Visiting the Keukenhof

Visiting the Keukenhof

One thing on my European bucket list when we moved to Germany was to visit the Keukenhof tulip gardens in the Netherlands. We were able to do so on our final spring living there and we loved it so much that we made a return trip last spring. Here’s a recap of our experiences there and plenty of pictures to go with it!

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On our first visit to the Keukenhof, it was Easter Sunday. We weren’t sure what that would mean for the crowds, but general rule of thumb is try to go on a weekday if you can. We made a point to skip the fancy Easter brunch and get to the Keukenhof before the gates opened.  This was the best thing we could’ve done.  I think the garden opened at 8:00 or 8:30, and by 10:30 the place was packed.  We were able to get in a little time where it was very calm, easy to take photos, and easy to walk around.  After the tour buses started pulling in, we could barely maneuver through the paths because they were so congested with people.  So that’s my best advice to anyone planning a visit…go early!

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This was true for our second visit as well. We arrived before the gates officially opened and because we already had our tickets printed out, we were allowed to enter a few minutes early. The early bird gets the worm!! This is the only way to get pictures without other tourists in them. The crowds are also probably low in the late afternoon close to closing time. I didn’t want to feel rushed though, so that’s why getting there early worked for us.

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Getting there early means no lines or pressure for cute photo ops like these!

 I know you’re there for the tulips, but don’t miss the orchid display.  It is overflowing with orchids and gorgeous!  There was a small exhibit demonstrating the life of an orchid.  I had no idea it took about 5 years for an orchid plant to mature and flower.

 

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Something we did on the second visit that the kids really loved was visiting the petting zoo. If you have kids this will definitely make them happy if they are getting bored being told to smile next to flowers.

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Also, definitely get stroopwafels!

The garden is immaculate.  The colors are vibrant and lush, it’s like being in a candy shop.  There are every different variety of tulip you could think of and never knew existed.  I’m so impressed with the work the gardeners have done here.  I can barely keep a houseplant alive (actually I think I’ve killed every plant we’ve every had).  To plant and maintain a garden like this requires an enormous amount of effort and a lot of love!

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On our first visit we left the gardens around lunch time.  Though we would’ve loved to spend the whole day there, the amount of people was just getting unbearable and we still wanted to visit the tulip fields around the garden.  We loaded up our bikes, put the little lady in her trailer and hit the road.  The biking was intimidating because you have to bike on the road with the cars, and the roads are very narrow 2 lane roads.  There are cars and even big tour buses driving on them, so for someone not used to it-it can be a little scary.

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However, the views are breathtaking.

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 This is definitely one of the most beautiful things to see in Europe and I’m so glad we got to bring our little girl there to celebrate her 1st Easter and then return again 3 years later with our little boy!

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Keukenhof tips:

  • Buy tickets online in advance, this will get you in the gardens the fastest to maximize the time before the tour buses show up.
  • Get there when the gardens open for the day, no ifs, ands, or buts, about it!
  • Dress warmly, and in layers. Both visits were VERY cold in the morning.
  • Plan to visit surrounding tulip fields either by car or bike, they are not to be missed.  
  • Please be respectful of the tulip fields and the farmers who grow them, do not trample the tulips.
  • Remember to book your hotel far in advance as this is a very popular tourist time. I was glad we stayed near the gardens vs. commuting from Amsterdam. It allowed us to get there early without too much trouble.
  • The Keukenhof and surrounding fields deserve a full day of your time, it would be hard to see it all in just a half-day.

Have more Keukenhof tips to add?  Questions about this trip?

Paris (and another bike tour)

That’s right everybody, it’s time for another episode of “see Europe by bike.”  But seriously, it’s a fun, fast way to see all the highlights.  We went with Fat Tire Bike Tours this time, and they are no small operation.  We met under the Eiffel Tower and there were close to 40 people there for a tour.  Luckily the group got split in half into 2 groups.  Our first stop was the French Military School.  Napoleon himself studied there, and people still study there.

French Military School- Ecole Militarie
Directly behind the Academy is another wonderful view of the Eiffel Tower.

Next stop, Napoleon’s burial place.  I believe it was originally a church built for Louis the XIV, XV, or XVI (they seemed to be the ones we kept hearing about).

So our tour guide was a very nice young man, but his personality just didn’t quite jive with Hubby’s.  Let me just paint you a little picture: every time we rounded a corner, crossed a street, or hit a stop light our guide insisted on screaming “dominate!” which is code for “stay close together as a group.”  He also expected the rest of us to scream it back to him, which most of our group did happily.  However, it wasn’t exactly our cup of tea…

This is Hubby’s level of enthusiasm for our tour guide-not impressed.

