Climbing Mount Snowdon

So I’m currently on this massive hypomanic spree that’s seen me start the week by driving to Snowdonia National Park on Monday (10th) and climbing mount Snowdon, and will end the current week with me being in Aberdeen or possibly Skye, I haven’t quite decided yet.  Suffice to say people are getting worn out from being around me.

We started Snowdon after I’d been up all night the night before, so I was able to start getting ready pretty early, and we set off on the three hour drive around 9am in the morning.  The internet said to allow 6 hours up and down to climb Snowdon, so we knew we had plenty of time.

We arrived around 1:30pm due to traffic and parked in a pretty decent car park that was a fair bit cheaper than the one 100m down the road.  I would recommend parking in a municipal car park – we paid £4 (normally £5, drops to £4 after 1pm) and the other one was charging £7 but so many people were parked there for some reason!  There was the option of a train to the top but I wanted to walk up.

We followed the signs for the mountain and followed an easy tarmac track as it started to ascend, until we got to a point where the tarmac became a track made of aggregate.  There were plenty of sheep but no goats.

Plenty of sheep but no goats.
Plenty of sheep but no goats.

Up was up, and there was so very much of it.  We didn’t have enough water, since SOMEBODY (naming no names but it wasn’t me) drank nearly the whole bottle in one gulp, but there was a little cafe/shop about half way up the mountain, so we bought more water, and it wasn’t a complete rip off.  I also had a rocket lolly for the sugar as I needed a bit of energy.  We had taken some Linda McCartney meatfree sausage rolls with us that I’d cooked, and these ended up being our lunch.  They were tasty as usual.  The path passed under the train track for the first time.

We got to a point where the path passed the train track a second time, and then the whole experience took a turn for the worse.  Literally it was like someone had put a hood up over the whole area and all we could see in every direction was pure white fog.   It stayed this way for the rest of the journey.

We reached the top and it reminded me of that level in Tomb Raider II where Lara is jumping around on pieces of rock – I think it was called Floating Islands, it was one of the last levels in the game anyway, and the greenery and lack of any sort of view beyond the edges of rocky outcrops at the top of Snowdon reminded me of this.  We avoided the cafe/train station and anyway they were closed, and we just got back down again, we didn’t rush as much as on Ben Lomond because it wasn’t as cold, but I was certainly glad of my snowboarding gloves.  We reached the top at 5:10pm.

Snowdon in Snowdonia
Floating islands!!

The descent was a killer, and my bones under my knees were protesting painfully at every step, which was a nuisance because there was so much down to descend and I heartily wished for a scooter or some rollerskates (but my skates were at home and anyway they’re aggressive inlines so no good for cross country) so I could save my leg bones the trouble.  When I got back to the tarmac I did the rest backwards and pretty much everyone who passed me started to do the same, it was a LOT easier and I think it saved my toenails.

We stopped to catch our breath enjoy the view for a minute just at the exact moment when a shepherd was gathering his sheep with his sheepdog and a whistle.  I’d seen it all before on One Man And His Dog (the reality TV show about shepherding from years ago) but in the area I’m from we have fields and gates, so as a child it was rare to see the sheep being gathered up by a dog like that.  It was very special to be able to watch this and I tried to get some good photos but I only had my phone with me (my camera weighs 1lb I’m not taking that up a mountain!!)  so I don’t think they came out so good.  Judge for yourself:

There are sheep in the distance being rounded up by a sheepdog.
There are sheep in the distance being rounded up by a sheepdog.  They’re those dots around halfway up on the far right of the picture.

At the bottom, a cup of tea would have been nice but everywhere in Llanberis seems to close at 5 which is odd for a tourist hub.  I think a lot of people avoid the Llanberis path because it’s seen as the “easy” tourist path, but as a seasoned hillwalker I found it to be both a challenge but not unachievable.  The length of the walk makes it the longest with the most ascent of any of the Snowdon paths and I am not sure you should legitimately be able to say “I’ve climbed Snowdon” if you’ve never done Llanberis because all the other routes start about half way up so the ascent is far less!  I thoroughly enjoyed the tourist path because there was hardly anyone on it and I hope that this was just a quiet day because I’d hate for the halfway cafe and the places in Llanberis to go out of business just because people are walking route snobs.

The other thing about Llanberis is that’s where the train goes from, so a lot of people get the train up and walk back down again.  I balked at the price because it’s £15 for a single or £20 for a return ticket on the train!!  I thought about how many shanks’s ponies I could buy for that much money and decided it wasn’t worth the price of a pair of shoes to go up in a train, even an awesome uphill mountain train.

In the absence of any open eateries, we went back to Conwy and got a McDonald’s from the retail park drive thru then drove home.  I was glad we ate something because every freaking motorway between Conwy and our house was closed and I had to divert the car so many times!

Rome in A Day (and pushchair, wheelchair accessibility)

So, unless you believe it was beamed here by aliens, most people can agree that Rome wasn’t built in a day, yada yada yada.

