Categories
International travel

The Original Haarlem

According to Rick Steves’ book “Easy Access Europe(copyright 2006, Avalon Travel Publishing), “In a recent study, the Dutch people were found to be the most content people in Europe. In another study, the people of Haarlem were found to be the most content in the Netherlands.”

Because Haarlem is a quick 15-minute train ride from Amsterdam’s Central Station, we decided to take a day trip to this lovely city during our October 2010 trip to Amsterdam.

Haarlem’s train station, decorated with Art Nouveau from 1908, has elevators that allow wheelchair users access from the platform to the street level.

Two parallel streets flank the train station (Kruisweg and Jansweg); if you head up either street, you’ll arrive at the town square and church in six wheelchair-accessible blocks.

(Note: the sidewalks can be narrow, and there are often many pedestrians. The bicycle bell on Carrieanna’s wheelchair was, once again, a valuable tool in navigating through the crowds!)

Haarlem’s market square (Grote Markt), where 10 streets converge, has been the town’s centerpiece for 700 years.

Food stalls intermingle with displays of clothing, souvenirs and other sundries. All were easy for Carrieanna to navigate.

Overseeing the square is a statue of L.J. Coster, who is purported to have been the father of modern printing (some 40 years before Gutenberg invented movable type). In the statue, Coster holds up a block of movable type and points to himself, as if to say, “I made this.”

The statue faces Haarlem’s Town Hall, built from a royal hunting lodge in the mid-1200s, then rebuilt after a 1351 fire. (The façade dates from 1630.) The entry is wheelchair accessible, with a fully-adapted toilet – one of the few in town.

The 15th-century Gothic church, “Grote Kerk,” is located at one end of the Grote Markt. Moderately accessible, there is a tall step and a ledge to get in the door, but the interior is accessible.

The amazing organ within (100 feet tall, 5,000 pipes; said to have impressed both Handel and Mozart) is on the west end of the church, opposite the altar area.

There is a free organ concert on Tuesdays at 20:15 from mid-May to Mid-October; an additional concert is held on Thursdays at 15:00 in July-August.

Haarlem is the hometown of Frans Hal, a famous Dutch painter in the 17th century. The Frans Hals Museum, a former almshouse for old men back in 1610, displays many of his greatest paintings.

Most of the interior is wheelchair accessible (except for a couple of steps into two rooms, and four steps into another). According to “Easy Access Europe,” the museum does have one loaner wheelchair, although it is first-come, first-served.

The courtyard was a lovely place to stroll and roll.

It is good to note that while the wheelchair user does pay an entrance fee, his or her wheelchair-pushing companion is allowed free entrance.

It is also important to note that the museum is closed on Mondays.

Although we did not take the canal cruise in Haarlem, Rick Steves describes it thus: “Making a scenic 50-minute loop through and around Haarlem with a live guide who speaks up to four languages, these little trips by Woltheus Cruises are more relaxing than informative.”

One of the boats is fully accessible, and should be reserved ahead of time.

We enjoyed our visit to Haarlem, and found it to be easy to get around, whether strolling or rolling!

(All factual information is taken from “Easy Access Europe” by Rick Steves. Although this book is currently out of print, we found it to be a valuable resource and highly recommend finding a copy – used or new – when planning a trip to Amsterdam, Paris, Bruges, and many other major European destinations.)

Categories
US travel

Currently Reading: “22 Accessible Road Trips”

On the subject of accessible travel, Candy Harrington is an expert.

The author of many books, including “Barrier-Free Travel; A Nuts & Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers,” and the founding editor of “Emerging Horizons,” a quarterly online magazine, Candy says, “My goal is to describe access so travelers can make appropriate choices ….”

I recently had an opportunity to acquire Candy’s newest book, “22 Accessible Road Trips,” and she clearly meets her goal. I have already highlighted many of her great suggestions!

I particularly love the format of the book. Divided into four geographic regions — Pacific States, Mountain States, Central States and Eastern States – Candy has described several accessible – and scenic – trips in each.

Each route is a separate chapter with sections filled with valuable suggestions and important details.

For example, in the “Along the Way” section, she encourages travelers with disabilities to get an America the Beautiful Access Pass, which is good for free admission to national parks and monuments. (page 5)

Another example: In writing about the Columbia River Gorge [part of the Washington Wine Country section in the Pacific States region], she says,

“For a look at one of the most spectacular scenic wonders on this loop, take exit 35 off Interstate 84, and continue west on Highway 30 to Multnomah Falls. This 620-foot waterfall is the second tallest year-round waterfall in the nation, and the showpiece of the Columbia River Gorge.”

She goes on to say, “A word of warning though – the signs to Multnomah Falls direct visitors to exit 31, which leads to a remote parking lot. For best access take exit 35, so you can park directly in front of the falls. … Additionally, try and hit this top attraction as early in the day as possible, to avoid the crowds.” (page 40)

Immensely helpful advice.

