Posted April 27, 2009 in Oxx Tales by Jim Markel
Transcending from his trip to England, Red Oxx CEO Jim Markel discovered there’s no place on earth with more color than Holland in Spring. The trip was a photo op’s dream come true as Jim burned up more digital space than he’d ever imagined. Though you may have missed the tulip season this year, we recommend you book your flight to Holland next spring right now. Here’s why…
Multi-stage travel can pose some tough challenges for the minimalist traveler. The difficulty of pairing down to the absolute minimum can be especially difficult if you bring essential sporting equipment along. My transition from the U.K. had left me with a Sherpa Jr. Expedition Bag loaded with gear more suited to the forest.
Anything that can be borrowed or rented is non-essential. Traveling from one environment to the next can cause a different need of gear and clothing. Sometimes that leaves you with finding a way to deal with some extra baggage.
When you’re in this situation it depends on your cargo and transport options. Being ready for anything is not that hard to do with a self contained travel style. The foundation of this style is being able to walk comfortably with your bags; not relying on wheels or carts for you know not if they’ll break or be there. Wheels have a tendency to get in the way when there’s no smooth surface to roll over. It could be a dirt strip in Zambia or the cobblestones of Holland.
Either way I’ve witnessed some rather tragic yet avoidable travel faux pas. Try rolling your wheeled bag down the cobblestone streets of Europe and see how long it takes for your arm to rattle off. The Sherpa Jr. Expedition Duffel makes for an easily portable piece of checked luggage. The light weight (at 6.5 lbs) of this roomy cargo bag is another advantage over the wheeled bag.
Being able to deploy the built-in back pack straps and negotiate the cobblestones of Leiden was much appreciated since the town has no taxi service. Shouldering the load is not too much of an issue if you counterbalance the weight with a PR5 Safari Beano and Gator. Despite the load, I was able to manage the short walk to the lodgings.
Springtime in the Netherlands means tulip season and the small university town of Leiden makes for the perfect base of operations. With excellent rail service from Amsterdam you can leave the hustle of the city behind and go local. Walking or cycling is the preferred mode of transport, so you get some great exercise and experience a taste of Dutch life up close.
Cruising the cobbles I can’t help but notice the smell of chocolate and coffee. Never one to deny myself an excellent culinary experience I pulled up a chair in the sun. What followed was without a doubt one of the finest cappuccinos I’ve ever tasted. Milk and coffee frothed to cloud-like perfection as time seemed to stop and each sip was a minor revelation. Trying to figure out what made it so good was causing my palate to work overtime. My intuition tells me it had something to do with the quality of the dairy. Maybe some of our Dutch customers can let me in on the secret?
While tempting, I forewent the second cup and got back on the trail to the Hortus Botanicus. Founded in 1590 the botanical garden is home to some very old specimens. The origins of tulip introduction are here as well a unique collection of carnivorous plants. More of a living museum with the residents carefully stewarded over as the centuries roll by.
Lurking through the backstreets of the town, I happen upon one of those kooky little curio shops. This one was owned and operated by a very engaging fellow with a penchant for unique bronzes. We got to talking and before either of us realized it I was out the door without paying for my purchase. After returning to the shop, we talked for another half hour before I made my departure.
Switching gears and cutting out the main drag I take a moment to savor the classical architecture. Holland has an extreme population density but still has been able to live with the land in some clever ways. Over the centuries they have built and rebuilt until the mosaic of architecture seems to somehow fit. Heavy stone door lintels and solid granite steps display the wealth of the golden age.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Dutch architects designed ground breaking buildings in the field of modern architecture. The impact these designers had on 20th century design is still being felt today. In a place as old as Holland they’re in constant rebuild and restoration mode. Small changes here and there have adapted these old gems with some much needed modernization, yet the aesthetic has remained true to its origins.
Having fortified my Gator bag with provisions for the day I was all set to walk down to the bus depot for the short ride to the Keukenhof. As the bus filled up I shifted my bag to between my feet to make room. The Gator is my favorite for those short trips where you’re not sure what to expect. It has a respectable volume without going over the top.
The morning had brought clear skies and sunshine but I was not taking any chances and packed light windbreaker, sunglasses, extra camera battery and most importantly some excellent Dutch chocolate.
We’ve received requests to enlarge this bag to accommodate laptops and frankly that’s not what this design was intended for. An inch or two larger either way would cause the bag to change drastically. Besides, we make a solid line of Briefcases for just such a need. They easily accommodate large laptops.
During the ride out I could pick up the buzz of the locals speaking and an almost festive atmosphere was in the wind. I’ve noticed this on flights into Mexico as the passengers are all stoked to be going on holiday. The Dutch version sans straw hats and ponchos was a bit more subdued but the murmur of excitement was still palpable.
