The Netherlands: Day 4 – Den Helder

In September of 2009 I wrote a short blog post about how much I wanted to live in Europe.  (Oh how I laugh when I read my old blog posts! Dramatic much? I imagine that in six years I’ll read this blog post and laugh too.)  This is what I wrote.

I am intrigued by the tulip fields in the Netherlands. I am intrigued by a great number of European places and interests. I want try it out.  I want to experience Europe. I don’t mean I want to take an intense ten day vacation across the Atlantic to see the Eiffle Tower and Swiss Alps. I want to live there.  I want it so badly. I can’t explain it but I just want to get to know the people. See things differently. Ride the Eurorail and eat cheese all the time.
Speaking of cheese, I want to sort out all the stereotypes. I want destroy preconceived notions. I just want to be someplace foreign. But not just anywhere.  I’m not sure why I don’t feel this way about Africa or the Asian world. I’ve been to South America now and while I feel there is a great deal to learn from those folks, it is Europe that my heart longs for.

I posted this picture of the Dutch tulip fields, and from then on I became obsessed.  

When I planned our trip to the Netherlands I did (what I thought was) extensive research to make sure our timing would be right.  April, April, April was what I found.  This worked out perfectly with the Easter holiday and it all came together really nicely.  

On our second day in Holland, at Efteling, I noticed a large rotunda full of tulips.  The unfortunate thing was, they were only about four inches tall.  My heart sank.  Tulips aren’t like most crops, they don’t germinate and blossom on an approximate timetable calculated at planting.  They are bulbs, planted months or years before, so they grow and blossom on Mother Nature’s timetable.  To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.  I was devastated.  I had to take a deep breath and hold out a glimmer of hope just to continue to enjoy our time at Efteling.  

Sadly, the next day in Amsterdam my suspicions were confirmed, and I realized that there wasn’t a tulip to be found in the Netherlands, except the little wooden ones sold at tourist shops.  

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The upstairs windows that opened up out over the street.

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The view of the street. Since it was Easter morning we could hear church bells chiming all morning long and it was really lovely.

Sunday morning, Easter morning, dawned with the most glorious blue sky, I couldn’t help but feel my spirits lift.  We decided to take the drive up north like we had originally planned and just see the coast and enjoy small Dutch towns.  

We packed up a lunch, and lots of Easter candy and drove up north.  We talked about going to Keukenhof gardens, a world famous Dutch garden that I’m sure would have knocked our socks off, but it was really expensive.  We decided to just drive to it, check it out and see what we could see, but the traffic queue to get there was a complete standstill so we just kept on driving.  

Eventually we got to a place where I could see the tulip fields.  Once again, my heart sank.  I could just IMAGINE what it would look like in full bloom.  It was interesting because someone told Richard that if it was a warm spring to go in March, and then we heard from plenty of people that if it’s a cool spring you don’t get to see the tulips until the last two weeks of April.  It would have been impossible to know for sure when they would bloom. 

Throughout the rest of our drive both Richard and I grieved a little bit about what we were missing and how amazing the northern part of the Netherlands would be in two weeks.  But now we’re sounding a bit spoiled, so I’ll turn on my optimism and say that the remainder of the day/drive was beautiful.  Especially the daffodils.  
In addition to daffodils, we saw many canals and bicycles and windmills.  It was really relaxing, the sun was shining and I feel like we got a really good taste of the north country.  It was a nice Sunday drive.  
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Richard and I joked that wind turbines were probably a pretty easy sell to the Dutch people. They were everywhere.

We stopped in Den Helder, on the coast of the North Sea, to eat our lunch.  It was windy (per usual in Holland, it seems) but sunny.  After we ate we walked down to the water. 
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These guys were eating in the car because there was a dog running around that kept trying to steal their sandwich.

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That’s a seal. I didn’t get my camera out fast enough but we watched it for a minute swimming along the shore.

After lunch we turned off the sat-nav (that’s what they call a GPS here) and just drove along the coast and began to work our way south again.  Late in the afternoon we stopped at a park and let the restless kids play.  
After the kids were sufficiently worn out we drove the two hours back to The Hague and our apartment and made it just in time to make some dinner and watch the Sunday morning session of conference live, 6:00pm Holland time.  (Cooking from an apartment has been a major budget saver and stress reliever while traveling.)

Despite its disappointments, the day turned out to be a nice celebration of Easter and family and this life, that I’m really living in Europe.  

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