Monday, 17 September 2012

Netherlands pt 1: Travelling to and within NL.

This Summer I went to the Netherlands (like all the other previous summers). 

If you are very fortunate enough to ever visit the Netherlands, then you might find this post useful.

How to get there

This is easy. You can drive there, take a plane, take a ferry or cycle (some people do cycling holidays in Europe, you'd be very surprised). 

From the UK, you can take the Euro Star from London or take the cheaper and most nightmarish option ever; Eurolines. I've never been fortunate enough to take the Euro Star, but I have taken the Eurolines several times. It's a cheap option and I suggest you actually have food with you, warm clothing and some form of entertainment etc. Travelling at night is probably best because you can get some sleep and time will pass quicker.

My family sticks to driving down to Harwich and taking the Stenaline ferry to the Netherlands. The WIFI is free (albeit very slow depending on how many people are trying to access it). You can also access entertainment on the ferry, buy duty-free items and food as well. 

How to travel within the Netherlands

By bicycle

Yes. Bicycle. People love to cycle here so it's no surprise that almost everyone owns a bicycle. People ride their bicycles to anywhere from anywhere. I've made about two 28km round trips to Rotterdam and I have to tell you it's a workout! But it's nice to cycle and enjoy the scenery. With the bicycle you have a lot more control as well and you don't have to rely on public transport to take you anywhere. 

Here is a useful website in regards to Dutch cycle routes and more:

By train 

Travelling by train is quite simple. Major cities are connected by rail so you can go to Rotterdam and catch a train to Amsterdam which would be about 40 minutes. 

The Sprinter train

Note that the Sprinter train is actually the old 'Stop Trein'. The Sprinter is a slow train and goes through pretty much every town between major destinations. When I traveled from Amsterdam, (with regret), I took the Sprinter and it took me 1.5 hours to get to Rotterdam! I regretted everything. But I did see the countryside so that was nice. 

Intercity train

Always take the Intercity trains if you want to travel between the major cities. 

Unlike the UK, you don't have to book your ticket in advance to get it cheaper. If you check out the NS website, you can check train times and also ticket prices. You can buy it online and print or just buy it at the station. The prices are the same either way. 

You could use the OV-Chipkaart to pay for your train but it is much simpler and cheaper to just buy a ticket if you're a visitor. 

By bus, tram and metro

I don't know much about the bus but I did travel from my sleepy town to Rotterdam in order to get to the Metro which then goes to Rotterdam Central Station. On the bus you pay using the OV-Chipkaart (which I will explain later). If you are without the OV-Chipkaart, you can buy a ticket that is valid within a particular zone and valid for an hour from the time you bought the ticket.

Tram in Amsterdam

Most of Rotterdam, The Hague and Amsterdam are connected with a tram service as well. It's the same deal here, you just check in and check out with your OV-Chipkaart and that will deduct your ticket price.

As for metro, you can use one in Amsterdam (I don't know much about it). If you end up in Zuidplein shopping centre in Rotterdam, you take the metro to Rotterdam Central Station. The metro also goes as far as The Hague Central Station. The metro system in Rotterdam has barriers where you tap your OV-Chipkaart to open up. To leave, you check out at the barrier and your ticket price will be deducted. You can also buy a travel card from the RET people and use that to open the barriers.

The OV Chipkaart 

My Anonymous OV-Chipkaart

Then there's the most confusing thing I have had to deal with when travelling within the Netherlands; the OV-Chipkaart.

At first, I was completely puzzled by it but I figured it's the same as the Oyster in London... it's similar but completely different. Most people can get their own specific OV card which has added benefits to it, i.e. you can automatically load money on it when it runs low. 

But the easiest option (for tourists and other types of visitors) is the OV Anonymous chipkaart. You don't get as many benefits with it but you can use it on public transport. Plus you don't need your photo on it so don't worry about having to take one.

It costs €7.50 to purchase at the Post Kantoor (Post Office in Dutch) and many other retailers...

Then you have to load it with money. Many machines only allow a bankcard to load the OV card and those which do take coins, only and literally take coins. So getting exact change helps.

It's super inconvenient that you can't load the OV-Chipkaart using a bankcard because those who do not own a bankcard with any Dutch bank can't electronically load up money on their card because it won't recognise your card. I found out the hard way when I wanted to get to Amsterdam and I had to ask my dad to load money on it. Thank you dad. 

So be on the look out for OV-Chipkaart machines which gives you the option to load the card using coins. 

Checking in and checking out

Be sure to check in and also out when you leave the tram/bus/metro. If you don't, your OV-Chipkaart will keep charging you. Everytime you tap your card on the reader, the reader will display the balance of your card. When you check out, it shows how much was subtracted. If you don't have enough money on your card, let's say you have €2.00 and your ticket is €4.00, it'll just subtract and show up as a minus on your card.

These are my experiences. They may not be the same for you. If you want to know more about travelling to and within the Netherlands, here are some useful websites to help make your travel within the Netherlands easy and comfortable: 
Happy travelling!