Last April I flew to Amsterdam to visit the tulip fields of Holland.  Unfortunately, spring had been cold and most of the gardens were behind schedule; the bulbs were not yet in bloom.

Pink-Tulips-featureHowever, Keukenhof, the world’s largest tulip garden with over seven million bulbs, did not disappoint. The 80-acre shrine boasts greenhouses full of exotic species and I understand some of the outdoor gardens have heated installations. Dull corners do not exist; the flowering fields are the essence of springtime. You’ll find no lack of photographers in this ephemeral place.

Tulip Close-up

Tulip Close-up

Keukenhof lies about a half hour outside the city, in Lisse, and tour buses are plentiful. Some leave directly from the international airport. Plan to spend the entire day and be sure to wear comfortable shoes, as you will cover much ground.

The flowerbeds are often divided by variety and color and finding the proper angle to photograph them proved a challenge. I did best using a macro lens and shooting close-ups. Along with tulips, I eyed daffodils, hyacinths, azaleas, rhododendrons and Japanese cherry trees. This photo was taken of wind-blown cherry blossoms that had fallen into a pond.

Keukenhof Monet

My Keukenhof Monet

In addition to meandering the ornamental plots and greenhouses, you’ll pass numerous fountains and a lovely lake with ducks, geese and swans — and a few fun photo opportunities for tourists.

Fun Photo Opportunities

Fun Photo Opportunities

I toured inside a windmill, but skipped the boat ride on a small canal.  Restaurants and outdoor food kiosks kept me well fed. Of course, visitors can’t leave without hitting the gift shops stocked with instructional guides and bulbs packaged to meet international customs regulations.

While I am not a gardener, Keukenhof proves thrilling for experts who understand and appreciate the diversity of these extraordinary grounds. For those of us who simply enjoy beauty, the gardens get five stars- the best of the best.

Tulip Time in Amsterdam

Tulip Time in Amsterdam

Back in Amsterdam I headed for the newly reopened Rijks Museum (rhymes with “bikes”), but found a long queue. Instead of waiting, I crossed the street and hopped on a canal boat for an exploratory tour of the city. I highly recommend this for Amsterdam newcomers. You’ll acquaint yourself with the city’s inner-connecting rings as you grow accustomed to 17th-century canal house architecture and soaring cathedral spires.

The following morning I entered the Rijks without a wait. Their world renowned collection of Dutch Masters shines with pure joy. Most of the famous works were painted during Holland’s Golden Age, the 1600’s, when Amsterdam was the richest city on earth.

The museum now features a mini-tablet tour that directs you from floor to floor and displays a picture of the artwork you are supposed to find. Once there, you can listen to a description. I had a bit of difficulty following the floor plan (might just be me), but the building layout is confusing. No worries; the guards are very helpful and non-flash photography is permitted.

I can’t comprehend how the artists were able to paint light into a scene, but honestly, you don’t need to know to admire and appreciate the masterpieces. My favorites were Rembrandt’s: The Night Watch, a huge canvas in an alcove by itself and a 1639 still life of tulips by Hans Bollongier. Vermeer’s Kitchen Maid is so alive I swear I could hear the milk pouring from her pitcher into the bowl. I also was enamored by extravagant miniatures in a dolls house and the magnificent structural details of the old edifice.

Still Life

Still Life

Night Watch

Night Watch

I did not tour the nearby Van Gogh Museum as it was under renovation. It has since reopened and is considered a must-see. I also stopped into a diamond house which I honestly don’t suggest, unless you are interested in buying. Nothing beats the pleasure of simply strolling along the streets, bridges and canals. The flower mart in the middle of the city is a jewel. While I’m not a great shopper, I could have bought one of everything in the blue and white Delft pottery shop nearby.

Later I visited the Anne Frank House or Huis, highly recommended, but prepare yourself for the sadness that permeates the air. I waited my turn to enter the cramped space where her family was forced to hide and remain quiet during the day.  How difficult it must have been to live in such confinement. Documents and short video displays aid one’s understanding of the war and Nazi occupation. Visit early or late and order your tickets online to avoid long lines.

Canal Cruise

Canal Cruise

Did I skip the famous Red Light District?  No, this well-known area remains one of the defining images of Amsterdam, a city with liberal practices. I strolled through its narrow lanes during the day with some other photographers. You are not supposed to take photos here, and I did not. Eye-opening views, however.

I caught a train north to see some working windmills, but did not catch much sunshine.  I was fortunate to discover a vibrant orange tulip field in preparation for Queens or Orange Day festivities. In 2013, the Queen stepped down and her son succeeded. This April (2014) will be the first annual celebration of King’s Day- Koningsdag on the 26th. The carefree carnival type events are also celebrated in Aruba, Curaçao and Saint Maarten, countries of Dutch descent.

Despite the weather, the Netherlands justifiably earns legendary springtime honors. Even if all the tulips aren’t out, Amsterdam ranks as one of the most fascinating and colorful cities anywhere. The wide variety of attractions appeal to young and old and everyone in between. Find your reason, plan a trip and go.

Windmill in Blue

Windmill in Blue

Disclosure: This trip was self-funded. All photos by Debi Lander/copyright Debi Lander.