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Ideas / Diary / Akemi
The adventures of a disabled woman on holiday in London
  Sunday 15 September
  Monday 16 September
  Tuesday 17 September
  Wednesday 18 September
  Thursday 19 September
  Friday 20 September
  Saturday 21 September


In September 2002 Akemi (from Japan) arrived in London with her son (Yukihito) and daughter (Kaori) for a 1-week sightseeing holiday. They travelled around with Mark (the author of this website). Akemi cannot stand and needs to move around in a wheelchair, so planning the trip carefully was especially important. The details of the holiday are recorded here. The sightseeing information may be of interest to anyone who wants to visit London as a tourist. Details are also included that are relevant for people in a wheelchair - hopefully this may help other disabled people to plan similar trips in the future.

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- Flight

If possible, book the flight a couple of months before you wish to travel. This is because it may be easier to get cheaper tickets and some time may be needed if special arrangements have to be made by the airline or airports. Kaori had to book the flight only a couple of weeks before travelling, and found that it was a busy time (because there are two public holidays at this time of year in Japan). She needed to contact several airlines to ask them about their policies for disabled passengers. She decided to fly by Virgin Airlines from Tokyo Narita to London Heathrow. Akemi and her daughter both needed to buy first class tickets - this was by far the biggest expense of the trip. If you are being met by someone at Heathrow airport, check which terminal you will arrive at. Heathrow is a very large airport and currently has four terminals.

- Accommodation

When booking accommodation, be careful about the dates. Kaori assumed that her flight from Japan to the UK would be arriving on the next day, but in fact it arrived on the same day (because of the time difference). Luckily this problem was noticed before arrival and an extra night at the hotel was booked.
Booked rooms at the Copthorne Tara, Scarsdale Place, Kensington, London W8 5SR (020 7937 7211):
Booked using HolidayCare: Had to pay a joining fee of £35, but then could book rooms at cheap rates at the hotel. They also helped to arrange the rental of a special mattress, although this could not be delivered on Sunday so could not be available for the first night.

- Entertainment

It saves time and avoids disappointment if you book in advance: some places also need to make special arrangements for disabled visitors. The following events were booked in advance:
- Reservation for afternoon tea in the Georgian restaurant, Harrods (see: Monday)
- London Eye tickets (see: Tuesday)
- Buckingham Palace (Changing of the Guard, State Rooms, Queen's Gallery; see Wednesday)
- My Fair Lady musical (see: Thursday)
Often tickets can only be sent to a UK address (you may want to ask for them to be sent to you at your hotel in London).

- UK transport

Being able to order a licensed black cab by telephone was important for us, so that we could be sure that we could always find a reliable taxi which Akemi could use (although in central London it was cheaper, more flexible and quicker to find a taxi on the street). The three main black cab companies offering a booking service are Computer Cab (ComCab, telephone 020 7432 1432,, DialACab (telephone: 020 7253 5000, and RadioTaxis (telephone: 020 7272 0272, Each time we used this service we said that we needed a wheelchair accessible vehicle with a ramp. The total cost charged to your credit card is the total of the normal meter charge, an arrangement charge (usually 10-15%) and a tip. For short journeys, check if there is a minimum charge. It is best to book a taxi at least 30 minutes before the time when you need to travel.

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Sunday 15 September 2002

- Airport

Transferred at the departure gate at Narita to a special narrow wheelchair to get to the aircraft seat.
11am (Japanese time; 3am UK time)- plane leaves Narita.
Akemi and her helper (her daughter Kaori) travelled first class. The seat could be made flat and it was possible to get some sleep. It was possible to use the toilet on the plane, using the aircraft wheelchair to get there.
3.10pm (12 hours after takeoff) - plane lands at Terminal 3 Heathrow, about 50 minutes early.
The wheelchair needed a special security check, because the frame would have set off a metal detector and needs to be checked for drugs or explosives.

Akemi's comments:
Akemi had been a bit worried about travelling by air. The journey from Japan is long (12 hours), so being able to use the toilet was important. She was worried about turbulence, which could have affected her weak neck, but the journey was smooth. Having to buy first class tickets for both herself and Kaori was very expensive, but all the airlines contacted seemed to have the same policy.

