Cologne, Germany: I came for your sausage and schnitzel and got your mustard and bier faschnizzle.

Deutschland, the land of precision engineering and order, beer and sausage, a European powerhouse with world class cities and sports teams, a place where trains are on time (within seconds),where you can find a group of drunk twenty-somethings at the cross-light – at 02:00 in the morning, with a current mix of east and west, along with so many new immigrant groups from the Middle East, a country I first visited almost thirty years ago, is a Republic close to my heart.  Each time I visit, twice in the last twelve months, my enjoyment only increases. Berlin, Hanover and Cologne are all astonishing cities, each with their own individual draw. Never was a bad time had in Germany – this year would be no different.

Most often when I visit Germany it is to see a close, dear friend, Thomas. We originally met over twenty-five years ago when he was an AFS high school exchange student staying with local friends of mine.  His host brother, Baby Snooks, was the younger brother of a close friend and so often we would maintain the same company. Over time his silly fruitiness wore on me and we became friends. After moving back to Germany, one cold winter, he invited me to Tyrol, Austria to ski with his family for two weeks. After that first trip to Europe, I was hooked. Europe was just waiting to be discovered. I also gained a new friend in life, a refined gentleman, from good stock, well-mannered and courteous, with a heart of gold.

Since I spend part of my year living in Holland, Germany is a close drive. And although I love so many different regions and cities in Germany, Cologne is one of my favorite, and also the city Tom happens to currently reside.  Berlin is by far my favorite city in Germany but it is too far a drive from Amsterdam for me at this juncture of my injury. I could do it in two days, whereas Cologne is a one day trip – doable.  Considering stops for food and little boy’s room, taking into account the Audubon and local traffic, it’s a four hour drive. My first trip to Holland, earlier in summer, I visited Cologne for four days. My second trip I decided to take a road adventure with a friend who was visiting me in Netherlands for summer.

Unlike my first journey to Cologne, a few months before, where I had to get into a rental car, attach hand controls for gas and brake, after flying across the Atlantic Ocean throughout the night, only to drive four hours to check-in to my hotel – before heading out that night with local friends for some catch-up and drinks. The next day I paid the price, reminded I was no longer twenty-three. My second trip would allow me the benefit of being a passenger, a superb luxury.  A super helpful strong friend from Philadelphia, Joe, visited me in Europe for seven weeks this summer. We decided on renting a car and visiting Germany and Belgium. It was Joe’s first time in Europe; a summer he’ll soon never forget.

Returning to Cologne brings back so many prior amazing trips’ memories, memories of times had with close companions where the smiles are forever indelibly marked on the soul.  Each time I return, it feels like a homecoming of sorts, the experience only getting richer and richer. Over time I have made many good friends – friendships that continue to flourish the world over. Some friends having moved to other regions and continents of the world, yet communication and meetings continue unabated. It does not hurt that the food is so very delicious, not to mention how good the beer tastes. My favorite German beer actually comes from Cologne – Frueh Kolsch (umlaut amiss), with its roots in this distinctive city.

Soon enough Joe would be introduced to all the spectacular facets of Germany I love so much. Upon approaching Cologne from the highway, the Cologne Cathedral, dating to 1248, can be clearly seen, prominently and proudly displaying Europe’s second highest Gothic spires high in the sky. I can still remember my first visit to Cologne over twenty years ago. Tom’s mother, Gitta, one day after a nice lunch in Moenchengladbach, where his family resided, drove me there to see its majestic beauty; ever since I have been enchanted with this quaint city. This time my arrival was via highway from Belgium, where we stopped first on our road trip. It would be no less glorious this time; both were enamored.

Cologne, Koeln in German, fourth-most populous metropolis, largest city of Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, with just slightly over one million inhabitants, located 45 kilometers from the capital of the Federal State of Rhine-Westphalia, Dusseldorf and only 25 kilometers from Bonn, where I have some very close friends and ‘second’ family, is a city that tickles my heart strings every time I visit her. Her Gothic charm, welcoming neighborhoods, diverse young population, that o’ so unique tasteful German good behavior, outdoor beer gardens, rich foods and decadent desserts, eclectic art scene with over 30 museums and hundreds of galleries all make for an unforgettable experience.