 On the other side of that is the French Army Museum or Les Invalides.  It used to be a military hospital and was raided for weapons before the storming of the Bastille (beginning of the French Revolution).

Next was a quick stop for lunch in the Tuileries Gardens.

More of the Tuileries Gardens.
Faux Arc du Triomphe across from the Lourve.

So another fun fact we learned is that the Lourve was actually a palace of one of the Louies before it was an art museum.  The royals decided they were sick of being too close to the common folk and moved out to Versailles (stay tuned).  The building is huge and it’s hard to imagine it was a place of residence for someone.

The Lourve Art Museum.

That pretty much concluded our bike tour.  Even though we weren’t crazy about our guide, we still loved it and were able to learn a lot about french history and important sites and events.  On our way to our next destination we found a Starbucks!  Any time I see one now, I have to go in, because I’m never sure when my next chance will be!

Happy Seattlites.

We then found our way over to the famed love lock bridge.  If you haven’t heard of it, couples write their names on a lock, fasten it to the bridge, and throw the key in the Seine to symbolize their eternal love.

Cheaters-we didn’t actually put a lock on the bridge.
The true romantic.

A little further down the way, we found Notre Dame!  It is an incredible cathedral.  Again one of my favorites.  There’s something about French cathedrals that is just striking.

Beautifully lit by chandeliers.
altar
vaulted ceilings
rose window
donations to the church

Last stop of the night was the Lourve.  We waited until the evening because we heard the crowds die down, and on Fridays it’s open late and tickets are cheaper.  It just so happened that while we were in line to buy tickets, some people leaving the museum offered us their 2 tickets for free.  Then when we were at the kiosk another person offered us their 2 tickets for 5 Euro, so we took them.  All four of us visited for 5 Euro!  Our lucky day!

Some of the highlights…

Venus de Milo
Winged Victory
Crown jewels of France

Here she is, the most popular girl at the Lourve…

Through the crowds (which aren’t even that bad compared to other pictures I’ve seen) sits the Mona Lisa.
Up close with Mona Lisa.

The Lourve is massive, and has so much to see, you really can’t see it all in one visit.  We thought though that the pieces were better presented than in the Vatican museum.  It seemed much less overwhelming-which could have been due to the amount of people there too.  It was a great idea to go later after the masses died down a bit.  It makes it much easier to enjoy when you’re not fighting hoards of people to move through the corridors.

Looking up through the glass pyramid.

Busy day in Paris!  We went off to bed as early as we could to prepare for our next marathon day at the Palace of Versailles.

Munich Bike Tour & Dachau

We left Rothenburg and started on our way to Dachau, the concentration camp memorial site outside of Munich.  As you can imagine, visiting the site is a combination of sadness, horror, and astonishment.  They have done an amazing job putting together exhibits and explanations in the museum that take you from the beginnings of the Nazi’s rise to power all the way through the liberation of the camp.  We only spent a few hours here and it was not enough time to read everything in the museum.  You really could spend a whole day here.  It’s very surreal to walk the grounds knowing what happened here, and scary to think this occurred in our grandparent’s lifetime.

 Gate of the camp reads “work makes you free.”
Memorial statue.
This building houses the museum, I believe it was used for in-processing and offices.
This building is a reconstruction of one barracks building.  You can go inside for a look of how prisoners lived.
A reconstruction of bunks, there were rooms and rooms of bunks packed in as much as they could.
Former foundations of the rest of the barracks.

 You may think at first that you wouldn’t want to visit because of how depressing the thought of the place is.  However, I feel that it is such an important part of history, and just because it’s unpleasant doesn’t mean it should be ignored.  There is so much to learn here, and it will deepen your understanding and empathy for the people who lived and died through this horrific time.

Now onto the rest of the day!  Remember back in March when we had all our friends visit and we went for an awesome bike tour through Munich?  Well, it was so awesome that we decided to do it again with my mom and sister!  We got lucky because we were the only ones who showed up that day, so we basically had a private tour of Munich!

A little pre-tour initiation of doing the dance that cured the plague in Munich (and is done in mass every 7 years to keep the plague away).

Ready to roll!
Hofbrau Haus

Back inside the Theatine church that lies near Odeonsplatz.  I must say I appreciated it’s beauty more the second time.  We have been in our fair share of churches and cathedrals since being here.  This one is unlike any other we’ve seen.  The intricate carvings and pure white interior are striking.

