Moving to Europe during Covid-19; Becoming poor and homeless in New York City.

After the success of my first book, Unbreakable Mind, endless projects were offered to me but none were a good match. There were many extremely attractive proposals. One was a second book, traveling to ten cities in the world, writing from an injured person’s perspective; an additional for NYT, to travel to 52 countries in 52 weeks, in a wheelchair; and, yet another, to create a travel TV show – but not any were the right fit, not one idea resonated with my soul.

Which avenue to further explore remained unclear until one fateful conversation in early May. I was on the phone with a friend from Amsterdam, a Norwegian-Dominican up-and-coming rap star, David AKA Big Mill, and he had an idea to share. “David,” I asked, “let me guess, another TV show idea.” He replied, “Yes, but this one is distinct.” Well, it was unlike all prior options – different to the point where I loved it. It made sense; it clicked with me – it felt right inside.

The other missing pieces to the puzzle would fall into place shortly thereafter. The morning of the 14th of May, my birthday, for some reason I was nudged to write an old classmate and friend, Adam, now living with his wife and four-year-old in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He was recently laid off as an AV Director, a high position in the non-profit world of museums, now in search of a project to develop. I shared my idea for a new travel TV show with him and the rest is history.

After a seven hour conversation, going over every detail possible for how the project could ostensibly work, determining key people and positions needed to make a production company and TV show successful, and agreeing on a pilot location abroad (Amsterdam), we were off to the races. Since Covid-19 has affected so many business-people and investors globally, we were unable to raise the necessary funds. All agreed, signing on to the project on a shoestring budget.

One week later, with all airplane tickets and hotels reserved, my wheelchair supercharged by Gary Gilberti and his amazing team at Numotion Mobility, we were set to start filming pilot footage in Amsterdam in July and August. As I already live part-time in Amsterdam, I was planning on moving to Europe for two to five years. With everything [assuredly] in place, and not being a fan of storing items that others less fortunate could better utilize, especially during a global pandemic, I decided to give away my home, car, all my belongings to those in dire need.

What type spiritual person or leader would I be if I did not practice what I preached, helping others in life anytime one is able, truly living out the words I guide and ask of others to live, if I cannot do so myself? There was no need for me to store away furniture, clothing and other household items while others in my immediate presence were suffering from the current health and economic catastrophe. For two weeks friends and strangers came and took what they wanted.

Everything was going fine, just as planned. My home was donated, flights ready, bags packed and ride to airport sorted. Before flying out to Europe I planned to spend four days in NYC with an old friend, Georgie-boy, who lives across the Hudson River in Jersey City. George is an old and dear classmate from my irascible undergraduate days at Rutgers College; also the General Counsel for our production company. He has a thriving law practice in nearby Newark, NJ.

It was great to be back in NYC, my old stomping grounds in the late 1990s. There is nothing like “The City” – one of a kind, no other place like it on the planet.  We spent an afternoon sunning on the spacious waterfront in Hoboken, NJ, a nice day playing Frisbee in Central Park West, eating amazing Mamouns Falafel and Prince St. Pizza in Greenwich Village. Though it was expected to see murals and damage from prior fortnight’s rioting, it was eerily strange in person.

It was Sunday, a day of respite before flying to Europe on Monday. George and I spent the day having a relaxing lunch at Iberia outdoor café in the Little Portugal section of Newark, NJ. The next morning we were up bright and early, soon off to the airport. When we arrived at Newark International Airport it was nearly empty. There was not but one person at the check-in counter – moi. The Delta terminal was empty. It was June 15th and Covid-19 was in full effect. Wow!

Having never seen such a normally super busy airport terminal this empty in my life, it did not give me pause. George, on the other hand, had a different feeling, and decided to stay with me until I was ticketed to board. After finding a way to get my heavy bags checked in with no fees I thought we were on plan. Then a hiccup: “Sorry Mr. Quigley, you are unable to board the flight to Amsterdam. Dutch Immigration in Holland is denying you entry without proper permission.”

Well, that was a first, and not only a huge surprise but a major setback to a monumental project.  Oh shit! What do I do now? Thank goodness Georgie stayed with me; and thank goodness he was able to put me up at his place until this mess was all sussed out. It was an absolutely horrid situation; and to add salt to the wound, I was right smack in the middle of a Covid-19 USA EU political Visa predicament; whereas the EU would review country entry list every two weeks.

George was gracious enough to see me through the immediate emergency until it began looking like my delay would be a bit longer than originally anticipated. The EU placed a travel ban on Americans’ travel to Europe. And it would not be reviewed again until July 1st.  My new ticket was issued for a direct flight from JFK, NY to Amsterdam, Holland, July 1st. This being the case, and since George had a life to live, I moved to a Hilton close by to JFK airport in Queens.

