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Amsterdam & Lisse, Holland

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Amsterdam (Netherlands), seaport and principal city of the western Netherlands, in Noord-Holland (North Holland) Province, on the IJ (an arm of the IJsselmeer), near The Hague (den Haag) . Amsterdam is the country's constitutional capital, The real seat of government, however, is in The Hague. Amsterdam is divided by more than 80 km (more than 50 mi) of canals into about 90 islands joined by about 400 bridges. Almost the entire city rests on a foundation of piles driven through peat and sand to a firm substratum of clay.

A Canal Bridge in Amsterdam



The Keukenhof, an 80-acre park in Lisse about a half-hour from Amsterdam, that once served as the garden for a royal estate, has been delighting springtime visitors since 1949, when Holland's bulb growers decided that they needed display fields where they could show off the true beauty of their flowers to maximum advantage. It proved to be a good idea. That first season, a quarter of a million visitors came, and by 1994 the number of annual visitors had grown to 900,000 (two-thirds of them from outside Holland). It's easy to see why. It's impossible not to be delighted by this breathtaking rainbow display of six million tulips, narcissus, hyacinths, and other flowering bulbs. Tulips (almost 1,000 varieties) comprise one-half of the total plantings, ranging from pale white to the almost black "Queen of Night," and including the lily-leaf tulip, with its pointed leaves and special fringed-leaf and double-edged varieties. New bulbs are used every year so that garden displays, designs, and color combinations can be changed. Some of the gardens are themed according to color, fragrance and style.

The Lilly Pond At The Keukenhof in Lisse
The Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse

We visited the Amsterdam area twice; once in April 1992 on a family bus tour, and once in April 1993 where Lynn and I returned to the Keukenhof tulip exhibition by ourselves. Most of my notes pertain to the first bus tour of the area.....


April 1992 - Holland

April gave us spring in Europe, so we decided to take a trip to where spring is a major attraction; Holland. We took a "family" bus tour of Amsterdam and Holland to see the spring tulips and other attractions. The bus tours are hectic but relaxing at the same time. We left the Stuttgart area around 9PM on a double-decker bus (guess where the girls wanted to ride - they got their wish), and everyone "slept" on the bus the first night while we drove. "Slept" is in quotes because you don't really sleep on a full bus, you sort of doze. We arrived in Utrecht (a city in the middle of Holland) at 5:45 AM for breakfast! From there we went to a wooden shoe factory to see how the shoes are made, and of course they gave us ample opportunity to buy souvenirs and the like. Audrey got a real pair that fit her and everything (at least they did then). Megan and Lynn opted for decorated ones that hang on the wall or gather dust on a table or shelf.

From the shoe factory we traveled into Amsterdam city to visit the Holshuysen-Stoeltie Diamond Factory. We didn't buy any diamonds, though there was ample opportunity. They ushered us all into a viewing room, and while they took out rack after rack of diamond rings, large friendly door guards made sure that no-one left the viewing room. There must have been 2-3 million dollars worth of rings out on the counter at one time. Amazingly enough, a fair amount of people bought stuff.

After the diamonds we visited the miniature city of Madurodam, outside the real city of Den Haag (The Hague). Its an entire metropolis built to 1/25th scale, so the two story buildings came up to your knees, and the giant cathedral was shoulder high. We didn't have much time there, but it was quite fun. From there we went to the city of Lisse to see the annual flower parade. The lamp posts along the streets of the city were decorated with huge baskets or buckets of tulips and iris, and the store fronts had wall-mounted flower sprays on them. The parade started out with a bunch of "official" cars with what looked like funeral or casket sprays on the roofs and/or the hoods of the cars. Just those arrangements alone must have cost hundreds of dollars. There were also trucks and even tractors with these enormous arrangements on them - kind of an odd combination.

Then came the bands and the floats. If you go to this parade you have to like the smell of hyacinths because that's what the floats were made of. These floats were HUGE - curb to curb and 20-30 feet long. From what we could tell they were fully as big and as elaborate at the floats you see on TV at the Rose Bowl Parade. Hundreds of thousands of flowers gave their lives for THIS parade!

After the parade we toured the Franz Roozen Bulb Nursery, where we could order bulbs of any kind and have them sent anywhere in the world for planting in the fall. This was a living, walk-through catalog. You took your order blank, and wandered through the indoor and outdoor gardens, and ordered from the hundreds of kinds of bulbs, all in full bloom. Beyond the edge of the walking garden you could see the bulb fields; acres and acres of tulips in full bloom, as far as the eye could see, almost. It was spectacular to see.

Finally our first day was over, and we drove to our North-Sea beachfront hotel in Zandvoort, north of Amsterdam. It was a beautiful hotel which would have cost us a fortune if we had been on our own, but because we were with the tour, it was included in the tour price. My guess is that one night for four in the hotel would have cost more than the entire tour cost us!

Sunday morning saw us off at 8:30AM after an early breakfast. Our first stop was at the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, where Anne and her family hid for 2 1/2 years before being captured by the Nazis. It was a moving experience to walk through the attic and see the actual rooms. Her actual diary is on exhibit there, and you can buy translations of it in over 35 languages in the gift shop.

From there we took a glass-covered boat tour of the canals of Amsterdam, seeing the city from a different perspective. Our boat guide gave the tour in four simultaneous languages; Dutch, German, French, and English. Must be nice to be able to do that! Our next stop was to the Keukenhof (coy-ken-huf) - known as the greatest flower show in earth. This place was truly amazing. It was the most beautiful bulb garden we had ever seen. It was actually a large park rather than a "garden," with walking paths, and benches, and restaurants, and a pond with a fountain in the middle. There are more than six million bulbs planted in this one park, and it was spectacular. We had exactly one hour to see it, so we grabbed hot dogs for lunch and literally ran through it to see as much as we could see. I'm sure we'll be back to see it again. Because of the seasonality of tulips, the park is only open during April and May of each year!

Our final stop on our whirlwind tour was at the Delft Porcelain Factory to see how the world-famous Delft Blue China and porcelain was made. We bought a small plate to hang on the wall as a souvenir. We finally rolled in to Stuttgart around 12:30AM Monday morning, tired but happy. It was quite enjoyable for me (Gene), since I often am doing all the driving on trips like this, and this time I got to see stuff out the window just as much as everyone else. We saw a lot of scenery, including more tulips than I could ever imagine, and a lot of Dutch Windmills, and thatched roofs on fancy houses in the city, and lots of canals. We all had a great time. We're already planning our next bus trip; maybe a week in Italy and Spain!

23-25 April 1993

Lynn and I drove up to Heerlen on Thursday with Dan and Joe because we had a business meeting on Friday. Lynn came and spent the day Friday walking around Heerlen, while the three of us attended the meeting. Dan and Joe took the train back to Stuttgart that afternoon. We stayed at the Hotel de la Station, across from the train station. On Saturday, there was a World Class bicycle race in Heerlen, so the street was blocked off for a while, but we finally got out of the city and headed for Lisse and the Keukenhof.

We arrived around 10am, and spent the entire day in the park, looking at things and enjoying the flowers. There really is nothing else like it in the world, I am sure. Sunday, after a leisurely start, we headed home to Stuttgart via Belgium, with a stop in Brussels. The route home took us through 5 countries (Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, and Germany), and we did it all on one tank of gas!!




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