One thing I’ve always loved doing is planning people’s trips. When I’m not actually travelling myself, it’s the next best thing. So, when my family booked a three-week trip to Europe to visit me, I crammed in as much as physically possible into their itinerary. I decided to play the tour guide.
Some people hate family trips. I’m not ashamed to say that I love them. My parents have always been great to travel with, combining the right amounts of relaxing and sightseeing. They’re the ones who introduced me to travel, and they themselves have had the bug my whole life.
So I was keen to show them as much of this funny little country called the Netherlands as possible. Mum and Dad had been to Amsterdam in 2008 as part of their ‘Backpacking with Wheels’ extravaganza, but Amsterdam is as representative of the Netherlands as New York is for the whole United States.
As soon as they touched down, Paul and I warped into tour guide mode. Paul’s an urban planner by trade and knows an awful lot about the country, a place he constantly proclaims is the best in the world. You know that character in ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ who maintains that everything was invented by the Greeks? Paul is certain that the Dutch created every material object known to humankind.
Our ‘Best of the Netherlands’ contained some of the big hitters (The Hague, Kinderdijk and Amsterdam for my sister) but also some little gems were sprinkled throughout, with plenty of time devoted to Dordrecht of course.
Despite all the shops being closed on a Sunday, Maastricht again proved to be a winner, a place I proclaim to be the most European city in Europe. A night was spent at Paul’s parents’ place in Eys, a little village in the hilly south of the country. And Nieuwpoort, one of the most stereotypical Dutch villages you’ll ever see.
Tour guiding for family is inherently different than showing strangers around. It included scolding my father for not bringing a coat at all (it was to later snow in Berlin), factoring in large amounts of time to devote to shopping and making extra car stops for my Dad to unfold his long legs.
But some things are the same. Everyone wants a beer/wine at times that would be inappropriate if you weren’t on holiday. Wining and dining in the sun at Delft meant a sprint through The Hague’s dodgiest area to get to the Mauritshuis to see ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’, arriving ten minutes before they shut the ticket desk. And eyelids drooped as soon as the sun went down.
But, perhaps best of all, I had a vested interest here. They were my family, and I was tickled pink that they’d flown 17,000 kilometres to get a visual of little old Dordrecht. When do tour guides end up guiding their best? When they’re desperately trying to impress their family. I wanted everything to be perfect.
And that’s how I’m going to approach guiding this year; by picturing not a bunch of strangers in my group listening to my hopefully witty anecdotes, but my Mum, Dad and sister Amy amongst them, hanging onto my every word.