What started as a journey by giving away all my belongings in order to chase a dream project and move to Europe was swiftly turning into a situation that could easily result in me becoming poor and homeless in NYC. Hotels are not cheap in NYC – nothing is inexpensive in the Big Apple – you pay through the nose. The costs were quickly adding up and what small financial safety net I had set aside was speedily disappearing. I could not last long in a hotel in Queens.

The hotel itself was of no help to my stress and anxiety levels. They had me on the sixth floor, all the way down the hall, in the far corner, in a room that was a very tight fit for a wheelchair, and could only be reached after struggling down one hundred twenty feet of carpet. As if that was not enough, one week into my stay the GM, Tracy Kass, awoke me early in the morning to inform me I would reach my 14 day hotel stay limit after this registration renewal, and she was calling to inform me they could not extend it any further. I was astounded, appalled. Unbelievable!

Miss Kass, later when challenged, changed her story, informing me I did not let her finish, she had more to say on the call – that there was, in fact, no 14 day limit. Three days and three voicemails later, and no reply arrived from the normally overly pugilistic General Manager. Only once it was elevated to Hilton Honors corporate office level did she return my call. This was after numerous emails asking her to send me a copy of the policy. She refused. It does not exist.

Upon complaint to NY State AG, their attorney replied that I did not let her finish, that it was actually a 28 day limit. That is total utter bullshit! Firstly, then why call me only after seven days? Secondly, I met two people outside the hotel who received the same inhuman treatment. Thirdly, all her staff, including her Director of Operations, apologized profusely to me in person for her insensitive, cruel call. It should be noted that all other staff were caring and supportive.

Later that week, while in the bathroom, the grab-bar broke off from the wall while attempting a toilet transfer, sending me straight onto the hard tile ground, injuring my neck and back. Do you think the hotel or GM did anything to help address the issue, let alone make some changes to mitigate a more comfortable stay? No! The room was a disaster for a wheelchair user. My stay in Queens was quickly morphing into its own mini crisis. I was stuck in a cement jungle without any stores. I had only one friend to assist me – Sunita in Boston. Hilton corporate has yet to reply.

With every door opening but quickly closing, I was running out of viable options, rapidly. The immediate future looked grim.  Running out of money (and patience), with no home to move to, with no home to return to, life was proving overly difficult. It allowed my mind to get the better of my heart, lulling it into anxiety, sadness and no hope for the future. Life was grim; I was not a happy camper. After nine years of struggle, I figured this project would run smoothly. Silly me!

After time searching deep inside, meditation and prayer, chats with mentors, close inner-circle friends and spiritual advisors, I decided that I would face the universe’s tests head on. It was time to truly practice my words – taking my hands off the wheel of life, as the universe has it under control. It was another example of ‘Doing The Dirty Dishes’ of life – the Buddhist principle that if you want to get anything done in life you first must put in your effort, getting your hands dirty.

In May, when the project began coming together, one night while deep in meditation, an angel came to me and told me: “Steven, after 46 years of white-knuckling the wheel of life, you can now finally remove your hands [from the wheel], let go, give up control of life (as if you ever had any in the first place) – the hardest lesson for most to learn, aside from reaction and attitude, or living through love – I am now at the wheel, in full control. Wake up each morning and relax.  Forget about your past; do not worry for your future; live in the present moment – the now.”

It all sounded great until I awoke on June 15th, only to be denied entry to a plane that represented my life’s work and dreams. Or did it!? What was the universe trying to tell me through stranding me in NYC? What was the lesson? It did not come at first, but it did not take long to figure it out. The universe was sending me bigger struggles to overcome. Why? 1.To truly test if my hands were off the wheel of life, wholly trusting in the universe 100% ; and 2. At length, it still had to break and broke me before my dream could be realized. I am grateful to both my teachers, the universe.

Three days later a friend from Portland Maine came down to NYC to rescue me. As soon as I stepped into her car I felt an immense 800 lb gorilla freed from my back. Off to Maine.

To be continued….Click here to read part II.

Travel Blog: Click here.

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Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

Doing The Dirty Dishes Podcast: Watch or listen to episodes and subscribe: SpotifyApple PodcastBuzzsprout.  Also available on Google PodcastiHeartTunein, Amazon Alexa and Stitcher.

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Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.

Thank you for your love and support.

Bruges, Belgium: Your velvety waffles, twice-cooked fries, succulent mussels, tasty beers and rich buttery chocolate are pure decadence.

