Please take a few moments to read this report about a week in Amsterdam ... IN A WHEELCHAIR. Even if you do not use a wheelchair, you may know someone who does ... or you may come to know someone who does; and they would welcome your knowledge and encouragement. Hopefully, too, you might come to see things differently -- from the point of view of someone sitting in a wheelchair.
Most importantly, AMSTERDAM IS DO-ABLE IN A WHEELCHAIR !
Potential travelers might be scared away by the cobbled and bricked streets, paths and sidewalks. Actually, you can roll fairly easily over much of the brick, cobbled and paved area. You must watch, however, for uneven surfaces. To those of us walking over these areas, they seem easy. In a wheelchair you will notice all the uneven spots. You will also notice that sometimes these surface areas slant, not enough to throw off walkers, but enough to tilt your wheelchair and potentially tip you over. In some places, the sidewalks are too narrow for a wheelchair. As a result of all this, we figured out early on that the best place for a wheelchair is either on a very wide sidewalk or in the bike path. A pedestrian in a bike path is asking for trouble ... the bike riders in Amsterdam know what they are doing, where they are going, and what the "rules of the road" are. Pedestrians in bike paths only cause confusion, congestion, and accidents. However, a wheel chair is a wheeled vehicle, like a bike or motor scooter, and so it fits (in our minds) in the bike path... or in narrow streets. Not once did we hear an objection from bikers or drivers to sharing space with a wheelchair. So, go for it.
Three other major obstacles loom for wheelchair users in Amsterdam. First, tram tracks; these rails in the street are usually flush with the street surface and fairly easy to cross.. on a perpendicular path. Be aware, though, that some of those tracks may grab your front wheels and throw you from your chair. Second, and just as dangerous -- pedestrians who are unaware of what is around them. If you are walking, these are fairly easily avoided; in a chair, however, you somehow become " invisible" to some people; for whatever reason, they do not see you. For this reason, my daughter quickly bought and attached to her wheelchair one of those typical bike bells that the Dutch are so fond of. If you hear a bike bell in Amsterdam, you better be aware and prepared to move; bikers are serious about their space! She did not abuse her "bell privilege â€œ... and it helped a lot. The third obstacle for wheelchairs is steps.
Any visitor to Amsterdam must understand that the city is a national as well as world treasure, and it is being preserved by the Dutch people ( Dank u wel ! ). Changes in the central city are slow and difficult to come by. Most places have steps, some more, some less. Some few places have elevators; most don't. Some places have wheelchair-accessible toilets; most don't. These
details may be very important, so, before you go, gather as much information as possible. One of the best sources of written information is Rick Steve's book Easy Access Europe (available in most libraries ). Another essential source of information before you go is the place where you decide to stay -- hotel, bed and breakfast, hostel, apartment. Each person will have different criteria for their lodging --- location, size, smoking policies, amenities, price range, closeness to ??? .
Our top priority was a quiet retreat; someplace where we could not only sleep, but also get back to during the day to relax. And, we wanted something overlooking a canal. This brings up another point about Amsterdam: IT IS EXPENSIVE. Yes, it can be done "on a budget" , but that budget will be higher than in many other cities. Be prepared and understand: IT IS WORTH IT.
We chose to stay on Herengracht at the Hotel Ambassade. Having stayed there before, I knew the location was wonderful and the staff very helpful. Like almost every hotel in Mokum, they have steps. My daughter prepared for this by focusing four months of physical therapy on climbing steps... and walking on uneven surfaces. So, she was prepared and handled this easily and well.
Before you go to Amsterdam, I would suggest interviewing " potential lodging options. Call them or email them with any questions or any special needs you might have. Will they help you rent a wheel-chair ? How much will that cost ? Where will your chair be stored ? How many steps to your room ? Wheelchair accessible bathroom ? Walk-in shower ? Shower stools
available? Room-service if you can't get to food close by ?
