When the alarm rang at 8:30 am, I was only half asleep anyway. At 7:45, something broke my sleep and I checked the clock to make sure I had not overslept. When I was assured that I hadn’t it was easy to attempt getting those last few winks. My neighbor was using the shower as I started in that direction, but there are always pre-shower preparations that consume time: putting in the contacts, shaving, and so on.
By 9:30, I was sitting downstairs waiting for breakfast. The tables were empty of dishes or flatware. There was only one guest eating, a young Asian woman. She had a large plate and was using a fork, but as I passed her by, I was more taken with the fact that she was Asian and a woman in a gay hotel, than I was with what she was eating.
The desk clerk/breakfast server asked if I wanted coffee. It he had taken more than a cursory look at my face, he would have just started an IV drip with it. So I sat there waiting for some semblance of something edible to appear, when a thirty-something young man sat diagonal from me. He said good morning and told me his name was Gregory. When our waiter/desk clerk/other job titled person asked our room numbers, I said 25. Gregory said to him 24 and then to me “Oh, you’re my neighbor.” I felt like I had just moved into a new condo and was getting to meet my neighbors with his comment. We chatted while waiting for nourishment, which surprisingly turned out to be a ham omelet, the Sunday special. Gregory is from Vancouver, but was born in Novia Scotia. He works for a college, but does not teach. We chatted a bit, he had never been to Budapest, though he would like to see it, and then he got up to pour juice and disappeared after that. The next I saw of him was when I was going back to the room after breakfast and he was starting down with his luggage. He had a flight out today. I gave him a card for our B and B like a good business man.
To save time today, I took the tram to the Central Station. I looked for the machines to buy tickets and using my cheat sheet that a Dutch guardian angel sent me, I was able to navigate the various buttons that I needed to press to buy my ticket to Leidenpeople behind me make me nervous, I was all set until I saw 13.90 Euros. This is how much the round trip ticket would be. I only had 9 Euros in coins and the machine did not take paper currency. I hit the cancel button, shoved the notes in my pocket and slinked off to the line for purchasing a ticket from a human. I was warned that this would cost one Euro more for the privilege, but it was easier than getting more change and starting from the beginning. When the agent said it would be 13.90, there was an impulse to say not 14.90, but I held back.
Within five minutes of reaching the platform, the train arrived. When the conductor came for tickets, I handed it to him with more confidence than I did at the airport coming in. Amsterdam was chilly in the morning and the clouds were starting to pattern the blue sky, so I was concerned about what the weather was going to do. As the train was getting closer to Leiden, the clouds were darkening. The thought of chanting ‘Rain, rain, go away’ did pop through my mind, but could not remember its effective rate from when I was seven years old, plus it had not started to rain yet. That chant could actually be counter-productive at this juncture. Within 35 minutes, we were at Leiden Central Station, cloudy, but no rain yet.
A multitude of people told me that you buy the ticket for the bus and the entrance to Keukenhof from the driver; however, when I went to ask the driver for the ticket, he sent me to the ticket office outside. If you should go, when you come down the stairs from the train, turn right to exit the station by the front door. Turn right again and walk around and you will see a ticket office marked Connexxion. A combi-ticket for a round trip bus ride directly to the main gate of the gardens and the entrance is 17.00 Euro for adults, 14.40 for seniors and 9.00 for children from 4-11 years old.
The bus was filled to capacity with every seat filled and about two dozen people standing in the aisles. With a bus every 15 minutes, if one needed a seat, it is only a short wait for the next opportunity. By noon, I was at the Keukenhof gate and avoided the lines at the ticket counter with the combi-ticket. It is not at all what I had expected. In my mind, I had pictured an area of fields filled with flowers. This was so much more and more incredible than I could have imagined. It was flower lovers paradise.
