Friday, May 2, 2014

Tiptoe Through The Tulips!

Day two of our European trip began with a wonderful pancake and cappuccino at the Hotel Fita.  Then off to an early visit to the Keukenhof: the largest flower garden in the world, featuring over 7 million flowers!  We were present during peak tulip season and this place draws Disneyworld type crowds from across the world.  I know...tulips right?!  Our friend Chris bought the tickets very far in advance and we had to get rolling early to miss the huge crowds that drift in later in the day.  I'll admit I was less than excited about flowers, and the fact that it was raining when we picked up our shuttle at the Schiphol airport.  After about a 35-40 minute standing bus ride we arrived at the gardens and indeed they had a human cattle entry that again reminded me of Disney.  Luckily the rain came on an off, allowing for periods of decent light for practicing with my brand new camera.  Rain would start again periodically, causing me to wrap my camera within the safe folds of my rain jacket (yes I remembered to bring one on this trip!) until it had stopped again.

We entered the grounds to crazy, loud and somewhat discordant music from a huge and slightly disturbing calliope near the entrance.

The stuff of nightmares?

Once we moved past the crush of photo-taking tourists (yes I know I was one too...) we were faced with seemingly endless groupings of tulips in nearly any color one could imagine.  Different shapes and textures abounded and I found myself intrigued and interested in spite of myself!  Coming from a snow-laden Minnesota that had yet to show us green, this incredible burst of color touched my icy soul in a way that was totally unexpected to me.  And talk about a great place to practice some amateur photography!  Better light and less rain would have improved my shooting, but hey, I'll take that over more pictures of snow banks and my indoor cats.  Please excuse all the following pictures of tulips...

Maroon and Gold baby!

We had lunch at a crowded lunch-line style eatery and I had my only Heinekin while in the Netherlands.  Hey I was desperate!  And strangely their version didn't seem as skunky and gross as our American version.

Stop looking at my Heinie!

Following lunch we visited a huge enclosed orchid building, with plenty more photo opportunities and way too many people.  Near the end we discovered a hedge maze and even a windmill!

Upon finishing up our veritable orgy of flower watching we finally returned to the city, watching bright sun peak out of the clouds literally minutes after we left the garden grounds.  We wandered Amsterdam for a time, taking in the architecture and dodging bikes, scooters and trams.

On our travels we felt a thirst come upon us and entered a likely looking pub called Onder de Ooievaar (meaning under the shops, I believe).  The bartender was fantastic, offering the confused travelers several large tastes of beers from the many taps to help us decide on our choices.  This is not something that really occurred during the rest of our trip, so it stands out to me.  We ended up ordering a couple of lentebiers (spring beers) including t' IJ, Jopin, and Texels--all local versions of maibocks.  The 't IJ version had a distinct Belgian yeast character and I'd like to try brewing something like this in the future.  During our brief visit a cat from a neighboring bar infiltrated the place and started getting under the bartender's feet.  The cat was eventually extricated and evicted under duress from the premises.

Much abused Bar Cat looks longingly back at its favorite Amsterdam pub...

From the pub we wandered a bit more through bike-laden streets and over canals.  We eventually took a tram to our dinner at De Kaas.  This highly regarded restaurant was started in 2001 by Michelin Star winning chef Gert Jan Hageman in a 1920's glass enclosed nursery building located inside one of the local park spaces.  They still grow many of their own herbs and other vegetables in the green house.  The food was incredible and truly fresh and local.  Being haute cuisine, they were very wine-centric and did not have many options for beer.  They did have several bottles of local de Proef beers and we spent a lot of time trying to get the waitress to figure out what they were.  Seriously, if you are waitstaff at a very expensive restaurant you need to know your stuff!  The beers we got were not bad, but I feel better about not making it to the brewery since they were not fantastic.  Overall our meal was amazing, but our service was terrible.  The fixed three course dinner took over 3 hours and our multiple servers seemed not to have any idea what they were doing.  At least they were pleasant and cool Dutch accents when they did eventually help us out.  Waiting for 30 minutes for an ordered drink when there are only 25 people and 6 serving staff in a restaurant is ridiculous.  Rant over.  Basically our experience was less than stellar and I would not waste my time there again despite the great food.  Due to our interminable length of stay at dinner, instead of more time to wander and look for pubs, it was now time for bed.

Up Next: Amsterdam to Bruges

And as an added bonus: Here is a link to a video of the timeless classic by one time Minnesota resident Tiny Tim!

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