Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Tulip Time in Holland, Michigan

The coastal Michigan town of Holland thoroughly embraces its Dutch ancestry in the most fitting way possible – by planting millions of tulip bulbs that blanket the city.  Every year in early to mid-May the city comes alive with festivities celebrating the arrival of spring and bursts of color created by tulips in an event called “Tulip Time.”

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Many people associate the origins of the tulip plant with the Netherlands in Europe but surprisingly they were first cultivated by the Turks as early as 1,000 AD.  Dutch history with tulips began later in 1593 when the Dutch botanist Carolus Clusius began cultivating tulips.  For many years, the tulip was regarded as a rarity and only afforded by the wealthy.  Today, the Netherlands produce nearly three billion bulbs a year and export two billion of those (with the U.S. as the top importer). 

Tulip bulbs first came to Holland, Michigan along with European settlers in the 1840’s.  The tulips thrived in the sandy loam soils characteristic of this coastal town.  In 1927 a Holland high school teacher, Lida Rodgers, put forth the idea that the city plant tulips along streets and in public parks as a beautification effort.  The idea was popular and the following year the city purchased 100,000 bulbs and a year later in 1929 the first Tulip Time Festival was held.

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What makes Holland so stunning is the sheer volume of tulips.  Over 5,000,000 tulip bulbs burst open in the spring scattering an amazing spectrum of colors all over the city.  Over 120 varieties are planted.  Bulbs are planted in a variety of manners – some 200,000 are hand planted and the remainder planted by machine.  Over six miles of city streets are planted with tulip bulbs with a special machine that digs a trench along the curb, then bulbs are dropped in by hand, and a machine covers the bulbs with soil.  Pair the colorful tulips with flowering cherry, crab, and plum trees and you have gorgeous city streets sure to cause traffic jams from onlookers. 

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The annual guide for the Tulip Time festival is over twenty pages long so you know there is a lot going on.  Festivities are located at multiple locations throughout the city and include multiple parades, exhibitions of Dutch dancing, concerts, arts and crafts markets, food vendors and cooking demonstrations, trolley rides, dinner shows, floral arranging classes, carnival, fireworks, quilt shows, and more.  And of course, millions of tulips to enjoy.  We were thoroughly amazed by the variety of colors and petal shapes of the tulips.

Downtown Holland is really nice and a lot bigger than we expected.  There are great shops, nice restaurants, a couple of breweries, and yes…tulips.  We seemed to gravitate to the downtown where we found ourselves eating and shopping our way around the historic streets and admiring the tulips.

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Windmill Island is another location in Holland where tulips are in full bloom and the city’s Dutch heritage is embraced.  The Netherlands are synonymous with windmills where they grace the landscape and perform useful functions.  It is only fitting that Holland has its own authentic Dutch windmill located on where else but … Windmill Island.  The story of Windmill Island goes back 50 years to when a windmill from the Netherlands was brought to Holland, Michigan.  The De Zwaan windmill towers over the 36-acre property and is the centerpiece of the park and surrounded by flower gardens, a canal, and a Dutch village.  De Zwaan is a working windmill that grinds winter wheat berries grown in Michigan into flour using two massive millstones powered by wind.

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We even visited a wooden shoe factory (DeKlomp Wooden Shoe and Delft Pottery) thanks to Spirit who insisted on trying on her first pair of wooden shoes!  Traditionally, wooden shoes were made famous by the Dutch and are still worn today.

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The campground we chose was Holland State Park in the Beach Campground loop where we had nice views of Lake Michigan and plenty of space to walk Spirit.  Plus, Holland has won plenty of accolades for being a top beach town.  There is a nice paved path that went from our campground along the shoreline of Lake Macatawa and to the main entrance of the state park where there are hiking trails that lead to the top of Mt. Pisgah and you are treated to panoramic views of Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa. 

To escape the crowds, we decided to drive to a couple other western Michigan coastal towns.  A short 30-minute 132drive took us to Grand Haven which was recently voted as the “Happiest Seaside Town in America” by Coastal Living.  You know we love superlatives so we couldn’t miss this place.  Grand Haven has a paved walking path that runs from downtown to Lake Michigan along the harbor.  At the terminus are two lighthouses that grace the harbor entrance and add scenic beauty. 

The next day we headed south to the town of Saugatuck which was really quite charming.  Similar to Holland and Grand Haven, the historic downtown is set inland from the lake where boats find protection from the lakes' fury and winter storms.  We started off our visit by having lunch at a local brewery Saugatuck Brewing Company.  We walked around the downtown and explored the many shops and watched boats move about the harbor.  By the way, this coastal town won the 2015 USA Today award “Best Coastal Small Town” and in 2016 as the “#1 Best Weekend Escape in the USA.” 

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We are starting to really like coastal Michigan.  The towns all have that small town feel that we love and are charming and picturesque.  Throw in a couple of lighthouses, some craft brews, and a big lake with stunning sunsets and we may just stick around more than we planned. 

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2 comments:

  1. I never knew that there was place to see tulips like that. I thought we would have to go to the Netherlands. We will have to visit next spring!

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