The Blind Tourist

1 2 3 10

Europe 2022: A Highlight of Budapest

The image shows a woman with dark hair in a high ponytail smiling as she eats a pastry

On our travels in the last few years, Craig and I have used Airbnb Experiences to explore the places we visit. Our first Airbnb Experience was a street food tour of Kolkata, India, and it was amazing! We also enjoyed several online Airbnb Experiences during the COVID lockdowns, where we sampled a number of the cooking classes. And all were loads of fun.

So it‘s not surprising that we tried two Airbnb Experiences while we were In Budapest, Hungary. The first was a tour of Budapest Castle by night, which was fascinating. But by far the highlight for me was a food tour we went on, introducing us to several of the market halls where local produce is sold.

When we initially tried booking for the tour, we couldn’t find a day and time that would work for us. The guide generously opened an extra slot for us. On the morning of the tour we arrived to discover five others had taken advantage of the additional tour, which was great – as I’ll explain later.

We met up outside a Starbucks, popped into the bakery next door and sampled our first delicacy of the day – a rich buttery pastry called a chocolate snail (thankfully without actual snails being involved), and then hopped onto a bus and made our way to the first of our stops.

Budapest market

The first food market was a labyrinth of stalls of various types, with goods ranging from fresh vegetables, to baked goods, cheeses, cold cuts and a range of drinks. As we walked amongst the goods on offer, our guide told us about many of the local specialties. Every now and then she would stop and buy from stall-owners. After a while I began to get a bit confused – my experience of food tours was that they usually included more sampling than we were doing, along with the conversation and information being shared with us. I also began to wonder if our guide was busy stocking up her own kitchen, considering the amount she was purchasing as we wandered around.

Eventually we stopped at a stall that sold strudels.  Most of you will probably be aware of apple strudel, which is almost synonymous with Austria and Hungary. But how many of you have tasted sour cherry strudel? Or apricot strudel? Or what about pecan nut strudel? They were all delicious! Not so much to my taste was the cabbage strudel that was on offer – to my mind it neither smelt nor tasted good!

Anyhow, once we had wandered around the market hall for an hour, it became clear why our guide had been shopping. She led us to a quiet area where there was a large empty table and began to unpack a veritable feast of food for us to sample. The table must have been groaning under the array of meat, cheese, salad vegetables and bread. And, with there being seven of us in the group, it had been much easier for our guide to purchase a broader range of food to taste. Even for me – the fussy vegetarian – there really was plenty to choose from. And it was all delicious!

Of course, we assumed that our meal marked the end of the tour. But we were wrong. From there we caught a bus to a second market hall, where we sampled some local wine, a sour cherry beer and a glass of fresh farm milk, along with a decadently scrumptious deep fried flatbread with cheese and spices. Finally, we went to a local pub close to our guide’s home where we sat and chatted over a glass of local beer or wine. Before taking a much needed walk back to the nearest metro station to head back to our apartment.

Honestly, there was so much to see and taste  at the indoor market halls that Craig and I returned the following day to make a few purchases and take a few photos. And I’m not kidding that the second visit was as satisfying as the first! Definitely worth taking a few hours out of your trip to Budapest to visit the market halls where everything you could possibly want to sample is gathered

Mauritius 2022: Visiting the Global Rainbow Foundation

 

The image shows a dark-haired woman presenting

It feels somewhat strange to say this, but I’m travelling again. The reason it feels a little peculiar is that I’m still processing all that I experienced on my trip to Europe six weeks ago. Not to mention how odd it is for me to travel twice in such a short time after almost three years of hardly leaving my house.

This time I’m in Mauritius, visiting Global Rainbow Foundation, a disability-focused organisation. I’m sure I’ll soon be sharing more about Global Rainbow Foundation and the amazing work they do to assist persons living with disabilities in Mauritius, but for now all I’ll say is that I’m learning how the foundation operates and am speaking at the Enable Mauritius conference taking place later this week. So there’s plenty for me to do while I’m here.

