Touring Europe-Part 2

LODGING WE LOVE: Ibis hotels—we stayed in these often! good prices, clean rooms, and a front desk person (we really like hotels over apartment rentals/BnBs because of the front desk person. We’ve had a few mis-steps with Air BnB rentals … Continue reading

Keukenhof Gardens

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The weather couldn’t be better for a visit to the world-famous Keukenhof Gardens.  We got an early start to the day and drove west to the town of Lisse on the coast of Holland.  Row upon row of tulips are in bloom from late March to mid-May and the gardens is the place to see the spectacular combination of colors laid out in attractive flower beds.  We pulled into the parking area and right away saw friends from Hohenfels who had the same idea.  They come to Holland every Spring Break and they also commented on the fantastic weather this week.  We walked through the gardens at a leisurely pace and made sure to spend time at the children’s play area (with zip line) and the windmill which afforded great views of the fields that were still in bloom.  While we think the cut flower arrangements at Floriade were better, I can’t imagine a more delightful outdoor feast for the eyes than this place on a sunny spring day.

I AMsterDAM

Amsterdam canal

Amsterdam canal

After a restful sleep, we rolled out of our farmhouse late in the morning destined for Amsterdam.  Saskia recommended we park at the ArenA, a large parking/shopping area outside of the city with easy access to public transport. For 8euro, we were able to park all day and get a metro pass for all of us into the city.

We spilled out of Amsterdam Central Station near 11am with thousands of other tourists and made our way down to the canals for a boat cruise of the city. The sun was shining bright through big fluffy clouds and the 1 hour tour gave us a good overview of the city’s development and major architectural highlights.  I enjoyed looking at the different gables on top of the tall narrow homes that line the canals.

Our next stop for the day was the Dutch Resistance Museum (located near the zoo).  The focus of the museum is the efforts of the Dutch to combat the Nazi party during WWII.  Tim pointed out a special display devoted to Abraham Kuyper which included his copy of the Heidelberg Catechism and his personal Bible.  There were also quotes about the Christian Reformed Church in Holland (both positive and negative views) and its efforts to help the Jews.

The museum visit was a good preview before our visit to the Anne Frank house.  Will finished reading the book hours before our showtime (we bought tickets on line indicating a time slot to see the home) and he was an excellent guide for the rest of us who have a somewhat faded memory of the diary’s highlights.  In the book, Anne talks about how much she disliked the bells that rang from the church nearby and it was surprising to hear those same bells ringing at the 1/4 past the hour during our tour.   We were able to walk through the secret passageway that the famous bookcase hid (bookcase is still there and propped open) and we got to climb the steep stairs leading to the top floor rooms and appreciate how tiring it would be for your legs to make that climb day in-day out for 2 years. Otto Frank determined that the house should have no furniture in it when it was opened as a museum but in 2009 the historical society placed furniture in it and photographed the rooms so visitors could imagine what it would have looked like when the family was in hiding.

We finished our full day of touring with a Rick Steves Jordaan canal walk and a satisfying meal at the Pancake Bakery, an excellent restaurant featuring that Dutch treat: the monstrous pancake.  Will had a bacon pancake which came with thick slices of bacon baked in (we were expecting bacon bits) while Tim and Lauren ordered a traditional nutella pancake.  I was happy with my lemon and sugar concoction and Lilly was the big winner with the “animal pancake” which came with a brand new stuffed animal Tiger to take home and love.

Like Disneyland (without the rides)

The Dutch and their spectacular flowers

The Dutch and their spectacular flowers

Once every 10 years, Holland plays host to a horticultural extravaganza.  With the participation of numerous countries around the world, the little town of Venlo features Floriade, a huge exposition featuring enough flowers and scents to attract the most finicky of patrons.  We heard about this event from John Postma, my uncle who had visited it once before and he, along with CNN, declared it a “Must See in 2012!”

We arrived around 11am and zipped past what seemed to be a hundred tour buses dropping off their guests at the front gates; we remarked that there were relatively few children attending the event and of the adults, the majority were white-haired and walking very slowly.   Once we boarded our parking shuttle from the lot to the front gates we bought our entrance tickets and started exploring the grounds.

The first thing that hits you is the luscious smell…hyacinths are blooming right now and their purple and white blooms mix nicely with the vibrant colors of the tulips and give off an intoxicating scent as you walk the main promenade. The guides distributed handy park maps but we let the kids determine which direction to go and there was no problem finding pavilions to delight us. One of our favorites was the Green House which featured tropical plants including thousands of orchids and a 3D movie which presented the devastating power of floods.  (in 1953 Holland suffered a severe flood due to a failed dike)  Another great treat was “living like a bee” collecting pollen and nectar to make honey…the kids were given a digital clicker that collected points for finding the right clues (Lilly was our winner).

The park grounds are huge and there is a gondola available to whisk you from one end of the park to the other.  Of course, we hopped on and could see all the places we hadn’t hit yet on our visit.  We walked through buildings created by visiting countries that showed typical design styles as well as plants and vegetables native to those lands.  One of the best was the Chinese garden complete with meditating garden and paper screens dividing the rooms.

We concluded our visit with a walk through the flower showroom featuring arrangements of the most spectacular spring blooms. Chandeliers hung above our heads as we slowly walked the cobblestone paths laid in the middle of a fern grotto.  When we returned to our car, we were surprised to discover that 6 hours had slipped by.  Lilly boldly declared, “I love this place. It’s like Disneyland without the rides!”  The kids all agree we should make plans to return in another 10 years.