The drive of a lifetime…. To see the flowers of Holland, the tulips in full bloom…. I love flowers, it’s carpe-diem time, baby! But, would it be a good time and which way would we drive to see the most? Of course, I did some online research and found (on National Geographic) “The flowers reach their climax, of course, in April and May, when Holland offers Europe's quintessential spring drive.” and also (from Holland.com) this: “The best spot on the planet to tiptoe through the tulips is in full bloom this month at the Keukenhof Gardens in the Netherlands. Some 7 million flowers -- many of them tulips -- turn this 80-acre field into a sea of color each spring. The gardens, outside the Dutch town of Lisse, are only open from March 19 to may 21.” So, tulips, March to May, right? April 4th sounds just right.
We told lots of folks we were leaving (including a native Hollander) and everyone said it was a great idea. We left almost on time Friday night at around 5pm, spirits and expectations high.
We ended up making poor time (9 hours) on the drive over and didn’t stop until around 2am. Since everyone in our family is usually asleep by 10:30 on a late night (including adults) this was a bit of a challenge! But our adrenaline, always high at such moments, pulled us through. We then transformed the car into the camper it was probably never meant to be. Amazingly enough, I then actually slept for 5 or 6 hours! Yes, I was cold, and woke up a few times, but I was able to rest, and the kids (after their initial adjustment) were fine. Here we are in the morning.
We got a bit lost next and ended up having quite a bit of stress, I started having flashbacks to our last day in Holland which involved literal wailing and gnashing of teeth. For some reason this post on Aalsmeer flower market, is lost in cyberspace. Too bad since it was such an amazing place.
I felt like I really needed to see those tulips as soon as possible. We were here, where were the flowers???? The tantalizing daffodil sign of DELFT was just a teaser… I asked in the rest stop where we slept – they pointed us in an obviously wrong direction. We asked directions from bikers (who are everywhere in Holland). They were encouraging about our goal but didn’t seem to know the roads all that well. (Guess they don’t need to) We next tried to buy maps in gas stations (they didn’t have any) and followed small confusing signs to seaside villages which were rumored to have giant tulip fields. Holland is just not easy to navigate, if you ask me! Frustration rose higher and higher and blame started to mount on both sides. I got a bit friendly with a couple of bikers when we were wandering through Leiden and I asked one local: “Why, in the name of all that is holy, is there no sign with a big arrow saying “TULIPS THIS WAY”?!?!? One nice thing about Hollanders is that, besides being really friendly, and having a great sense of humor, they speak perfect English. My new friend laughed as he informed me these signs don’t exist. I said that they damn well should and he said he’d lodge a complaint with the government. Somehow, I don’t think he was serious. Maybe I should do it…. how much would it cost for a few signs and posts???
I do think the frustrating getting lost experience was good for us in one way. We managed to eventually find our way and didn’t end up screaming at each other OR crying hysterically. The depths of maturity we are now achieving is simply amazing, right? This whole European adventure is making me grow so much as a person. The kids, as usual, were troopers, enjoying the occasional windmill spotting and random flowerbed. “Look Mom! Flowers!” (Yeah, I know, but I’m going for something a bit more…. impressive, shall we say?)
And then, it happened. At the side of the road, a field of flowers! Yes they were ‘only’ daffodils- but take a look:
Daffodils? Lovely little yellow things, right? But let’s face it, daffodils (jonquillle in French) can’t hold a candle to tulips…. or can they??
So, seizing the moment within the moment (WARNING: this is an advanced practice and should only be followed by seasoned adventurers such as ourselves) we pulled over on the side of the highway, made our way over the bridge and had our picnic breakfast smack dab next to the flowers. It was absolutely freezing so we couldn’t stay long. See all those greenish brownish areas behind the daffodils? (shows best in photo with 3 kids) That’s what we had been seeing up until this point – and we were getting pretty depressed. We headed back to the car, filled with renewed hope that somewhere, soon, we would find our flowery, tulipy fields. The next interesting thing we did see was a roadside stand selling tulips and other flowers. Again, my heart rose and indeed, I saw the first tulips growing, but only random ones, tucked amongst some daffodils, no fields!
We traveled onward, passing dozens of yellow fields. Everywhere it was the same, daffodils accompanied by dirt brown or barely green neighboring fields. Early blooming tulips? Nowhere to be found. The truth, hinted at heavily before, began to be inescapable. Where have all the flowers gone? Isn’t this Holland????? It seems, sadly, they aren’t gone, they just haven’t grown yet. We had a cold spring and, frankly, it was too early for tulips. That’s right, we may have seized the day, but it was utterly the wrong day to seize. Shoot me now! We were so disappointed! (OK, André and I were disappointed and the kids couldn’t tell a tulip from a tuberose) We journeyed onward even stopping at another daffodil field that was quite amazing. It had 3 or 4 different varieties of the yellow lovelies. This stop even had some daffodils growing in a wood by the side of the road that I let the kids pick. I figured no one was going to harvest those loners so it would be ok. I did wonder how they got sowed there. My working theory is that bulbs sometimes must fall out of pockets during potty breaks. When we stopped we could see the green shoots of broad tulip leaves peeking out from under the hay. Early bloomers? They were, crushingly, introuverable! (See, I am starting to think in French, or at least franglais!)
We went onward towards Amsterdam and kept our eyes open. We passed lots of beautiful flower beds and resplendent public parks. We also saw a field where some clearly local workers were handpicking some flowers that seemed to be green. It was funny for me to realize that I have never seen non migrants doing the picking before in my life! I always knew, if you paid them enough, locals would do these jobs. I think I would like picking flowers – if they paid me well and I got to keep some flowers for free (but not green ones).
Lastly, we saw some beautiful blue flowers (above center) and a field splendid with crocuses. Crocuses are André's favorite flower, and he was very happy to see so many in bloom. If we had come a few weeks later, for the tulips, the crocuses would have been long gone as would the daffodils.
I don’t know why I was so dumb. I mean, how could I have thought that the tulips would be ready so early? Daffodils don’t mix with tulips, never have, never will. Just last week I was starting to tell this sad tale to a new acquaintance. I started out by saying, “So, I went to Holland last weekend to see the tulips.” Before I could go on, she interrupted saying: “But wasn’t it way too early for the tulips?” Why, oh why, didn’t I meet her sooner? And what’s with the bikers and convenience store workers in Holland who kept pointing us onward toward non-existent tulip fields? Is this a national conspiracy to milk tourists dry? I guess hindsight is always 20/20, right? Now, as I search deeper, I find this (three clicks away on holland.com) “April is the best month for daffodils, May for tulips.” Hmm….
Strangely, I now am grateful for what we saw. Some year, I will have a reason to return. I still dream of someday seeing, in real life, those legendary rainbow fields.