Open Garden Days

This weekend was the once-a-year chance to peek into the gardens of the great canal houses in Amsterdam. While some of the 28 stops on the tour are museums that are normally open to the public, many others are privately owned homes. Open Garden Days let you see another side of Amsterdam: what is going on behind the facades of these historic homes.


Each garden featured a floral arrangement – this one was a favorite.

There’s a bit of a voyeuristic element to events like this, as you walk through a stranger’s home and traipse through their yard. The visits were restricted to the gardens; it wasn’t an open house and most of the rooms were off-limits. Still, you can’t help but feel like an intruder, even though you’ve paid your admission fee (and even though the homeowner is selling cakes and coffee).

Peacocks on the lawn in the garden at the Waldorf Astoria.

Peacocks on the lawn in the garden at the Waldorf Astoria.

This is another one of the many local events in which local people almost never participate. When I told my coworkers that we were going to the Open Tuinen Dagen, the general response was, “Oh, yeah, that’s supposed to be nice. I’ve never done it…”.

I’ve said the same thing about Boston many times. I lived there for 20 years and there’s a long list of Boston “must-do’s” that I never did. Walk the Freedom Trail? Not completely. Visit the U.S.S. Constitution? Nope. Go sailing on the Charles? Missed it.

It is too easy to take your hometown (adopted or not) for granted, or to assume you’ll always have the time to do the things that you want to do. We don’t know how long we’ll be in Amsterdam, so there’s some sense of urgency to see and do as much as we can…just in case.

This 137-year-old beauty is at the Mayor's residence.

This 137-year-old beauty is at the Mayor’s residence.

I don’t want to be packing up to leave in a few years and regret that we didn’t take full advantage of everything that Amsterdam (and the Netherlands…and Europe!) has to offer us. Yeah, we probably won’t have time to go or to do everything we want, but I don’t want to miss anything because we were lazy, or just not paying attention.

I’m keeping a list (of course) of the places to go and things to do in Amsterdam. At least 2 things get added for every one that gets crossed off. Some places I’ve discovered myself, or read about on Amsterdam websites or in travel magazines. And everyone – especially a few of my colleagues, who are very proud of their city – has their favorite restaurants or parks or day trips to recommend.

Whew! Looking at gardens is exhausting...

Whew! Looking at gardens is exhausting…

So the list keeps growing, and becomes not just a list of what to do or where to eat, but a catalog of the people I’ve met and the things they love about Amsterdam. Nothing on the list is a chore or an obligation. Instead, my list is a way to share the experience and enthusiasm that so many people have for this beautiful, dynamic city.

And as we end this, the longest day of the year, we can check the Open Garden Days off the list…


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