The silence over the past couple of weeks has been due to my having been on holiday and recovering from it! I paid a visit to somewhere I should dearly love to reside: Benalmádena (Benalmádena), a town very close to the city of Málaga; in other words the Costa del Sol.
[Image description: map of the civic area.]
Monarch Airlines (Monarch)
Monarch is my favourite airline since the demise of British Caledonian (British Caledonian) having also travelled on SAS (In/accessible Europe (1): Stockholm), Austrian Airlines, KLM, Air France, Thomson (the worst ever from my perspective as a disabled passenger - but that's another story!) and naturally British Airways (tho' I prefer to call it London Airways these days...). As a disabled passenger I always feel like royalty for I am regally looked after by Monarch's staff. I need a wheelchair to get to the æroplane (airplane), but can shuffle up the aisle with one stick and holding on to the seats. However, if one is completely chair-bound, they arrange for one to be carried aboard with as much dignity as is possible. Bless them!
Málaga Airport (Málaga Airport)
Once all the argy-bargy (pell-mell) of the passengers who MUST get off the 'plane asap had passed, I arose from my seat, shuffled to the front, et voilà, my wheelchair had arrived with a very pleasant and affable assistant. The assistants sport very distinctive orange & logo'd T-shirts and are always very simpático/a. This time my male assistant went beyond the call-of-duty and not only pushed me past my recently disgorged fellow-passengers and through passport-control like some VIP, but arranged for a luggage trolley for me & my travelling companions and escorted us all to the airport train-station. All this was deserving of a decent 'propina' or gratuity (tip).
Cercanías, the Suburban Railway (Railroad) (Cercanías)
The local trains are fully accessible and very cheap (low-cost) - unlike their British counterparts. Buying a ticket from the machine was straightforward. Wheelie's can pass thro' a gate operated by the friendly assistants. The rest pass thro' electronic gates opened with one's ticket and which give sufficient time for hobblers to shuffle thro'. The surfaces, as in the airport, are all smooth: so no trip-hazards. A lift (elevator) takes one down to the platform, where one finds a plethora of seating whilst one awaits the train's arrival. When it does come (every fifteen mins.) there is a disabled entry-point with low-level access and only the tiniest of gaps. Wheelies should have no difficulty accessing. Apart from wheelie space and seating for disabled/agèd folk, this is also the location of the WC. This is accessible to some wheelies - if you can use a Virgin Trains' loo, you'll be able to use this. And none of that horrid Virgin stench either as these conveniences are always spotless! The destinations are announced in plenty of time in Spanish and then English; but there is also an electronic read-out on the multiple screens throughout the carriages (railcars).
[Image description: schematic map of the local train network.]
Approximately twenty minutes later we arrived at Arroyo de la Miel station, the commercial hub of Benalmádena. This platform seems quite narrow, so I advise that one hangs back whilst the rushers rush off. The lift (elevator) is not well sign-posted, but can be found under the escalator. Take care here if you are a motorised wheelie - use low-speed! If you are in a heavy chair, I should recommend you go up solo due to weight restrictions for this particular lift.
Alas, there is no direct route to the taxis directly to the left from the exit of the station. Do not be fooled by what looks like a ramp at the side, it is actually gentle(-ish!) steps. There is an accessible route ahead and round to the left, near the pedestrian crossing. Take your time, there are always loads of taxi-cabs. There is no queueing system either for passengers nor the taxistas. If the drivers do not point to the sequent one, just ask. If one does not speak Spanish, just raise open hands in a pleading gesture and look the row of taxis up and down! Most taxis use a log-book that shows the prices, so one should not be overcharged. All the taxistas I have ever encountered in my twelve visits to Benalmádena have helped with luggage and wheelchairs, etc.
Parque de la Paloma
Our hotel (one really does need to check with individual hotels/apartments whether or not they can accommodate one's needs and one really does need to think this thro' and be specific) was located right next to the Parque de la Paloma (Parque). The park can be very noisy to those not used to fauna as it has a veritable ménagerie of free-roaming wildlife including rabbits, wildfowl, terrapins, peacocks, chickens and a profusion of cacophonous cockerels (roosters) in addition to cooped emus, goats and llamas. Many of the pathways are suitable for wheelies and the mobility-impaired; others require mountaineering skills and/or assistance. Electronic chairs, unless specially adapted/designed, will need to keep to the main paths as the older routes are only gravelled.
There are several cafés within the park environs, some better suited to the needs of the disabled than others. Do not be surprised to see children playing late - it is cooler, Spain is family-friendly and the kiddies will have had a siesta in the afternoon. My photo below is of a café that has ramped access at the back and an accessible toilet.
