One lovely spring day at the flower fields

Our family at the tulip fields in the Noordoost Polder

Our family at the tulip fields in the Noordoost Polder

One thing that spring affords me generously is a cost-free trip to seemingly endless floral wonderland. In the Noordoost Polder, there’s over hundred kilometers of flower fields to drive through and the whole journey doesn’t cost a thing except for the car’s petrol needs.

On Ascension Day (a Dutch public holiday) almost three weeks ago, we made this annual foray into the flower fields with my friend Elsa as well as my parents-in-law joining us. The trip was very Dutch as we brought our picnic basket and had our picnic lunch just beside the flower fields. Who needed a fancy restaurant lunch when we could have ours in the open with the seemingly endless fields of tulips right before our eyes.

We had a great time going from one field to the next and finally capping our floral wonderland tour at the exhibit of hundreds of types of tulips where I went crazy for macro shots despite the very windy condition.

Fields of pink tulips

Fields of pink tulips

Francesca with oma

Francesca with oma

Field of white, yellow and red tulips

Field of white, yellow and red tulips

Tulip fields

Tulip fields

Me and my friend Elsa ... Francesca was not keen to pose with us

Me and my friend Elsa … Francesca was not keen to pose with us

Tulip fields

Tulip fields

Little girl among the tulips

Little girl among the tulips

Little girl at the tulip fields

Little girl at the tulip fields

Yellow tulips

Yellow tulips

White tulips

White tulips

The Mr. and me

The Mr. and me

Tulips

Tulips

Yellow tulips

Yellow tulips

Light pink tulips

Light pink tulips

My little girl among purple tulips

My little girl among purple tulips

My very sweet mom-in-law

My very sweet mom-in-law

Tulips

Tulips

A strange mutation of red and yellow

A strange mutation of red and yellow

Pink tulips

Pink tulips

Little girl in the tulip field

Little girl in the tulip field

Red and yellow petaled tulips

Red and yellow petaled tulips

Yellow tulips

Yellow tulips

Yellow and red petaled tulips

Yellow and red petaled tulips

Peach colored tulips

Peach colored tulips

Multi-colored tulips

Multi-colored tulips

Parrot tulips

Parrot tulips

Parrot tulips

Parrot tulips

White and red petaled tulips

White and red petaled tulips

Orange tulips

Orange tulips

Pink tulips

Pink tulips

Pink tulips

Pink tulips

Tulip fields behind the trees

Tulip fields behind the trees

Pink and green petaled tulips

Pink and green petaled tulips

The exhibit of hundreds of types of tulips

The exhibit of hundreds of types of tulips

A tulip up close

A tulip up close

Multi-petaled orange tulips

Multi-petaled orange tulips

Pink tulips

Pink tulips

Pink tulips against the blue sky

Pink tulips against the blue sky

Red tulips

Red tulips

Red tulips with white edges

Red tulips with white edges

Yellow tulips

Yellow tulips

Tulips

Tulips

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Yellow tulips

Yellow tulips

Red and pink tulips

Red and pink tulips

Playing tourist in Amsterdam with my cousin

Horse-drawn carriages in front of the Royal Palace

Horse-drawn carriages in front of the Royal Palace

A cousin of mine who works in Qatar made a lightning visit to Holland this weekend. Being a first time visitor to this country, it comes as no surprise that Amsterdam should be on top of our itinerary. And so here I am playing tourist guide as we explore this city which has fascinated the imagination of many for its reputation of liberalism when it comes to soft drugs, prostitution, same-sex relationships, abortion, euthanasia, etc.

Before your imagination runs wild as to what I’ve exposed my dear cousin who just jetted in from a country where even holding hands with her boyfriend in public is already considered scandalous, we went to see the Royal Palace. A first for me too as I’ve never been inside this palace in the past. With a few royal events that took place here recently such as the abdication of Queen (now princess) Beatrix in favor of her son King Willem Alexander last April 30, I deemed it high time to see how this palace looks from inside.

Official opening time last Saturday was 11am and as we were there 10 minutes before, the queue was still not that long. Entrance fee was € 10 per person and for the many amazing things to see inside, definitely worth every cent. The palace from the outside may look grim and gray but inside is a completely different story. We wandered from room to room admiring the many wonderful royal collections from paintings to furnitures and even the chandeliers. Great time to spend the dreary spring morning inside such a very elegant surrounding. Some weeks ago, this palace was teeming with royals from all over the world for the reception that followed the installation of Willem-Alexander as king in the Nieuwe Kerk just beside the palace. With that in mind, it is funny to think that for a moment in time, we were tracing royal footsteps. ;-)

From the palace we proceeded to the direction of Leidseplein, passing through the many lovely canals for the usual photo shoot of Amsterdam. Because it was already past 12pm, we decided to have a very Dutch lunch of “broodje haring” which is just a soft bun with raw herring, chopped onions and pickles. I thought my dear cousin would freak out but instead became an instant fan of the raw herring.

Another wonderful place to see in Amsterdam is the Begijnhof, a calm oasis in the very centre of the city. This place which houses women traces its history back to 1150 when a group of women came together to live in a religious community to tend to the sick. These days, this place is a haven for single women who can rent apartments here from the city for very modest amounts. In this little enclave of picturesque houses are two churches, Protestant and Roman Catholic. We went inside the Catholic Church for a little prayer.