- Taxis

Although the airline's first class tickets included the possibility of a free limousine from the airport to the hotel, this had not been requested and would not have been a wheelchair-accessible vehicle. To find the taxi, was requested to go to the Taxi Information Desk. The taxi meter started from the time the taxi was requested plus an allowed waiting time of 10 minutes. We left the airport terminal at 4.10pm and arrived at the hotel at 5.00pm. The taxi journey cost about £50 (charged directly to the credit card), including a booking fee and service charge. It is cheaper to get a taxi directly from the taxi rank at the airport, although this might require some waiting (do not accept offers from drivers who come up to you asking if you want a taxi).

All London black cabs are supposed to be accessible for wheelchairs. There is space for a wheelchair on the left-hand side. Most taxis are licensed to carry 5 people, but there is only room for 4 people including one person in a wheelchair. The easiest thing for us was to put Akemi's wheelchair in sideways, which also gave her a good view through the side window, although the chair is supposed to face backwards so that the safety belt can be worn. The other three of us sat on the back seat. Older models of taxi (Fairway) have two metal ramps in the boot: these can be extended by pressing a catch (they can be noisy to open); we put the ramps under the chair during the journey so that they could be taken out quickly at the end of the journey. The ramps must be made parallel and should be put well apart so that the wheels don't catch when going up. Newer models of taxi (TX1) have a short ramp built into the floor on the left-hand side. It is useful to carry a 50-pence coin which can be used to release the screw so that this ramp can be pulled out (an extension to this ramp is carried in the boot: this is needed if you need to get down to road level instead of to pavement level).

Over the following week we used taxis about 20 times. About a third of black cabs refused to carry us, mainly because we requested a ramp. Some of the excuses given were that their ramp wasn't working, that the ramp couldn't be got out of the boot (in one case because the driver's golf clubs were there!) or that the ramp didn't fit the taxi because it "wasn't their cab" or because it had been serviced recently and had been equipped with the wrong one. Some drivers suggested lifting the wheelchair in and out instead of using the ramp, but this wasn't practical because Akemi's neck is sensitive, and the chair is heavy. If you have trouble getting a cab to accept you, ask the driver for their number (or copy it from the back of the cab) and report it to the Public Carriage Office: (this will help other disabled passengers to have a better experience in future). One third of the drivers we asked accepted us but made it very obvious that they were unhappy to be asked to use their ramps. The other third of drivers accepted us without complaining and were polite and friendly (of course we gave bigger tips to these drivers). We soon found that we were more experienced than the drivers about using the ramps and needed to show them what to do.

'Fairway' taxi ramps

Assistance from a taxi driver

'TX1' taxi ramps, with extension

Akemi's comments:
Despite the occasional problems, Akemi was impressed with the black cabs in London. Taxis in Japan cannot take wheelchairs, which greatly limits her mobility there. Being able to use black cabs gave her the flexibility to travel around London efficiently.

- Hotel

We stayed in the Copthorne Tara hotel, Scarsdale Place, Kensington (near High Street Kensington).

The doorman at the hotel offered assistance with the wheelchair. A porter helped to carry bags to the room after check-in. Earlier the concierge had kept Mark's bag before he went to the airport. It is usual to give a small tip of one or two pounds for these kinds of services.

The hotel room was on the Mezzanine floor (M), which is half way between the Ground floor (G) and the first floor (1). The way of numbering the floors is different from in Japan, where the ground floor is known as the first floor.

There were no steps, which made it easy to get around the hotel. Doors could be opened automatically by pressing a button on the side. The door to the room also opened automatically when the key was entered, and could also be opened by pressing a button next to the bed or near the door. The bed was normal, but equipment to allow Akemi to sit up by herself was rented (unfortunately it could not be delivered on a Sunday). There was a TV, including a Japanese channel. The bathroom had a wide door and included a low toilet and wash basin and accessible shower, plus handrails. There were twin beds in the room (one for Akemi and one for her daughter Kaori). There was a connecting door inside the room to another ordinary twin room, where Mark and Yukihito slept.

That evening we ate in the hotel's restaurant. When the bill arrived, Kaori wasn't sure if the service charge was included. It stated "gratuities are at your discretion". Mark explained that this meant that a service charge was not included and that a 10% tip might be appropriate.

Yukihito asked if the hotel's water was drinkable. Mark explained that it is usually fine to drink water from the cold tap in hotels in the UK, but that the water is often hard (this means that it contains minerals and may create a thin layer on top of a cup of tea). Yukihito went out to buy bottled water.