Belgium was never a country that stood out to me and screamed “come visit” all I have to offer. Truth be told, I did not know what she had to offer other than gastronomic delight.  I first encountered this quietly hidden mischievous country while in community college in the early 1990s. While visiting England, as part of a cultural foreign exchange program, a few of us decided to wonder astray to further explore mainland Europe. Oddly enough, Belgium was only chosen as one in our group was a chef from a big casino in Atlantic City, whose employer was picking up the tab on all food and drink bills as part of a foreign taste discovery tour. Dave was a wild cat who liked to party; lockstep, we all followed his lead.

We had not arrived in Brussels ten minutes before Dave began watering at the mouth over the thought of all the beers and foods he was about to try, and others he had yet to discover. As large casinos are always on the hunt to increase the food variety they offer at their restaurants, twice a year, all expenses paid, they fly selected chefs anywhere in the world to eat and drink, on their dime.  As Dave was already there because of a program the casinos increased his expense account. That is where we came in; the casino was only meant to pay “his” dining costs. Well, I can assure you, it was not eleven minutes before Dave was buying the first round of Trappist beers. It was my first taste of Belgium beer – unforgettable.

For the next three days our motley crew of misfits wreaked havoc on Brussels and our stomachs. I was introduced to a whole new world of food that, until that time, I did not know even existed. A few years earlier my eyes were opened up to the world through international travel, writing one’s own page of history, and now my horizons were being spread even further in a new direction: the refined world of a culinary and oenophile palate. Dave was a true connoisseur, especially all things French. He introduced us to a whole new world – and took us along for the ride, first class. Though we may have been unsure some items he ordered, we tried them all. Not one complaint registered, but plenty of memories did.

My first trip to Belgium was memorable but did not leave me with the immediate desire to return soon without reservation. Fast forward twenty-seven years and I am now spending my summers living in Amsterdam, Holland. A close friend from Philadelphia, Joe, decided to visit me in Europe. What started out as a one week trip turned into two, then into five, before finally settling on an auspicious seven.  We decided we would take a few local side trips within Western Europe to visit some fun places. Spain was a bit too long in an auto for my injury so we flew there, deciding driving to Cologne, Germany and Bruges, Belgium. First stop on our adventure was Bruges – a city visited long before with some fellow comrades.

With all activity of prior nights’ raucous debauchery, those of young ‘innocent’ teens running amok in Europe, long forgotten, it was time for diverging roads and new indelible memories – Bruges awaited. Joe had never been to Europe – it was his first time. As almost always is the case I travel the world solo, so it was super helpful having someone along for the ride. And also someone to relieve me of driving responsibility, which can be quite taxing on my body as it continues to heal and progress further toward walking again. In life, it is only through Doing the Dirty Dishes that one can hope to change or grow as a person. One must get their hands dirty in life, becoming bold, vulnerable, choosing the path less chosen.

Long ago on my first visit to Belgium, a side-trip while on a cultural exchange program in England, we only swiftly visited Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp. We were students on the hunt for anything non-academic and everything fun. My trip this time is a bit different as now I travel in a wheelchair. In my recent book: Unbreakable Mind – written for those facing an insurmountable obstacle or struggle in life, or those looking for a great story of motivation and inspiration – I speak on the need of continually broadening and expanding the horizons in your life; when the story ends life begins, and to travel the world is to remove prejudice through cultural understanding. Plan a trip in 2020 ~ hence this blog!

Since we only had a few days to visit we decided to pick one town, reserve a hotel and explore all the popular local sites. We chose Bruges. It is my favorite city in Belgium to visit. Located in the northwest, the capital of West Flanders, it is most well known for its picturesque canals, cobblestone streets and remarkable buildings from the medieval time period.  In previous years, with its huge canal network and access to international seas, the city was known for fishing and extensive European trade. The most distinguished part of town is city center, home to fine Burg Square, where the 14th-century City Hall (Stadhuis) is located, and nearby Markt Square, with its 13th-century Belfry and 83m tower with a view.

We chose to stay in the most central location, a hotel only fifty meters from Markt Square. Knowing the streets would not be forgiving on a manual wheelchair, it was important to be closer to the action. To claim access to the hotel in a wheelchair was difficult would be the understatement of the year; making the hotel clerk’s message to me a few months earlier on the ease of access the overstatement of 2019. Without Joe’s help I would have had a very hard time even getting in the front entrance. There were two hard doors to navigate before entering a one-man elevator with only a hair to spare for the wheelchair. The halls were carpeted, curvy and hilly – all nightmares for a wheelchair. Joe was an angel with wings.

As we had arrived mid-evening, there was no time to waste – local treats awaited arrival to our bellies. What would we try first? Joe was seduced by my description of the best waffles in the world. Well, there was no shops close-by who sold such warm goodness. Joe spotted a fry stand. After polishing off two orders of twice-cooked fries (Dutch are cooked once only) with obligatory mayonnaise (Andalouse), we decided on a drink. As we were already on Markt Square, there was no lack of outside restaurants to sit and enjoy the local delectable eats while enjoying the sun, conversation and amazing people watching. Six hours and three outdoor cafes later, while chatting with Nepalese staff, we closed down the plaza.

