As I mentioned earlier, I thought I would be able to combine the Munich and Holland updates together, but I had no idea how the beauty of the flowers we saw would affect us.
To being, let’s talk about the Dutch language. It is very hard to describe how it sounds, but to me it’s something like German with some English and Spanish mixed in….and they slur a lot of what they are saying. I tried to listen very intently, but I still couldn’t pick out enough words to understand the sentence. I’m beginning to think that if I got really, really drunk I would be able to understand this language perfectly.
There is often confusion about Holland (O.K., maybe it’s just me……again). Some people call the Netherlands, Holland, but it is not the same. Holland is only a small part of the Netherlands and like the Dakotas, Carolinas and Virginias, there are two. There's "North-Holland" (Capital city is Haarlem) and "South-Holland" (Capital city is The Hague). Holland used to be an independent country. It had a "Count", its own coinage (until the 19th century), its own measuring units and time, but it gave up that independence in the 16th century, when it allied with the Northern and Southern Netherlands against the armies of the King of Spain whom at the time was officially the "Count of Holland" and ruled over this whole area. The main reasons for war were religious differences, disputes over taxes and the fact that when some cities wanted to break free, the King's army was quite brutal to civilians. Eventually the Southern Netherlands gave up the fight and stayed occupied by foreign forces until 1830. That area is now called Belgium. The Northern Netherlands fought on and won. Then, along with the counties of Holland, Drente, Groningen, Friesland, Gelderland, Zeeland and Utrecht became a free Republic, including the occupied regions of Brabant and Limburg. All these counties (called provinces today, together with some new ones) are now called "The Kingdom of the Netherlands." Today the province of Limburg still has a Governor and to say to someone from Limburg or Friesland that he or she is from Holland, is considered an insult. They consider themselves to be from the Netherlands. They even have their own language. People from other Provinces (except North and South Holland) will perhaps not consider it a real insult, but still they're not from Holland.
In summary, Holland gave up its individual independence a very long time ago, so calling the Netherlands "Holland", is much like calling Great Britain "England." Wrong in both cases.
Now a little about The Netherlands -- a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders with Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom. It is a parliamentary democracy organized as a unitary state. The country capital is Amsterdam and the seat of government is The Hague. The Netherlands in its entirety is often referred to as Holland, although, as we have already been informed, North and South Holland are actually only two of its twelve provinces.
The Netherlands is a geographically low-lying country, with about 25% of its area and 21% of its population located below sea level and 50% of its land lying less than one meter above sea level. This distinct feature contributes to the country's name: in Dutch (Nederland). In English and in many other European languages its name literally means "(The) Low Countries" or "Low Country". Most of the areas below sea level are man-made, caused by centuries of extensive and poorly controlled peat extraction, lowering the surface by several meters. Even in flooded areas peat extraction continued through turf dredging. As from the late 16th century land reclamation started and large polder areas are now preserved through elaborate drainage systems with dikes, canals and pumping stations (many of which you will see in our photos). Much of the Netherlands is formed by the estuary of three important European rivers, which together with their distributaries form the Rhine-Meuse-Scheldt delta. Most of the country is very flat, with the exception of foothills in the far southeast and several low-hill ranges in the central parts.
The Netherlands was one of the first countries to have an elected parliament. Among other affiliations, the country is a founding member of the EU, NATO, OECD and WTO. With Belgium and Luxembourg it forms the Benelux economic union. The country is host to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and five international courts: the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Court and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The first four are situated in The Hague as is the EU's criminal intelligence agency Europol and judicial co-operation agency Eurojust. This has led to the city being dubbed "the world's legal capital". The Netherlands has a capitalist market-based economy, ranking 13th of 157 countries according to the Index of Economic Freedom. In May 2011, the Netherlands was ranked as the "happiest" country according to results published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. In April 2012, Netherlands was ranked 4th in Gross National Happiness - GNH under World Happiness report published by the earth institute. Makes you wonder how we ranked, huh?
The other historical point that seems to be following me around since visiting Auschwitz is that during the Nazi occupation of this area over 100,000 Dutch Jews were rounded up and transported to Nazi German concentration camps in Germany, German-occupied Poland and German-occupied Czechoslovakia. By the time these camps were liberated, only 876 Dutch Jews survived – that’s a 99% death rate for those keeping score. Dutch workers were also conscripted for forced labor in German factories, civilians were killed in reprisal for attacks on German soldiers, and the countryside was plundered for food for German soldiers in the Netherlands and for shipment to Germany. Although there were thousands of Dutch who risked their lives by hiding Jews from the Germans there were also Dutch who collaborated with the occupying force in hunting down hiding Jews. Local fascists and anti-Bolsheviks joined the Waffen-SS in the 4th SS Volunteer Panzer grenadier Brigade Netherlands, fighting on the Eastern Front as well as other units. Racial restrictions were relaxed to the extent that even Asians from Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) units were recruited.
