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Oh. My. God.

semi-overcast 15 °C

Saturday, 26 April 2014
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

It is fortunate for my peeps that I am typing this, because I am virtually struck speechless by the wonderfulness of this entire day! Today’s itinerary: Keukenhof Gardens, Amsterdam canal boat ride, and Rijksmuseum. I will try to do each element as much justice as I can, but it will be challenging in the extreme!

Keukenhof Gardens, which translates as “The Kitchen Garden,” was begun in 1949 as a way for Dutch bulb growers to showcase their products. (Interesting, gratis factoids about Dutch agricuIture: The Netherlands is the world’s second leading agricultural exporter, behind the United States. It is responsible for 80% of all bulbs, 70% of cut flowers, and 50% of potted plants, as well as 1/3 of all tomatoes and 1/5 of all apples.) Keukenhof Gardens is only open for two months out of the year (this year from March 30th to May 20th) and it is ALL ABOUT TULIPS. (Okay, they allow in other bulbous plants, like daffodils, narcissus, hyacinths, and amaryllis, but tulips are the dominant species.) According to the little book I bought (of course), it takes a staff of 30 gardeners three months to plant the over 7 million bulbs, all by hand. And there are no carry-overs from last year: the plantscape is dug up and destroyed each summer and replanted again starting in September. To ensure that there is a constant parade of blooms for the two months that the garden is open, the gardeners use a method that they literally call “lasagna gardening:” they plant the bulbs in three layers, with the bulbs that take the longest to flower going in at the bottom, and those that flower the quickest at the top. Et voila: constant bloom for two months!

This is the part where I would typically have a description of the day’s adventures. I will try, but this is where there are no words. It is pretty much something that must be seen to be believed. We boarded the motorcoaches this morning at 8:00 am, which actually put us at the garden before it officially opened at 9:00 am (TOTALLY a Burch family standard time move…I approve.). The ever-efficient Tauck guides handed us our garden tickets and turned us loose. Nine o’clock must be a soft opening time, because they let us in the gardens as soon as we got there, which totally accommodated The Plan. Per The Plan, we walked all the way to the back of the gardens, where the model windmill is located, so that we could get a look at and take pictures of the tulip fields—long, uninterrupted swathes of one color of tulips. Breath-taking! From there, we power-toured our way through the gardens (we only had 2 ½ hours total, and per The Plan we allocated 45 minutes for shopping). And when I say power-toured, I mean pushing old ladies and Japanese tourists out of the way power-touring! It was crowded when it opened, and progressed to mayhem as the clock ticked nearer to noon. Ay-yi-yi! However, there was simply too much good stuff to see: tulips of every color and variation, including double blooms, pointed blooms, striped/variegated blooms, fringed blooms, and the color combinations were stunning and sometimes surprising: deep purple planted next to coral orange; snow white interspersed with blood red; yellow and purple; purple striped with white next to white striped with purple. The combinations are too many to name. Everywhere you looked were thousands of tulips. Or sometimes daffodils, or hyacinths. And then there were the pavilions. In one of them was a special show of orchids. I went in a little jaded, having been to the orchid spectacular at Longwood Gardens. This one was just as awe-inspiring—while the Longwood show has exemplars of more (and more unusual) species, this one had simply thousands of orchids, arranged on multiple levels. There were also some bromeliads, including anthuriums. In another pavilion, they had a show of spring flowers, including traditional bulb flowers, hydrangeas, lilacs, and azaleas. In a third pavilion, there were little tableaus that featured flowers in some fashion. Several of them were scenic backdrops of Amsterdam or other locations in The Netherlands, and when photographed in front of them, you look like you are actually there! All of them were adorable. I promise I will put up pictures when I get back to the Land of High-Speed Internet.

It was getting to be about 10:30, so we started pushing our way through the crowd back to the location marked “Bulb Information” on the map, figuring that would be the place to order bulbs. Not so much. Instead, they had exactly what they advertised: information about how to get a bulb from a seed, and how to plant them. For some reason, none of the staffers we passed could tell us how to get to where the bulb selling actually transpires, beyond, “It’s back that way.” So we went “back that way.” So we fought our way through the throng to the bulb sale, which was surprisingly uncrowded. It was pretty neat, too: they had a huge pictorial catalog of varietals to choose from (now THAT was overwhelming—how do you choose which of over a hundred varieties of tulips that you like best?), and it also included daffodils, hyacinths, etc. Fortunately, they also had “collections” (assortments) that were grouped by them—that did make the shopping somewhat easier. I was very disciplined in my bulb shopping—the landscaping crew in my development generally cuts down anything they didn’t plant, so no bulbs for me! Julie will basically be starting her own bulb farm next fall, however! (So if she calls you about helping her with her gardening, you have two choices: RUN or pack a lunch!) It was getting to be about 5 minutes until 11:00, so we powered our way back to the main gift shop—this would be where I literally pushed a couple of old ladies out of my way, since walking four wide across a three-foot sidewalk seemed to them to be the height of fun. Ugh. Anyway, we made it back to the gift shop and I was able to pick up a couple of books and some postcards, but sadly no 2015 calendar for my office. Guess I’ll have to stick with another Longwood calendar.