Of course, it would be silly to go to the beautiful island of Mauritius and not take advantage of the time there to relax and enjoy the beaches, entertainment, and delicious food that’s on offer. So we’re taking an extra week to help us recover from what has turned out to be a particularly busy year.

Once I’m back I’ll continue sharing stories from my travels to Europe, and then probably dive straight into sharing a few of my experiences from this trip.

In the meantime, wish me success with my presentations at the Enable Mauritius conference. It’s going to be such fun to speak there!

Europe 2022: A Mixed Museum Experience

I have always loved history. One of my favourite forms of relaxation is to curl up with a book that can teach me something about a time or place that is unfamiliar to me.

With that in mind, it would seem to be a natural extension to assume that I enjoy visiting museums. Because they’re all about history, right? The truth is a little more complicated, because it all depends on whether or not I’m able to experience the museum using senses other than sight.

Let me give you two examples from my recent visit to Europe, from museums in Vienna.

The first is the House of Music. It was a lot of fun, as I got to engage with some of the exhibits. The first thing we did at the museum was to find the wonderful Piano Stairs, which you’ll see, and hear, in the video. I had such fun running up and down the stairs making music. Admittedly, as you’ll see from the video, I couldn’t find a way to play a recognisable tune, nor could I get the notes to harmonise, which is what I was trying to do with my white cane in the video. It may not have been tuneful, but it was so much fun!

There were other interactive installations that I could engage with. My favourites were the opportunity to conduct a full orchestra – virtual, of course – with a choice of several pieces of classical music. It was as much fun listening to other people exploring how different arm movements affected the music as it was to try it out for yourself.

Another set of experiential exhibits were a set of simulations about the experience of listening to sound. In one simulation various sounds were played showing how different breeds of animal would hear them. Another showed how an unborn baby would experience a range of sounds, including laughter, thunder and church bells. And the chance to explore how differently shaped waves create different types of musical notes.

I also got to experience sound showers for the first time and was fascinated as the sound of rain cascaded down from above, then moved two steps and the sound changed to that of birdcalls, then voices from a stage in a large open space, and then on to industrial sounds. The range of sounds was fascinating. As was the fact that so little sound bled across – each sound was almost entirely distinct.

In contrast to the House of Music was a military museum we visited. I’m sure the exhibitions were fascinating to someone with eyesight, but they were almost all behind glass or other types of barriers. So, even though my fingers were itching to explore the cutaway of an Austrian battleship, or to feel the sabers, swords and cutlasses that were displayed, no matter how desperately I wanted to step into the simulation of a WWI trench and feel my way around it, sadly, I could do none of these things. That museum made me feel marginalised and excluded.

In my travels I have had the opportunity of going to some fantastic museums that incorporate different techniques to make heritage come alive to all their visitors. Because the truth is that none of the interactive installations at the House of Music were designed with blind and partially blind people in mind. They were designed to make the museum more immersive for everybody. And they were being enjoyed by all the visitors.

Sadly, inclusive museums are not usual in my home city of Cape Town. We tend to have only museums that hide their exhibits away behind glass. But it seems there is interest in changing that. And I hope to be part of the change.

Europe 2022: Empty Skies

the image is of a forest in Poland

I live in a quiet suburb of Cape Town, near a river estuary. The area is lush, green and we have lots of trees in the surrounding area. And an almost constant accompaniment of birdsong. Birds are so much a part of my everyday life that I hardly hear them when I’m concentrating. Still, every now and then I become aware of the sound around me and smile.
 
Which is why I was so aware of the lack of birdsong when I was in Europe. I found the smost silent skies unnerving and ominous, almost oppressive.
 
It’s not that the environment around me was silent. In most of the apartments where we stayed,  there was a backdrop of sound from the steady flow of traffic, planes crossing the sky, the rattle of trains, trams, busses or metros, the occasional bark of a dog, and the chatter of human voices. But very little birdsong.
 
