Sweden: At the Edge of the Baltic Sea

Sweden: At the Edge of the Baltic Sea

Birka Island

We are so far north here in Stockholm that it stays light until midnight and then starts getting light again by 3:30 AM. I think it’s pretty cool. I was surprised that Sweden is hillier and harder to wheel than the Netherlands and Belgium. I was also surprised that it is harder to find accessible restrooms around town, mostly old town, unless you are at a museum or airport where accessible restrooms are great.. Stockholm’s Old town has a lumpy-style of  cobblestones and hills so it’s not easy.

On day 1 in Stockholm, we did a 3day Hop on Hop off with Stromma City Sightseeing. They advertised as wheelchair accessible but truly was not. No ramp on bus and I had to back my manual chair out and drop several inches to get out. The driver wouldn’t let me out at my requested stop either since he didn’t want to reposition the bus to be closer to the curb to help rampless wheelchair exit.  He told us to circle around and get the requested stop the second time around but before we could do that, he stopped at stop number one and told us we had to leave because he was on break. It was terrible service and a wasted vacation day, unfortunately.

Day 2 was better with Stromma HOHO. This bus had a ramp and we went to the Vasa museum which was fascinating. Vasa is an enormous Swedish ship that sank in the 1600’s and then was recovered in 2000’s. It was amazingly preserved in the brackish water. It was an amazing effort to build and very ornate with carved  figures that had been painted. I didn’t realize they built such massive ships back then. It was about seven stories high. We also visited the Nordic museum, really  about life in Sweden from the 1600s to now, It was less than impressive but wheelchair accessible.  That was all the time we had for museums since we lost the first day. 

Day 3 was a boat ride to Birka island. It is an old Viking site and is now a UNESCO heritage site. I could not go on the walking tour or see the archeological dig. I was informed of that prior to buying my ticket from Stromma, though, and figured I would like the 2-hr boat ride and spend time in the museum, shop, cafe and re-constructed village. I did this and it was good and my able-bodied husband really enjoyed the walking tour.

Hotel: We stayed at the Hilton Stockholm Slussen hotel which was nicely wheelchair accessible and provided a wonderful breakfast. There was a lot of construction around Stockholm when we were there and this complicated things for us. I wish I could’ve had that extra day to see some other museums in the  very nicely accessible area near the Vasa museum.

General observations: Europeans seem to understand the term “disabled  toilet” Instead of “wheelchair accessible restroom”.  No matter what country I was in, people always offered to help if we were in an obviously difficult situation with steep ramps, etc. In my opinion, the Netherlands and then Belgium were more wheelchair accessible just because of the flat terrain (“nether” means “low”) compared to Stockholm, Sweden.  Some areas of Stockholm were pretty good, too, though.  Everywhere we went, many people spoke English.

It was a great trip and now it is great to be home!

Belgium: Diamonds, chocolate and beer

Belgium: Diamonds, chocolate and beer

We rolled into Antwerp Central Station which is an absolutely gorgeous 1800s train station. We walked across the street to our hotel, the Hampton Inn Central station. Excellent choice, excellent accessibility and excellent location. We spent the next couple of days walking down the main street, just around the corner, in the midst of all of the diamond shops and chocolate shops and cafés full of great Belgium beer. This area is also very flat and easy to wheel. We found a park a few blocks away as well with packed dirt trails where I could wheel easily. Our Lady of Antwerp cathedral was very beautiful inside and out and the buildings in general had intricate architecture. Great place for a few days stay.

We set off for Brugge (in French and Bruges in Dutch) by train which is just an hour and a half north west. Bruges is much smaller. We stayed at Martin’s Bruges hotel which is very nice and accessible and right at the edge of the main town square, behind the UNESCO belfry. There is something very unique about the architecture in Bruges. I was told that it was influenced by Romania. I’ve never seen anything quite like the edging on the rooftops. It made me feel like we were in a different century. I signed up for a private walking tour through Viator.com. Our guide took us throughout the city along cobblestone streets to historic places like the cathedral, a palace, and a Beguinage and explained a lot of the history which I found quite interesting. There are loads of cafés and chocolate shops all throughout Bruges and the chocolate is excellent!

It was not that easy to find a wheelchair accessible toilet so I had to come back to the hotel which had great access. Also, I used a freewheel because in some places the cobblestone was pretty bad.

The Netherlands: canals, windmills and harbors.

The Netherlands: canals, windmills and harbors.