In Holland, their neighbor to the north, they prefer to call them Flemish fries (Vlaamse frites). They take their fries seriously in this part of the world, and so that ‘label’ ensures them a guarantee of the highest quality. Belgian fries are best known for being freshly cut, irregularly shaped, thick, distinct potato taste – and, twice-fried, served in a paper cone, they are crispy on the outside and super light on the inside. Flemish refers to Vlaanderen, which is the northern section of Belgium that is Dutch speaking. The Dutch relate well to this part of the country because they share the same language and history. Once upon a time they were the same country. The southern part of Belgium speaks French and is closer to France.

Over the next few days we would explore the city residents simply consider a village. A cosmopolitan yet nostalgic town at heart, with roots in medieval Europe, home to the regions’ most talented artists, an assortment of fine dining, it is an international city of tourists that maintains a small-town heartbeat.  The realm of eats spans from inexpensive street foods to expensive Michelin-star dining establishments. My five all-time delicious items to consume when in Belgium: Trappist monk beers, mussels, waffles, fries and chocolate. There are fourteen Trappist monasteries, six of which are located in Belgium. The city offers all types settings, from street to casual to modern. There is something for everyone to relish.

As you walk through the narrow cobbled streets, past astonishing medieval architecture and buildings such as the Belfry and Rose Hat Quay, exploring the quaint canals – possessing their own special energy, finding hidden off-the-beaten-path gems, feeling the song of this seductive mistress being sung unto your soul.  The easiest way to see the city’s extensive network of canals is by boat tour. The city’s past is affluent and influential, once home to the Hof Bladelin, a part of the Medici banking system. Float by the Jan Van Eyckplein and Burgher’s Lodge, at one time where you could find the city’s famous and elite. The Groeningemuseum displays art of the ‘Flemish Primitives,’ such as Hans Memling and Jan Van Eyck.

The city is best explored on foot – getting out into the streets and seeing what aesthetic pleasures await your discovery. The historic core of Bruges is an UNESCO world heritage protected site. Once you get beyond city limits there is an extensive network of abbeys and castles, known as Brugse Ommeland. Visit the squares, climb the tower and see the cityscape views, eat some of the endless street foods, go to a fancy restaurant, take a bike ride through Loppem Castle – a garden labyrinth built for noble offspring dated to the 19th-century, take a canal boat tour, go to a museum or enjoy the summer sun with friends – savor life. Americans do not pale in comparison – Europeans focus more on enjoying life to its fullest.

Most cities in Europe I visit require navigating public transportation systems, whereas Bruges, village-like and historic, with only tapered canals and cobbled roads to navigate, nonetheless still a daunting task in a wheelchair, is manageable. Regardless, the number of worries never changes. Bruges, with its small doorways and untold stairs, is not for the novice injured traveler. With a bit of meticulous planning, you could have a spectacular trip. And when things do not go as planned, which is often in my case, trust that the universe will see you through it. Otherwise, start with fries and mussels (Moules frites), with a Westmalle Dubbel on tap, followed by a warm waffle with chocolate, strawberries and cream as dessert.

Travel Blog: Click here.

Spiritual Blog: Click here.

Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

Doing The Dirty Dishes Podcast: Watch or listen to episodes and subscribe: SpotifyApple PodcastBuzzsprout.  Also available on Google PodcastiHeartTunein, Amazon Alexa and Stitcher.

Doing The Dirty Dishes YouTube channel – watch and subscribe.

Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.

Thank you for your love and support.

Barcelona: Though your beaches are overflowing with caca, your history, architecture, food and culture are spectacular.

Barcelona, Barna to locals, or Barthelona as spoken in Catalonian variety of Spanish, is my favorite city in Spain. This beautiful charming seaside town, the Catalonian capital, second biggest city in Spain, filled with astounding architecture, rich history, vibrant parks, beautiful beaches, world-class museums and art, amazing food and night-life, a great Futbol Club, and world-class culture is sure to bedazzle you.  With buildings abound from Antoni Gaudi and Lluis Domenech i Montaner, its ever-present art and stunning architecture will delight even the toughest critic. There is something for everyone in Barcelona. You are sure to be enchanted by her relaxed charm, impish modesty and unassuming sophistication.

Since I live in Amsterdam in summer, it was my first time experiencing intra-European Union (EU) travel. How nice to only have to fly a few hours to be in beautiful and sunny Espana. KLM, always the local airline of choice, especially since the only other choice is a regional discount airline that frequently is late or worse yet cancels. Checking in and entering security at Schiphol is fast and convenient. Like most airports, they have special lanes and people to tend to injured travelers. As far as world airports go, Schiphol is top for injured travelers. They have an Assisted Services Department and website with all relevant information. It was a short midday flight with wine, cheese and crackers. Bring on the sangria.

