Blog by Jery Murphy, Anything is Possible, May 2007.
Just back from eight days in Amsterdam with my 25-year old friend, who gets about primarily in a wheelchair . . . and with her dad, my boyfriend. Three essentials:
1) Understand beforehand that Amsterdam is expensive . . . and worth it.
2) Plan and communicate with your hosts by email and telephone; let them know your needs, desires, limitations and capabilities. Planning includes reading Rick Steves’ “Easy Access Europe.”
3) Steps are everywhere and will limit access. If you can manage any steps at all, you will increase your access.
If you have not been to Amsterdam, you may not understand what a “world treasure” this gem of a city on canals truly is. The gem has many facets: canals, 17th Century engineering and architecture, Van Gogh, Anne Frank House, Rembrandt, coffee shops and cafes, canal boats, diamonds, parks; light and water, reflections and shadows, great art and architecture. Be sure to bring your camera and extra batteries!
After experimenting, we quickly learned that the best place for the wheelchair was either in the bike lane or on a wide sidewalk. Understand that the bike lanes in Amsterdam are very special. The bikers know where they are going and the rules of the road, one of which is: no pedestrians in the bike lane, or suffer the consequences. Not once did we hear objection to a wheelchair in either a bike lane or a very narrow streets shared by all sorts of vehicles.
Carrieanna used a foldable, manual wheelchair. It was easy to fold and store. We arranged to rent it through our hotel. Early on she purchased a bicycle bell at Waterlooplein street market and attached it to her rental chair. You might be surprised at the number of people who are oblivious to their surroundings; people who cannot see either wheelchairs or their users. A bicycle bell helps these people orient.
Remember that preserving the old sometimes limits the new. Elevators are found in larger, more modern hotels, and in the major museums; lifts are available at Rembrandt Huis and at Concertgebouw. Check “Easy Access Europe” and the Internet for information about wheelchair accessible toilets; there are some spread around town, although not many.
One Must Do If At All Possible: canal boats. There are many options; we chose Canal Bus, which allows you to ride all day and half the next day, and to get off or on at many different spots around the city. Each boat will require you to negotiate four steps into the boat and usually a couple of steps at every dock.
Carrieanna had focused four full months of physical therapy on dealing with steps and with uneven surfaces; she did very well with all that we encountered in Amsterdam. The trip was Carrieanna’s graduation present for earning her bachelor’s degree from California State University – Monterey Bay, after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. She says, “Don’t say it cannot be done until you have tried.” So, go for Amsterdam, wheels … or not!
This story is written by Jery Murphy, who has visited Amsterdam with her daughter a couple of times.
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