Fun outing for the girls. We checked out a few shops and made a few purchases. We also discovered that some cheese shops offer free tasting so how fun was that!

Of course, a visit to Amsterdam is never complete without a little stroll through its famous (or infamous) Red Light District. My cousin had a bit of a culture shock upon seeing the openness of the approach to prostitution from those ladies behind the glass windows to the soft drugs that can just be bought from the coffee shops. As we inched our way out of the Red Light District, another funny incident that further shocked my cousin was a guy in blond wig doing “mooning” by the window of a restaurant. It was time to head home after this incident. ;-)

My cousin in front of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam

My cousin in front of the Royal Palace in Amsterdam

Impressive interior.

Impressive interior.

This is the room where Queen Beatrix signed the Act of Abdication in favor of her son last April 30.

This is the room where Queen Beatrix signed the Act of Abdication in favor of her son last April 30.

Coat of arms of the Dutch provinces and territories

Coat of arms of the Dutch provinces and territories

Impressive interior of the royal palace

Impressive interior of the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

A painting of Queen Wilhelmina

A painting of Queen Wilhelmina

Royal bedroom -  wouldn't mind staying overnight here.  ;-)

Royal bedroom – wouldn’t mind staying overnight here. ;-)

Impressive chandeliers

Impressive chandeliers

High ceiling and chandelier

High ceiling and chandelier

Inside the royal palace

Inside the royal palace

The Amsterdam Central train station

The Amsterdam Central train station

Inside a Delft blue souvenir shop

Inside a Delft blue souvenir shop

With a huge wooden "klompen" outside a souvenir shop

With a huge wooden “klompen” outside a souvenir shop

Among wooden "klompen"

Among wooden “klompen”

Flower shop

Flower shop

My cousin at one of the many canals in Amsterdam

My cousin at one of the many canals in Amsterdam

Trying out the raw herring sandwich

Trying out the raw herring sandwich

"Broodje harring"

“Broodje harring”

A very typical Dutch "bakfiets"

A very typical Dutch “bakfiets”

One of the many Amsterdam canals

One of the many Amsterdam canals

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

My cousin in Amsterdam

My cousin in Amsterdam

The Begijnhof

The Begijnhof

Inside the Roman Catholic Church at the Begijnhof

Inside the Roman Catholic Church at the Begijnhof

Going Medieval???

Going Medieval???

A bit of retail therapy

A bit of retail therapy

Trying out the different types of cheeses

Trying out the different types of cheeses

Different types of cheeses at the souvenir shop

Different types of cheeses at the souvenir shop

(In)famous Dutch coffee shops

(In)famous Dutch coffee shops

Red Light District

Red Light District

Strangely enough, there are several huge churches at the Red Light District

Strangely enough, there are several huge churches at the Red Light District

Everything goes in Amsterdam -- not a surprise to see a stunt what this guy pulled for onlookers -- a moony.

Everything goes in Amsterdam — not a surprise to see a stunt what this guy pulled for onlookers — a moony.

Images from Keukenhof — part 2

More images from Keukenhof. If you are unable to make it to Holland in spring, let me bring Holland to you with these pictures…

My flower paradise every spring time - Keukenhof

My flower paradise every spring time – Keukenhof

Tulips island on a sea of white blooms

Tulips island on a sea of white blooms

Light yellow tulips

Light yellow tulips

Tulips and other blooms are planted in amazing patterns

Tulips and other blooms are planted in amazing patterns

Red and whites

Red and whites

Flower mosaic

Flower mosaic

Amazing harmony of blooms and colors

Amazing harmony of blooms and colors

Dainty pink multi-petaled tulip

Dainty pink multi-petaled tulip

Beauty all around which I cannot ignore...

Beauty all around which I cannot ignore…

White tulip

White tulip

Floral quilt

Floral quilt

White tulips among muscaris

White tulips among muscaris

The amazing harmony of colors and how the gardeners can make them bloom in perfect timing always amazes me.

The amazing harmony of colors and how the gardeners can make them bloom in perfect timing always amazes me.

There's no ugly corner in Keukenhof.  No wonder that I cannot stop my fingers clicking.  ;-)

There’s no ugly corner in Keukenhof. No wonder that I cannot stop my fingers clicking. ;-)

Fountains lines by multi-colored tulips

Fountains lines by multi-colored tulips

Daffodils

Daffodils

Red tulips

Red tulips

Pink tulip among the muscaris

Pink tulip among the muscaris

Busy bee

Busy bee

White daffodils

White daffodils

Multi-petaled tulips

Multi-petaled tulips

Multi-petaled tulips

Multi-petaled tulips

White and dark red petaled tulip

White and dark red petaled tulip

Red tulips

Red tulips

Red tulips

Red tulips

Other spring blooms

Other spring blooms

Images from Keukenhof — part 1

Our family in Keukenhof

Our family in Keukenhof

After a bit of absence from this space, I am back with some colorful spring pictures from our trip to Keukenhof last Sunday. Weather was fantastic with lots of sunshine, blue skies and pleasantly warm temperature. Spring has finally arrived after the long wait!

We were there at 11 in the morning but the park was already bursting with visitors from all over the world. Funny enough, it was like being at a UN summit in a park setting.

Perfect time to be at Keukenhof as most of the blooms are already out and at their prettiest. My fingers kept on clicking so this post and the several to follow will be from this one lovely spring outing.