Upon arrival in Spain, after being escorted off the plane in an aisle-chair, also with adequate services at the ready to assist travelers in need, we quickly headed for the exit. Unless I just had a long trans-Ocean flight and am totally knackered, I choose to go the airport alone, denying all attempts at assistance once off the plane and in my own wheelchair. Solo travel has always been my M.O., teaching me to be a one-man travel show. I place my carry-on on my lap, leather bag on top of carry-on (when both packed, up to my chin) and wheel through the airport. Independence in life is refreshing, no matter if injured or not. Though this trip I was traveling with a friend, Joe from Philadelphia – who was visiting me in Amsterdam.

Within fifteen minutes of landing we were through immigration and straight on our way to fun in the sun. The airport is very clean, with accessible toilets. There is no immigration if arriving from another EU member country. When you exit, passport control imprints your passport with an exit-stamp.  When I was a younger world traveler trying to fill as many passports as possible, it mattered. Now, it doesn’t.  As I state in my book, Unbreakable Mind, life begins when the story ends. The taxi queue is just outside the exit. As there is no Uber in Barcelona you have no choice but to use local taxis. They really are not fans of ride-share services – just ask one. Thirty Euros later, we arrived at our hostel – let the fiesta begin.

For the record, the RENFE train system runs from the airport to city center. Trains run every thirty minutes – station located at Terminal 2. Metro line L9 Sud, Aerobus express service, as well as TMB Airport Bus (#46) and Airport Night Bus (N17) all take you to city center (info). FTC, Tram and buses are all accessible; Metro stations with “Y” have lift access (check map). Some beaches have accessible pathways. We decided on staying at the Generator Hostel. The hostel, with locations throughout Europe, is centrally located in the city, not a far stroll to the old city and beach. It has an elevator and accessible rooms – two bars and a restaurant. All safe, we reserved an accessible room beforehand.

As is the case with almost all injured travel, upon attempting check-in at the hostel, our room was taken. Hence what makes injured travel such an even bigger challenge than bipedal adventures. We had intentionally reserved an upgraded room with balcony and view of the sea. In the end, they gave us two choices: 1. a larger accessible room with no balcony or 2. smaller non-accessible room with a balcony and beautiful views of the city, La Sagrada and ocean. Easy choice – we opted for the vista. By this point of the summer Joe was used to carrying me places. On the way he had to carry me to the last row of the plane. The crew said they never had a wheelchair passenger – he saved them a lot of time and hassle.

Well, the room certainly had a beautiful balcony with a stunning panorama of the ocean but I could not access it. Nor could I access the bathroom in our upgraded ‘room with a view.’ I had to ask them to place an extra chair in the bathroom so I could transfer from the wheelchair to the chair to the toilet. A triple play! It is not fun, especially when tired or in a rush to get to the toilet, itself already a strenuous task. It would have to do. In life, it is always best when given lemons to buck-up and make lemonade. The exit to the balcony had a large lip which impeded the wheelchair. Joe had to lift me from my wheelchair to a balcony chair outside. Once there, I was in heaven. With the view, I could stay for hours. And I did.

The hostel, located in the electrifying section of Gracia, a bohemian refuge with old-city ambiance, close to tourist attractions, thrilling eclectic districts with muy delicioso tapas, cava, sangria and dance, and the beach, is the best deal for the money.  It is situated on a main thoroughfare, allowing easy access to taxis or public transport.  Even though most of the city is accessible, with Spain generally cheaper than most other big cities in Europe, I always opt for taxi transportation when practical. Gaudi’s iconic Casa Batllo apartments are a close walk. Mouthwatering artisan cafes and urban street food are located in the neighborhood. It is close to Las Ramblas, a great central location from which to explore the city.

There is a restaurant on the base level of the hostel; buffet breakfast and a la-carte lunch and dinner available from 07:00 to 22:00.  Multiple other fine cuisine options exist within walking distance.  The Fiesta Gracia Bar, also located on the base floor, has diverse craft beers and small bar bites and snacks. I recommend the bombas. As well, located atop the hostel, there is a bar. As there are stairs leading to the roof-top bar, it was not easily accessible to me.  Joe could have carried me but we never needed a drink bad enough to venture there. Travel in Spain definitely is a clear example of Doing The Dirty Dishes in life. The food at the hostel, and across the street at Pikio Takio, is convenient, cheap and delectable.

