Close by in Aalsmeer is the world’s largest flower auction, which sells up to 21 million cut flowers per day. It’s a worldwide, billion Euro industry, and the frenetic pace of the auction reflects it as flowers are delivered at high speed on forklifts for bidding. Visitors can watch and photograph the action from a raised walkway.
Originally found on the Eurasian Steppe, Ottoman traders transported tulips to Istanbul where they became an instant hit with successive sultans. Many centuries later, the first bulbs arrived in the Netherlands in the 1560s, packed amongst a shipment of Turkish cloth. So strange and unfamiliar were these bulbs that the first Dutch recipient decided to roast and eat these ‘Turkish onions’ with vinegar and oil. It was only later, when he planted his remaining ‘onions’ as a valuable food crop, that he witnessed the incipient colourful buds with immense disappointment.
During the Dutch Golden Age, botanists began cultivating different varieties, and the next stage of the tulip’s history became Holland’s. Bulbs began changing hands for huge sums, and houses and mills were even exchanged. Tulip mania had taken hold, reaching its peak in the mid seventeenth century before crashing spectacularly when prices plummeted, along with traders’ fortunes.
Today the Dutch passion for tulips continues at a gentler pace. For visitors, experiencing ribbons of colour layered over the landscape, balanced with the gently perfumed breeze while cycling through the fields and dunes to sea, is definitely the best way to see them.
Explore more of the Netherlands with the Rough Guide to the Netherlands. You can see more of Nori's photography on her website.