Rows and rows of spring blooms

Rows and rows of spring blooms

Reds and yellows

Reds and yellows

Whites and oranges

Whites and oranges

Reds and peaches

Reds and peaches

Heady hyacinths

Heady hyacinths

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Little girl among the daffodils

Little girl among the daffodils

Daffodils

Daffodils

Daffodils

Daffodils

The Mr. and me

The Mr. and me

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Flowery path

Flowery path

My little girl

My little girl

My little girl

My little girl

Our family

Our family

Dancing diva

Dancing diva

Checking out the pond

Checking out the pond

Magnolias

Magnolias

Hiding behind the tree

Hiding behind the tree

My little girl

My little girl

Happy little girl

Happy little girl

Hyacinths

Hyacinths

Multi-petaled pink tulip

Multi-petaled pink tulip

Pink hyacinths

Pink hyacinths

Tulips

Tulips

Peach tulips

Peach tulips

Red Tulip

Red Tulip

Orange tulips

Orange tulips

Tree tops from the ground

Tree tops from the ground

White blooms

White blooms

White tulip

White tulip

Fountain

Fountain

A very Dutch journey through time

Typical Dutch village along the route from Medemblik to Hoorn.  Tulip fields in full bloom is a typical springtime scenery.

Typical Dutch village along the route from Medemblik to Hoorn. Tulip fields in full bloom is a typical springtime scenery.

It’s springtime again and I can’t believe how fast the year went by. It’s been almost a year since we made this amazing journey through time by boat and steam train through the Medieval towns of Enkhuizen, Medemblik and Hoorn in the province of North Holland (West Friesland to many). This is one exciting journey to take if you happen to be in Holland in springtime because the whole trip takes just a day and these towns are within easy reach from Amsterdam. From Amsterdam to Hoorn, a direct train ride takes about 33 minutes and costs € 7.60. From Hoorn, you can then take the steam train to Medemblik and from Medemblik there is the museum boat that will take you to Enkhuizen. From Enkhuizen, you can take a direct train to Amsterdam that will take about 58 minutes and costs € 10.30. Here’s the link to the Dutch railway: www.ns.nl

I got the idea to do this trip from a colleague of mine who lives in Hoorn which in spring, is lovely to visit passing through tulip fields that seem to go on forever. For more information, here’s the link to the site of the museum: http://www.museumstoomtram.nl/en

Because our originating place was Dronten where my parents-in-law live, we approached the trip from the other way around. Our journey started in Enkhuizen where we boarded the museum boat “Friesland” headed to Medemblik. The trip was a very sentimental journey for my parents-in-law who used to travel in this very same boat over 40 years ago when they lived for a while in the island of Terschelling and this boat was still plying the Harlingen-Terschelling route. My husband, then the same age as Francesca also travelled in this boat so you can just imagine how sentimental that is. My parents-in-law checked out the boat and were amazed that many of the original features were still very much intact. The whole boat trip took a good hour so when we arrived in Medemblik, we looked for a restaurant to have a quick lunch to be in time for the steam train trip that will take us to Hoorn. We opted for a typical Dutch lunch favorite, the “Uitsmijter” which consisted of bread slices topped with ham, fried eggs, grated cheese with tomatoes and cucumber on the side. Francesca found another use for the cucumber though. ;-)

The steam train journey was interesting as we were joined by museum volunteers who were dressed in period costumes. They were very enthusiastic at explaining the culture, norms and traditions of the people in West Friesland back then. Another interesting aspect of this train journey was the amazing landscape we passed through — from tulip fields in full bloom to orchards and quaint villages. Too bad that the weather was not on our side though.

The harbor of Enkhuizen where our journey started one cloudy Sunday in end-April last year.

The harbor of Enkhuizen where our journey started one cloudy Sunday in end-April last year.

The museum boat "Friesland" plies the Enkhuizen to Medemblik route.  My parents-in-law traveled in this very same boat forty years ago when it used to ply the Harlingen-Terschelling route.

The museum boat “Friesland” plies the Enkhuizen to Medemblik route. My parents-in-law traveled in this very same boat forty years ago when it used to ply the Harlingen-Terschelling route.

Francesca enjoying her warm chocolate drink with whipped cream.

Francesca enjoying her warm chocolate drink with whipped cream.

Our family inside the "Friesland".

Our family inside the “Friesland”.

Francesca with opa.

Francesca with opa.

The Mr. with his mom.  Almost forty hears ago, he was roaming around this boat with his mom and dad, just like Francesca now.

The Mr. with his mom. Almost forty hears ago, he was roaming around this boat with his mom and dad, just like Francesca now.

Me

Me

Francesca with opa and oma checking out the map of our journey.

Francesca with opa and oma checking out the map of our journey.

The harbor of Medemblik.

The harbor of Medemblik.

Hubby and his dad.

Hubby and his dad.

The steam train in Medemblik that will take us later to Hoorn.

The steam train in Medemblik that will take us later to Hoorn.

Other travelers with us on the boat rushed to this well-known chocolate shop in Medemblik.  We opted to look for a restaurant to have a quick lunch before taking the steam train to Hoorn.

Other travelers with us on the boat rushed to this well-known chocolate shop in Medemblik. We opted to look for a restaurant to have a quick lunch before taking the steam train to Hoorn.

