Tip Toe Through Acres of Tulips at Keukenhof

By Steven Wright

The Netherlands is known for the tulips they grow and export around the world. The best place to experience all the varieties and colours of these beautiful flowers is Keukenhof. Located in Lisse, Keukenhof is the largest bulb garden in the world, it covers 32 hectares and boasts over 7 million hand planted bulbs. The tulip festival runs from late March through early May with the best time to see everything in full bloom in late April, as this is also prime tourist time so expect the park to be busiest on the last two weekends of April, through the week is less busy.

Large planters overflowing with long stem tulips line the gate and are the first indication that you have reached your destination. Stand in large traditional Dutch wooden shoes to get your tourist shot if this is your first stop in The Netherlands. This is the place to get a guide book or guided tour of the park through a rented headset with recorded information on each of the gardens. It may be worth it to plan your route to ensure you see everything you are interested in.There are some souvenir shops and snacks at the gate including stroopwaffels and poffertjes.

Make your way around the gardens on the 15 km of footpaths. You will see over 4.5 million tulips in over 100 varieties provided by 91 Royal Warrant Holders. The park features 2,500 trees of 87 varieties and the largest sculpture garden in The Netherlands. Stop along the way to watch swans swimming in the lake or catch a duck running through the tulips. The plantings throughout the park including the mosaic gardens, Japanese garden and inspiration garden provide great ideas that can be transplanted at home. For me it was the understanding that you can plant bulbs in planters.

Stop into one of the gazebos along the path to find the bulb store. Here there are pictures and descriptions of all of the tulips, categorized by region where they will flourish. If that is not enough they will ship them to you when they are ready to be planted in the fall before winter hits. In the spring you will have great memories of your trip with a garden full of tulips that put your neighbors tulips to shame. Stop into the Juliana building for care information for your bulbs and expand your knowledge in the Tulip Museum.

The Beatrix building features the Orchid Show, Anthurium Show and the Bromlea Show while the Willem-Alexander Building hosts the world’s largest Lilly Show in May. The other buildings on site have restaurants, exhibitors, washrooms and souvenirs. There is even an area for the little ones to play with a playground, labyrinth and children’s farm. You can even introduce your kids to Miffy the bunny, an iconic Dutch children’s brand.

Whether you start your trip in The Hague, Leiden or in Amsterdam you can purchase Connexxion’s all-in Combi-ticket which includes round trip bus transfers and entrance to Keukenhof for just over 20 Euro. If biking is more your style, it is about a 2 hour bike trip from Amsterdam or The Hague and there is lots of bicycle parking at the entrance gates. There is also a car park if you are looking to drive. The return trip will include sights of many farmer’s fields of flowers along the way.

Photo Gallery:
Keukenhof
Netherlands Posts:
Quick Eats in Amsterdam

Getting Around Amsterdam, from Straat to Gracht
Destination Wedding – Amsterdam
The Bookcase that Changed My Perspective
Rotterdam – Gateway to Europe
Garden Posts:
Enjoying My Cake in Versailles Gardens

The Bookcase that Changed My Perspective

By Mike Kerr

Growing up my family went to temple every week, celebrated the Jewish High Holidays both at home and with the congregation, and the kids went to Hebrew school once a week. My family kept a library of books on our religion in the basement as our temple had no permanent location, and rented a local church for our once a week gatherings. Overall I was very interested in my religion and quite strongly believed in God.

Somewhere along the way my perspective on religion as a whole changed. I took a philosophy class in high school, and while it did briefly look at the earliest origins of the major world religions it also lead to a lot of questions, and much personal research after school. I wouldn’t say I turned my back on Judaism, but began doubting religion as a whole. As I learned more about what groups had done in the past in the name of “God” I no longer felt I could put faith in something or someone who had been the justification behind such atrocious acts. While there were also great things done in the name of “God,” in my mind they could by no means outweigh the bad.

