You’ve heard of Keukenhof in the Netherlands, but did you know we have our own spring tulip garden in Belgium? Floralia is the spring flower show at Groot-Bijgaarden Castle and it’s a must-see!
One of my most frequently asked questions each spring is ‘when is the best time to visit the Keukenhof Gardens?’ My answer – that depends…
While the weather is cold and frightful this winter, we’re dreaming of sun, sand and crystal clear waters of tropical beaches (and maybe the occasional umbrella drink).
The Netherlands is known for tulips and every spring, millions of garden tourists travel to the biggest tulip garden in the world – Keukenhof Gardens.
Situated in the middle of South Holland’s tulip fields, in the town of Lisse, Kuekenhof is a magical place for garden lovers. Over 7 million flower bulbs bloom every spring, in the park. Although it is only open from the end of March to the end of May, the Keukenhof has seen 44 million visitors in its 60 years.
For the first few days of October, our little flat was rather full. My parents arrived on the 1st and the following day, Andrew’s Aunt Doreen and Cousin Sandra arrived. In order to avoid staying in such close quarters for the whole weekend, Andrew and I took the whole crew to Amsterdam on the train. The timing worked out well, as Andrew had a meeting outside the city Friday afternoon.
I took the rest of the gang into the city where we had some lunch and found our hotel. We then went on a bit of a walking tour through some of my favourite parts of the city.
That evening we were to meet Andrew at our favourite little jenever bar, Wynand Fockink. We were a bit late… Andrew had to occupy himself with beer while he waited. We finally made it and drinks were ordered, sampled and enjoyed. Then it was time for supper at, where else, Los Pilones. But it wasn’t the Los Pilones we knew and loved… they’ve opened a second location in the Jordaan and I think it was even more fantastic than the old one.
Bend, slurp, lift… drinking at the jenever bar. (Mine’s the purple one)
The next morning we were up very early to catch a bus. Since we couldn’t fit everyone in our car, I had organised an all day bus tour of the Netherlands through Viator. It was fantastic and I would highly recommend it. My only complaint was that the first stop was supposed to be at the flower auction in Alsmeer which I have wanted to see forever. On the Viator website they state that this is closed on Sundays and is substituted with a visit to a cheese and clog factory. Well apparently it is closed on Saturdays too. So cheese and clogs it was.
Having had all of the cheese and clogs we could take, we were off to Rotterdam. There we had a quick photo stop at the Hotel New York, which was once owned by the Holland America Line. We had a lovely view of the Rotterdam skyline and the Erasmus Bridge.
Our next stop was Delft, where we visited a delftware factory.Unfortunately the painters don’t work on weekends but we were given a brief explanation of the process and could see some works in progress. Of course there was also time in the shop at the end of the tour. Then we had a bit of free time in Delft to grab some lunch. Dutch pancakes seemed like a good thing to do.
Back on the bus, after lunch, and we were driven to Den Haag. We drove by the major sights, including the Peace Palace and the city’s beautiful government buildings. We followed The Hague with a drive through the lovely seaside town of Scheveningen.
Our final stop was Madurodam. To be totally honest, I’ve scoffed at this attraction without ever having been there before and I didn’t have high hopes. Madurodam is a miniature reconstruction of all of the famous sights in the Netherlands. I was expecting a rather sketchy mini-golf type recreation. I stand corrected. It was actually very well done and quite fascinating, especially if you have been to many of the places represented as Andrew and I have. Many of the models have working parts, including trains, planes and boats. It would be a fabulous place to take kids but it was fun for us adults as well.
Mom -getting down ‘tourist style’ at Madurodam
The Rijksmuseum – in mini
After Madurodam, we were driven back to Amsterdam and after a bit of wandering, we settled on a tapas bar in the Jordaan for supper. Doreen and Sandra would be leaving us Monday morning to continue their holiday in Barcelona, so we thought we’d give them a sample of what to expect. The food was great and the atmosphere was fun.
Dad didn’t care what we did, as long as he got to ride on a train…
The next morning we checked out and decided we couldn’t leave Amsterdam without the ever-present canal cruise. We took our favourite Blue Boat Company for a spin around the city. Despite the rain, it was a nice tour. When we finished, we hopped back on the train for an early night home.
