Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Inside Amsterdam's Flower Market

Travellers to Amsterdam can widely be put into one of two categories based on the type of plant they seek out. There are those who come, usually in spring, in search of the rainbow of tulips the city has to offer. Then there are those who seek grass of an entirely different kind.

We fall firmly into the former category - our whole trip to Amsterdam was inspired, several years ago, by a mutual love of tulips - so can offer no tips on the latter. If, like us, you're heading to Amsterdam seeking nothing more sinister than tulips and daffodils, read on.

Dodging the chaos of tram lines, cars, roadworks and the ever-present bicycles where Muntplein meets Singel, under the internationally recognised symbol of the golden McDonald's arches, we ducked into the first shop of Amsterdam's famous Bloemenmarket - or Flower Market.

The shops themselves are a terrace of conjoined greenhouses teetering on the edge of Singel canal, ironically perhaps the ugliest buildings in the whole city when contrasted against the neat gabled townhouses that it's famous for. Once inside, though, it's easy to forget the ugly exterior.

Bunches of statice and other colourful flowers hang from the ceiling of the first shop, drying, their fading pastel hues putting us more in mind of the fields of Tuscany than the narrow streets of Amsterdam. Blooms, real and fake, sit on tables and in buckets on the floor, silk and wooden flowers attempting to trick the casual tourist browser.

And tourists there are many. In fact, almost every customer in the market is a tourist, and they're well catered for; a decent chunk of the shop is given over to what some would affectionately label 'tourist tat' - magnets, postcards, keyrings, shotglasses, novelty clogs and the like. In the same way that London's Camden Market or Barcelona's La Boquria cater primarily to the tourist market, so too does Bloemenmarket.

Wandering along to the next shop in the market, it becomes clear that the decor of the first shop is a ruse to lure tourists in. Here, there are no bunches hanging from the ceiling, no painstakingly decorated arches crying out to be Instagrammed. The overall effect is more clinical garden centre than exotic flower market, the bulk of the stock seeds and bulbs rather than flowers and plants. The subsequent shops are similar - wooden flowers where we had hoped real ones would be, and focus on seeds and bulbs. One or two of the shops specialise in certain items, such as cacti, but other than that, they're much of a muchness.

While the greenhouses sit on one side of the pedestrianised pavement, backing onto the canal, the other side of the path is lined with shops - coffee shops, gift shops, and the intriguing Magic Mushroom Gallery (again, I didn't indulge so can offer no further information on that particular point of interest). If you're starting to flag, head into the cheese shop - one of many identical outlets in the city - for a few samples to see you on your way. You could almost forget that the delights of the Torture Museum lie in wait just the other side of the canal as you lose yourself in a sea of colour and a coma of dairy products.

The Flower Market is a colourful (read: Instagrammable) experience, but don't go expecting a florist shop experience. Half of the flowers you'll see will be wooden rather than real, and focus is more on bulbs and seeds rather than fully-fledged plants and flowers.

If that's your thing, look into taking a trip to the Keukenhof bulb fields outside of the city during the tulip festival. It's something we didn't have time for during our time in Amsterdam, but it looks stunning.

Bloemensingel Flower Market, Amsterdam.

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