We spent much time relaxing on the patio of our hostel room – with beautiful panoramic views of the ocean, Gothic quarter (known locally as El Barri) – part of the old town (Ciutat Vella), Basilica de la Sagrada Familia and neighboring districts – quickly becoming our refuge. There is a certain peace that overcomes a person when able to sit in beauty and calm whilst the chaos of the outside world continues on. There are many clubs and Catalan restaurants close-by. If you wish to partake in actividades verde in Barna, than you need to patronize a different type club. Membership is required (tourists can join one year), limits on amounts purchased and must spend fifteen minutes there first before leaving the club.

One day we decided to venture out into the city. Western Europe was in the middle of a bad heat wave, but thankfully the sea breeze and geographic location of Barthelona provided a respite from the extreme oppressive warmth.  La Sagrada Familia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Gaudi’s unfinished Roman Catholic minor basilica masterpiece, was our first stop. Who let the tourists out?! It did not take long before this site was overrun by photo snapping sightseers, many almost getting seriously injured by passing cars while jockeying in the road for the perfect selfie. Obligatory basilica photograph out of the way, it was time to escape the insanity.  The thought of some local Catalan sangria could not be ignored.

But that would have to wait. Just as we escaped the madness at the basilica we decided to take a quick city tour on a hop-on hop-off bus. The ticket was surprisingly more expensive in Barcelona than other cities in Europe but it is an easy and convenient way to see numerous sites of many cities. Our trip was short and so did not allow enough time to venture out on foot to every desired spot. And the bus is also convenient for the wheelchair. Plus it saves wear and tear on my shoulders and body – energy better left for the evening, when the city comes alive and it is most needed. They cover all the must-sees, with 31 stops – choice is yours. There are two interchangeable routes, East and West; passes are also available.

Later that day, unsure what to do as the afternoon sun shined bright, we decided to take a journey to the beach to see what it entailed. Other than ocean water filled with feces from the Barcelona city sewer system. Yes, you read that correctly: All the poop and pee from the residents of Barna dump right into the ocean, the same one you experience when swimming on Platja de La Barceloneta to Platja de la Mar Bella. There is a long cement strand along the beach where you can easily walk with astonishing views of the beach and ocean. There are beach clubs – entering at street level, descending one floor via elevator to beach level – where beautiful women serve you traditional style sangria. Five pitchers later….

Our last day was spent roaming the narrow medieval streets of the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic). During the day craftspeople pedal their wares, mostly hand-made, by the Cathedral of Barcelona (Catedral de Barcelona). The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia (its official name) is a Gothic cathedral, constructed from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. At night the district’s trendy bars and Catalan restaurants come alive. No one ever accused the Spanish of bad food or an inability to have fun. If you are looking for a great time, night-life like no other, tapas that will leave indelible marks on your world ’best-of’ menu, an experience forever ingrained on your soul, save the poop, than Barthelona is for you.

Travel Blog: Click here.

Spiritual Blog: Click here.

Book: Unbreakable Mind. (Print, Kindle, Audio)

Doing The Dirty Dishes Podcast: Watch or listen to episodes and subscribe: SpotifyApple PodcastBuzzsprout.  Also available on Google PodcastiHeartTunein, Amazon Alexa and Stitcher.

Doing The Dirty Dishes YouTube channel – watch and subscribe.

Social Media linksTwitterInstagram and Linkedin.

Travel Blog links: Covid-19 stranded in NYC JFK and Maine – also travel stories on Ireland, Spain, SwedenBelgiumIcelandColombia (Espanol version), AmsterdamGermany, New HampshireTN and NYC.

Personal Website link where you can also find my bookphotos of my travels and updates on current projects.

Thank you for your love and support.

Amsterdam, Hampsterdam, Amsterschlam – All happiness aside, man-crush unrelated, I think I love you.

Each and every year Holland makes the list of top ten happiest countries in the world to live. US is third, on worst list, just behind India and China. Amsterdam is always listed on top happiest cities to live, as well. It is true, it is a happy city and country to visit or live. She has become my mistress, sometimes jealous. I first visited her over twenty-five years ago with a close friend from Germany. Ever since I have returned to her over and over, each time her seductive siren singing me home.  Having traveled and lived all over the planet, including while injured, Amsterdam is still one of my top three favorite places in the world.  And one reason I spend almost half each year living there living as a writer and speaker.

My eighteenth birthday had just passed and a friend from Europe invited me to visit. His family had a home in the mountains of Tyrol, Austria, where we would go skiing for fourteen days. Funny enough, this region is sometimes referred to as the Dutch Alps. He had some spare time available to travel within Europe after winter holiday. I extended my return flight home. He had an idea to take a trip to visit Holland. Sure, Tom, but where would we go? “Well, Steven,” he said, “I know you have always wanted to visit crazy and wild Amsterdam, so let’s do it!” Really? Finally – I get to visit Amsterdam?! I was overly excited with the idea of visiting a city I dreamed about finally coming true. That day arrived.