Check out the Photoblog over the next week, for more photos from our adventures in the Netherlands.
Andrew and I just got back from another absolutely fantastic long weekend away. Remember our London trip… how we had fantastic weather and we didn’t argue once (unheard for us)? Well, we just had a repeat and I still have to keep looking at my calendar and reminding myself it’s only April.
First off, lets talk about the weather. We’ve been having a hot and sunny streak here in the lowlands for about two weeks now. We haven’t had a drop of rain. It’s been great BBQ and patio weather. The Netherlands was no exception and while we were sitting on the beach we were literally laughing at how hot it was … but I’ll get to that in a bit.Andrew’s Keukenhof shots – no tourists!
The purpose of the trip was tulips and that’s where we started on Thursday. We left Belgium around lunchtime and took our time driving to the hotel. We stayed at the Hampshire Hotel – De Witte Raaf in Noordwijk. Noordwijk is on the coast of the Netherlands to the south-west of Amsterdam. Our hotel was in the dunes and smack dab in the middle of tulip country. We spent the afternoon driving through the fields and admiring the colour.
The next morning we were up with the sun and took the quick ten minute drive to Keukenhof. We arrived to only a handful of cars in the parking lot at opening time. After having visited the gardens for the past four years, I had a plan of attack. We raced to the lake as soon as we got through the gates so I could nab some landscapes before there were too many people. The plan was perfect – I scored virtually empty shots.Inside the tulip house
My second stop was the tulip exhibition house. This is my favourite spot for photography and where I make most of my favourite tulip images. I managed to have a good few hours with little disturbance from crowds. By the time I finished up we were ready for lunch and the park was getting packed. With my main shots in the bag however, I could relax a bit and enjoy the rest of the park. We made it to almost 3 o’clock before we were burnt out and sick of crowds. When we left, our parking lot, the overflow lot and the bus lot were all full. We got out just in time.
We went back to the hotel to drop off my gear and freshen up. Then I had a plan to go to my favourite garden centre outside of Hilversum. It would have been a good plan… except for the miles and miles of traffic on the highway. Thinking I was a smart cookie, I lookedSoaking up the sun at Noordwijk an Zee
at the map and found us and alternate route. Apparently 50 thousand Dutch had the same plan. It took us well over an hour to get to the garden centre and I figured it would be closed when we finally got there. Our persistence paid off however. Not only did we have an interesting scenic drive (albeit a slow one), we discovered the location of the flower auction that I’ve always wanted to visit (it’s still on my to-do list but at least I know where it is now) and the store was still open when we got there. I got some plants (including an olive tree I’ve wanted since my first trip to the south of France) and some colourful pots for outdoors.
That evening for supper we went back to our old pasta haunt on Java Island. It was next door to our apartment building and we went there often. The food is just as good as we remembered and it was nice to be ‘home.’
Saturday we went to the beach in Noordwijk an Zee. We did a bit of shopping and strolled down the endless beach in the sun. Then we settled at a café and watched the world go by. It was perfect.
Later that afternoon we headed in to Amsterdam with plans of our Mexican supper. We thought some drinks at a canal side café would be just the ticket. We found a seat and waited to place our order. We waited, and waited and waited, and noticed that everyone around us seemed to be staring longingly at their empty glasses. Finally one waitress appeared. She was obviously new (or at least I hope that was her excuse) and ill equipped to handle the high tech order taking device. When we finally had placed our order a table on the canal became available so we moved to the better view (and to escape the chain smoker beside us). This was probably a bad idea as it totally confused our waitress.
To make a long story short, I waited over an hour for a Cosmo (they take a little longer to make she assured me… riiiiight). When I tried to order a second one, she informed me that their barman had left… at 5:30… at a bar?!? We decided he got fed up with dealing with the incompetence and left to save his sanity. Despite the smoke and lack of libations, sitting and watching the canal traffic was magical. It is my favourite Amsterdam pastime and we whiled away a few hours before supper and our belly-stuffing Mexican feast.Drew at Noordwijk an Zee… in April…
Sunday Andrew wanted to return to the beach one last time. We bought a couple of cheap beach chairs and plonked ourselves at the edge of the water (we had to move back a few times as the tide came in). We had both brought books with us to read but watching the beach traffic was so entertaining we didn’t crack a page. It seemed the whole country (and maybe a few others as well) was on the beach and enjoying the heat (the car told us it was 28 degrees when we left and I believe it was close).
