Thursday, May 24, 2007

Amsterdam II - Tulips

When I think of Holland, two images come to mind – fields of crimson and buttercup tulips and Delft blue and white windmills. Don’t ask me why.

Traditionally, the first week of May is the perfect time for viewing ‘late’ tulips and bicycling along the Bloemen Route (flower route) between Haarlem and Lieden. However, as you’ll recall from my April adventures in Scotland, it seems spring came earlier setting temperature records through out Europe. As a result, the peak of the tulips (both in gardens and the fields) was around 10 April.

Thankfully, in Lisse (the heart of tulip country), the horticulturists have planted over 17-acres in the lovely Keukenhof Gardens to ensure that at least a few blooms persevere the eight week season.

On a very windy and ominous morning, I ventured out to see if any blooms remained…

Tulips were originally imported from Turkey in 1559. Over the following 70 years, their popularity and variety gained so much momentum that "Tulip Mania" swept the Netherlands in the 1630s. The rarest bulbs were auctioned for the equivalent of €4000 in today's money! Imagine the tech bubble of the late-1990s, only with flowers. Eventually, the bubble burst, and with it the fortunes of vast sways of the population.

Often the most outlandish shapes and variegated colors are the work of viruses.

I have never seen petals quite as curly as this (with the exception of another specimen called "Pink Panther").

Enough to make even the prettiest swan a wee bit jealous.

My favorite. I absolutely adore the soft pale 'blue' of these tulips. It reminds me of sterling roses... also a favorite.

There are, as ever, more images than space. But, I hope that gives you a flavor of the beauty and variety on show. Given that this is the closing weekend of the Chelsea flower show in London, I reckon these tulips could easily challenge any of the specimen plants on show.

Next up... some quirky gables and the likes from Amsterdam.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Amsterdam I – Canals

After calling Schiphol airport my second home for the best part of five years, it was time to leave the departures lounge and explore the Dutch capital. Better known for its vices, I strayed from the tourist trail of the Dam and Red Light district to find a genteel and tranquil beauty.

The Western and Southern Canal Belts are a walkers (and bicyclers) haven. Away from the tourist trade, the “Venice of the North” developed to house the growing wealth of 17th century merchants while the Jordaan became home to their artisans. (Even nosed around inside at the grandeur.) After watching Edinburgh develop into a thriving tourist hub, I was amazed at the quietness I found in Amsterdam and the fabulous local cafes. Even Queen Beatrix welcomed me. (Apparently in residence, I caught a glimpse of her on her way to a reception.)

I had the good fortune of meeting a local who was preparing for a visit from Canadian friends to show me around the Western Canal Belt and Jordaan one afternoon… canals and hidden almshouses… apple cake and coffee…

This is quite possibly the smallest doorway in Amsterdam at 1.8 meters, although it does open into a full 5-meter wide building behind. So what? Well, residents are taxed on the width of their property rather than the square meters. So, tall and lanky is all the rage! The only way to get your mattress up to the forth floor is via a hook and pulley conveniently placed on the gable. (Imagine trying to remove a bathtub from the fourth floor, as a few builders in the Jordaan were one sunny afternoon. Hysterical!)

Even floating homes have a bit of a giggle. (Although I’m dying to know how tall wooden ships with masts and sails manage to navigate the low clearance of some of the bridges.)

The world’s oldest floating flower market on the Singel.

I skipped most of the major museums (those are for rainy days or Friday nights when the Van Gogh Museum has live jazz and canap├ęs – absolutely fabulous way to see art, in my opinion) in favor of street markets on a lazy Sunday afternoon…

Chess on the Leidestraat (left); hide and seek at an homage to Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” in Rembrandtplien (right).

I’ve never seen an instrument quite like that before – street theater at the Dam (left); Bourbon Street Bar just off Leidestraat (right).

But where are those illustrious tulips?

Friday, May 11, 2007


Seems the spring blossoms have come and gone. Silly me missed them as I was working so hard on my thesis. =(

But, in honor of my annual anniversary I'm off to Amsterdam to track down some tulips. Pictures next week!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Close your eyes. Imagine a gentle breeze rustling the branches of a budding plum tree. Can you feel the breeze? How does it sound? What does it smell like?

Over the weekend, I wandered out of the office and away from the troublesome computers to discover ~in the field’s sublime installation piece, ume, tucked away in a stairwell at Stills (on Cockburn Street). In seconds flat I was transported from the confines of cosmopolitan Edinburgh to an emerging spring orchard.

In the artists statement they explain, “ume captures the precise moment of the cyclical transition from winter to spring... ume comprises self-contained revolving images of plum blossoms in the form of thaumatropes [a popular Victorian toy] powered by solar cells.” Each thaumatrope is connected to a solar cell on the roof of Stills and twirls independently to the changing light conditions.

I’d say I'm a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to art. I prefer it to occupy the space of a frame on my wall rather than an immersive experience. However, ~in the fields has managed to transcend my stalwart view with amazing success. My only regret is not finding it sooner – last Sunday was the final day of the exhibition. Definitely, one to watch!

For more information & movies of the exhibition: