That was about to change, in a big way.
The Keukenhof Gardens are just outside of Amsterdam in the town of Lisse, which should be known as Tulip Town.
Talk about flower power, the area is filled with commercial bulb producers, so as we rode in on the bus the sun lit up a patchwork of scarlet, violet, and gold in the fields of daffodils, hyacinth, and tulips that surrounded us in every direction.
It Started in the Kitchen
Keukenhof means kitchen garden, and that is how the gardens began, as a plot of herbs and vegetables for the Countess of Hainaut’s castle.
From those humble roots grew Europe’s largest flower garden.
Each year millions of bulbs are donated by the local growers and arraigned in a theme.
This year the display opens in late March and the theme is The Golden Age of the Netherlands.
Through the latter half of the seventeenth century Holland was a world leader in arts, science, trade, and exploration.
This was also the period when the world discovered the tulip and the flower became a symbol of the country.
For the celebration, in addition to the six to seven million bulbs throughout the gardens, Keukenhof has planted one hundred thousand of those bulbs to form a mosaic depicting Dutch trade across the seas, and the canal-side houses of Amsterdam from that era.
Since the blooms last just a short time, the garden is open to the public for only eight weeks each spring, so once again our timing was impeccable. Oh wait, perhaps Viking Cruises planned it this way.
Yeah, that’s probably it.
Channeling our Inner Van Gogh
On our visit last year, the motif was Vincent van Gogh, or as our guide pronounced it in the native tongue, van Gzchogqkthgh.
We must say she really put the phlegm in Flemish.
In keeping with that annual theme, the main exhibit featured life sized creations of some of van Gogh’s famous works, and visitors were encouraged to step inside the art.
There was no way we were passing up a chance to be in a van Gogh painting, so we jumped in with both feet.
In the center of the garden there is an enormous greenhouse with an astounding array of every possible color of tulip we could ever imagine.
As we gawked our way through the rows, it was not only the variety of hues that struck us as phenomenal, but the assortment of sizes and shapes as well.
Tulips ruled the day, but there is an impressive selection of daffodils and other bulb flowers – many with multi-colored blooms.
So many varieties that we spent the better part of an hour just going from one display to the next examining all of the possibilities and combinations.
These non-tulip blossoms seemed to be even more plentiful outdoors.
The tulips outside of the hothouse were not quite in full swing yet, but the others, which bloomed a little earlier, were at their blossoming best.
Getting Above it All
In the back corner of the garden we found a couple of Holland’s most recognizable symbols, a windmill and a giant wooden shoe.
Had there been a slope and some snow, the shoe could have easily served as a bobsled, but on this sunny spring day we opted for a photo op instead.
The windmill is authentic, dating back to 1892, but came from over a hundred miles away in Groningen.
With its pumping days behind it, it has been made into an observation tower. We climbed up, not only for an aerial view of the grounds, but a bonus look at the fields of flowers surrounding them.
Tulipmania – The First Stock Market Bubble Burst
Our final stop in the garden was a permanent display called Tulipmania.
The exhibit provided a quick look at the history of the flowering bulbs, especially the incredible market bubble that occurred early in 1637 known by the same name.
People around the world went absolutely crazy for the flowers and prices skyrocketed.
By the time prices peaked, a single bulb was selling for ten times an average worker’s salary. While it is hard to compare today’s dollars with seventeenth century guilders, that was easily over one hundred thousand dollars.
With prices like that people really must have been doing some serious tip-toeing through the tulips!
A few months later, the bubble popped.
The value had fallen so hard that the people who had lost fortunes in the craze were eating the bulbs to keep from starving.
We’re happy to see that things have balanced out a bit.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
Thanks to Viking River Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure through the tulips and windmills of Holland and Belgium with stops in Amsterdam, Kinderdijk, Antwerp, Bruges, Veere, Hoorn, and Arnhem.