Sunday, August 18, 2013

Amsterdam - Aug 2013

Red Light District


Menno, my host in his garden
I sent out many requests and got declined many times, but luckily I did get one invite and that was from Menno. He lived right in Amsterdam and his place was one level. There was only a small step to get into the washroom. He was extremely welcoming and always made sure I was comfortable. He originally let me stay for only 2 nights, but after meeting me let me stay for the whole 4 nights I was in Amsterdam. What made my stay with Menno most unique was how much pot we smoked together. Menno’s garden had these very tall pot plants as you can see from this photo. Of course, if you go to Amsterdam, you have to smoke. I don’t smoke a lot to begin with, but his stuff was pure and very smooth. We had many interesting conversations. Great guy!


marked curb cut
Getting around in Amsterdam on the street is fairly easy in a wheelchair because the city is flat and bicycles seem to be the main mode of transportation. There are bicycle lanes integrated into every street and crossing the network of streets and bike lanes took a couple of days to get used to. The only issue you will have are cobble stones. Some areas are more challenging than others. For example, the cobble stones on most pedestrian paths are flat and require little extra effort. Whereas the cobblestone in places like Dam Square are very bumpy and require lots of energy.  But I say bring on the cobblestone because it’s still better than having a bunch of stairs stop you in your tracks.  Another annoying thing is that cyclists like to park their bikes anywhere on the sidewalk, turning them into a slalom course.

Shops, restaurants, buildings
I was getting really frustrated the first few days because I could not get into any stores on my own. Every place has at least a few steps to get in. After a few days I just said to myself screw it, this isn’t North America, so don’t be pissed it’s not North America. Whenever I wanted to go upstairs, I simply asked strangers to help me.  I had to swallow my pride, but at least I wasn’t denying myself the experience I wanted to have. The planet is not always accessible and sometimes you just have to adapt.

Finding accessible washrooms will not be easy. Getting inside a shop is challenging enough, but usually the washroom will be located downstairs or not accessible period. Your best bet is to find a nice hotel. For the first time on a trip, I did plenty of back alley urination simply because I had no other choice. Hey, sometimes you gotta do whatcha gotta do.

Amsterdam is a small city and very walkable. I only used public transit on my first and last day when I was commuting to the airport. The trams are all accessible. The accessible entrance is at the rear door. There is no discount for the disabled.

The Dutch Railway trains, which is what you take from the airport into Amsterdam, has several steps to get on. There are manual lifts located on the platform, but finding staff to help you is another story. Apparently, you have to book ‘disabled assistance’ a week in advance which I think is absolutely ridiculous. It takes 5min for an employee to get a key, operate the lift, and help me onto the train.

When I was leaving Amsterdam and returning to the airport, this employee at Centraal Station became irate because I needed assistance, but had not booked in advance. He flat out told me I wasn’t getting on the train, and I said I have a flight to catch so I’ll ask people to help me. Then he started going off about how if one of them got hurt helping me then who would be responsible and blah, blah, blah.  In the end, he found staff to help me on the trains and I thanked him politely. I didn’t fire back at him for fear he might not help the next guy. Anyway, he was a total dick, but fortunately that kind of attitude is extremely rare.


Dam Square
A warning about navigation – Amsterdam is an extremely confusing city to get around. On my first day, I bought a city map that didn’t help at all. Street names are difficult to find and not all streets are on the map. So if you can’t even find out where you are on the map, then that map isn’t of much use. As beautiful as the city is with the bike lanes and canals, every street looks exactly the same! I was using a paper map and Google Maps on my smartphone, and I still got lost constantly! Instead of a grid, the city is a web of canals, so it’s difficult to know if you’re going north, south, east or west. Let’s just say I had to ask for directions a lot.

one of many
coffee shops
Amsterdam’s famous Red Light District was rather underwhelming. I was expecting pure debauchery, but what I experienced was far from it. Of course, there are the many coffee shops where you can peruse a menu of various marijuana products. I did do this a couple of times because you kind of have to when in Amsterdam. There are also many prostitutes flaunting their goods in the windows. Some are absolutely gorgeous and some… well, not so gorgeous. But what I wasn’t expecting were the busloads of tourists and parents pushing their children in strollers all around the Red Light District. It made the place feel like some kind of theme park where instead of rides and games, there are hookers and pot.

My favourite area was Leidseplein where you’ll find many stores, bars, and nightclubs. There are also hotels and hostels. After my first night, I spent 3 nights in a row partying here. My favourite clubs were No. 129 and Van Dyke Bar. One night at 3am, I randomly met Adam Kellerman who is a Paralympic wheelchair tennis player from Australia.

The only museum I managed to go to was the Van Gogh Museum. It was much smaller than I thought and it didn’t even have the only Van Gogh piece that I know – Starry Night (which is actually in New York). Dam Square is a cool place, but is completely covered in cobblestone making for a bumpy ride. There’s lots of people around and there’s shopping.

Dutch breakfast
One of my most memorable moments was this one morning when I chose to have a sit-down brunch at a random cafĂ© I found just a few blocks from Menno’s place. It was around 10am and a gorgeous warm, sunny day. I was sitting outside facing the canal, watching trams and people on their bicycles going by. At one point the draw-bridge opened up so a boat could pass underneath. The breakfast was the most delicious I had ever had – potatoes, eggs, bacon (not the greasy and salty American kind either), tomatoes, beans, bread, and fresh orange juice. Everything just felt very European.


  1. This is great! I am a fellow wheelchair user and I have set up this site so we can get every piece of information that is useful for wheelchair users in one place-it would be great if you could come and share your information and then link to your blog for people who want to read more information on the destination? Hope to see you there soon!

  2. Hi!
    I find you story about Amsterdam really interesting. I am at this moment in Amsterdam, studying global health. And as a part of our studies, we are focusing on the accessibility in Amsterdam and especially on tourist that are visiting. Together with 2 classmates, we want to gather more information about the experiences of the city and everything as an tourist in a wheelchair. Would you be interested to answering a some questions of your experience here?
    Best Regard

  3. Hi Erica,
    My time in Amsterdam was short, but still an amazing experience. I would be very happy to help you with your study. Feel free to send me an email.

    1. Thank you for your reply!
      I am excited that you would like to help us with our study. I do not have your email address, i can only contact you through the comment section but if you could email me at i will be able to contact you back on your email!
      Best Regard