Enough general information for now, on to the trip report. Day One -- Friday - we arrive at Schiphol Airport and choose to taxi to our hotel, where a wheelchair awaits us. You can take the train from Schiphol to Amsterdam Central Station; this requires advance planning and contact with the national rail service . We arrive at our hotel about noon, check in, stash our belongings, then head out in the wheelchair to explore "our neighborhood " , which we take to include the Spui area as well as the " Nine-streets " area. We stroll along the canals. Tweede Kamer coffeeshop introduces us to Super Silver Haze -- thank you very much. Later, Dutch Flowers coffeeshop entertains us with " pure Dutch reefer ". We choose to dine in our rooms overlooking the canal; this is relaxing, interesting, and charming. Our first night dinner is Greek take-out from a small Greek Deli closeby on Singel. This day we also begin our search for "The best apple pie in Amsterdam "; we start down the street from out hotel at the delightful Buffet van Odette; exceptional pie.
Day Two _ Saturday We start the day with a trek to Nieuwmarkt for organic produce, fruits, vegetables, nuts, breads, which will become our snack food and lunch during the week. Kadinsky coffeeshop is open early; a nice place to people -watch through the large front window while enjoying their White Widow. Then, westward ... over Herengracht, over Keizersgracht, over Prinsengracht, into the Jordaan area. La Tertulia coffeeshop dazzles us with its ambience and with Shiva; fairly easy access here.
Every coffeeshop is different : size, location, products, ambience - including musical choice, number of steps, availablity of bathroom, etc. Each person finds his or her favorites. You can sit inside ( if space is available ) at them all; some have outside seating as well. We liked to purchase juice or coffee along with our smoke.
Next, back to Spui, then slowly rolling down Kalverstraat -- a pedestrian way full of shops -- into Dam Square. If you are pushing the chair here, allow the chair user to take over and turn themself slowly in a circle. The view here is amazing. For us it included a calliope , bagpipe player, horse-drawn carriage, and mimes .We pass the National Monument .. on our way to Sensei Seeds and The Red Light District. Dinner tonight -- Indonesian take-out from Kantjil De Tijger To Go on Spuistraat.
Day Three- Sunday - Every Saturday night, my daughter gets a heavy-duty injection for her Multiple Sclerosis. This "knocks her outâ€? for most of every Sunday ... flu-like symptoms. So she rests today, dealing both with her shot and with jet lag and the tiredness that comes from being cramped up for long hours on an airplane. My girlfriend and I wander about today, sometimes together, sometimes solo. We check occasionally on our sleeping fellow-traveler. The Sunday Art Market at Spui always is a treat, with lots of interesting types of artwork. We wander widely through the Jordaan. The magnificent Westerkerk serves as a landmark; its bells so charming. The Anne Frank House is too crowded with too many stairs, so we pass on this. Tweede Kamer again helps us through the day. Dinner tonight -- for two -- different Indonesian fare from Kantjil To Go.
Day Four- Monday. We are three again. Because most shops and many attractions are closed Monday AM, we chose this morning to begin our canal boat exploration. Several different companies offer rides on the canals. Many boats have their main loading area near Central Station. A couple companies like Canal Bus allow you to get off and on during the day at different locations. We choose the Canal Bus, and we take a taxi to their loading spot slightly east of Central Station, right in front of Saint Nicholas Church. Be especially careful of tram tracks here. To reach the landing dock here, you must negotiate about ten wide, shallow, concrete steps, then three wooden steps, then four steps into the boat. Your first step onto the canal boat will be onto its loading step; then, over a little threshold for your second step, then four steps down into the boat. While boarding, your hands can hold the doorframe to steady yourself. Some of the boats have grip bars here to help with entry; those that do not have grip bars allow you to grip the doorframe, which serves the same purpose. We asked the boat captain what we should do with our foldable wheelchair. In what we perceive to be typical Dutch no-nonsense, problem-solving style, he picked it up, swung into onto the first seat available and said " Let's go ! ". And we did... all around the eastern side of the city; past Nemo, past the Scheepvaartmuseum, with its replica of the East Indiaman ( ship ) Amsterdam, past the zoo, and by Hortus Botanicus.