What I can only remember as the “Tina Turner Church.”
Fun weinfest on Odeonsplatz
Inside the English Garden.

This is where we ran into a little hiccup.  Just as we pulled into the Chinese beer garden in the park, it started to massively downpour.  We decided to forgo the beer break and try to ride to some shelter to wait out the storm.  Thank goodness our guide Melissa, came prepared with ponchos, though I was still soaked to the bone.  The rain finally died down and we were able to finish our tour.

We capped off the night with beers in the Hofbrau Haus. Well some of us ordered lemonade and wine in the most famous beer hall in the beer drinking capital of the world-just sayin’ Mom & Sis.

We love Munich, the bike tour was fun even on the second go ’round.  And we were even able to see the grounds getting all set up for Oktoberfest in a few short weeks.

Amsterdam Day 5

Last day in town, tear.  Forgot to put this earlier, but this is the view from our hotel room…

pretty nice

We couldn’t leave the city with the most bikes without joining in on the biking fun.  We thought about bringing our own bikes but quickly nixed that idea after reading about the heavy bike theft in the city.  We just bought new, nice bikes so no need to have them stolen again.  There are bike rental places all over, and it’s not very expensive so I would advise you to rent instead of risking your own.  Biking is the main mode of transportation here and there are dedicated bike lanes and drivers who are used to bikers.  Having said that, as a non-local, biking in the city without a guide is still kind of stressful.  Sometimes there’s only a small bike lane on the “wrong” side of the street, or you’re next to cars, have to go through big intersections, dodge pedestrians, and try not to get hit by the mopeds who are sharing your bike lane.  But, we survived.

 We rode around the city for a little while before heading back to the Museumplein.

We locked up our bikes and toured the Van Gogh museum.  Again, didn’t know much about Van Gogh before, but learned a lot about him.  It’s amazing to me that such a famous painter was really only painting  for about 10 years.  We brought a headphone splitter so we could share one audio guide.  The audio guide gave a lot of information but it would’ve taken us all day had we listened to everything on it.  So we picked and chose what to play.  Also, a little tip, you can buy tickets to the museum for the same price at a little tourist information shop down the street so that you don’t have to wait in the long line!

Once we had our art fix for the day, we hopped back on our bikes and cruised over to nearby Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s version of Central Park.  That was the most fun bike riding of the day.  It was a really pretty park, with a lot of people and dogs hanging out in it.  Poor Ellie missed out.  We also stopped for lunch at Cafe Vertigo inside the park.

Before we returned our bikes, we rode around the city following the best and easiest bike paths. We saw so many cool boats on the canals, but this one might have been the best…

 It’s a wooden shoe!

Happy biker 🙂  All in all, LOVED Amsterdam!  Even though it’s a big city, it has a lot of character and charm.  There aren’t really any skyscrapers or huge buildings.  It’s filled with beautiful canal houses and obviously there’s water everywhere.  You may think of some of the more scandalous aspects when you first hear the city’s name, but it is so much more than that.  I would go back in a heartbeat.  Definitely my favorite place we’ve been so far.  There was one tour I wished we had time for.  It was a wetlands safari tour, where you canoe around all day, how fun would that be?!  Maybe next time!

After 3 years in Europe and many more trips, I stand by Amsterdam still being one of my favorite places!  I can’t wait to go back!

Brussels

sunset skies

We were excited for a little getaway  to Brussels that was hopefully relaxing, but it got off to a little bit of a hectic start.  We drove our car up with our bikes on the back.  Once we got into the city, it was crazy.  It’s always a little tricky when you’re in a new place, but Brussels was a huge city, lots of one way streets, crazy intersections, and signs we didn’t understand.  Once we got in the general area of our hotel, we found the closest parking garage and pulled in.  Now we had to get all of our bags, our bikes, and ourselves to the hotel.  I had my purse in my basket and a backpack on.  Laron had our big duffel bag of clothes and the bag with wine, water, and snacks (both of the bags were very heavy).  So we’re riding around, frustrated, trying not to fall, using the iPhone to find our hotel, and we’re not finding it-turns out I had the wrong address, oops!  But at least we weren’t too far away.  We finally found the place, locked up our bikes to a pole and got ourselves checked in.

Once we had everything into the hotel room, we decided to head out for a late dinner.  We thought about riding our bikes but, the restaurant was pretty close, so we walked.  The place we went was a tiny little eatery, we were the only patrons there.  We were brought out a little appetizer of smoked salmon on toast (yum!) while we waited for our food.

