Whenever my wife and I have the opportunity to travel to another country, we try to experience something cultural and unique to that particular destination.
For example, while in Paris, we were enthralled while listening to a chamber orchestra in the 1,000-year-old Sainte-Chapelle; in Brussels, we enjoyed sitting in the Grand Place city square while eating strawberry- and-chocolate-covered Belgian waffles during the Ilot Sacr festival; and in the Netherlands last April, we visited the stunning tulip gardens of Keukenhof just outside of Amsterdam.
Once in Amsterdam, it's easy to arrange transportation to the Keukenhof. It is located just on the other side of Amsterdam's Airport Schiphol. But the time of the year you select to visit is vital, since the gardens are only open for two months of the year. This year, the dates you can visit are March 24-May 20.
We participated in an organized tour that can easily be researched and booked on the Internet. If you prefer something less formal, you can arrive by private vehicle — even the city bus stops there.
The grounds, even without the flowers in full bloom, are immense and intricately interesting — something straight out of a fairy tale. At one end is a working 1892 windmill that we were permitted to climb and look out over tulip plants being harvested for their bulbs just outside of the gardens. It reminded us of scenes from The LDS Church missionary movie "The Best Two Years," with tightly organized row upon row of rainbow-hued tulips extending seemingly for miles.
Inside the gardens, meandering pathways extend through innumerable beds of tulips demonstrating flower shapes and sizes I've never seen before, and in colors reaching far beyond anything in my childhood crayon box.
Never before have I seen a tulip that grows downward, its petals like a shaggy beard and leaves like tufts of hair on top. There were tulips like lacy doilies, some like wafting sea anemones and others like punk-rock hairdos. There were pastel shades and jewel tones, and everything in between, and flowers that would dwarf a baby's head nestled against blooms that would barely fit over my thumb. Around every corner, we were gifted with a scene more marvelous than the last.
While hundreds of people visit at a time, the grounds are expansive enough to disperse the guests, creating an atmosphere of near-total serenity.
In addition to the infinite flower beds, there are tranquil ponds with swans and ducks paddling beneath tall trees, as well as sculptural art and cut-flower displays. There are several different pavilions where orchids and other exotic flora are on display that can be purchased. But if flying internationally after your visit, take care to have your purchases sent home to you. Bulbs are not allowed on airplanes to the U.S. without prior approval.
Keukenhof is an international exhibit that introduces the world to what Holland has to offer in the way of the country's No. 1 export. Each of the major growers in the country sponsors a portion of the 32-acre gardens. Tulips are vitally important to the Dutch economy, and garden designers spare no expense in their display of more than 7 million bulbs.
Oftentimes, I've appreciated the beauty of God's creations. Hiking through the Uintah Mountains or a stroll down a California beach always inspires me to remember the vastness and complexity of the earth. For me, our visit to Keukenhof was beyond anything I have ever experienced. For two months each year, it is simply heaven on earth.
Chris Hale of Grapevine, Texas, is an aviation maintenance technician for a major airline who has traveled extensively with his family. In his spare time, he writes fiction novels based on places he has visited. Visit his website at www.chrisahale.com