If I consider myself an 'armchair gardener' I am even more so an 'armchair traveler'. Novels in general are a great way to see the world, meet people, visit places (and even time periods) I never would otherwise. I love travel narratives, however, for a more traditional type of imaginary travel. I have about two bookshelves full of books that are either collections of travel narratives or travelogues written by an individual traveler. I have mentioned a series called "Women Travel" before, and I turned to them when I was looking for some travel narratives about The Netherlands. There are four books in the series, and while not all of them (which I find somewhat perplexing considering the number of countries they include in each book) have chapters on The Netherlands a few of them do. Let me start with the first book.
Half the Earth: Women's Experiences of Travel Worldwide edited by Miranda Davies, Laura Longrigg, Lucinda Montefiore with Natania Jansz came out in 1986. It is a Lonely Planet Rough Guide and if you are familiar with Lonely Planet you'll know the guides tend to be honest, down to earth, budget-oriented and eco-friendly books offering straightforward and practical advice. This first 'Women Travel' book is very feminist-oriented. It offers lots of practical advice for (often solo) women travelers as well as extensive resources for each country including feminist bookstores, women's bars and specific problems women must deal with in each locale. Over time they have morphed into something more, something slightly different--perhaps less pure advice and more creative narratives and interesting and unusual experiences by ordinary women. I love these books. I own the whole run of them (which means four) and wish they would come out with a new edition.
Although they, certainly this first one, are meant to be actual guides, I like them simply for reading about various countries and learning about not only the places but the women sharing their experiences. The latter books feel more like collections of narratives/essays than guide books, but either way they are excellent reads and resources.
Interestingly, and keep in mind the 1984 copyright, The Netherlands is grouped in the chapter on Northern Europe but it's listed as Holland. From my reading I know that Holland is actually one of the regions of the country but (formerly more so?) is also used in referring to the country as a whole.
"There are really two Hollands: Amsterdam and the rest. As the centre of West European counter-culture, Amsterdam attracts thousands of visitors each year; it has also become a major stopping-off point for independent travellers. The numerous clubs and bars, and the relaxed attitudes to just about everything, have made the city a breeding ground of alternative music and theatre."
The chapter introduction goes on to say that the provinces, however, are far more conservative. Dutch women often travel alone. There is a high standard of living there, the downside being that things tends to the expensive side.
Each country chapter includes a few anecdotal writings--average women traveling within each country sharing their experiences. There are two in the Holland section. The first is written by a woman who lived and worked in Holland for a decade and continues to travel there often going it alone. By the way, I think the editors and majority of the writers included are British, so there is perhaps a more European slant to things. The writer notes that it is common for women to travel alone in the country and even go into bars alone, though she still found that the assumption was that her date 'hadn't turned up'.
"That could, however, have been more on account of my age (early thirties) than my sex in a country where unattached women over 25 seem to be considered somewhat freakish. (Whether an attachment was in the form of marriage or living together, with a woman or a man, seemed to be of less importance than the fact that an attachment of some kind did exist.) Solo visits to the cinema or to a concert also provoked plenty of stares and the odd unwelcome overture--again perhaps because such places tend to be so youth-oriented. Daylight lounging in pavement cafes, however, seemed to be acceptable virtually anywhere."
In her experience (keeping in mind she would have been living there in the early 1980s) she found Dutch society, at least outside the capital extremely family-oriented.
The second narrative was written after two weeks spent traveling around Holland visiting a friend, mostly by bicycle.
"Cycling in Holland is not as easy as you would think. The terrain is completely flat and the whole country has a network of cycle paths, but the crosswinds are very strong which can make pedalling hard work. (It's also the reason there are so many windmills in Holland.)"
* * *
"One of the nicest towns I visited was Leiden, an old university town full of tiny cobbled streets, canals, houseboats, bikes, students, bookshops, cafes and a wonderful market."
* * *
"I found the Dutch extremely friendly, and everyone I came across could speak at least some English. I wasn't given a chance to practise any of the Dutch I had picked up."
* * *
"There are lots of clubs, cafes and restaurants, and I often went to pubs, which are not at all like English ones. They serve coffee and tea as well as alcoholic drinks and are open till about 2 am. People generally go to sit and talk, play cards and other games, and it is quite usual to see small groups of women. The beer is different too--the first time I saw a barman pour out several beers which were almost half froth I was surprised not to hear any complaints, until my Dutch friends explained that there would have been trouble if it hadn't been like that."
I love these little cultural details (though you probably figured that out already from my Dutch Lit posts!).
One of the nicest features of these books is the information included for each country including a short bibliography (again very feminist oriented). Two books to add to my list (though they seem much more academic than pleasure reads):
A Creative Tension: Exploration in Socialist Feminism edited by Anja Meulenbelt
The Shame is Over by Anja Meulenbelt ("Introspective account of becoming a feminist").
I'm going to be pulling out the other 'Women Travel' books and seeing if they have more essays/narratives on traveling in The Netherlands. Of course I'll be sharing what I find here.
Make sure you stop by tomorrow/this weekend as Cath has kindly agreed to come back and write another post for us. I've had a peek and you won't want to miss it!