When I realized my trip to Europe coincided with the peak of the Netherlands’ tulip season, I was ecstatic. Positively giddy. I showed up at the Munich train station with my heart all aflutter in anticipation. I’d stopped in the Hauptbahnhof the day before to double check I had everything in order for my first trip using my new rail pass. I gleefully plopped down my pass to get a reserved seat on the train to Amsterdam, but the agent’s frown told me something was amiss. I’d gotten my dates mixed up when I activated the pass and set it to begin a day later than I wanted it to. A silly mistake that cost me a day in Holland and a hotel deposit to boot, but glasses being half full and whatnot, I had a bonus day in Munich! So, the next day I was off at long last and made my way to a village called Noordwijk, outside the bustle of Amsterdam and near the famed tulip fields of Keukenhof. I introduced myself to my host Corné and asked about the pronunciation of his name. “Is it Corn or Cor-nuh?” “Cor-nay.” Blunder on SRigs. Blunder on.
Corné graciously lent me a bicycle to get around their rural community to explore the flower fields. He pulled up a chair next to him at his computer desk with Google maps pulled up to show me the best routes for the local tulips. His teenage daughter Ismay sat nearby, engrossed in her smart phone and from what I could infer, periodically teasing her dad in Dutch. She looked up only to provide scoffing technical assistance when Corné couldn’t find how to toggle between map view and street view and when the printer wouldn’t cooperate. Their living room is evidence of Corné’s tech savviness and analytical mind. Shelves of remote control helicopters, wiring and electrical circuits tell me he is a tinkerer who figures out how things work, yet even he is subject to occasionally needing his teenage daughter to explain the internet to him.
He prints the map, though the Dutch text is faint so it is difficult to read. I ask if there is anything I need to know about cycling and right of way. He tells me it is the same as it is in the US – stay right and yield right of way if there is a triangle. I ask for clarification on whether there are separate lanes for bikes and he says no, it is not a special lane. I was quizzical because I’d seen people cycling on pavement adjacent to the road, but I’d also witnessed a woman cycling in the main street in front of the bus, so I did not press it further. I set off, not wanting to squander any more precious daylight. I stopped at the first tulip farm I saw and snapped some pics. I had some suspicion I was not on the right path, but reasoned I’d figure it out sooner or later. I made it down the road only a few hundred feet when a car heading the other direction started honking at me. It sounded somehow accusatory, like I had done something morally wrong. I looked back and saw a little white piece of folded paper, uncannily about the same dimensions as the map print out I’d tucked in my jacket pocket. My face flushed and a wave of embarrassment washed over me. I waited for traffic to clear so I could retrieve my litter, but the cars all were driving rather fast it seemed. Finally a break came long enough to safely cross and go the other direction. More cars honked as they passed, and I knew they hadn’t seen me litter, so I was doing something else wrong. I realized further up the way the road turned into a freeway on ramp. I retrieved my shameful litter and secured it by zipping my jacket pocket.
I rode back the way I’d come from, cars periodically reminding me I was where I did not belong, though at that point it was crystal clear. I returned to the roundabout and chose another direction, this time on the very separate path used by pedestrians, cyclists, and scooters. Little by little I assured myself I was now on the right path as I passed markers mentioned by Corné. Cycling through the forest, I felt tension lift from my shoulders, and the path cleared to fields of pure color on either side. A light switched on inside my chest. I had never experienced anything like it, the closest approximation I could think of being that moment in The Wizard of Oz when it goes from black and white to technicolor.
I continued around the fields sticking to Corné’s circuit, still a little bashful from my earlier wayward horn blaring experience. The sun was setting, so as the colors in the fields began to dim, I knew it was time to ride to the beach, where my helpful host had suggested I could watch the sunset. Using the fading sunlight as my guide, I wove through the little beach town. Gradually I found my way to an entirely different ecosystem of dunes and brush, craggy pine trees contorted into strange shapes for survival, until ultimately sand conceded to water, which conceded off in the distance to a pinkish orange sun. Glancing at it, I knew it was about closing time for him, ready to go home after putting in a full day’s work over the fields. I breathed in the salty air. On our worst days, our minds play tricks on us and we can only see what we do not have. This was not one of those days.
P.S. Do you know what becomes of all the tulips grown here in the Netherlands?! Maybe everybody knew the secret but me, or I knew and I repressed it, but… the blooms are unceremoniously lopped off so the plant’s energy is reserved for the bulb, which is the end product.