Copthorne Tara hotel


Basin and toilet

Akemi's comments:
Akemi liked the hotel and room very much, and there were no problems getting around it. The special mattress (which was hired from another company) wasn't exactly what she needed, but helped a little.

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Monday 16 September 2002

- Hyde Park

11.00 Taxi from the hotel to Hyde Park. We asked the taxi to drop us off at the east end of South Carriage Drive, not far from the statue of Achilles. Cost: £9.
We passed through the Rose Garden. As well as the trees and flowers, it was interesting to see the squirrels, and birds. We wandered west to the large lake (the Serpentine). There is a cafe there - we could have had something to eat and used the toilets, but decided not to stop. We followed the northern edge of the Serpentine lake, and then crossed the Serpentine Bridge. There was a level place for us to cross but no traffic lights, so we waited for drivers to stop for us before we crossed. We walked past the Serpentine Gallery and toilets and then followed the Flower Walk to the Albert Memorial (a large statue built to remember Prince Albert, who was the husband of Queen Victoria). There is a ramp on one side of the statue, so we could enjoy looking around it. From the front there is a wonderful view of the Royal Albert Hall, where the Last Night of the Proms (a famous classical concert) had taken place the previous Saturday.

There is a free service called Liberty Drives run by volunteers (although it is free, donations are welcomed to help the service to continue). This allows a disabled person and people in the same group to be driven between certain pick up points around Hyde Park on a small electric vehicle. Hyde Park is very large, so this can be a convenient way for a disabled person to see it. The service does not operate on Mondays, so we did not try this. For more details, see:

The Royal Albert Hall

Horse riding in Hyde Park

The Albert Memorial

Akemi's comments:
Akemi loved the gardens and lake and was surprised how large the park was. She likes to make picture cards with flower designs on the front, so it gave her ideas about ones she would like to make. The squirrels were very sweet: she had never seen them so close before. A man went around giving them monkey nuts and seemed to be calling out their names, but soon we realised all of the squirrels were called Susie!

- Harrods

2.00 Taxi from in front of the Albert Memorial to Hans Road, off Brompton Road, in front of Harrods. Cost: £8.
Harrods is a very large department store:; telephone: 020 7730 1234; opening times: 10 to 7pm, Monday to Saturday (usually closed on Sunday). It is wheelchair accessible and was a convenient place to do all types of shopping. We entered door 3 and obtained store guides from the information desk, including one in Japanese. It would have been possible to have reclaimed VAT (value added tax) on the souvenirs bought (as these were worth more than £50), but this would have involved spending some time after finishing shopping to go to the Tax Free Shopping Bureau on the Lower Ground or Fourth Floor (taking our receipts from Harrods), and also would have taken some time at the airport. We used the lifts opposite Door 3 to access all floors. The route followed was:
Fourth Floor: Lift; Disabled toilets; Harrods World; Planet Harrods; Georgian Restaurant; 3.00 - 5.00pm: Afternoon tea at the Georgian Restaurant (reserved in advance). Afternoon teas are large, so it is better to avoid having lunch before this or a big supper afterwards.
Lower Ground Floor: Lift; Men's Designer Collections; Egyptian Escalator; Memorial to Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed; Harrods Shop; Lift
Ground Floor: Lift; Cosmetics; Cheeses; Fruit; Meat; Tea; Perfumery; Harrods Arcade; Cosmetics; Lift
The shop closed at 7pm, and we took a taxi back to the hotel (cost: £9). It took a bit of time to get a taxi, partly because many other shoppers left at this time.

Harrods shop window

Afternoon tea

Harrods at night

Akemi's comments:
Akemi was particularly interested in the fruit and vegetable food hall. She could see vegetables which they do not have in Japan, such as swedes, parsnips and leeks. It was useful to be able to get the souvenirs for her friends and helpers in Japan from one place, and early in the trip so that she didn't need to worry about this later.

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Tuesday 17 September 2002

- London Eye

9.00 Taxi from the hotel to in front of the London Eye (Belvedere Road). It was the rush hour, and there were roadworks, so the journey took longer than expected. Cost: £20..

For information about the London Eye, see: Normal tickets cost £10.50 each, but Akemi's ticket was £9 and one carer was allowed to travel free (there was also a £1.50 booking fee). There is a special telephone number to make bookings which include a disabled person: 0870 990 8885.

