Holland and flowers

My husband, Al, and I traveled through Holland and Belgium, April 18-May 6, ’05, at the peak of the spring flower season.

We planned the trip ourselves and drove a rental car, a Ford Fusion (similar to a Ford Focus). It cost $35 per day plus taxes and Schiphol Airport pickup ($75). We rented it through Auto Europe (Portland, ME; phone 800/223-5555).

Petrol was €1.30 a liter, which translated to about $6.25 a gallon. (And Americans think $2 per gallon is high.)

We stayed eight days in Amerongen in a conveniently centrally located B&B, de Utrechtse
(visit http://amerongen. greup.com) for €54 (near $66) a night. We shared a bathroom, but it was always available.

The rate included a delicious breakfast. (The food was put on our table, so we assumed it was ours to eat or take; we fixed a sandwich for later. We would not do this at a buffet breakfast.)

Our landlord was very friendly and provided us with very helpful information and even computer-generated maps to various locations.

Day trips included Giethoorn, a picturesque village with no cars or streets, just canals and boats. Even the cows are taken to pasture by boat! The windmills at Kinderdijk were very interesting — we learned a lot about the actual operation of the “mills.” We also enjoyed a tour of the Royal Delft factory(€4 per person).

Our B&B landlord alerted us to the once-a-year flower parade; it started in Noordwijk at 9:30 a.m. and ended in Haarlem at 9 in the evening — an all-day event! The date may vary; this year it was on Saturday, April 23.

The parade included marching bands, horses and many beautiful floats decorated with flowers. Similar to the Rose Parade, it was smaller in scale but longer in distance. We were able to drive to one of the small towns through which the parade was passing and enjoyed the excitement along with the crowd of locals. It took over an hour for the parade to pass by our photo spot.

Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse are spectacular and definitely worth a day visit (€13 each) — over 70 acres of immaculate flower gardens. In April the spring flowers were featured, especially tulips.

We were very fortunate to be in Holland at the peak of the flowering tulips (grown for export). Our daily driving took us past many bulb fields in dazzling, brilliant colors. Imagine acres and acres of solid red tulips — or bright orange or yellow. Worthy of many pictures! Friends of ours were there 10 days later and all the tulip heads had been cut off (to make the bulbs stronger). The last week of April seemed to be the best time to see the tulip fields.

Here are other dates to remember, if one wants to travel in Holland in springtime: May 4 is the Day of Remembrance, when flowers are taken to cemeteries and ceremonies commemorate the many who died in battle, and May 5 is their Day of Liberation, a national holiday, with great celebrations, parades and concerts. We were privileged to be there for both of these events and it was a very moving experience. It was the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII.

So many of the memorials have the message, “We are eternally grateful to the Americans and British who gave their lives for our freedom.” They still love Americans!

Greenville, IL