Wednesday, May 19, 2010

And the winner of the ugliest flower parade float is...

With so many colors, textures, and types of flowers to choose from, a float dedicated to fashion could have been amazing.  Instead, the monstrosity (see pic below) was included in the 2010 Holland flower parade.  There are so many things wrong with this float inlcuding: a lop-sided chest, pastel colors which would have made a 1950's prom queen cringe, ruffles that are too excessive for even the 1980's, and a skirt with holes big enough to put Lindsay Lohen to shame (and to flash everyone else in the meantime).  The dresses on the girls sitting at the back aren't helping either.

Recommendation: Project Runway should create floats centered around fashion for the parade next year.  Then the parade should drive through the streets of Paris during Paris Fashion Week.  This wouldn't be a far stretch from some of the challenges which the designers already are asked to do.  And the results would be gorgeous to see and smell wonderful!  

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Destination: Flower Parade, Holland

The highlight of the Holland trip was the flower parade.  On the last Saturday in April, all the flower growers from the region of Am Lisse, Holland create floats made of thousands of flowers.  The attention to detail is absolutely amazing.  Each float has a different theme.  And they all smell wonderful. 

There are between 15-20 floats each year.  They travel 40km throughout the day.  We caught the parade at the end of the day (hence the reason some of the flowers are drooping in the pics below).  Below are some of my favorite floats.  To make pics bigger, click on them.

Holland float - with windmills, cows, and dancing Dutchmen in clogs (both flower covered dutchman and actual dutchman dancing).

Train float - with engine & caboose.  The detailing on the side of the train is really pretty, as are the tulip box on the caboose.


Viking float - the detailing on the shields on the boat is amazing.  The use of veggies, sea shells and flowers together is nice.

Under the Sea float - this is my favorite.  The lobster is awesome!  It would be cool if there were blue and pink lobsters. 

Hiking in Holland float - the sheep are cool.  It would have been fun for them to add animanl noises (many floats had singers or dancers).

Dancing Dolls float - the red lily along the sides are pretty.

Finish Line of Bike Race float - this is really cool in that they made flowers out of flowers.  The sizing of the flowers and people is a lot like Alice & Wonderland... with spandex.

Destination: Keukenhof Gardens, Holland

I love tulips. They are my 2nd favorite flower (stargazer lily's are my fav).  So I was quite happy when a friend agreed to accompany me on 30-hour roadtrip to Kuekenhof Gardens, Holland in late April to see the tulips in bloom.   This was the perfect way to spend my bday weekend!

There were fields of flowers everywhere in the area around Keukenhof (called Am Lisse, Holland).  As we were stuck in a massive traffic jam going to Keukenhof, we had plenty of time to take pictures of the fields. 


As it was late April (near the end of tulip season), many of the fields were half-picked.  Migrant workers, many from Eastern Europe, are hired on a seasonal basis to pick the flowers.

The are 36-acre Gardens have 3 sections: 1) a lawn area with gorgeous flowerbeds, 2) a greenhouse for exotic flowers, and 3) rows of planted flowers which will later be picked and sold.  In the lawn area, the gardeners have done an amazing job landscaping.  In between patches of well-maincured grass are beautifully designed flower beds.  There is also a windmill, a play ground for kids, and some animals. 

The gardeners have done a phenomenal job deciding which flowers to plant together.  They all compliment each other nicely.  It is easy to see why this has the #1 photographed flowers in the world (according to the Keukenhof Gardens website).

The 2nd section, the greenhouse, has many exotic flowers that come in interesting shapes & colors... like the flowers below which remind me of pineapples, spiders, starfish, and fireworks.

A good way to see the 3rd section of Keukenhof (the flower fields) is via a 1-hour boat ride on the canal.  If you have more time, I recommend renting a bike, making a picnic, and spending the day biking around the Am Lisse area.

A decent portion of the day was spent looking for good pic locations and posing for pics (this also included trampling flowers to get these pics, as my friend noted).  I needed a new facebook photo (I rarely update mine, and an update was needed).  Keukenhof seemed like a perfect place to take this pic.  The photo below was the runner-up to the facebook photo...

Tips for visiting Keukenhof:
1. Go mid to late April.  Flowers are at their full bloom then. 

2. Avoid being there on weekends.  The last 2 weekends in April have special events going on - 1) the Russian flower market (where 70% of the world's tulips are sold) and 2) the flower parade (lots of floats made entirely of flowers).  These events draw thousands of tourists which really get in the way of picture taking.

3. Spend 1 day biking around the flower fields in Am Lisse (important: bring a picnic lunch, as there are no food stands).

4. Buy flowers while out biking.  Keukenhof sells-out quickly of flowers.  So it's better to purchase the flowers from another location.  If you're looking for a business opportunity, arrange with the 6EUR for 50 tulips suppliers in Amsterdam to sell their flowers at Keukenhof on the weekends in April and take a cut of the profit.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Destination: Amsterdam

Over my bday weekend, a friend and I made a 30-hour trip (including 10 hours driving) to Holland to see the tulip fields in bloom.  The first stop on this trip was Amsterdam, where we stayed overnight before heading to the tulip fields. 

