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Go Dutch at Tulip Time Festival in Holland, Mich.


TULIP TIME: Saturday-May 14 in Holland, Mich. Parade days are May 11, 12 and 14. For a full schedule of events and to order tickets, visit

GETTING THERE: Holland, Mich., is 150 miles from Chicago. Holland also is a stop on Amtrak’s Chicago-Grand Rapids train route.

STAYING THERE: Located in the heart of downtown at 61 E. Seventh St., the sleek and modern CityFlats Hotel has 56 rooms, a fitness center and fifth-floor bistro serving 24 wines by the glass. A slew of environmentally friendly features made CityFlats the first hotel in the Midwest to get the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Standard rooms with king-sized beds generally go for $129-$169 a night; (616) 796-2100, Another CityFlats Hotel is slated to open in nearby Grand Rapids, Mich., in June.

DON’T MISS: A craft beer (and tasty bar food) at New Holland Brewing Company and a visit to “Big Red,” the most photographed lighthouse in Michigan;

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

HOLLAND, Mich. — Religious oppression coupled with a lousy economy prompted a group of 60 Calvinist men, women and children to bail on the Netherlands in 1846 in search of a better life in America.

The immigrants set their sights on Wisconsin but ended up settling in southwestern Michigan. Over the years, thousands of Dutch followed their footsteps to this Midwest town called — appropriately enough — Holland.

Flip through Holland’s phone book today and you’ll still see plenty of names starting with Dutch prefixes like “van” and “de” in this city of 34,000. One of those names belongs to Jakob de Boer, a fourth-generation baker whose family moved from the real Holland to the U.S. version in 1956, when Jakob was just 4 years old.

“Holland isn’t as Dutch as it used to be,” said Jakob, 59, sporting a peace sign earring and greeting customers at his restaurant and bakery, de Boer’s Dutch Brothers, 360 Douglas Ave. The menu is peppered with Old World staples like pea soup and Dutch pancakes. “People aren’t clinging to their heritage as much, but you can still feel a Dutch influence.”

That Dutch influence peaks for one week each spring when Holland puts on its annual Tulip Time Festival, Saturday through May 14. “Klompen” dancers in wooden shoes, a 19th century-style Dutch market and Dutch cooking demos are part of the lineup, along with your good ol’ American fireworks, carnival rides and live music.

On May 11, tradition dictates that locals get decked out in Dutch costumes and scrub the streets clean before the first of three Tulip Time parades rolls through town.

As the festival’s name suggests, Hol­land doesn’t mess around when it comes to tulips. Even the street signs and the hospital’s logo feature the flower’s ubiquitous petals. Should you fly here instead of drive the 150 miles from Chicago, you’d land at Tulip City Airport.

Tulip Time’s roots go back to 1927, when a local high school teacher suggested that Holland make the tulip its official flower and celebrate it with a festival. The city council bought 100,000 tulip bulbs from the Netherlands and began burying them in the ground. The flowers blossomed, and so did the festival, which attracts about 500,000 people a year.

These days, the city plants more than half a million bulbs in its parks and public areas. Late-blooming varieties get planted downtown, where the streets and sidewalks are outfitted with something I wish we had in Chicago: an extensive underground heating system that melts the snow — and accelerates the blooming process.

During Tulip Time, trolley tours take visitors through this colorful landscape that includes “Tulip Lanes,” a six-mile stretch of vibrant blossoms lining the curbs.

More than 150,000 tulips brighten the grounds of Windmill Island. The centerpiece of this 36-acre city park is an 18th century working windmill shipped over from the Netherlands.

Another 13,000 tulips pack the flower beds at Nelis’ Dutch Village, a theme park done up like a Dutch community from the 1800s. And a whopping 5 million bulbs spring to life at Holland’s Veldheer Tulip Farm, where you can watch craftsmen make wooden shoes and blue-and-white Delft pottery.

Holland might not be as Dutch as it used to be, but it clearly adores the tulip as much as its namesake on the other side of the Atlantic.

Take a look for yourself during Tulip Time. Just don’t take a tulip. Picking one will land you a $50 fine. Like I said, Holland doesn’t mess around when it comes to tulips.

Overnight accommodations were provided by CityFlats Hotel.

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