I first became aware of the eerie quiet in Vienna, the first city we visited on our travels. The morning after we arrived, I was startled when the silence was shattered by the start cry of a crow. When I heard it, I became aware that I could hear no other birds. That was when I actively began listening to everything that was around me. And was flummoxed to notice the same lack of birdsong in the other cities we went to.
 
To be fair, most of our apartments were in the centre of cities, so perhaps the environment wasn’t ideal for birds. Perhaps the birds chose to live outside the city centres. I don’t know.
 
And, having said that, I did hear the familiar sound of birds on two distinct occasions. First, sitting outside a pub in the centre of Bratislava in Slovakia, which we visited one evening at dusk. It was reassuring to hear birds settling into the nearby trees  for the night. The second occasion was in the forest near the place we were staying in Poland, which is about 30 minutes outside Krakow. Again, it was lovely to hear birds chirping and chittering when we were there.
 
Even now, as I sit writing this blog, I can hear birds in the trees near our home. It is  a marked contrast to what I experienced in Europe.
 
PS After our trip I was chatting to my friend Avril about her recent cycling trip to Greece and, totally out of the blue, she mentioned how strange she had found it to hear so few birds there. So it seems I’m not the only one who found it curious…
 
Have you been aware of sounds like birdsong on your travels? I’d love to know what your experiences have been like on your own travels!
***

Europe 2022: An Overview of my Recent Travels

Alt text: the image shows a street scene from Bratislava, Solvakia
 
I know, I know – the first blog of the month is meant to be a Fiji post. But seeing as she posted a few additional blogs while I was overseas, I think I’m justified in dognapping this spot from her, don’t you?
 
Besides, since I’ve just returned from an amazing, exhausting, fascinating, busy, invigorating, and challenging vacation in Central Europe, I thought it would be fun to share a few of my insights and experiences from the trip with you.
 
I was away for almost a month, which is the longest I’ve been away from home and dogs ever. The trip took us to four countries – six if you include South Africa and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which we flew through on our way to Europe, though we didn’t leave the airport this time around.
 
The countries and cities we actually stayed in were Austria (Vienna), Slovakia (Bratislava), Poland (Krakow) and Hungary (Budapest). Our trip  was organised around my sister-in-law’s 40th birthday in Poland.
 
While we were away we obviously experienced all sorts of interesting things, and ate far too much delicious food, but that’s not going to be the focus of my articles. Okay, there may be a little of that, because it’s part of travelling to a different place. But since you can find that sort of information on almost any travel blog, I’d prefer to focus on how I experienced our travels as a totally blind woman.
 
What I’ll be sharing with you is how I experienced different aspects of my recent vacation through the senses other than sight, hoping that you’ll find it interesting to compare against the way you travel. Having said that, since I know that travel doesn’t interest everyone, I’ll also add in a few articles on other subjects, to keep things interesting.
 
I hope you enjoy learning a little about my travels,  and would love to hear some of your travel stories if you feel like sharing them wherever you’re reading this.

Trying Adaptive Golf

The image shows a woman with shoulder-length dark hair holding an oversized golf club and preparing to hit a furry tennis ball off a mat
 
I’ve never been a particularly sporty person. Even from the time I was very young I was usually the one with my head buried in a book while my friends were running around, or hitting a tennis ball against a wall to practise their shots. Nonetheless, since losing my sight I have tried a few activities and sports – 10-pin bowling, tandem cycling, pool, mini-golf and scuba diving, which I wrote about last year.
 
So it wasn’t really a huge surprise when I signed up for an adaptive golf day being run by the Raising Hope South Africa team. Their advert said they could accommodate people with a range of disabilities and would adapt to each person’s particular needs.
 
I was by no means the only person at the open day with a visual condition. Even more fun, I already knew two of the other participants, both of whom are partially sighted, and there was much laughter at our first attempts to aim the balls at our allocated  targets. Well, at least at my first attempts to aim the balls at my allocated target, which was definitely a bit hit and miss. More miss than hit, if I’m honest.   
 