Eating mussels in Brussels!
I had some fish, literally the whole fish was on the plate-quite interesting

So we finish our lovely meal and head back toward our hotel when we notice our bikes are no longer locked to the pole where we left them.  They were stolen!!  Ugh, we were/are so mad about it!  We loved our bikes and had planned on using them on this trip and more trips to come.  The kicker is we walked into our hotel and told the guy at the desk what happened and he replied in limited English, “you make a mistake”  Really?!  Thanks, that is so helpful, haha.  Poor guy wasn’t trying to be rude but it wasn’t exactly what we wanted to hear.  Come to find out the hotel has a room where we could’ve stored our bikes for free-which never crossed my mind.  In the future (when we replace our bikes) I will always ask the hotel if they have storage for bicycles!  We attempted to find a police station to file a police report, but walked around lost for about 30 minutes instead.  Not a great start to the weekend…

So the next morning we had a bike tour scheduled, we planned on using our own, but oh well.  We were trying not to let it ruin our weekend.  The tour met in the Grand Place, which is the big piazza-like area in the center of the city.

Our tour guide gave us some history on Brussels and then we were off.  We rode around to another square, and then to a famous landmark of the city Mannekin Pis.  It’s just a little fountain of a boy doing his business.  We heard a couple stories about why the fountain was built, not sure which one is true.  There are Mannekin Pis replicas all over the city, chocolates, statues, even wine openers in the form of the little statue.

Really could probably do without a picture of myself at this fountain

Apparently the boy gets dressed up in various costumes throughout the year.  The day after we were there he was scheduled to be a vampire I think.  Seems like a weird choice on Easter weekend.

Here’s the schedule and some pictures of the upcoming outfits

This was also the site of my first bike crash of the day.  And yes, I did say first.  The curbs around the city are pretty straight and squared off instead of being rounded.  So if you don’t hit them straight on, it’s a problem.  I didn’t hit it straight on… and crashed the bike… in front of the whole tour group!  Very embarrassing!  Oh well, life goes on!

 We rode through an outdoor antique flea market, and through some gardens, and around a palace, the parliament, and important European Union buildings. We also made a stop at a french fry stand, Maison Antoinette.  The fries were great and they have about 20 different dipping sauces you can try.
If you look carefully you can see the Atomium in the back
City park with a beautiful arch, was built by the 2nd king of Belgium to celebrate his triumphs in the Congo

Right after this is when I crashed my bike for the second time.  But this time it wasn’t the curbs that got me, it was my coat!  It got caught on the seat when I was trying to get off, and I fell!  Who falls off their bike twice in one day?!?  So I was relieved when that was about the end of our tour.  After the tour we walked around exploring some shops.

Checking out some caramels

Famous belgian chocolates
Bustling streets
Famous Belgian beer

We also walked to the police station to fill out our police reports.  Not a very fun part of a vacation.  We needed a beer after that so we stopped at a cafe to sit in the sun and relax for a bit.

Pink beer!

We also wandered through the “first mall”.  It’s a little more high end than your typical mall.  There are multiple chocolate shops, cafes, and other stores.  No food court or Nordstrom though 🙂

That night we ate at an italian place, Osteria l’Ombra.  It was so good!  There is nothing like fresh, authentic italian food.  Makes it hard to go back to the Olive Garden 🙂  The next day we decided to go to the art museum.  On our way we passed through a little outdoor market.

 The art museum was great.  It’s so interesting to see things that were painted so long ago and how detailed and skilled the artists had to be.  We also saw the Margritte museum which is dedicated to the Belgain surrealist painter Rene Margritte.  That was fun too because we could see progression of his work and learn about his life and what influenced him.  You may recognize this painting of his:

The Son of Man

By the time we finished at the museum, we were ready to eat!  We walked down the street to another museum, the museum of musical instruments.  Our bike tour guide said there was a restaurant at the top that had a great view, so we decided to check it out.

Pretty great view!

 We had one more thing on our Brussels bucket list, and that was to get Belgian waffles!  There are stands and trucks selling waffles everywhere.

They have all different kinds of toppings you can choose

Ready to dig in!

Our last morning in Brussles was spent at a giant flea market looking for our stolen bikes.  No luck, but we’re pretty sure our bikes will be sold there in the next couple weeks.  We then drove from Brussles to Langenfeld, Germany (in between Cologne and Dussledorf) to visit our friends A & E.  They lived very close to us in Austin and were back in Germany visiting A’s family, who are great!  We loved meeting her family, they were so fun and nice to us.  We then drove to Dusseldorf for the afternoon.  Her friends were kind enough to give us a tour of the city and show us around.  My hubby especially enjoyed the “pickled” eggs they had at one of the breweries.  We are so happy that we were able to visit with them and can’t wait for them to come back again!

