When we first found out we were moving to Germany, one of the first places I thought of that I needed to see was the tulip fields of Holland. I had never known that Holland was the place to be for tulips until we lived in Washington State and went to the Skagit County Tulip Festival. My mind was blown by the beauty, but I kept hearing whispers that if you really wanted to see tulips you had to go to Holland. Well lucky me, I got to see tulips in both places!
Fil went with me to the bloom in Washington twice, and had absolutely no interest in going again over here. I know he liked the bloom in Washington, mostly because of the opportunity to practice his photography, but I was kind of surprised how adamant he was about not going to Holland. And then I remembered. We took a funny picture at the bloom in Washington, and thanks to some jokester friends the picture ended up all over Fil’s brigade…
The thing is, the bloom is unpredictable and doesn’t last very long. I was not going to miss it. It was now a quest. Fil and Brock would get to have a boy’s weekend, and I would have my own getaway.
I planned this with about 36 hours’ notice so it came as no surprise that I could not find a friend to go with me, but it turned out to be a success. The 4.5 hour drive was not bad at all through Belgium and into the Netherlands. I did have to laugh though because every time I drive through Belgium, which has been maybe 5 or 6 times, one of the first radio stations I pick up plays “nostalgic” music. And every single time the playlist includes “What a Feeling” from Flashdance… its really a fun time driving and rocking out.
As I got closer to Keukenhof park you could smell the flowers, but still could not see them. I was a bit disappointed that I did not drive past colorful, striped fields of flowers like I was expecting, but like I said, timing is everything and most fields just weren’t bloomed yet.
The park was massive and simply stunning. I lost track of how many charter buses there were, and I certainly could not guess the number of cars, but only near the entrance and the windmill did it feel packed. Otherwise I felt like I was just strolling through the gardens of a private estate. Along the paths thousands of different flowers were planted in beautifully designed plots as well as what was meant to look like wildflowers in a field. The most common flower in these displays were different varieties of daffodils.
Not too long after getting there I wanted to get a snack. There were carts with waffles, bunches of strawberries, ice cream (which I got on my way out and was AMAZING), and for a more hearty option… herring sandwiches. No joke. Pickled herring on a hard roll with onions. I passed on that option and headed towards the cafeteria. The line was outrageous so I just grabbed a prepackaged sandwich and was on my way. The label read “traditional Dutch raw beef sandwich” but it looked like a salami or prosciutto with onions. I was about halfway through eating this wonderful pickled onion covered sandwich when some of the meat slid off the roll and I could really see what I was eating. It was indeed raw hamburger beef. The beef had been squeezed on the roll like cream cheese from an individual packet and with the seasoning and pickled pearl onions I would have never known what I was eating was a raw hamburger, it definitely could have passed for a good quality deli meat. Now the label said it was traditional, so I wonder how frequently the Dutch eat this raw hamburger… they must have stomachs of steel!
The main attraction at the park was the Willem-Alexander pavilion. This size of this greenhouse is really hard to compare, but it is hands down bigger than a football field. Inside were plots about 8ft x 16ft each with six to eight tulip varieties planted and marked. There were displays of other flowers as well, but the majority were tulips. I never have much of an issue with allergies, but I could only last about 10 minutes before I found myself running for an exit just to catch my breath. To say that the pollen and perfumes were overwhelming would be an understatement. Nose attack aside, I did see all the flowers and take many pictures of my favorites.
The last thing to see was the windmill and peer over the not-so-blooming fields. It was disappointing to miss the full bloom of the fields but the rest of the park was in full bloom so I really can’t complain. It was also different from Washington in that here you could only gaze at the field from across the waterway, but in Washington we were able to walk around the fields and in some cases between the planted rows.
On my way out I bought my postcard for the wall and a bag of 150 summer blooming bulbs to plant in our garden. I was not there nearly as long as I expected, but I also didn’t have to slow down for a toddler so that was a-ok by me.
