In autumn 2016, we went to Amsterdam for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves despite the chilly weather. For most of the year, it sat among my top three favourite destinations (it was subsequently unseated by the heavyweights of Iceland and Lapland later in the year). This April, we returned to catch a totally different season and discover gorgeous vistas outside of the city.
To get some of that stereotypical windmill action, we caught a train from Amsterdam Centraal to a small town called Zaandijk. It’s immediately obvious that the town is a tourist magnet and it’s difficult to imagine a local population living with all these people trooping past snapping photos of their homes and gardens. The town was almost like an open museum which made me think perhaps no one lives in the houses?
The cute cottages, neatly tended plants, mini white fences and adorable tiny bridges are a fairy tale come to life. Sheep, ducks (with ducklings!) and swans seemed to enjoy a good life there, irrespective of all the visitors. Windmills swooped casually overhead to our collective delight and as the sun set, I felt relaxed surrounded by boggy farmland, the river and those funny-shaped structures.
As much as clogs and windmills are stereotypical of the Dutch, an obsession with avocado originates with us antipodeans and forms an integral part of most of our brunch-filled lives. Earlier in the year I read about a place called The Avocado Show that opened in Amsterdam, although I didn’t think I would have an opportunity to go there myself. Turns out, I did! With the leisurely pace that comes from visiting a city for the second time, we waited more than an hour for a table at this popular spot for the young, hip, Instagram-obsessed, blogger crowd. The food was delightful (it was all avocado, how could it not be great?), and we even tried avocado sorbet and ice cream. This was of course, an indulgence and if you’re a traveller short on time, there are many icons of Amsterdam you would be better off visiting. My belly had no regrets in any case.
The whole reason for our trip was to check out Keukenhof Gardens – the modern-day home of tulips. My favourite flowers, far above all others, are tulips. There was no way we were leaving Europe without checking out this famous garden. World-renowned Dutch tulips originate from Turkey where they were imported from back in the 16th century. During the ‘Dutch Golden Age’ they grew astoundingly in popularity. In a remarkable example of economics at work, tulips became so popular (and expensive) that they created an economic bubble sometimes referred to as tulip-mania. I always like to a nice backstory to insert into conversation!
At Keukenhof we had a day of tulip ecstasy; walking through 32 hectares (320,000m2) of flowers that included 7 million tulip bulbs, featuring a staggering 800 varieties. The gardens are immaculately maintained and arranged in eye-catching collections under the shade of sweeping trees. A lot of the tulips were larger than you would typically get in the shops, and several had a frilly edge to their petals which I had never seen before. It was a colour bonanza.
After wandering the gardens, we tested our patience waiting in line for a bike to ride through the tulip fields. I’m not a confident bike rider (as I discovered in Bruges), and there were some embarrassing moments when I nearly crashed into people or inanimate objects. I’m a bit of a danger on a bike, but the fields were so pretty. It’s an impressive sight to have rows of block coloured tulips stretching out before you. If we had come earlier in the season, there probably would have been even more bulbs in the ground. If you’re not a tulip-lover like me, it’s still worth checking this out because it’s such a stunning display of horticultural dedication.