Bike Tours are Awesome-Munich Edition

Munich

In honor of Oktoberfest, I found this post about our first visit to Munich in 2012.  It centers around the bike tour we did.  Bike tours are common in big European cities and I highly recommend them as a fun way to get an overview of the city you’re visiting!

Our next stop on this crazy journey was to Munich.  On our way there, we booked a bike tour of the city, which was the best idea ever.  We met at the Marienplatz in the city center.

In front of the Glockenspiel, which is essentially a giant cuckoo clock, it only goes off a couple times a day though.
Close-up, we found out that those little guys are doing a dance thought to keep the plague away, and apparently every 7 years actual people do this dance in the square several times a day in the winter to keep the plague away/keep up the tradition.
The owner of Lenny’s bike tours, who wasn’t our guide because he was leading around a group of Brits on a bachelor party (it was hilarious, great idea for a bachelor party).

After a brief background of German history and the Marienplatz, Tom (our tour guide) got us all set up with our beach cruisers.

Getting ready to ride!  Bike tour tip #1-don’t bring a purse, I thought there would be a basket on the bike-there wasn’t.
Getting reacquainted with riding a bike.

 And we were off!   The beginning of the tour was through the city, on city streets with cars and pedestrians. A little hectic, but we made it.
I did not hit this lady, but ask my hubby if he hit a lady…
World famous Hofbrau Haus in the background, started as a brewery for the royal family way back when (also a place where Hitler held meetings to spread his ideas) now just a super popular beer hall.

All that stone work in the background is painted on
Beautiful church built by a king (I forgot which one) who promised to build, it if God gave him a son.

Rubbing the face for good luck.
Hitler gave speeches from these steps, it is so creepy to be in the same place where he once stood.
Dodger’s Alley where people not wanting to salute Hitler would pass through to get to the other side.
English Garten, this is the nudist meadow…that’s right nudist! There were a few out that day!
Pretty river that flows through the English Garten (which is bigger than Central Park).

Midway through the tour we stopped at the Chinese Tower beer garden (2nd largest beer garden in the world).

We were all having so much fun on this tour, as you can tell by the following pictures:

Group shot!

Next stop was a place in the park where people surf this wave on the river.  I’ve never seen anything like it before.  It’s very dangerous, because if you fall the wrong way and hit the concrete slab below, it’s not good.  There are guys lined up on each side of the river, and they take turns riding the wave.  When they fall, they just climb out and get at the end of the line and wait for their next turn.  Can you imagine seeing people surfing in the middle of Central Park?  It’s crazy!

Right about now is where our camera ran out of battery.  I need to get some of the pictures from the group of what we did later this night.  But basically, this is what you need to know, if you’re in a new city and they have a bike tour, you should do it!  At least try it one time.  Since this tour, we have booked ourselves on another bike tour of a different city, and 2 of our friends have bought bikes.  Pretty good sign that it was a success!

Scheveningen Beach Boardwalk

Less than a week after we got home from Thailand, it was time to hit the road again.  Normally we wouldn’t plan these things back to bad, but when you have the time off you have to take advantage of it!  I have been wanting to see the tulips in the Netherlands since we arrived in Europe.  The first year it was too quick to pull it together, last year I was due with a baby, so this was our “last chance” to get up there to see them.

We stayed in Leiden which is closer to the Keukenhof gardens (where the famous tulip displays are) than Amsterdam.  Since we had already visited Amsterdam, we decided to see some other areas and do some different things.  We drove up on Friday, but we didn’t get an early start so by the time we got to our hotel it was time for dinner and bed.  We had planned to visit the Keukenhof on Sunday, which was Easter, so Saturday we woke up and decided to go out to a beach town called Scheveningen-just outside the Hauge.  The morning started out cold, windy, and cloudy.  We rode our bikes about 500 meters down the boardwalk before I caved in and was asking to stop in a cafe to warm up.

Luckily, while we sipped on coffee and snacked on pizza, it did warm up.  The sun came out and it turned into a beautiful day.

waiting for the sun to come out

Once we had filled our tummies and warmed ourselves up, we were ready for our second attempt at riding down the boardwalk.

there were tons of surfers out in the freezing water

Heinekens with an ocean view

We spent the day cruising up and down the beach, stopping at restaurants and shops along the way.  Our little lady got to take her first ride on a carousel too!

We really enjoyed the little beach town and having a fun, relaxing day on the coast!