Francesca checking out the menu card.

Francesca checking out the menu card.

Our choice was this Dutch favorite - the Uitsmijter.

Our choice was this Dutch favorite – the Uitsmijter.

Francesca has other ideas for the cucumber.   ;-)

Francesca has other ideas for the cucumber. ;-)

Medemblik one cloudy Sunday.

Medemblik one cloudy Sunday.

Francesca with opa and oma.

Francesca with opa and oma.

Medemblik one cloudy Sunday.

Medemblik one cloudy Sunday.

A lady in period costume.

A lady in period costume.

Our train at a crossing with a windmill in the background.

Our train at a crossing with a windmill in the background.

An old lady in period costume.  She explained the many aspect of Dutch way of life from earlier times, down to the many things in her costume which reflect the very Calvinistic way of life in the old days.

An old lady in period costume. She explained the many aspect of Dutch way of life from earlier times, down to the many things in her costume which reflect the very Calvinistic way of life in the old days.

Women were not supposed to be idle so while traveling, they were expected to do some sewing or knitting.

Women were not supposed to be idle so while traveling, they were expected to do some sewing or knitting.

The train station of the village of Opperdoes, well-known for the very yummy potatoes that we all love.

The train station of the village of Opperdoes, well-known for the very yummy potatoes that we all love.

Typical North Holland farm house.

Typical North Holland farm house.

Dutch countryside scenery -- Dutch cows grazing in the meadow.

Dutch countryside scenery — Dutch cows grazing in the meadow.

Tulip fields in full bloom dotted the route from Medemblik to Hoorn.

Tulip fields in full bloom dotted the route from Medemblik to Hoorn.

Tulip fields in the distance.

Tulip fields in the distance.

Tulip fields

Tulip fields

Orchards in full bloom.

Orchards in full bloom.

Francesca with opa and a guy in period costume.

Francesca with opa and a guy in period costume.

Finally arriving in Hoorn with this couple in period costume.

Finally arriving in Hoorn with this couple in period costume.

Medieval Elburg some summers ago

It is almost three summers ago when we first visited Elburg. Lucky with both the weather and the timing of the annual market day, we had wonderful memories from that visit.

In this post, let me take you back to that glorious summer day.

The Vischpoort in Elburg

The Vischpoort in Elburg

The harbor

The harbor

Traditional wooden boats anchored at the harbor in Elburg

Traditional wooden boats anchored at the harbor in Elburg

You can judge how warm the day was from this picture...  ;-)

You can judge how warm the day was from this picture… ;-)

Terrace restaurants filled to the brim because of the Annual Market Day

Terrace restaurants filled to the brim because of the Annual Market Day

My favorite arched bridge

My favorite arched bridge

View from the bridge

View from the bridge

View from one side of the bridge of the canal bank planted with flowers

View from one side of the bridge of the canal bank planted with flowers

A closer look at the arched bridge

A closer look at the arched bridge

Another angle of the bridge

Another angle of the bridge

Lotus-filled canal

Lotus-filled canal

Ducks lay their eggs on this basket

Ducks lay their eggs on this basket

A very sweet dog we met while having our stroll along the canal.

A very sweet dog we met while having our stroll along the canal.

Francesca was charmed by this sweet dog.

Francesca was charmed by this sweet dog.

They became instant friends

They became instant friends

Best of friends some summers ago...

Best of friends some summers ago…

Wild blooms everywhere

Wild blooms everywhere

Ducks

Ducks

Lotus blooms

Lotus blooms

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Father and daughter

Francesca

Francesca

Everything was just so green and beautiful...

Everything was just so green and beautiful…

Hibiscus

Hibiscus

Francesca with her ice cream

Francesca with her ice cream

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Plant arrangement in the shape of a sail boat

Plant arrangement in the shape of a sail boat

Me and my little girl

Me and my little girl

Dutch cheeses

Dutch cheeses

Mustard

Mustard

Smoked fish sold by this bearded gentleman

Smoked fish sold by this bearded gentleman

Cheeses

Cheeses

Wild boar stew sold with compote from wild berries -- products of the Veluwe, the forested area in the center of the Netherlands.

Wild boar stew sold with compote from wild berries — products of the Veluwe, the forested area in the center of the Netherlands.

Strawberries

Strawberries

Apple juice and cider from apple orchard in the polder (reclaimed land from the sea).

Apple juice and cider from apple orchard in the polder (reclaimed land from the sea).

Fresh summer fruits

Fresh summer fruits

Speculaas - Dutch spice cookies

Speculaas – Dutch spice cookies

A harp player providing entertainment to visitors of Elburg

A harp player providing entertainment to visitors of Elburg

Cozy windows

Cozy windows

Cozy row houses

Cozy row houses

Lunch of fried eel

Lunch of fried eel

Francesca's choice of bread with friend egg

Francesca’s choice of bread with friend egg

The sky when it was time to leave...

The sky when it was time to leave…

Exploring Medieval Elburg one chilly second Easter day

Every country seems to have peculiarities in observing religious holidays. In the Philippines where I grew up, Good Friday is a holiday. Apart from church activities like the observance of the “Seven Last Words”, the country comes to a standstill. Basically all establishments from schools, offices, shops, etc. are closed for business on this day. Activities would resume to full speed comes Easter Sunday when everyone feels that as the right time because “Christ is risen after triumph over death”. The opposite is true here in Holland because for many establishments except schools and banks, Good Friday is a normal working day. Easter Sunday and the Monday after, on the other hand, are observed as religious holidays. Second Easter day is like Sunday with all establishments closed for business. It is on this chilly second Easter day that I will take you with me to a little known charming place here in Holland called Elburg.

