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.

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.

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.

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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