Our midnight arrival was perfectly on-time for us to join the entire city population
for a night out on the town.  A neon carnival was set-up in the city center with the tallest Carnival rides that I've ever seen.  The height didn't seem to daunt people as lines for the rides were long.  This surprised me as I'm of the philosophy that it's not smart to go on Carnival rides as they break-down easily... especially the very tall rides where the falling distance is greater.

Unfortunately we didn't get to see much of the city.  Of our 30 hour trip, only 11 hours were spent in Amsterdam (this included sleeping time).  Below are some of the key take-aways from the 11 hours there:

1. During the day, Amsterdam is a city with gorgeous, old buildings and many canals.  During the night, the gorgeous historic buildings take a back seat to neon signs and lit-up graffiti. These contrasting elements work well together. 

2. Most old house have hooks on the underside of the roof (right next to the windows)... these hooks were used in the olden times to lift large objects to the higher rooms as the stair cases were too small to allow larger objects to pass through them.  (to better see the hooks, click on the pic at left).

3. Go out at night in Amsterdam.  It is the equivalent to Las Vegas; the city which comes alive at night.

4. Bikes are everywhere, including in the canals.  Most bikes are in poor shape, except the seats which are well taken care of. 

5. Amsterdam seems to have one of the most diverse poulations in Europe (this observation is based solely on the languages heard - of course, this could also have been us hearing all the tourists).

6. Buy some tulips at the flower market.  They're 6EUR for 50 tulips, and they are amazing.  Additionally, you can buy bulbs for many flowers (HUGE bulbs).

6. Hotel recommendation: check out the Inntel Hotels Amsterdam Centre.  It is in the city center, which is optimal since you can walk to everything.  It is reasonably priced if you book ahead of time.  The rooms are large (compared to European standards), it's clean and it's staff are very knowledgable about the city.  The down-sides to the hotel are that breakfast is not included in the room price and is expensive (a good alternate is to eat at a street cafe) and there is very limited street parking nearby (paid parking is ~50EUR/day, or you can park outside the city and talk a tram in).  If you have a car, check out hotels slightly outside the city center.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Destination: Paris in the Spring

Paris is a city that I know well.  Growing up, my family took multiple trips to Paris.  On these trips, we had wonderful tour guides - my parents, who had lived there, and their friends.  During and after college, I spent a decent amount of time exploring the city.  During each visit, I make a point to visit new places/events and to learn new Paris facts. As a result, I am usually the tour guide when I visit Paris with friends. 

On a recent trip to Paris, I was very happy to have a friend join who knew Paris well.  During this trip, they were  the tour guide role and showed me many new sites.  Highlights of the trip included:

1. Cafe de l'Homme.  Situated at the back of the Musee de l'Homme, this cafe offers tables with the best views in Paris.  It's located dirctly across the Seine from the Tour Eiffel on a small hill.  From the table, it's possible to see the entire Left Bank of Paris.  It is also a great place for people watching.  The clientele are mostly high-powered business people, well-to-do Parisian families, and old ladies meeting for social hour.  Everyone knew each other, and everyone was in designer clothing - including the servers. 

2. L'Orangerie.  On the top floor are 2 large, circular rooms which house some of Monet's water lily paintings.  The museum was specially designed for the paintings.  The lower floor houses rotating art collections.  If I lived in Paris, I would visit this museum at least once per week after work, with my ipod, to view the paintings and listen to music.

3. Cimetière du Père Lachaise.  On Sunday morning, our first tour stop was Jim Morrison's grave.  I'm definitely not a graveyard person... I have a difficult time getting over the feeling that I'm walking on dead people.  And seeing Jim Morrison's grave seemed too touristy.  But I went anyway and was pleasantly surprised.  It was more like a archealogy site than a graveyard.  The tombs are miniture houses that date back multiple centuries.  Moss covers everything, and antique carvings are everywhere.  Jim Morrison's grave is easy to find... just "follow the hippies" (totally serious).  I don't recommend going here at night as it could quickly turn into the Blair Witch Project.

4. Restaurants & park around Sainte Marie de Batignolles (74 rue Legendre, 75017 Paris).  For lunch on Sunday, another friend took us to the square around Sainte Marie.  It has sidewalk restaurants with amazing food and a great park.  Supposedly, this areas is a hidden gem within Paris because it's a 10 min walk from the closest metro stop so only locals know the area. The pic to the left shows 2 little girls playing at lunch. 

5. Angelina (226 rue de Rivoli).  This is supposedly the best place in Paris to get hot chocolate.  My tour guide skills are poor when it comes to the Paris cafe/restaurant scene.  So another friend, a food connoisseur, sampled his way around Paris and kindly provided this recommendation.