stones and helpful strangers. The path went on for another few minutes until we finally reached the beautiful, flat, smoothely paved commodity we had forgotten existed in the last few hours.

We climbed the paved road until madness struck inside Roxy’s head. We all recognize the typical “handicapped” symbol on accessible bathrooms and parking spaces, right? It is of a weird stick-like person sitting in a 20th century asylum-looking wheelchair. Well, on a parking space it kind of looks like somebody in a wheelchair had fallen sideways and somebody made an outline of it with white spray paint. How funny would it be to align one’s body and wheelchair on top of to this symbol?! This is what we had to do. It was the only way to get this image out of Roxy’s system.

So Roxy instructed Madeline to tip her sideways and take a hysterical photo of this avant-garde event. Well, what we thought would be a live art show, turned into a live freak show of laughter and insanity. Madeline had the idea of sitting beside Roxy and pulling Roxy – wheelchair and all – toward her so she would finally lye sideways on top of the white image. Instead, Roxy landed on Madeline and we wailed tears of laughter for a few minutes. People running toward us, aiming to help us as we had obviously had encountered an accident in which Roxy had fallen. Little did they know that M&R were voluntarily roadkill.

We kindly declined everyone’s help ┬áand, while two normal people would count their chips and fold, these two crazy girls on a mission resumed to create this unforgettable image. When Roxy had finally properly aligned herself with the white spray paint, Madeline filmed and took pictures, tears of laughter streaming down her face. An old man came toward us to check if we were OK. We said we were and tried to sign-language what we were trying to do. He finally got it and bursted out in laughter and grabbed his phone to capture this incredible once-in-a-lifetime moment. We enjoyed his company a lot, especially since most Bulgarians were bewildered by he fact that we didn’t want help and actually wanted Roxy to lay on that parking space.

This was by far the funniest moment of our trip so far and all we could do was wonder why no one else had recreated the famous wheelchair symbol. Roxy was lucky enough to be that first person, and Madeline had a blast witnessing it. If only there was a rollerblader symbol… image image image We left Veliko T─ârnovo the following morning to head East to the beachy area of Bulgaria. Are you tired of hearing train station fiascos yet? We’ll make this one short. We pulled into the station 20 minutes early, and girl, were we proud. We went up to the ticket office to be greeted by a hostile Bulgarian woman. She refused our credit cards and made the universal “money” sign, rubbing her thumb against her pointer and middle fingers. Then she pointed us in the direction of an ATM. We figured it had to be close because, why wouldn’t it be? We are at a train station that only accepts cash. So Roxy ventured out to get the dough as Madeline stayed put and guarded our bags.

While Madeline stood guard, the woman from the booth started yelling Bulgarian at her. It was clear from her hand gestures that A) there was a train transfer we’d have to make. B) there were some serious steps involved. And C) she had no faith in the two of us being able to make it onto the second train successfully. Madeline brushed the woman and her doubt off, but the woman took this as Madeline just not understanding her. The woman got a man who spoke Bulgrish to translate for her. The man mimed him walking down the stairs, pointed at his wrist to indicate that this was a time sensitive matter, and said, “wheelchair. no possible”. At this point Madeline stood up and said, “we’re fine and we’re going. Is there anything else?” The man and woman backed off and avoided eye contact with Madeline from there on out.

10 minutes later, Roxy came back huffing and puffing. She said she had climbed a giant hill only to find an even bigger one that supposedly led to an ATM. Madeline rolled out and up as fast as she could with Roxy yelling behind her, “you’re not gonna make it! That hill is a bitch!” 9 minutes later Madeline came racing into the station with money in hand. That hill really was a bitch, but never underestimate the power of adrenaline.

The woman begrudgingly sold Madeline two tickets as Roxy held the train. We made the transfer to the second train easily. Piece of cake! We only wished the angry ticket lady was there to see it.

The Wheels Deal:

So we sort of got off track in this one as far as Accessible My Ass and Wheelchair Card goes. But you get the gist, right? Trains and cobble stones are far from accessible, Bulgarian tour guides and sweaty train station workers are wheelchair card funded. As for the wheels deal, let us lay it out for you. We get a lot of looks as we roll by. Looks of approval, looks of disapproval, looks of confusion, looks of amazement, looks of pity. The meaning of these looks isn’t always clear, but we know they are looking. The most frustrating looks are the ones from the train conductors. They look at this rolling duo and seem to think, “aw fuck”. And aw fuck is right because they’ve got to put some muscle into it. They look at us as if it is our fault that their trains are inaccessible. The ticket woman looked at us as if we did not have the right to ride the train as others do.