Now we are back for a few days to clean, pack and in Andrew’s case, work his butt off. Then we get to go home to highs of 6 degrees. I hope you people appreciate what we are sacrificing for you…
Saturday (April 15th) was the day that Mom and Dad’s trip had been planned around – our visit the Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse.In the tulip show house at Keukenhof
If you are a gardener or just a lover of flowers and plants, Keukenhof is not to be missed. The gardens are only open for a month each year, and although there are many different kinds of plants, the stars of the show are the Dutch tulips.
At Keukenhof, you will see tulips of every size, shape and colour – many of which you will never see anywhere else. It is truly amazing.
My mother is a garden goddess (who unfortunately did not pass enough of her skills along to her only child. While I love to photograph flowers, if it’s not in a pot it doesn’t do well at my house). We had planned for her to visit when Keukenhof would be at its peak – Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans.
The long cold March had delayed the blooming season by a few weeks. Although we visited Keukenhof during the middle of the month, the tulips were still just coming out.
Fortunately there is a large indoor aspect to the gardens as well. Inside the show houses things were exploding with colour and Mom was able to get at least some of the Keukenhof experience.Me and my peeps at Keukenhof.
We spent the better part of the day there and finished up just as things were getting way too crowded. We did a quick drive through the bulb fields but again the cold had slowed things down. The riot of colour we had experienced the year before just wasn’t there.
For supper that night we headed back into Amsterdam for an Indonesian feast. Amsterdam is known for great Indonesian food from the Dutch East Indies. We hit up one of our favorite places for a Rijstafel (rice table). It’s basically a ton of small dishes of different foods so each person can sample a bit of everything. If you’re going to have a rijstafel, don’t eat for a few days prior.
With full bellies we walked towards the museum quarter where we did the other Amsterdam ‘must do’ – a canal tour. Yes, yes, Amsterdam residents are sick of the canal tour boats, I do understand, you listen to them all summer. However, if you only have a brief time in A’dam, it is the best way to see the city. Our tour was at dusk so we also got to enjoy the city lit up at night. It really does look magical.
The next morning we went to our other favorite place in the Netherlands – Apenheul, the monkey park. This was our second trip to the monkey park and things have changed a bit. There are a few new exhibits and the staff has become stricter about touching the monkeys (apparently they were getting a bit too tame which puts a really damper on release programs).
Most of the monkeys are in enclosed areas but the best thing about the park is that some of the monkeys basically have free run of the place. The little spider monkeys and the Lemurs are free to roam their areas and investigate visitors. At one point, while I was busy photographing a lemur family, I felt a tap on my back. Thinking it was Andrew, I looked up in time to see a Lemur use my shoulder as a springboard for the nearest tree.“This sun is great! Dude, pass me a beer!”
This time, it wasn’t raining and the monkeys were out to enjoy the sun. Like the people of Europe, the lemurs were sick of the long cold March and were out to enjoy the sun.
We spent quite a while with the monkeys and then it was time to head home to Everberg. The driving portion of Euro Tour was over, but that wasn’t the end of the trip.
Tune in to my next posts to read about travels in Ireland and see more ‘lemurs’ enjoying the sun.
It’s Monday again… It seems like there are way more Mondays than any other day. How does that work? Anyway, last week was a busy one. Tuesday, when I wrote the last blog, was the only day I was home all day. Wednesday we went back down to Brussels to sign the lease on the new place. We got a bank account set up as well. All I can say is thank God we decided to get an agent to help us or we would have been totally lost. As it was, it was pretty overwhelming and a bit scary but it’s done now and another worry is taken care of.
We went back to the house as well to take another look around. I’m looking forward to it. There’s lots of room and it’s very bright. The kitchen is small but has loads of storage and the living room/dining room is huge.
Our landlord and lady seem nice. They are older and live nearby. The landlady was a bit concerned about the dog but the landlord seems very easy going so hopefully with a bit of sucking up we’ll be in the good books. The whole process is definitely different than how it’s done in Canada but when it comes down to it the terms and responsibilities are more or less the same. I’m really looking forward to the little yard. There are neighbors with chickens and there is a donkey in the yard right behind ours. It seems very rural but yet we’re only 15 mins or so from Brussels.