In the “Timing” section she notes when the weather is amenable for driving:

[Speaking of the Pacific Northwest] “This is definitely a summer trip. Depending on the severity of the winter, the road through … Crater Lake National Park may not open ‘til June.” (page 30)

and

[Speaking of the Mid-Atlantic area] “Spring and fall are the best seasons to drive this route, as the scenery is magnificent. The fragrant dogwoods put on a good show in the spring, and the fall colors are simply stunning.” (pages 298-299)

… as well as when you might encounter large crowds:

“Try to avoid spring break though, as it’s especially crowded in Williamsburg at that time. This is not a winter trip, as some of the attractions are closed, and you’ll definitely run into snow.” (page 299)

and

“… if you don’t like crowds, avoid Albuquerque during the first week of October, as visitors flock to the very popular Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.” (page 71)

From my own experience, this is a very important consideration; fewer people generally means greater access for someone in a wheelchair.

In the “Don’t Miss It” section of each route, Candy not only shares her suggestions about special events or attractions …

“Although it’s hard to pick out highlights along this [The Rockies and Beyond] route, Garden of the Gods … consistently tops my must-see list ….” (page 97)

… but also some of the nuts-and-bolts details like where to park for a great view, whether loaner wheelchairs are available, etc., and other good-to-know information:

‘It should be noted that the [Breitenbush, Oregon] hot springs are clothing optional; … if you’re shy this probably isn’t the place for you.” (page 30)

As you can see from these quotes, Candy has thoroughly done her research, saving disabled travelers hours (or days) of work in planning a road trip.

In addition, at the conclusion of each chapter she has included a list of websites, phone numbers and other helpful resources pertaining to that route.

Candy’s husband, Charles Pannell, is her traveling companion as well as the book’s photographer, providing many black-and-white photos for each section.

The book is informative rather than anecdotal, yet it was descriptive enough to arouse my curiosity and inspire me to consider future road trips that Carrieanna might enjoy.

I highly recommend “22 Accessible Road Trips” as part of any traveler’s library!

Categories
California travel

Chips and Salsa – and More – for a Good Cause!

Let me start by saying that I LOVE Mexican food!

In fact, if I were on death row – Heaven forbid! – and had to choose my “last meal,” it would be nachos!

(My mother was born in Chuichupa, Chihuahua, Mexico; perhaps that’s why?!)

Anyhow, set a bowl of chips and salsa within my reach and it will soon become an empty bowl. So when Carrieanna told me of a fundraiser for MSQLP, to be held at Jose’s Mexican Bar and Grill in Monterey, I quickly said “Yes; I’ll be there!”

I am always happy to support the MS Quality of Life Project. MSQLP provides tangible services, like “sponsoring” — translation: “paying for” — swimming (a very helpful therapy for people with MS) at the Monterey Sports Center, as well as emotional and moral service, advocating for and educating individuals with Multiple Sclerosis,  with the goal that they enjoy a good quality of life.

Andrea Dowdall, MSW MEd and Board President, and her staff – most of whom are volunteers – work very hard to make life a little bit easier for the local MS population.* And they do it with grace, sincerity and big smiles!

On a more personal level, MSQLP has always been very supportive of Carrieanna, especially in recent years, in her schoolwork and the challenges she has met and conquered along the way.

And Carrieanna is a great support to MSQLP. She currently serves on the MSQLP Board of Directors and she is greatly appreciated!

Tammy Jennings, another MSQLP Board member, arranged for Jose’s  to donate 15% of all transactions from 3 until 11 p.m. on Monday, June 11th.

Jose’s is an easy walk and roll from Carrieanna’s house. For drivers, there’s a parking garage across the street, as well as plenty of metered parking.

We strolled in at 6:30 p.m., and the place was already packed with many MSQLP recipients and their families, as well as other diners.

After many friends greeted Carrieanna, we went out to the back patio to chat while waiting for a table to become available.

Overlooking the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, the patio was a lovely, quiet place to relax and enjoy the evening until the cooler weather, and a large empty table, nudged us inside.

As we were seated, the last of three musicians, Juan Sanchez, began playing his guitar and singing Spanish songs. His performance was great, and the crowd praised him frequently with their applause!

With margaritas and aqua fresca aloft, we toasted the success of this fundraiser.

Relaxing with chips, hot salsa and our beverages, we pondered the menu. There were so many tempting options; we finally decided on a vegetarian tostada (for me) and the taco and enchilada plate for Carrieanna.

The food was delicious, with ample portions. Of note: The refried beans are cooked with oil rather than lard. (Vegetarian-friendly AND tasty!)

The flan must have been delicious as well, because it was gone by the time we inquired at 8:00 p.m. Another time ….