Where did this idea of wheels not belonging come from? Is it a liability matter? Maybe in the U.S. but here, we don’t think we’d get very far with a law suit. Here it seems to just be that most people on wheels do not attempt to ride the trains and wobble down cobble stoned paths. And for good reasons!

Here it seems to be that we are more than they signed up for on that particular day. We are unknown, we are foreign, and they do not quite know how to approach us. We are not sure what the solution to this problem of alienation is. But we are happy to have opened this up in conversation via this blog, and hopefully the more it is talked about, the less foreign and unknown rollers all around the world can become.

It’s a Privilege to Pee

Hello honorary rollers! Welcome to blog post #4 of the Globe Rollers. Rolling the globe one Eastern European country at a time.

Let’s talk about bathrooms, otherwise known as WCs in Europe. Otherwise known as death traps in the lives of rollers near and far.

We left Istanbul after an incredible day at the Aya Sophia (of which we entered for free. Gotta love that wheelchair card). We caught a 10 pm train from the central train station, heading to Sofia, Bulgaria. This was meant to be a 12 hour ride in a sleeper car on the train, but apparently the details of these words mean something else in Eastern Europe. By 12 hours they meant 17. By sleeper car they meant cramped seats. And by train they really meant a 4 hour bus ride and then 2 trains.

Accessible My Ass:
When we found out that we would be on a non-accessible bus for 4 hours, we came up with a game plan. Roxy and her wheelchair would have to be carried up the 4 steps, through the cramped doorway and onto the bus. Although we assumed there would either be a bathroom on the bus or bathroom stops along, we knew that neither of these options would be possible with a wheelchair. So Roxy and Madeline stopped drinking any liquids 6 hours before the trip. We made a pact that Madeline would not pee during the duration of the bus ride, in solidarity with Roxy. But before we boarded the bus, we had the luxury of peeing one last time at the train station.

We went to the WC and were greeted by an impatient Turkish man who was collecting 50 cents per pee. See in Urinetown, we mean Europe, you pay to pee. When he saw the wheelchair, he insisted that we enter the men’s room. We ignored his hand-gesture-demands and rolled into the lady’s room, only to find holes in the ground instead of toilets. Squatting on wheels simply wasn’t an option for either of us.

We cautiously rolled into the men’s room as a last resort. There, we found an accessible stall with an actual toilet. Roxy went in as Madeline waited outside the stall, standing guard. The money collecting WC man came in and yelled a Turkish command to leave the bathroom so that men could come in and do their business. Similar to Fight Club, our number one rule is no roller gets left behind. Madeline was not about to leave Roxy in the men’s room in the Istanbul train station at 10 pm and Roxy was not about to be left. The accessible stall door swung open and Madeline hopped in. The two of us sat, one on the toilet and the┬áother in the wheelchair, then switched. All the while we listened to the grunts and moans of Turkish men relieving their bladders and bowels. One man sang, while another man gagged and moaned. Who knew the men’s bathroom could be so disturbing/entertaining/visceral?

The Bulgarians really do know how to lift.
The Bulgarians really do know how to lift.
The only accessible bathroom we have found yet at a train station and they felt the need to include antique wheelchairs in it. Why?
The only accessible bathroom we have found yet at a train station and they felt the need to include antique wheelchairs in it. Why?
image
Bulgarian (s)mother in the back, instructing Stefan on how to push Roxy. She made her son Roxy’s official driver.
13 hours in.
13 hours in.

We put our blinders on and rolled out of that pungent bathroom as fast as we could. When we arrived at the bus, the no-English Turkish bus driver gazed at us in aw. Or was it horror? We doubt a wheel had ever touched his bus floor. But before we knew it, he had a group of smelly older Turkish men lifting Roxy into the back of the bus (like a queen of course, but this time sadly without lifting her right arm). Four hours later we arrived at the border of Turkey and Bulgaria.