After the Easter egg hunt and dropping over at the place of my friend Marie for Easter dinner, we went over to my parents-in-law’s place to spend the night and celebrate second Easter day together with a nice brunch. It was a beautiful day, the sun shining brightly that it was a pity to spend the day indoor. We opted to go out for a bit of fresh air and headed to the lovely Medieval town of Elburg, just some 11 kms. from my in-law’s place. Francesca was happy to stay with Opa and Oma.

This is just my second time here in Elburg despite the frequency of our visits to my in-laws and its close proximity to their place. What a big difference it was to be here on a very chilly day when my earlier memories were of a very nice warm summer day when flowers were blooming all over and it was such a joy to see this town filled with locals and tourists alike checking out not just the town’s attractions but also the many local produce on display. That first visit happened to be the town’s annual celebration of their market day.

With very few people out and the shops closed saved for restaurants and cafes that opened their doors, we had a rather quick exploration of the town. It was interesting to discover new places that we never saw the first time we were here such as the Jewish cemetery which was just a short distance from the huge Protestant Church.

I look forward to coming back when the weather warms up, when flowers start to bloom as this town will be even far alluring then.

The Mr. along the harbor in Elburg

The Mr. along the harbor in Elburg

The harbor of Elburg under blue skies and fair weather clouds.

The harbor of Elburg under blue skies and fair weather clouds.

The Mr. in Elburg

The Mr. in Elburg

Moi

Moi

The Vischpoort  -- Elburg was a fortified town and this is one of the gates.

The Vischpoort — Elburg was a fortified town and this is one of the gates.

This canal is looking empty but in summer it is covered with blooming lotuses.

This canal is looking empty but in summer it is covered with blooming lotuses.

The Vischpoort from inside the fortified town of Elburg.

The Vischpoort from inside the fortified town of Elburg.

Portion of the main street which has a canal lined by trees in the middle.

Portion of the main street which has a canal lined by trees in the middle.

Looking quite forlorn at the moment, these houses are amazingly picturesque in summer from all the blooming plants.

Looking quite forlorn at the moment, these houses are amazingly picturesque in summer from all the blooming plants.

The Church and remnants of the old fortification.

The Church and remnants of the old fortification.

Moi

Moi

Normally these buds will be exploding already at this time of the year.  Had to still wait a while this time...

Normally these buds will be exploding already at this time of the year. Had to still wait a while this time…

Another angle of the church

Another angle of the church

The Mr. at the Jewish cemetery which we discovered this time.

The Mr. at the Jewish cemetery which we discovered this time.

Jewish cemetery

Jewish cemetery

The marker at the entrance of the Jewish Cemetery says that the people buried here were together in life and also in death -- victims of the cruelties of the WWII.

The marker at the entrance of the Jewish Cemetery says that the people buried here were together in life and also in death — victims of the cruelties of the WWII.

Croci on extended stay because of the chilly weather.

Croci on extended stay because of the chilly weather.

Purple crocus

Purple crocus

The Mr. in Elburg

The Mr. in Elburg

The Dutch Reformed Church

The Dutch Reformed Church

Elburg

Elburg

Doorstep of the first Christian elementary school in Elburg.  Building is from the end of the 17th century.

Doorstep of the first Christian elementary school in Elburg. Building is from the end of the 17th century.

Picture taken from the dike surrounding Elburg.

Picture taken from the dike surrounding Elburg.

The Mr. and me

The Mr. and me

Always a big fan of arched bridges -- couldn't resist taking this picture.

Always a big fan of arched bridges — couldn’t resist taking this picture.

Moi

Moi

I love this type of building -- old farmhouse style.

I love this type of building — old farmhouse style.

Finally it was time for some cappuccino...

Finally it was time for some cappuccino…

We shared this cake -- a very Dutch thing I guess.  ;-)

We shared this cake — a very Dutch thing I guess. ;-)

Candle and flowers always make the table cozy...typical Dutch concept of "gezelligheid".

Candle and flowers always make the table cozy…typical Dutch concept of “gezelligheid”.

What happened to spring?

Snow-covered "forget me not" blooms

Snow-covered “forget me not” blooms

Spring is always a much awaited and celebrated season in Holland. In this very flat country, the Dutch ingenuity of creating flower wonderlands in spring has always attracted millions of visitors from all over the world.

Dutch flower fields - typical spring scenery

Dutch flower fields – typical spring scenery

Easter egg hunt from 2 years ago -- weather was warm then, almost like summer so the kids had so much fun with the egg hunt

Easter egg hunt from 2 years ago — weather was warm then, almost like summer so the kids had so much fun with the egg hunt

Egg hunt from 2 years ago -- we're longing for that weather this time.  Forecast for Sunday is not so encouraging at just around 5 degrees Celsius at the warmest

Egg hunt from 2 years ago — we’re longing for that weather this time. Forecast for Sunday is not so encouraging at just around 5 degrees Celsius at the warmest

As soon as March starts, I’m already in extreme anticipation of the new season with plans to hit the flower fields and visit to Keukenhof topping the agenda. This year, however, that usual enthusiasm is tempered by the current reality of freezing temperature which if forecasts are to be relied upon, is very discouraging as it is expected to persist till most of the month of April.

