Holland’s spring garden in April 2011

Keukenhof

Categorically saying that Holland (or The Netherlands) is Europe’s spring capital should not raise an eyebrow (I hope). I say this because all roads lead to this small country the moment the daffodils spring from the ground, followed by the hyacinths and lastly by the muse of the spring blooms — the tulips.

One park that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors in the two months that its doors are open to the public is Keukenhof in the town of Lisse. It is considered the most beautiful spring garden in the world with its total area of 32 hectares planted with 7 million bulbs of which 4.5 million are tulips of 100 varieties. I make it a point to not miss a visit every single year.

Keukenhof opens its doors timed around the official start of spring (3rd week of March) but I prefer going a month after as more flowers especially the tulips are by then mostly in bloom. The amazing thing about Keukenhof is how these flowers are organized that they bloom in perfect symphony in the two months of spring. One can’t help but be impressed by the plant knowledge of the gardeners here who painstakingly plant the bulbs in autumn by hand.

Keukenhof chooses a theme each year for its flower exhibit. In 2011, the theme was “Germany, Land of Poets and Philosophers”. A German theme route went from one entrance to the other and the highlight was the flower mosaic of the Brandenburger Gate in Berlin.

We did not get to see the entire park during our visit for there was just too much to see and we also had to find the balance between what is interesting to us and to our little girl. She simply enjoyed running around and smelling the flowers.

Neither did we have time to see the flower exhibits at the various pavilions (the Willem Alexander Pavilion had over 80,000 tulips on display in more than 600 varieties and 120 varieties of daffodils; the Beatrix Pavilion showed orchids, bromeliad and anthuriums; and the Juliana Pavilion had a special theme exhibition of the Dutch-German ties that bind both countries). Anyway,

Useful information:
To flower enthusiasts and shutterbugs, Keukenhof is the place to be. Come early because the park gets very busy around lunch time when busloads of tourists from all over the world find their way here. The park and parking tickets can be bought online which we normally do to avoid queueing for a long time. Other things to do include sailing in a silent boat between the flower bulb fields behind Keukenhof. It is also possible to cycle in between the flower bulb fields in the surroundings of Keukenhof.

Another event worth witnessing is the annual Flower Parade which will take place on 21 April 2012.

Tips to booking hotel accommodation

Traveling need not be very expensive.  With careful planning, one can see all the best places in the area and have an excellent accommodation that will not break the bank .  I always keep this in mind when planning a weekend somewhere or going for a longer holiday.

We were in Dusseldorf last weekend for the Christmas market and stayed at a nice 4-star hotel.  The NH Dusseldorf City was located just at the right location because it is not in the very center of the city but easily accessible through the underground metro.  The  metro station is also just adjacent to the hotel and the  trip to the city center is all but 4 stops so less than 10 minutes.

We had the option to just the accommodation or to have the inclusive breakfast.  Accommodation alone was Eur 50 and the reservation cost was Eur 15.  Breakfast was another Eur 25 per person.  We opted for the inclusive breakfast because we love the many choices and prefer to indulge once in a while.

How did we came up with this hotel as our base in the city?  We just checked and made the reservation in the Dutch travel site www.weekendjeweg.nl and the site gave all sorts of alternatives.  Prices will always be cheaper and availability of rooms more sure than when booking directly at the hotel in most cases because travel organization have already pre-bought the rooms ahead of time.

Four star business hotels will always have good deals especially towards the weekend.  Two nights stay inclusive of buffet breakfast will always be a steal.  Whether in Germany, Belgium or France, we just rely on Weekendjeweg because we always get a good deal.  A trip to Disneyland last March inclusive of entrance tickets for 3 days to Disneyland was a good bargain.  Same as with the weekend trip we made last September to Movie Park Germany inclusive of the entrance tickets.  The entrance tickets alone had we bought them separately would have been more expensive than the entire hotel plus entrance tickets package.

Not sure how this will work for the non-Dutch traveler because the site is in Dutch but let me know if you have questions.  When booking, the site does not ask for the credit card either and everything is paid at the hotel only upon check-out.

Christmas market in Dusseldorf (Germany)

After writing about the Christmas markets in Durbuy (Belgium) and Laren (Netherlands), here’s my take on the German Christmas market.

Hubby and I were in Dusseldorf this weekend, opting for a nearer destination (1.5 hours from our place) than driving all the way to Durbuy in the Ardennes which takes about 4 or even 5 hours depending on the traffic jams in Maastrict or Liege.

Dusseldorf was quite a revelation with the pleasant atmosphere and where everyone just seems to be in a happy mood.  Guys with Santa hats were singing loudly, could be the effect of drinking too much gluhwein.

It was very busy (it seems like we’ve chosen the busiest day of the year to be there with many doing their last-minute Christmas shopping) but it was just pleasant to see the Germans going to the Christmas market which is more of a family outing.

We hovered from stall to stall, curious of the merchandises on the German market scene.   There were plenty to choose from:  food stuffs, woodcrafts, clothing items, home decors, toys, etc.

There were long queues at gluhwein stalls.  A mug costs Eur 2.50 but a deposit of Eur 3.00 is charged for the special shoe-shaped mug.  This is the big difference with how gluhwein is served in Holland or Belgium which come in disposable plastic cups.  The gluhwein was pretty strong so I opted to remain sober by not drinking everything (though I was tempted to).

Our original plan was to have dinner in a nice restaurant but we got seduced by the various sorts of snacks from the various stalls.  We started with the German bratwurst, then it was off to the freshly made waffles topped with whipped cream and dusting of confectioner’s sugar.  Then I got temped to try the “dampfnudeln”, a sort of steamed bread topped with warm vanilla and cherry sauces after seeing a German family of four eating this with so much gusto.  Then, we saw this Dutch couple delightfully eating “reibekuchen” , the German potato pancake which is deep-fried and served with apple sauce.  Hmmm….I promised the hubby that I will check out the recipe and try this at home.  Yes, that’s how good it was.  Dinner plans in the end, got shelved.  We were stuffed but happy.

Dusseldorf is of course known as a shopping paradise.  Chic shops from Prada, Escada, Chanel, Michael Kors, etc….can all be found along Konigsallee.  Hubby reminded me of the Dutch saying, “alleen kijken, niet kopen” which is “just look, no buying”, ha, ha, ha!

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