At the start of spring, armies of confused looking tourists clutching maps suddenly appear on every street corner of Holland like members of a badly organised invasion. If they are not busy interrogating the locals for hotel directions, tourists keep themselves occupied by trying to put money through the card slot of the ticket machines at central station or by asking several times if a tram is going to the destination which is clearly written upon it in very large letters.
Being a tourist can be very confusing. You might not know you’re way around and you might not understand some of the stranger customs but fear not, for here is a quick crash guide that will help you enjoy your stay and understand what the hell is going on.
Know what is happening when you visit
It’s always best to check what kind of events might be taking place during your visit. For example, if you are the kind of tourist that enjoys slow walks, peace and rest, culture and consider yourself very civilized you may wish to avoid Holland on April 30th. But if you are the kind of tourist who like to party hard and wake up the next morning with no memory of what happened the night before then you don’t want to miss April 30th. Otherwise known as Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day) April 30th is the celebration of the Queen’s Birthday (the previous, not the current one) and the entire country turns into one giant party of canal boats, open air concerts and lots of beer.
Visit more places than just Amsterdam
Although the mayor of Amsterdam would love it if his was the only city you visited you’d be missing out on so much more that Holland has to offer. There are lots of cities, towns and villages that all have a unique charm of their own and show that Holland is not all coffee shops and red light districts. From Rotterdam with its modern style to Den Bosh with it’s amazing historic building and secret underground canals there is so much on offer that should not be missed.
Hire a bike
One of the best ways to experience Holland is the same way the Dutch do, from a bicycle. You can find more than a few bicycle hire places in any of the major cities and a lot of the towns too. Holland is extremely bicycle friendly and is covered by a vast network of bicycle paths, lanes and tunnels, making it very safe to get around on two wheels.
Be careful when crossing the street
Attempting to cross the street in the Netherlands can be like taking part in a live game of ‘Frogger’ because not only do the Dutch drive on the other side of the road (to the English) but you also have to look out for trams, bikes, random stoned English tourists and avoid falling into the nearby canal once you reach the other side (and then look out for canal boats if you do).
If you are in Holland on the first Monday of the month and suddenly you hear alarms ringing out over the whole country as noon, do not panic. This is just the Dutch testing their emergency alarm system and is not (as some Dutch people will jokingly tell you) a sign that the Germans are back or that a apocalypse has started. Of course, if the apocalypse were to happen on the first Monday of the month at noon no one would realize.
Learn a bit of the lingo
Although most young Dutch people can speak English and asking them if they can is like asking them if they can count to 3, it does not hurt to ask before launching into a full English conversation with them. If you really want to impress them try using the phrase, “Spreekt u Engels?”
Stuart Billinghurst is an accident prone Englishman who has been suffering from Dutch culture shock ever since unintentionally he moved to the country in 2001. He is the writer and cartoonist of the blog Invading Holland where he shares his crazy experiences and observations.