Paseo Marítimo (esplanade/promenade)
The panoramic view from the balcony of my last hotel overlooked the Mediterranean as well as the long walkway that stretches along most of the Benalmadenan coastline. For much of the way this is marbled and easy to shuffle along on or manœuvre a wheelchair. One of the beaches or 'playas' has disabled parking, and especially adapted showers, WCs and changing facilities. Most of the playas have ramp access - tho' some may be a tad steep for manual wheelies! I have seen wheelchairs left stranded in the sand whilst their previous occupiers lie on a sun-lounger on several of the beaches, for after the ramps many areas have wooden paving to assist one in reaching the playa or a café-bar.
[Image description: view of esplanade looking towards the marina.]
[Image description: the castillo on the promenade.]
My personal favourite beach is the Playa Bil-Bil next to the castillo because I have returned every year to Maracas (Maracas) where I happily sit in the shade - you can choose to sit in the hot sun if you so wish, but do recall Noël Coward's song "Mad Dogs & Englishmen"! - watching the world go by sipping my cafe con leche (white coffee), caña or cerveza (draught or bottled beer), vino tinto (red wine) which comes chilled, or mojito. They also serve a wide selection of non-alcoholic drinks. Or go half-and-half and order a tinto de verano, a chilled mix of red wine & Sprite. Most refreshing! No-one will come to move you on, even if you are there a couple of hours with a single beverage. Alas the WCs here are not accessible to wheelies and some mobility-impaired: so if this is you, don't stay too long...!!!
Arroyo de la Miel
Arroyo, as it is abbreviated to, is the commercial centre of Benalmádena, where the main shopping area is: although, shops can be found almost anywhere. The main areas have either broad pavements (sidewalks) or are pedestrianised. Be careful going up side-streets tho' as the pavements can disappear completely or lack the dropped kerbs (curbs) (hope North American readers understand that term as I have no idea what they are called in the US/Canada) found elsewhere. Also, it is not advisable to wheel on the narrow roads as drivers tend to be impatient with all pedestrians not just the disabled. Expect to be peeped/honked at at some stage and do not take umbrage! Some shops are accessible, others not so. However, if you see something you want but cannot access the store, the assistants are always more than willing to come out to you, at least in my experience.
Arroyo has many eateries. I have used Gambrinus a few times, famed for their Cruzcampo beer but their rosé is good too! Here one has a choice of eating inside with the air-con on or outside with the central heating... Again WCs are not wheelie accessible but the even floors mean they are fine for the mobility-impaired. I have to say I have not yet found any bar/eatery with a wheelchair accessible toilet, so some research will be required prior to visiting if one does not have the constitution of a camel.
Referred to as the Pueblo, this is the administrative part of the town and situated half-way up one of the local mountains. DO NOT try to walk/wheel it. Grab a cab or take the 'bus. There about three 'buses that can drop one off in the Pueblo. The fares are very cheap. And the 'buses can lower to kerb level as well as having a wheelie space and seats for the disabled. The 'bus will conveniently drop you off at a row of shops which are mainly cafe-bars. I always start and stop at the first!
[Image descriptor: me enjoying a glass of chilled wine opposite the Danish institution.]
The Pueblo has recently been remodelled and this has meant the main areas are now disabled-accessible. For many years the Danes have had a recuperation centre (Montebello Institute) here, so one will see lots of disabled folk. Indeed the whole of Benalmádena is much more disabled-friendly than even the city of Málaga, just up the coast. There the inhabitants tend to stare discomfitingly at one; whereas for the Benalmadenans disabled folk are common-place. Indeed the Pueblo actually has a shop on the main through-road (at this point named Calle del Clavel) which has a large window-display of disability aids, footwear, etc. and the staff, as ever, are just lovely as well as helpful.
If you like pizza, then the Italian restaurant next to the Maskar supermarket is a must-visit. When the square outside is not filled with diners enjoying their repasts, it looks like a bit of a rough bar. However, if one walks through it opens up into what one expects an Italian ristorante to look like. However, when it's hot - most of the time - you are more likely to want to sit outside at the front. Recently a wooden sun (rain?) shelter has been erected if one prefers the shade.
One might like a stroll/wheel over to the Parochial Church and the Jardines del Muro. Whilst the gardens are accessible, part of the route is not suitable for those without an assistant to push non-electric chairs. En route pass thro' the Plaza de España to see the famous fountain, el Fuente de la Niña - the symbol of the whole civic area. The effort to get to the gardens is well worth it, especially at night, as one can see for miles/kilometres.
Overall, I adore Benalmádena. Its folk are amiable. It is family-friendly. It is disabled-friendly. It's a great place for a holiday. I came back totally chillaxed. I hope if you visit, you do too. %)