An Open Letter (of sorts) to Travel Publications

Molen de Ster

Dear Travel Publications and Websites:

You should apologize to my friends and readers. You see, you’ve got me ranting again. I noticed on Facebook that Travel + Leisure magazine was requesting hotel recommendations in Amsterdam, because they’re sending a reporter there next month. (Let me rant tangentially for a moment. Reporter? Really? That seems a bit grandiose of a term for someone writing about A’dam for a travel magazine.) Anyway, yes, a major travel publication is going to be reportingwriting about Amsterdam. Oh, but they’re going to be writing about some of the neighborhoods of Amsterdam. That’s different and branching out![/sarcasm]

I known I’m becoming a broken record on this topic, but I wouldn’t be if all of the travel magazines and websites weren’t broken records themselves. Just a few weeks ago, Mark Bittman, noted food writer, did a piece about Dutch cuisine for the New York Times. Yet he didn’t actually leave Amsterdam when trying various restaurants for his article and complained that restaurants in the Netherlands weren’t embracing their traditional Dutch cuisine. Perhaps he should have expanded his search. Furthermore, I really feel like they changed the title of that article. It now refers specifically to Amsterdam in the title, but I’m almost positive the original title was something more general along the lines of In Search of Dutch Cuisine. That was one of the reasons the article bothered me so much originally, because it was supposedly about Dutch cuisine, but never went outside A’dam.

What kills me is that we live in an age where everyone is so gung-ho to go off the beaten path and go to places that give you the real feel for the country and people, blah blah blah. Unless you’re visiting the Netherlands, it seems. Then you can’t leave Amsterdam. I sometimes wonder if people even know that there are other cities in the Netherlands. I’m pretty sure most people think that red-light districts and coffee shops are only in Amsterdam, which is very much not true. I mention these two things, because for a certain group of tourists, this is particularly of interest, especially the access to weed/pot/hash/ganja/maryjane/space cakes. People seem to think it’s only available in Amsterdam, when it’s quite the opposite. I can think of three coffee shops, just off the top of my head, that are within a five-minute walk (or much less) from my house. That’s not counting the various ones on the Oudegracht, if you prefer a bit more scenery.

Tall and Thin

Even if that’s not your thing, there’s plenty to do in other cities and you can see the same damn canals and narrow houses that you’ll see in A’dam. You want tourist trinket wooden clogs? Trust me, you’ll find them somewhere in most big cities, and you may actually find some of the trinkets cheaper than in Amsterdam!

Tourist traps aren’t for you? Then what are you doing in Amsterdam?! You prefer elegance, art, or something quirky? We’ve got the one-room hotel (Hotel Nieuwegracht) here in Utrecht on one of our famous and unique wharf canals. We’ve got innovative, modern fashion and homegoods in shops along Twijnstraat, Lijnmarkt, and elsewhere. We’ve got the stylish new Hotel Dom, with it’s attractive restaurant and bar right next door to the cathedral. We’ve got beautiful parks, fine dining, and interesting museums. We’ve got the Trajectum Lumen nightly art light displays that surely top any red-light display. We’ve got windmills! We’ve even got a UFO on top of a building!

But Are They Legal?

I recommend Utrecht, because it’s what I know, but really, there’s no excuse for every magazine and website to constantly focus only on Amsterdam. Den Haag (The Hague) is a beautiful city and more than just an international court. Rotterdam is a fascinating modern Dutch city. Arnhem is the green jewel of Europe. Maastricht gives you a southern take on Dutchness. I’ve worked as a magazine editor. I know how easy it is to run essentially the same story every year, especially if you’ve got a small budget. But when you’ve got Condé Nast and American Express Publishing Company behind you, you’ve got the budget to search out new and interesting places. That means you’ve got no excuse to be doing the same tired article about visiting Amsterdam that everyone and their mother has already published a million times.

If it’s your first visit to the Netherlands, then of course you should visit Amsterdam. You can even make it your base. But if you’re staying more than a day or two, why not visit other places? Especially when those places are sometimes only a half-hour train ride away. You probably travel that long just to get to work each day! Be that traveler who takes the road less traveled, who lives with the natives, who goes off the beaten path. The best part is that here in the Netherlands, you can do all of that in stylish comfort and you probably won’t have to eat anything too weird. Well, except for the herring. Mmmmm. Lekker!

Ranting. You’re Doing It Wrong.

I’ve been in a bit of a funk this past week. The weather probably isn’t helping. Regardless, this all means I’m not in the best of moods. So when I saw yet another article going on and on about Amsterdam — ignoring all of the other cities in the country — I started ranting and left a comment on the article.

Before you think too badly of me, read my rant:

And when you’re tired of all the tourists in Amsterdam, take a 25-minute train ride down to Utrecht and enjoy shopping, sightseeing and drinks along the Oudegracht and its wharves. See the tallest bell tower in the Netherlands, the Domtoren. View the best example of Gothic architecture in the country, the St. Maarten Cathedral, which is still in use, but was partially destroyed in a storm in the 1600s. Go see the Rietveld-Schröder House, designed by Dutch architect and designer Gerrit Rietveld, following the principles of De Stijl (think Mondrian). Enjoy a beautiful city that is smaller and more easily viewed on foot or bike, without the huge crowds. Stay late or overnight and take a walking tour through the city in the evening to see the different light displays that are part of the Trajectum Lumen exhibit all over the city.

Yeah, I don’t think I’ve quite got the hang of Internet ranting. 😉 On the other hand, the Utrechts Uitburo (tourist office) should totally hire me!