It was 2 AM. We were exhausted, hungry, thirsty, and had to pee like a mofo. A Romanian woman who was traveling with us became our temporary (s)mother for the ride. When we arrived at the border of Bulgaria and Turkey, we desperately searched for a bathroom. Romanian (s)mother helped us find a bathroom that was accessible for wheels. It was a dark and sketchy 5 minute roll away from the border control office and required a key. Unfortunately, no one had the key…

After Romanian (s)mother asked every one of the guards to give us the key and decided she then had the right to take our place in the bathroom line of darkness, we finally gave up. Roxy and Madeline did some tricky maneuvering in order to get into the one accessible stall via the flashlight on Madeline’s phone. Did we mention there was no electricity at the border? We lightly glanced around the stall for toilet paper when the time came, but we could only be so lucky.

The train came at 4 am. As always, we got together a crew of chain smoking Eastern European men to lift Roxy and her throne onto the space between two car trains. Just when we thought the hard work was over, we came face to face with the doorway to the car. It could not have been more than 2 feet wide. This is where the fun part began.

Roxy is a nifty woman. She never seems to say “this will be impossible” it’s always more like “This sucks ass. Let’s go.” She instructed Madeline to hold the right handle of her wheelchair up as she removed her right wheel. She reached down with her right arm and does this carefully and methodically. Now Roxy is suspended by one wheel on the left side, and Madeline’s grip on the right. We awkwardly stumble through the door frame and then attach the wheel on the other side. Suffice to say, everyone on the train car was thoroughly impressed.

Five hours later and we had to pee again. We did our one-wheel trick and got through the door frame once again, only to be faced with an even smaller bathroom door on the other side. We had met an incredible American couple from Texas along the way. Jacque, the wife, saw the look of determination in our eyes (or perhaps it was desperation; we hadn’t slept all night, who knows what our eyes we’re saying to the world…) as we headed toward the bathroom and she jumped up to help. We love when people ask how they can help, rather than just grabbing and lifting anything they can get their hands on. Jacque got major points when she asked. We recommended she hold the bathroom door open while Madeline lifts Roxy from one throne to the other. Like a bride. Jacque carried out our request and the mission was accomplished.

The whole scenario was utterly ridiculous. The bathroom was filthy and tinier than Madeline’s bedroom closet (and Madeline’s bedroom closet fits approximately 6 hangers and 4 pairs of shoes). By the time Roxy was ready to come back out, she was delirious. We kept getting stuck on the door handle. Madeline had Roxy in her arms. Like a bride. And this door handle just did not want to release us. Roxy at this point was laughing like a mad woman. The insanity that led up to this point with the shitty bathroom, the missing wheels, and the groping Turkish men was too much to not become hysterical over. She laughed and laughed as we hung on that door knob, all the while saying, “I don’t care if you drop me. I don’t even care!” She made it to her desired throne. And now we shall never speak of that WC from Hell again.

Bonus Section!
During our stay in Sofia, we acquired a Bulgarian (s)mother. We rented a room from her and her son through airbnb. We were their first guests and although she spoke very little English, she was quite the chatter box in her new found language of Bulglish. Her son spoke excellent English and often translated for his mother, but when he was not around, Bulgarian (s)mother just went right on talking. When we arrived, she put fresh cherries and strawberries on the table and invited us to sit with her. She offered us beer and drew us detailed maps of the neighborhood on pieces of paper she then asked to get back after we had finished our quest of the day, as the other side always seemed to be a document containing vital information. With this smother we felt like we had never left home…

After an hour or so, it was time for a grocery store run. We needed the essentials: eggs, bread, seltzer, and chocolate. She refused to let Roxy go down the giant hill that led to the grocery store. We assured her we would be fine, but the woman would not budge. Such a smother. She made Roxy promise, PROMISE that she would not roll down that hill. Roxy promised and Roxy takes that shit seriously. Madeline assured her that she would go down the hill on her own as Roxy waited at the top of the hill for her. Madeline then hid her detachable wheels in her fanny pack pockets (it’s a special, wheels friendly fanny pack) and they headed out the door.

At the top of the hill, Roxy perched and Madeline rolled. The hill was long and steep. She swerved from left to right, trying to avoid picking up the unavoidable speed. Half way down the hill things started getting tricky. The speed caught up to her and she had to either fall on her ass or ride the wave and hope she made it to shore. The ass was never fallen on. She made it to the bottom only to be greeted by cobble stones, pebbles, and intrusive patches of grass within the cracks of the cobble stone.