What happened to spring? Why the big snub this year? Will it still ever come or are we just going to progress to summer and skip spring all together? I hope not….

We had an infinitesimal glimpse of spring three weeks ago for two days with the mercury tipping at 15 degrees Celsius at the warmest and enough to awaken the croci from their winter slumber. My little girl and I went out as she wanted to pick a few blooms and that was all that spring has been so far from our end.

Forget-me-nots with snow dusting

Forget-me-nots with snow dusting

Snow bells

Snow bells

Snow-covered blooms

Snow-covered blooms

Forget-me-not

Forget-me-not

Forget-me-nots

Forget-me-nots

Snow-dusted forget-me-not

Snow-dusted forget-me-not

Grape hyacinth

Grape hyacinth

Snow dusting on old flower remnants

Snow dusting on old flower remnants

Snow-covered leaves

Snow-covered leaves

Snow dusted plants

Snow dusted plants

Snow-covered bloom

Snow-covered bloom

My little girl and her little bouquet of croci

My little girl and her little bouquet of croci

Picking some crocus from a nearby green spot

Picking some crocus from a nearby green spot

Croci

Croci

Crocus

Crocus

Francesca

Francesca

Pentecost weekend camping and castle hunting

The Nijenhuis Castle

I take a bit of a break from my Tuscany series and bring back a bit of Dutch flavor to my post.

Two weekends ago, we had this long weekend due to the observance of Pentecost. The Dutch may not be that religious but there are a few Church holidays where an extra day of holiday is observed the following day such as Christmas (Second Christmas Day), Easter (Second Easter Day) and Pentecost (Second Pentecost Day).

The Pentecost weekend had the best weather we ever saw this year with summery temperature that hit beyond 30 degrees Celsius. After the wet, grey and chilly spring, we were just so glad to finally be able to get rid of our coats and wear light clothing and to be able to enjoy sunshine to our hearts’ content. We opted to go camping and put to test the new tent which we were pretty curious to check out. Our old tent suffered irreparable from the mistral last year when we camped in the South of France.

We camped in Heidepark, Lemelerveld which was about an hour’s drive from our place. No special reason to choosing this camping place except that it was a good distance away from home and that there was also a pool which the little girl was so excited about.

I love combining such an adventure with castle hunting and in this country, it is not impossible to find a castle that is within easy reach. The Nijenhuis Castle proved to be a good choice because it had a wonderful sculpture garden and amazing collection of contemporary Dutch art as well. The sculpture garden was a big hit with the little girl who found it a wonderful place to explore and simply perfect for hide-and-seek.

Father and daughter outside our tent

Improvised skipping rope game

Playground at the camping site

This rabbit from another tent charmed her straight away

The rabbit and the little girl

This little girl braved the chilly waters of this unheated pool

Father and daughter at the pool

Father and daughter at the pool

Cold…brrrr….

The Nijenhuis Castle

Another angle of the castle

The Nijenhuis Castle

The Nijenhuis Castle

The little girl enjoyed picking the little white daisies to make little bouquets

The little girl and the castle

The sculpture garden… the little girl and me were fascinated by the strange guy with the long moustache which was groomed in a very peculiar way

Father and daughter

Me behind the camera

Me and my little girl

Our family

Artwork at the sculpture garden turned plaything for the little girl

Perfect for climbing

The sculpture garden with the well-known piece of Queen Wilhelmina (grandmother of Queen Beatrix) in the distance

Our family

Our family

The little girl spent so much time coming up with leis made from flowers and twigs

Perfect place for running around and hide-and-seek

Rhododendrons in full bloom at the castle grounds

Pink rhododendron

Pink rhododendron

Pink rhododendrons

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Inside the castle

Lunch of tomato soup

and freshly baked breads

More on the Dutch tulip fields

Our little queen among dandelions with the tulip fields in the distance

I know that my posts lately have been more on the Dutch flower fields but seeing that much beauty makes it impossible to not be carried away and have that overwhelming desire to share them.

On this particular day that we celebrated Queen’s Day (30th April) we were simply super lucky with the weather of warm temperature and blue skies as the days after were again chilly, wet and grey.  That day was a one-off and I am glad that we had these pictures as reminder of that one seemingly rare warm spring day.

Our family

Our family

A field of dandelions

Our family

Queen’s Day at the tulip fields

Our little queen on Queen’s Day at the tulip fields

“Never let an opportunity pass by without giving it due consideration.” Weather-wise, this is my standing motto these days because in the whole month of April, we’ve hardly seen the sun and the temperature has been for the most part, chilly.

In yesterday’s Queen’s Day celebration, the weather did an unusual turn-around. Less than 24 hours before, I was still in my winter coat and then it was off to temperature soaring to as high as 28 degrees Celsius during the day. The party mode was on fever-pitch for the Dutch.

