Day: 31

Cities / Towns Visited: 10

Countries Visited: 5

Steps Taken Today: 12,659

Steps Taken Around the World: 655,029

We awoke to another sunny day, and after a quick breakfast scurried out the door for the long tram, train, bus ride to today’s sightseeing extravaganza: the Keukenhof Gardens. For those of you who don’t know, these are the massive tulip gardens which open every spring for a limited season just north of Leiden. As we neared the gardens we passed field after field on tulips of different colours being grown, I imagine both for the displays at the gardens and for sale across Europe. It was just a taste of what was to come.

As we alighted the bus, along with the rest of the crush of people, we snaked towards the entrance. Now the problem with massive tourist attractions with short seasons is that no matter what day it is, it is absolutely crammed full of people, and doubly so on sunny days like this. Eventually we were pushed through the gates, and released into the gardens, and as the crowds dispersed down the multiple paths which criss cross the massive park, we began to see what all of the fuss was about. Beds of tulips spread out left and right, artistically planted, with carefully selected colour combinations and patterns. Now don’t be fooled, the majority of the flowers on display are tulips but there are the addition of others, for example hyacinths, daffodils and roses, all worked together into a rainbow of natures beauty.

We began wandering, weaving through the sea of tourists, down the paths, around the fountain, through the hedge maze, and past the windmill. We had, thriftily packed our own lunch, but naturally as soon as we saw all of the food trucks dotted around we knew we would be supplementing our meal. Grabbing a delicious pulled pork roll (very un-dutch I know), and some fries (we were still next to Belgium, that’s fine right?), we continued our walk. Passing a stall, I thought it only fitting to introduce my partner to the wonders of the stroopwafel (for those not versed in Dutch sweets, it’s essentially a thin crisp waffle, split in half and filled with caramel sauce).

Powered by crispy sweet goodness, we wandered into the first glass house (of which there a several around the gardens). This one was filled with little patches of different colour tulips, labelled with the name of each type. Tulip breeding is, and has been for some time, an endeavour for many horticulturists, and they are bred for best colour, height, size, and flowering season. The ones used in the Keukenhof have to be carefully selected so that the crafted displays all flower simultaneously. Displays in another of the glasshouses explains in detail the breeding, as well as the ongoing attempts to breed a black tulip (they can only really get to a very dark purple though).

As we continued on we passed more cute displays, some around a tiny wooden bridge over one of the many tiny streams and lakes that dot the park, some encircling a central sundial, some laid out in closed off private style gardens. Along one edge of the parks the flowers stop and you can simply walk amongst the stunning greenery and trees of the area. And beside a giant dandelion inspired fountain stood an impressive mechanical street organ playing familiar tunes on its multiple instruments.

We passed through two more glasshouses; one dedicated to orchids and a few other flowers, displayed on stands and in different artistic pieces, including flower fashion; and one filled with roses in a series of displays dedicated to love. With grouping of colours and enviable florist skills, it was hard not to feel at peace, despite the crowds. There is something to be said for literally stopping to smell the flowers, there is something soothing to the soul about being close to nature.

After a good four or so hours of wandering, we grabbed another serve of Dutch pancakes (not as good as the previous days), and some ice-cream from one of the countless vendors, and headed for the bus for the long trip home. After another home cooked meal we collapsed exhausted into bed. For a pair of introverts being that close to so many people all day was rather draining. As my thoughts flowed back to gardens and flashes of colours passed before my eyes, I thought about how impressive it is that horticulturists have managed to create such a perfectly timed flower display every year through study and breeding. For everyone who denounces genetic modification, I would ask you to study your stance further, most modification is simply done through cross-breeding plants, or taking organic DNA from one species and cutting and pasting it into another. It is rare that we inject inorganic DNA into our plants, and even if it’s lab created synthetics, they are still organically based. We have been modifying plants for as long as we have been using agriculture to survive, any look at wild versions of our favourite foods will show you that corn was not giant and juicy, apples were tiny and sour, and wheat, for the most part, was a less than hardy crop, before we changed things. Through ethical and well studied modifications we can improve the efficiency and hardiness, and reduce the environmental impact of our crops, and in turn reduce or even irradicate world hunger. All of you sitting fat and happy while a third of you food goes to waste, shouting about how we should all go organic and stop modifying plants, remember that creating crops that can survive harsh environments means that those who watch their children starve to death may have the chance to live. Surely that is worth a try.

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On my dream trip to travel the world, taste its foods, see its wonders, and meet all the strange and beautiful people who reside here.

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