At the time, Tommy was living in Moenchengladbach, Germany, a few hour drive to Amsterdam.  Originally we met while he was an AFS exchange student at our town high school in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He was staying with friends of mine who frequently hosted foreign exchange students. My family friend was a bit older but since his younger brother, Baby-Snooks, was Tommy’s age, we often mingled among a similar group of shared friends. Over time our friendship grew and I began inviting him on weekend trips to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.  At my cabin, with so many other great friends, unforgettable memories were made. The woods of PA have never been the same.

Upon first entering Holland on our European road trip we found a nice local coffee shop. We pulled the car over by a field, parked, and smoked a celebratory true Dutch joint. It was my first, but not my last. At the time marijuana was still illegal in most the world. Amsterdam was the Mecca for all young partiers on the planet, for all things drugs. 1980s created a new type party scene, which Amsterdam was glad to have played a key part.  Even though cannabis is not technically legal in Holland, it is treated as such, especially regarding tourists – as that is one of the great attractive draws to many visiting Amsterdam – the famous coffee shop, accounting for up to 30% of tourism. Pulp Fiction only perpetuated the image.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience. I traveled many places before but none paled in comparison to the feral times that weekend in Holland. Amsterdam is a free city, it is overly ecstatic; the people are happy there, as is the earth’s energy. The buildings and architecture, narrow houses with gabled facades, are breathtaking. With everyone outside enjoying summer solstice, the city takes on a unique energy and feel. The famed canals meander in all directions, weaving through cobblestone streets and tree-lined neighborhoods. Everyone rides a bike; museums are everywhere. The Red Light District, a place of famed debauchery – no doubt a place of Conception, just not Immaculate.

Amsterdam, located on and named after the river Amstel, cultural capital of the Netherlands, population 900,000 within city proper, originating as a small fishing village from the 12th Century, also called the Venice of the North, is currently a major city of worldwide influence. Many multinational companies have their headquarters there.  And now with Brexit looming that number only seems to be growing larger. Amsterdam became an incredibly important world port during the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th Century.  Amsterdam is most known for its UNESCO historic canals, oldest stock exchange in existence, Rijks, Stedelijk and Van Gogh Museums, Anne Frank house, Heineken Brewery and the Royal Palace.

Since the year of my first visit much time has passed, and much has changed. No longer am I the young immature googly-eyed American traveler seeing the world for the first time.  Now an older and more experienced world traveler, having lived all over the globe, suffering a serious accident eight years prior, rendering me a quadriplegic, who is now 80% recovered, traveling the world, blogging about injured travel. After my tragic accident in Philadelphia in 2011 I was unable to travel. At first, I was unable to move any limbs, and now I am learning to walk again. Amsterdam was to be my first trip abroad again in 2018, but this time as an injured traveler. What would she be like? Would she remember me?

A couple weeks before departure, a friend who was joining me on the trip canceled. It left me in a bad bind economically and physically. I was depending on his helping with hotel bills and assisting my injury. Having not traveled on a plane or abroad while injured, it was more comfortable having someone there to help assist me. Should I cancel or move forward, forge head-on into the storm and see the outcome? I was far enough ahead in my injury and recovery to understand the only true growth in life results through tackling our greatest obstacles, hardships that otherwise would knock us down. Only by facing our deepest darkest inner fears can we find our way to light. She remembered me. She still loved me.

She welcomed me back with both arms wide open. She missed me. I missed her; feelings were mutual. I was happy to be back in her sweet embrace. After a long trans-Atlantic flight, first thing after landing and clearing immigration and customs, I had to attach hand controls to my rental car. Twenty minutes later I was on the highway, on my way to a hostel in Amsterdam.  It all seemed so uncannily familiar, very eerily comfortable, as if there in a prior lifetime.  What was I doing here? Jesus, Steven, you love adventure but is this smart? These were the type thoughts going through my head.  Deep inside I knew I was where I was meant to be, doing what I was supposed to be doing. A calm peace came upon me.

In no time I was navigating my rental car through the inner streets of Amsterdam. Shortly after, I was parking and checking myself into the hostel. I was doing The Dirty Dishes of Life – I was living my life without obstacles, I was living life again.  It was only a matter of minutes before I felt an overwhelming happy and loving energy envelop me – I smiled. I was in the right place. There are no mistakes in life. That summer I made many new spectacular friends in Holland. As I state in my book, Unbreakable Mind, once the story ends, life begins. Get off the horse and start living! The tree of life was blossoming for me in new and exciting ways. Life was smiling down upon me. I was smiling back.