Note here- the Canal Bus has a small toilet ...the space is smaller than the toilets on an airplane. We disembark at City Hall/
Stopera/Waterlooplein. Here, the ladies dive into the street market/ flea market ... a treasure chest full of gifts, mementos, clothes of all sorts, bicycle parts, electrical supplies, food, art, etc. We have some Flemish fries ... one with mayo, one with ketchup. Around the corner, the Rembrandt House is partially wheelchair accessible.
Next, back to our neighborhood, to be revived at Dampkring coffeeshop ( Super Silver ). Then, we stroll to and through the Amsterdam Historisch Museum, which does have an elevator. It also contains the delightful David and Goliath Cafe. Here we continued our search for " the best Dutch apple pie in Amsterdam " . The cafe has an accessible bathroom and helpful staff. Have your photo taken with Goliath, and David.
Next, Kadinsky, again ( great people-watching ). Dinner tonight overlooking the canal with goodies and beer from the Albert Heijn store where Herengracht meets Konigsplein.
After dinner, a stroll up Herengracht to Browersgracht. Here we would mention again the importance of using the best path available to wheelchairs. In some of these narrow streets you will be dealing with bikes, motor scooters, cars, and sometimes small trucks. We thought the cars and trucks drove quickly ... and safely. It may take a while, though, for you to get used to such close quarters... cars do come close to bikes and scooters, but they never threatened or bothered the wheelchair in any way.
Day 5- Tuesday - Taxi early to the Van Gogh Museum. Note that most places with lines will allow a wheelchair to go to the front of the line. Thank you. The museum has an elevator, and a wheelchair accessible bathroom... in addition to some of the most lovely art in the world. Out onto Museumplein to find an out-of-the-way bench where we can finish off some Shiva. Three police officers on bikes wheel by us without problem ; we are discreet.. they are â€œdiscreeterâ€? ? Shiva convinces us we are hungry, so we snack with goodies from one of several tented stalls selling food and drink.
Next stop -- La Tertulia... what can I say â€¦ it is our favorite place; not only great product, but a light-filled, calming ambience; and it overlooks Prinsengracht. Nearby, Johnny Jordaanplein.Then, home for dinner canalside -- a Middle Eastern dinner of falafel,
shoarma, and kip satay ( ? ) . A downpour tonight.
Day 6- Wednesday - We start the day at Sara's Pancake House on Raadhuis Straat. Then we ( st)roll to Amnesia for some Honey Bee (great ). A taxi to Concertgebouw for the free Wednesday noon concert.. this time in the Kleine Zaal, piano and violla playing Prokofiev . The hall is wheelchair accessible, with an accessible bathroom.
The Rijkmuseum is magnificent, inside and out. The number of paintings on display is limited during their renovation.. and incredible. Rembrandt,Vermeer, Avercamp, Steen, Hals, and many, many more. We also enjoyed rolling around the sculpture garden -- a gravel path -- it is do-able-- which is on the Concertgebouw or south side of the building.
Then, taxi to Grey Area, my favorite coffeeshop on previous visits. We luck out and find seats inside. Bubbleoup
was great; as was Orange Haze . Next, we roll across the street to Puccini chocolate shop for their superb goodies, which will fuel us onward through the fog. Tonight's dinner -- another Greek feast with Heineken, watching boats on the canal.