Andrew took Thursday and Friday off to recover from his weeks in Belgium. The weekend was rather rainy but we still had some fun.
Thursday we went to Ikea to scope out the furniture we will need for the new place. It will be cheap and basic because we have to buy so much stuff when we first get there, but hopefully we can find some fun stuff over time.
Friday we walked to the Asian grocery and the market to find things to make sushi. We made the sushi in the afternoon and then got haircuts. Mine is now super short. My hairdresser wanted to know if I liked Celine Dion because he did but he didn’t like Shania Twain… Yay Canada.
That evening we met up with a friend of Andrew’s from work who was backpacking with his girlfriend and two Americans they had picked up along the way. We took them to Los Pilones and had supper and drinks. It was nice to have conversations in English without feeling guilty. It was also nice to be the ‘experts’ for a night and not feel like we are completely clueless about everything.
Saturday was rainy again so we drove to Den Haag and went to Escher in Het Paleis (Escher in the Palace), which is the M.C. Escher museum It was fantastic. They had just about all of his works and lots of photos and sketches that he had done. It was presented very well and we learned a lot about what influenced his art. It was very enjoyable. Afterwards we took a little stroll around the park nearby and then headed home.
Yesterday was mystery drive day. We took the back roads and headed to Geithoorn, which is supposed to be ‘the Venice of the Netherlands.’ About the only thing it had in common with Venice was a canal but it was very pretty. It is a National Trust village and all of the houses are quaint and have thatched roofs. Sadly most of them are for sale (oddly enough people don’t seem to enjoy the scads of tourists traipsing through their town.) It was interesting to visit but there are so many other beautiful villages in the Netherlands that aren’t crawling with tourists that I can’t see myself rushing back there. In that case I think the journey was better than the destination as we had a nice time driving through the country side.
It looks like rain for most of the week ahead so it should give me an opportunity to play with my stamps and make some cards.
Alright, so I have two weeks of blog to catch up on. I’m not making any promises here because my memory is terrible. I’ll do my best at remembering but feel free to e-mail me any questions you may have too. So we left off on Valentines Day…
My Valentine’s Day gift was Andrew making me supper. This was his first cooking attempt in Holland and without a BBQ. He settled on a stir-fry so we decided to do the Dutch thing and go to the Albert Cuyp market for supplies. The AC is a HUGE street market that runs every day except Sunday. It is about a km long and you can get virtually everything there; Veggies and fruit, meat, fish, cheese, baked goods, spices, clothes, fabric, toiletries, plants, furniture … you name it, chances are you can find it there. We strolled through, invigorated by some fresh, hot spring rolls and found everything we needed…and then some. My two favorite stalls were the spice stall (literally any spice, herb or tea was available here) and the Tapas stall … we went a little nuts here and got hummus, babaganoush and cheese stuffed hot peppers (delish). We also bought veggies, fruit, fish, tea and breads. You can see the pic of our purchases in the photo section.
After the market there was one more stop I wanted to make. We went to Nieuwmarkt, the Asian section of town. I wanted to go back to the Asian grocery and pick up some more Miso… I ended up with more than miso but it was fun.
The rest of the day was a relaxation day for me and a cooking extravaganza for Drew. He did a fabulous job, by the way. The stir-fry had tons of veggies and shrimp from the market. Very yummy indeed.
Sunday was a bit of a patchwork of things we wanted to see and do. Our first stop was Rotterdam … ok so some of you are well aware that I had a bad first impression of Rotterdam (Andrew Roode). We won’t go there except to say that Rotterdam was bombed heavily in the war and therefore is very modern looking. Many parts of it could be any generic North American city. There was one area I hadn’t seen and wanted to explore. The old quarter where the artists colony is…. I wanted to see the Cubes.
