Clogs and the Tulip Connection

After enjoying the tranquil surroundings of the windmill and letting our camera snap prolifically, we board another tram to reach “Bloemenmarkt” – the flower market. This floating flower market is situated around a section of Singel Canal (the oldest canal of Amsterdam). It is unique as it is world’s only floating flower market”. Don’t expect to see floating flowers there (it’s not a floating-flower, market); in-fact the complete market is floating (it’s a floating, flower-market). The glass covered shops are built on barges and docks.

This is my second visit to the flower market of Amsterdam. Last time when I visited, I was disappointed. I was expecting varieties of Tulips on sale and found none. Therefore, this time I had subdued expectations. Au-contraire, I am enjoying this visit. It might be due to my lowered expectations or perhaps due to Jaishree who gives me different perspectives to look at the same things.

Yash Chopra imprinted the image of the Netherlands as a Tulip nation in Indian minds with the unforgettable, and visually rich song of Hindi movie “Silsila”. Tulips, to me, thus became synonymous with the Netherlands, so when I learnt that this beautiful flower is not a native of this country, I was surprised.


Tulip is actually a native flower of Central Asia. It owe its name to the Turkish word for turbans, most likely, result of the Turkish tradition of wearing a tulip in one’s turban. It was introduced to Europe in fifteenth century from Constantinople by Turkish sailors. Tulip seduced the Dutch flower-lovers with its enduring beauty and it soon became a must have garden feature of the rich and the affluent. The harsh weather conditions of the Netherlands suited Tulips hardy bulbs.

The Tulip bulbs

The Tulip bulbs

In the golden age of the Netherlands, Tulip became a fad among the Nouveaux rich who were fond of its beauty and were ready to pay high prices for it. Within a generation, this exotic flower grew from a trendy fad into an all-out frenzy. Its demand and trade touched feverish heights in 1636; production of all other goods were neglected and declined; People dropped everything else to get into its trade. Tulip became more valuable than precious jewels, the work of arts and was traded frantically on the nascent stock exchange at highly inflated prices. Among different types of Tulip varieties, ‘Semper Augustus’ was considered to be the most treasured with its distinctive red and white petals.

People were aware of the insane rush behind this speculative business but most of them believed that they would be able to back-off at the right time. The Dutch politicians also warned and even the churches decreed sermons warning people about it, however, nothing had any effect on those involved.

The bubble burst in Feb, 1637. On that fateful day, Francois Coster, a Tulip businessman was in possession of a few Tulip bulbs that he purchased at a price of 6650 guilders. In those times three hundred guilders were enough for a family to live comfortably for a year. He tried to bid those Tulip bulbs. Usually such bidding generated noisy and energetic participation, but on that day there was no response. Within minutes, gauging the silence among the bidders and trying to reduce his loss, Francois Coster reduced the base price and finally reached to the ten percent of its original price, but could not find any buyers.

The news spread like wildfire and brought doom for businessmen with investments in Tulip trade. The beautiful Tulip turned black for many and severely impacted the Dutch economy.

The same Tulip played a significant role in the extreme winters of 1944-45. The extreme cold in these two years brought drought, killed thousands and forced many to survive on Tulip bulbs. The Dutch who survived on Tulip bulbs are in their seventies now, and can be easily identified because of their abnormally short height.

These days tens of millions of Tulips are grown every year in the Netherlands and are exported to all corners of the world. Early months of summer are the perfect time to witness the abundance of colorful blossoms and long rows of red, yellow, pink and white tulips can be enjoyed in the town of Keukenhof near Amsterdam.

This time also there are no tulips on sale in the market. The tulip season is already over. But the tulip bulbs are sold in almost every shop like onions and potatoes.

Tulip Bulbs

Tulip Bulbs

These flower shops also sell souvenirs. I believe, the best souvenirs of a travel are the memories, and the imprints of a place that one brings back on mind, memory card and photographic film. Still, I enjoy exploring through souvenir shops as they give an instant feel of the true spirit of a city. Those who love collecting souvenirs from their travels, one of the most original items to bring back home from Amsterdam are the clogs (or the klompens, in Dutch) – the Netherlands’s traditional wooden shoes.

Souvenirs on sale

Souvenirs on sale

The clogs date back to as far as 1367, their usage might be even older. In the Netherlands’ wet and cold climate, these wooden shoes kept its populace’s feet dry and warm for several centuries. These shoes are light to carry, are soft to wear, easy to put on as they are without laces, they are protective against spikes as a spike can pierce a rubber shoe but not a clog, and they avoid bad odour from feet as fresh air continuously flow in and out. They were especially used by the Dutch farmers in the muddy grounds of the Dutch countryside.

The clogs

The clogs

These shoes are made from Balsa White Poplar Tree, which is especially grown for this purpose. These days around three million pair of clogs are made, but they are mainly made for tourists and only a small population of local farmers still wears them. The national clog fair is organized in St Oedenrode in Brabant where the best craftsmen and the companies compete for the “best clog of the year award”. Today like Tulips and the windmills, clogs are universally recognized as the symbol of the Netherlands.

Clogs - Klompen in Dutch

Clogs – Klompen in Dutch

In some shops a few beautifully decorated apple-balls are hanging overhead.

Apple Ball's

Apple Ball’s

There are cut flowers also on sale giving a colorful look to the market.

Flowers on sale

Flowers on sale

Flowers are all around us – we smell them, photograph them,

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sense them and

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almost spoke to them.

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As we come out from the market a faint scent of flowers drifts in our nose and it lingers.

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2 Comments

  1. From Wikipedia after I saw what you wrote.

    The song “Dekha Ek Kwaab” was shot in the Keukenhof tulip gardens in The Netherlands[7] and some parts in Pahalgam.[8]

    I was aware of the tulip mania, but your notes were more exciting to read.

    good reading.

  2. Hi Saurabh

    Good to know that you enjoyed going through the story. Yes, as in the Netherlands Keukenhof Tulip gardens are famous and most picturesque, so I was sure that it was filmed there. But I was not aware that some parts of the song were filmed in Pahalgam Tulip gardens as well. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Well, I came to know about Tulip Mania while writing this article only. An interesting event. It’s surprising how people get swayed away with short term success/profits.

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