Stop and smell the tulips when you take a 'slow boat' through Holland
Travels with Deb
To get an introduction to this delightful city, take a guided walking tour and learn about its history, geography and culture. In the process, you’ll get a more complete picture of the Netherlands, a country bordering Belgium to the south and Germany to the east, with the North Sea to the north and west. Covering an area approximately one tenth the size of California, the Netherlands has a population of about sixteen million. Nearly one-sixth of the total area is covered with water. The Netherlands is the country’s official name, but most of the rest of the world call it Holland. However, Holland actually comprises only two of the thirteen Dutch provinces, North and South Holland. And the capital is Amsterdam, yet the seat of the government is in The Hague.
Water and trade shaped the history of the Netherlands and the nation is skillful at managing both. The 17th century was the country’s Golden Age, a time of great prosperity with a powerful navy ensuring protection for ventures abroad, and the formidable Dutch East India Company dominating trade in vast regions of the world. It was also a period of proliferation of science and art.
As you travel throughout the country, you’ll find Dutch people to be out-going, direct and socially conscious. They speak English, many fluently, and live in a place that is neat, tidy, has excellent public transportation, and where visitors can easily get around on their own. The majority of travelers, however, rarely make it past Amsterdam. On a European Waterways barge trip, you’ll discover the world outside this famous city. You’ll feast your eyes on a landscape dotted with quaint villages and vibrant towns, verdant meadows, pastoral farms, and of course, windmills! More than just a pretty face, these cherished sentinels are highly valued, not only for their photographic quality, but because they also serve as functional architecture.
If you visit the country in spring, as I did, you’ll have the added component of seeing the bulb fields bursting with color, while the heady scent of their intoxicating perfume wafts through the air. The Dutch love affair with flowers actually began during the 17th century when flowers were used to keep bad smells at bay. Today, the nation is one of the most important flower-growing countries, holding a ninety-two percent share of the world market for flowers.
Tulips, which are synonymous with Holland, actually originated in Turkey. The Dutch grew obsessed with them and the bulbs became highly sought after acquisitions. At the height of “Tulipomania” (1636 -1637), one bulb was equivalent to the price of a house in the best part of Amsterdam. Today, the flower is considered a quintessentially Dutch product with hundreds of varieties. Nowhere is this more apparent than at Keukenhof Gardens.
Visiting Keukenhof was one of the highlights of our barge cruise. Upon arrival in the historic city of Haarlem, we were whisked off to this beloved attraction. Known as the “Garden of Europe” the place is a delight for the senses. There are more than one hundred acres filled with over seven million flowering bulbs, including tulips, daffodils, crocuses and more. As you stroll through this breath-taking backdrop of color, you’ll gaze in awe at the artfully designed floral displays set amid a lush landscape of ponds, fountains and centuries-old beech trees. This year, the theme at Keukenhof was “Romance in Flowers” – very apropos – as after all the two are inextricably linked.