My first challenge was to learn how to find where the ball was located. Even with sighted assistance helping me to position myself correctly, I still had to take the swing and try to hit the ball on my own. After showing a decided talent for hitting the ground near the ball I eventually learned to lift the head of the golf club a few centimetres off the ground before taking my swing, and that improved my chances of actually hitting the ball.
 
I also discovered that my skills with a putter far exceeded my abilities with a driver. I don’t know whether the shape of the driver affected the balance of the club which left me striking the ball in the most unpredictable directions.  Certainly I hit the targets a whole lot more often when I was putting
 
There are a couple of videos of me taking shots on my Facebook, but please bear in mind that these were taken once I had started figuring golf out a little. So they probably make me look more in control than I felt.
 
Honestly, I’m not about to give up my day job and spend all my time improving my golf game. But I certainly had a lot of fun exploring adaptive golf and would recommend it to any of my friends with disabilities when Raising Hope SA has their next open day.
 
Thank you to Mary and Ashlyn of Raising Hope South Africa and Shane of Hazendal Golf Course for giving me the opportunity to try adaptive golf.
 
To find out more, you can contact [email protected]
 
Hmm, I wonder what my next adaptive adventure will be?

Seeing with Your Ears – Echo Location with Brian Bushway

Brian in  Iceland holding a huge block of ice
I’m sure I’m not the only one who grabs for her phone whenever I hear a notification. Or who hunts around to find it when the phone alerts me that I have an incoming call. Or dash into the kitchen to check on supper when I hear the oven buzzer. In all of these cases we are making use of our hearing to gain useful information.

I rely on sound to help me navigate the world because I can’t use my eyes to tell me what is happening around me. It’s the only way I know what’s beyond the range of my hands or white cane. When I’m travelling around with my guide dog I use sound to help me orientate myself. I know the houses where dogs usually bark at us. I listen to the direction of traffic, to the sound of trains passing – anything that can help me pinpoint my location.

Have you ever consciously paid attention to the information you’re gathering with your hearing?

How often are you aware of the sound of the traffic that surrounds you? Have you ever realized it sounds different when you drive into a tunnel? Have you ever wondered whether your reactions are informed by sounds like these, even if you’re not consciously aware of them?

I’ve been thinking about the ways I use sound as a blind person. And how much being more aware of sound could add to a sighted person’s perceptions if they could tap into it more often. And that’s what I spoke to Brian Bushway, of Acoustic Athletics about in my latest podcast.

Brian, who is himself blind, travels the world training people, both with and without sight, about ways that using input from the sounds around them can add to their lives. It’s a skill called echo location.

Brian and I discussed what echo location is, how it can be used, and the neuroscience of how the brain interprets both sight and sound. I found it a fascinating conversation.

We even chatted about how Brian uses echo location to ride a mountain bike independently, rather than with a sighted pilot on a tandem as most blind and partially sighted mountain-bikers do.

If you’d like to learn a little more about ways you could be using sound to add a different dimension to your world, give my conversation with Brian a listen at http://iono.fm/e/1160293

Or search for A Different Way of Seeing on your usual podcast player to listen to the conversation. Oh, and while you’re there, why not follow the podcast. That way you’ll have our episodes drop into your feed automatically.

My Accessible Travel Podcast Takes to the Air

The image shows an  adaptive paraglider

A few weeks ago I told you I’d reached out to the team who organised the first South African adaptive paraglide. I asked them if they would be willing
to come onto my A Different Way of Traveling podcast to chat about adaptive paragliding.

Matthew van Zyl, the owner of Square1 Paragliding, was happy to chat to me and I got to find out all about this exciting and inclusive sport. I also got to chat to Tarryn Tomlinson from Able2Travel, who was one of the first to try out the new fly chair.