The Cubes are rather hard to describe so I suggest you take a look at the pics if you haven’t already … basically they are Cubes with one point cut off, tipped sideways and stuck on a column, then they are mashed together with a bunch of other cubes and pushed so that they tip forward…and people live in them…Between the Cubes is a sort of courtyard area that you can wander through. It is surprisingly peaceful. Surprising because the Cubes are also situated over a major street. Just as I was marveling as to how people could live in these things, we discovered the museum Cube. Basically one gentleman who lives in the Cubes, opens his house up when he’s home and charges a euro for you to take a look through. Great idea since anyone would be curious what these things look like inside … Well, they are small… claustrophobics need not apply. Also if you are afraid of heights, don’t wash dishes here because you are looking straight down at the street below. The stairs are narrow and the bathroom is tiny. By far the coolest room is the little pyramid on top. This was a sitting room with windows all around. The view is basically the other cubes, but also the street and depending on which cube you live in, I suppose the water as well. All in all, quite fascinating but definitely not for me.
Our next stop was Delft, another place I had been already but Drew had not and I thought he might like it. It’s a fairly small city, with a nice downtown and main square. It is of course famous for the hand painted pottery, mainly in blues but also available in other colours. True hand-painted Delft is wickedly expensive but also one of a kind and very beautiful. Unfortunately, this time of year, the factory is not open to the public. We did drive over to check it out and it is quite huge. We had a mediocre lunch on the main square, explored the Royal Delft shop and then headed out of town.
Our next event of note was our Wednesday night football game. Football here, for those of you who don’t know, is what we call soccer. There is also a football team here that plays what we know as football. The Dutch call it American football … they have cheerleaders which I’ll get to. The game we went to see was the Dutch (oranje) vs the Americans. This is like the All-star team for Holland. The stadium we were in was the Ajax stadium. Ajax (pronounced I-ax) is the Amsterdam team and you can’t actually go to their games at the stadium unless you are a member of the club. Back to the Oranje … why orange? I dunno. It is, accept it and move on. Because the team is called oranje, of course all of the fans wear orange. And we are talking day glow orange here. So basically it looks like a stadium full of hunters and death-row inmates (could be actually). And they are nuts! Frankly I think all hard-core sports fans are nuts but it is definitely infectious. Anyway of course my camera died before the game even started but there are a couple pics of the field. The game was pretty good. The first half, no one scored. Then we had the American Football cheerleaders … definitely wouldn’t make it in the states … these were no Laker Girls. They looked like they were having fun and I guess that’s what counts, but frankly, they sucked. Jenn, you would have laughed your butt off. Anyway, second half, Oranje scored, USA didn’t. We won, the world was happy (well, the Dutch anyway) and we went home. Only it wasn’t quite that easy. A tram had derailed on our route and caused a huge traffic jam. It was cold, we were tired. We had no idea what was going on. After 2 trams getting us part way and a lot of waiting, we finally gave up and got a cab. Not a great ending to a pretty fun night.
Ok, so the next great day was Friday, my Birthday! Yup, I’m still 24! heh. Andrew took the day off so we could do fun b-day type things. Our first stop was the not so fun b-day blood clinic. It went fine and actually I didn’t feel a thing. I had just commented on how easy it was, as we were walking away, when I realized I was bleeding all over my sweater. Once that was under control (did actually get the stain out later too) we walked down the street to my next errand. I wanted to develop a couple rolls of my slide film, just to make sure my camera was working properly. The photographers at home will get a kick out of this next bit … the rest of you feel free to skip ahead. Ok, so you know how you get used to going to the one camera shop you trust and it’s hard to just walk in somewhere new and hand over you film … Well, my experience was rather interesting. I had done a bit of research on-line because I didn’t want to just take it any old place. The place that I settled on was on our tram line and recommended to professionals. So I walk in and it’s a big posh room … with nothing in it but a counter … no cameras, no film. Just a counter, a sofa and a couple of photos on the walls and the place is BIG. Kind of like going to a really posh clothing store where the models come out wearing the clothes… Anyway I go to the counter, do my thing and they say it will be ready in 2 hours … 2 hours!!! Not weeks, not days, Hours!! for slide film! Anyway by now I’m thinking I’m going to be paying BIG bucks for this. Save you the suspense … it was 5 euro a roll. 11.40 euro total for 2 rolls. They came out great btw and I’ll be taking more there this week.