Cologne is one of the oldest cities in Germany and its name dates back to Roman times. In 50 AD the Romans founded the Ubii village on the Rhine and named it “Colonia.”  As with all Roman cities, massive gates were installed as protection from entering into the city, surrounded by an impenetrable ringed stone wall of protection. It was originally four kilometers long, with nine gates and 19 round towers. Ruins of the Old-City walls and gates can still be found throughout the city. Located next to Cologne Cathedral, the Romano-Germanic Museum (Romisch-Germanisches Museum), has the largest collection of untold archaeological artifacts from the original Roman settlement, on which modern Cologne is built.

While in Cologne I only stay at one place, Motel One. Just like Generator Hostel, Motel One, a distinctive hotel model itself, is expanding throughout Europe at a rapid rate. People absolutely love both places to sleep in Europe – each offering immense value to the customer. I mostly revolve my travel in Europe around those two popular chains.  On my visit Cologne only had one Motel One. This trip they had three. And I just read there are now eleven in Berlin. The creator cut out all the unnecessary costs like room service and daily towels and sheets, including a contemporary room with art and twenty-four hour lobby bar with contemporary furniture to sit and relax with friends. All for about one hundred Euros – Wow!

This trip I stayed at the newly christened New Market (Neumarkt) location. My previous trip was spent at their Old-City South (Alstadt-Sued) place. Both are great locations but the Old-City South is more centrally located to access all the best neighborhoods the city has to offer, and also tourist attractions. The Cathedral (Der Koelner Dom), Belgian Quarter (Bruesseler Platz), Old-City Roman walls, City Center, New Market (Neumarkt), Severinsviertel,  Haymarket (Heumarkt), Rhine River and fine culinary choices to dine out, plentiful in every direction. Cologne is a youthful city, with the hippest culture of any city in Germany next to Berlin – truly a laid-back place to dive into history, the arts and a smorgasbord of fun.

The city skyline is dominated by Cologne Cathedral, Der Koelner Dom, officially Hohe Domkirche Sankt Petru, Cathedral Church of Saint Peter, seat of the Archbishop of Cologne, a renowned monument of German Catholicism. Construction in Medieval Europe began in 1248 but was halted in 1473, left unfinished. Work began again in the 1840s and was eventually completed, according to its Medieval plan, in 1880. It is one of Europe’s most fascinating structures and is the largest Gothic church in Northern Europe. It’s spires, 2nd tallest in Europe, can be seen from afar – they dominate the city landscape – giving it the largest facade of any church in the world. It is something worth seeing in your lifetime.

And just thirty meters from the church doors is the beer house (Bier Haus) of my favorite German beer, Frueh Kolsch. Who ever said that prayer and drinking do not go together. Catholics have wine at mass. Cheers – first round on me. Traditional beer houses in Germany are few and far between in modern times. Beers are delivered to your table by Koebes, traditional trained beer house servers, in tall skinny glasses each sitting in place neatly in a large round tray. When your glass is close to empty, unless a coaster placed atop, another beer is set down in its place, as the server marks your beer coaster with a pencil mark. At the end of the night, they determine your bill by how many strikes are on your coaster.

One day of the trip was spent with Tom’s family: Wolfgang, Gitta, Anja, Nadja and Pele the dog (Gram: @pelleparson).  We decided to visit one of their favorite local beer gardens at the Haymarket (Heumarkt). As Kolsch beer is from Cologne, most places you visit serve that type only. We sat outside under an umbrella, in a lively outdoor walking area and square for the public, nestled among numerous beer gardens and restaurants. This section of the city is also very popular for bachelorette parties. Many a lady-to-be could be seen with her brood in pink in tow, out to party the night away.  Under the afternoon sun great conversation abound, I ordered my favorite, Wiener Schnitzel with skinny fries.

After lunch we all walked to the Cologne Cathedral (Der Koelner Dom) in the City Center district, where we would enter to take a walking tour. The stained glass windows in the church are unlike any other I have ever seen – so large, bright and vivid in color, detailed in story – truly astonishing. Afterward, we headed to Alstadt (Old-City), filled with endless shopping, eccentric street vendors and performers, and food treats. One of my favorite foods to eat in the world is Turkish street food in Germany and next door in Holland. The Belgian fries and waffles are worthy of honorable mention too. The streets in this area of the city are cobblestone and so a bit rough on a wheelchair. Nothing a little street food will not remedy.