The first time Steven and I went to Amsterdam, we visited Anne Frank House; this is both the story of that experience, and of a new path that opened for myself. When I first walked into the lobby of Anne Frank House, I was surprised to be greeted by an open and warm space with large windows, and bright wood finishes. Even once the tour began, I found it hard to believe that such a seemingly nice space could have housed from what I remembered such a dark history. Shortly after the tour began this all changed: the group followed our guide into a room with no exit, and one single bookcase suspended above the floor. The guide started to explain how we were about to enter an annex of the original house, a space that was not recorded on the blueprints, the key to the Nazis in World War II not finding the Jews hidden within.

At this moment I couldn’t even begin to imagine what would strike me after walking through the now open space in the wall. When I got to the front of the line and stepped through I was hit by the most inexplicable chill I had ever experienced (up to that point). On the outside I still felt like it was the mild October day it was, but just under my skin, the same place you get that itch that just won’t go away, I was cold. It really did feel like this space had just crawled under my skin, the memories and emotions that had transpired there found a way in and hugged my from the inside. Yet on the surface, everything was normal. We walked through reading original passages of Anne Frank’s diary, viewing clips of Holocaust survivors and hearing their story.

I won’t give away the actual physical characteristics of the space, photography is strictly forbidden within the Annex and as such, I think it is something better experienced in person.

But that feeling changed me. It gave birth to something that has kept me traveling to places in the world that have deep spiritual histories. Most importantly, that day, that feeling, connected me with something outside of my physical world. I still don’t believe in God, or I don’t call it by that name anyways. But there is something out there, not in a book, or recorded in scripture and rules, it lies in the actions and emotions that are left behind, something so strong that it hang on and waits, it sits and waits for whoever might find it, crawls under their skin with no notice, and connects them with the space they are in. You can’t see it, or read about it, or hear it, it is something I don’t think I will ever be able to describe as accurately as I want to, but as long as it is waiting for me, I will find it and let it in.

Related Posts:
Exploring Warsaw and Auschwitz & Auschwitz II / Birkenau
Netherlands Posts:
Quick Eats in Amsterdam
Destination Wedding – Amsterdam
Getting Around Amsterdam, from Straat to Gracht
Tip Toe Through Acres of Tulips at Keukenhof
Rotterdam – Gateway to Europe

Destination Wedding – Amsterdam

By Steven Wright

I was approached by my sister and her fiancé to plan their dream wedding in Amsterdam, a destination they had never traveled to. They were inviting 25 guests from Toronto for a week of festivities in The Netherlands and needed everything organized for the group.

Matthew and Jennifer’s Wedding
On arrival in Amsterdam the group met for dinner at our “Meeting Point” and then the group traveled over to Vapiano, an Italian eatery on the pier that offers cafeteria style meals where patrons have their own card to charge their purchases. This gave the guests the opportunity to meet and mingle with one another in a casual setting overlooking the city. The fresh food and variety of options was perfect for this group.

On the second day, the group met to board the Canal Bus. Large hop-on-hop-off canal boats that gave the guests the opportunity to view the city by Canal and hit up many of the attractions that are located on the Canal loop through the city. This was an excellent opportunity for the group to orient themselves to the city and to learn to identify some of the places we would visit over the coming days.As it was May in Amsterdam, on the third day the group ventured to Keukenhof, acres of gardens dedicated to showcasing one of The Netherlands most famous exports – the tulip. Half of the group were escorted to Schipol to catch the bus tour, while the other half picked up their rented bicycles to travel 2 hours along the Dam out of Amsterdam to meet the group on the bus. The day was spent tip toeing through the tulips, and purchasing bulbs to be shipped home in time to be planted for the following year.

That evening the group went to the Heineken Experience, for a little homegrown brew. Then we met up at Cau, a re-launched restaurant with amazing Argentinian beef, just off of Dam Square. For the stag and doe, the group toured the Red Light District and visited some of the many Coffee Shops in the core. This gave the group the full Amsterdam experience. It is important to remind travelers that in some areas of the destination it is best to keep your wallet and purse close. I recommend using a travel wallet, that you can keep securely under your clothing.