We made it back to the bus with about 5 minutes to spare, which was needed since literally hundreds of buses had shown up after we arrived. The Tauck directors were standing in the road with signs directing us! From there, it was back to the ship for lunch (spaghetti in the Bistro Bar or lamb in the main dining room…the proof will be left to the reader as to which one I chose).

Shortly after lunch, we boarded open-air canal boats for our ride to the Rijksmuseum. Why no motorcoaches, you may be wondering? Well, it turns out that today is King’s Day in Amsterdam. The streets (and waterways!) are THRONGED with people drinking, dancing, and celebrating the first King’s Day since The Netherlands became a constitutional monarchy—prior to this, they’ve always had queens and celebrated Queen’s Day. As a result of the legally-sanctioned anarchy of the day, many of the streets around the city center were closed to traffic, so we went via the water. This turned out to be an absolute blast. I am trying to think of a way to adequately describe this party to you. The best I’ve come up with is Mardi Gras crossed with a drunken frat party crossed with an LSU tailgate and on boats! We passed boat after boat after boat, jam-packed (well beyond their Coast Guard safe occupancy limit) with people wearing all manner of weird orange shirts, leis, boas, and hats, listening to music, drinking, dancing, and smoking. And maybe a few of those cigarettes could possibly be purchased legally in the United States, if you get my drift.

The Tauck directors were REALLY nervous about this part of the itinerary, afraid we would not be able to make it to the Rijksmuseum because of boat traffic on the canals. We were much more sanguine about it, especially since they gave us dessert while we sailed. We were all having a jolly good time waving to all the crazy people on boats we passed, and even on the streets and bridges. And they were all so drunk they waved back! (And by the way, did you know that you can pump up the bass on the stereo system on a boat so that it rocks the other boats around it, just like a car? Hell, some of these boats even had a DJ! And there seemed to be no qualms about drinking and boating—in the States, the jails would be stacked three deep after what I witnessed this afternoon.)

The canal boat company had assured Tauck that they could get us to the Rijksmuseum using the “back canals,” and they were as good as their word: we docked right across the street from the museum at 5 minutes to 3:00, and our appointed tour time was 3:00 pm. They divided us up into groups and sent us out with expert museum guides. Our guide’s name was Pauline and she was FASCINATING! She took us directly to the good stuff, the Dutch Old Masters on the third floor of the museum. None of this messing around looking at Egyptian artifacts or Victorian furniture! After being closed for 10 years (10 years!) for renovation, the Rijksmuseum reopened last year. Supposedly, Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” is the only painting still in its original location, but what a location: at one end of a long hall filled with paintings from the Old Masters like Vermeer, Hals, and Rembrandt himself. And it is a HUGE painting. In fact, it used to be even bigger, but when it was too big to get through the door of where it was to be originally hung, and they cut off some of the sides to get it to fit! One interesting thing Pauline told us is that there are only something like 30 Vermeers known to exist because Vermeer had a regular job working for the city of Delft and could paint as a hobby. Rembrandt and Hals, on the other hand, were “bread painters”—they painted to pay the bills—so their output was much more prolific. Hals could paint to order, say if you wanted to be taller or skinny, he was happy to oblige. Rembrandt, on the other hand, would only paint you as you truly appeared, and would typically depict you as a biblical personality. For example, he painted himself as St. Paul, and his son Titus as St. Francis of Assissi. She also taught us quite a lot about the symbolism in Old Dutch Masters—for example, a small stove in the corner or depths of a painting meant the subject was loved or in love, since a stove gives warmth. (Don’t ask me to explain it—as every English teacher I ever had will tell you, I have an inherent mistrust of symbolism.) I’m not much for Old Masters, but Pauline’s explanations really helped bring the paintings to life!

After the tour, it was a whirlwind spin through the gift shop (and that was a pity, since it was truly an excellent one), then back on the boats for our return to the ship. It was at that point that we became a party barge, too: out came wine, kegs of beer, Coke, chips, cookies, peanuts! They were prepared for boat gridlock, but it never materialized—we made it back to the ship by 5:45 and were ready for the Captain’s farewell toast at 6:30!

After dinner, Julie and I finished up our packing. I was concerned that my suitcase was a little…um..weighty because of all the books I purchased, so I walked up to reception to ask Jeremy, our wonderful cruise director, if he had a luggage scale. No, he didn’t not, but he is a calibrated lifted! He came down to our cabin and pronounced us both under the 50 lb limit. (Regardless, I’ve got the books where I can get to them easily if I have to pull them out and put them in my carryon at the airport…a girl has to be prepared!)

Tomorrow we will be transferred to our hotel around 9:30, then Julie and I have tickets to the Van Gogh museum. Should be lots more wonderful art tomorrow, and I can take as long as I want at the gift shop! Love to all from Party Central!

Posted by hidburch 13:32 Archived in Netherlands Tagged amsterdam keukenhof_gardens rijksmuseum king's_day

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