Monday, August 1, 2011

1980: A place where nobody dared to go

While we're talking of family holidays, this one from 1980 is probably in the Top Five.

I'd always, always wanted to go to Holland, but to be honest it seemed as far away and as exotic as Brazil or Hawaii. The fact that it is of course but but a stone's throw away never really registered. There was a British Airways ad around at the time (I can't find it on YouTube) in which people flew over countries and those below waved at them while the person on the plane smiled contentedly. There was a Holland one of these which just made me want to go all the more.

We were actually due to do another caravan stint in the south of France, but after the the last bakingly hot, claustrophobic experience mum bailed so it was decided that we'd go on a driving holiday around Belgium and Holland instead. I couldn't have been more thrilled.

Ostend, Ghent, Brussels, Antwerp, then Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Gouda, Delft, seasidey Zandvoort, the rather austere Hague, eating cheese for breakfast and having chips with mayonnaise, a tour of Amsterdam's red light district - nude women in windows! Gosh! - trips to windmills and cheese factories, seeing just how massive the Smurfs still were, trips down canals - it was great. Not tiring at all. Though I wasn't driving. We slept under duvets (or continental quilts as they were known back then) in pine-panelled guest houses with dorma windows, or superclean hotels that were all white. It was all so different. So near, and yet so far.

To this day I have no idea why I was obsessed with Holland, but I imagined everyone had piles of round cheeses stacked up in the market square outside their windmills and wore clogs. The cheese bit was right, the the rest wasn't, but it didn't disappoint. I've been many times since and Amsterdam remains one of my favourite cities.

Anyhoo, Xanadu mania had also hit the continent. But has anyone actually ever seen the film? I remember being in a bar in New York in 1998 and someone put it on the jukebox and everyone got up and danced. I'd never seen anything like it. Enjoy.


  1. Continental quilts - I'd forgotten that phrase. Yes, strange how you can fixate on a place as child. Mine were China - probably because of an Olympic gymnast around the same time as Nellie Kim. Then later - Mexico

  2. My first ever trip abroad was to Holland. My then boyfriend took me there for my 21st birthday. It was the (delayed) start of a lifelong love of travel - for all the similarities, I was completely blown away by the experience. I've been back, but not as often as I'd like (yet).

    Many of the towns on your list are on my 'to do'. It feels like a perfect winter destination, with all that hearty, meaty Northern European food, bleak North Sea beaches, and all museums. Hmm - idea.