Friday, May 21, 2004

Dutch Village blog.

Evil storm clouds due north of us now, and a tornado watch in effect, so I’d post and get off-line as soon as I can.

I’ve had the idea of visiting Holland, Michigan, for a while now, but wanted to steer clear of the tulip festival there in early May (this year, May 1 to 8). It’s probably a fine festival, but toddler management issues in crowds discouraged me. So I suggested the first Saturday after the festival, and we loaded up and headed out last Saturday.

Truth be told, it wasn’t one of our better day trips. Theoretically, at about 150 miles, it should take two and a half hours each way. That kind of calculation assumes tight control of all the variables. Out on the road, however, all bets are off, and construction- and accident-related backups are all too common, especially as you arc around the southern shore of Lake Michigan. Nothing too terrible happened on the way out or the way back, but traffic was thick enough to increase it to three hours or more each way. Better to have stayed the night.

Also, we fully expected a destination called Dutch Village to have a lot of tulips to look at it. In fact, the site used to be a tulip farm. There were a few beds, only some of which were in bloom, but it turns out that most of the tulip displays were elsewhere in the town, at a garden devoted to them. So a little more research on my part would have been helpful.

Dutch Village wasn’t a bad destination. But Dr. Johnson aptly described my feeling on it: “Worth seeing? Yes; but not worth going to see.” It’s a likable place, a small theme park with one theme, established in 1958 and a leftover from the days when such parks were more common – though even by then, Disneyland had upped the amusement park ante.

From talking to an employee for a few minutes, I got the impression that Dutch Village is still hanging on, but isn’t in the best of economic health. It’s still owned by the family that used to farm tulips on the site, descendants of Dutch immigrants, and I suspect that whatever the state of the theme park, they’re doing fine. Around the park is newish retail development -- a discount strip center and some other shops on U.S. 31 -- all on land formerly owned (or still owned) by the family. Either way, that means big bucks for them.

We ate lunch first, at the Hungry Dutchman’s Cafe. It was really a snack bar, but they had Dutch items on the menu, so I got the metworst, a smoked sausage, and Yuriko got a croquette. Not bad, not stellar. Inside the park, we watched dancers klompen in wooden shoes -- high school girls in a Dutch dance club, costumed like the Dutch Maid cleanser girl. Entertaining enough, but the ornate 1920s street organ that played the dance music was more interesting. According to the emcee of the dance show, it had been acquired in the Netherlands at the opening of park. That was before the Dutch attitude shifted from “You want to buy this old junk?” to “You can’t have this precious piece of Dutch heritage!” The park’s windmill and some of the other structures, such as a barn, small church and water wheel also represent losses to Dutch culture (but heck, the Dutch have always been able to buy more culture).

Lilly spent her fair share of time on the carousel, swing ride and a large wooden shoe with a slide coming out of the toe. There were also some moderately interesting displays of Dutch clothes, farm implements, toys, lace, pottery, etc. A couple of faux canals -- real water, anyway, but not connected to anything -- ran through the park, and there was a replica of an Amsterdam pedestrian bridge. Since this is a family venue, there were no hash bars, or even replicas. No Dutch East India colonial structures, either, which I think would have been a nice touch; and no costumed actors from the time of the tulip bulb mania. But those are just the kind of things I think of when I think of Holland.

Downtown Holland does not have a Dutch theme, except for the anthropomorphic peanut I mentioned yesterday. It did have a nice shopping street, and was near the pretty campus of Hope College, which I’d never heard of before (defective research, again). We’d had enough of Netherlander things, so before we left we ate dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant. The pho was good.


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