Experience Holland

Experience Holland

by Carrie Farrell
Stripes Europe

It’s as if someone took a box of crayons and let loose on the landscape. Vivid strokes paint the countryside with purple, yellow, orange and red. A multicolor patchwork covers the fields carving a path around windmills and streams all the way to Holland’s expansive shoreline. What I have described is Holland’s world-famous tulip season, when for a short period of time each spring fields erupt into a kaleidoscope of colorful blooms.

Tulip Time
From the end of March to the end of May, these oval flowers dominate the landscape. The tulip fields are everywhere. For an up close and personal view, enthusiasts can visit a “tulip farm,” which not only cultivates and houses a variety of tulips, but almost every flower and plant known on the planet. The most famous of these tulip farms is Keukenhof, located in the town of Lisse. The land where this botanical nursery is now situated once served as a hunting area and herb garden during the 15th century. Today, Keukenhof is dedicated to the preservation and evolution of a great number of earth’s botanical creations. Beneath arching trees, wrapped around ponds, statues and walkways, and within flower houses, Keukenhof supports fields and garden patches of everything from red roses to purple lilacs. Of course, the tulips are the highlight as they dominate the park in these spring months.

As quickly as the tulips first emerge through soil, they are just as quickly gone. The best advice to any Holland sojourner wishing to catch the tulips in action is not to hesitate since they begin to lose their luster toward the end of May. Visiting Keukenhof is a must for anyone who wants to see a concentration of tulips. But to experience the raw nature of these flowers, take the time to cruise the countryside in Holland where tulips spread out over more than 10,000 hectares of well-groomed farmland. Step out of the vehicle and stroll alongside one of these fields. Walking paths are fairly easy to come by and may even lead you to the base of a windmill.

Windmills and Wooden Shoes
Windmills can be found everywhere in Holland, but just like Keukenhof is to tulips, Zaanse Schans is an open-air conservation area and home for an abundance of Dutch windmills. This town and its surrounding countryside are packed to the gills with these iconic wooden giants and traditional 17th and 18th-century wooden houses that are sure to be a sightseer’s delight. And, just like Keukenhof, Zaanse Schans has become a popular mecca for those seeking to find the Dutch traditional way of life. The locals can often be found going about their day, dressed in traditional garb and sporting their famous wooden clogs, giving tourists a taste of Holland’s old-world culture.

While touring Zaanse Schans don’t miss the shoe-making facility where skilled craftsmen transform local wood into the unique and famed Dutch clog. They have the largest wooden shoe inventory in all sizes and colors imaginable. Clogs can be purchased natural, personalized or with painted Dutch scenes. No visit is complete without posing for a photo inside the giant wooden shoe.

Another tourist industry not to be missed in Zaanse Schans is the town’s cheese-making facility. Stacks of wax-coated cheese wheels entice visitors to taste these rich and delicious dairy products. Unique cheeses infused with herbs, spices and smoked ham make delicious gifts for friends and family. All together the Zaanse Schans represents an authentic piece of Holland.

Just north of Amsterdam, cheese is the star once again in the quaint town of Edam, whose signature cheese has become world-renowned. Edam sits on the coast of Ijsselmeer, a vast bay that empties into the North Sea. Charming cottages and lofty stone towers dominate the scenery in Edam, which is surrounded by water: the bay to its east, and a boat-strewn canal that winds its way along the outskirts of the town. Edam’s streets are lined with small shops selling flowers, including fresh-picked tulips, fresh cheese and nautical themed gift items that are a delightful trait of the Netherlands. Outside the town is a traditional cheese factory, along with a shoe shop that has its own abundant collection of hand-made clogs.

Seaside Fare and Culture
A quick jaunt from Edam is the picturesque fishing village of Volendam. A popular coastal hotspot, Volendam is full of Dutch clichés and is known for its bustling harbor.  It is among the few places in Holland where the inhabitants still don traditional Dutch costumes. Even visitors have the opportunity to suit up in folk dress at a number of local photo studios such as Foto de Boer and Fotoshop Volendam. Don’t forget to stroll along the dike and witness gulls as they dive-bomb the fishing boats moored in the harbor. Another must-see is the stilted Visafslag. Once a fish auction house, it is one of Volendam’s central landmarks, and defines the town’s architectural flare. Not to be overlooked, the area is dotted with a handful of notable churches. The aroma of baked and fried seafood fills the air. Visitors can indulge in the local cuisine at one of many seaside restaurants whose dining rooms afford guests a romantic view of the bay.

Across the water from Volendam is the island of Marken.  This isolated fishing village is reminiscent of the past, seemingly untouched by time. Marken has seen its fair share of flooding throughout the years. For this reason, houses were built on stilts and mounds that offer visitors an architectural treat. Marken also supports souvenir shops and seafood restaurants on its waterfront. Visitors can take a step back in time by wandering beyond the waterfront walkway to view picturesque neighborhoods right out of a postcard. Small and colorful fishermen’s cottages with wide and square window frames are surrounded by private gardens growing everything from tomatoes to tulips. Beyond the narrow town streets are the high-grass fields housing herds of plump sheep.

Holland is relatively easy to navigate through with well-marked signs and a straightforward road network. Whether you are a botanical enthusiast or just a leisurely traveler, there are many delights to see from tulip fields, quaint coastal towns, canals, bays and sleepy country roadways.

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