Later that summer I returned to Holland again for another five weeks. Europe was in the grips of a heat wave. It felt close to the same temperatures in Philadelphia – hot and sticky. This trip was even better. Friendships continued to blossom. As I felt closer to the energy and people of Amsterdam, every-day life became more relaxed. Life did not feel as if a tourist.  My goal was never to feel like a tourist anywhere I traveled, but some places were harder to acclimate than others.  Most of my time was spent around the hostel conversing with local friends and tourists. Each day a fresh supply of new personalities arrived, a veritable smorgasbord of people to observe and explore, especially for a newly minted psychologist.

Seven countries later, I was a bit more seasoned travelling in a wheelchair. This past summer I decided I would spend the whole period in Amsterdam.  When I arrived at the airport someone was waiting for me. Denis, a taxi driver I had met the previous summer, was a friend of mine who now owned an airport transport company. Schiphol airport is easily accessible in a wheelchair, with assistant services available. Handicap bathrooms are plentiful – super clean too. This trip I was joined by the same friend who canceled on me the previous year, Joe. Love and forgiveness have ways of altering the sands of time. I was welcomed at the hostel by a friend Rich, Dominican and Norwegian, who recently moved to Amsterdam. We celebrated my arrival home.

This summer I rented a flat in a beautiful, tree-lined, quiet neighborhood, close to the park in East Amsterdam. An area previous undesirable had become very desirable, and expensive. Until my place became free I stayed at a hostel, a hostel I know all too well. They are based out of UK and have locations in over 14 major European cities. I have stayed at many locations. Generator Hostel in Amsterdam is the best choice you will find for an amazing balance of price and customer experience. It is more expensive than others as there are better guests. The hostel has accessible rooms, accessible bathrooms, a ramp out the back door, an auditorium and elevator; also a café, library and three bars.

The hostel is located on Oostpark, a park with ponds where you can swim (in between goose feathers and poop), with plenty of verdant space to lay about talking or puffing with friends. As with almost all parks in Amsterdam, there is a walk-path that is paved. So getting around in a chair in the many parks within the city is easy. A local tram line is also just a five minute walk from the hostel. To city-center by tram is twenty minutes. All new trams, most old, are wheelchair accessible – look for pink ITS symbol. All 33 Metro stations are accessible.  Buses and trains are also accessible; trains require a reservation. There is handicap accessible parking in Amsterdam but it is inadequate. Normal parking is too.

The city might be called the ‘city of museums’.  There are over fifty museums in Amsterdam, displaying some of the finest art collections in the world. All museums I visited were wheelchair accessible; though beware cobblestone streets in Centrum. MOCO has very steep steps and requires help getting you to the top. The Anne Frank house is not accessible, however the museum is by appointment. The Van Gogh Museum is a must see. South of Leidseplein square, the big major museums sit on Museumplein, a large grass filled square with a fountain and reflective water pool, where tourists and locals sit in the summer sun to drink and smoke, having conversation late into the midnight sun. Oh, het is heel leuk.

One night we went out in the club part of the city with my friend Sergio, a Surinamese eclectic music- man, show promoter.  Another night at the flat I hosted a freestyle rap session with local wordsmith Silvio Cohen and Kanna Man from UK. Last summer I met Daniel from UK. It turns out he produces a well known rapper from UK. Our star-deck was a meeting place for good friends and even greater nightly philosophical and spiritual conversation. We hosted many guests this summer. Norbert and Ula, two good friends from Poland, came to visit for a week. We had so much fun. Though we did not make it to the Zoo this summer we did add an annual smoke-boat canal tour.  Jolly times on the high-seas.

Two weeks of summer were spent at the beach region of Holland. A good friend, Thiandi, a local author, poet and activist, invited us to stay at her family beach home in Castricum. The town is a forty-minute drive by car, or twenty via train from Amsterdam. Castricum is a popular weekend beach getaway. The area has a lot of camping, including tent, pull-behind and RV. The beach is nearby and has an easily accessible wheelchair through-way. There is ample parking close-by. One weekend we were treated to a delicious BBQ with old friends in Bergen, Steffan, Rixt and Niels – with a village cheese market voted top in Holland.  It was a splendid summer at the beach with our adopted Dutch family, Trix, Jose and Simba.

There are endless events to attend, places to visit and things to do and see in Amsterdam. I could write a book about my extraordinary experiences there. It is a great city as a base in which to plan smaller trips throughout Europe. This summer I was also able to visit Belgium, Germany and Spain. Holland is a progressive country that supports laws for handicap access, especially in public places. Amsterdam is a city that is wheelchair friendly. Just beware of the bikers – ALWAYS.  The bike paths are sometimes better than the roads; and bikers have more rights than drivers – totally serious. Watch out for the bike lane – even while in a wheelchair I was screamed at. Welcome to Amsterdam. I am in love. I shall return.

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