Pella Tulip Time


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May 3rd 2014
Published: May 3rd 2014
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Tulip Time!Tulip Time!Tulip Time!

We learned that tulips aren't native to the Netherlands. They're a relative of the lily, native to parts of Asia, and named in Turkey. They were highly desirable and sought-after in the Netherlands and loved for their color. We learned from our tour that three tulip bulbs in the Netherlands in the 16th century would cost the equivalent of $30,000 today!
Andrew, the kids, and I drove down to Pella to see their annual tulip festival. They advertise, "You can't say Pella without two lips!" Ha.

The town is adorable, and the main streets around the public square are mostly original architecture from when the Dutch settled in the mid- to late-19th century. Actually, the whole town and festival surprised me. It seemed less like the tulip festival that I was expecting and more a grand Dutch festival. Tulips weren't all that prominent in the festival. Don't get me wrong; there were tulips! We learned that there are over 20,000 bulbs planted in the public square. It's just that I was expecting fields of tulip flowers, and maybe a windmill. Instead, we saw people in their handmade Dutch costumes with intricate stitching, beautiful Dutch buildings, original log homes from the 1840s, and many, many windmills. In fact, even the town bank is in a windmill. You know they're open when the windmill is turning. Oliver especially loved watching the blades of the windmill spin.

Admission to the festival is free. We paid $6 to park and take the free shuttle to the festival. There were acts planned all day on the main stage. We popped by when there were Dutch dancers. They mentioned getting into the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest number of people dancing in wooden shoes back in 2010. There weren't that many dancers there today, but we enjoyed sitting in the shade by the tulips, watching the show. We also paid $5 for Oliver to play in the kid's corner (we opted not to pay for Jo to go since she was happily occupied with flowers and trees). The kids corner was mostly for little ones. I think the oldest child in there was about 6. They had some games for bigger kids, like miniature golf, but most of the play stuff was clearly for toddlers (a splash pool filled with balls & a toddler slide). I'm not sure if it's really worth $5, especially if you have more than one child. Oliver seemed to really enjoy himself, though, especially in the tiny play house. When he was finally done, we chose to take a tractor-pulled tour of the town because Oliver was excited for the tractor. The man charging admission was kind and didn't charge us for the two little ones, so we paid $10 for the tour. In all, I feel like we got a lot of value for the $21 we paid for the day.

The tour had both good and not-so-good qualities. It was much longer than we expected (thankfully, the kids did well). We started out wondering if $10 would be a waste of money but left feeling like we got a good value. I didn't time it, but it must have lasted at least half an hour. We got to see more of the town than I expected. It wasn't just historical; they mentioned all of the modern buildings we passed, too. They talked about the local schools and hospice care center, for example. We also learned that the big industry in the town was--wait for it--Pella Windows. I'd never made the connection before! But, yes, apparently Pella Windows are from Pella. Today, I learned. Anyway, the girls doing the tour were pretty soft spoken, and they mostly just read from the cards they held. It was informative, albeit a little hard to hear at times. They occasionally left the talking points of their note cards, and told us about the best foods to try at the festival and talked about how their mothers each made their costumes. I thought those parts of the tour were the best.

In case you're wondering, for food, one of the tour guides recommended the bologna. I guess they use a "secret Dutch spice." Later, another woman recommended the "Dutch tacos," which were made from Dutch bologna. Andrew and I don't meat and passed on that suggestion, but we were still able to fill our bellies! The festival food was surprisingly affordable. I've been to festivals where we've really gotten gouged. That seriously wasn't the case here. We got to try so much food! Oliver wanted popcorn. A bag of popcorn was $1. Andrew got stroopwaffles (basically a waffle cookie sandwich with a sweet filling) for each of the kids and him, $1 each. I was hungry for a sandwich. They sold Dutch sandwiches for $3, but when I asked for one without the meat, they only charged me $2. It was very simple but fantastic! Basically, it was a sweet bread filled with raisins, and then it was stuffed with Gouda cheese. We all split a funnel cake later for $3. I couldn't believe how affordable the fair food was, and I only wish I'd been hungrier!

The town square was absolutely packed, so it wasn't a good day to visit the bakeries or shops. Someone had recommended we stop at Jaarsma Bakery, but the line literally wrapped around the block. I was also interested in taking a historical tour (which would have showed us Wyatt Earp's childhood home), but people were basically crammed into the historical building like sardines. We decided we'll need to make another trip to Pella in the near future to do the things we missed.


Additional photos below
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Parade FloatParade Float
Parade Float

We didn't stay for the parade, which is a light-up parade at night, but we did pass by some of the floats. They were cool!
Another View of Pella, IowaAnother View of Pella, Iowa
Another View of Pella, Iowa

Most the buildings are from the 19th century. The smallest one is dated 1853. The Dutch architecture is really cute, the perfect backdrop for the tulip festival.
Historic Village in PellaHistoric Village in Pella
Historic Village in Pella

We opted not to wait in line for the tour of the windmill and historic village, which would have included views from the observation deck on the windmill. We plan to go back when it's less crowded.


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