It was a sunny Tuesday evening. There were waves of wind rolling through the feverish red tulip fields. All the tulips seemed to point their heads in the same direction: that of the big hall at the end of the lane. There were chills running down my spine of pure excitement. In less than an hour I would walk into that hall and dive behind the scenes of the flower parade only to come out again three days later. I had a hunch, an idea, of the amazing creations I would find there, but wasn’t prepared for the things I would see.
A new home in keukenhof area
Last years I’ve been going through the area around Keukenhof by bike and each year I discovered new places, hidden treasures. I’ve never been in this hall or behind the scenes of the Flower Parade in the Keukenhof area. As soon as I enter the building, my jaw drops and my eyes open wide. Spread throughout the hall are enormous objects made out of the kind of foam you want to pinch your finger in to see if it is as fluffy as it looks like. All kinds of building constructions are made around it so the volunteers are able to reach the higher parts easier. There are crates full of hyacinths, orchids, daffodils and tulips and boxes full of staples are waiting to be used. Above all there are volunteers walking around everywhere and there is music and a place to sit and have a drink. Even though this hall is huge, all these things add up to a relaxed atmosphere and give a very homey feeling.
Who is the flower parade winner?
But, don’t let appearances fool you. There’s a lot to be done. While I’m touring my English, Dutch and Russian (?!)- speaking groups around and tell them about the history and the making of this 69th edition of the 2016 Flower Parade Bollenstreek, there is a competition going on. All the floats and flower arrangements and decorations have to be done before Friday morning. The volunteers, all from different associations and clubs in the area, work day and night to finish their project. Every part of the float has to be perfect, because besides fun, every team also hopes to win the first prize. So, the teams are definitely under pressure, which can be sensed in the air, especially Thursday evening, when the deadline comes closer.
A Shower for the flowers of the parade
On Friday everything is done, all construction is gone, everything is cleaned and the last preparations for the Flower Parade are being made. The air is literaly being cleared, as fire men spray the floats with water to freshen up the flowers. Hopefully all the flowers keep their fresh look for the next few days. That very evening the floats pass through Noordwijkerhout, on Saturday morning they leave Noordwijk and the Flower Parade finishes in Haarlem, where all the floats can be admired one last time in the city center of Haarlem on Sunday.
Till next year. A new edition , a new episode of behind the scenes of the flower parade.
A big thanks to all the volunteers for having given me the opportunity to enjoy and become not just a tulip maniac and a Keukenhof area fan, but also a Flower Parade (over)enthusiast.
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You planned a spring holiday in the Netherlands. Everything packed: sunglasses, travel guide, tank tops. You made a little plan: visit Keukenhof, see a bit of Amsterdam, maybe an authentic Dutch village, something like Volendam or no, make it Zaanse Schans. Great! You’re good to go. Then your plane touches ground in Amsterdam Airport, you get out and….uff, it’s terribly cold! And…it’s raining! Well, here’s an alternative day program that will still get you to Keukenhof.
A fresh start of spring in Holland. Outside it’s still rather cold and…where’s the sun? When it comes to the temperature spring really has to warm up, but nature is ready for it. Just take a look outside and see the new born lambs curiously looking at the young tulips, daffodils and hyacinths. The start of the season brings excitement, some people even get a bit stressed when they see spring has come. Here are my 7 favourite spring events in the Netherlands
Tip 1: Easter on the Beach
Easter is one of these spring events in the Netherlands I wouldn’t want to miss out on. There are lots of activities being organised. When I’m not on a bike showing you and your friends how amazing the Dutch countryside is, I enjoy my Easter brunch on the beach. The real tourist season starts in the Easter weekend. Weeks before Easter the beach is inspected and levelled. The beach boulevards are full of trucks offloading material. Right after the beach is prepared, the beach restaurant owners can set up their restaurants. In the Netherlands cafes and restaurants can only be found on the beach between March and October. This means that every year before Easter the owners have to set up their beach restaurants again. Just to be able to welcome me & you for an Easter brunch. Isn’t that great?
Tip 2: Blossoming Fruit Trees, Asparagus and Bike Races
Another part of the food sector depends on good weather. Every year the fruit and vegetable farmers anxiously wait for the results of the season. Apple-, cherry-, peartrees are not only useful for their fruits, but also for their blossom. Walking trails take you through picturesque fields full of fresh, scented flowers. But, besides walking there is another option. Known all over the world, a typical Dutch activity is cycling. As spring is also the start of the cycling season, many regions in the Netherlands offer arrangements, excursions or routes for the cyclist. Cycling routes go through areas full of blossoming trees, or later in the season through fields of fruit, where farmers give you the opportunity to pick your own fruit or make an arrangement so you can take a picknickbasket and have a picknick in the garden.