There is a level path straight to the queue in front of the London Eye. A disabled path on the left is for access to the ticket office and toilets, but we had bought tickets in advance and didn't need to use this. Our tickets were marked 10am (for a ride starting between 10am and 10.30am), and we got on at about 10.10am. The wheel was stopped briefly to enable Akemi to get on safely. We were given a pod just for our group of four. The London Eye gives beautiful views of London, and the ride lasts about 30 minutes. It is worth buying one of the guides before getting on, so that you can work out the location of some of the famous places, such as Buckingham Palace, St Paul's Cathedral and Tower Bridge. About 5 minutes before the end of the journey, there is an announcement that a photo will be taken automatically. You can see the cameras on both sides, and you should stand in view of these if you want to buy a souvenir photo at the exit. We got off the wheel at 10.40am. Mark introduced his parents, who had travelled to London by train to Waterloo station.

Inside a pod of the London Eye

The London Eye and County Hall

Akemi's comments:
Akemi enjoyed the views from the London Eye: it was a lovely way to see London. She was surprised that she would be able to get onto the wheel.

- Boat cruise

There is a circular cruise on the river from the London Eye to Tower Bridge and back, but we wanted to travel further on the river and go to Greenwich by boat.
We used a boat trip run by City Cruises: We bought River Red Rover day tickets, which allow unlimited use of their boat services during the day. The full price was £8, but Mark could get a third off by showing his travel pass, and people over 60 can also travel cheaply. The entrance to Waterloo Pier is on the right-hand side of the London Eye. Boats to Greenwich Pier leave every 40 minutes in September. We left Waterloo Pier at 10.50, arrived at Tower Pier at 11.20, stayed on the boat which left Tower Pier at 11.30 and arrived at Greenwich Pier at 12.00.

Care is required when getting onto the boat, but staff will help with this. To get into the lower deck it is necessary to go over a metal barrier which is about 5 centimetres high (this was not a problem for Akemi with Yukihito's help). Akemi stayed in a flat area at the front of the boat's lower deck, from which there were clear views. Kaori and Yukihito went to the upper deck for some of the journey (the upper deck is outside, but can only be reached by steps so it is not accessible for a wheelchair). There is a commentary, but this is not easy to understand for someone who is not a fluent English speaker. Hot and cold drinks are available on the boat: although the tables and seats are fixed, there was enough room for Akemi to sit at the end of one of the tables.

City Cruises river boat

Canary Wharf (Docklands)

Akemi's comments:
Akemi was previously a bit worried about being able to get on and off the boat, but there were no problems in practice. The boat ride was relaxing and provided lovely views of London.

- Greenwich

Next to Greenwich Pier is the Cutty Sark (, a wooden boat with sails (a clipper) which was used about 150 years ago to carry tea and other goods from Asia to Britain. We took a path on the left-hand side to the Old Royal Naval College, which had a display inside as well as a shop and a Tourist Information Centre (telephone: 020 8858 6376 or 0870 6082000). After seeing this, we turned right, enjoying views of some of the college's old buildings, which are now part of Greenwich University. We crossed Romney Road at the traffic lights (there is a pelican crossing), and turned left to get to the entrance of the National Maritime Museum ( The museum was free, but you needed to given a ticket. We saw some of the exhibitions, before taking the lift to go to the Regatta Cafe on the second floor. We had a hot meal here for lunch (there are disabled toilets). At about 2pm we left, using the ramp outside the exit door, and followed the path into Greenwich Park. We called a taxi to meet us half an hour later at the junction of Park Vista and Park Row. We saw the park and walked towards the pond and sundial (sun clock) before leaving by the gate at the eastern corner of the National Maritime Museum to wait for the taxi in Park Vista. At 2.30pm the taxi took us to the end of Blackheath Avenue, just in front of the Old Royal Observatory (Flamsteed House) ( It is possible to walk here through Greenwich Park, but the steep slopes and steps make it difficult to get there in a wheelchair. We enjoyed the views - the hill looks down onto the National Maritime Museum, the River Thames, Canary Wharf and the Millennium Dome. Kaori and Yukihito visited the Royal Observatory. We ordered another taxi to take us the short distance back to Greenwich Pier at 4.00pm (this took a few minutes to order, because Blackheath Avenue was not on the computer's list of road names). We took the City Cruises boat which left Greenwich Pier at 4.20pm (the last boat was at 5.00pm), and arrived at Tower Pier at about 4.50pm.

