The Roaming Llama’s reflections on the road in Giethoorn. Beyond the tourist trail in off-season.
Even though it’s one of the freest cities in the world, I felt as if the city of Amsterdam was losing its charm on my third visit. Little did I know that my views about traveling were going to get transformed when I traveled to the Netherlands in November 2019.
In my attempt to go a little remote in the country, I ended up at a small coastal town of Noordwijk. The low-profile character of the city was very different than that of Amsterdam. Although the town boasts off a fine beach and a few museums, it was quiet during what was considered an off-season. That’s exactly what I was looking for at that time in this upcoming tourist destination. As I found a cheap hostel and met some nice people, I could have stayed in this town for the whole duration of my trip. But, one sunny morning, I felt the itch to be on the road again, and I left.
Very seldom we get to see the Sun in Ireland, and as a result, I often make my choices by taking the Sun into consideration. Now that I reflect on the incident that conspired for me to make a move that day, was a sense of complacency. I would later figure out that often on my trips, without realizing, I push myself more and chase that discomfort on the road.
Again, I find myself in Amsterdam, after a couple of hours of shared taxi. The warm and bright Sun made it easy for me to decide to move to another place than the capital city. Though it seemed a little expensive that time, Giethoorn was the only place that caught my attention while I searched online. Frequent photos of this northern town with canals often used to appear on my Instagram. This pretty little town is called the ‘Venice of the Netherlands’ because of its waterways and more than 150 wooden footbridges.
In order to get to Giethoorn, I had to change two trains and a bus. Every time I changed the train, the language switched more Dutch than English, and the accents became more local than the usual. Communication was getting more difficult. At least, that’s what I thought. By the time it got dark, my phone battery died, and I felt as if all my comforts were parting me, one station at a time.
However, I remember striking a conversation with a man in one of those trains where he was trying hard to explain how happy he was to take his wife on a holiday. He was speaking in Dutch, and I was probably the only on that coach who didn’t speak Dutch. Only a few people on that coach spoke both the languages, but for some reason, they were reluctant to join our chat.
There was this moment when I expressed my shock over the weather while looking out of the window. The same Sun that prompted me to have a day on the road, disappeared in a couple of seconds.
Even though it’s considered usual in Europe, the Indian in me reacted with disbelief. That provided people an opportunity to jump into the conversation with laughter and connect a few dots that were missing.
Not that we felt the need to connect the dots, but it was starting to remind me again why I have always liked traveling solo.
I found myself in an environment where speaking in the languages I know was simply off-limits. When I contemplated upon this incident in future, while being stranded in Peru during the global lockdowns, I perceived it as an opportunity to have one of the limitless experiences where the communication barriers and self-constraints didn’t matter at all. I still don’t know if I understood all the stories that man shared, but we understood each other, for sure. To have someone translate for me to understand better was a help that I am grateful for; but at the same time, to not having to feel the need for the help, sets me free.
Later, when I got off at the only stop in Giethoorn, it was super cold, foggy, and extremely hard to navigate the canal ways. As the town is only accessible by boats, people usually park their cars in designated parking spots on the outskirts. While there were plenty of hotels, I decided to opt for the only hostel – The Black Sheep Hostel. As I was tired after a long day of journey, I called it a night.
When I saw the town in morning daylight, the whole place was painted with autumn colors amidst its natural green. Even though I could spot only the Dutch locals, I came across a lot of Chinese road signs along the footbridges and waterways. I came to know upon inquiring that this is a very popular destination amongst the Chinese. There were plenty of cafes and restaurants overlooking the canals to meet the touristy demands of this town, but I, personally admired the walks along these canals that unfolded the incredible character of this 17th century town at every corner.
Later in the afternoon, a couple from Thailand joined me at the hostel. They worked in tourism industry and traveled off-season while spreading a message of ‘Salam World’. It means a salute to the world, but when translated in a broader context, it conveys the respect and expresses gratitude towards the world we live in.
Together, we visited Museum Giethoorn ‘t Olde Maat Uus which was just around the corner. The free tour of the museum provided us with the rich history behind the uniqueness of this town. Originally, an old farm, the museum still showcases a typical farmhouse in the 20th century with classic tools and a boathouse. The exhibitions in the museum mostly showcased local customs of peat extraction, fishing, and farming.
There were a couple more museums as well, but the best thing to do in this fantasy town was just to wander around. One of the main attractions in the village is to rent a canal-cruise or canoe. While my newly made friends chose that, I rented a cycle to serve the same purpose. While the canals could be crowded with the tourists in peak season, there were no tarmac roads for the bike. Often, I found myself walking with my bike, getting amazed by the old country farmhouses with tangled rooftops and color-rich gardens.
Before taking my flight back to Dublin, I would later return to Amsterdam, only to find out that the city of Amsterdam was the same, but a little part of me was changed. I also observed my ability to perceive the same thing, city, people, or experience in a widely different manner. Now, the thought of spending a few months in an unknown land, with unknown people speaking unknown languages excites me instead of developing that discomfort driven by fears.
In future, I would consider myself very grateful for living through this experience. It set the tone for me when I got stuck in the Sacred Valley, Peru amidst the COVID-19 pandemic forced global lockdowns as I was able to see the other side of my fears and provided myself with an opportunity to experience kindness of strangers in Peru.
Initially while traveling, when I figured out that there is profound knowledge to be found about life, I felt addicted and always felt the need to travel in order to feel more of myself. The trip to Giethoorn couldn’t make it clearer to me. Later, I realized that some of my trips were just to mask or hide what I felt uncomfortable to confront in my routine life. Now that I reflect upon these trips, I feel grateful to have gone through these intense experiences. In future, I would not want to travel just for escaping the uneasy as actually, it’s much more than that!
About The Roaming Llama
Hello, my name is Monil Patel and I am the founder and creator of the “The Roaming Llama” travel blog. Born in the UK, brought up in India, living in Ireland, and lost in Peru. I play professional cricket, work in finance, write freelance, and travel whenever I can. I have returned to Dublin after spending 3 months in Peru amidst the global lockdowns. For more of my travel follow me on: Instagram Lost in Peru or Facebook Lost in Peru
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