“For every traveler who has any taste of his own, the only useful guidebook will be the one which he himself has written.”
-Aldous Huxley (writer, author of Brave New World)
I came across this quote while looking through Moleskine travel notebooks (my favorite!) at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Usually, when I see a quote I like I just remember some key words and the author and then look it up online when I get home. But this one rang so true that I just had to write it down right then and there. The line for the Van Gogh Museum was about an hour and a half long (yes I measured the length of the line in hours) and on top of that it was raining – no bueno! Fortunately, I was being my usual observant self and while walking to the museum spotted a sign for “Museum Tickets” at the Diamant Museum (less than a block away!). Now, I almost walked by it because I assumed it was only for the Diamant Museum, but I thought “What the heck” the worst they could do is say no right? So long story short – I was able to purchase tickets for both the Van Gogh and Rijksmuseum there and bypass that loooong line and walk straight to the door. Talk about a triumphant feeling! It was the kind of feeling where you want to let everyone at the end of the line in on your little secret. This quote made me think of this because no other guidebooks would have told you that – they probably wouldn’t have even known about it.
Writing your own guidebook, both figuratively and literally, is about more than just keeping track of little secrets like skipping the lines at the Van Gogh Museum. It’s about experiencing a country through your own eyes and not through the eyes of Rick Steves or Anthony Bourdain. You don’t have the same interests, personality, or hobbies as the people who write those guidebooks so why would you prioritize your trip according to what they deem as “must-sees.” Writing your own guidebook means recording the smells that intoxicate you, keeping track of the special hints that people give you, and looking at your destination through a set of fresh new eyes, as if you were the first person to ever visit. Your opinions, views, and experiences are just as important and valid (if not moreso, especially to your close friends and relatives) as any other guidebook author’s – you’re just not getting paid for them. Well, not yet anyway.
Besides the fact that some previously unknown (to me) volcano has erupted and brought European air traffic to a halt, I am beyond words excited about next week’s visit to Amsterdam. Air traffic has resumed (I think) and as long as that giant ash cloud moves out of the way, I’m Holland-bound! It’s hard to believe that this will be my first return to Europe since studying abroad (but it’s also hard to believe that it’s been almost 4 years since I was there – old much?). Amsterdam was one of the only places that I didn’t get to visit while I was living in Italy. I went to Paris, London, Barcelona, Switzerland, and all of Italy – but I didn’t make it to Amsterdam. One of my friends is in grad school there and I have had supreme travel envy at all of the pics that she puts up, but now I get to take some pics of my own.
I know what all of you are already thinking, but there are way more than “coffeeshops” in Amsterdam! The awesome canals, the quirky museums (and Anne Frank’s house!), the (in)famous Red Light District, the bicycling culture, and so much more that I’ll be able to talk about like a pro when I come back. And while I’m there, the country will be celebrating Queen’s Day – which is apparently a 24 hour party to celebrate the Queen Mother’s birthday in the streets - and the canals! Remember that first picture of the peaceful canal above, check out how it transforms into a Dutch Bourbon Street a la Mardi Gras on Queen’s Day! Looks like I need to pack some orange .
Fun Sites to Check out about Amsterdam:
- Amsterdam Bicycles 82 pictures of people riding bicycles in 73 minutes – chronicling Amsterdam’s bike culture. He’s even got pictures of women in tight dresses and heels, people talking on cell phones, men in suits with briefcases, and some even texting on their bikes – very funny!
- Queen’s Day Just a little information about Queen’s Day – April 30 – in Amsterdam.
- I Amsterdam The Official Amsterdam Tourist Board’s visitors site – I have been on this site all day trying to prioritize the “must-sees” next week.