Sendero Group Travel Blog

Follow Sendero travelers on their adventures using accessible GPS.

Tuesday, December 21, 1999


Ambassador Josh Denied Admittance O'Seemore the Cane Steps In

Although the quarantine laws for dog guides have just changed for the islands of Hawaii, the British Isles are still, off limits; you can't even transit the airports with a dog guide in route to other countries. This means too that blind British dog users cannot travel outside the U.K. with their guides either.

So, my Seeing Eye dog Josh stayed home in California while I went on holiday with my wife in Ireland and traveled for business in Germany and England with my colleague Michael Busboom from Vienna Austria who also had to leave his dog Yankee at home. It was interesting to compare notes about how we were treated as blind people in the U.S. versus Europe as well as the differences when traveling with a cane. Generally speaking, Europeans assume a blind person needs help whereas people in the U.S. tend to ask if one needs help.

Most European airports have Special Services counters where disabled people are checked in and there are special holding areas where one is supposed to wait until an escort is available to take you to your gate. These services can be helpful but they can also be annoying when the language and cultural barrier keeps the blind person from being able to choose for themself whether or not they want help. I have found myself plunked down in one of these holding areas with no idea of what was happening or when someone would come back to get me.

I am very comfortable negotiating my own way in airports I travel through frequently like San Francisco, Denver, Chicago and Frankfort. I prefer to find my own way and not to have to wait for assistance. If I have time to kill between flights, I would prefer to get lost in the process of finding my own way; its almost a form of entertainment or me. To be denied this choice or to have to fight for it is very frustrating - something i have to battle for less in the U.S. than in Europe.

In terms of the holiday portion of this trip, I must say that next to Barcelona and Madrid, Dublin is one of my favorite cities to visit in Europe. Last year, Mike B. and I caned it all around Dublin while researching pubs and setting Strider Global Positioning points. Our sighted host thought it was crazy for two blind guys to wander around Dublin without sighted assistance but it is a relatively easy city for a blind person on foot to negotiate.

This year, I was able to take advantage of the Strider points Mike and I set last year so I didn't have to spend so much time doing the research, I could head right for the best pubs and restaurants and music spots. It so happened that the Guinness Blues Festival was taking place with live bands blasting out of every block of the Temple Bar section of town where we stayed. It is nearly impossible to use a regular tipped cane on these cobble stone streets; the cane gets caught and jabs you in the gut. The sidewalks are smooth but only a few feet wide and have lots of obstacles. It doesn't matter too much anyway as there are no cars to worry about in the Temple Bar or Grafton pedestrian zones.

Another medieval cobble stone city I visited is called Kilkenny. This quaint city of 30,00 people has 6 churches, 2 cathedrals and 78 pubs. A 2 hour guided walking tour gave me a pretty good idea of the city and its history. I highly recommend visiting or staying in this old city of Saint Kilkennis.

Back in Dublin, I took a quite unique walking tour conducted by an actor playing the blind story teller Zozimus from the 1800s. We wandered amongst the alleys of Dublin, the castle and other famous sites led by Zozimus and his assistant Stoney Pockets who was carrying a torch. Zozimus's cane technique left something to be desired but his story telling was wonderful.

Neither dog nor cane help much with the people watching which is one of the main activities when hanging out in Temple Bar. I was told that black is by far the predominant color - black shoes, black stockings and short black skirts for the ladies. Blue jeans are a distant runner up followed by a smattering of khaki colored pants.

In terms of people listening, the accents are fun to try and figure out. I find the Scottish accent the hardest to understand. It is so strange when someone speaks to you in English and yet you don't understand a word they are saying because the accent is so strong and the phrases so different. Add a bit of the ever-present Guinness stout to the equation and you may as well be listening to Gaelic. Speaking of Gaelic, it is only spoken in the remote countryside of Ireland but it is compulsory in school so most Irish people know at least a wee bit of this unique sounding language.

You can't visit Dublin without taking a tour of the Guinness brewery - not so much for the tasting, as you can do that all over town, but rather to learn the history of the Guinness family and how they have impacted Ireland. There are over 35 Guinness breweries around the world. The one in Dublin alone produces 10 million glasses of Guinness each day. The Guinness beer in the U.S. is modified to meet American beer standards so it doesn't taste the same as the Irish Guinness. One Dublin bar tender told me that it takes at least five minutes to pore a proper pint of Guinness.

Of course there is more to Ireland than pubs and parties. A short distance from Dublin is New Grange, a burial mound which is older the Egyptian pyramids. On December 21st, the Winter solstice, light shines deep into its chambers but at no other time of year.

On my next visit to Ireland, I want to take in a Hurling match, a sport unique to the Irish. The object is to use a hockey-like stick to get a leather ball in to or over the goal of the opposing team. You can hit, throw or kick the ball, whatever gets the job done. Apparently the Gaelic Athletic Association which runs Hurling is one of the biggest businesses in Ireland. I think I will take in more of the countryside next time too, maybe even visit this blind guy I heard about who raises goats on a small Island off the Irish coast; he apparently teaches people about goat herding.

After almost two weeks of traveling using a cane instead of a dog, I notice some advantages and disadvantages. The main advantage of the cane is the anonymity versus always being on stage with a dog. sometimes the attention with the dog is a benefit, sometimes it is not but you can never turn it off. It was also easier to get a taxi with a cane since many drivers do not stop if you have a dog.
On the other hand, I missed the speed and ability to weave in and out of crowded streets which a dog is wonderful for. Temple Bar here in Dublin is not unlike Bourbon Street in New Orleans or Buckhead in Atlanta, both are busy pedestrian areas where I have enjoyed the ability to move quickly amongst sighted, sometimes unseeing, people flowing along the pedestrian streets with my Seeing Eye dog Josh.

I am a firm believer in getting the most out of every situation and I had no choice but to use O'Seemore to do that in the U.K. I definitely look forward to returning to California and seeing Josh and to trading the cane for the harness. It will be nice too when someone invents a cane that comes when you call it.


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