I grew up in South Africa, with Afrikaans as a first language, always being informed about my Dutch ancestry, but never having had the opportunity to visit the Netherlands, I was simply elated when I got an invite to present at the Vision 2017 Congress, held in Den Haag, at the end of June.
I grew up in South Africa and then, 20 years ago, I immigrated to New Zealand with my family.
I was born with a degenerative eye condition that means to me being totally blind as an adult.
I am now the Treasurer of the World Blind Union (WBU), a world-wide advocacy and capacity building organisation, representing the 285 million blind and vision impaired persons from across the world.
My job in NZ entails working for local government in the field of accessibility and my WBU work also span areas of accessibility to the built environment and transport.
So, when I realised I was going to present on accessibility issues at the Vision 2017 Conference, planned for Den Haag at the end of June this year, I was so excited, just to see what it would be like to visit the country of my ancestors for the first time.
A friend of mine, Mireille Vreeburg, originally from the Netherlands but residing in Auckland, New Zealand, as I do now, recommended that I check out http://www.accessibletravelnl.com to ensure that I experience appropriate, accessible experiences while in the Netherlands.
So, I emailed email@example.com asking them what I could be expecting.
In South Africa we grew up, experiencing Dutch cheeses such as Gouda and so I thought, when I saw that the Gouda Cheese Market could be an option to visit, that would be just the experience for me to sign up to.
It worked like clock-work. I emailed firstname.lastname@example.org and they’ve arranged for me to visit the Gouda Cheese Market in an inclusive fashion.
They got me picked up from my hotel in Den Haag in the morning, and I then met up with a personal tour guide, Pita Dekker, from Gouda Gide Gilden when I reached Gouda.
Pita knew how to sighted guide blind persons and she audio described everything, content of stalls as well as market activities.
She prepared some of the stall holders before-hand, preparing them for my visit so that I could experience it all hands-on, from how cheese is being prepared, the art of making the traditional white pipes, “wit pype”, being able to touch the horses that drawn the carts filled with large, golden cheese wheels, to describing the history of how Gouda got its town rights and how civilians had to survive following the Napoleonic wars after 1810, etc.
It was so surreal, me being able to understand the Dutch language spoken by Pita and others. I’ve never been to the Netherlands, but, having Afrikaans as a mother tongue , I could understand most of what was being said.
I was finally able to visit a tour site on my own without having to ask others to accompany me to support me, as the service I received was inclusive and accessible.
Then, of course there was the traditional Gouda stroop wafelen or cyrip waffels. I tasted freshly made stroop wafelen and bought some to bring back to New Zealand.
The history of why the Gouda community resorted to living on stroop wafelen was so sentimental.
There was a church and warehouse in the middle of the market like in the middle of a church plaine or town. It was awesome going there and being able to look at Gouda Delft hands-on, and I also loved just hearing the voices of the cheese auctioneers, pretending to raffle of there beautiful cheese wheels as they would have done centuries ago.
At the end of my visit, a taxi took me back to Den Haag so that I could pack my bags with my beautiful Gouda Market souvenirs to travel home to Auckland, New Zealand.
I can really recommend this trip, not just from a blind person’s accessible point of view, but in the broadest sense of the experience. The generosity and sense of inclusion was just so overwhelming.
I’m now back at home in Auckland, with bits and pieces of the Netherlands, for me to touch and ponder and that will spark memories. The clogs, white pipes and delft ware, just to name so examples are just so…how can I put it, haven’t got the words.
Many persons live off photos and visual images – well, I certainly got my tactile and sensory impressions and memories of Gouda and the service of Accessibletravelnl.com right here with me.
Photo source: 'T Kaaswinkeltje, website VVV Gouda, retrieved on 07-09-2017.