Sunday 13th of May by CarpediemEire
If Japan has its Sakura in Spring then Holland’s colourful equivalent is surely its tulip fields. Today was the day when I would realise that ambition to find those fields of bloom.
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We awoke early again on the third day of our trip and after a quick breakie, we grabbed all the necessary things for the day: car charger, driving licence, passport, and that weird magnet thing I use for the phone, and we were out of the hotel. Yes we were renting a car. Our 24 hour travel ticket was still valid so we took metro line 3 to Cebtraal Station and from there train on to Schipol.
Arriving in Schipol we followed the instructions calling for a pick up. After 15 minutes of waiting I realised I suffered a blonde moment, I wasn’t looking for a gold car, but a Goldcar Van. Which was white.
The van took us 20 minutes away on the motorway, and after receiving the car, a Ford Focus, I promised this was the last time I would use Ryanair car hire. The car was an automatic (which I had never before driven), there was no snag list despite all the bumps around the car, and it later emerged that there was a strong smell of fumes from the engine. Ryanair had enticed me with 50% off but I should have known better. I’ve always booked through Rentalcars.com, and they have served me well. Shame on me.
Finding it difficult to find somewhere to put my idle left foot, we made the short drive down to Lieden. We had intended to have coffee there but having parked we couldn’t find a cafe to our liking. It’s a pretty canal side town, and as we drove around the town and out, we noticed some beautiful areas such as the Huigpark, but that lust for caffeine kept us moving.
Our first planned stop of the day was to the Keukenhof Gardens. These tulip gardens are one of the worlds largest flower gardens, with over 7 million flowers on show. Not sure who does the count, but an unenviable job. It only opens in spring for 8 weeks of each year.
We had bought the tickets online the day before for €16 each and €6 for parking. Not cheap but there is an amazing amount of work put into the maintenance here. The gardens are divided with structures in each corner each dedicated to different exhibits.
Our pre-purchased tickets allowed us to skip the queue and we made a beeline to the restaurant located in the Beatrix area. Those cappuccino tasted so good after along wait and they helped wash down the unplanned pepperoni pizza slices.
The park is best strolled at a slow pace, admiring the varieties of flowers on show and the complex arrangements. We found the indoor sections not to our liking, it wasn’t what we came for. So we only visited the Willem-Alexander and Oranje Nassau ones. Peaceful small canals dissect the park, and are crisscrossed by quaint bridges. Highlights of the park are:
- The beautiful mill which can be entered and gives good views over the tulip fields beyond from its l balcony.
- Navigating the maze to climb the watch out tower for more views.
- There is an optional boat ride out into the tulip fields but the waiting time was over 2 hours.
- The formal gardens surrounding Oranje Nassau, with fountains and beautifully tended shrubs
- The romance gardens and delft blue garden
- Strolling and getting slightly lost amongst a cacophony of colour.
In search of tulip fields
Leaving Keukenhof behind, now was finally the time to go in search of those tulip fields. I had used a rough non-scale map in an Eyewitness travel guide to pin point where they were on my google maps. The roads N226 and N444 were earmarked as good viewpoints so off we headed in that direction. They aren’t far from Keukenhof and we were glad of the freedom of the car. We had considered booking a bus tour, but I dislike how restrictive they are. They proposed a 5 hours stay at Keukenhof. We were there for 2. The cost for the 2 of us was more than the cost of the car with full insurance. Albeit not the best car.
It didn’t take us long to find our goal. A large multi-coloured field loomed on our right and after a quick switch back over a canal on to a minor road we were there. The colours challenged those of a rainbow, purple, yellow, pink, red, and white shades. We spent some time getting shots here and walking simply admiring the beauty. I tried to capture my idyllic photo but it wasn’t to be found here. Some of the tulips were still a little young.
We pushed on further and another large field presented itself on the left. This time the tulips were fuller, but the field was not as iridescent as before. Still beautiful nonetheless. We kept driving and admiring the fields and our route took us up the N444. This is all an idyllic part of the country, the canals clear and the houses well-tended. It appears affluent. We stumbled upon the village of Voorhout, a town of perfect country houses whose back gardens opened to a canal and moored boats. A little envy set in as I peered at this slice of perfect Dutch life.
We made the decision to return to the hotel. The Hotel Arena had underground parking for guests, priced at €3 per hour, or €30 for 24. I left the car there for the day, the security giving me peace of mind.
A local stroll
I went for a wander into the local Amsterdam Oost area. I wandered a little aimlessly at first admiring the Tropenmuseum with its onion domes and the Royal Tropical Institute and before passing the zoo and aquarium. Giving myself a goal I set off in search of the De Gooyer Windmill. As with any walk in Amsterdam it took me down canals lined by photogenic houses and finally I arrived at the windmill. It is the tallest wooden mill in Amsterdam at 26 metres high. Originally built in the 16th century it had a number of deconstructs and constructs before ending at its current location. It last served a purpose as a working mill during food shortages in World War II. It’s still a magnificent sight and an architectural anomaly in Amsterdam. After a quick coffee in a nearby stylish vegetarian cafe called Spirit I returned to the hotel for a short rest and refurb before we went our for the evening.
We took the metro back into the city, alighting near the Westerkerk, so we could admire its tall steeple. It was about 8pm but the city was already coming to life. This was the evening of Kings Day, and tonight Amsterdam would party. A large outdoor LGBT party was organised in the shadow of the church. We began a hunt for a restaurant and by the time we got to Dam Square we decided to consult our phones. Not particularly enamoured by Dutch food, we looked for the always faithful Italian. Restaurant Gusto emerged victorious. This was a quaint Italian with excellent waitresses and decent cuisine. Servings weren’t huge, so we both had caprese salads and beef ravioli. The house special Pasta Parmigana was expertly prepared at tables by the waitress and done so with good humour. Always good to watch expertise at work. Returning to Dam Square we undid our day of healthy walking with chocolate covered churros.
With the night that it was we ventured on a mini pub crawl through the red light zone. The area was vibrant tonight with revellers and as expected the windows and doors of the area served their particular purpose. It was good to soak up the atmosphere and we visited a few bars. However our opinion of the area was solidified when we visited a peep show. It certainly wasn’t we expected and we both left horrified. I’m no prune but it wasn’t for me.
We enjoyed our last night in Amsterdam. It’s a lively city that sparks into a different life come night. Something I’m certainly used to coming from Dublin. We returned to our hotel for a night-cap, another day of driving awaiting us on the other side of a sleep.
Day 1 – An introduction to Amsterdam
Day 2 – Exploring Amsterdam
Day 4 – A day trip through Holland