The rows of dazzling color are a surprise despite our having driven 400km to see them. It is as if a child is practicing her colors, drawing careful but slightly skewed lines of impossibly bright greens, oranges, and reds. They blur by on the Dutch motorways as we draw closer to Keukenhof.
As we exit the highway and turn onto a windy country road, the detail of these beautiful flowers comes into focus. On a whim we pull over, our car parked next to a tractor caked in dirt. I jump the muddy divide between the gravel driveway and the edge of the field, slipping slightly as the mud clings to my left shoe. Thousands of tulips sway ever so slightly in the gentle spring breeze.
The coiled barbed wire sparkles in the sun; a necessity to prevent people wandering through the fields and damaging the crop. Evidently the signs are not enough to sway people. I like the imagery of the flowers behind their protective shield, still emanating their beauty. I feel a tinge of sadness that people don’t respect the boundary while at the same time relating to the desire to have a picture of me in the middle of a field of tulips. I glance at my watch and realize how late in the morning it is already; we need to get going so that we reach Keukenhof before the busloads of tourists do.
The perfectly manicured gardens are stunning. And stunningly crowded. We walk in throngs of people, stopping to take pictures here and there, never able to succeed without others in the frame. When we just can’t take the bumping and jostling anymore we make our escape. Leaving thankful for having stopped at the farm on our way here.
A bit further afield, as we are making our way south across the Continent, we are searching for the Hallerbos. While not on the same kind of scale as the manmade tulip extravaganza, I can’t help but draw a parallel to this natural floral display of bluebells that carpet the forest floor. We’re a few hours outside of Brussels wandering through a village when we see a small, homemade sign pointing the way. We pull off the paved road into a field repurposed into a parking lot.
We take our time wandering from the car to the edge of the forest – there are no tourists’ buses to race against. There is a stack of thin pamphlets left on a tree stump as if an afterthought. We select the trail with the least incline and meander into the forest.
The air is cool under the trees’ canopy; I wish I had brought a sweater despite it being a nice day. Gradually we begin to notice a few bluebells here and there – we spot them more by the sprinkling of people with cameras to their face.
As we move deeper into the forest we discover we are surrounded by tiny blueish purple flowers that blanket the ground. A mossy fog clings to the air. I can see why people call this forest magical.
We continue our journey south, trading my car for a high speed train to Paris. From there we hire a driver who will lead us the rest of the way. It is nice to be a passenger. I soak in the countryside and the impossibly narrow, medieval roads of Limetz-Villez. It feels worlds away from the industrial scene we passed on the way here. We are headed to Giverny, a garden made famous through the brush of its owner, Claude Monet.
Now that we have returned to the beaten path of tourists, we are again trying to be in and out before the busloads arrive. As we stroll through the artist’s backyard, tiny scenes pop up that are instantly familiar – the lily pond here, the Japanese bridge there – I am walking through a familiar garden come to life after decades of seeing it only in 2D.
I find the colors of his house offensive to my senses; the bright yellow walls scream at me. I am surprised at how tacky the house is. How could someone who created so much beauty live in such an absurd home? I want to retreat to the peaceful, muted tones of the garden again. Perhaps that is why he spent his time there too.