Not wanting to waste such a lovely day, I managed to persuade the Mr. to also do a side trip to the flower fields in nearby Flevo polder where we saw the tulips already in full bloom when driving through last weekend. We normally go to the Noordoost polder for our annual foray into the flower fields and our original plan to do that is still next weekend but seeing the blue skies, I just can’t wait for almost a week for that. Besides, there is no guarantee about a nice weather either and who knows, most tulips would already be gone by then when the farmer cuts the flowers to enable the bulbs to grow further. These fields are just a short drive of 20 minutes from our place so I see no reason why we can’t spare some time on this day.

Under sweltering heat at the height of the day, we were at the tulips fields in the polder. My little girl changed outfit to something close to the Dutch royal color and reigned over the fields in her faux jewelry ensemble which were hard won from throwing balls to a stack of tin cans from a distance in the fancy fair we went to the other weekend.

Year after year, I remain amazed by this staggering vista of tulips in various colors and varieties. I try not to give this sight a miss and why not, it is all for free, gratis et amore.

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Our family

Our family

Queen’s Day celebration

A turn around in the weather spelled the big difference and great fun in this year’s traditional Queen’s Day celebration. The day before, we were still in our thick winter coat but on this day, we could go out in summer outfit, my husband even in his shorts.

The 30th of April has been celebrated as Queen’s Day during the reign of Queen Juliana (mother of Queen Beatrix, the reigning monarch) because that was her birthday and the gates of Soestdijk Palace opened up to the Dutch people who would come to bring her presents. She would be with the royal family in full force to meet the people in her very own down-to-earth manner. This has of course endeared her to her subjects. Queen Beatrix’s birthday is in January but the April 30 celebration has been retained because weather-wise, this is the best time for the Dutch to party. Holland on this day explodes in orange as the Dutch family belongs to the House of Orange-Nassau (Oranje-Nassau). The manner of celebration has also taken a different route. On this day, Queen Beatrix and the members of the royal family visit two towns/cities and participate in the many organized activities. The younger royals literally let their hair loose by joining in the many fun games, much to the amusement of the people who normally don’t get the chance to see them up close and personal and in such a very relaxed and playful manner.

This celebration has seen rough times in recent years. Three years ago, at the celebration in Apeldoorn which is also a royal stronghold, a drama unfolded right before the very eyes of the Dutch royals. A black Suzuki swift driven by a man suffering from depression drove through the crowd in full view of the royal family who were in an open bus. Eight people died from this incident which has always been viewed as a fun and safe activity.

This year, the royal family visited the towns of Veenendaal and Rhenen. The mood was sober especially when the queen addressed the crowd that unfortunately the royal family was not complete. Tragedy struck the royal family when the queen’s son Prince Johan Friso was buried in an avalanche while the family were on a skiing holiday in Austria last February. He is in coma and in long-term care at a specialized hospital in London and to which the doctors have already declared that he’ll never wake up again save for a miracle. He is the smartest of the queen’s three sons and father to two very young daughters who will never get to live normal lives again.

Apart from the festive mood, Holland is also one big flea market on this day. Anyone with second hand stuffs to sell is out to make a few bucks. It is a case of one’s junk can be another person’s treasure. Old clothes, shoes, toys, music records, DVDs, delicate chinas, books, etc. which have been segregated for disposal after spring cleaning can maybe still earn a few bucks. To my little girl, the big attraction was the merry go round and the chance to eat her favorite “olliebollen” which is normally something that is on sale around Christmas and New year. Some enterprising young girls were offering nail polish for 50 cents with several designs to choose from. My little girl showed her patriotic side asking for the colors of the Dutch flag.

After the walk through the busy Langestraat, we had enough of this Orange madness and decided to already go home. I suggested to the hubby that it is not a bad idea to head to the tulip fields in Zeewolde for our annual photo session since the weather is just fantastic for that.

Orange is the color of the day

Other people's junk can be another person's treasure

Everyone wants to earn a few bucks...this boy with his violin for a few cents

Selling old records

Old DVDs

Old toys and game boards

Old chinas, etc.

Old shoes

Old toys

A manicure of preferred design from enterprising girls for Eur 50 cents

The colors of the Dutch flag in her nails... a very satisfied customer

Merry-go-round always spells "F-U-N" to the little girl

A balloon is also a must-have...pricey at Eur 6.00

And "olliebollen" which has become rare at this time of the year is a treat to the little girl

Ogling the many sorts of sweets

Tulips (part 3)

We are still to have that annual visit to Keukenhof and our usual foray to the flower fields. Weather lately has been pretty weird as the disturbance up north sent chills our way these last couple of days.

Still, spring is here and frosty nights and chilly days haven’t dampen our spirits. I share with you more tulips pictures from last year.

Easter egg hunt in the dunes

My little girl and her basket of Easter eggs

My blog stood silent in the last couple of days as the frenzied activities during the Easter holidays left me with hardly any time to sit in front of the PC.

We sure had a great time doing this year’s Easter egg hunt though the temperature was not as warm as it was the year before. Thanks to the suggestion of our neighbor, we did the egg hunt in the sand dunes of Soesterduinen, a lovely nature reserve area which is pretty close to our place. The kids had a great time being let loose in a seemingly endless sand box. There were also trees that were just perfect for climbing and before long, all of them were up in the tree.

This place is one perfect paradise for kids and one cannot help but be charmed by everything it has on offer. To us parents, we could enjoy moments of lively conversation without worrying about our kids who are safe in all the games that they can think about in this place.

