Saturday, 19 May 2012

Ice cream joy - the Dutch way

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After nine years of living in the Netherlands you would think that by now, I have seen the country from top to bottom and been to every possible corner - it is quite a small country, after all.

I have indeed visited lots of places - big cities and tiny villages; polders and islands; I've explored marshes, flatlands, beaches and woods; been to the sea and to former seas turned lakes. 

I have seen a lot of the Netherlands and I have taken thousands of photos of the country as well. I am also by now quite acquainted with the Dutch ways and I have even embraced many of the local habits and quirks. I have done my best to speak the language, I have learned about the country's history and I have admired its art and literature.

I would go as far as to say that I have truly earned the Dutch citizenship that I got back in 2007!

Bicycle parking lot at the train station in Amersfoort.

Still, there are sights that I think will never get old with me. Give me a bicycle in every possible setting and I will take a dozen pictures of it as if it were the first time I see one in this country of bicycle lovers. Every year in the winter I let the ice fever get to me as the whole country stands still waiting to hear that there is going to be an Elfstedentocht. Come spring, the tulip mania gets hold of me and doesn't let go until I have made every contact on Flickr or Facebook completely sick from a tulip overdose produced by a flood of tulip photos and tulip blog posts.

A very simple scene like the one I spotted in Alkmaar just a couple of days ago while waiting for my canal cruise to start, still feels new to me and fills me with wonder, as if I was newly arrived and just beginning to discover the country.

How often do you go out for ice cream in your town or city? If you like ice cream I bet you do that quite often, especially during the summer.
But how often do you go out for ice cream rowing your own boat down the canal? How often do you have to ring a bell at the ice cream shop, wait till you are served and then happily row your boat back home while enjoying your delicious ice cream? I bet not as often as you would wish!

Click to view the photo in a large size:
Icre cream a la Dutch: row your boat, ring the bell, order your ice cream, yamyam and row happily back home!

Friday, 11 May 2012

Last of the tulip days: a visit to Keukenhof Gardens

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Spring in the Netherlands can be a bit cooler and wetter than in other parts of Europe and we have been having quite a bit of rain and rather low temperatures lately; but despite the unspring-like weather, I just couldn't stay away from the beautiful tulip fields in the Noordoostpolder and I even managed to visit Keukenhof Park a few days ago.

The tulip season is almost over and a week or so ago I got to see the farmers busy chopping off the tulip flowers (a process known as tulpen koppen, in Dtuch) and in some cases, even removing the bulbs from the fields to be sold, exported or stored away.

But even if it's already too late to do the tulip trail either around Lisse, Northwest Friesland or the Northeast polder in Flevoland, there is still time to visit Keukenhof Park, which will be open until Sunday 20 May. If you are visiting in The Netherlands or if you live here and have the time in the next few days, you can still get to see the tulips, though they will probably have passed their days of glory.

 The colours of Keukenhof: yellow, white, black, fucsia, pink...

Keukenhof is reputedly the largest flower garden in the whole world, with approximately 7 million bulbs being planted annually in the park which covers an area of 32 hectares and is located in the town of Lisse, in the province of South Holland.

The origin of Keukenhof goes back to the 15th century, when the area belonged to the hunting grounds of the Countess of Hainaut, who also used them to grow the herbs for the kitchens in her castle giving the park the name by which it is still known in our days - "kitchen gardens", which is Dutch is keukenhof.

People having fun at Keukenhof:

In the 17th century, captain of the Dutch East India Company and governor Adrian Maertenz Block moved to Keukenhof after his retirement and had his country house built there, which became known as Keukenhof Castle. Later in the 19th century, landscape architectect Jan David Zocher and his son were commissioned by the Baron and Baroness of van Palllandt to design the grounds around the castle. The English style of the park designed by Zocher and his son is still predominant in the Keukenhof Park that we see today.

In 1949 the then mayor of the city of Lisse, opened the Keukenhof gardens with the intention of organising a flower exhibition that would attract the bulb growers of the country and Europe and of giving a new impulse to the postwar Dutch industry.

Today, Keukenhof is still the largest flower garden in the world and has been visited by 52 million people since it opened its doors in 1949. Every year there is a incredible amount of work done on the grounds before the opening in the month of March, since around 7 million bulbs are planted and all the grass (a total of around 7000 kilos!), including that under the trees, is replaced.

Besides the 7 million bulbs, in Keukenhof there is a total of 15 km of footpaths and more than 2500 trees of 87 different varieties. Next to the outdoor paths, lakes, bridges and gardens there are four indoor pavilions named after members of the reigning house of the country: the WillemAlexander, the Beatrix, the Juliana and the Oranje Nassau, all displaying exhibitions of different varieties of bulb flowers and spring flowers.
If to all this you add an 1892 windmill, twelve swans that are released in the park for the duration of the exhibition, the seven inspirational gardens, the ibulb nformation pavilion, the restaurants and souvenir shops within the park, you get quite an impressive tourist attraction that should definitely be taken into account if you are visiting The Netherlands during the season!

If you are too late for a visit this year, there is still next year - Keukenhof will be open from 21 March to 20 May; so start planning and come to The Netherlands during the tulip season!

On the website of Keukenhof Gardens you can find all the necessary information to plan your visit and even buy your entrance tickets online.
You can find more information about how the tulip came to be a symbol of the Netherlands in this article I recently posted on Pocket Cultures. In it you will also be able to read about other options to enjoy the tulip season, like the Flower Parade in North/South Holland, the tulip trail in the Northeast Polder and the Hortus Bulborum Garden Museum.
I also posted about the tulip trail in Flevoland in this blog last year.