The world-famous tulips bloom in Holland for only a few weeks each year. This weekend, we decided to drive up to the coast of Holland to view the flower fields and gardens in peak bloom and also to embrace the new spring weather. We got a bit ahead of ourselves on the change of seasons, as the Netherlands are notoriously cold and windy, but we braved the chilly April air and headed north from Luxembourg Friday evening.
On Friday night we arrived in Leiden, the main university town in the Netherlands, so that we would be close to the famous Keukenhof gardens for opening time early Saturday morning, before the bus crowds from Amsterdam arrived. Upon our entry into Leiden, we were impressed with the row houses lining the canals, like a miniature version of Amsterdam. Now that we have been to the Netherlands a few times, we have begun to realize that water is fully integrated into the country. People actually take their boats to dinner, to work and to run errands. The town of Leiden was holding a long distance running race Friday evening, and we arrived to hordes of people who just completed the run. We were surprised that entire families ran together, even little kids. People of the Netherlands are on par with Californians in terms of healthy eating and passion for fitness while other countries in Europe have some catching up to do. Outside of Leiden, the drive though Holland's farmlands was spectacular.
We woke up early Saturday morning and headed to Keukenhof Gardens, also known as "the Garden of Europe". There are millions of flowers, row upon row. There are more than a thousand species of tulips alone. It all started as the castle kitchen herb gardens of a wealthy countess. The gardens, along with the neighboring flower fields, are open only six weeks a year during peak bloom. We arrived at opening time and headed through hundreds of specialized flower patches to climb up the original 250-year old windmill.
We wandered through highly designed Japanese, traditional English, Dutch and Chinese gardens. As a welcome break from the wind, we ducked inside vaulted greenhouses filled with thousands of other flower varieties, Before there were roads in the Netherlands there were dykes, and many Dutch still use them to get around. We enjoyed taking the small boat through the flower fields to see the country's biggest industry in full force. We cruised past blooming flower fields with stripes of alternating neon color patched crops. We were both astounded by the variety and colors of all the flowers.
After our boat ride, we were surprised to stumble upon a petting zoo. We chased baby pigs around a pen, watched a peacock spread its feathers and, the best part, we got to play with newborn baby goats. As expected, there were a few kids, mostly Chinese tourists, chasing the baby goats around the pen, but for some reason the goats were very attracted to Erin. They climbed up in to her lap while one chewed her floral dress the other sucked on her hair. Like Daenerys, mother of dragons, for 5 minutes Erin become Daenerin the mother of goats. After visiting with the goats, we picked up a stroopwafel, which is a delicious wafer-thin warm, crispy waffle sandwich with a thin layer of syrup in the middle. We enjoyed our snack as we hit the road to drive along the Bloemen Route, which runs through Haarlem and Leiden and features a remarkably dense concentration of flower fields, featuring tulips, hyacinths, narcissi and daffodils. It was a once and a lifetime experience to see the thick stripes of brightly colored fields running as far as the eye could see, sprinkled with windmills.
After getting our fill of the spring flowers, we headed about an hour into Amsterdam, which has turned into one of our favorite cities in Europe. We parked near the train station and headed to our hotel to drop our bags. We wandered down pedestrian-only streets, up and down canal bridges and through parks. We've visited three times now, and each time we visit there are more and more crowds. Despite the chilly weather. many people were eating at outdoor cafes whose tables lined bridges over the canals. Since there is a much more significant Asian population in Amsterdam than in Luxembourg, each time we visit we try to take advantage of the food and culture. We enjoyed Thai massages in the afternoon and then got a last minute reservations at one of the best, most famous Indonesian restaurants in town for dinner.
As Indonesia was once a Dutch colony, there are strong Indonesian connections throughout Amsterdam, none greater than the rijsttafel. The rijstaffel translates to "rice table." It's an elaborate meal adapted by the Dutch consisting of many side dishes served in small portions, accompanied by rice prepared in several different ways. Forty is not an unusual number, but we split 15. Dutch colonials in Indonesia liked the rice table as they could enjoy a wide array of dishes ranging from mild to mind-numbingly spicy and also to impress visitors with the abundance of the Dutch colony. We got the last table at a tiny, 8 room restaurant owned by a Dutch-Indonesian family. We enjoyed tasting each small course reflecting a variety of textures - each one increasing in degree of spiciness. This was one of the best meals of our lives. Rarely in a meal do you get to enjoy so many flavors and textures, and it was a dinner we will not forget. Our mouths were burning all night, so we cooled off by walking the streets of Amsterdam, people-watching and viewing the leaning, 17th century buildings.
We woke up Sunday morning, took a walk around town, and scarfed some veggie omelets to prepare us for our next challenge: an all-Dutch (no English), legit muay thai bag class at one of the best muay thai gyms in the world. Erin felt intimidated, but Dave taught her to count in Dutch in advance so she could understand the instructor when he called out numbers to signify various combinations of punches, knees and kicks. The gym was dirty and well used, and Erin was a little grossed out about doing push ups and sit ups on the sweat-soaked mats, but we got through the intense warm up and enjoyed an hour attacking a punching bag with a variety of strikes and calling out responses to our teacher in Dutch. We didn't understand all of the words, but we made an effort to fit in. After dripping with sweat, we moved on to the mixed gender changing room - which grossed Erin out a bit more - and then hit the road to head back to Luxembourg.
The blooming tulips in Holland are definitely a once-in-a-lifetime sight to see, made all the better by the limited blooming window and the all-time dinner we had in Amsterdam. Next week we'll get our first tastes of Munich and Salzberg.
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