Sunday, 13 April 2014

tulip festival


I have never been laughed at more as last week on telling my family and friends I was going to visit the famous tulip festival. People from all over the world fly to the Netherlands to catch a glimpse of the tulips in bloom, but Dutch people, or at least the ones I know all thought I was absolutely mad.

It is, I discovered, decidedly uncool to visit the tourist highlights in ones own country. Especially the Keukenhof, which apparantly evokes images of - oh horror - wooden shoes filled and windmills surrounded by tulips. So what, you might think, but I must admit that not that long ago, I too felt that shuffling in amongst thousands and thousands of people just to look at some tulips, was not something I considered worth my while.
But then I was a right cow when it came to respecting my own cultural heritage. And while I would visit museums, monuments, gardens and nature reserves in various exotic places, I wouldn't want to be seen dead in a Dutch tourist hotspot like the cheese market in Alkmaar, the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, or the windmills of the Zaanse Schans, although in my eternal wisdom I did make an exception for the Van Gogh museum.
Living abroad for nearly a decade luckily cured me from such shallowness. Not overnight of course. On moving to England nine years ago, I still felt I couldn't really go and see stone henge, or book a boat tour on lake Windermere, let alone set foot in the Tower of London. So I opted to go visit the Isle of Man, hike in the peak district, see Durham cathedral, drink tea in Harrogate and walk along Hadrian's wall. None of which I would have missed for the world,but at the same time I think I probably would have enjoyed wandering around Harrods or gazing at Buckingham palace for that matter and I am sure the children would have loved to pull faces at the guards.
Some inner changing did take place however, during the years we lived in Manchester. I took up knitting (very uncool) and even told some people about it. I also spend hours looking at perennials in my local garden centre and bought a sewing machine. All very uncool, but I couldn't care less.
However, once firmly settled in Italy I became a right snob again and point blank refused to visit either Florence or Venice the first year we lived in Bologna. It took meeting a lovely French girl who systematically worked her way down a long list of things one simply had to see in Italy while one had those things on one's doorstep, to realise that actually she had a point.
When I finally managed to cure myself of my snobbish views on touristy things to avoid,  I absolutely adored our trips to Venice, Florence, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Verona and Milan. Armed with a travel guide, a camera, and wearing a hideous sun hat, I looked at every church, monument, view and museum there was to be had and loved it of course.
Our move to Switzerland got rid of the last bits of desperately only wanting to travel 'off the beaten track' (who was I kidding anyway?)So, Sharing a gondola with fiftiy odd Japanese tourist the see the Jungfrau ('roof of the world'), what a treat, boarding an historic steam boat for a tour around lake Lucerne, sure, driving out to Colmar to see the quaintest Christmas market in the whole of Europe, hell yes.
And now that I am back in the Netherlands I really want to see it all. Anne Frank's house in on my list, as is a trip to miniature Holland, an Amsterdam canal boat tour and the wooden clogs museum in Eelde (well that actually may be taking matters a bit far). But top of my list definitely is going to the Keukenhof, where every year for the past 65 years 7 million bulbs are planted to create the largest spring bulb flower festival in the world. To make the trip truly unforgettable I invite the one friend who I know will adore the tulips just as much as I will.
And so I find myself at the gates of the Keukenhof this Saturday bright and early. The weather is gorgeous, the vast majority of the tulips are in bloom, the crowds are, well the crowds, but even they can't dampen our spirits, because the tulips are absolutely stunning. So we walk and we walk and we walk, all the while talking about life (and tulips), ocasionally stopping for Dutch 'delights' like a Gouda cheese sandwhich or a big fat piece of apple cake. We marvel over the fact that  62 procent of all bulbs that are sold world wide are grown in a tiny corner of the Netherlands. Then we talk some more about life (and tulips) and when we can finally walk no more, we drive around the Keukenhof to see the bulb production in action.
Field after field decked out in vibrant purples, reds and yellows. And while we talk some more about life (and tulips), I all of sudden realise that for the first time since moving to the Netherlands I really, truly appreciate being back again. Who knew that taking a friend to see some tulips would make me finally want to grow some roots?