Another night an old friend, Yaki, originally from Hong Kong, who relocated to Germany eleven years prior, a budding prospering employee at Motel One well on his way into management (met him my first stay), along with some other local mates, invited us out to an urban public open-space city beer garden in the Belgian Quarter.  Joe and I did not hesitate, immediately after a round of beers sorted, ordering a few sausage platters. There are a few things in the world worth traveling to eat: one is outrageously delicious sausages from Deutchland. Bellies filled with pork and grease, it was time to get down to serious business – beer drinking in Germany. It was a night filled with memories, and a rough morning.

As far as accessibility goes, Germany is a dream country. Only Scandinavia does it better in Europe. The highways are well equipped with accessible bathrooms and numerous places to dine. In one rest-stop in Belgium, on our way driving to Germany, well before Joe got a speeding ticket on the Audubon, in a dedicated family/handicap bathroom, there was DJ music playing aloud, along with a spinning disco ball. That was one hell of a symphonic movement – it filled my eyes with color, sound and tears.  Getting around Cologne is easy in a wheelchair. Taxis are readily available – Uber now too. Public buses are all accessible. Street trams are level to the station for easy accessiblity; underground tram has elevators.

Each and every time I visit Germany it is memorable. It is a country I adore. My ‘second‘ family there was a huge pillar of support in my accident recovery. Traveling there over the years, especially one trip in the middle of my recovery to surprise thank them all in person, has never been easy. It is the maxim forever tattooed on my head: Doing the Dirty Dishes of living – for without doing them, we never learn from our experiences or mature and grow from the lessons of life. As I state in my book, Unbreakable Mind,: Life begins when the story ends. No longer living a story, I am free to see where the journey takes me now. Often I daydream – pour me a skinny bier, lather my sausage with mustard and faschnizzle my schnitzel.

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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.

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.

Dublin, Ireland: I visited, had tons of craic, and immense fun – I’m addicted.

As with most times I travel, I make sure to take advantage of national airlines and their home hub cities. My flight was destined for Amsterdam, Holland but I wished to visit Ireland on my way.  So I decided to fly Aer Lingus from PHL to AMS, knowing they would first fly to Dublin for a stopover, require a plane swap, and then depart to mainland Europe. Well, one can choose to continue on at the stopover city, paying only country taxes to exit airport; thus getting two trips in one. Each country has a limit as to how many days you can remain there, and so it pays to check first.  I had not arrived in Ireland yet and could already tell this country was going to be imbued with enjoyment. The flight was filled with craic.

Dublin was already having an effect on me and I had not even departed the airport. The feeling in the air was quaint and charming, just like the Irish people.  There is no subway or underground transportation system in Dublin, so coach is the best option for public transport. Uber is not allowed to operate in Ireland. The best bus service, Airlink, an express coach with the fewest stops, departs the airport every 15-20 minutes – so it is never a long wait to get to center of town. They are handicap accessible. The buses end up at Busaras Central Station before heading off to O’Connell Street in city centre, finally ending up at Heuston, one of Dublin’s main train stations.  I opted for a taxi. It was time to get my green groove on!

The distance from the airport to my hotel, located in Smithfield section, was approximately 12km. The bus fare was 7 Euro single, 12 Euro return – and a taxi, door-to-door, was between 25-30 Euro. Every taxi company is metered by law but also has other differences that can affect each individual fare. Do your homework beforehand. Being new to this city I opted to take a taxi ride, knowing this would also afford me a common gem of past globetrotting journeys: no one knows a city and its secrets better than taxi drivers. They tend to be a salty group; replete with enough stories to turns one’s head, in or out. As it would happen with my luck, my driver, Seammus McCafferty, was of the extremely colorful sort.

