"One day it occurred to me that it had been many years since the world had been afforded the spectacle of a man adventurous enough to undertake a journey through Germany on foot. After much thought, I decided that I was a person fitted to furnish to mankind this spectacle. So I determined to do it. This was in March, 1878." Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad


Tiptoe through the Tulips

I am a flower fanatic. The best way to make my day is to give me a bunch of brightly colored flowers. (Every once in a while the Father remembers this, but most of the time I resort to buying flowers for myself and pretend they're from him.) I especially love the bulbs that come up in the Spring--crocuses, hyacinths, daffodils, tulips...I could go on and on. In fact, I'll confess that the main reason I wanted us to buy a house when we moved to North Carolina was so that I could have a garden. And within a few weeks of moving in I already had bulb catalogues in my hand and was ready to place some orders. So you can bet that soon after our move to Germany last summer, going to see the tulips in Holland became a goal of mine. Last week we headed to Holland during the middle of their tulip season...And boy did we see some tulips!

We traveled to Lisse, Holland to see the Keukenhof Gardens. There really is no better place on Earth to go to see flowers. It is the largest garden in the world!

The fields of flowers stretched as far as the eye could see. When we were there the hyacinths were at their peak. Their sweet smell was thick in the air.

The sad thing about these flowers is that they are only being grown for their bulbs. Soon the flowers will be cut down, and the bulbs will be harvested and sold.

The Keukenhof gardens are only open a few months every Spring. They spend the rest of the year replanting and cultivating the bulbs for the next year.

These tulips are my favorite. They look like big, fluffy roses instead of tulips.

We spent over two hours wandering around the gardens, but that wasn't even enough time to see all of it.

Of course, that might have also been because we kept stopping to take pictures.

We tried to teach Penelope how to smell the flowers.

But she was much more interested in touching them.

Even when we told her not to.

See that guilty face...

There were signs posted everywhere about not picking flowers or walking on the grass. We were worried that we were going to get stopped by the Flower Police.

But Penelope's interests quickly moved from touching flowers and running through grass to digging in the dirt.

So much so that she completely ignored all the flowers and went directly for the dirt below.

Besides flowers, there was also an old windmill you could climb up. (Windmills and tulips naturally belong together, don't they?)

There were lots of beautiful fountains and ponds too.

Like most of Holland, there were also canals running through the flower fields that you could take a boat ride down.

This year the gardens featured a huge flower mosiac.

Basically, we all had an amazing time at Keukenhof. Here are a few more snapshots to prove it...


BonnBons and Eau de Cologne

On our way to Amsterdam we made a stop in the German cities of Bonn and Cologne. Joe and Liz came along for the ride because they were stranded in Germany due to the volcanic ash (see previous post). We were grateful for the extra set of hands for keeping Penelope happy and entertained while travelling. As you can see, they did a pretty good job.

Our first stop was Bonn.

Bonn fact #1: It was the capital of West Germany.
Bonn fact #2: It has a pedestrian-only old town filled with shops and cafes.
Bonn fact #3: There isn't a whole lot to see there.

Which is why I could only come up with a whopping three pictures from our visit to Bonn.

                                                    Picture #1: Joe in front of the old city gate

Picture #2: Penelope and I in front of Beethoven's house.
Beethoven was born here in 1770. His father was a court musical director at the palace in Bonn and his grandfather was a court singer. Beethoven's father promoted him as a Mozart-like child prodigy around the city, and by his early teens Beethoven was already working as a court musician in Bonn.

Picture #3: The enormous T-Mobil advertisement that covers up the entire Rathaus (city hall)--i.e. shameless advertising.
When Bonn was the capital of West Germany, VIP's such as Charles de Gaule and John F. Kennedy appeared before the German people on these steps (the only part of the building not covered by canvas).

Moving on...

Our next stop was Cologne. Or, as the Germans say, Köln.

Cologne Fact #1: It is Germany's fourth largest city.
Cologne Fact #2: It is old! In 50 A.D. Roman Emperor Claudius first recognized Cologne (Colonia) as a Roman city after he married Agrippina (Nero's mother) who was born in Cologne. 
Cologne Fact #3: Eau de Cologne was first made here by an Italian chemist in 1709.
Cologne Fact #4: WWII bombs destroyed 95% of the city.
Cologne Fact #5: The reason most people visit Cologne is to see this:

The second you walk out of the train station, you are met with the enormous Cologne Cathedral.

Work began on the cathedral in 1248, but it wasn't finished until the 19th century with the tall spires being the last part completed.
The cathedral was originally built to house the relics of the Three Magi, which were transferred from Milan to Cologne in 1164.

The Three Magi
All the ornate stone carvings at the entrances reminded us of the cathedral in Strasbourg, France (see previous post).

The extremely long and tall (140 foot ceilings) nave make you feel very small indeed.
Looking towards the choir, the oldest part of the cathedral.
The Shrine of the Magi, a 7-foot chest of gilded silver that holds the bones of the Three Kings and has inspired Christians to make a pilgrimage here for almost a thousand years.
The Chapel of the Three Magi at the back center of the cathedral directly behind the shrine. It is the oldest section of the cathedral and features the oldest window from 1265. It's called the Bible Window because it is comprised of a vertical strip of Old Testament depictions on the left and corresponding New Testaments depictions on the right. For example, in the middle you can see the Passover Supper on the left, which corresponds to the Lord's Supper on the right.
A modern take on stained glass windows: German artist Gerhard Richter's new creation "harmony of colors." You either love it or you hate it.
The oldest surviving monumental crucifix north of the Alps--976 A.D.
I couldn't find anything about this altar piece, but I really like it.
The Altar of the Poor Clares (1350). It's from the former Franciscan convent of St. Clare in Cologne and is the oldest remaining sacrament altar with a permanently fixed tabernacle. The top row has carvings of various female and male saints while the bottom row has the busts of some of the St. Clares.

The painting on the back of the center panel.
This is where we found Joe after we were done exploring the cathedral: sitting on the remains of the Roman gate to the city from 50 A.D.

Speaking of Joe...We promised him his very own large mug of German beer (think Oktoberfest) before he left, and somehow he had made it through almost a week of visiting Germany without one. Since it was his last day in Germany, we sought out a traditional German brewery and sat down to order one. Little did we realize that Cologne has its own way of doing beer. First of all, it is called Kölsch and it is only served in very small, skinny glasses. So alas, Joe never did get his picture grasping a huge mug of German beer. Poor Joe!

Liz and I in front of the Stapelhaeuschen, after the cathedral the most photographed spot in the city due to the colorful preserved buildings from the 17th century.
And another pic, but with the fam. (Just trying to let the street live up to its reputation.)

That about sums up our visit to Cologne/Köln. Next stop: Amsterdam