I’m the first to admit that I’m not the world’s most adventurous person. In fact, I’m far more likely to be found with my head buried in a book -audio, of course – or listening to some of my favourite rock songs. Yet it was fascinating to learn more about how paragliding has been made more accessible for those who are wanting to give it a try. And I was excited to learn how inclusive Matthew believes it to be.

Certainly, from what he told me in the interview, the fly chair would be able to accommodate a broad range of disabilities. Matthew also explained how the fly chair operates and explained how easy it is for him, as the pilot, to communicate with the person in the fly chair. And he was able to answer my questions about takeoff and landing. All of which reassured less-than-adventurous me!

Tarryn reinforced what Matthew told me and it was wonderful to hear about the experience from her perspective as a wheelchair user.

So, if you’re interested to learn more about adaptive paragliding, you’ll find the podcast at http://iono.fm/e/1129768

And who knows, maybe you’ll see me leaping off the side of the mountain and soaring into the air in the adaptive paraglider sometime … After all, I did try scuba diving!

Podcasts on A Few Accessible Activities

The image  shows Lois sitting at a computer and speaking into a microphone

A few days ago I found myself wondering how many podcast interviews I had done relating to adaptive sports and activities. When I looked back through the podcast feed I was excited to see how many there were. Today I’m going to share a few past episodes with you in the hope they might inspire you to discover how various activities can be adaptive to become more inclusive for persons with special needs.

Our first foray into accessible activities was in episode 5 (December 2018), when I spoke to Angelique le Roux of Ceres Zip slide Adventures. I found it fascinating to hear how they make ziplining available to persons with a wide range of different disabilities. And, even with my atrocious head for heights, I found myself wondering what the experience might be like. Find out for yourself by listening to the interview at http://iono.fm/e/638621

On episode 14 I interviewed Roxy Davis of Surf Emporium about the adaptive surfing clinics she runs. That was all the way back in June 2019. You can listen to the episode at http://iono.fm/e/696018

In other episodes I’ve spoken to people about accessible safaris (Episode 32 – http://iono.fm/e/828914) and ocean cruising, (Episode 34 – http://iono.fm/e/845329
)

Then, in my most recent episode I chatted to a team who run an adaptive scuba diving organisation. Again, I was excited to hear how they are able to accommodate people across a wide spectrum of abilities. So much so that I am hoping to give it a go myself in the next few weeks. You’ll find that interview at http://iono.fm/e/1110127

I have always maintained that I constantly learn things from the podcast interviews I do and certainly my eyes have been opened to so many different opportunities and activities that are available to those of us living with a disability. And I think that is wonderful.

Want to know what my next interview on an activity will be about? Well, I know that the first South African adaptive paraglide took place in Cape Town recently. And I’ve already reached out to the people concerned to see if they’re interested in being interviewed. So maybe that will be next!

Podcast on Long-Distance Air Travel with a Guide Dog.

The image shows a man sitting on a park bench with a yellow Labrador beside him.

Hosting a podcast on accessible travel, I often have the opportunity to chat with interesting people about a wide range of topics. My last few podcasts have been no exception.

I recently interviewed Michael Hingson on the topic of long-distance air travel with a guide dog. Michael has had extensive experience on the topic, having travelled not only for work but also following his experience escaping from the World Trade Centre during the attack on 9 September 2001.

Together Michael and his guide dog Roselle walked down 78 floors of the World Trade Centre and navigated their way to safety. Michael tells the story of that day in his book “Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero”

Michael and his guide dogs have subsequently travelled around the world sharing their story. So he was the perfect person to interview on the subject of air travel with a guide dog.

You can hear some of Michael’s experiences in the podcast – http://iono.fm/e/1103477

While you’re there, why not listen to a few more exciting travel stories. And subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. With 53 published episodes so far, there is plenty to enjoy!

1 2 3 10
Email updates
Lois shares updates on her book, speaking and the reality of living with blindness. Find out what Lois is up to – subscribe here.

Facebook