Determined to make an effort to not allow my ridiculous body to rule the family holiday, we took a trip out to the local animal park. We spent the morning slowly gathering our thoughts & attempting to get my stomach to hold a whole cup of coffee (it wasn’t keen). By 11.30 I was ready to eat breakfast – a ridiculous time as we were heading out the door, so I took my banana & natural yoghurt with me. Topped up by a few salted pringles, I felt able to communicate with humans. Added to my joints yelling like a certain red-moustached Loony Tunes character, was a gentle lapping of water where my brain used to reside with an occasional spin cycle if I moved too fast. Nothing that a bit of salt, a big drink, & some stiff upper lip won’t solve.
So off we drove to De Sainte-Crois without having researched one jot. All we knew was there would be goats & wolves & bears, oh my!
There was a separate car park for coaches & disabled parking which was a fair bit nearer the entrance & had a tarmac road instead of trudging through grass. The entrance itself was down a steep slopes & Mr Geek was tasked with maneuvering my chair around when I couldn’t manage – that slope counted. Wisely, we’d kept the off road tyres on the chair which gave me better suspension (but makes the chair harder to self propel).
We got to try out our improving French by explaining that Beanpole is indeed just 11 despite being taller than her grandmother, and purchasing children’s tickets, a concession for me, and as Mr Geek put it “et entrant por… err… moi!”. Entry was on a par with most UK attractions at €72 for our 4 tickets. We also enquired about wheelchair accessibility for Le Petit Train which took you by train all the way around the longer route of the park to see the bigger animals. This was no problem, so we added an extra €12 for this.
As usual, we arrived at our destination at lunchtime, so found one of the 4 eateries. Level access was no issue & there was a range of snacks & sandwiches (there was the option of hot food / fast food at other places). In true holiday spirit, I opted for a pretzel & small beer with another natural yoghurt, whilst other people had paninis- the kids showed off their mature palettes with mozzarella, tomato, & pesto fillings. The salt in the pretzel was well received & the bread was delicious (I was also perfectly aware that the beer was counterproductive, but it was utterly worth it).
All the main tracks around the whole park were light gravel, wooden planks, or cattle grids (with smaller grids for pushchairs/ wheelchairs – the trick to these was to go backwards with the casters raised).
After eating, we took the “red route” around the smaller animals which was identified as the shortest & easiest route to follow – with several hundred hectares of land, we would need to pace ourselves (as a group, we had me in my chair, two grandparents using walking sticks, one Aunty Squooze with similar joint pain with 2 hiking poles, and the need for awareness of sensory overload for both Squooze & Beanpole!). Knowing that we must be back by 4.30 for the train meant that this first section felt rather rushed and people were on edge about being late. That said, Mr Geek did take the girls along the barefoot walk which is all about sensory moments for your feet – the trail is made up of a number of textures including.straw, wet clay, riverbed, pebbles, & gravel made from safety glass which you walk across in bate feet learning about animals that live in that texture. It’s an amazing concept and really engaged Beanpole. Mr Geek’s verdict: “Well, I learnt from that why we evolved to wear shoes.”
There were a number of viewable conservation areas along the red route, including a transparent bee hive where you could not only see the bees in the hive, but watch them go out into the meadow right next to you.
Having sufficiently investigated the insects, including shouting “mummy LOOK!!!” at least a hundred times, and convincing me to go nose to nose with a blue tarantula without fainting, we headed back for a sit down & recharge with ice cream… ooh it was GOOD ice cream! TinyPants even managed to find a Palma Violets flavour which was every bit as disgusting as the sweets. As Le Petit Train arrived Mr Geek commented that he wasn’t sure how accessible it would be. I told him not to be so pessimistic as the lady at reception SAW the wheelchair and said it was accessible for me. He made his “I don’t believe you” noise as all the carriages had at least two 12 inch steps up & pushed me towards the driver to ask how we get on… the driver was lovely and spoke slowly to allow me to keep up with his French. Translated, it went something like this:
- How do I get onto the train?
- Can you get out of the chair & step up?
- Um.. no sorry.
- There’s no other way onto the train.
- The lady at reception said you can take wheelchairs?
- We can, but you have to get out & walk up into the train. I’m so sorry.
- Don’t worry. I’ll stay behind. (General shouting to family to stay in the train & I’ll get a coffee and see them at the end)
- I’m sorry.
- It’s not your fault. It’s not a problem (bit teary)
At this point a lovely lady jumped down & offered to help translate as she could see us both struggling. She asked if her husband could help lift me on. I thanked her, but declined (having been dropped & not fancying testing out the French hospitals with a dislocation). The poor lady looked more dissapointed than me!
Beanpole & TinyPants stayed in the train with The Grandparents and off they went leaving me, Mr Geek, and Squooze who had also exited the train due to incessant kicking from small offspring at her damaged knee. To their credit, they were excellent about refunding the tickets for the three dissapointed adults.
As the train was still in sight when we emerged from reception, we decided to “walk” the blue route that the train takes at very least to see the wolves & bears. Actually, this wasn’t as far as we’d imagined and a combination of Mr Geek pushing my chair & Squooze using her alpine walking sticks and we made the full circuit and saw the lot!
So, wolves, foxes, and err…. is that something having a poo??!
We even found some European Vultures! My absolute favourite in the whole world. If I was allowed a patronus, it would be a vulture.
When we made it back, we found the kids and grandparents setting up camp in the goat enclosure where Beanpole had found her patronus – a kid had snuggled onto her lap and was happily having its ears rubbed whilst she practically purred with happiness. This child LOVE goats. We are not buying her a goat. Although Mr Geek & I have resolved to find her a toy goat this summer as a substitute.
Aside from the hiccup with the train, the park was a resounding success and we left for home tired & happy.