Amsterdam is Accessible!
by: Debbie Fogle

Europe is full of wonderful destinations but you will find no other city quite like Amsterdam. It is a city (and country) where the mix of cultures has created a people that are especially tolerant, warm and welcoming to outsiders. The capital and the largest city in The Netherlands, Amsterdam can boast that it has more canals than Venice, more bridges than Paris and shopping to rival London and Milan - while catering to a wider range of pocketbooks!

Visitors to Amsterdam will no doubt be delighted by its' charm and atmosphere. Rich in history, museums are the number one attraction honoring such masters as Rembrandt, Van Gough, and even the house where Anne Frank wrote her famous diary while hiding from German occupation forces. The city itself is almost like a museum with fabulous architecture, romantically illuminated bridges and a dazzling burst of flowering bulbs each April, making spring one of the best times of the year to visit. You can also plan your trip for September or October if you want to avoid summer crowds (and prices). Travelers with disabilities will be pleased to find adequate transportation and amenities while visiting Amsterdam. As with many older cities in Europe there are definitely some barriers that have to be considered but it seems that overall access is good - or at least very doable. Most people arrive via Schiphol Airport so check out their web site http://www.schiphol.com/ for information about their facilities. You can also call +31 (0)20 316 14 17 if you need assistance getting on a plane, visiting the toilet or shopping while at Schiphol and an assitant will be provided for you.

There are several resources available to help you plan your trip. The Amsterdam Tourism and Convention Board  is a great jumping off point because they have a ton of practical information along with a respectable amount of access information. If you use the advance search feature you will be able to sort by accessibility. Some of the categories include accommodations, museums, windmills and monuments. While not all encompassing, the access information found here is a valuable resource.

Amsterdamby.com also has some very good information covering both general travel and travel for people with disabilities. Their general information is very good and gives a broad oversight of the attractions as well as a feel for the 'pulse of the city'. The section titled 'Disabled Traveler in Amsterdam' has a list of access information including; travel tips, transportation and information on different organizations and publications that are available to travelers with disabilities.

Finding accessible accommodations should not pose much of a problem. The Access-Able Database has several listings including; The Best Western Eden Hotel, located in the very heart of Amsterdam right between the Amstel River and the Rembrandtplein. Just behind the hotel you will find Rembrandt square with numerous restaurants and cafes. From here it is just a few minutes' stroll to the floating flower market, museums and the city's principal shopping district. The Eden Hotel has a total of 218 rooms, most are wheelchair accessible but one has been specially adapted with a roll in shower. This room has two single beds with ample room to maneuver about and is located on the ground floor. The bathroom adaptations include a hand held shower head as well as grab bars in the shower and near the toilet. All public areas are of the hotel are accessible including the public toilet which is located near the lobby.

Accessible transportation around the city can be secured without having to do your own driving. This is probably a good thing because the streets are busy and narrow and the challenges drivers face are many. As a matter of fact, one of the first things http://www.thehollandring.com/index.htmlyou will notice is how many people ride bicycles. The Netherlands is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and it would be impossible for everyone to own a car!

Public transportation is a reliable means of getting around with varying levels of accessibility. The train, which goes by the abbreviation 'NS', has a pretty extensive section on their Web site select "Organization" then "key Points.  Most all of the stations are accessible and through NS, you can even arrange in advance for an assistant to help you. Other ways of getting around the city include making use of their busses and trams. These methods of transportation are improving their accessibility, as of now tram lines 1 and 5 are accessible and official reports claim that they will replace ALL trams in Amsterdam with low-floor, accessible trams by the end of 2006. Check out their Web site  for the latest details!

If you are not contented to stay within the boundaries of Amsterdam you do have some options. Of course the train will take you to outlying regions of the country (and even out of the country for that matter) but if you would like to arrange for an accessible van with a driver then contact Garskanp - a taxi company that works both in and outside of Amsterdam. They can be reached by calling +31 20 633 39 43 but in most cases they do require a minimum of 24 hours notice and even a weeks notice is appreciated. Garskanp has several different vehicles for hire with the average carrying capacity of 7 able bodied passengers and 1 wheelchair. They do have tie downs and the vehicles are equipped with either a lift or a ramp.

Finding fun and exciting things to do during your stay will probably be the least of your concerns! As we mentioned earlier, museums are the number one attraction and there is definitely no shortage of them (the city boasts more than fifty of them). A good place to start is at the Rijksmuseum  which is the largest museum of arts and history in the Netherlands and is perhaps best known for its' collection of 17th century Dutch masters including some 22 Rembrandts and works by Vermeer, Jan Steen and Frans Hals. Many other displays include sculptures, a great doll house collection, silver, glass and a 'prints rooms' with approximately 700,000 prints and drawings. There is an audio tour available for a minimal charge and the entire museum is wheelchair accessible, including restrooms. Another important museum is the Van Gogh Museum. Inside the two buildings that comprise the museum you will find the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world. Visiting here is a unique opportunity to keep track of the artist's developments and compare his paintings to works by other 19th century artists. The Van Gogh Museum is located off the Museumplein - a lovely square that was developed for the enjoyment of museum-goers. Included in the restoration are two pavilions, one for a shop jointly operated by the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum and the other pavilion is home to the cobra café. The Van Gogh Museum is accessible via a lift and provides an elevator inside for complete access.

A trip to Amsterdam just would not be complete without taking a cruise along the charming canals. Rederij Noord-Zuid - or Blue Boat Company offers narrated tours where you can experience Amsterdam from the water. The 75 minute daytime tour will amaze you with views of beautiful architecture as you glide effortlessly along under romantic bridges. They also have a 90 minute evening tour which is just spectacular thanks to the illumination of all of the bridges. The boats have an interior cabin that can be heated for your comfort and is wheelchair accessible for both manual and power chairs and scooter. Actually, there are four boats in the fleet that are equipped with a wheelchair lift. Some people say that you haven't seen Amsterdam until you have seen it from the water! If you decide to plan your trip during April or May, be sure to visit the Keukenhof  where over 7 million bulbs explode with color! In 2007 the garden will only be open from March 22 until May 20 so if you want to visit you will need to plan accordingly…… The grounds at Keukenhof are wheelchair accessible and there are accessible restrooms.

You will find many of the sights and attractions in and around Amsterdam to be accessible and where you may encounter an obstacle or two, you will always find a friendly person willing to assist - and it's almost guaranteed that they won't make much fuss about it. Another reason Amsterdam is so popular is because almost everyone speaks English so the language is not much of a barrier at all. However, if you would like to exercise you mind with a difficult-to-learn language then you go take their lessons for free! You will probably also find a translation site worth your time, a good one is http://babelfish.altavista.com/ ,where they can translate a text section or an entire web page.

There are several organizations that have some information that may help you plan your trip. SGOA  is short for Stichting Gehandicapten Overleg Amsterdam or Amsterdam Forum for the Disabled and has quite a bit of information; the National Bureau for Accessibility has a database on their web site  and the Access-Able Database  has listings for other locations in The Netherlands.

If you are considering a trip to Europe then you should definitely keep Amsterdam on the short list. It is vibrant city with good deals, friendly people and a very distinctive atmosphere. Perhaps best of all is their conscious attitude towards accessibility.

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