The day before the wedding I planned a Photo Scavenger Hunt for the group by bicycle or electric scooter rented from Amsterbike. The hunt consisted of landmarks, activities and local fare allowing the guests to travel through the city on the most common mode of transportation in Amsterdam. In fact there are 2.5 bicycles for every Amsterdammer. This provided endless hours of fun and the guests would run into each other as they tried to complete their list. It also allowed some guests to visit the attractions along the route.

The wedding venue was the incredible 5-star Amsterdam Sofitel, The Grand. The wedding package I booked included a welcome reception for the guests, the wedding chamber for the ceremony and a cake and champagne for the reception. The hotel provided a room for the bride to get ready and over the top service for the entire wedding. Mathew and Jennifer were beaming with joy as they shared their first kiss as a married couple and in Royal style waved from the balcony overlooking the garden.

The guests were then escorted from the reception to the hotel’s mooring spot, where they boarded the Monne de Mirada, a chartered yacht for a 3 hour tour of the canals and a catered lunch. The boat featured a private table for the wedding party and seating behind for the rest of the guests.  Guests were delighted with the ample local cuisine and the beauty of the boat.

That evening we held the final group dinner at Werck before heading to Rembrandtplien to celebrate and dance the night away. The following day was departure from Amsterdam for the group after the week of festivities.

Tips for Planning a Destination Wedding
There are a number of things to consider when planning a destination wedding. Below find some frequently asked questions and tips that can help with your destination wedding.

Will the ceremony you have abroad be legal at home?
In most cases you may need to have a civil ceremony before heading to the destination as the laws in your country may not recognize a marriage of nationals on foreign soil or vice versa. For us, the civil wedding was held on the day of departure. I was able to find a package at the Toronto Wedding Chapel called “2 for the road” its a special for people having destination weddings, it is a maximum of 4 people and 1 hour in length. It was the perfect option for my sister and her hubby.

Do any of the guests have special needs?
This is important for booking flights, accommodations, restaurants , menus and venues. Things like food allergies, stairs to get into hotel and rooms, families and other considerations need to be known up front to accommodate these requests.

How many in your group?
Working with a Travel Counselor can help you to get group booking rates for flights, accommodation, even the venue and they can help with transfers, travel insurance and other services your guests may be looking for. They can also get group rates on attractions and other excursions at the destination.

When should you start planning?
We started planning a year in advance, it is important to have the venue secured and to have some idea of the cost involved and what the guests will do during their time in the destination. It can be a daunting task to book a venue from overseas and often you will have to transfer funds through your bank to the suppliers, long before the wedding date. Again it’s important to work with a Travel Counselor who can help you navigate all the options and make the best decisions for the party.

About six months in advance we sent out the wedding invitations. This informed the guests of the dates, activities and approximate cost of attending. They were also asked to RSVP. With the RSVP list we created a monthly email update that was sent to all guests. These updates included more information about Amsterdam, updates on flights and accommodations. Some of the guests were traveling before or after the wedding throughout Europe. This gave me the ability to work with each guest to help plan their trip from departure to return.

At the same time we launched a website for the wedding and invited the guests by email to the wedding site. This gave me the opportunity to provide more detailed information including a day by day agenda, maps of the location of activities, and links to many resources for the group. the guests were thrilled to have some reference of the destination and what they would be doing.

It is paramount to have a Meeting Point at the destination for the group. It should be a central location that is easily identified and easy to find. In our case it was a huge 3 x 4 metre black box outside of Amsterdam’s Centraal Station with the words, “Meeting Point” in bold green letters (convenient, no?).

I would also suggest having someone on-site to guide the group, to answer any questions and keep things on schedule. They are the person with the master plan, the arrival and departure of guests, where they are staying, activities they are participating in, destination contact information, tickets and transfers, booking confirmation for suppliers and rentals. This can help keep the bride and groom away from the little details and to be able to concentrate on entertaining their guests and having a great time.

