Amsterdam Access 2010
 By Kim O'Sullivan  © 2010

Enroute to Egypt from Queensland, Australia, Kim & Shaun O'Sullivan stopped off in Amsterdam to visit their son. While there, they coped with inaccessible accommodations, transportation and sightseeing but managed to experience some of the city's top sites.

Shaun is a T12 incomplete Paraplegic. Recently we decided to go to Egypt and Holland for a holiday. We went to Egypt first and flew Egypt Air from Cairo to Amsterdam. The flight went very smoothly and the staff looked after all our needs. From the moment we landed in Amsterdam, however, the nightmare began. We sat on the plane for over an hour waiting for the aisle chair, when a man arrived and said "if you could just walk to the door". Finally he went and found the aisle chair and we managed to get out of the plane. We had prepaid for transport to our hotel. Once again we were greeted with "so you can climb stairs, right". Shaun managed to get into the bus, without any assistance, and also to climb out at the hotel. We had booked into the "Ibis Hotel" next to the train station in Amsterdam. However the room we were given (and which we paid $330.00 Aus per night) was abysmal. It consisted of two single bunk beds attached to the wall and both were very uncomfortable. Television could only be watched from one of the beds. To say it resembled college accommodation is being very generous. We went for a walk and found a much better, wheelchair friendly hotel. However as we had pre-paid our accommodation we were not able to secure a refund. After much discussion, we were given another room, but we had to wait three nights to move.

Shaun boards an accessible Amsterdam canal cruise.

Shaun boards an accessible Amsterdam canal cruise.

We had not pre-booked any tours as the main reason for our visit was to see our son, who was studying in Maastrict at the time. We had tried to book a couple of tours prior to leaving home, without any success. We really believed that we would be able to organize things once we arrived. How wrong could we be? We first tried to find a canal tour (after all there were hundreds of boats plying their trade) and unfortunately after much searching, I managed to find only one capable of taking a wheelchair. So we booked the trip and it went quite well. Mind you, we were the only ones on the entire boat….is paraplegia catching?

We managed to do the Rembrandt Museum and the Dutch Resistance Museum without too much drama. It was a long way between them, but Shaun managed to wheel all the way with minimal help from our son. We then started looking for a tour company that had a wheelchair friendly bus. Although we went everywhere that advertised tours, we were unable to find one that was capable of taking a wheelchair. One place told us to talk to the tour company we had come with, and when I said we had come on our own, the conversation stopped abruptly and we were told nobody could help.

Then we decided to try a tram trip. We lined up under a wheelchair sign and waited. The tram pulled up and nothing….so I got on the tram and said we had a wheelchair. The conductor told us the driver would have to help and when I asked for help from the driver, I was told the ramp was broken. Our son managed to get his father onto the tram and at our stop, Shaun launched himself out of the tram.

Shaun and his son in Amsterdam.

Shaun and his son in Amsterdam.

Then we decided to catch a train to Maastrich to visit our son’s university. We arrived at the station about 30 minutes prior to departure and bought the tickets. I told them we had a wheelchair and asked where we should stand. That is when I was told that we needed to give 3 hours notice so they could organize the ramp. As we wanted to be on that train, Shaun managed to throw himself onto the train. One of the guards lifted his chair and put it down beside him on the floor. The conductor then came through and was embarrassed by the situation and rang ahead to arrange the ramp at the other end. We thought it must be a huge contraption; however, it was a ramp similar to the ones they use in Australia, and only requires unlocking and wheeling to the step. As we were going to be there for a few hours, we went to the station masters office to arrange for the platform to be unlocked for our return trip. We were then told we would have to ring a number, as they would not move the platform without faxed notice from the appropriate office. I was also told that everyone knew how the system worked and ignorance was not accepted. We spoke to several Dutch people on the train ride and none of them knew of this policy. It certainly made us rethink train travel, as it all got too hard.

We then spent another five days in Amsterdam, not doing too much except for a visit to a couple of more museums. The Amsterdam Museum was well set up for wheelchairs. Getting around the centre of Amsterdam was not too bad, in spite of cobblestones and tram tracks. Shaun managed to get around with a minimum of effort and only fell out once. The main problem was glass. There was a lot of broken glass in that area as there are a lot of restaurants and pubs. He got two flat tyres but managed to fix them…after all, there are a lot of bike shops.

We realized that they were an old country but felt it was just ignorance and complacency that made getting around in the wheelchair very difficult. Nobody could give us any information. We had tried to arrange some things through our travel agent prior to leaving Australia, but they did not have any luck either.

We flew home with Singapore Airways, who were very good. The transit lounge in Singapore for people with disabilities is incredibly well set up. You are met at the plane and transported to your next flight with a minimum of ease. I would certainly recommend them as an airline of choice. 

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