I signed up with a company called Accessible Travel Netherlands (thanks for the recommendation, Cory Lee Woodard) to take a private tour of Amsterdam. I told the guide, Roel, I was interested in history, culture, the Red Light District  (I had to at least look!), canals…It was fascinating and our guide did a great job. I learned that the narrow, tall houses that are so prominent and unique in Amsterdam are due to the tax structure way back when where canal frontage area was taxed per square foot. This is why the houses are narrow in front and very deep.

Trams and trains are convenient and wheelchair accessible in Amsterdam. I did have to pop a few minor wheelies to get in and out on occasion. The whole country seems pretty flat and easy to roll except for coming on or off a dike. Many, many bicycles are around so I stayed out of the bicycle lanes. I used a freewheel and was very comfortable rolling everywhere. We only spent two days in Amsterdam and moved on to Rotterdam.

Where Amsterdam has incredible historic buildings and beautiful architecture, Rotterdam has some amazing futuristic-looking modern architecture and fewer historic buildings. The port of Rotterdam is supposed to be the biggest in Europe, and we took a worthwhile Spido cruise and checked that out.

But my big interest in Rotterdam was seeing the Kinderdijk UNESCO site and the windmills. As a water engineer myself, I am very interested in dutch water management.  And the dutch sure know how to do it! Kinderdijk is incredible.  Over 400 years ago, farmers got together and decided they needed more land and set out to dig a canal with wooden shovels. That canal drained water off the land, and they built windmills to pump the water up from a lower basin to a high basin and then let it flow out to a river. 19 of those windmills from over 400 years ago are still there. The whole concept is hard to believe and incredible to see! I am so impressed with Dutch engineering!

We took a 15 minute Uber ride from Rotterdam to Delft. We visited the royal Delft pottery factory which was established in the 1600s and is still going today. They still do the pottery by hand, crafting and painting it. It was really interesting and very easy in a wheelchair.

To get to Kinderdijk from Rotterdam, I caught the number 202 waterbus at the foot of the Erasmus bridge. It was very easy, very easily accessible and in a half hour I was right at the Kinderdijk windmill area.

Hotels: In Amsterdam, I stayed at the Apollo Ramada City Center, Hotel which was excellent. It was right next to a really beautiful park that was easy wheeling and had ponds and canals full of coots and other birds. I would definitely recommend it and stay there again.

In Rotterdam, I stayed at EasyHotel City Center. Although the location was very good being right downtown and next to all sorts of cafés and restaurants, the hotel was not very clean and the bed was not very comfortable. The bathroom Had a 4 inch lip that I had to wheelie over every time I went in and out but had grab bars by the toilet and in the shower, plus a shower bench. I would not stay there again though.

Kinderdijk

Logierait and Falkirk, Scotland

Logierait and Falkirk, Scotland

We checked out two Highland games, one in Blackfort and the other at Blair Castle. Manly men in kilts doing manly things like throwing cabers and hammers, lots of bagpipers and beautiful dancing by ladies in plaid.

We stayed at Cull-An-Daraich Guesthouse Owned by Rachel Knight and her husband. The guest house is an old poor farm which was converted to a really nice bed and breakfast. Great wheelchair access, plenty of grab bars in bathroom, roll in shower, nice bath bench, plenty of space around beds and beds at level easy to transfer. Good parking too.

We made sure to go by the Falkirk wheel which is really an incredible engineering feat. It raises canal boats up 37 m instead of using the old lock system that has numerous locks that took eight hours instead of the one and a half hour that the Falkirk wheel takes. It works on Archimedes principle of water displacement. We rode the canal boat through the Falkirk wheel and learned about the canal system that goes from sea to sea across Scotland and then another one that goes from the mines to Edinburgh.  The north-south and the east-west canals connect via the Falkirk wheel. Scotland renovated the canals about 20 years ago which has revamped a lot of economy in the area plus provided the added bonus of tourism. Very cool.

Nearby are the Kelpies which are giant sculptures of horse heads. Clydesdales were used to pull canal boats across Scotland and the Kelpies are in honor of those Clydesdales.

We came back to Edinburgh ready to catch our flights home. We stayed at the Brooks hotel which has terrible wheelchair access in the bathroom. Zero grab bars around the toilet and zero grab bars in the shower. The bath bench is a plastic thing I hope will not collapse!  The rest of the hotel room is great so I will make recommendations to them. It would not take much to make these desperately needed accessibility improvements.