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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
I spent five nights in Holland in March 2017 visiting the bulb fields, Keukenhof gardens and some of the small towns to the north of Amsterdam.

Itinerary

We have been talking about visiting the Dutch bulb fields for years - after all it is easy on the overnight ferry from Hull. Somehow, it never reached the top of the list. I decided it was about time I went. I was tied to dates when the family were on holiday (grandparenting duties). I started googling companies and itineraries. I eventually decided to go with Saga having decided theirs looked the most interesting itinerary. It was a river Cruise in Rex Rheni.

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As well as a full day at Keukenhof, it also included a visit to Zaanse Schans Open Air Museum, the reconstruction of a C16th Dutch Trading ship as well as time to explore some of the smaller towns. They also offered a choice of flights from regional airports as well as the Channel Tunnel or ferry.

It is the first time I’ve used Saga and I was impressed. Catering for the 50+ market, they really do know how to take care of you.

I had a comfortable cabin, food and drink were excellent as were the three Saga reps on board.

DAY 1
I had an early morning flight from Manchester Airport, so booked an overnight at the Radisson Blu Hotel in the terminal building. It was a 15 minute walk next morning. A Saga rep was waiting in the Arrivals Hall at Schiphol Airport to meet the people on local flights. As we had several hours before boarding our river cruise boat, Rex Rheni, we were taken on a trip through the bulb fields to the seaside town of Noordwijk. It was a cold dull day in mid March and ‘bracing’ hardly begins to describe it. Rex Rheni was berthed in Amsterdam but relocated to Beverwijk that evening.


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DAY 2
We spent a wonderful day at Keukenhof Gardens before rejoining Rex Rheni at Zaandam. These are the show piece of the Dutch bulb growers and 7 million bulbs are planted each year. They are only open for eight weeks each year so go get very busy.

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DAY 3
There was an optional visit to the open air museum at Zaanse Schans this morning. Old houses, workshops and windmills from the area have been rebuilt here. After lunch, Rex Rheni sailed across the Markermeer and the Krabbersgat naviduct to Enkhuisen where we moored overnight.

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DAY 4
A free shuttle bus was provided to Hoorn in the morning. After lunch, Rex Rhenni sailed across Markermeer to Lelystad. An optional excursion was organised to Bataviawerf to visit the reconstruction of a C16th Dutch East India Company trading ship.

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DAY 5
Rex Rheni sailed from Lelystad back to Amsterdam, docking at lunchtime. We had a free afternoon to explore Amsterdam or join an optional tour.

DAY 6
Departure and transfer to the airport for my flight back to Manchester.

It was an interesting itinerary and I enjoyed myself. Unfortunately the weather was cold and dull most days which meant many of the pictures, especially at Zannse Schans, were disappointing with a Breughel quality. The Rex Rheni was solely chartered to Saga and there were just over 100 passengers. I was thankful I’d opted for the flight option as people who had travelled by the Channel Tunnel or ferry had found it a long journey.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Impressions of Holland

Netherlands and Holland tend to be used interchangeably. This is inaccurate as the country is the Netherlands and Holland is just one of the 12 provinces making up the Netherlands. We were based in North Holland, which is north west of Amsterdam.

Flying into Schiphol Airport makes you realise just how flat the Netherlands is, with 26% of the land below sea level. Vaalserberg, the highest point at 323m is at the southern tip on the borders of France and Germany.

This is a land of dykes and canals with small white bridges across them.

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Amsterdam with all its canals is often referred to as the Venice of the North.

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The land is very fertile with open fields with few hedges. Trees grow along the sides of the roads and act as shelter breaks around farms. In the north are the bulb fields, brightly coloured in the spring with every colour imaginable.

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Nearly every family has a boat, moored in front of houses or tied up in marinas.

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The bicycle reigns supreme and there are over 700km of dedicated cycle lanes along the main roads. In towns and cities, cyclists have priority over pedestrians. Many people have two bikes. Bikes do get stolen, so they use an old bike for work, keeping their more expensive bike for weekend use.

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The road network is good and Holland really understands the concept of an integrated traffic system with links between rail, trams and ferries, as can be seen at Amsterdam Railway Station.

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The Krabbersgat naviduct is the world’s first naviduct and was built between 1995 to 2003 at a cost of €55million, to link the Markermeer and the IJsselmeer. Previously difference in the water levels between the two caused by wind surge limited traffic between the two and caused long traffic delays. Water levels between the two are now managed and the canal carries shipping above the road.

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Older houses were made of wood and typically painted in black or green. Many still survive in the smaller towns. Later houses were built from brick.

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Many of the buildings were constructed on reclaimed land which is unstable as well as wet. Houses were built on wooden piles driven deep into the ground until they reached a solid layer of rock, firmer sand or compacted clay. Some of these are now beginning to rot resulting in subsidence and some of the houses beginning to look decidedly out of true. In the C17th and early C18th houses were deliberately built with the front of the house leaning forward. One suggestion for this was that it facilitated the lifting of goods up into the attics.

