By Rebecca Carter
Call me crazy, but I just returned from a weekend trip to Amsterdam. Jet lag aside, it was completely worth the seven-hour flight to have a holiday in that lovely old city.
Amsterdam has so much to offer (o.k. – get your mind out of the gutter! I mean BESIDES its reputation for drugs and prostitution). The city is very multicultural and diverse, with world-class museums and galleries, great shopping, friendly people, and inviting pubs and restaurants. Pedestrians are always bustling around, enjoying the city, even in the colder-than-normal temperatures.
There are many reasons my trip could be considered the DIFF:
- The cheap, off-season flight – my trip was as affordable as flying domestic.
- The aura of “gezellig” – which is best translated as a feeling of well-being and comfort in your surroundings (the Dutch are world-renowned for their historic tolerance and strong value of sociability).
- The food – most notably the abundance of cheese, coffee and North Sea fishes.
- The people – the Dutch can speak English with remarkable fluency, well enough to express their legendary forthrightness with probing questions that make for lively conversation.
- The amazing ease of getting around by bike (easily rented throughout the city), and the even more amazing consideration of cars for a bike’s right to exist.
But while Amsterdam was specifically spectacular, I’d like to recommend a vacation tool that truly made The DIFF in my holiday: a website called vrbo.com (an acronym for Vacation Rental By Owner). This site is basically classified ads for vacation rentals throughout the world, organized by location, owned by little guys, not companies. There are pictures and prices, and users can negotiate directly with the owners of the properties. Additionally, visitors leave comments about their stay, so you can get an unbiased opinion from travelers who have stayed there, and even more information for choosing a spot.
We used this site to hook up with the loveliest little garden house studio in the historic Canal Belt section of the city. The price was well below that of a hotel. And we were very comfortably situated – complete with kitchen and garden views – in a centrally located residential neighborhood. The garden house was part of a 17th century canal house, just a block from restaurants, shopping, museums, pubs, and coffeehouses, and two blocks from public transportation (although who needs the tram when you have a bike?).
While, of course, any time one barters via Internet there is a risk (as with Craigslist or Ebay), I would still encourage you to consider this option the next time you plan a trip. For us, it turned into an excellent way to find a charming, off-the-beaten-path alternative to the necessary expense of