Wheelchair Accessible Travel to Belgium & Leiden
by Eva McCracken 2005

Join Eva McCracken as she and her husband, David,  share access insights of their short trip to Brussels, Leiden and Brugge.

Home again after our Brussels/Leiden/Brugge/Zeebrugge trip. You want to hear about access.

I used my manual chair to make it easier to get in/out of transport and house. My arms aren't strong enough to self-propel more than the shortest distances over smooth surfaces, such as in a toilet. Normally I use an electric wheelchair all the time, indoors and outdoors, so I am independent. Relying on my husband to push me around is frustrating for both of us. Towns in both Belgium and Holland have tall, narrow, old buildings which don't all have lifts and they also have a lot of old streets paved with cobbles and kerbs which have not been lowered for wheelchairs, so over the 5 days we were away we both got pretty tired coping with steps, bumps and pushing/being pushed everywhere. We were also on 8 trains, 2 buses, 1 long car journey, 1 plane, and 1 ferry across the North Sea.

Our Brussels' friends had never realised how difficult w/c access in their beautiful old town was. Finding restaurant/coffee shop with level access and enough room to manoeuvre around tables/chairs proved difficult. However, not as diff. as finding a w/c accessible toilet!

Leiden has the most marvellous cycle path system which accepts w/c as well. The pace is gentle and we saw a few motorised w/c & scooters winding their way through the busy town centre. Kerbs are dropped to accommodate cyclists so it is better use cycle paths than pavements. However, the same limited access to restaurants/cafes/shops was found in Leiden. I had to use gents T (unadapted) in the City Hall rest. as ladies was downstairs.

We travelled by train to Brugge. On our daughter's advice we visited the station 24 hours before day of travel. They sold us tickets and told us to phone for "assistance" 030-235 78 22 Because we were crossing from Holland to Belgium it was a bit complicated but eventually we were booked with "assistance". However, we were re-routed to accessible stations and a 3 hour journey became 4 hours. Our 4 trains varied greatly but all needed ramps on & off. Only once (out of 8 times) did "assistance" fail to arrive promptly and fellow passengers "assisted" me off. 2 of the trains were new and had good w/c T.

Our final train from Brugge to Zeebrugge was a mistake. We later learnt that we should have taken the 4pm bus from Brugge to Zeebrugge but we thought we had to be there for 4pm! I had to be lifted up 4 very steep steps onto a very, very old train which took me sitting in w/c on the boarding passage. At final stop 2 men had come 'specially to lift me back down. We then had a 3 mile walk to the Superfast Ferry - if only we had taken that bus!

The Ferry to Rosyth was terrific. The cabin was spacious & its facilities fully accessible. What I loved most was the public T with its 3 electrically operated doors - heaven!

Accommodations

We stayed with friends in Brussels. We stayed in the Golden Tulip hotel near the station in Leiden, NL. What they said was "disabled friendly" was far from w/c friendly. The shower was step-in and like a cubicle steam-room with water spraying from all sides. It was very nice, but I did find it very hard to get in and out of it. The hotel entrance/reception/dining/sitting areas were spacious and lovely. The lift was adequate but I am small.

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