I felt like a zombie. A planned 5 minutes of showering, brushing, and checking out took 15.
That’s OK, I still had plenty of time to make it to Keukenhof Gardens and back in time for the 2:30pm bus to Paris.
Tram ride to Centraal Station, train to Schiphol Airport, and 10 unplanned minutes standing in line for the ticket on the Keukenhof shuttle. OK, I’m still only 25 minutes behind – I can deal with that.
10 minutes running around looking for a coin locker to ditch my luggage. 35 minutes behind.
Outside, the shuttle hadn’t started running yet. 1 hour behind.
But lucky for me, one of the garden’s employees – a friendly Dutch kid who was probably around 20 – just happened to be heading there for work, so after we met up things picked up a bit. He introduced me to an alternate bus route that shaved a few minutes off the transport time, and since we made it before the bulk of the day’s tour buses I was able to walk right in without a wait.
It wasn’t raining, but it was still a bit overcast and gloomy – something I really hoped wouldn’t happen for the sake of the photos. But at least it wasn’t raining.
The Keukenhof Gardens were not at all what I expected. I was envisioning endless fields of tulips – like crops, but colorful – the kinds you see in all the Holland travel guides, and the kinds I saw outside the train window between Rotterdam and Amsterdam.
What I found was something like a theme park. Don’t get me wrong – it really was nothing short of incredible – millions and millions of beautifully arranged flowers of every type, spaced by small walking paths, shaded by trees, and surrounded by numerous reflective ponds and snow-white swans. Still, it did seem like an outdoors museum – or like Disneyland, but with flowers. Japanese tourists with tripods and fat Germans in matching red caps flocked every which way, snacking on cotton candy and making peace signs for the cameras.
As it turns out, the tulip fields themselves – something I found to be far more enjoyable – reside outside the gardens. So after giving the garden a thorough run-through – and a second quick run-through to revisit my favorite photos when the sun decided to peek through the clouds – I exited the grounds, rented a bike, and started to pedal my ass off.
Although I was a bit late in the season – probably around half the fields had already been “harvested” – millions still remained, and they were like nothing I’d ever seen before. Just envision a field of crops – orange groves, rice fields, whatever – and replace those crops with tightly-packed flowers of all different colors: a row of red, a row of orange, a row of purple, a row of white, a row of yellow – the colors were so bright that when the sun did peek through they were almost blinding. What amazing luck that I just happened to be here during the short month-long period when the flowers blossom; it would be like accidentally ending up in Kyoto during the one week of cherry blossoms. Simply amazing.
As I rode through the flowers the sun and rain came and went. I found myself spending longer than I should have waiting for a peek of sunlight, shooting as many pre-planned photos as I could, then waiting again until the sun returned. On the one hand the clock was ticking, but on the other, when was I ever going to be in the Dutch countryside in May? So I just kept riding and pushing the schedule…and my legs.
By the time I made it back to the bus stop I realized that my chances of making it back to the city in time were pretty slim – a fast walk turned to a sprint, which when I picked my luggage back up at Schiphol Airport turned into a giant pile of backpack barreling through the busy station crowds.
Because the combined bus ticket/Keukenhof entry pass contained several free bus rides, I decided to take a different route back to the city instead of transferring between trains and buses and trams. Whether this was faster or slower remains to be seen, but I arrived at Amstel Station – the departure point for international Eurolines routes – with 30 minutes to spare. I ran inside the office and surveyed the staff handling the customer lines. There was just one woman, and she did not look pleased to be there.
Usually when I’m trying to get something “iffy” done – changing a ticket, extending a checkout, etc – joking and being friendly is the best way to go about it. But this woman didn’t seem to be in the mood to joke. At all.
Yet thankfully, it worked out just perfect.
Apparently she cared so little about her job that she just flipped me a boarding pass for today’s bus without even bothering to charge the change fee. “I have this reservation for tomorrow,” I said. “I wonder if there’d be any way I could take today’s bus instead?” She handed me a boarding pass without saying a word. Just like that, it was as if my mistake were completely wiped away – as if I’d originally bought the correct ticket.
I sprinted back into Amstel Station, grabbed enough snack food and water for the 8hr ride, used the restroom, and stepped on the bus at 2:29. The doors closed behind me and I was on my way to Paris, two memory cards full of tulips.
I love it when things work out perfectly.