In 1990 I traveled through Africa for one year and then together with my girlfriend I backpacked through Latin America for two and a half years. These trips were amazing, far away lands for us with interestingly different cultures, people and landscapes. But you do not really need to go to faraway lands to have an awesome holiday. That was proved by our last holiday, which we spent in our own province of North-Holland. In two weeks we hiked from couchsurf address to couchsurf address. The result was one of our best holidays ever!
We first discovered couchsurfing while we were travelling through Latin America. With couchsurfing, you stay with people who offer a place to stay via the non-commercial websitewww.couchsurfing.com This experience has led to quite some (foreign) guests in our house who wanted to visit Amsterdam and the nearby Zaanse Schans, but who also wanted to get to know local people and their habits. It is a unique way to bring cultures together, you meet a lot of new friends and it offers us the opportunity to show that there is more in the Netherlands than Amsterdam and the Zaanse Schans. The downside is that you most probably will never see these new friends again, because they live far away.
Couchsurfing in our own province of North Holland
Hence, by wanting to keep in touch with our new friends we got the idea to go couchsurfing in our own country, or even our own province. Then you can visit these new friends, and the other way around. This idea resulted in one of our best holidays ever. We found 11 couchsurf addresses that welcomed us for 1 or more nights, all addresses in North-Holland, on walking distance from each other. We were going to stay with people that we did not know, an exciting and adventurous idea! And so our holiday started without any stress or traffic jams, we just started by stepping out of our house, walking through the beautiful surroundings of the Twiske and the Ilperveld heading for our first address in Edam.
Our first couchsurf experience as a guest
Our first night was with the bridge operator of Edam. On arrival we seated ourselves on his doorstep, because he was still working. After calling him, he quickly arrived by bike, just ready with the last bridge of that day. He showed us around in the house, we had a drink, talked together and he cooked for us. That night he had a birthday party to attend, so we walked around by ourselves in beautiful Edam and had a drink somewhere. When we returned our host wasn’t there, so we read a bit and went to bed… in a boat! Yes, our first couchsurf sleeping place was on his boat in front of his house!
The hospitality we encountered and the naturalness of it all was an incredible experience. When people stay with us, we treat them as hospitably as possible. But when you receive that yourself, then that is so special and heart-warming that it brings a big smile on our faces when we walked over the dike towards Hoorn the next morning, curious about what was ahead of us.
Special people and places to stay
And what was ahead of us what an overwhelming experience. We stayed with so many nice and special people, who all welcomed us in their own special way, always different, but always hospitable. In Hoogkarspel we slept in a big loft with a tattoo artist and his family. In Anna-Paulowna we slept in the dojo of a karateka and in Venhuizen we stayed in the farmhouse of an art painter and a photographer. Sometimes we had our own room, sometimes even our own bathroom, and another time we were sleeping on the couch (as you would expect with couchsurfing) in the living room of a teacher. We were allowed to use everything in the house, and the way we were taken care of was incredible. As soon as we arrived, people asked us what we would like to drink, whether we wanted to refresh ourselves first or if we wanted to eat already. As an example, after a day of walking we found ourslves in a small town of Winkel, having a beer in a sunny back garden, after which we were ‘forced’ to try out a 5-course Asian meal! What a burden!
Giving something back
Most of the time we stayed only one night. But when we stayed two nights (which we did twice) we had some time to give something back to our host. There we cooked for our hosts, and in one of the places this even ended in a little party because her parents and a neighbour joined us that night, including beers and whiskys. And even though she had to work the next day, she prepared the breakfast table for us. The next morning she was already gone to her work (in our own town), but we were having breakfast in her house, how wonderful!
Hiking in North Holland is both beautiful and fun!
Staying with people was great, but the hiking itself was a great experience as well. We walked through meadows and nature areas, over dikes, through the dunes and little villages, along rivers and canals and even two days over the beaches. I never realised before how much North Holland is so versatile and beautiful. We walked maximum 25 kilometre per day and that gave us time to relax on the way, have lunch or do something else than walking. We rented a canoe in Lutjebroek to paddle through the beautiful surroundings, and just before entering Anna-Paulowna we just lay in the grass, sleeping for one and a half hour; total relaxation.
Mini- and micro-encounters
We also noticed that, as a hiker, you’re very approachable to others. We called them our mini- en micro-encounters. People started talking to us spontaneously, sometimes with advice for our route or just out of interest asking about what we were doing. They even invited us to come and eat, or stay with them. Receiving this hospitality as a Dutchy in your own country is an incredible experience.
Feeling as free as a bird in North Holland
I can’t remember feeling so relaxed during a holiday; we didn’t have any time schedules, no transfer stress, no traffic jams, nothing of that at all! We only had to walk from one couchsurf address to the other. It felt like the ultimate freedom, we were as free as a bird! And of course we already knew that North Holland was beautiful, we live there. But we didn’t know it was “that” beautiful, and we never realized before it was that versatile. The hospitality we experienced was like you normally only expect on your holidays abroad. North Holland is as hospitable as you only imagined it would be outside of Holland. You don’t notice that hospitableness when you cross Holland by car, but when hiking you will notice it for sure!