My love affair with the domes of Russia has expanded to include another bulbous item.
Does anyone not call their favourite flower, the queen of flowers? I have come to see that those who say it of tulips have a strong case.
But it nearly wasn’t so.
On the second weekend of May, the BB and I struck out on our tulip trip. North to the polders! I snapped dull photos of distant windmills out of the train window in case I didn’t see any others. But I was fanging for the tulips: fields of colour, seas of brilliance and a general abundance of visual delight.
A vivid strip of pink on the horizon had me out of my seat, straining to see and poke the sight into my memory. (Even I, a long-time exponent of the photo snapped without expectation from a moving vehicle, could tell a photo would be laughable.)
At Schagen we collected our bikes and took to the road. A vindictive wind slunk across the land slapping cold in our faces and emptying it down our coats, rubbing it like salt on raw skin around our ears and nostrils. We zipped up, hunkered down and pedalled on heedless. (Well, almost heedless.) Remarkably, the wind managed to manouvre itself so we cycled into it all day.
Tiny Tim tried to sing (falsetto with ukelele, 1960s) Tiptoe Through the Tulips in my head. It didn’t fit. I needed something grand for a grand adventure. Then I saw this.
What the deuce?
They’d decimated my tulips!
Victor Meldrew (One Foot in the Grave, BBC comedy) unfurled within me, gaped speechless then cried to the empty fields, the empty polders, the tulipless world, “I don’t believe it!”
Nothing for it but a nice rest and recuperation by the sea.
To the bleak shore.
We had a kilometre or so of blessed relief from the wind as we cycled through the dunes south of Callantsoog then huddled behind the perspex surrounding the deck cafe on the beach. Low, khaki waves broke in ribbons against the flat shore. Walkers and their dogs strode and gambolled. Signs indicated that people actually swim here.You’ve got to hand it to the Dutch – they’re a hardy lot.
We dropped into the nature reserve Het Zwanenwater and had a 3 km bottom-bone relieving stroll for € 1.50 each. A five kilometre loop is also available. Fauna was a bit scarce but it was interesting to see the native vegetation of the area.
And then…tulips! In patches of standing colour.
I felt my general appreciation of the world ratcheting up a notch.
Standing next to the remaining rows of flowers, one gets a sense of how this land must look in full bloom. It must be like living in a paintbox.
Imagine spending your days in this landscape. Would the striking colours render it beautiful or artificial to you? Uplifting or glaringly over the top?
Saturday was National Mills Day where many of the windmills and watermills across the Netherlands are open, free, to the public. We navigated our way to one and were given a detailed tour in a combination of Nederlands (Dutch), German and English.
Our route home took us past another gaily decorated one.
I was pretty cold by the end of the day. We had a brief respite at the B&B then cycled into town for dinner. Greek. Delicious. My thigh bones and muscles were aching from the cold when we got back to the B&B. I was worried how my legs would be the next day as I was pretty sure it wasn’t just the cold that was doing them in. They were completely fine. Ironically, the cold probably played some role in preventing my muscles from being sore.
The next morning was bright and bitter. As we put boots to pedals the ducks were still fluffed and tucked against the cold. The canals glinted; even the parts sludged with algae were transformed.
I didn’t get a photo of the lone duck, nestled in the deep sandy furrow by the edge of a canal. It lifted its shimmering blue-green head as I approached, then buried it again in the matte brown feathers of its back. Cold or disinterest made it return to a succinct package. As my camera wheeled into the distance in the BB’s backpack I committed the image to memory. Sometimes one is thrown back on oneself.
The quaint villages Barsingerhorn and Kolhorn lay quietly under the covers of Sunday morningness.
Anna Paulowna was our northernmost point for the day. Our B&B hosts had directed us here for the continuation of the great tulip hunt. May Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, bless them. We drifted south past fields of untouched flowers.
A weekend later and the tulips would have gone. A week earlier we would have seen more full fields but little of the green candy-stripes.
We discovered these areas are for growing bulbs. Tulips for the fresh flower market are grown in greenhouses. The field blooms are checked by inspectors then chopped off, presumably to allow the plant’s energies to be converted to carbohydrates stored in the bulb rather than channelled into flower production.
I don’t think one truly knows a plant until one has lain in the soil alongside it.
That was the gift of the second day. Our man at the windmill assured us the farmers don’t mind people in their paddocks so long as they don’t pick the flowers. Permission to engage. Obligation to indulge.
At the end of the first day, I was pleased. By the end of the second, I was replete.
What sets the tulip apart from other flowers? Variety within the genus – colour; growing habits; ‘demeanour’ (they may be elegant, wild, blousy, amusing, sultry, quirky. A history intertwined with that of humans. Perfume – which gives us a further way of interacting with it (multi-dimensionality). Each blossom is an individual, growing on its own stalk.
Perhaps a human title is bestowed upon a flower in our appreciation of its echoes of our own humanity.
————————————————————————————————— Duck over to Steve to check out his portraits of wildflowers. There are some which seem unprepossessing at first glance but which, in front of his lens, reveal their beauty or quirkiness.
A quick plug for our hosts at Bed and Breakfast Tjallewal near Schagen. They were extremely helpful. Great breakfast and a clean, comfortable room (all rooms are on the second floor, ensuring a good view.)
National Mills Day is the second Saturday in May. Hire a bike and cycle between towns. There is a fee to transport a bike on a train.