However, it can be visited in a day (although you will miss out on loads).  Here’s the 5 things to see/do if you only have one day in Rome, I’ve included accessibility information for wheelchairs and pushchairs because I know a few people who have been put off going to Rome due to a perceived lack of accessibility:

5. The Spanish Steps – I really liked them, and I used a network of back alleys to get to the top, just as it was going dark, then climbed down, because it was actually less touristy to do it that way around and we only got harassed by two flower sellers at the top, not the zillion or so at the bottom, because I realized I couldn’t get a good shot from the bottom so I bought a postcard instead.

Spanish Steps Wheelchair Pushchair Accessibility:

It’s a monumental staircase.  The back way isn’t totally wheelchair friendly, if you’re a solo wheelchair traveller you would be disappointed, but it’s one flight of stairs after a bit of a hill (see my first picture, that’s the back way not the actual Spanish steps, which are much less accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs, particularly due to size and shape of the steps, as well as crowds), so if you’ve got a carer with you, you might be able to possibly get to the top (depending on your circumstances).  Personally, I would have flagged down a strong person to help me lift the wheelchair to get my mum up these steps if I’d taken her (if she’d wanted to see the top, and obviously at a time when I was still caring for her), but obviously it depends on how comfortable you are with doing that.  No way in hell I would have got an electric wheelchair up these steps or a scooter, unless it was a child’s.  This is also the way up that I’d recommend if you’ve got a pushchair, pram or buggy.  If you look at a map of Rome, just trace back from the top of the Spanish steps down some alleys (alleys are a bit hilly) to see how to get up here.

The back entrance to the Spanish Steps.
The back entrance to the Spanish Steps.  Note these aren’t the actual Spanish steps, this is a MUCH shorter, shallower staircase.
The only VAGUELY in focus picture of the view from the top of the Spanish Steps.  My camera does NOT cope with low lighting very well.
The only VAGUELY in focus picture of the view from the top of the Spanish Steps. My camera does NOT cope with low lighting very well.

4.  The Trevi Fountain would usually come here, but due to current renovations it’s actually empty and covered with scaffolding at the moment.

The Trevi Fountain restoration work September 2014
The Trevi Fountain restoration work September 2014

Instead, I’m going to bump up The Pantheon, which has had all its repairs completed and is fully open.  I first saw the Pantheon in 2007, when it was covered in indoor scaffolding, and I was very pleasantly surprised this time that it was restored to its stunning former glory with nary a builder in sight.  It’s well worth a visit and when you do, look up at the ceiling as well.

The Pantheon is completely wheelchair accessible.  Entry is free.
The Pantheon is completely wheelchair accessible. Entry is free.

Trevi Fountain Wheelchair Pushchair Accessibility:

It’s all flat ground to get to the Trevi Fountain, but you can’t actually get to it, usually at Easter and Summer there are huge crowds, so I’m not sure how you would get to the front to see anything, also the actual sides of the Trevi Fountain are quite high to stop people falling in, so you might need to either stand up (if you are able) or get someone to lift you to see all of it.  It’s 100% pushchair accessible, though.  With the current glass floor, if your wheelchair isn’t too wide, you could get to see the current renovations up close before they restore it to its former anarchic glory.

Pantheon Wheelchair Pushchair Accessibility:

The Pantheon is totally accessible by wheelchair and inside is nice shiny flat floorage and wide thoroughfares.

3.  Eat At A Pavement Cafe – one of my most memorable experiences each time I go to Rome is the food.  Yeah, it’s somewhat overpriced, and yes, it’s just pasta/pizza at most eateries.  But when it’s 9pm, the heat of the day is still in the air, the twinkling fairy lights are on above you, and some guy with an accordion is busking up and down the street, eating a pizza at a pavement cafe, either with someone you care about or solo, is one of the finest eating experiences of my life.  “But you have a milk allergy!” I hear you declare (or if you know me less well, “but you’re vegan!” which has only been since January)  I found this awesome place where the owner was really helpful and did me a dairy free pizza with no cheese, and the base was dairy free anyway, so that was fantastic.  I was very excited to have a vegetable pizza.  Mine cost 7 Euros, my drink (Sprite) was 4 Euros.

This place was at the bottom of the Spanish Steps round a corner, and were happy to oblige me with a dairy free pizza.  They didn't overcharge us, either.
This place was at the bottom of the Spanish Steps round a corner, and were happy to oblige me with a dairy free pizza. They didn’t overcharge us, either.

Pavement Cafe Wheelchair Pushchair Accessibility: 

Pretty much every pavement cafe is wheelchair accessible, you can just roll up and they’ll pull the chair away from the table if you don’t want it, and they will bring everything to you, like they do for everyone else, although there’s often a step or three to get inside and toilets (where they have one) are rarely wide enough for a wheelchair, baby changing stations are also non-existent.

