Newspaper interview for Odense Paper in Denmark.

Translated from the original newspaper article in Danish language by Google Translate. 43-year-old Tony Giles from England and his Greek girlfriend Tatiana visited Odense this weekend, where the author of this article took them around HC Andersen’s House. It became an educational morning for everyone. 26 Sep. 2021 at 09:00 Simon Staun Odense: I would otherwise have sworn that I would never use the HC Andersen phrase “To travel is to live” again. But in the case of Tony Giles, it is impossible not to dust off the cliché. The 43-year-old Briton is 100 percent blind and 80 percent deaf, yet has managed to visit an impressive 125 countries. For him, travel is both about living and staying alive. Many blind people spend most of their lives on a couch or in bed. My mission is, among other things, to show that you can easily travel, even if you are blind and almost deaf. It’s about using his other senses instead. That is why it is absolutely fantastic to be able to feel statues and busts of HC Andersen, says Tony Giles, who was born in Weston-super-Mare near Bristol.
He was born with a visual impairment that made him almost blind. As a child, he could see black letters on white paper if the letters were 4-5 inches. This meant that he both learned to read and get a feel for many forms and things before completely losing sight as a 10-year-old. He finished elementary school at a school with other blind children. 2/5 – Waaaaauw, is it really the door to his birth home, Tony Giles exclaimed when he and his girlfriend Tatiana felt most of the facade of Hans Christian Andersen’s birth home. Photo: Simon Staun – I went to a class where we were only three students in math classes. This meant that the teachers had much better time for the individual student. Therefore, I was able to read on, so I actually studied American studies at the University of Northampton before moving to the United States to study in South Carolina, says Tony Giles, who hears fine with the help of his hearing aids. However, he ended up partying more than he studied, and in the following years he began to travel more and more around the world. However, he had to stay calm when he had a kidney transplant 13 years ago. – I had travelled almost nonstop for six or seven years when I got a new kidney. At that time, I had probably visited 50 countries. When I was healthy enough to fly, I started traveling again. Among other places to Greece, where I met Tatiana. She had read some of my travelogues and invited me to dinner. It was the first time in my life that a woman paid for me, says Tony Giles and laughs. He does not mind me holding her hand while I guide them around the museum. In fact, it is a necessity. For them quite common, but for me extremely borderline the first 10 minutes. Forced to trust others The couple is especially fond of the many statues and busts of Hans Christian Andersen in the mirror room. They feel and comment on everything from his nose to the hairstyle and attire. They spend several minutes on each of the statues they can reach on the mirror podiums. The nightingale and the many mattresses from the fairy tale about the princess on the pea are also a success, because they can feel the nightingale’s cage and the fabric on the different mattresses. 3/5 Tony Giles and Tatiana did not know the fairy tale about the princess on the pea, but promised that they would read it after the visit to Hans Christian Andersen’s House. Photo: Simon Staun While we find the stairs up to the reception, the couple says that as a blind person you are forced to trust your fellow human beings. Tony and Tatiana need help crossing roads, help ordering food, help finding their seats on a bus, and help raising money. – You have to have an enormous trust in your fellow human beings as a blind person. We need help withdrawing money when we are outside the UK, so you have to hand over your debit card and code to a stranger. (inserted text from Tony: I never actually give anyone my debit card or pin code). I have actually never seen anyone run away with my card, but it was close to a single time in Senegal, says Tony Giles. When we walk around together, we especially use our sense of hearing and sense of touch to sense the spaces, while you make great use of your sight. When we combine all our senses, I think we create a more holistic picture of what it is we are experiencing TONY GILES, BLIND TRAVELLER He has once been close to losing his passport when he took off his belt bag on a train in South Africa when he was going to the toilet. A conductor returned the bag with the passport in, but without cash. – There was only the equivalent of 300-400 kroner. It was not a disaster. I’ve actually been spared many of the kinds of mishaps that most travellers encounter, says Tony Giles. He acknowledges that trusting complete strangers may seem naive. But the reward is palpable. – If you trust your fellow human beings, you often end up making new friends and unexpected experiences. It also has the side effect that sighted people may gain a greater insight into life as a blind person. And become a little less prejudiced towards the disabled. Love waterfalls The highlight for Tony and Tatiana is Hans Christian Andersen’s birthplace and memorial hall, which makes them sing to feel the acoustics. – It sounds like a cathedral. I would guess that the room is about 20 feet wide, says Tony Giles. I tell them what all the paintings represent and mention as many years as I can think of. A few times Tony corrects me. – It was not in 1865 that he became the first honorary citizen in Odense. It was 1867, says Tony Giles, who to that extent has control over the year, number and everything from street names to names of parks and statues in the city. 4/5 After the visit to HC Andersen’s House, Tatiana and Tony Giles would like to pass the Radisson Blu HC Andersen Hotel with the large statue at the main entrance. Photo: Simon Staun Although the visit to Odense and the museum has long been on the wish list, it is not quite at the top of Tony Giles’ list. One thing he loves above all else: waterfalls. – I have visited the world’s four largest waterfalls. Iguazu in Argentina and Brazil, Angel Falls in Venezuela, Niagara Falls between the USA and Canada and Victoria Falls between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Standing at the foot or above a roaring waterfall and feeling the water on your face is the best I know. The energy is enormous and you can really feel the forces of nature when all the senses are stimulated, says Tony Giles. Most things are possible As a sighted person, it is an eye opener of the rank of following a blind couple around a museum. How do you describe the spaces, the architecture, the effects and the materials? – When we walk around together, we especially use our sense of hearing and sense of touch to sense the spaces, while you greatly use your sight. When we combine all our senses, I think we create a more cohesive picture of what it is we are experiencing, says Tony Giles. 5/5 Tony Giles lives in Birmingham, England (inserted text by Tony: I actually live in Devon, England), , while Tatiana lives in Athens, Greece. Photo: Simon Staun He not only has a goal of visiting all the countries of the world. He has set himself the goal of visiting the 60 largest uninhabited islands in Denmark and the same in Greece. – My hope is that I can inspire others with disabilities to throw themselves into things that may seem unmanageable. For a blind person, making a cup of coffee or shopping can be a big challenge. If I can motivate them by showing that you can do more than you think, it would mean a lot. Most things are possible if you believe in yourself. Read more about Tony Giles Tony Giles has written the two travel books: “Seeing The Americas My Way” and “Seeing The World My Way” Website: Facebook: YouTube:
— Tony Giles blind solo traveller and public speaker. Author of new eBook: Seeing a Slice of Southern Africa My Way ISBN 9781839781544 I’m Fund raising for Galloway’s Society for the Blind, a charity that supports blind and visually impaired people throughout the northwest of England. my challenge: to raise £3,850 or more. Half for Galloway’s to support their fine work and half to send me to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, Peru in April or October 2022 and show what blind people can do. My Go fund me page: