If Convenience Was a Country…
… It would be located in northwestern Europe
For someone who has travelled to 65-odd countries, it may be difficult to name one particular country as a favourite, you may think. Think again!
To me, it is not difficult at all. In fact, it is very easy, simply because I do not claim that my favourite country is the most beautiful of them all. I mean, it is definitely very beautiful, but so are many other countries. As such, it would not be right on my part to claim or pass a judgment pertaining to that. Besides, if I make such statements, I would not be honest with my own self.
Neither do I claim that my favourite country has everything to offer. That again would not be true. The countries in the Mediterranean belt (Italy, France, Spain, Greece etc) as also in the south (and southeast) of Asia (India, Indonesia, Thailand etc) offer a lot more when it comes to variety — in terms of climate, cuisine, culture and overall experience.
However, there is one particular reason, a practical one at that, as to why in terms sheer travelling experience the Netherlands is my favourite country. But before I proceed to the pragmatic aspect, let me first attempt to explain an emotional connection.
My cousin, who happened to be considerably older than me, was based out of Den Haag (The Hague) for about nine years. Each time he would come over to our place, he would have an interesting anecdote to share, an experience to narrate.
I was a curious and inquisitive kid, and every time he finished speaking, I would be ready with a question or two. It was years before I began to travel on a more regular basis. As such, for a long time, my cousin was not only my primary source of firsthand information as regards the Netherlands but also the one who inspired me to visit the country.
Aware of my desire to travel, he kept insisting that I should make my way to the Netherlands at least once in life. When I actually landed in Amsterdam for the first time, I literally lived what I had been narrated by him.
Unfortunately, by then, he had left for the heavenly abode. That I couldn’t share with him my experiences from that, or for that matter, any of my many subsequent trips to the Netherlands will remain a regret forever.
My dream to travel eventually became a reality. The first country I headed to was the Netherlands. Coincidence, you may think. I would like to believe it was destiny, and an emotional connection with the country that had been my cousin’s home for a long time.
I say this because it wasn’t entirely a planned trip. On the contrary, my personal desire took flight alright, albeit with a professional stopover. It started out as a business trip, and after making me undergo a gamut of experiences, ended as an outing that ensured pleasure. More about my experiences on that first flight to the Netherlands some other time.
Fact is, I had three days of professional activities scheduled. I ended up staying for four more days. Make that a week in total. It was my maiden attempt at combining work with pleasure, and a successful one at that.
Subsequently, I have visited the Netherlands for work on only two more occasions. Of course, I managed to extend my stay both times.
That being said, I have been to the country on a vacation a number of times. Besides visiting the four largest cities in the Netherlands — Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht — I have also made my way through to the many little towns in the country that aren’t as touristy yet some of the most beautiful.
Now let me come to the pragmatic aspect. For starters, the Netherlands is very convenient to travel. It is small, compact and ensures smooth internal travel in every which way possible.
When I say in terms of travelling experience Netherlands is my favourite country my inference is to the amazing infrastructure that makes straddling across the country very convenient. Driving within the country is anything but exerting, as the distances are short. The same applies to public transport.
If you opt for a bus or a train, the chances of you reaching your destination before getting physically exhausted are always on the higher side. Even the regional trains, that stop at every station on the route, do not take a long time to reach their final destination. Besides, biking is always a convenient option, especially if you are fresh or willing to stretch it a bit.
My cousin always used to say that you can go to any place in the Netherlands, and come back in only a couple of hours. I have come to appreciate both his words, as also this omnipresent convenience, even more with each subsequent visit to the country.
As such, whenever I plan to head to the Netherlands, I do not have to plan a lot (pun entirely intended). I can be settled in one place and go to other parts of the country from there, and return on the same day. That’s not practically possible in a big country like say, the United States or Australia, or for that matter even a lot many smaller countries around the world.
While the big countries may have the required infrastructure, the time factor cannot be negated altogether. As regards the smaller nations, suffice to say, most lack the infrastructure essential to facilitate smooth travel. In the Netherlands, both the time factor and the traveling experience are taken care of without much ado.
Then there is the language factor.
The English language is both spoken and understood by a majority of the Dutch. It is the case with many other countries, you may think. Actually, it is not the case.
When it comes to a non English-speaking nation, I have never come across a better alternative than the Dutch. From my first trip to the country to my most recent — that makes up for a 16-year time span — I have never had any problem whatsoever when it comes to the communicating part.
To be honest, in all these years of travelling to the Netherlands, I can exactly count the number of people I bumped into who did not understand English at all. Well, don’t be surprised. The counting part is easy, simply because it is not required. The number is one. I have only met one Dutch girl, in a not so touristy town, who didn’t either speak or understand English.
My vocabulary in Dutch is about 50 words. Yet I have never struggled to make myself understood in the Netherlands. If you have read my recent post, you will be aware of my predicament in Bulgaria. Mind you, my Bulgarian dictionary includes more than a 100 words.
That being said, I am not completely biased about my favourite country in terms of the traveling experience. There are a couple of things about the Netherlands that I do not particularly like. For starters, I find it too crowded, especially Amsterdam. Once upon a time, it used to be my favourite city before the excess crowd made it avoidable to a certain extent.
Then, save for a quintessential delicacy called maatjesharing (herring) and, of course, the wide variety of kaas (cheese) — especially Edam and Gouda, I am not particularly fond of Dutch cuisine. Deemed delicacies like Oliebollen (fried pastry), Poffertjes (puffed pancakes) and Stroopwafel (cookie with caramel filling) are too sweet for my liking. I happened to extract my sweet tooth quite some time back.
During my early trips, I tried most of the stuff that is considered as authentic Dutch cuisine before I zeroed in my options. In the trips that followed, I have tried the cheese and the herring without fail but for the more elaborate variety I look for Indonesian restaurants.
Finally, I also feel the Dutch are anything but realistic when it comes to their status in soccer. As the best country to never have won the FIFA World Cup, having been at the receiving end in three finals, the Dutch are palpably proud of their soccer heritage. And rightly so. But I do feel, amid all this pride, and excess emotion, reason takes a backseat.
In the final analysis there are lots of things about the Netherlands that I simply adore, and it is these that make me go to that country again and again. It is by far the country that I have visited the most, so much so that every time I go now I look for places I am yet to visit.
Despite of having an emotional attachment, I give the Netherlands a favourite status on pragmatic grounds. It is not only because it is not only one of the most beautiful of the countries but also because it offers a certain convenience that is unmatched as far as I am concerned.
After singing paeans about my most favourite country, it will be a great disservice on my part if I do not make an attempt to showcase some of its beauty as also share a few experiences from my trips to the country. In fact, there are a lot of anecdotes that will make for interesting reading.
As such, I will share some of my experiences about my time in the beautiful country of the Netherlands, spanning different periods, in subsequent posts. In the future, it may be a recurring feature considering I will continue to visit my most favourite country in terms of a smooth traveling experience.