I have received a number of e-mails this year asking me if I had any travel tips for some of the places I’ve been to, so I will oblige them by writing about some of the things I’ve learned during my visits to Europe, and in particular the Netherlands and Belgium.
I will begin by describing my experiences flying to and from Europe. By and large, I have never had any real issues. Sure it takes longer to get through security, but in general the lines move fairly quickly. And when you are returning from abroad, you are going to end having to wait for your baggage to show up on the carousel.
My biggest complaint about airport travel, besides the fact that your connecting gate is always 3.5 kilometres away from your arrival gate, is the lack of hand carts in Canadian airports. As in, there are none. I’m pretty sure this is a remnant of the pandemic, but if you go to any airport in Europe and you will see hand carts all over the place, which come in handy when the gate for your connecting flight is 3.5 kilometres from your arrival gate.
As for specific travel tips, I am going to focus on the Netherlands because this is where I have been the most in the past year, and it’s a beautiful country with lots to see and do.
My first tip is to familiarize yourself with the city’s rapid transit. You can walk from Point A to Point B, but if you have one of those suitcases with the wheels on the bottom it’s not really practical, plus most of the sidewalks are made out of cobblestone which is why a backpack is more suitable than a suitcase with wheels. Then again, if you have a lot of luggage, just spring for a taxi.
But getting back to rapid transit, the Netherlands has a very efficient public transportation system. So much so that very few people own cars – they don’t have to. And when using the public transit system, or for just plain getting around, Google maps is your best friend. It will give you the best routes, the number of bus or train you need to catch and where to catch it. It’s been a life saver to me.
Also, if you are going to stay in Holland for any length of time and plan to visit some of the cities and towns other than Amsterdam, then you should purchase a Holland Travel Ticket which gives you unlimited travel on every mode of transportation both inside and outside the city. It costs 64 euros to travel anytime during the day or night, or just 44 euros if you don’t plan to travel during the peak hours from 6:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.
Travel tip #2: explore the country. The Netherlands is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and let’s face it, if you’ve traveled all that way you should take some time to do a little exploring. For instance, if you love shopping you should definitely go to Utrect. As you leave the train station, you immediately enter one of the biggest shopping malls in the Netherlands. In fact, the entire downtown of Utrect is one big shopping district with a lot of excellent restaurants and picturesque canals.
Speaking of picturesque, you should also go to Delf, home of the Dutch artist Vermeer and Delf ceramics. The town is also home to two magnificent churches. Other day trip destinations are the seaside village of Volendam, Zaanse Schans, which is a throwback to the 18th and 19th century with it’s windmills and distinctive green wooden houses, the beach community of Zandvoort aan Zee and Haarlem.
I also highly recommend visiting Rotter-dam, which is the antithesis of Amsterdam. It’s much less crowded and much less touristy, but it still has a lot to offer with it’s distinctive architecture, wide sidewalks, and massive shopping district. I actually prefer Rotterdam to Amsterdam as a base from which to travel. It’s also a lot closer to Belgium, where you can make day trips to Bruges, Ghent, Antwerp or all three. I left out Brussels, because I did not enjoy it at all, especially after already having been to Amsterdam, which is head and shoulders better in nearly every aspect.
The most important thing to remember is that everything in the Netherlands is close. You can get from Amsterdam to Rotterdam by train in less than 40 minutes, and most other destinations are even closer.
Wow, that’s a lot to take in and I haven’t even gotten to Amsterdam yet. For more tips, stayed tuned for my next column.
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