We will surely be back again when the weather warms up and all of us have a free Sunday to spare. The kids can hardly wait…

The sand dunes of Soesterduinen look like an endless sand box

Pine trees sparsely populate the sand dunes

These low lying pine trees with outstretched branches are perfect for climbing

Under the tree, we could have that perfect picnic

The kids cannot resist the lure of tree climbing

Such a huge area to run around and look for the Easter eggs

More eggs!!!

Too many eggs to hunt

Eggs were everywhere...even up in the tree

There is always that look of wonder and amazement with every egg find

Easter eggs ... both real eggs and chocolate ones

Seeking for more eggs

Tree climbing

Playing in the sand

Sand rolling

Friendly banters

Picnic fare

Easter bread

Orange chiffon cake

Pistolet with smoked salmon

Pistolet with Nutella

Tree climbing

Tree climbing

Sometimes it is easy to climb but difficult to get down

My husband comes to the rescue

The rescuer

Our family

Family picture

The kids

The egg hunters minus one

My little girl’s third foray into the flower fields (Spring 2010)

Another spring, another foray into the flower fields. Unfortunately, this was one weekend when the weather was not on our side. It has been raining for days so the tulip fields were very muddy. Still, we were not dissuaded to get our feet into the ground and have this photo shoot.

As I am going through my posts this week, it is a funny realization that I had been unintentionally documenting my little girl’s development through the years through these springtime pictures. Before her, I have been going to the flower fields and to Keukenhof almost on a yearly basis but hardly realizing what is different year after year.

Honestly, these forays into the flower fields are our family’s cheapest form of entertainment in spring as getting to these fields does not cost a single cent.

The little girl’s second foray into the flower fields (Spring 2009)

Among red tulips

It used to be that the years went by without us noticing. Spring year after year would seem the same. We hardly noticed the passing of time and the difference in each passing year. All that changed with Francesca as since her birth, she became the benchmark and timescale for everything in our lives.

Certainly all parents will agree with me that children become the focal point of our lives, the beacon of hope on those dreary days, the source of strength when the hurdle seems too much and the source of laughter that cheers us up especially on those times that we can hardly summon a smile.

On this post you will see how much a year means in the life of a child. From the 6-month old baby in the previous post, she was 1.5 years in these pictures. This time, she was running through the flower fields and plucking the odd flowers out.

We spent the Easter weekend with my parents-in-law in Dronten where some of the big tracks of flower fields can be found. There were tulip and hyacinth fields and all were very exciting for our little girl.

Fields of blooms

I got the odd one out!

Among pink hyancinths

Francesca with opa and oma

Francesca and oma

our family

Francesca and opa

Francesca and me

Red tulips

Yet another castle on one fine spring day

Rosendael Castle

There are times in life when our plans take a different turn and yield surprises beyond our expectations. A few weeks ago, we went to the Veluwe intent on exploring Biljoen Castle but that turned out to be off-limits to the public. Instead, we discovered a nature reserve nearby and was pleasantly surprised by the sheer beauty of the landscape and can hardly wait to be back when the season of heather goes full swing.

On the way back home, we took a different route and discovered a very nice hilly hairpin road which is pretty unusual in this very flat country whose great part is even below sea level. That drive led us to discover yet another hidden beauty in the Veluwe forest — the lovely Medieval Rosendael Castle. Being the castle freak that I am, I was right away captivated by the lovely sight in front of me. Too bad that it was already getting late and the little girl after all the playing in the nature reserve fell asleep in the car. I just went by myself to take a few pictures, intent to come back another time. The castle was anyway closed till end-March so I did not feel so bad that I have missed on a lovely visit. All the more reason to return…

I was charmed too by the crocuses in full bloom and the busy bees.

A lion statue at the castle's entrance

Rosendael Castle in the distance

Rosendael Castle

View of the village houses from the castle's park

Rosendael Castle

One of the buildings in the castle's grounds

Rosendael Castle

A thatched house that is pretty common in the area

Yet another thatched house

A white crocus and its visitor

Busy bees

Dainty white crocuses

Purple crocus and its visitor

Saw this horse-drawn carriage just as we were leaving...

Spring blooms

Apologies for posting so many spring pictures but I’m just so happy that spring is finally here. I love this season of the year because it just feels like being reborn into a new life that is full of new promises and possibilities. There is beauty all around us too…from blossoming trees to those spring flowers blooming in profusion.

There are so many things to look forward to like those weekend outings to the park, castles or palaces we have around. Warm weather means having barbeques in the garden or picnics in the park or forest nearby. Then there are camping trips that we intend doing more as well this year…

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.

Early spring

The 1st of March is already considered here as the start of spring in meteorological terms although the real start of the season as we know will only be 3 more weeks farther. My daughter can hardly wait for the new season to begin as she looks forward to picking flowers and assemble them into lovely bouquets.

I share my little girl’s fascination with this season as I simply love how Holland blossoms after a long hibernation in winter. I love the sight of early morning just when the sun is breaking though the mist as backdrop to the trees and shrubs which explode in blooms just as soon as the temperature warms up sustainably for a couple of days.

With the exception of when there is snow or ice, my camera also goes into winter hibernation mode so when the first signs of spring become visible, I am out of the door in an instant to go around and start clicking to capture the beauty of the season.

These are pictures I took last year and I am looking forward to a repeat of this lovely phase in the season this year.

Lady bug

Dandelion

Snail

Lady bug

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