Taxi service paid, his business card with cellular phone contact in hand, convenient for future excitement and adventure reference, it was time to see what another Generator Hostel and new city had in store for me to boot.  As humans we tend to be creatures of habit – as well, having traveled all over the planet – I have learned a few tricks here or there. One invaluable lesson for travel and also life: When you find something that works, do not make any unnecessary changes – no need to reinvent the wheel. I had stayed at many Generator Hostels throughout Europe in the past and they always served me and my injury needs adequately.  The bar was set high for this location (pun intended).

Upon entering the hostel I was taken aback by how stylish it was. It looked very elegantly fashionable, very chic – my kind of place. There was a refined unassuming contemporary counter for check-in, plush chairs abound to relax and view any street walkers-by, with an eclectic and trendy colorful bar and restaurant in the background, with a Jameson bottle chandelier as the centerpiece. To the far right corner, with a clear view of the drunken shenanigans taking place at the bar, sat a beautiful pool table. To the back left was a veranda with sitting area for live entertainment and additional tables for more hobnobbing with newly made friends. The hostel was clearly setup to induce traveler interaction.

After getting my room sussed out, I decided to explore the hostel further.  I reserved a dormitory style room that slept twelve, although when I arrived I only saw four other bodies – all fast asleep at 15:00. I had a short distance to wheel over thick carpet but once out of my floor wing the floors were smooth. There was a dedicated handicapped toilet and sink room, but most times it was occupied by someone too lazy to walk the extra two meters to the common room. The showers were in a separate space. Both areas were very large, with enough sinks and showers to clean a small army. There was also a dedicated shower stall for those needing assistance, including a bench and low water controls. Splendid!

It was time for an obligatory pint of Guinness.  As the saying goes, when in Rome…. I headed to the bar and was immediately met with a set of stairs.  Two meters to the left was a dedicated lift to bring me down one level. I picked a table, ordered a pint, and within minutes was talking with some fellow voyagers. Sean Kennedy from Ottawa, Canada was the first, followed by Erika from Rotterdam, Holland, and then came Jacob from Perth, Australia.  Did I say just one Guinness? Oops, a Catholic white lie. A few beers later, minding our “Ps” and “Qs,” the group comfortable with one another, travel stories and laughter only increased round after round. We all decided to meet for breakfast the next morning.

For some odd reason no one made it to breakfast the next morning – must have been the Dubliner air. I enjoyed a delicious traditional Irish breakfast: eggs, bacon, mushrooms, baked beans and grilled tomatoes. Stomach overly filled, I decided to venture out and take my chances seeing the city on one of the many hop-on-hop-off bus tours. I chose the red line as they had a pickup only 30 meters from the hostel entrance. The bus pulled up, a foldable pull-out ramp appeared, I rolled on, paid my 20 Euro fare (unlimited rides for 48 hours), and off we went. Though it is a great bargain, as you get to see most the city’s best sites, it is only for the strong and fit – even with breaks on, the chair was thrown all over.

Being an exceptionally seasoned world traveler, having lived all over the planet for almost a decade of my life, international travel mostly comes easily to me – even the constant hiccups and curveballs the world throws my way are met head-on, and overcome with grace and laughter. No doubt travelling in a wheelchair is a much different experience, though mostly logistical, hence my injured traveler blog. But there is another element to what I do, one that requires that my wheelchair and its parts are all in the best possible working order. I am forever indebted to the people at NuMotion Mobility Company, especially Gary Gilberti and his amazing crew at my local office, including Christie, Jim and John.

By the time I returned to the hostel, sea-sick and bruised, the rest of the crew was already at the bar, and many pints ahead of me. By this juncture, a French doctor, Pierre, and Wouter, a quiet and witty Dutchman, had joined the bouquet – making for quite the assorted international motley bunch.  We decided to go out for dinner that evening – Kennedy had heard the food at Kingfisher’s was the best in town.  It was agreed the four of us would meet at 19:00 and taxi to O’Connell section of town. All taxi drivers, with one honorable mention later, were more than happy to get out and assist with the wheelchair breakdown and storage. I had the classic dish: fish-n-chips. It was amazing. Legendary!