After opting for the combined bus and entry fee option, admission was a breeze and the crowd immediately melted away. People simply stop talking and start experiencing a variety of color that feeds the soul. Color is one of those things that have the ability to stir great emotion. Combine this with a sea of flower scent and you have makings a truly mind blowing experience. The Keukenhof has to be one of the most photographed places on earth. Yet I don’t recall seeing anyone with a camera! Hell I don’t remember much except time seemed to stop and my whole world went to Tulipmania.
Over the next several hours I moved from flower to flower like a digital bee. Collecting images and fragrances had a somewhat intoxicating effect on the mind. I was "in the zone" and the light was so good that I smoked both sets of rechargeable batteries before the day was out. While I was shooting my mind wasn’t on the technical aspects of the shot. After a long cold white winter in Montana the Keukenhof is like stepping into a Van Gogh painting. I was observing the most vivid and intense palette I can ever recall.
The fact that color is something we emphasize in our product line wasn’t lost on me. Some folks pick a color and stick with it, while others need a little variety in their fleet. Maybe a certain shade evokes an early memory or an epoch of your life.
For me that particular color has to be our Olive green. Coming from a military family, I was literally born into it. So when it was time to lay down our initial color selection I went wild piggy with it. Imagine you can literally pick a color based on how it made you feel in the moment. Offering a wide color selection has allowed Red Oxx to establish itself firmly in the "freedom of choice" department.
We get lots of calls from folks needing help trying to decide which color they want. But deep down do you really know what you want? Or do you silently wonder what is practical? Some folks can front that bright color while others prefer a more practical approach with a slight edge. If you’re still stuck, you can always give us a shout and we’ll be more than happy to assist you in your selections.
Zooming in on another fantastical creation I’m looking at a miniature forest that belongs on another planet instead of here in the Keukenhof gardens. Looking up I find a “river of flowers” flowing towards me. The perfume drifts in with a taste of spring like no other. Changing paradigms of light and warmth suddenly break the spell like a lost thought. After an incredible afternoon it was time to call it a day and make the bus back to Leiden.
TULIPMANIA: A BOOK REVIEW
The story of the tulip has left an indelible mark on the history of Holland and some of it not so flattering. While some have taken these statements as fact, Anne Goldgar has written Tulipmania, in which she dispels the myths associated with this phenomenon. A well thought work that thoroughly researches and beautifully illustrates the myriad of societal and economic conditions that existed in Holland early in the 17th century. Observations in this micro history have the uncanny habit of compelling the reader to draw some comparisons to society today.
In this early history we see the development and break down of rigid social strata. The mixing of different classes in the flower gardens led to the dissemination of knowledge in the botanical sciences. This in turn gave rise to the tulip trade and the financial dealings that followed have been cited as a warning over the centuries against unchecked speculation. It also calls to question what is valuable and why? Can a flower be worth as much as gold? What about a painting?
The rise of the collector mentality was only just beginning to manifest itself in the upper rungs of society. As wealthy merchants and tradesmen sought to attain status this threatened the social norm and set the stage for modern capitalism. The notion that honor was paramount in financial dealings was seriously put to the test and the emergence of arbitration as a means to cope with the fallout, make for a fascinating observation of trade and human behavior.
Deciding what to see and where to go can be an agonizing task when you’re traveling. The big attractions are sometimes not all that great, while the minutiae can sometimes be the most memorable. It all comes down to perspective and the ability to recognize the transitory nature of life. Art and flowers seem to find a place together here in Holland and for me the art of Van Gogh epitomizes the love of color.
Some trips seem to develop perfectly as the best laid of plans fall into place without a hitch. But today was just not going to be one of those days. After spending the first half of the day exploring the canal ring it was time to hit what I expected to be the highlight of my trip.
Rolling up to the back of a very long line at the Van Gogh museum it felt good to just stop moving. Kind of like climbing a mountain, you get to what you think is the summit only to find another false summit and begin climbing again. Still, I was close enough to my dream of seeing a collection of original Van Gogh paintings that I could relax.
Finally arriving at the window I notice the cash only sign in the window. Sorry suckers, no Visa, no Master Card and certainly no American Express. Euros or greenbacks only! “Next please” I heard the lady call as my dream was snatched away. Many things can run through your mind at moment like that. First a crushing disappointment quickly followed by a resolute decision to visit this country again.
Foot sore and grumpy I stalked off across the Museumplein to regroup. Wandering into the Ravensbruck Holocaust Monument more by accident than by design I take a few moments to gather my thoughts and let it all go.
Some things are just not meant to be and the best course of action at times is to reverse course and head downstream to the Dampkring…
Cheers, Jim – CEO