Amsterdam was the last port of call on this transatlantic sailing that we had visited before. Originally I thought we might not even do anything in Amsterdam, as we had spent several days there last time and had done everything I thought we wanted to do. That was before Stephanie remembered that the Netherlands are famed for their tulips, however, and it turned out that we were going to be there around the right time for their big show! We were a little late, but due to a colder-than-usual spring, the tulips were still blooming.
The place to see tulips is a botanical garden called Keukenhof featuring over 7 million blooming tulips. But taking a bus there is the boring way to do it, and we don’t do boring things. (Unless you count filing taxes. That’s pretty boring.) Instead, we took a train from Amsterdam about 15 minutes to the town of Haarlem. From there we rented bicycles for the 40km round trip to Keukenhof.
But before we could be on our way, we had to run the gamut of silly little problems of the sort that crop up when you’re doing something new for the first time. To begin with, the (somewhat brusque) bike rental guy couldn’t tell us how to get to Keukenhof, so it was off to a bookstore to buy a map of the area. Back at the bike rental shop, he then told us he needed a €100 cash deposit. Couldn’t you have told us that the first time, dude?
In no time at all we were on our way – to getting lost. We thought we were following the verbal directions we were given by several different people, but we kept going in circles. At least Haarlem is a pretty town! At last we found the road we needed, and we were headed south. The Netherlands take their cyclists very seriously, and we had two lane bike paths that were somehow routed to get around the automotive traffic circles without having to stop for any cars! We even had our own traffic lights. The best part was how often cars yielded to us. So different from some other places we’ve ridden.
The other nice thing about riding through the Dutch countryside is how pretty the scenery is. In addition to Downton Abbey’s stunt double of a house, we passed plenty of tulip fields. Because we were there so late in the season, most of the fields had been beheaded. It turns out that the bulb is the valuable commodity, not the flower. And so the flowers are chopped off the stems so the bulbs can be sold. Still, some of the tulips had escaped their fate, and were blooming prettily for us.
At last we arrived at Keukenhof along with some 30 tour buses, eleventy billion bicycles and what seemed like half the population of Beijing. Keukenhof, however, is so big (almost 80 acres) that it really didn’t feel all that crowded inside. The tulip displays were beautiful with so many varieties we had never even seen before. There was also an orchid display, a flower carpet and even a wind-powered windmill. Take a look….
Seeing the tulips in Holland was something that Stephanie has wanted to do for decades, and was really special for her. Even I found myself getting all excited about them. Not bad for a non-flower guy.
After retracing our bike and train steps, we found that we had some time to spare so, we thought we’d walk around downtown Amsterdam. Whoa! If we thought Keukenhof was crowded, it was nothing compared to Amsterdam itself. After about five minutes, we decided we’d had enough and headed back to the ship.
If you’re planning on visiting Amsterdam, let me offer you two pieces of advice. First, don’t go during the height of tourist season unless you like crowds of slow-moving people all following someone carrying a flag. And second, there’s something a bit fishy about the “Coffee Shops” they have there. As you walk past them, they smell less like fresh brewed coffee, and more like a Neil Young concert I once attended. Just sayin…