By this time I had already made friends with the bartender, Milo, from Greenland – a country of 56,170 people – a fjord-lined Danish territory.  All the staff was very friendly.  As stated in my book, Unbreakable Mind, one must participate in life by Doing The Dirty Dishes: If meeting new friends or socializing with strangers is an issue, go where others are seeking the same: new friends and experiences. You are guaranteed both if you stay at a hostel.  I choose to stay at Generator Hostels when in Europe because even though they are the cost of a cheap hotel, they have better clientele. I have never once placed a lock on my storage bin. If in need of purple underwear – please, by all means!

The next few days friends went various directions and so I decided to venture out into the city where ‘streets have names’ alone.  The walkways and sidewalks upon first inspection looked smooth, until in the chair wheeling around town – they surely gave my kidneys a workout.  There are curb ramps but definitely careful attention to detail must be paid if one wants to stay in the chair. Drivers are not so quick to slam on their brakes for you when crossing the road. Also, Luas, the tram/light rail system, which began operating in 2004, extends throughout the city with Red and Green lines, thus providing many places for your caster wheels to get stuck, or dumped by not wheeling over the bumps properly.

That next morning I was up early so I could visit St. Stephens Green, a historic park and great inner-city escape with 15 statues and memorials of famous figures and events, a favorite of James Joyce. Soon after, I found myself at the Guinness Storehouse, Ireland’s most famous beer, with a guided tour that ended on a rooftop bar with free tastings. Best to reserve a ticket online as the queue can be a bit long. Just around the corner from the St. James Gate Brewery is the 200 year old Jameson Distillery Bow Street, the world renowned home to Irish Whiskey – even though Jameson was in fact a Scottish lawyer. Needless to say after such a day, finding stable ground key – the chair was wobbly for some odd reason.

The following day I decided to bugger off to Dublin Castle and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, just a short distance from Smithfield, the district where my hostel was located. The castle, former seat of the British government’s administration in Ireland, played a lead role in the Easter Rising of 1916.  It helped set the stage for the Irish War of Independence, fought from 1919 to 1921, between the Irish Republican Army and British forces. It had a small incline and some cobblestones about but was surprisingly easy to navigate in a wheelchair. The Cathedral’s layout was expansive, including long verdant lawns and brick pavers, thus making for a smooth visit. Both buildings, heavily steeped in history, will leave you in awe.

My second to final day a few of us decided to visit the Dublin Zoo.  Kennedy and Wouter rounded out a threesome – our troop was complete. Before we even had a chance to observe the local animals, we had one of own for a taxi driver. We had inadvertently stepped into the wrong taxi and the driver, quite rattled and angry, Patrick Donegal, of Belfast, continued slagging us incessantly. He kept repeating in a deep Ulster accent, “You don’t understand!” It made for some fun local taking the piss before we were on our way to be accosted by apes and monkeys – two mainstays of the zoo, located in Phoenix Park, with 707 hectares of land, making it one of Europe’s largest parks. It was a roaring day. Classic!

My last night in Dublin I decided to head out to the famous party zone of Dublin’s Temple Bar District with some of my new friends. We all had flights out of Ireland the next day. They all headed home and were asleep by midnight. But to me, that is just when the rapture began.  Four hours later, a few locally sourced prescribed pints of Guinness down the gullet, it was time to find my way home to sleep before catching my 07:00 flight. Dublin is so rich in history, cultural delight and overall fun, with so much to see and on such a short visit, no doubt I will return to the Emerald Isle for another dose of some additional Ol, Craic Agus Ceol. You left me wanting more; I shall return, old friend.  Slán leatCéad mile fáilte!

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.

Sweden: To my delight, your fika, lingonberries and balls tickled me bright.

From the time I arrived at Arlanda airport I could already tell it was going to be a great trip. I had been to Sverige once before, many years ago, to see a friend, Jonaton Tillander, graduate from high school. He lived on the West Coast, in a beautiful coastal city, Goteborg.  At the time, I was in Danmark visiting friends in Kobenhavn, and boarded the ferry across the Kattegat (Danish: “Cat’s Throat”) strait, forming a link between the Baltic Sea and North Sea. In 1995 they built the Oresund Bridge, attaching Danmark and Sweden.  It is the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe, including a 4 kilometer tunnel, connecting two major metropolitan areas, Kobenhavn, Denmark and Malmo, Sweden.

