Volendam: A breath of fresh air

by Brian Jewell 8. August 2009 18:02

Sometimes a good walk can clear your head and help you see the things around you in a new and fresh way. In Volendam, a small fishing village outside of Amsterdam, a simple walk through town gave me a new perspective.

It’s a Saturday, you see.  And that’s important.

I don’t want to be jaded, but I couldn’t help but to feel like I’ve seen Volendam before – in Germany, in Switzerland, in Ireland, in Mexico, in Canada, in New England… even in Florida. Charming, yes, but not unique. And the sad part is that when tourists begin to discover these wonderful little places, their charm becomes a commodity. The towns no longer seem as authentic – instead, they are caricatures of themselves, peddling a certain image for tourists, all so they can sell t-shirts and ice cream.

Walking along the dock in Volendam, my spirits sank a little, as I saw the typical throngs of tourists crowded into sidewalk cafes, eating their frozen treats and stopping for photos in the most inconvenient places.  So I decided to just walk by, and I kept walking.

This is where the charm of Volendam comes into focus.  In just a few minutes, I was clear of the dockside, of the tourist district, and all of the trappings of the cheap commercialism. Just a few blocks away, I found myself in a local neighborhood, of cute Dutch style houses with peaked roofs and immaculate gardens, laid out along the sides of a canal. Down a side street, a local weekend market was taking place, where neighbors met while browsing cheese, nuts, crafts and handmade clothing. No one was there to put on a show for tourists, and no one was speaking English. This was just life in a Dutch village.

Walking through the neighborhood for half an hour or so, I saw all of the trappings of normal life on a Saturday afternoon – teenagers riding bikes through the streets, mothers on an afternoon walk pushing toddlers around in strollers, and old couples enjoying a stroll down the sidewalk on a sunny, 72-degree afternoon.  As I took it in, I remembered one of the reasons that I love travel so much: When you get past the business and the hospitality and the hassle, travel reminds us how connected we are to people of different races, different nationalities and different languages.  We are so different in so many ways, but in the end, there is so much more that we have in common.

I returned to the ship with a new spring to my step. It’s a Saturday, and I feel privileged to have enjoyed a little bit of it with the good people of Volendam. This is why we travel, and this is why those of us who get to work in tourism are blessed beyond belief.

Christening the Creativity

by Brian Jewell 8. August 2009 09:00

 

 

I’m in Holland (or the Netherlands, if you insist), for the christening of the ms Creativity, the newest ship to join Avalon Waterways’ river cruising portfolio.

Along with a handful of international travel journalists, I’ve been on the ship for about a day now, getting to know the beautiful new vessel, and to experience some of the advantages of river cruising. Our short weekend journey has taken us from Amsterdam to Hoorn, a scenic and historic city, and now to Volendam, a small village where today’s christening took place.

The ms Creativity is the third in a class of five sister ships, and the eighth to join the Avalon fleet. The 110-meter ship holds 140 passengers in 70 state rooms, most of which are equipped with floor-to-ceiling windows and French balconies. River cruise ships are much more intimate than the superliners used for most ocean cruises; still, the Creativity features a well-appointed dining room, two lounges, an internet café, a fitness center and salon.

Though our journey has been short, I can already see why river cruising has become so popular. The river is calm, so there is no seasickness. And the small size of the vessel makes it easy to get to know a number of people on board, without feeling overwhelmed by the crowds.

But perhaps the most impressive facet is the destination itself. River cruising allows you to experience Europe (or China or the Nile or other destinations) in a way that oceanliner cruising cannot. Our itinerary includes stops in a number of charming small towns that a cruise ship could never reach. The Creativity is specially outfitted with a collapsible wheelhouse and deck railing so that it can be navigated under some of Europe’s low bridges.

When we disembark, we blend into the town like locals, instead of overwhelming it as swarms of thousands of cruise passengers also do. The city tours, like everything else on a river cruise vessel, seems more intimate and more casual. Even today’s christening ceremony was fun and understated – dignitaries kept their remarks brief, and everyone enjoyed the popping bottle of champagne against the ship’s hull.

Tomorrow, I’ll disembark for a three-day city tour of Amsterdam, while the Creativity gears up for its inaugural cruise on the Rhine toward Germany. While I won’t have time to come along, this experience has vaulted river cruising toward the top of my list of much anticipated travel experiences.

 

 

 

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