Prices for Wedding & Travel Planning vary depending on the nature of the event and the scope of the project. It is important for you to have a relationship with whomever fills this role as they are taking the responsibility to help bring your destination wedding to life. Feel free to contact me to help you execute your dream wedding.

Netherlands Posts:
The Bookcase that Changed My Perspective
Quick Eats in Amsterdam
Getting Around Amsterdam, from Straat to Gracht
Tip Toe Through Acres of Tulips at Keukenhof
Rotterdam – Gateway to Europe

Getting Around Amsterdam, from Straat to Gracht

By Mike Kerr

From the time you land at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam you will notice how quick and easy it is to get around inside and on the outskirts of the city. While everyone will have their personal favourite there certainly isn’t a shortage of options. With both tourists and locals in mind, centuries of planning the infrastructure in the city has paid of in one of the most easily commutable, and accessible cities I have seen in the world.

When you have found your way to the main concourse there will be a bombardment of options, cabs can get you from door to door for a flat fee of €40 with a driver to do the heavy lifting. My favourite route is the trains, there are electronic ticket stations which in my experience have always had short lines, and with tickets at €3.70 a person, the price is (almost) unbeatable. Once you have your tickets, look for platforms 1 and 2, head down the escalator and jump on the next train. There aren’t always seats, but if you have a bag as big as mine, it easily becomes multipurpose in a jiffy. If you choose to stay in a hotel versus an apartment, check to see if there is a complimentary shuttle. They provide similar door to door service like the taxis, but with no cost they beat even the train for pricing.

Central Amsterdam is where you will see the payoff of the planning that went into the streets, and Damrak, the central street in Amsterdam, is a prime example. The streets are extremely walkable. The sidewalks on the outside of every street are all cobblestone so a good pair of shoes is a must, without them you might end up stepping right out of your shoes like I did and walking home in your socks. Click here for some examples of great footwear.

Right next to the sidewalk you will find the bike lane, you can rent bicycles and electric scooters from many locations. The best I have found through trial and error is Amsterbike, they can offer better rates for groups, but even single rentals are affordable for both bikes and scooters. While the scooter can be a little intimidating it is quick to learn how to accelerate, brake and turn smoothly; if you are unsure of which to take they will be happy to let you have a quick test drive. The parking loop upstairs outside of the ferry terminal is a great place to practice before you head out.  The city is incredibly flat and easy to bike. I must warn you not to play around while getting from A to B, there are more bikes in Amsterdam than people, and locals use the bike lanes to get to, from, and even for work. If you are blocking a lane or causing a fuss, you will definitely hear about it from those around you.

In the middle Damrak you will notice there aren’t any cars, but instead, this area is for designated trams. In the morning and evening rush hours the trams can get pretty full, but while the city folks are at work, you won’t have a problem. For long trips to the Zoo, Holland Casino, or the like the tram is ideal. At staffed stations you can purchase tickets that are good for anywhere from 1-hour (€2.60) to 7-days (€30) starting from when you board the train and swipe your ticket, with tram routes bringing you within walking distance of Amsterdam’s most popular sights, it offers great value.

While there are roads in Amsterdam, I would discourage traveling by car. It is more difficult to get to a lot of areas in the city. When you can finally find a route to your destination, you will be shocked at how hard it is to find parking (if you can find it at all). Unlike North American cities, this city was built before cars, and it can certainly be unforgiving to them and their drivers.

One of Amsterdam’s most beautiful features is the canals, they don’t stop at just looks though, they are incredibly useful too. This past year, Steven and I brought a large group with us to the city, instead of spending all day on foot or bike to show everyone around we used The Canal Company. We found that their Canal Bus was the best way to familiarize everyone with the major attractions in the city. The operators give brief overviews of every notable location en route, so it gives everyone a good idea of where they would like to go later. They offer a variety of tickets that allow you to hop on or off at any stop for 1 – 3 days. If you are more of an independent traveler you can also rent Canal Bikes, a paddle boat, you can rent them for 1 – 2 hours, and allow you to go of the designated bus routes and explore at your own pace. You can return the bikes to any of the Canal Company mooring docks, so if you venture away from your departure point, there is still a home for your canal bike when you are finished.

