Why Good Things Don’t Always Come In Guidebooks

As we are approaching the start of the school holiday season I thought I would share some thoughts on how to make the most of your holiday (whether you opt to stay in the UK or head abroad).

The first thing I suggest you do is ditch the Guidebook (unless your name happens to be Miguel – sorry – Michael – Portillo, and you love riding around on trains whilst being guided by an extremely out of date Guidebook, being filmed, and being paid for the privilege).

I have never seen a Guidebook which was written by a native of the country it is supposed to be about.

In fact, the best way to really explore a place is follow the local inhabitants (I don’t literally mean follow them – unless you intend to sample the “delights” of the local Law Enforcement agencies – following strangers for no apparent reason is illegal in most countries after all) and go a bit off the beaten track.

I have to make a confession here and say that it helps if you have friends or family who can take you to places which are frequented by the local inhabitants.  However, you can still visit the same places – I am sure there will be some friendly locals working in the place you are staying at who you can ask for recommendations.

The next two tips are extremely useful as well.

If you are going to a foreign country – please attempt to learn the “polite” basics of the language before you go. As in – “please”, “thank you”, etc.  (Oh – and don’t be alarmed if some of the words you hear or read appear to resemble English swearwords.  For example – what sounds to English ears like the most insultingly offensive name you can call another person is actually the most formal way of telling a Dutch person they can do something.)

If you have managed to learn some of the local language this next tip won’t fill you with absolute dread – Don’t be afraid to get lost.  (Obviously this may not be the smartest Idea if your idea of a brilliant holiday destination is anywhere near a warzone.)  Just because you accidentally headed in the wrong direction the world is not about to suddenly end.  You might even find yourself visiting more interesting places than your original destination.

A couple of my favourite things to do when I am in Holland are as follows;

(1) Catch a bus from Delft to Rotterdam.  You get to see more picturesque scenery than if you go by train (Line 40 is the best route for this).

(2) Go to the railway station and pick a random destination to visit by train.  This has taken me to some really interesting places – Breukelen (where the original inhabitants of Brooklyn came from), Roosendaal, Venlo, Leeuwarden (where the Kingdom of The Netherlands originated), Groningen, and Vlissingen, to name but a few.

Oh – and try to sample some of the local delicacies if you can.  I can quite happily give you directions which will enable you to have your own “Cheese and Wine” picnic (OK so the wine part will actually be Brandy but it is the same idea) without venturing too far away from the centre of Rotterdam.  Catch a train to Gouda to pick up some of their wonderful cheese (my all-time favourite is “komijnekaas” – or Gouda cheese with cumin seeds in) – whilst you are there pick up a packet of stroopwafels for dessert.  Then jump on a train back to Rotterdam and either catch the train or the Metro (underground) to Schiedam where you will find the de Kuyper distillery which makes Brandy (among other things).  Your next destination is very useful if you want to be civilised – the next “major” railway station north of Schiedam is Delft – you can find a plate here.

(A word to the wise – there are two delicacies in Holland which are not for the fainthearted.  Raw pickled herring and Advocaat.)

Of course the above tips all apply to the UK as well as other countries.  Instead of learning other languages before you go – unless you are heading to Wales or Gaelic-speaking parts of Scotland – why don’t you pick up a book on the dialect of the place you visit to take home with you.  Some dialects and some accents are dying out as we speak (you may need a Glaswegian to English phrasebook in order to understand anything anybody says to you anyway).  For example – my native Norfolk accent is being drowned by the “EastEnders” accent.  As for the dialect??? I haven’t heard it spoken on my trips back to Kings Lynn and Downham Market.

I hope the above has given you some ideas for your forthcoming holiday.  Allow me to finish by wishing you a pleasant trip.

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