Tuesday, April 22, 2008

tiptoeing through the tulips

almost exactly one year ago, adam and i went to see the keukenhof, which is this amazingly beautiful tulip garden near leiden, in the west of holland. we went on the busiest day of the year last year so we could also see the bloemencorso, a parade where all the floats are made of flowers. even though it took us nearly 4 hours to get out there due to the crowds, and even though the walkways were teeming with tourists from just about every corner of the globe, we were already counting down the days until we could get out there to see it again.

fast forward one year, and now we're taking our daughter with us. who would have ever imagined such a thing?

we recently needed to bring mary grace to amsterdam, so that she could register herself at the american consulate in order to receive an american birth certificate, social security number, and passport. since amsterdam was a good two hours away by train, and the consulate another 20 minutes by tram, we chose to make it into an overnight trip so that we could do some sightseeing in the west. we arrived on a thursday, ran a few errands and did some touristy things like dining at a canalside cafe and riding on a tour boat, and then on friday we had her appointment at the consulate. since we were finished with that by lunchtime, and since the weather was fine, i called up my friend valerie and invited her to tag along for a day of tiptoeing through the tulips with the three of us!

we took the train to the airport and then hopped on the direct bus to the keukenhof. last year we stood in line for about an hour and a half just to get our bus ticket, and then waited in line for another half hour before we could even STAND on the bus. but this year we just purchased our tickets right away, walked straight onto the bus, and had a choice of any seat. gracie chose to sit on her daddy's lap of course.

we drove through daffodil and hyacinth fields to reach the keukenhof about 30 minutes later. it was so beautiful to see all the gorgeous blooms as we cruised by, and we could even SMELL the hyacinths from inside the bus! we were all reaclly excited to get there so that we could see everything from up close!

once there, the four of us found a place near a pond and had a picnic of, what else, wine, chocolate, bread, and cheese. the typical picnic fare for us, huh? gracie sat on my lap and looked out at the glittering fountain in the pond, and swear to god everyone who walked by us would stop looking at the tulips and would focus on mg instead. one kind old woman spoke to us in german (i could understand but had difficulty talking, since my dutch has corrupted my german language skills), and told us about how her grandchildren are such joys in her life, but that they have grown up quickly already and so we should enjoy it when she's small because she won't be that size forever. that seems to be the advice that everyone gives to us, and we definitely try to take it to heart. and yet, she's nearly 3 months old and i already can't remember where the time has gone. all of a sudden it's bedtime again, and i want to scream, "wait! i haven't finished enjoying her today! just 5 more minutes before she falls asleep!"

we spent the rest of the day strolling through the most magnificently groomed gardens i have ever seen. i was glad for the warm weather and few visitors at the park that day, because it gave us more of an opportunity to see more of the keukenhof. we discovered areas that i didn't know existed, because last year the crowds were so thick we were only able to walk along at a very slow pace. we just kind of followed the flow of the people last year, and went with the traffic. but this year we had the place almost all to ourselves and definitely took advantage of the wide walkways and hidden coves. adam snapped a lot of pictures of the various sculptures in the garden, some of which were actually for sale. meanwhile, valerie and i pushed a snoozing mary grace under the blooms of the glorious magnolia trees. eventually we made it to the back of the park, where we found a windmill! the crazy thing about it is that it is the very same windmill that was in the background of our 2007 christmas card picture. last year's photo was taken in a field of red tulips, but when we saw the field this year it was planted with bright yellow daffodils instead. adam climbed to the top of the windmill and admired the view from up high, while the sails were turning in the wind. there is a fence up at the top of the windmill so that you can't walk to the front where the rotating blades are at, because if you got hit by one of them i'm sure it would mortally wound you! those things are huge, and they were turning pretty fast too.

anyway, when he came down from there, we got another picture in front of the windmill (maybe this can be our christmas card for this year!), and we tried getting a couple of photos of gracie in a wooden clog. she had just woken up from a nap and didn't like the idea of being crammed into this shoe with all these strangers looking at her, so she started crying. it was soooo cute! and everyone was all, "oh, look at the crying baby in the clog! awwww!" i know, i'm a horrible mother. it was still adorable, though.

towards the end of our visit, we all checked out the inside of a greenhouse, so we could all sit down and have something cold to drink. i gave gracie a little something to eat, and valerie happily burped her while adam took pictures of the amazing bulbs inside. gracie LOVED the greenhouse, because it was warm and bright, and all the flowers were blooming and were packed in close to each other, offering a wide variety of visual stimulation in a small area. it was perfect for her!

i wasn't sure if gracie would notice all these flowers around her, and i assumed that because she was so small she would just be happy laying quietly in her stroller. but this was definitely not the case. and it's getting increasingly more difficult to keep her happy in her stroller, because she ALWAYS wants to look out at the world! we all three took turns carrying her, and basically just used the stroller to throw our bags in and push around like one of those little carts you can rent at the airport. gracie definitely wanted to SEE and ABSORB and INTERACT with her world, and who can blame her? the bright blooms and the glittering fountains were gorgeous, and i'm glad that mg got to enjoy them too even though she's "just a baby."

we headed back home sooner than we would have liked, but it was 30 minutes back to the airport, and then we'd have to wait for a train that takes 2 hours to get us back home. gracie needed her sleep after such an exhausting couple of days! (even adam and i were tired, so we could only imagine how worn out she must have been feeling!) she was in such a good mood from her day, she was giggling and making funny faces at me on the bus ride back. thank goodness for digital cameras so i could capture every one of those silly looks she gave me!

we caught a 7:00 pm train home and gracie slept like the dead for the entire trip back. it's like once that train started rolling, she realized that she was tired and just literally FELL asleep. one moment she was talking and cooing, and the next minute, she was out like a light! too cute! we were home i think by about 9:15, so we were able to put her to bed only about an hour later than usual. thank goodness she slept through the night because i really wanted to sleep after all that activity,and i wasn't looking forward to a midnight feeding that night!

i can't WAIT to do it again next year!

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