Contrary to popular belief, not all women are partial to flowers. I am one such exception. Apart from two white flowers – tiger lilies and white cymbidiums – no other flower, however resplendently packaged in a bouquet, catches my eyes. We were therefore expectedly not looking forward to visit The Keukenhof despite much hype amongst our group mates. Little did we expect ourselves to be in for a pleasant surprise.
The Keukenhof, the world’s largest flower garden located near Lisse in The Netherlands, opens annually between the last week of March and mid-May. During its opening, stunning displays of blooming tulips and horticultural mastery greets hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world. It is sometimes also aptly called the Garden of Europe.
We started the day inhumanly early – at least it was so for me – hoping to be one of the earliest groups to reach The Keukenhof. Granted, we were one of the earliest, but there were already another 10 or so tour groups ahead of us, judging from the number of coaches at the parking bays. I wondered how early they woke up and set off to reach this early? Encouraged instead of being disheartened, we joined the rather long queue with much gutso.
I was barely awake when we finally got through the barricades and stepped foot onto the legendary garden park. Borrowing lyrics from one of Bryan Adam’s songs – I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven, for Keukenhof is what I would envisage Heaven to be, blasphemous as it may sound. We were blessed in many ways: the weather was rather good, with only slight manageable drizzles, if anything; the park was still not overwhelmed with crowds early in the morning; we were enchanted by the carefully preened florae; and oh, how could I forget the captivating tulip bulbs in every imaginable hue in the vast fields adjacent to the park.
I’m a convert, but only for tulip bulb fields.
The park is huge by any standard, and as we were slowly making our way back to the entrance cum exit of the park, our attention was captured by an enthralling act of a peacock courting a peahen. And a rather rare species of a white peacock, to boot!
Alas, the peacock’s advances was snubbed by the arrogant peahen, which chose to ignore him throughout the courtship ritual that dated back to ancient times. Alright, I have to admit we don’t know much about peacocks and the likes. Perhaps the pair adjourned somewhere else to continue their rendezvous, away from prying eyes. We left not knowing what happened next.
If you intend to make a trip to The Keukenhof, time it earlier rather than later during the season. We were there in mid-April and it was perfetto: the flowers, while not in their full glory, were showing the first signs of blooming. Do take into account the general climate in Europe when deciding. For example, if it was a warm winter, then spring would likely be warmer too, resulting in the blooming occurring earlier than usual.
Following lunch in Amsterdam, we proceeded for our canal cruise. Barring my need to visit the restroom (but refusing to use the one on the boat!) and feeling rather motion-sick after a full lunch, it was an enjoyable and leisurely tour of Amsterdam. We sighted some really delightful self-contained houseboats along the way, and wondered what it would be like to live in one.
Several drawbridges were also sighted during our canal tour. A pity there weren’t many tall vessels requiring the bridges to be drawn, for designing bridges was decidedly one of my favourite modules in college.
The Netherlands, also mistakenly referred to but widely accepted as Holland, is the world’s first producer and exporter of tulips although they were first imported from the Ottoman Empire (now known as Republic of Turkey). Amsterdam is the capital of the country, and the large number of canals found in the capital has led it to be called ‘Venice of the North’. With almost 25% of their land lying below sea level, it’s little wonder that the Dutch are famous for their bridge-building and technical know-how in water management. They have honed these skills to perfection for survival, more than anything else.
Soft drugs like cannabis are legal in The Netherlands, and only licensed “coffee shops” are allowed to sell these drugs. If you are a Singaporean and is thinking of trying out these drugs while visiting The Netherlands (or anywhere in the world, for that matter), I beg you to think twice. Singapore takes an unwavering firm stance where drugs are concerned – be it for trafficking or for personal consumption. But of course, the penalty for the former is much more severe than the latter. Even cannabis tested in a random urine test could get you imprisoned, and it is common knowledge that it takes a while for drugs to be totally cleared from your system.
The infamous Amsterdam Red Light District has also somewhat become a major tourist attraction. One contributing factor, I conclude, is its close proximity to Amsterdam’s Centraal Station (10 minutes walk, and no spelling error there). The later it is, the busier the area gets. If you so wish to see the prostitutes plying their trade in the famous little windows, otherwise known as ‘window-shopping’, you know to be late rather than early. However, do not attempt to reach for your camera for it is forbidden to take photos in the district. Should you be spotted to be doing so by any of the girls’ bouncers, you would be escorted out of the area and your expensive toy thrown into the canal. Ouch!
After a unanimous vote of confidence from the whole group, we proceeded to Volendam for our dinner of Fish & Chips. I have little recollection of the quaint little town for it was raining so heavily we thought a flood was impending. I was also nursing an extremely bad cold. Bad weather with a cold combined: a sure-proof formula to bring on my surliness. I was the most disagreeable person to walk the surface of earth, if you had asked the mister that evening.
Needless to say, I was dreadfully grateful to have finally reached our hotel for the night. We were flying off to London the next day, but I left all the outstanding packing in the trusty hands of the mister. In my delirious state, I couldn’t even tell a toothbrush from a hairbrush, much less pack.