However, this would be my first time to the spectacular East Coast city of Stockholm.  To say I was elated would be to lessen my true excitement. It was always on my bucket list and now it would become a blog entry to inform other travelers. But this time in Sweden would be very different: I would be seeing it as an injured traveler, in a wheelchair.  Like any new place one goes while injured, I wondered how they would treat me, the condition of the streets, would I be able to access all or some of the astonishing tourist attractions, could I use public transport, would I be able to enter my hotel room, toilet and shower, and so many other concerns – too long a list to index here.  Game-on!

As with any new country I arrive at in a wheelchair, I immediately assessed my transport concerns. The city was a twenty minute drive by taxi or a bit further and complicated if I attempted public transport.  As is the case with most European cities but especially Scandinavia, public transportation is reliable, efficient and safe.  Trains departed  twice an hour from the airport’s Arlanda Central Station, between terminals 4 and 5, dropping you at Stockholm’s Central Station. The train ride is 38 minutes. Coach was also an option, with Flygbussarna buses departing the airport every 10-15 minutes.  They also dropped you in city-center at Stockholm’s Central Station.  I opted for the easiest option: taxi.

The taxi pulled up to the Generator Hostel, I paid, departed, and was on my way – let the enjoyment begin. As I entered the hostel, a chain throughout Europe (now with one in Miami), I was immediately welcomed by the warm and affable staff at the counter. I knew I had picked the right hotel. A few minutes later they had me sorted out and I was off to my room. The hostel had an elevator to reach the upper floors, lucky me. As is the case with many hotels I book while traveling, there is a process of elimination to find a room that actually is best suited to my injury needs. Not the case with Generator – all was perfect. The door had an automated option, though it was in repair during my visit.

Generator Hostels are my favorite places to stay in Europe. In the past year I have stayed at Dublin, Ireland and Amsterdam, Holland. The staff is friendly and welcoming, always willing to accommodate the injured traveler – they make your stay comfortable. Otherwise from experience, while journeying throughout Europe, I can tell you it can be a nightmare in a wheelchair.  For me it is very convenient to have everything I need on a bad day within feet of my hostel door: restaurant for food, bar for drinks, meeting area(s) for friends, handicapped accessible bathroom(s) and general area for shared enjoyment. Stockholm even has a mini ping-pong table. Beat Boris and get a free breakfast. I ate free for a week.

The room had four bunks but I was the only one there at that time. I settled in, unpacked, took a shower and then stole a short nap to recharge my batteries. I had flown to Sweden direct from Iceland, a three hour flight, and so was not very knackered. Usually my first day in a new city I take some time to relax and understand the lay of the land – I’ll look at maps, do some research and plan accordingly.  Since it was a hostel with a large shared space for eating and fun, I headed downstairs to the communal lobby/bar/restaurant area. As with most my life, not ten minutes had passed and I was already meeting other world travelers – making new friends.  Molly from Canada was the first.  Let the good times roll!

Map of the city understood, obligatory first drink with new friends finished, planning aside, it was time to dig in to the local eats. The hostel also had a club attached to it which served as a business meeting venue during the day, replete with a full chef’s menu and all the accoutrements.  Word in the hostel halls was the food was extremely tasty, and also well priced.  I would not be a true tourist if I did not make my first order Kottbullar (Swedish meatballs), served with lingonberries, mashed potatoes and pickled cucumber slices.  The tiny pork and beef meatballs were served in a nutmeg and cardamom flavored gravy, which suited the mashed potatoes just fine. They were mouthwatering. I was in love.

Dreams of meatballs and berries aside, the next morning I awoke to a phone call from a friend from United Kingdom, Lawrence, who had just arrived at the airport, was on a bus and would soon arrive at the hostel. He had flown into Vasteras, an alternate and cheaper airport for flights from Europe, located 100km from Stockholm – so though his flight, return London for 60 quid (pounds), was cheaper – he ended up paying for the inconvenience and time. Being an injured traveler I opt for convenience over cost savings anytime practical and pragmatic; though could be my age too. Sure enough, twenty minutes later there was a knock at my door. It was beer time – Brits would have it no other way on holiday.