The Cutty Sark

The National Maritime Museum

Royal Observatory, Greenwich Park

Akemi's comments:
Akemi knew about GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) and enjoyed the lovely buildings and views in Greenwich. There were guidebooks available in Japanese, so she can enjoy reading these later to find out more.

- Tower of London / St. Katherine's Dock

From Tower Pier it is a short walk (but a little bit steep and bumpy) to the entrance of the grounds of the Tower of London. It was too late to enter the Tower of London itself (the last entry was at 5pm, and normally it takes a couple of hours to look around, although not all of the building is accessible for a wheelchair). If we had arrived a couple of hours earlier and had decided to enter the Tower to see the Crown Jewels, a group which includes a disabled person can go to the Group Ticket Office rather than join the main queue: there are reduced prices for the disabled person and his or her assistant (if there is one).

We followed the path around the front of the Tower, towards Tower Bridge. There are pleasant views from here of the Tower, the River Thames and Tower Bridge. The path is made of stones or stone blocks instead of tarmac, so it is a little rough in places. We followed the path to an arched exit on the east side, near Tower Bridge.

Opposite the exit of the Tower is the back of the Tower Thistle Hotel. To the left of this is an entrance to St. Katherine's Dock, which we entered. We followed the path to the left towards Starbucks, and crossed two bridges to the Dickens Inn (an attractive old building decorated with flowers, with a traditional English pub on the ground floor and a couple of restaurants on the upper floors). There is a ramp on the right-hand side of the building (next to an Indian restaurant) which allows wheelchairs to get into the ground floor bar. It was about 6pm. We had a drink, before going back the same route as before until we reached the road St. Katherine's Way. We crossed the road and headed towards the side of the River Thames.

There are beautiful views of Tower Bridge from here (the bridge is lit up after dark). Sometimes the bridge is opened to let tall ships pass through: you can check the times at which the bridge is opened by telephoning Bridge Lift information: 020 7940 3984 a day or so before visiting.

We entered the Tower Thistle Hotel ( using the ramp on the left-hand side of the main entrance and took a lift to the Upper Foyer (marked UF) to go to a restaurant called The Carvery at 7pm (to make a reservation, call the hotel's reception desk: 0870 333 9106). Here traditional English meals are served. There is a disabled toilet on the same floor of the hotel. After the meal, we ordered a taxi from the hotel entrance for 20 minutes later, and enjoyed the night view of Tower Bridge before the taxi arrived.

The Tower of London

Yeoman of the guard

Tower Bridge

Akemi's comments:
Akemi loved the night view of Tower Bridge and the River Thames. It was nice to relax in the restaurant after a busy day sightseeing.

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Wednesday 18 September 2002

- St James's Park

9.00 Taxi to the Marlborough Gate entrance of St James's Park (on the south side of The Mall, opposite Marlborough Road). Cost: £11.
There are toilets on the right-hand side of the gate. The disabled toilets are sometimes made to look as if they are locked, to stop other people from using them.
We walked around St James's Park, following the path. We took a little bit of bread and some monkey nuts to feed the birds or squirrels. After crossing the bridge over the lake, we turned right towards Buckingham Palace. We could see the guards getting ready in Wellington Barracks. We crossed Spur Road and the road in front of Buckingham Palace.

Meeting the ducks, St James's Park

The lake in St James's Park

Akemi's comments:
Akemi enjoyed seeing the beautiful park, the swans and exotic birds on the lake, and the squirrels, which are very tame and enjoy being fed monkey nuts.

