It was springtime, this was our second day in the Netherlands, and here we were, soaking in a sea of tulips; subtle pastel shades alongside bold bright hues; a mirage of fragrance in a semi-rural landscape, just a short drive outside Amsterdam. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law had suggested we might want to see a few tulips ..... but Keukenhof?
- 7 million bulbs in bloom each spring?
- 800 varieties of tulips, not to mention hyacinths and various other flowers and plants?
- 32 hectares of flowers in a 200 hectare estate?
Many floriculturalists do flowers, but the Dutch? They do tulips! And Keukenhof is a permanent exhibition, a living blooming catalogue that, like honey from the bee, attracts a buzz of overseas tourists through its gates, but for only eight weeks a year.
Our quarters for the next two weeks would be the neat smart Dutch home of our overseas 'relies', located at the base of a well kept, grass covered steep slope, which, as it would later become obvious during our familiarisation 'walkabouts', was a major levee bank protecting us from the nearby Oude Maas, one of many 'distributaries' of the Rhine River. As about half of the Netherlands is lower than 1 metre above sea level, and about one eighth is actually below sea level, without an extensive network of dams, dykes and dunes, the Dutch would be permanently wearing scuba gear.
This brings me to my next famous Dutch emblem, the windmill, an original wind driven device intended not just for grinding corn but to pump water from low lying land to outside the containing dyke structures. Don Quixote would be in his element in many parts of the Netherlands, as these 'hulking giants' appear in 'tiltable' form across much of the landscape. There are solitary windmills, groups of windmills, some in good repair and others in ill repair, but the main attraction for visitors to the south of Holland is the village of Kinderdijk, which features a total of 19 of these wind-driven monsters.
These impressive structures date back to 1740, but now the water extraction is performed by two large diesel pump stations located near the entrance to the site.
Two iconic Dutch symbols down, two to go, and the best place to encounter the bicycle is in Amsterdam. Although you will see bicycles everywhere in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam you encounter them in such abundance that they can be a real health hazard to the uninitiated. You need to take care that you don't get run down by these pedal-power devices, as they roll on by without a bell ring or a 'by your leave', their virtually silent passage merely heralded by a faint swish as they pass, leaving you staring unbelievable in their wake, with a "what the ...?"
They come in all shapes and sizes, like their owners; some shiny and new and some old and classic. Then there's the 'tripping hazard' bicycle, where they're parked in random clusters and, unless you watch where you're going, you'll end up wearing spokes, or a chain for a scarf.
Or how about the 'mum-about-town' bicycle, with dolly on the front and rugged up young missy on the back? Those boots weren't made for walkin', mum.
Or the 'come-on grandad' bicycle, "mum and baby sis'll be home before us and they'll eat all the poffertjes".
No trip to the Netherlands would be complete without trying on a pair of wooden clogs ('klompen' to the Dutch). Yes, those uncomfortable-looking, unyielding and solid, willow or poplar foot-braces, traditionally favoured in the wet polders as the foot weapon of choice, are still worn today by farmers and gardeners. These days clogs come in all shapes and sizes, some being very trendy and surprisingly comfortable. A popular version, commonly exported overseas, is the clog-shaped soft cotton slipper. My wife is on her second pair of soft cloggies since we returned to Australia over three years ago, the first pair having been sadly worn out through constant comfort use.
Then there's a myriad of other interesting things you'll see and experience in Holland:
- impressive and modern architecture in weird shapes; some built like boats; others with holes in the middle and steeply sloping walls and roofs;
- ancient castles and towers dating back hundreds of years;
- leaning church towers (a la Pisa) and leaning buildings (due mostly to the soft compressible ground they are built on and their inadequate piled footings);
- interesting and virtually unpronounceable place names, e.g. Dordrecht, Zwijndrecht, Gorinchem, Scheveningen, not to mention Keukenhof;
- fresh mint tea, numerous varieties of cheeses, smoked sausage, and rye breads;
- smokey cafes in Amsterdam where the yummy cookies will result in amnesia if you over-indulge;
- the cleanest public toilets in Europe, if not the world; and
- a fast and reliable railway system, yes, that's right, fast and reliable.
But tales of these and many more will have to wait 'till another time and another buzz.
Then, all too soon, we were leaving Schiphol Airport bound for Rome, and the words of that iconic Max Bygraves song came to mind, but, sung as we used to sing it in Scotland, as kids:
"When it's Spring again I'll bring again
Tulip and hamster jam
With a heart that's true I'll give to you
Tulip and hamster jam
I can't wait until the day you fill
These eager arms of mine
Like the windmill keeps on turning
That's how my heart keeps on yearning
For the day I know we can
Share this tulip and hamster jam."
Here is the original version, in case you're wondering why the Dutch would indulge in such a fearful and unpalatable preserve.
When not researching the weird or the wonderful, the comical or the cultured, the sinful or the serious, I chase my creative side, the results of which can be seen as selected photographs of my travels on my website at:
The author of the above, Ken Boddie, besides being a sometime poet and occasional writer, is an enthusiastic photographer, rarely leisure-travelling without his Canon, and loves to interact with other like-minded people with diverse interests.
Ken's three day work week (part time commitment) as a consulting engineer allows him to follow his photography interests, and to plan trips to an ever increasing list of countries and places of scenic beauty and cultural diversity.