Hello honorary rollers! Welcome to blog post #4 of the Globerollers. 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 other 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?
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.
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?