Springtime in the Netherlands is an extremely colorful and fantastically beautiful time of year to visit.
For a few weeks each spring, tulips bloom profusely in Holland. This produces an extremely colorful and fantastically beautiful landscape. Spring 2009 was the year for me to see it and, as it were, tiptoe through the tulips. I’d like to take you along and show you what can be done by a traveler in a wheelchair.
The most direct way to get to Holland from California is the KLM nonstop flight from LAX to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. I have flown this route and know KLM and Schiphol Airport are wheelchair friendly.
Where to Stay?
The Netherlands is a flat country and relatively wheelchair friendly. One of the first concerns is accessible lodging, or at least wheelchair useable. You can easily find wheelchair-accessible hotels, especially near Schiphol Airport. However, Holland has an interesting lodging option called “bungalow parks,” something like the concept of American timeshares.
Some of these parks offer accommodations that are specifically wheelchair accessible. Unfortunately, many do not. I searched the Internet for a bungalow park in the middle of the tulip-growing region and near Keukenhof Gardens.
I discovered Bungalow Park De Gouden Spar (www.goudenspar.nl/en). Its address is in Noordwijk aan Zee, but it is located in the country near the coast and in the midst of tulip fields, about five miles from Keukenhof. The bungalow is not ADA compliant, but it was designed such that it is very wheelchair useable (see floor plan on Web site). It had two small bedrooms, a living room, dining/kitchen area, a surprisingly useable bathroom, and a secluded patio/backyard area. A step into the bungalow was about an inch high, as was the back patio entrance.
I chose the bungalow option for two reasons other than its location: We could cook our own meals, and the second bedroom allowed friends to join us there. I booked Bungalow 2 for a week, at about $100 per day; the cost varies with the season and length of stay.
The bungalow was two kilometers from the village of Noordwijkerhout. I pushed there each day of our stay. This quaint place contained three small supermarkets, a tourist-information center with a friendly English-speaking staff, and numerous shops. The bungalow was also two kilometers from the North Sea shore, via an asphalt bike path through the dunes. Bike paths in the Netherlands are abundant. I used them frequently to wheel along beside roads, over canals, and through fields of tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths—all in full bloom when we arrived.
We arrived by car, but I discovered the bus stop in Noordwijkerhout enabled me to access two important bus lines. To my surprise, these were wheelchair accessible, easy to use, and fun to ride. On the 57 Bus, I rode northeast about 15 minutes to Keukenhof Gardens, or about 45 minutes southeast to the university city of Leiden with its Central Train Station.
On the 90 Bus, I could have gone north to Haarlem or southwest to Den Haag, both more than an hour away. The ride was 2.50 Euros (about three bucks). I only used the bus to go to Keukenhof, as I had a rental van, but it is good to know a rental car was not absolutely necessary in order to travel around the area.
I rented a 1995 Dodge Entervan from Promotours in Germany (www .accessible-van-rental.eu/RAMP_ADAP TED.html). For a fee, the company will deliver the van to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. It is the only American-made ramp van available for rent in Europe, and it is from a German nonprofit Senior and Handicapped Association, not a normal car-rental company. The cost was approximately 100 Euros per day, but this vehicle allowed travel opportunities otherwise unavailable to me.
You may be wondering about the language barrier. I spoke not a word of Dutch, but most residents speak a little English, and I found friendly and helpful people wherever I went. Communication was not a problem.
I cannot adequately describe the fantastic beauty of field after field after field of blooming flowers. It was awesome. World-famous Keukenhof Gardens (www.keukenhof.nl)—about 80 acres of landscaped flowers and trees, with a windmill and pavilions for special exhibits such as orchids—is a “must see” item on any Dutch travel itinerary. It cost 13 Euros ($18) to get in and, if someone is pushing you, he/she gets in free.
The best time to go is between 8:00 and 10:00 a.m., as the tour buses arrive at 10:00. By noon it is too crowded to really enjoy, especially from a wheelchair. I recommend you go there at least once—more often, if you have the time. It really takes two or three visits to see it all and savor the experience at your leisure.
Not the Rose Parade
On Friday night, a lighted parade took place through the village of Noordwijkerhout. There was a delightful party atmosphere, but it got a bit cold and went a little late. As a result, we missed the beginning of the Tulip Parade the next morning in Noordwijk aan Zee. No problem, as we went in the afternoon to the village of Hillegom to see it. It wasn’t exactly up to the standards of California’s Rose Parade, but it was pretty neat and fun to watch.
The Tulip Parade route is 40 kilometers long, with two rest stops. Hillegom is the first village after the second rest stop, so we drove there, walked around some, and chose a viewing spot on the parade route. There was a substantial crowd, and the village streets were so narrow I could reach out and touch the floats as they passed. We saw about 20 flower-covered floats, an equal number of flower-bedecked vehicles, and four marching bands. It took about an hour for it to pass by.
Besides viewing the colorful landscape, visiting Keukenhof Gardens, and taking in the Tulip Parade, the Netherlands offers many worthwhile sights and activities.
About an hour’s drive southwest from our bungalow was Kinderdijk, near Rotterdam. Kinderdijk is renowned as the place in the Netherlands with the greatest number of windmills. Unfortunately it was raining when we went, but it was still fun to see and an adventure to get there—we took a ferry across the Lek River.
A word regarding the weather. We were fortunate to have six consecutive sunny days and only one of rain. There was sometimes a cool breeze off the North Sea, and it could cloud over in the afternoon and get chilly. Therefore, be prepared: Take a poncho, an umbrella, and warm clothes. However, when the sun was out the views were absolutely fantastic, and still beautiful even in the rain.
After Kinderdijk, we drove to the Delta Works near Rotterdam. This is an engineering marvel designed to prevent flooding from North Sea storm surges.
Another delightful experience was a visit to Delft, famous for its blue and white porcelain, among other things. Shopaholics, beware! We walked through the Market Square, around the old city, and attended a Sunday service in the “New Church,” built about 1500. The Dutch Reformed service was translated into English. The organ and singing during the service was moving in this wonderful old church.
Afterward we had an excellent, but expensive, meal in a nearby restaurant. A caution: Eating out in Holland is expensive, which is another reason we appreciated the kitchen in our bungalow.
We did not go to Amsterdam, but that was a matter of personal choice and time management. I preferred to take a Gouda cheese sandwich, an apple, and a beverage to a nice location in the sun and enjoy the fragrance and beauty of the pleasant surroundings in the Dutch countryside.
I hope you have enjoyed this spring journey with me to Holland. The flowers were just awesome. It is an adventure I heartily recommend—a once-in-a-lifetime experience.