If you are interested in renting your own boat for a group or personal tour I highly recommend it. It is an unforgettable experience to be able to tell a local what it is you are interested in seeing, and having a unique route planned to fit your needs by someone who not only has knowledge of the city, but has the means to get you there.


Netherlands Posts:
Quick Eats in Amsterdam
Destination Wedding – Amsterdam
The Bookcase that Changed My Perspective
Tip Toe Through Acres of Tulips at Keukenhof
Rotterdam – Gateway to Europe

Quick Eats in Amsterdam

By Mike Kerr

When I arrived in Amsterdam one of the first things I noticed was how much the city is dominated by food. The variety of options is huge, but my favourite for walking around a city, and getting a bite to eat quickly are all of the stalls and stands. While there are still the North American chains providing fast food in a sit-down experience, the local options are specifically designed to cater to those on the go.


My personal favourite (and an mandatory stop on any visit to the city) is Manneken Pis, humorously named after the Peeing Boy statue in Brussels. Located right on Damrak just North of Dam Square, Manneken Pis is known best for one thing: paper cones filled with fresh hand cut french fries. They offer a variety of sauces but for the true Netherlands experience, mayonnaise is the best choice. Be sure to take some extra napkins with you, as once you finish the fries visible from under the blob of sauce, some digging is required. If you choose to enjoy your fries at the park across the street, there is a chance you will be hoarded by birds and might find yourself fighting for a meal.

FEBO is a Dutch based fast-food vending restaurant, and with more than 20 storefronts in Amsterdam alone, they aren’t hard to find. The first time I saw one, I had no idea it was a restaurant until I saw someone pull a burger out of one of the unforgettable vending doors. There is an incredible selection of items like burgers, fries, and FEBOs signature croquettes that are all prepared and shipped daily by FEBO’s own production centre. While the storefront can seem a little daunting, quality and cleanliness are FEBOs strongest traits. You may find on occasion that the item you are looking for isn’t there, but odds are, it will be before you know it. You can also order drinks and other snacks at a counter. For speed of service and short (or nonexistent) lines nothing beats FEBO.

When your taste buds are calling out for something sweet, check out one of the city’s croissanteries. Most locations have a similar variety of treats, but my favourite is René’s right on Damstraat to the West of Dam square. I find the biggest problem to be picking what you want, there are so many options of fresh and packaged items it can almost be overwhelming. I haven’t walked by ever to find it closed, which helps to encourage my waffle-drizzled-in-chocolate obsession.

Two delicacies that can’t be missed are found back in Dam Square outside the Royal Palace at a street vendor. Poffertjes (poff-er-chuz) are Dutch-style pancakes traditionally served with butter and icing sugar. Portions are available in 1 or 2 dozen servings, and are great as a light after dinner snack with a friend. At the same stall you can find Stroopwafels, two delicious thin waffles with a layer of hot syrup between. You can find these in other stores in a box, but nothing beats a warm fresh waffle strooping all over your face.

When I’m feeling a little more adventurous with my eating habits, a great spot to go is Stubbe’s Haring. This might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but raw herring on a bun is actually really delicious. In the summer months the fish is at its prime and tastes great. To help those with a more delicate palate, toppings like onion and pickle are available. As with any fish watch out for small bones, and be sure to go with a friend, you don’t want to waste any leftovers.

Netherlands Posts:
Getting Around Amsterdam, from Straat to Gracht
Destination Wedding – Amsterdam
The Bookcase that Changed My Perspective
Tip Toe Through Acres of Tulips at Keukenhof
Rotterdam – Gateway to Europe
Food Posts:
Gnoshing in Brussels
The Best Tomato Soup I Have EVER Experienced (and other good eats in Poland)
Pasta in Paris, Brunch in Blue – My guide to finding good eats