Day 7- Thursday- We roll to the Bloemenmarkt on Singel, where we have breakfast overlooking the flower stalls before we shop for bulbs. We noted that the souvenir shops in this area had much the same material as other shops throughout the city but were much less crowded.. Then another stroll down Kalverstraat.. we are looking for two stores in particular : Lush and Rituals; both provide soaps, lotions, massage materials , and the like. Then, on through Dam Square to the Hemp Museum ( next door to Sensei Seeds); an interesting, worthwhile experience. Coffeeshop Greenhouse is nearby. Here, we sit outside after purchasing three drinks, and begin to smoke up our "left-overs " Next, to the Grand Krasnapolsky to catch a taxi. Usually, to catch a "legitimate" taxi in Mokum, you must go to a hotel or tourist attraction ( such as Waterlooplein) to locate one. You might be able to "flag down" a cab on some streets; often, not. We found that budtenders in coffeeshops were always graciously willing to call a taxi for our wheelchair. The taxi drivers were encountered were all very careful about placing our foldable chair into the trunk of their vehicles. We also noted that while they generally tend to drive "too fast", the taxi drivers were always careful and always helpful to us. We note here that some of the trams are wheel-chair accessible. We chose not to use any this time. Others might choose to use them and avoid the hefty taxi fares.
Because this was our last full day in town, we chose to get back onto the Canal Bus, this time experiencing the remaining two of their three lines: Red and Green. These pretty much give you an overview of most of the old city, minus the east side, covered by the Blue line. Again, the captain as well as the lack of crowds allows us to sit on the steps leading into the steps, looking out ahead... kinda like hanging off the cable cars in San Francisco. Walking the canals is lovely and interesting; boating along them gives you a completely different perspective... another way to enjoy the city. We would recommend a canal boat trip for everyone who gets to Mokum. This time we boarded ( and disembarked ) at the Canal Bus stop near the Anne Frank House.Here you will negotiate two steps down, then a modest ramp, and , again, two or three steps into the boat.After nearly two hours of delightful floating, we roll again to Amnesia. As with the Greenhouse, we buy drinks, sit outside and resume our smoke-out, including some White Widow from Abraxis. Then, another, different Middle Eastern feast canalside.
Day 8 -- Friday --Breakfast at Buffet van Odette, then we stroll southward along Herengracht to an out-of-the -way bench where we finish up our smokes. Thoroughly relaxed and content , we taxi to the airport.
Amsterdam provides a wonderful opportunity for photographers/ videographers. The combination of water, ever-changing light, big skies, reflections, shadows, wonderful art and architecture, as well as unique and interesting sites makes for fascinating photography. Add to this that many of the photographers will -like us - avail themselves of Amsterdam's easy access to "smoke", allowing them to wander around blissfully ( but hopefully aware ) taking/making photos. If you are in a wheelchair, tripods are not necessary, although some folks like them. Remember if you are bringing cameras or videocams, you may need to recharge equipment , in which case you might need a transformer and/or adapter; be sure to check beforehand with your lodging place. And, be prepared to take lots of photos.
A piece of â€œ wheelchair trivia â€œâ€¦did you know that depending upon where you stand in relation to someone in a wheelchair, you may be forcing them to look up your nose when you talk with them ?
Wheelchair users, be sure to bring gloves to Amsterdam, both for pushing your chair and to keep your hands warm. Also, be sure to bring a poncho or long rain gear to keep you dry when necessary. Also, be sure that you are comfortable in the type of chair that you use in Amsterdam; for example, if you normally use a battery-operated chair at home and intend to use a manual chair in Amsterdam, be sure to practice in a manual chair before arriving in Amsterdam.
The only unpleasant aspect of our trip occurred outside Amsterdam-- Northwest Airlines. Management there took them into and out of bankruptcy, while cutting employee wages and benefits as well as shortchanging lots of creditors. Then management decided to give themselves a bonus of nearly $ 400 million. Understandably the employees are furious. Unfortunately they are taking out their anger on their passengers. In 50 years of flying I never have dealt with such dishonest, disrespectful, unhelpful people. If you complain, their response is "There are lots of other airlines out there ". So our advice: at all costs avoid Northwest Airline.
We hope this report will be helpful and interesting to both wheelchair users and pedestrians alike. We wish you a wonderful trip.
And we leave you with this from our wheelchair user: â€œ Donâ€™t say it cannot be done until you try it first .â€?
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