- Changing of the Guard

Changing of the Guard is a ceremony which takes place at Buckingham Palace. If you want to watch this, check which dates it happens: in September, it is every second day. At the time of Akemi's visit it was possible for physically handicapped people (and those with them) to watch the Changing of the Guard from inside the Forecourt of Buckingham Palace, provided that previous permission had been obtained in advance (normally spectators have to wait outside the gates or watch from the Queen Victoria Memorial) - unfortunately since 2006 this is no longer possible for security reasons. We all dressed very smartly (Mark and Yukihito wore suits, and Akemi and Kaori wore dresses and a hat), as this is expected for people entering the Forecourt. At 11am Mark showed the letter to the policeman in front of the gate, and the four of us were escorted to the front of the palace wall. The Old Guard marched into position at 11.10am. We thought there might be many other people inside the gates, but on this day it was only the four of us! The guards marched very close to where we were standing, and some of them said hello as they passed. The main ceremony started at 11.30. The soldiers who were previously responsible for security (the Old Guard) are replaced by different soldiers (the New Guard) and there is some music played by an army band. The ceremony finished at 12.10, after which we were escorted back through the gate. We crossed back to St James's Park and bought a hotdog and coffee from a stall on the south side of the lake.

Guard box

Changing of the Guard

Akemi's comments:
Akemi was glad we had dressed smartly, because we could be seen by the audience who were watching the parade. She felt a bit nervous when the guards were marching past in case she was in the way! Luckily the weather was fine (the ceremony is sometimes cancelled if the weather is too bad), but there was a fresh wind so she needed to wear a scarf to keep her warm. She was really impressed by the smart uniforms and by the ceremony.

- Queen's Gallery & the State Rooms

Mark had previously ordered tickets to see the Queen's Gallery and the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace, by telephoning 020 7321 2233 (tickets can also be bought by queuing at the kiosk on the south side of Green Park). For more details, see the official website of the Queen: The palace is only open to the public in the summer, when the Queen is away - in August and September. To enter these you are given a ticket with a time at which you can enter: two separate tickets are required for the Queen's Gallery and for the State Rooms. Mark had previously visited the Buckingham Palace Shop at the north end of Buckingham Palace Road to buy the Japanese versions of the guides to both parts of the palace so that Akemi could enjoy the visit more.

At 12.45 (the time on our ticket), we went to the entrance to the Queen's Gallery, which is located on the south side of Buckingham Palace. There are special arrangements for disabled visitors. If you have a large electric wheelchair you have to transfer to a normal wheelchair provided by the Palace. Akemi's wheelchair is electric but is not much bigger or heavier than a normal wheelchair, so she could stay in her own chair during the visit. We were escorted to a special entrance where we were given a security check and allowed to take a small lift up to the State Rooms. It takes about 1 hour 30 minutes to look around the Queen's Gallery.

At 3pm (the time on our ticket) we returned to the gates in front of the Forecourt. This is the entrance to the State Rooms for disabled visitors (other visitors must join the queue on the south side of Buckingham Palace). We were escorted inside the building. A chairlift allowed Akemi to go up to the top of some steps, and then there was a lift up to the State Rooms. Disabled visitors follow a different route from other people, so that they can avoid the stairs. While we were looking around, an American lady came up to us who had seen us in front of the palace that morning: she said that she had taken some photographs of us during the Changing of the Guard and kindly offered to send them to us. It took about 2 hours to visit the State Rooms and the shop.

Unfortunately we didn't have enough time during our visit to see the Royal Mews (where they keep the Queen's carriages and horses) and the Guards' Museum (which is next to Wellington Barracks, south of St James's Park). These are open at other times of the year, so we could have visited them (and the Buckingham Palace Shop) if we had come to London at a time when the palace was not open to visitors.

Entrance to the Queen's Gallery

Akemi's comments:
Akemi enjoyed all the beautiful paintings, ornaments, decorations and jewellery. When Mark tried to explain the meaning of the letters E and P on the thrones (chairs for the king or queen), he could explain that E was the first letter of Elizabeth, but couldn't think of the Queen's husband's name (the Duke of Edinbugh's first name is Philip). Mark was surprised when Akemi told him it was P for Philip, because she had secretly studied the guide books before the visit!

- Green Park & the Ritz Hotel

We left the State Rooms the same way he had entered, leaving at the gates in front of the palace at about 5.15pm. We followed the path to the north side of the Palace, and crossed the road called Constitution Hill to get into Green Park. There are no flowers or ponds in this park, but it is still a beautiful and relaxing place to walk. We went onto the south side of the road called Piccadilly. On the right hand side is the Ritz Hotel ( There is an entrance at the front with a ramp, so we could go inside. It was too late to have afternoon tea (which should be booked in advance), but we just wanted to have a hot drink in the area outside the bar and fortunately there was a table we could use. We left the Ritz by the same entrance at about 7pm, and turned right to go to the taxi area in Arlington Street. The doorman helped us to get a taxi to take us back to our hotel (the roads were busy, so this cost £25).

