A Journey of Self-Discovery in Holland

I spent last week riding the rails in Holland — from Amsterdam to The Hague to Maastricht to Rotterdam, then back to Amsterdam.

A quiet moment on Oudezijds Voorburgwal canal, in Amsterdam’s city center. Photo by Chris Durso.

Four cities in five days, organized by NBTC Holland Marketing and hosted by NBTC’s partner organizations in each of the destinations. It was an ambitious, busy trip, ostensibly motivated by the World Justice Forum, held in The Hague on July 8–11, which I attended to cover for Convene. (Look for an article in our October issue.)

The schedule was exhausting, and I enjoyed every moment of it, especially the opportunity to travel on my own by train from one city to the next. It’s not like I was roughing it — Holland has a modern, easily navigable rail system, and NBTC provided me with meticulous instructions, including specific train numbers — but, still, the experience gave me a sense of responsibility for my travels, and the freedom to discover something of the country for myself. Those moments on the train, talking to a friendly seatmate, making notes about my trip, or just looking out the window at the beautiful Dutch countryside rolling by, are all mine; memories and impressions that I took home, and that I’ll still have with me whenever I return to Holland.

On the train from The Hague to Maastricht.
Photo by Chris Durso.

In my time with Convene, I’ve been fortunate beyond measure to participate in press and FAM trips like this, to destinations across the United States and around the world, and the only complaint I’ve ever had is when the organizers overschedule the agenda to the point where there’s no free time of any kind, ever. It’s not because I’m lazy or unprofessional. It’s because I like to experience a place on my own, even if it’s only for an hour or so a day, even if it’s something as small as a walk through town to find a great cup of coffee; that’s how I form a more emotional connection to a destination — by making it something that, in some small way, I found for myself. That’s what I had in Holland, in between all its lovely cities and warm, gracious hospitality and travel professionals.

One more note about my trip: The barnstorming schedule was intense, like I said, but it also gave me a privilege not always afforded an international visitor. By changing destinations from one day to the next, and sharing the company of locals from my industry, I was able to go beyond a tourist’s monolithic sense of Dutch culture and get quick, keen impressions of each city’s personality: Amsterdam, cosmopolitan and effervescent; The Hague, thoughtful and stately; Maastricht, charming and old world; and Rotterdam, muscular and busy. These are oversimplifications, but maybe something a little closer to reality than wooden shoes and tulips from one end of Holland to the other. As enchanting as those things indeed are. Proost!

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.