When a roller seems to be perpetually, but never quite falling, it can be a real treat to watch. But if a rollerblader falls and nobody is there to see it, is it still funny? That is the age old question. (Or was it a tree?)
Madeline made it to the grocery store, bought the essentials, and huffed and puffed back up the hill to find Roxy filming her struggle. Thanks Roxy.

The Wheels Deal:
Did you notice we skipped “Wheelchair Card”? Unfortunately, there was never a time during the commute to Bulgaria where we could use the wheelchair card. People helped along the way, which was greatly appreciated, but the amount of non-accessibility these train stations have to offer is repulsive. We got some excellent stories out of it, but overall, we are exhausted. Traveling by train through Eastern Europe is the cheapest option and we are two rolling girls on a budget. Would it really cost too much to put a fold out ramp on the train entrances? And why the Hell are these door frames so small? We are considering investing in a portable ramp. Think we can buy one of those in Romania?

A Mermaidic Transformation

Hello readers! (AKA mom) We are the globe rollers and we roll the globe. This blog follows our adventures as we roll through Eastern Europe, currently in Istanbul. One of us is a rollerblader and the other is a professional wheelchair-er.
We wake up at the crack of 1 pm. We guess we overestimated our fast adjustment to the time zone. Could it be the hills? Cobble stones? Baklava? Who knows… But one thing was clear, we had to start marinating in at least some of the culture before we continued our trip without having set wheel in a mosque or basilica.

So, we got up andd breakfast at our usual convenient spot next door. We came prepared with fruit – as this seems to be a rare, unnecessary commodity among the Turks) -, and asked for toast to compliment our omelets. Asking for the divinity that is ‘toast’ in this country is recommended to every reader planning to visit Turkey anytime soon. To the Turks – at least the Turks at this caf├ę – “toast” means grilled cheese, and oh was this an amazing surprise.

The blue mosque is behind us, down the cobble stoned rollercoaster of a path.
The blue mosque is behind us, down the cobble stoned rollercoaster of a path.
The view of the blue mosque is best from Roxy's lap.
The view of the blue mosque is best from Roxy’s lap.

Then we realized it was 3:30 pm and had no excuse to not start hitting some of the cultural landmarks that Istanbul has to offer. Only this time, our commute over to the old city did not run as smoothly as it had during the days before. This could have been a result of our cocky attitudes toward Turkish navigation, as we had resided in the city for two days and seemed to flawlessly find our way through either the wheelchair card, or Madeline’s charismatic smile. Or it could have been due to an overdose of Baklava – that stuff can mess with yo mind… Either way, we could not manage to find the right elevator to the tram and even noticed a momentary wheelchair card flaw when one of the tram’s gate guards told Madeline to pay. Wait, what?

We finally ditched the guard, got on the right tram and headed into the city. First stop: Blue Mosque. Ummh, wait, first stop, TURKISH DELIGHTS. After being smothered by Turkish men and their delights (the fruity desserts of course, get your mind out of the gutter), we arrived in a park surrounded by mosques. All of them passable for the color blue, but no clear sign as to which one was the real McCoy. We were finally pointed in the right direction after being offered several tours by strangers and being suavely proposed, “Can I drive you?” We contemplated this offer for a second, wondered whom it was intended for, and then kindly declined the offer for now. Maybe we can call you when we get to those hills?

Accessible My Ass:
We went to the main entrance of the Blue Mosque and immediately noticed a bunch of stairs in front of it. No worries though, as a sign with an arrow marking the accessible entrance was easily visible and there was no need for investigation. We followed the direction of the arrow, only to find an identical arrow sign after every 100 meters.
After circumventing the mosque, and having a Turkish man follow us to tell us only a few people around here speak English – no shizzle – we arrived at the wheelchair accessible entrance. A man was working in a small cubicle at the gate, assuring everyone is covered up respectfully – based on gender – and that nothing from the outside touches the holy floors of the mosque. He asked Roxy whether she could get out of the chair. Instinctively, Roxy of course immediately rebelled against the idea of leaving her throne and said she couldn’t get out. We later reflected on why she would not get out of her chair and into another. After much contemplation, we agreed on certain circumstances that would convince Roxy to leave her chair and get into another. The other chair would have to be diamond studded. Bedazzled. It would have to have her trademark gold rims and roll like it was on a bed of clouds. But after seeing the hospital chair our airbnb so kindly offered her, we had little hope of ever finding the holy grail wheelchair in Istanbul.