That night we did not venture far, deciding to check out Bar Hilma, the club that was a part of the hostel. There I met Tahir from Kashmir, in Scandinavia selling the highest quality Kashmir and Pashmina scarves.  Shortly after, Nick from Texas, US joined the group, Ajay from London, England and Monica from Oslo, Norway, moments later.  Not long after, abound with a smorgasbord of personalities and stories from all over the globe alike, new life-long relationships were in the process of being formed. To date, I still speak with all the unique people from all parts of the world I met on my trip to Stockholm. The club and hostel catered to my injured needs swimmingly – Stockholm was delivering on her promise: fun for all.

Before departing each others’ company that night, some had agreed to spend the next day together sightseeing the local neighborhood. Being that it would be my first day out-and-about in the city in a wheelchair, it was most welcome to have some of my new friends along with me for the ride.  The next morning I had the most appetizing breakfast with Lawrence – scrambled eggs and soft bacon with fresh warm baked bread and newly harvested fruits. I then relaxed and did some reading and journal writing before meeting the others to explore the city. The hostel is centrally located downtown; everything you would want to visit is only a short distance away.  All attractions are a close walk, taxi or bus ride.

Over the next few days I spent time with different friends going various places. Everyone had their own interests and, as long as I was able to do so in a wheelchair, and they were willing to have me along, I joined. One sunny afternoon with Nick, Ajay and Lawrence we visited Skansen Island, world’s oldest open-air museum, where there is a small zoo, traditional Scandinavian sod roof homes, windmills, restaurants and historic enactments. After lunch, at a historic hotel, we had drinks at a WWII torpedo factory. The Raksmorgas (prawn sandwich) was delicious. A day spent with Joel, a nurse from France I met at the hostel, in his car to see more of the city and gardens otherwise inaccessible, was splendid.

What one immediately takes notice of, once past the small lip at the entrance of the hostel, is just how friendly the sidewalks of Stockholm are for the injured – blind included. The sidewalks are smooth, with cement ramp entrances and exits wherever a curb could be seen. The streets and walks were orderly, well lit and properly marked, reminiscent of a walk through any IKEA store – buses, trains and their stations, the same. There was ample parking for handicapped persons, almost always located right at the front entrance. Museums throughout the city had reserved parking spots very close to the entrance. Public buildings all had ramps as well.  I was overly impressed by the convenience provided for injured.

Stockholm is known as the ‘Venice of the North,’ also commonly referred to as the capital of Scandinavia. It is a city of old buildings and unique design, surrounded by water, dating from 1250s to 1600s – as the city was sparred being leveled by bombs in WWII, with the exception of a few ‘accidental’ Soviet bombs – though some say it was the German or Finnish Air Force intending to provoke the Soviets. The modern city is a lovely mix of old and new, apparent everywhere you looked. There is a lovely waterfront promenade where one can enjoy its famous multi-colored buildings and remarkable architecture, while having a drink or lunch with friends – or simply just taking in the breathtaking vista.

Their museum and art installations are world class. My favorite was Fotografiska centre, filled with contemporary photography, conveniently discovered in the Sodermalm district, with gorgeous views of the Stockholm harbor. Vasa Maritime Museum, located on Djurgarden Island, with its almost fully intact, 64-gun warship, that sank on her maiden voyage in 1628, never making it out of the harbor, was stunning.  A city of fine art – a ‘street art’ tour in Ragsved neighborhood, as well their subway stations, is one-of-a-kind – with over 160 street artists’ graffiti showcased – a must see.  Stadsbiblioteket, Stockholm Public Library, designed by Gunnar Asplund, is one of the city’s most distinctive structures.

Stockholm, hub of Scandinavia, alive and electric, is also filled with great shopping, endless culture and exciting entertainment and nightlife. The food, not just their fika, the almighty Swedish coffee break, with over 1000 restaurants, located in close-by districts of Norrmalm and Vasastaden, was affordable and most delectable. Ferries are also available to sail you to other exotic locations like Helsinki, Finland or St. Petersburg, Russia. As I mentioned in my book, Unbreakable Mind, life is best lived when Doing The Dirty Dishes, getting out-and-about, traveling the world, experiencing life, living – getting your hands dirty.  Stockholm should be on everyone’s bucket list – your fika dishes await – Nu gar vi!

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.