Archive | May, 2012

Rolling through Amsterdam

25 May

(The following post was written in May of 2007, although some of the photos are more recent.)

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!

Advertisements

Lands End, and the Labyrinth thereon …

15 May

On a warm and sunny day in late April, Sherry and I took a short road trip. Our destination was Lands End Coastal Trail on the northwestern edge of Golden Gate Park, and a hike to the labyrinth at Lands End Point.

We began planning this trip nearly three years ago, when the Sacramento Bee newspaper printed an article by Chad Jones on Sunday, August 30, 2009. I was excited about seeing the Golden Gate Bridge from the south side, and walking along this part of the headlands.

But life events – and bridge repair – caused us to postpone … indefinitely.

So when my dear friend, Sherry, told me that she and her family had visited it recently, and what an awe-inspiring walk it had been, I knew it was time for me to go. We found a Friday that, miraculously, was clear on both of our calendars, and with lunch and cameras packed, we headed west.

Traffic was as reasonable as possible for Westbound 80 at 9:00 a.m. However, we crossed the Bay Bridge at 9:45, and shortly after 10:00 a.m. we pulled into one of the many open parking spaces. [Note to weekday travelers: Bridge toll is $6 between 7 and 10 a.m.; $4 thereafter.]

The paved trail was wheelchair-accessible for the first portion of our walk. Not to the labyrinth, though; sadly.

The afore-mentioned Sacramento Bee article provided some historical information about the area. I’ve included it below because, for me, it helped set the tone and encouraged me to be mindful during our walk.

  “Originally the home of the Yelamu people, part of the Ohlone tribe, this windswept and desolate area was later held by the Spanish (mid-1700’s), followed by the Gold Rush of the mid-1800’s.

 “In the 1880’s visitors boarded Adolph Sutro’s steam train to ride – for 5¢ apiece – from downtown San Francisco to his elaborate Cliff House restaurant and Sutro Baths. “Opened in 1896, the baths could house 10,000 people, some enjoying the water, others exploring Sutro’s collection of tropical plants” … or the amphitheater shows, galleries and museum exhibits (including an Egyptian mummy).

 “The restaurant, of course, remains. The baths are mostly gone; a four-alarm fire in 1966 destroyed the structure; the ocean has helped reduce the Sutro Baths to ruins.”

Sherry and I started our walk from the Lands End Parking area.

I wanted to check accessibility of the trail, and found that the path was paved until we got to Mile Rock Overlook. The pavement ended, and at first the dirt path seemed to be level and smooth enough for wheelchair access. However, we soon came to steps that would not accommodate a chair, nor would much of the path thereafter.

Edge of the Path – Overlook

Sherry is a kindred spirit. Especially when it comes to photography!

We chose not to ascend these steep steps, which would have taken us to a eucalyptus grove and another view.

Instead, we backtracked a little and went down the many, many steps to the “Y” in the path.

Had we gone left, we would have reached Mile Rock Beach.

We veered to the right instead, and walked out to Lands End Point, where we picnicked and enjoyed the view and the beautiful weather.

Top of Lands End Point

And then … the labyrinth.

Sherry walking the labyrinth

  Situated – literally – on the point of Lands End, the labyrinth was created in 2004 by Eduardo Aguilera. Made of small stones, Aguilera described the walkable maze as a “shrine to peace, love and enlightenment.”

I was moved.

By the view – Pacific Ocean, Golden Gate Bridge – and by this sacred space. Walking a labyrinth is, for me, a spiritual experience.

 We took our time, and mindfully walked our path.

 

Finished with our labyrinth walk, we headed back up the umpteen stairs

  [I’ll count them, the next time I’m there!]

Retracing our steps, we headed to Point Lobos and the Sutro Baths. They, too, were inaccessible.

As was mentioned above, the baths were destroyed by a fire in 1966.

There’s a newly-opened Visitor’s Center – fully accessible – at the end of Point Lobos Avenue, with clean bathrooms, a small gift shop, and helpful staff.

We had a lovely day, and because we wanted to maintain our happy mood by avoiding the Friday afternoon westbound traffic, Sherry and I left at 2:30 p.m. However, there are more trails for me to explore, and I plan to return to Lands End in the very near future!

%d bloggers like this: