Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tiptoe Through the Tulips in Springtime Netherlands

Almost every year since 2000, we have happily pedaled through stunning tulip country in the Netherlands with our equally happy bike and barge tour groups. In recent years we've started scheduling our Holland flower trips earlier in the season to increase our chances of catching the glorious Dutch flowers blooming in the fields.

Though prime tulip season used be mid-May (and of course, you never really know with Mother Nature), now we advise our cyclists to travel with The Trip Chicks to the Netherlands by the end of April. Keukenhof Garden in Lisse is wonderful, and due to staggered planting, the tulips there bloom longer than in the open fields. Still, there's really nothing quite like the breath-taking magic of a Dutch bike route along rainbow-colored tulip fields as far as the eye can see. It's a scene that can make even the most straight-laced of travelers get teary-eyed at the sheer beauty of it all.

What about the barge itself, converted from a Dutch freighter? It's a cozy floating hotel typically with a crew of three to eight, along with an experienced multi-lingual Dutch tour guide. The guide, thankfully, is also a bike mechanic for those rare instances we need one along the way. Each morning after breakfast on the barge, we pack a picnic lunch. Then we head out with our bicycles while the barge chugs on to the next port. Not a cyclist? Not a worry! The crew is delighted to have a few extra willing hands on board. Those who prefer to stay on board for the day usually reach the overnight stop an hour or two before those who pedal. That gives the "advance team" a chance to explore a bit and share great finds with their biking shipmates.

Before meeting up with our boat, cyclists take in the peaceful green countryside and tidy Dutch neighborhoods, complete with carefully-manicured gardens, miniature windmills, and windows peeking from behind Dutch lace curtains. En route to our port, we make both scheduled and serendiptous stops, enjoying a scenic picnic, a visit to a working windmill, cheese farm, or maybe a medieval town or two. Of course, on each trip there are always a few cyclists who sneak off, on the daily hunt for the best Dutch apple pie in the province before hopping back on their bikes.

We reach the barge just in time for tea/coffee with tasty desserts. Then most of us grab a quick shower or stroll before the hearty dinner cooked up by our crew. To cap off our memorable day, sometimes our Dutch guide offers to lead us on a leisurely walking tour of the town. A bike and barge trip through cycling paradise - the land of wooden shoes, windmills, Droste chocolate, Edam and Gouda, and the welcoming Dutch - is hard to beat. What a perfect way for the young and the young-at-heart alike to experience the Netherlands at its best!

Happy travels. Tot ziens!

~Ann Lombardi & Wendy Swartzell
The Trip Chicks

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