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In the older parts of the towns and cities, modern architecture is carefully designed to complement the old.

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The Netherlands was the country of the windmill with over 10,000 windmills designed either to lift water or to grind cereals, oil seed or to produce pigments for paint. Now there are less than 1000 left. The windmill at Keukenhof gardens must be one of the best photographed although the inside has been gutted. One of the best collection of working windmills can be seen at Zaanse Scans, which has six working mills.

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Eleanor

1000+ Posts
The bulb fields


The Netherlands produces about 60% of the world supply of bulbs.These are a popular tourist attraction with many people visiting the Netherlands in the spring to see the bulb fields.

Tulips were imported into Holland from the present day Turkey in the C16th where they were particularly popular in the court of Suleiman the Magnificent. The Austrian Ambassador brought back a collection of bulbs and seeds and gave some to his friend the botanist Carolus Clusius. He took his collection of tulips with him to Holland when he fled from religious persecution in Austria. The bulbs thrived in the Dutch climate.

Carolus Clusius wrote the first major book on tulips in 1592. They became so popular his garden was raided and bulbs stolen on a regular basis. Tulips rapidly became a status symbol, and tulip mania began, with variegated or frilled varieties commanding the best prices. Bulbs were sold for enormous amounts of money, often while they were still in the ground and before they had flowered. They could often pass through a series of hands with the price increasing at each sale. Everyone was desperate to cash in on their popularity and property and family jewels were traded in exchange for tulips. Bulbs were commonly traded for more than ten times the annual income of a skilled artisan. The record price of 10,000 guilders was paid for a single tulip bulb in 1637. The bottom suddenly fell out of the market in 1637 when speculators could no longer afford the cost of the bulbs. Many of the population were left financially ruined. The tulips slowly regained their popularity in the C19th. The Netherlands is now one of the largest world exporters of tulips.

Today bulbs are grown commercially, particularly in the northern provinces of the Netherlands where the sandy clay soils and maritime climate provide optimum conditions for their cultivation. As well as tulips, hyacinths, daffodils and narcissus are also grown. The bulbs are planted in long narrow strips to allow machinery to run between them. Fields are irrigated using water from the surrounding dykes.

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Most of the growers are bulb producers rather than growers supplying the cut-flower market. This means the heads of the flowers are removed so all the plant’s energy goes into producing more bulbs rather than seed production. The petals are left to be ploughed back into the soil.

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Once the leaves have died down, the bulbs are lifted and dried. The largest bulbs sold and the smaller bulblets are replanted in the autumn to produce bulbs for next year.

The process can be seen in this youtube of Maliepaard Bloembollen, who is one of the largest tulip growers in the country.


MY FULL REPORT WITH ALL THE PICTURES CAN BE FOUND HERE.
 

TourMama

10+ Posts
Eleanor - thanks for an interesting and informative report. We visited Kukenhoff in the mid-70s, at the height of tulip season, and I still remember the riot of colors we enjoyed there -- brought back to mind by your photos. It sounds like your Saga cruise was an ideal way to see some of the country, too.

Thanks again for sharing this experience with us!
 

Chris

500+ Posts
My thanks as well, Eleanor! This is a great report, full of interesting details. I've been to Amsterdam in the spring three times, and although I loved Keukenhof, I was more fascinated by those strips of intense color in the tulip fields outside the gardens.
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Keukenhof Gardens

I have to admit I also preferred the bulb fields to the more formal splendour of Keukenhof Gardens. These are the show case of the bulb growing industry and over 7 million bulbs are planted every year and they are very photogenic. The gardens are only open for eight weeks and do get very busy. Plantings are redesigned each year with a different theme.

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As well as tulips there are crocuses, daffodils, narcissi, hyacinths, crown imperials...

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Some beds are planted with two or three different varieties, so that when the early blooms start to fade, they are replaced by a fresh display.

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At the end of the flowering season, the bulbs are dug up and destroyed, with most being used as food for livestock.
 

Colo

500+ Posts
Contest 2019 Winner!
Eleanor,

Thank you for all the wonderful pictures, and I look forward to quietly reviewing your link to the full trip report.

We have traveled many places in the would and I am frequently asked where would you like to live. My sweetie will say Italy, Spain, or Greece, but without hesitation I will always say the Netherlands. It is still my favorite place even in February. What makes the Netherlands so special to me? The people are more beautiful than the tulip fields. Once again - thank you
 

Eleanor

1000+ Posts
Very often if you have been wanting to do something for years, the reality doesn't live up to teh expectation. This cetainly wasn't the case here - the bulb fields were even better than I'd imagined and the flowers at Keukenhof wonderful.

The Dutch are lovely people and have such a sensible attitude to live too. Their standards are very high and I was struck by the lack of litter , vandalism and graffiti. Life doesn't seem to be ruled by the motor car either...
 

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