Next stop was the Clara Maria dairy farm. This was also a quick stop but was 100% worth it. At this dairy they provide a tour and also show the art of clog making. I walked right in and joined a handful of people already watching the clog demonstration. This was really cool.
He placed a log on a machine with a U shaped component. One end would trace an existing clog and the other end would carve the log to match the existing one. In a matter of minutes he had carved the outside of a child sized clog from the log. He then put it on a second machine that worked just like the first except that it hollowed out the clog to make a shoe. After this step we felt the clog to feel how wet the new shoe was, and to no surprise it felt like a fresh log. But then he put his mouth in the opening, cupped his hands around it so it was sealed, and blew air into the clog. Water bubbled and then ran out of the tip of the clog! I had no clue fresh wood was that saturated.
A few facts I learned:
- Rounded tip clogs are for farmers… as he said, “they don’t hurt the cow as much”
- Pointed tip clogs are for fishermen to pick their nets with
- Traditionally, a young man would have to carve very intricately detailed clogs for his bride to wear at their wedding
- And yes, once a pair is broken in you can wear them without socks
It was really very interesting to learn all that but the best was yet to come! In the next room we officially entered the dairy. We were basically in a holding room, and behind the glass we could see two women making cheese. One came out and in really adorable broken English said “she show us how to make cheese”.
Their cows are milked twice a day and with both batches of milk together they can make a batch of Gouda. The milk is not pasteurized and only two ingredients are added, a sour and a rennet. They separate the curds from the whey, and the whey is fed to the calves. After heating, cutting, and pressing the cheese, it is then washed in a saltwater bath, dipped in a paraffin wax and set on the shelf. The cheese does not need to be refrigerated and can sit on the shelf for years drying into a Parmesan. She actually said that Gouda is meant to be eaten at room temperature so only put it in the fridge if you will not eat it every day, otherwise leave it on the counter once you cut it. Also, never wrap a Gouda in plastic.
From there we walked right through the room the other woman was still working in, without putting on any sanitary gear, into their shop and our eyes were in heaven. Literally everyone ooh’d and ahh’d as they saw endless wooden shelves filled with the cheeses. The guide encouraged everyone to shop but not to leave the farm until they went into the barns and played with the baby cows. I spend about $100 and do not regret it one bit. I bought a normal Gouda, one with garlic and herbs, another with chili peppers, one with whiskey, a smoked soft Gouda, a Parmesan and a set of cheese knives.
At this point it was still early so I checked into my hotel and searched for a movie theater. I fully intended on taking advantage of being toddler free! I ended up finding a theater in Amsterdam playing Brooklyn, a period drama set in 1950 Ireland and Brooklyn, NY as a young woman finds her place. I really wanted to see that movie so I was thrilled to find it showing with English audio and Dutch subtitles.
My impression of Amsterdam, however, was that it is not my cup of tea. It’s no wonder why they smoke pot there! The roads are so stressful marijuana might just be the secret to keeping a low stress level. The roads were not clearly painted, so determining lanes was a nightmare. Aside from car lanes there were bike lanes, trolley tracks, and bus stops IN THE MIDDLE of the street. No joke, to my right would be bicyclist, to my left a bus pulling up to a little island with pedestrians waiting, and on the other side of them traffic driving in the other direction over the trolley lines. I was so grateful to park. And that was different too. I had to put my license plate number in the parking machine so that the authorities would know which car was paid for, but I didn’t need to print a ticket to put in the window. It was weird.
I did drive past some truly stunning buildings, hordes of house boats, and the Heineken brewery, but all in all I was happy to just see my movie and get out of there back to my hotel 30 minutes outside the city.
One final thing I did want to share about driving to Holland is that it is so flat! I know I wrote about that in my blog on Hellevoetsluis, but I really noticed it this time. Once I got off the main highway the remainder of my driving was on roads with no shoulder or guardrail and waterways on both sides. You could see for miles nothing but flat fields and straight waterways. In combination with the slower speed limits and flat land I got an additional 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) on a tank of gas! It was quite relaxing.
Oh, by the way, Fil and Brock did great without me for the night, but were very happy to see me home :).