Anyhow, we grabbed a “Hop On – Hop Off” bus and took the tour of the area. As we traveled through numerous flower fields our cameras were put into overtime. A click here, a click there and other clicks everywhere meant that I was going to be busy later loading, correcting and/or deleting numerous photos from our two cameras. Somehow, at times, what the eye sees as beauty the camera picks up as a blur or not-so-pretty. So now, after hours of editing and a lot of coffee, you can “enjoy” this first part of the march-of-the-flowers in the attached photo show, the flower fields as we saw them. We then got off the bus for a nice Italian lunch by the seaside, as the locals call the North Sea. (I really feel sorry for folks who “think” they have a beach. If they could just visit paradise…….)
The next day we attended the 65th Annual Parade of Tulips, which is a misnomer since numerous types of flowers were on parade. But, the unbelievable work that went into building the numerous and imaginative floats using millions --- yes, MILLIONS of flowers was extremely impressive. I posted “just enough” photos of the parade to give you an idea of what you missed. BUT, additional information is needed. This is the ONLY parade I have ever seen or even heard of that runs for almost TWELVE HOURS. Yep, it started out at 9:30 AM and ended at 9:00 PM. The parade actually runs 40 kilometers (25 miles) between Noordwijk and Haarlem with two “breaks” for the marchers scheduled in the 12 hours. I didn’t find out if the same floats and marchers did the whole 40K march, but I sure hope not. Here are a few videos of the parade Julieann took:
Some of the bigs ones
American Indian Float
Live band playing in the rain
The ones we thought were the best
The RV Float or what they call RVs
Some more history for you: Floats for the first floral procession in Lisse in 1950 used wet moss as a foundation for the flowers. The floats frequently became so heavy that the cars and tractors carrying them collapsed under their weight. Today, professionals construct the floats according to drawings that depict the theme selected for the year. They use a basic frame with reinforcing steel and reed mats to form the shape. Agile fingers attach clusters of hyacinths (up to 1.5 million per float). Tulips, daffodils and extravagant bouquets decorate other floats. Flower parades are festive occasions. As each float goes by, the intoxicating scent of hyacinths envelopes spectators. The section we watched was during a damn rain storm (after being told what great weather they had LAST year; story of my life). I felt for the school bands, cheerleaders, flag wavers and other unprotected marchers, but the parade actually took a two hour break twice during the twelve hours. That still made it the longest (time wise) parade we have ever seen. At least the sun came out AFTER our portion of the parade had passed so the marchers got a chance to dry off.
We then visited Keukenhof Farm where millions of tulips, along with narcissi and daffodils, hyacinths, bluebells, and many others blossom perfectly in place and exactly on time, at least it seemed that way. They call Keukenhof "the greatest flower show on earth" and with good reason. Keukenhof is a 79-acre park located between Amsterdam and The Hague. There are reportedly over SEVEN MILLION bulb flowers. The area is surrounded by natural woodland and contains ornamental shrubs, a working windmill, blossoming fruit trees, cascades and canals. Carpets of crocuses sprout as harbingers of a dazzling display of tulips, narcissi, daffodils and hyacinths. Add to that the fruit trees, lilacs and lilies blossoming to all combine for a symphony of color and fragrance.
Leading Dutch bulb-growers display their flowers in separate gardens, some formally laid-out, others growing naturally below centuries-old trees. White hyacinths, resembling popcorn on a stick, are mixed with voluptuous daffodils, while tulips, in various, brilliant colors, are neatly arranged. A vast complex of greenhouses display hundreds of varieties of tulips, growing in little gardens accented with statues and tiny waterfalls. Nearly all the flowers have names like "Peeping Tom," "Little Red Riding-Hood" and "Black Parrot." The latter refers to a deep-plum, curly-edged tulip with petals so purple that they're almost black. Other varieties have petals so thin that they're almost stringy. Dutch horticulturalists are continually developing new and exotic colors and shapes of tulips. Besides growing experimental blooms, they also develop ways to control diseases that attack the bulbs. Viruses can attack tulips, causing abnormal, but beautiful, colors and shapes.
Few people realize that tulips did not originate in Holland. They were first imported from Turkey in 1554 as collectors' items. By the 17th century, the speculation in bulbs became a mania. Merchants were so obsessed with their beauty that they would pay thousands of dollars for a single bulb. The tulip even gained a stock market value and fortunes were both made and lost. Tulips are still a big business for Holland. Bulb fields stretch for miles across the countryside as you can see in our photos. During the peak season, a rainbow of vivid colors carpets the earth for as far as the eye can see. The brilliant strips of multi-hued flowers are usually called "tulip fields" by tourists. But to the Dutch, they're known as "bulb fields," because it's the bulbs that farmers export. Surprisingly, the methods of growing them have changed little over the centuries. The whole bulb industry is still carried on by hand. Bent figures, frequently wearing klompen (wooden shoes), can be seen weeding, spraying and picking the blossoms. Yes, picking (not with my back!) Tulips are generally polled a few days after flowering so that the bulbs will retain the sap. The blossoms are tossed into wicker baskets and unceremoniously dumped into heaps to await removal by tractor-drawn carts.
Needless to say, Julieann was in “seventh heaven”. We both really enjoyed the flowers, even with the pesky rain trying to ruin our fun.
Tomorrow we’ll be at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, accepting the hospitality of Wayne and Jeong Elliott who we were stationed with in Korea a few years ago. We’ll camp out at their place while trying to catch a hop back to the states.
More later when the RV hits the road around mid-May. Thanks for traveling with us.