Keukenhof literally means kitchen garden. The land was once owned by a Dutch Duchess of the 15th century. The area was used to grow herbs for her kitchen staff to use in cooking. It has been transformed over the centuries into acres of natural color and beauty. In 1857, an English landscape architect designed the gardens that are there today. In 1949, Dutch bulb growers were clever enough to use these gardens to create a Spring Flower Exhibition. This is the 57th year of this exhibition.
It is 32 hectares large.
The inside exhibition halls have a vast variety of flowers and plants. I was amazed to see azaleas, orchids, and an amazing assortment of other flowers. Although the tulips were not all out yet due to the weather, it was thrilling to see the vast varieties of daffodils, jonquils, crocus, hyacinths, and other flowers that are really my favorite breeds. There were some tulip varieties starting to blossom, and others were in the budding stage.
At one vista point, you can climb a hill to look out over a flower farm that was a showered in yellow, presumably daffodils since they were too far away to see. What I found fascinating was that the trails were covered in seashells, not gravel. Besides the billions of crushed seashell bits, there were still plenty of whole shells left intact to make the distinction in what was being crunched with each step taken.
As long as I have a camera and am allowed to use it, I am flying high with energy. The pictures were being snapped almost faster than the camera would allow. Certainly more than my knees would allow. I was up and down in a kneeling position so many time, I feared I would need to beg assistance from a stranger to stand upright after some time. After an two hours of walking and shooting flowers, I walked toward a windmill on the grounds. Along side of it, a vendor was selling ham sandwiches. The aroma grabbed my attention immediately, so indulging was not a question. For 3 Euros, the sandwich on a soft roll was piled high with thinly sliced ham that was grilled. The young vendor asked if I would like some ‘special sauce’ on it. Of course, if it was special, put it on there. It was mouth wateringly delicious. I savored each bite as the ‘special sauce’ was truly so. In my earlier days, I would have indulged in a second sandwich just because it was so delectable.
The park has pavilions with flower exhibits, the history of bulb growing in the country, Dutch designs, areas for children to play on oversized playground equipment, and lots of restaurants and souvenir shops. Without a map, it would be easy to get lost or miss out on something spectacular. However, not being the map person, I trusted my instincts and it worked out well. There a numerous trails along lakes, ponds, and streams. There are plenty of sculptures as you wander interspersed with the flowers, so there is plenty to capture your attention yet pull you to discover the next display.
I really took time to smell the flowers having arrived at the gate at 11:45 and left the gate at 4:45 and 252 photos later. If I missed a hectare, I would be surprising. It was a shock that I had spent that much time there, but there is no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon. It was cold when the sun went hiding behind a cloud, but it felt refreshing at the same time. With the signs of spring bursting out all over, there was encouragement that warmer days still lay ahead of us yet.
The park is open until May 19th this year. Since this is nature and not silk flowers, it has to coincide with the growing seasons. They open the gates at 8:00 am and stay open until 7:30 pm. The flowers you will find outdoors at the time of a visit will depend on the weather conditions at the time. The dates for 2007 are March 22nd until May 20th. To check the latest news, you can go to their website at http://www.keukenhof.nl/ .
When the bus dropped us off at the Leiden Central Station again, though tired, I could not leave without traipsing around the city a little while first. Heading into town, what really appealed to me was a good cup of coffee. The coffee at the gardens was a quick machine brew that fell short of being satisfying.
The city is quite charming, but being Sunday and not after 5:00 pm, there were not a tremendous amount of choices. I passed a few museums I would have liked to have visited like the Ethnographic Museum, but it was past their closing time. As well, the choices for coffee looked to be either too restaurantish or too ‘coffeeshopish’ serving more than just coffee. I was only in the mood for a caffeine high, thank you very much. After an hour of wandering, I gave in to my body’s pleading and went to catch a train. Leiden is definitely a city to return to at some point. It is lovely even when closed for the day.
If you are interested in seeing more flower pictures, send me an e-mail at email@example.com and I will send you the link for them.