2.  The Coliseum – Being an archaeology graduate, Rome means Ancient Rome to me.  Getting to see the Coliseum (some nations spell it Colloseum, or Coloseo) and actually stand where thousands of people stood, watching the games that used to go on, wondering what they thought and how they responded when they saw such spectacles… that’s just tremendous for me.  While here, I bought a 7 Euro guidebook for the Forum and Palatine, because you get a combined ticket (which is easier to obtain from the forum with less queueing, but I did the coliseum first).

The Coliseum from the bottom end; the wooden platform is where the floor level would have been after (I think it was Caligula) renovated from the original dirt floor.
The Coliseum from the bottom end; the wooden platform is where the floor level would have been after Domitian (the original builder Vespasian’s son) renovated from the original dirt floor and added the top layer of seating, doing both in wood, which was later fire damaged around AD217.

Coliseum Wheelchair Pushchair Accessibility:

There is a lift to get to the top stone floor where you can look at the actual arena, and the exhibition area, although once you’re up there, I don’t think the actual monument has wide enough walkways for a standard wheelchair plus hand clearance, so you’d have to go back to the lift to get back down again.  I’m not sure I’d pay full price for this, and I don’t know how wheelchair friendly the lower levels are, where only the guided tours are allowed, because I didn’t want to pay for a tour guide.  There were plenty of people with pushchairs at all levels of the coliseum.

1. The Roman Forum and palatine – There’s no decorum in the forum!  Depending which path you take from the entrance, you might be forgiven for thinking that this is just a big hill with not a lot of interesting stuff on it, without any plaques etc to tell you what’s going on.  Go back to the entrance and either go right or straight on, rather than left, and you go round the hill to it’s foot, where you will see the most awesome remains, such as these, which made me wonder if I’d wandered onto the set of Xena, Warrior Princess:

I wish my house looked like this.
I wish my house looked like this.
This copper door is still keeping this building's contents safe, two thousand years after it was all built.  I wonder whether anyone still has a key to get inside...
This copper door is still keeping this building’s contents safe, two thousand years after it was all built. I wonder whether anyone still has a key to get inside…
And the verdant plant life is another reason the Roman Forum is my number 1 favourite part of Rome.  This area was reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli anime.
And the verdant plant life is another reason the Roman Forum is my number 1 favourite part of Rome. This area was reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli anime.

Roman Forum and Palatine Wheelchair and Pushchair Accessibility:

The Forum’s accessibility is surprisingly good.  Another reason why it’s scored quite highly on this list.  There is a separate entrance for wheelchairs and pushchairs, with a lift to get to the correct level.  You can’t get to the Palatine at all as far as I can see but the Forum’s where all the best stuff is (all the above photos are of the Forum) and you can get around most of it that’s all on the same level.  If I was in a wheelchair or planning a trip for someone in a wheelchair, I’d have no worries about the Roman Forum.

Hat Tip:

And I also strongly recommend that you take a hat and plenty of water.  I had water (and there’s a hosepipe in the coliseum where you can refill although the water quality is not quite British tap water quality, something I gladly pay my water bills for back home) but I had no hat, and I still got heat exhaustion after 24 hours in Rome using factor 50 suncream because my head just got too hot during the heat of the day, from visiting so many outdoor monuments without ample breaks.

Toilet Tip:

The biggest issue facing disabled tourists in Rome will be the toilets, or lack of toilets.  I strongly recommend you find the McDonalds restaurants which are all over Rome because they have a standard design in Europe, which means EVERY McDonalds in Europe must have a ground level accessible disabled toilet.  They’re usually pretty easy to spot as well.  How do I know this?  I worked at McDonalds all over the UK for 2 years, full-time, and I always make use of their facilities when I’m on the road.  I am very conscientious and always buy something (cup of tea, large fries or even a garden salad if I’m not overly hungry, it’s part of my 5-a-day if nothing else), because some stores get really sick of tourists literally pooping on their facilities and not even buying anything, which means these people have no respect for the person who cleans those toilets (hi!), and I don’t want to see stores charging people to use the toilets or otherwise restricting access.  KFC and Burger King may also have accessible toilets, but I can’t personally recommend them since I’ve only ever had overcharged, bad food experiences at Burger King, and KFC’s food is excellent (love love LOVE their corn on the cob, fries and BBQ sauce) but I rarely use their toilets because their Drive Thrus tend to have short opening hours and they don’t have as many city locations.

Note on the Vatican:

You’ll notice that I didn’t include il Vaticano on this list.  The Vatican City is really a completely stunning experience, and very accessible, BUT you really need a full day, or at the very least, an entire half a day, to soak up everything.  I also recommend you getting an ISIC card (the European Student card) if you are possibly able to (I get mine from the amount of language courses I’m studying at my Uni – you don’t need to be a full time student to get one, just studying at a university that participates in NUS/ISIC) because it slashes prices for you at all the major sites, including the Vatican, and I wish I’d had it when I went to Italy last year because it’s accepted pretty much everywhere in Rome.