It was time to move on. We took a few farewell pictures of our favorite staircase before returning to the train station, retracing our steps to Brussels, and boarding Thalys again for our final destination city.
The first thing you notice in Amsterdam is the bicycles. Everywhere. Ridden mostly by young, attractive working people. Next to the train station is a two-level parking garage for bicycles, not cars. It was amazing. Of course, with our luggage, we took a car instead, snagging a taxi to take us to our rented apartment. It was predictably modern and spartan, but fine for our remaining three nights in Europe, and it had the most comfortable bed yet. We'd had great luck with our rentals and I highly recommend it to others for their European lodging. So much better than a hotel.
Early the next morning, we headed straight for the bus to Keukenhof, the famous Netherlands bulb garden. Thanks to the American tulip-bulb inspector we met in Paris, we knew that the garden was still uncharacteristically beautiful for this late in spring and thus worth a visit.
Keukenhof is about an hour away from the city of Amsterdam, and a local bus company takes tourists there all day long. A bit before we reached the garden itself, we started to see the massive blooming tulip fields out the bus windows. These fields are grown not for the flowers but for the bulbs; they are dug up, the foliage is stripped, and the bulbs are shipped all over the world.
Just inside the gates of the garden, an old-fashioned calliope greets visitors. It has wooden whistles and anamatronic figures that move with the music. After that one distraction, though, the entertainment is all about the flowers.
I'm not even going to bother with the usual apology about too many photos. If ever there was a place you can't have such a thing, this is it. And we were incredibly lucky to be able to see it in its full glory.
I met some fascinating people in the garden. First there was this interesting young man sporting a unique hairstyle and extensive tattoos; he very kindly posed for a photo with the crazy American. Then I came across this group of ladies from the Red Hat Society, an organization for women over 50 who like to have fun together.
We reached the far corner of the park and found a windmill guarding the canal which surrounds the garden. Across the canal we could once again see the extensive bulb fields stretching for miles.
The final beds of flowers we viewed were planted as a flower mosaic depicting Big Ben and the Tower Bridge from London, representing the 2013 Keukenhof theme "The United Kingdom, Land of Great Gardens". Exhausted but smiling after four hours, we dragged ourselves back to the garden entrance and boarded the bus back to Amsterdam.