Birthday Landmark – The half-century

So why did my last post say that I was so busy? Well at the end of May was my (and Kevin’s) birthday and for me it was the big half-century ! Therefore, I wanted to do something to celebrate and what better than to try and recreate my 21st birthday when Kevin and I were at Imperial College in London and I was still a happy go lucky student. Now first: On my 21st birthday Kevin, my parents and I got the overnight ferry to Holland and went to Amsterdam (by train) for an Indonesian rijstafel, returning home on the overnight ferry that evening (well we were students and did have to do things on a tight budget!)

Now of course quite a lot has changed in the intervening 39 yrs – I’ve worked (so have more money), I now use a wheelchair (courtesy of MS) and we have a car. The latter is very important, because trains (that we used all those yrs ago) are a bit more difficult to organise now. However, the ferry still runs from Harwich to the Hook of Holland and with the car we could just drive (Kevin really) from Swindon to Harwich and then from the Hook of Holland to Amsterdam. As the picture shows we managed it, had the aforesaid Indonesian rijstafel and a lot more besides. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your age, my/our birthday falls during the Whitsun holidays. This meant that I was never at school during my birthday, but has the downside that travel and holidays in general are more expensive. It also means that the ferry gets booked up very quickly and so plan A had to change immediately – no disabled cabins available for the overnight ferry. Still, we are older now and a little thing like unavailable cabins wasn’t going to stop us. Plan B – take a sedate drive to Harwich, stay overnight in an accessible room at the ferry port and take the day ferry across to the Hook of Holland (having a meal on the way, of course), then drive (Kevin again) from the Hook of Holland to Amsterdam. This should have been easy, but was made a little more complicated by having an out of date satnav and the Dutch authorities building lots of new roads. Anyway, after a short skid via the outskirts of Rotterdam, we eventually made it to the Mövenpick hotel in Amsterdam and met up with my parents that evening. Oh, that’s another thing that’s changed – my parents now live in France and were driving across from the west of France via Belgium to a different hotel in Amsterdam, reasonably close by. Upon meeting up, my parents confirmed that their trip across France and hotel were great BUT their journey around Antwerp had been awful (not good for us to hear, because Antwerp was the next place we were visiting & planned to stay overnight on our way back to their house in France).

Now, booking a hotel when you have a disability and therefore require an accessible room is a bit more difficult than you may think. I picked the Mövenpick hotel in the centre of Amsterdam, because it had an accessible room & en-suite bathroom. It was more expensive than we would normally pay, but I must admit that the accessible bathroom was very good. The hotel is actually built out in the old dock area, which accounts for our rather noisy and changeable neighbours (see pictures). I think this first photograph (of the view from our bedroom window) needs a little more explaining: As I predominantly sleep on my back now, I no longer seem to be able to achieve a full, uninterrupted 9 hours sleep each night. I tend to wake up, Kevin helps me sit up and I spend the next hour or so reading my Kindle. This particular night, I woke up as usual and sat there reading when (around 4 o’clock in the morning) I vaguely became aware of noises outside. Upon looking out of the window in the semi gloom, I was surprised to see that there appeared to be terraced houses opposite that I hadn’t noticed when we first arrived. I went back to sleep for a couple of hours as normal and when waking for the 2nd time Kevin commented that there was a lot of commotion outside. He opened the curtains properly and this was the view that greeted us – A cruise ship ! So after getting dressed and showered, Kevin immediately went outside to take a better look. Upon returning to me in the room, we had lots of jokes about “Costa” cruises and whether the captain had really intended to park to park his large vessel outside our hotel. Needless to say, once I had showered and dressed too, Kevin took me outside and we immediately noticed that our hotel was right beside the cruise ship terminus. We met my parents at the coffee shop right next door to our hotel, where I had a lovely freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast. My parents didn’t want or need anything having already partaken of a rather large hotel breakfast, which was included in the cost of their hotel. Once all together, we set off into Amsterdam city centre via a bridge over the River and we started to have a look around. Neither of my parents had seen an Indonesian restaurant when they had had a quick look upon their arrival the previous day, but we decided to look around and try to locate the flower market (where of my parents’ friend had said that they had found and Indonesian restaurant) … and on the way, I had an apple pancake (another of my fond memories of Holland from yrs ago). That evening, we had sushi in a weird Japanese-style fast food restaurant I’d noticed on our travels that was wheelchair accessible (unlike lots of the traditional restaurants, which were both narrow, all and had steps up to the door – no change there then!) Anyway, as can be seen from the photograph at the beginning of this post – we did find a lovely, accessible Indonesian restaurant and I got my Indonesian rijstafel. The morning that we were leaving Amsterdam (and my parents) Kevin and I went into a cafe in the Information Centre just opposite the Grand Central Station. The cafe was downstairs, but there was a lift and we decided to stop for a drink and lunch whilst waiting to meet my parents. They arrived and also decided to have a drink/look at the menu, where my mother saw the item “Bitterballen” which she decided to order – another fond food memory that we had enjoyed as a family many yrs ago. (Therefore, completely unintentionally, I had appeared to ‘tick off’ 3 items from my imaginary bucket list.)

Next, Kevin and I made the journey to Antwerp, which as my parents’ had predicted was a nightmare journey – roadworks everywhere! Our hotel was right in the centre of Antwerp and once we had managed to negotiate all the major disruptions, we finally made it to the hotel … and had to have a lie down to recover from what was a comparatively short hop. No pictures of Antwerp, but as you can probably imagine the combination of major reconstruction/building works, removal of almost all dropped curbs and cobbles made our investigations of Antwerp painful for me (in the wheelchair) and extremely tiring for Kevin (trying to manoeuvre the wheelchair over rubble/unmarried pavements etc.) In summary, Antwerp may be lovely in a few yrs time but not at the moment and especially not when trying to get around with a wheelchair or similar. Round 2 finished and onto the round 3, edging ever more slowly towards France.

Round 3 – Mons. Now Mons was lovely and probably had undergone similar building works to Antwerp but a few yrs earlier i.e. a view of what Antwerp may become in a few yrs time. The hotel was lovely and interesting, but again there were lots of cobbles and this time the town was located on a Hill – oh what fun!

      


And there’s really not much more to say – upon leaving the hotel in Mons, we started on the long drive across France to my parents’ house in Normandy. It had been a fun week away and we were now ready for the final ferry trip home (after a few days recuperating in France) via St. Malo … and yes a bit more food !

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