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Volendam: A breath of fresh air

Sometimes a good walk can clear your head and help you see the things around you in a new and fresh way. In Volendam, a small fishing village outside of Amsterdam, a simple walk through town gave me a new perspective.

It’s a Saturday, you see.  And that’s important.

I don’t want to be jaded, but I couldn’t help but to feel like I’ve seen Volendam before – in Germany, in Switzerland, in Ireland, in Mexico, in Canada, in New England… even in Florida. Charming, yes, but not unique. And the sad part is that when tourists begin to discover these wonderful little places, their charm becomes a commodity. The towns no longer seem as authentic – instead, they are caricatures of themselves, peddling a certain image for tourists, all so they can sell t-shirts and ice cream.

Walking along the dock in Volendam, my spirits sank a little, as I saw the typical throngs of tourists crowded into sidewalk cafes, eating their frozen treats and stopping for photos in the most inconvenient places.  So I decided to just walk by, and I kept walking.

This is where the charm of Volendam comes into focus.  In just a few minutes, I was clear of the dockside, of the tourist district, and all of the trappings of the cheap commercialism. Just a few blocks away, I found myself in a local neighborhood, of cute Dutch style houses with peaked roofs and immaculate gardens, laid out along the sides of a canal. Down a side street, a local weekend market was taking place, where neighbors met while browsing cheese, nuts, crafts and handmade clothing. No one was there to put on a show for tourists, and no one was speaking English. This was just life in a Dutch village.

Walking through the neighborhood for half an hour or so, I saw all of the trappings of normal life on a Saturday afternoon – teenagers riding bikes through the streets, mothers on an afternoon walk pushing toddlers around in strollers, and old couples enjoying a stroll down the sidewalk on a sunny, 72-degree afternoon.  As I took it in, I remembered one of the reasons that I love travel so much: When you get past the business and the hospitality and the hassle, travel reminds us how connected we are to people of different races, different nationalities and different languages.  We are so different in so many ways, but in the end, there is so much more that we have in common.

I returned to the ship with a new spring to my step. It’s a Saturday, and I feel privileged to have enjoyed a little bit of it with the good people of Volendam. This is why we travel, and this is why those of us who get to work in tourism are blessed beyond belief.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.