Catching up with friends again over the Christmas holidays triggered memories of a fabulous and serendipitous weekend away in Amsterdam.  It challenged me on some levels and completely surprised me on others. I was at the start of my 9 month stint in Europe in 2015 and planned a weekend on the fly in Amsterdam with my friend Eleni who lives in London. I was going on Thursday afternoon and she was meeting me on the Friday.



(Photo: In front of ‘I Amsterdam’ Sign with Eleni, Amsterdam, Netherlands, May 2015)


I may as well start with some of the challenges.  Booking accommodation online was interesting, the website said it was an accessible hotel but then the night before flying I get an email stating that they don’t have wheelchair accessible rooms at this location and have given me a large room which hopefully will be ok (nothing like a bit of stress just before flying but then I’m notorious for winging it when I travel, so it was my own fault for not being more thorough!). What’s the worst that could happen? I have to put up with a pommy bath for a couple of days? Well frankly that was something I had to live with for more than a few days during my 9 months in Europe!

(Photos: Spacious ‘non accessible’ hotel room, Amsterdam, Netherlands, May 2015)

I got to the hotel, Juan my taxi driver was a lovely 54-year-old man, his wife had died three years earlier due to a heart attack and he has 2 boys and 4 grandchildren as well as family in Melbourne.  It seems that links to Australia are never far away when travelling.  We chatted all the way to the hotel and he helped me get someone from reception to come out because the hotel had stairs out the front!

The room was beautiful and lush but the bathroom was not perfect, it had a bathtub but I couldn’t really use it with the way it was positioned.  Maybe to wash my hair with a glass of water over the side so I didn’t look terrible after a couple of days.  The toilet didn’t have much to grab for stability so my core got to work and I played it safe with the levels of alcohol I drank when socialising until I got used to it. And for all of those people who asked me if I had a special cookie whilst in Amsterdam? Quite frankly it wasn’t a priority and with the toilet situation I wasn’t prepared to risk a broken leg at the start of my trip anyway!


My silver lining here was that the tram line outside the hotel (Number 2) was actually fully wheelchair accessible. A tram staff member was onboard to put ramps out and get me on and off the tram. I went to the Van Gogh Museum on the Friday morning, feeling great and independent in a foreign city.  Absolutely loved rolling through the museum absorbing the art and story of Van Gogh’s life and it didn’t cost me anything to get in…perfect! Sometimes there are perks with being in a wheelchair! 😉

Later that day I needed to meet up with Eleni and her friends in town for dinner.  I went searching for the other tram line that gets you there (Number 4 I think it was).  Getting a little lost and stopping a passer-by on his bike for directions. He was lovely and got me on the tram before he took off again. The thing I did notice with this tram was that it didn’t have a staff member on board with ramps… it got me a little nervous as to whether I’d be able to get off. I tapped into my language skills noticing the couple next to me were speaking in French. So I asked for help to get down at my stop. Such a lovely couple, they helped me off the tram. Phew! My heart had been pumping a bit as we approached my stop.  I definitely needed a drink when I met up with the girls!

A couple of things I did notice that afternoon when looking for the tram line, one was a bookshelf at the corner of some streets with books on them and a plastic cover to protect them from the weather. People were picking up books and dropping others off.  Apparently it was a book swapping program for the community… what a great idea! The other thing was this zen-like atmosphere of peace and calm as I pushed through the streets.  Amsterdam is definitely a relaxing city…


Once dinner was over, one of Eleni’s friends Helen noticed I was in a wheelchair, immediately she came over and offered her little red car for the weekend. It had hand controls so I could definitely drive it. Wow, driving in Europe… not something I had planned but what an opportunity!  The little red canta car just fit my folded wheelchair sitting up in the boot and it could go in the bike lanes as well as on the road when bike lanes weren’t available. It could only do 30km/hr really so it was perfect for what we wanted to do. Should be safe enough for me to drive. 😉

(Photos: My Red Canta Car in Amsterdam, Netherlands, May 2015)

We met outside the Rijks Museum on the Saturday morning, I did a quick stint in there to have a look but it was so busy, definitely need more than one day to see it all! We did a couple of practice laps to get my confidence up on how to use the car and then we were off.  Eleni and I explored the streets around the canals and did some shopping.  This car can just about be parked anywhere it’s so small!  Too cool!  Under a tree on the footpath provided you don’t block pedestrian pathways is all good in Amsterdam! It added a whole other element of fun to the weekend.


I had to get my water fix too.  Can’t be surrounded by so much water and not do a canal cruise! The cruise was also accessible. They had a platform that when up and down to get you in the boat…excellent and easy! No accessible toilets but for a 90 minute cruise it was fine.

Girl in wheelchair in front of canal cruise boat in Amsterdam      Girl in wheelchair on canal bridge looking back as camera with push bike on fence of bridge and canal view

(Photos: Canal Cruise and view of a canal, Amsterdam, Netherlands, May 215)

My last night in Amsterdam was fun, delicious and memorable! We dined at the Conservatorium Hotel on super tender entrecote followed by delicious dessert wine. We started the night with a cocktail of Gin, Negrino, Vermouth, Campari, Torquay and something else…totally amazing and potent drink!

Amsterdam is definitely a city I would go back to in a heartbeat. Going with the flow and not planning too much sometimes can be the best plan of all where you get rewarded with unexpected serendipitous moments like these!

lizzy hodgins