Taking tea at the Ritz

Akemi's comments:
The Ritz is a lovely hotel, and because we were dressed smartly we could feel relaxed (many people there were dressed formally). She had seen many beautiful things that day which she would remember forever.

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Thursday 19 September 2002

Taxi to Great Russell Street main entrance of British Museum

- The British Museum

9.30am: We took a black cab from the hotel to the British Museum, arriving at about 10.15am. Traffic in the rush hour was again very busy, so this cost £32. We were dropped off on Great Russell Street, which is opposite the main entrance. The British Museum contains beautiful treasures from many of the world's cultures. For more details, see: Information about all of the exhibits is available online: It is a very large museum, so if time is limited it is better to plan what you want to see before you visit. The museum opens at 10am. It is free, but visitors may make donations when they leave.

To enter the British Museum there is an automatic wheelchair lift on left-hand side of the main stairs. The door to this special lift needs to be opened and closed firmly. If necessary, there is a button that can be pressed to get help. Inside the building there is an information desk, from which a map of the rooms can be obtained. There are lifts and disabled toilets on both sides of Great Court. We looked around the Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Korean and Japanese collections. We forgot to look inside the Reading Room in the centre of Great Court. We ate lunch in the restaurant on the second floor. This can be accessed by either the West lift or the East lift, and has disabled toilets.

Akemi's comments:
We spent longer in the British Museum than we had planned, because there were so many interesting things to see.

The British Museum

Chair lift entrance

The Theatre Royal

- My Fair Lady (Musical)

Mark had booked tickets for the musical My Fair Lady, which was on at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. He booked by calling the Customer Relations Department, 020 7850 8530. There was a special section which deals with disabled bookings. When booking by telephone, it is useful to see the seating plan for the theatre (this is usually available on the theatre's website). We had seats K1-4. Tickets cost £40 each, but one ticket was free. The musical is based on the book Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw. The film version starring Audrey Hepburn (made in the mid 1960s) is very famous.

We took a taxi to outside the disabled entrance for the Theatre Royal, which is in the middle of Russell Street (opposite the Fortune Theatre). There were many cars already parked in the area, so it wasn't possible for the taxi to leave us directly opposite the entrance. At 7pm we entered the theatre by pressing a bell and waiting for someone to let us in. The path to our seats (in the stalls, which is the lower part of a theatre) was flat. The staff asked Akemi if she wished to remain in her wheelchair for the show, and when she said she did they removed her seat by unscrewing it from the floor. The musical started at 7.30pm and ended at 10.45pm, with a 20 minute interval in the middle. We should have booked a taxi to take us back to the hotel, because the area is very crowded after the shows and there are not many available taxis there. Because there were no taxis avaialble near the theatre, Mark walked down to the Strand to get a black cab, which came to the theatre to pick up Akemi and her family.

Akemi's comments:
Akemi had seen the film and knew the most famous songs. Although she couldn't understand the words, she knew the story and could enjoy the beautiful clothes and scenery and the songs. Mark bought the CD of the musical from the theatre, which included the words to the songs. When we took a taxi the next day we were all singing the songs!

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Friday 20 September 2002

- Kew Gardens

10.00 - We took a taxi from the hotel to the Main Gate at Kew Gardens (in the road called Kew Green). Cost: £18.
For details of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, see: You can plan your visit using the map at: There was an entrance charge of £6 each, but Akemi and one helper were allowed in for free. There is a vehicle called the Kew Explorer which has space for one wheelchair, and a vehicle called Discovery which can be booked in advance for groups of disabled people. However, we preferred to concentrate on a small part of the gardens and to travel by ourselves. We concentrated on the north section, visiting various gardens and the Princess of Wales Conservatory before ending up at the Victoria Gate Centre, where we ate a light lunch. There is a shop and disabled toilets here. We left by Victoria Gate (on Kew Road, opposite Lichfield Road). At 2.15pm we called a black cab to take us back to central London.


The Palm House, Kew Gardens

Akemi's comments:
Akemi did not know about Kew Gardens before going there, but greatly enjoyed seeing all the plants and gardens. The weather was perfect, neither too hot nor too cold.