Ok, back to more interesting things … what I wanted to do on my b-day… I wanted to go to FOAM the Foto Museum of Amsterdam. It was a nice spot and had 2 major exhibits going. One on a Dutch photojournalist that was excellent and another on Man Ray and Lee Miller that was very interesting. It contained lots of contact sheets as well as prints so that your could see his original crop marks and notes. Quite neat. Then we went to the English bookstore to get a book on Barcelona (yes we are going at the end of March). We found that and Andrew got a computer book and he got me the latest Jamie Oliver cookbook. Then we picked up the film, dropped stuff off at home and went for my b-day supper. It’s been tradition the past few years that we go for Indian food on my b-day so we found a great Indian restaurant and ate so much we literally hurt when we left. The food was delish.
The next morning we got up bright and early and headed to Belgium for the Third and final time. This time we had reservations at a cheap hotel for the night so we could actually see some things without having to rush home. Our first stop was the Atomium. This was built for a worlds fair and is now kind of a symbol of the city. It’s basically a huge blow-up of an iron molecule. Inside you take an elevator to the top and have views of the city. Then you take a series of escalators down through the various spheres where there are art exhibits. It’s rather odd but an interesting, one time sort of thing. We avoided all of the other tourist traps at the fair ground, except to have an over priced lunch.
Then we headed to another part of the park where the Japanese and Chinese pavilions were left as museums after the worlds fair. These were both beautiful inside and out and the pictures show them better than I could describe so take a look.
Afterwards, it was high time to find our hotel. We drove around a bit and I remembered something about it being near a church. Well we found it, and what a church to be near. After checking in to the hotel, we had to check out the Basilica. It is an ENORMOUS art deco style church and is absolutely breath taking inside. The simple lines and domes to me are much more beautiful than the over the top gothic style of many of the grand churches here. There was some fantastic stained glass and the view from the top of the church rivaled the view from the atomium.
We decided to head down to the grote market again for supper and be herded in to one of the many restaurants there. I had a very tricky to eat stuffed crab and Drew opted for mussels. We then went back to our chocolate shop to stock up and back to the hotel. We had picked up some little cakes at the bakery across the street and I had my b-day dessert a day late.
The next morning we went back to the bakery for breakfast and then got on the road to Waterloo. We went to see the Butte de Lion a huge grass pyramid with a lion statue on top, commemorating the Napoleonic war. After climbing a gazillion stairs we had a nice view of the surrounding farm land. Vowing never to climb things again (a vow I seem to keep making and breaking on this trip) we headed to Ghent.
This city came highly recommended by Drew’s colleagues and we weren’t disappointed. The city boasts four magnificent churches, some fantastic old architecture and a castle. We had to see the castle for ourselves. So after a very nice lunch at a little coffee house we went trekking through the castle. Well, that blew my stair vow again but there was a beautiful view of the churches from the castle walls. There was also an exhibit inside showing various medieval torture devices (lovely). After the castle we went on a short but interesting boat tour of Ghent. It was interesting to see the buildings from the water level. .
After Ghent we had one last mission… and it was a difficult one. We wanted to find where my great-uncle was buried in Antwerp. My Grandfather Fair’s brother had been a signalman in the war and was buried in a graveyard in Antwerp. We had vague directions from the Canadian Government web site. Frankly it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. I think the directions had been written when the graveyard was instated, as none of the streets seemed to exist any more. It took an hour or more of searching until we found the graveyard… and it was closed. Well, never being one to let little things like locked gates stand in the way of a mission… we parked the car (illegally). To actually get to the grave we had to: 1). Rescue a very grateful dog 2). Scale the fence and 3) avoid the police. All of that is true, but not really that dramatic. A woman and her dog had gotten stuck inside the graveyard when they closed the gate. She was waiting for a friend to come and help her lift the dog out. We helped and the puppy was very happy to be free again. Then we hopped the fence (I figure if they really didn’t want us in there, they would have made it taller). Finding the actual grave was much harder. We had a number V.D.63 which didn’t seem to correlate with anything. I finally figured out that V actually meant 5 and Drew discovered that the graves were more or less in chronological order. Finally we found it. I have to say, as far as eternal resting places go, this one was beautiful. It was right by a canal and the graves were very well tended with herbs planted around them. Very peaceful and lovely. As we hiked back out of the driveway we noticed the police driving by and were worried they would stop and check out our car so we jumped behind some trees. They didn’t stop and we made a clean getaway with pictures for evidence.
Then we settled in for the long drive home. Both of us were exhausted but it was a very fun and interesting weekend.