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.
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 Tărnovo 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.
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