The man knew what he had to do, and started duct taping the outside of her tires. Madeline jumped at the opportunity and asked if he could tape her wheels as well, to which the man responded with a laugh. If only he knew we weren’t joking…

Having experienced the inside of one of the biggest mosques in the world, and feeling extremely culturally advanced – after those 10 minutes actually spent inside – we knew it was time to chillax. AKA time for Hammam!

The Hammam is a mystical bathhouse we had been told to visit by various people. We thought it sounded kind of interesting. But we had no idea how mystical these places really are until we experienced it firsthand.

Cemberlitas Hamami was located down a flight of stairs, which Roxy was effortlessly carried down by 4 middle-aged smoking men, who felt the need to also hold her right arm. Why? We fear this will remain a mystery for all eternity, but it felt right at the time…

We then talked to a woman at the front desk and told her we wanted the full enchilada as far as hamman packages go (sauna, scrub, massage). The woman behind the desk was worried that Roxy would not be able to partake and asked her manager. The manager was determined on making it work and so were we.

Wheelchair Card!
They gave us a tiny hamman package, including a bikini bottom, scrubber to hand to the – as we would later come to find out – beautifully maternal Turkish scrubbing goddess, and a scrub and massage token. We then went into a tiny room to change into the bikini bottom and were told to enter the sauna, where the famous scrubbing would commence.

We opened the doors and transported into a whole other time. A time when women nurtured and loved one another. A time when women found nudity amongst each other as a safe haven, and never stopped to judge another woman’s body. A large, open, grotto-resembling space with a large stone in the middle of it, covered with women laying in the steam or receiving a nurturing, but rough scrub. They were all mermaids and we knew we would soon resemble them.

We were led to an open space on the stone by our scrubbing goddess, removed our towels and laid on them. We were immediately reassured that we should give into the power of female nudity by the woman sitting on the stone behind us. She was extremely convincing and thus we joined their mermaid religion. It was amazing and probably the closest thing to religious divinity we had experienced in Istanbul so far.

After the scrub and sauna we went into the massage room which was divided into sections. Without a second of thought or debate, Roxy was lifted by two of the Turkish women onto the massage table. Like a bride. They were wonderful, emotionally nourishing, and called us “baby”. Even though Madeline’s rollerblades were not involved in this activity, she was happy to sacrifice her wheels for her mermaid fins. Roxy’s wheelchair was not an issue and the women treated it like a throne. They laid towels on it wherever water or oil was involved as to preserve it’s leather.

We had read mixed reviews about this Hammam on trip advisor. It was 500 years old and for its historical significance alone, the place was thriving. From the reviews, we were under the impression that these women would only give you a good treatment if they liked you. It was obvious that the wheelchair card, among other things, gave us that certain edge that we needed in order to be liked by these beautiful creatures and given the treatment we paid good money for. We left high on steam and loving touches.

The Wheels Deal:
The rest of the evening was a little rough. We were in a prime tourist area, which is not ideal when you are dazed and hungry. Madeline was firm about not eating at an overpriced Italian restaurant surrounded by tourists, but those seemed to be our only options in the neighborhood. So we ventured to a more local street, which a restaurant host assured us would have the type of dining experience we were looking for. He told us it was all downhill so it sounded like an easy trip. Little did we know, the hills were 10 blocks long and entirely at a 45 degree angle.

We rolled for dear life. Stopping every now and then to desperately look at each other and say, “I can’t make it! I can’t make it!” Then cracking up, because…what else could we do? There were no taxis in sight and we were stranded in the middle of a giant hill. We tried rolling in the middle of the street where we could avoid the cracks and bumps in the sidewalk, but drivers in Istanbul apparently enjoy going up giant hills at full speed.

Madeline ALMOST fell (she wants you to know that it was not an official fall. Just and almost fall) and Roxy’s hands were burning. Just then, we spotted a place. Our place. We rolled over and grabbed our seats. We stayed until they closed. The food was terrible, but the waiter’s company and their apple tea made it all worth the terrifying trip.

We tell this story in the Wheels Deal category because we want to be clear that yes, downhill is easier than up, but only to a certain extent. Life can only be fast-pace for a certain amount of time until one gets burnt out. Or in our case, one’s hands get burnt.

Next stop, Sofia, Bulgaria!