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Travel & Holidays in later life


Holland is usually pictured as a land of glowing tulip fields, with windmills beside every canal, and country folk dressed in clogs and national costume. 

In fact, the typical Dutchman today wears a regular business suit, lives in a modern city flat, and works in a highly efficient engineering plant. 

However, it's the traditional picture of Holland that visitors want to see. And certainly the Netherlands can still offer plentiful subjects for the camera-toting tourist.

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Holland is ideal for anyone with mobility problems, dead flat. 

Distances in Holland are so small that you can reach most sightseeing highlights by bus or train within an hour. 

Motorists can take advantage of 5-day car ferry excursion deals, giving ample time for a visit. 

Keukenhof flower gardens are open approximately March May but check for exact dates and times.

The absolute peak tulip viewing period is April 25 to May 5 - but a little earlier or later, according to  weather.

Ask for coach tour brochures with more detailed sightseeing on the longer packages. 

More information: Netherlands Board of Tourism, P.O. Box 30783, London WC2B 6DH. Tel: 020 7539 7950.

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To make certain of those glowing fields of tulips and hyacinths, go between mid-April and mid-May. After then, the multi-coloured fields are stripped of their glory, when every bloom is plucked before it saps strength from the bulb. For daffodils and narcissus, the season runs from late March until mid-April. 

These flowering dates can vary slightly. In a late Spring, the schedule can slip a week behind. The finest bulbfields are grouped in a narrow strip about two miles wide by ten miles long, just south of Haarlem. During the season, daily bulbfield coach tours operate from Amsterdam and other centres. 

In tulip time, these tours include entrance to the 70-acre Keukenhof Park, located at Lisse in the main bulb area. Over seven million tulips and other flowers in 1200 varieties are displayed by commercial growers who take orders for later despatch - usually about October. It's the world's finest flower show, quite unforgettable. 

Many of Britain's local and national coach-tour companies organise bulbfield holidays that include a visit to Keukenhof, while staying in Amsterdam or in handy seaside resorts. Some trips are arranged for Women's Institutes and gardening groups at a cut price with a free ride for the organiser.

The province of Noord-Holland - responsible for over half of Dutch bulb production - has almost 3 million acres under flower cultivation. Weekends get very crowded, with thousands of motorists pouring in from neighbouring countries.

Even bigger than Keukenhof Park is a commercial bulb grower called Frans Roozen, located a few miles southwest of Haarlem. The 100-acre site of bulb fields and glasshouses is open from late March till late October. Over a thousand bulb varieties are on sale.

A flower display at Keukenhof When the April-May Tulip Show ends, the Frans Roozen gardens go into summer costume and end with gorgeous displays for an autumn show. The company has been trading since 1789.

For a daily floral display from around the world, go to the Aalsmeer auctions held year-round every weekday morning. Go early! Go early! The best time to visit is between 7.30 and 9 a.m., and it's all over by 11.

Visitors are admitted to galleries that overlook the 13 auction rooms where 600 transactions take place every hour. The market is conducted (naturally enough) on Dutch auction lines, with carnations, roses and lilies massed by the hundred thousand ready for shipment.

The logistics are incredible. Flowers cut on Monday in Central or Southern Africa are air-freighted overnight to Schiphol, arriving in time for Tuesday morning's auctions.

Buyers can then air-freight their purchases by midday, so that - due to the time change - Monday's flowers from Africa can be on sale Tuesday evening in New York. The Aalsmeer market is truly global, and is the world's biggest trading building.

Aalsmeer is a few miles south of Amsterdam. After the auctions, it's worth taking a one-hour cruise along canals and around a neighbouring lake, past little islands of flower fields. 

For other traditional views of Holland, the famous windmills are now few and scattered. Pumping out the drainage canals is done by electric power instead. Snap your windmill photos when you see them, for there won't be "another dozen just as good down the road". The best group is in the Zaans district, just outside Amsterdam.

Clogs are more common. In country districts, they are still the most practical footwear for muddy fields. You can easily buy souvenir clogs, which can be used as decorative wall flower-holders. 

Most fascinating is to watch a highly-skilled craftsman hew out a pair of clogs in five minutes from mere blocks of wood, to the finished product ready for painting. A visit to a clog-maker's workshop is usually included on sightseeing coach tours that go from Amsterdam to the eel-fishing villages of Volendam and Marken. 

In those villages, national costume is carefully preserved, and encouraged by the Government. 

The atmosphere is somewhat fake, with tourist souvenir shops and smoked-eel stalls lining the waterfronts. But just around the corner there's all the charm of delightful Dutch houses in a peaceful uncommercialised setting. 

An Edam cheese demonstration Close by is Edam-cheese territory. Most of the familiar yellow and red "cannon-ball" cheeses are made in modern factories. But a few farmhouses can still demonstrate the technique, mainly for the benefit of tourists on their half-day excursions from Amsterdam. 

A cheese-making stop is also a convenient way of seeing inside a typical farmhouse. Cattle normally live throughout winter under the same roof as the family. That's country-style Dutch central heating! 

For another aspect of Holland, also look at: 

HOLLAND-BIKES - Geared up for cycling

"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

Holland by R. Bolt - one of the excellent Cadogan Guide series, ideal if you want to do some serious sightseeing during your tulip tour. 

Holland Insight Compact Guide - A useful supplementary guide for your pocket, ideal for exploring Dutch cities on foot.  

Holland/Netherlands Insight Guide  - A more detailed book from the Insight publishers, for taking a deeper look at the history, culture and sightseeing potential of Holland.

Dutch Painting by Christopher Brown - A general survey of the 17th century golden age of Dutch painting, a reminder of the rich galleries that are easily reached during a visit that includes Amsterdam, Haarlem, Delft and The Hague.

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