Amsterdam, the largest city in the Netherlands and its capital, is known as a liberal city, with its red light district and its lax laws regarding “soft” drugs like marijuana. But it is the cultural and financial center of Holland and a fascinating city, with its influx of Indonesians in the later 1900s and then immigrants from all over, reducing the native Dutch population to about half the 851,000 total. Amsterdam is one of the most culturally diverse cities in Europe.
The city has 60 miles of canals and historical homes that date back to the 17th century. The home where Ann Frank hid from the Nazis is probably one of the most famous tourist draws. The others include the Van Gogh Museum, though Van Gogh did not live in Amsterdam for long; the Rijksmuseum, which contains some famous Vermeers and Rembrandts; and the Stedelijk, which features modern art and design.
The city is also probably home to more bicycles, or at least bicyclists, than I’ve ever seen. Every weekday morning, a parade of cyclists goes down the street, however cold the weather, and the streets have special lanes and even streetlights for bicycles. The small cars, so common in European cities, share the roads with the cyclists and the streetcars, which are by far the easiest way to get around the city.
The Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh and Stedellijk are all located in the Museumplein. The Rijksmuseum, in one of the historic buildings, anchors the Museumplein, which is something of a city center. My favorite, of course, was the Van Gogh museum, which features Van Gogh’s famous Sunflowers as well as the very special painting for his brother’s newborn sun, the Almond Blossoms, a lovely painting with a blue background and white blossoms.
Locals enjoy the large law and the pond with pots of tulips that seem to float on the surface like lily pads.
But the most popular local draw is somewhat outside the city, and that is the Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse. The gardens, open from March to May, have been operating as a showcase for the tulips industry for almost 70 years now and are such a huge tourist draw that tour companies have sprouted up to support it. Taking a tour bus in is the best way to go, though some folks cycle in–though you can’t ride in the gardens.
During the bus ride, a tour guide provides helpful background not only on the gardens, but on the city and the historic importance of the tulip bulb to Amsterdam. When you arrive at the gardens, after passing by some of the tulip farms, you’ll find a parking lot full of tour buses. Once off the bus, you’re on your own, but Keukenhof features several indoor pavilions that showcase certain aspects of tulips growing as well as the financial history of the bulb. Given the time of year, however, dress warmly!!
The gardens feature the flowers of 7 million bulbs, planted in careful plots that wind all over the gardens, past ponds, trees and shrubs. Tulips arrived in Holland in the 1500s from Turkey. (The word “tulip” comes from the Turkish word for turban.) The bulbs started a mania that peaked in the 1630s. Huge amounts were being paid for some of the bulbs by speculators; one story I had was that a home could be bought with a single bulb, though that could be apocryphal since I can’t find any support for that anywhere. But at any rate, like all bubbles, this one burst in 1637 when folks could no longer afford the crazy prices.
Now, tulips are just beautiful to look at, and Holland’s sandy ground is hospitable to their growth.
The lawns, trees and shrubbery around the tulip gardens provide a nice backdrop and rest for the eyes from the brilliant flowers.
One the drive back, you can see the many tulip farms, which grow tulips for the market and more importantly, bulbs.
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