- St Paul's Cathedral / Millennium Bridge

The taxi dropped us at the front of St Paul's Cathedral, in the road called St Paul's Church Yard, at about 3pm. It was quite a long way from Kew Gardens to St Paul's and the traffic was bad, so this journey cost £50. For information about St Paul's, see: For information, you can contact the Visits Officer: 020 7236 4128. St Paul's does not accept visitors after 4pm. Evensong is a Christian religious service each evening, from 5-6pm.

Because the building is so large, it is quite difficult to take a good photograph of the cathedral while you are standing in front of it.
The main entrance has many steps and is not accessible for a wheelchair. However, there is a disabled entrance if you turn right into the gardens on the south side of the building. There is a door with a bell which you can ring to ask someone to let you into the building. There is a small lift to take you to the main floor of the cathedral. We went back to the front to buy tickets and looked around the cathedral. Akemi could not go up to the galleries, including the famous Whispering Gallery. Although there is a lift, if there is a fire and the lift cannot be used, a disabled person may not be able to get down the many steps (259 steps to the Whispering Gallery). Sir Christopher Wren designed the cathedral after the previous one had been destroyed by the Great Fire of London in 1666. After looking around the main floor, we asked a member of staff to take us in the lift down to the crypt, where there are displays, a bookshop, a café and disabled toilets.

We left by the same entrance used to enter the building. To avoid steps, we followed the path back to the front of the cathedral before returning on the outside path. Cross the road at the pelican crossing opposite the Tourist Information Office and turn left. Shortly on your right is a path that leads to the Millennium Bridge.
It is easier to take photographs of the famous dome (curved roof) of St Paul's from here. The bridge is quite long, but is wheelchair accessible and gives attractive views of the river. At the opposite side of the bridge is the Tate Modern, an art gallery for modern art. We didn't have time to see this, or to follow the Queen's Walk along the side of the Thames to Gabriel's Wharf and the Royal Festival Hall, but all of these areas can be accessed in a wheelchair. We took a taxi back to the hotel from the taxi rank, which is on the right-hand side as you look at the Tate Modern from the front, in Holland Street. Cost: £22.

Front of St Paul's Cathedral

St Paul's Dome

The Millennium Bridge

Akemi's comments:
This was the first time Akemi had been in a western church or cathedral. Although she could not see everything, she enjoyed seeing the beautiful building.

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Saturday 21 September 2002

- Portobello Road

In the morning, Mark, Kaori and Yukihito left the hotel early (at 7am) to visit Notting Hill, for the famous Portobello Road market. This would have been a bit difficult for Akemi to visit (it is a busy street market), and she needed to rest before the flight that afternoon. Neither Kaori not Yukihito had seen the film "Notting Hill", but both wanted to feel the atmosphere of the place before they watching the film in Japan. Saturday is the day of the famous antique market (see:, which starts at 7am and becomes busy after 8am. We took the Tube from High Street Kensington to Notting Hill Gate, arriving shortly before 7:30am. The Electric Cinema which is close to the exit of Notting Hill Gate underground station is shown in the film. We walked up Pembridge Road and turned left into Portobello Road. The antiques market stalls are located at this end of the road, while stalls for fruit and vegetables (as shown at the beginning of the film) start close to the junction of the road with Westbourne Grove. There are also stalls selling clothes and other goods. Kaori and Yukihito bought some Wedgwood plates and a necklace: it is alright to try to negotiate about the price in this market, for example by asking for the "best price" the owner can offer. Note that the house with the blue door shown in the film (where Hugh Grant was living) has been repainted and is a private home, and that the travel bookshop where he worked doesn't really exist. Afterwards we took a taxi back to the hotel.

Antique shop, Portobello Road

Antique Arcade signboard

Vegetable stall, Portobello Road

- Returning home

Leaving Heathrow Airport
After breakfast, we checked out of the hotel and Akemi bought a porcelain doll from the hotel shop which reminded her of My Fair Lady. The doorman called a taxi for us: it was important to state that there were four of us and that we were carrying a lot of bags. Luckily the roads were not busy, so it only took about 30 minutes to get to Heathrow Terminal 3. The Virgin Atlantic check-in desk was in area A. Because Akemi had a first class ticket, they could use the Fast Track check-in counter instead of the normal one. At 1.00pm the flight left Heathrow, arriving in Narita at 9am (Japanese time) on Monday morning.

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