Next to the fruit farmers I mentioned the vegetable farmers. Which vegetable am I talking about? The asparagus! Strawberries, the delicious fruit of the season are often linked with the “white gold”. Asparagus are mainly cultivated in the region Limburg, the region in the south of the Netherlands. Here they can also prepare these tasty vegetables in many different ways and a meal doesn’t even have to cost much. And, while you’re at it, try some of the Limburgian wine ( yes, Limburg also cultivates its own grapes).
For the cycling fanatics, it is also the season in which bike races start. Limburg, with its Dutch mountains is also the ideal place for bike races such as the Amstel Gold Race. It is nice to see the cyclist pass by, with the thousand of spectator standing at the sidelines yelling and admiring. Of course, right after the race you can create your own track and set a new record.
Tip 3: Keukenhof and Flower Parade
When you think of spring in Holland, you think of mesmerizing tulip fields, enchanting daffodil fields and hyacinth fields filling the air with their spring perfume. Keukenhof is a must see when you are in the Netherlands around Easter. The park is dedicated to the tulip and other spring flowers. It is a beautiful park where you even get to shoot some good pictures of all that the Netherlands has to offer: a field of tulips in front of a windmill where a girl dressed in Dutch folklore clothes sells cheese.
A very popular spring festival is the flower parade, in Dutch we call it Bloemencorso. These parades are in the bulb flower region, that means in the area of Leiden, Lisse en Haarlem. It’s a great parade to see the beautiful spring flowers and the creativity of the locals, who work on the floats for months.
Both Keukenhof and the Flower Parade are big attractions and they welcome thousands of visitors from every part of the world. If you don’t want to be in a traffic jam of tourist buses for hours or are curious about the many other festivals & activities in the area, just take a look at Flower Festival Lisse for some original ideas. Cycling through the spring flower fields is -of course- one of my favourite ways to pass time and I would definitely recommend you to add it to your visit to the Netherlands in spring.
Tip 4: Cheese Markets
Enough about flowers, let’s talk about cheese. The cheese market season also starts in April. It’s one of those spectacular spring events in the Netherlands that is not to be missed when you come and visit. There are markets in Gouda, Alkmaar, Edam, Hoorn and Woerden. Cheese farmers and traders meet on the market square to negotiate the price of the cheese, Dutch cheese girls offer tastings of different cheeses and there are many special activities. It’s a great outing for the whole family.
To see where and how the Dutch -Gouda- cheese is made, I would really recommend you to add a visit to a cheese farm and a historical cheese warehouse.
Tip 5: King’s Day
King’s day is on the 27th of April and Dutch love to celebrate this on the streets. Amsterdam is an orange heaven and should be visited on this dat, but be aware: on the 27th itself everything is fully packed, trains are full, roads are full, streets in Amsterdam are full. If you really want to be in Amsterdam on the 27th go to the city a couple of days before and make sure you have your accomodation booked long before, because Amsterdam will be crowded.
I have been in Amsterdam once on King’s Day and I have to say I didn’t really like it. To get there it takes a lot of patience and walking around in the city is a real pain: it’s just too busy for my liking. I prefer other cities such as Utrecht or The Hague, where every neighbourhood has their own flea market and you can play old Dutch games. Nevertheless, if you want to have an authentic King’s Day experience try celebrating it in a small city or even a village. It’s much easier to get connected with the locals and the celebration is much more intense as it’s much smaller and intimate.
Now King’s Day doesn’t start on the 27th of April, but the evening before. On the 26th in the late afternoon I would suggest you to go to The Hague to celebrate the Life I Live festival. Bands are playing everywhere, special theatre shows are organised and there are lots of things to do and see. It is one of the few nights this very special atmosphere can be sensed in The Hague, people are just having fun and there’s a common vibe everyone can feel.
Tip 6: Liberation Day
Shortly after King’s Day Day the Dutch commemorate the people who died in World War II, during peace operations or in war situations. The day after, the 5th of May it is Liberation Day, the day that we celebrate the end of World War II and think about the meaning of freedom. For this we have special Liberation Festivals in different cities in the Netherlands, where bands and known Dutch artists perform. This website gives you more information about who is performing where and what other activities are planned.
Tip 7: Museumweekend
Spring in the Netherlands means being outdoors. But, if the weather is bad, you can always enjoy the musea. In april Dutch musea organise special activities in a weekend that is cleverly called Museumweekend. Entrance in the musea is for free or you pay very little.