We asked our waitress if Jose’s was always so busy on a Monday night, and she said “No.” The large crowd kept the staff very busy, but they were always pleasant and friendly.

During the evening many people asked if they could make a cash donation to MSQLP and, of course, that answer is a grateful “yes!”  In fact, you can donate online by going here and clicking on “Donate” button on the lower left-hand side of the page.

Thank you!

*MSQLP serves Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties.

(MSQLP also has an online newsletter. The May 2007 edition is all about travel; I’ll be referencing it in a future blog post.)

Categories
California travel

Monterey Bay Coastal Trail

I live in Sacramento, known for politicians, tomatoes, and hot weather.

And while I love living here, I am always glad when I have an opportunity to drive to Monterey and visit my stepdaughter, Carrieanna.

Not only is Monterey cooler than Sacramento (which is very important to Carrieanna, as heat exacerbates her MS), but it is also abundant with flora, fauna and beautiful scenery!

Naked ladies, lilies …

Pelicans, loons and seagulls …

stunning sunrises, boat reflections … for an amateur photographer like me, the list goes on and on!

And because I enjoy walking, I often spend my mornings – camera in hand – walking along the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail, which is very wheelchair friendly, and a wonderful way to enjoy the Monterey waterfront.

Although the 18-mile trail runs from Castroville to Pacific Grove, I generally spend my time walking between Lovers Point (Pacific Grove)

and the commercial wharf (just a little north of Fisherman’s Wharf).

Many favorite tourist attractions are easily accessed from the trail. Cannery Row, with its abundance of shops, restaurants and hotels, is one block toward the bay, running parallel to the trail.

At the end of Cannery Row is the Monterey Bay Aquarium — a favorite destination for children of all ages!

On a weekday morning, the coastal trail is fairly quiet: Joggers and cyclists, people walking their dogs, and, very occasionally, a group of people pedaling a surrey (a canopied quadricycle – possibly more work than they bargained for!)

I enjoy listening to the sounds of the bay as I walk: The waves breaking on the rocks, the squawk of seagulls, the occasional barking of seals.

Shortly after walking past the Aquarium, I enter Pacific Grove.

A familiar pungent scent tells me that I am near the little cove where Harbor Seals hang out and sun themselves. And have babies.

Springtime is pupping season, and visitors are encouraged to enjoy the bay view without disturbing the new babies and their mamas.

During my recent visit a portion of Ocean View Boulevard, adjacent to the pupping area, was being repaired. To minimize the disturbance to the new seal families, the fence was covered with tarp-like material – with a small section left open so visitors could see the seals.

The fence and viewing area is a little way off the Coastal Trail, but with a little assistance from a companion (or using her motorized wheelchair), I’m sure Carrieanna could get close enough to see the seals.

Walking toward Lovers Point, I am reminded of the first time I walked this trail. It was April of 2006, and I was part of Team Carrieannamals, joining Carrieanna and many of her friends as we supported the annual MS Walk.

The trail is wide enough to accommodate the crowd which, naturally, includes people using wheelchairs, walkers, canes and other types of assistive devices.

The trail has also been used by the local MS Quality of Life Project for their annual Walk and Roll fundraiser.

Although the Coastal Trail continues on to Asilomar State Beach and, further, to the famous 17-Mile Drive, I generally only go as far as Lovers Point.

I sometimes walk the Coastal Trail  in the opposite direction, heading toward Fisherman’s Wharf, another favorite tourist attraction.

Not only is the trail user-friendly for people on foot, on bicycles, or in a wheelchair, but benches can also be found along the way for those who want to sit and enjoy the view.

Although Fisherman’s Wharf has many shops and restaurants,

I generally bypass it and walk past the Marina,

on my way to the commercial wharf .

I especially enjoy visiting this wharf in the morning, when the fish companies are doing business – and the pelicans stand in line to get their fair share!

The sea lions also hope for a handout!

While there are not many restaurants on this wharf, a little diner called  LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle always seems to be busy during breakfast time!

While my walk generally ends at this wharf, the Monterey Bay Coastal Trail does continue northeast, going through Seaside, Fort Ord, Marina and on to Castroville.

Perhaps on a future visit to Monterey, I’ll head that direction …..

Categories
International travel

Rolling through Amsterdam

(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.

Categories
California travel

Lands End, and the Labyrinth thereon …

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!

Categories
California travel

Birthday lunch at Nepenthe Restaurant, Big Sur, CA

Nepenthe Restaurant, in Big Sur, was opened by Lolly and Bill Fassett in 1949. The restaurant, with its magnificent view, was built using native materials – redwood and adobe — honoring the owners’ vision that it “become one with the landscape and the earth it stands on.”

Teal blue menu cover from Nepenthe Restaurant, Big Sur, California