Like many places in the United States, Holland was settled by those  escaping religious persecution in their own country, this time a separatist group of the Dutch Calvinists led by Dr Albertus van Raalte.  The year was 1847.  Since then Holland has grown into a fairly major metropolitan area for the West Coast of Michigan and was listed by CNN Money as one of the best five places in America to retire.  Although it’s grown almost infinitely since 1847, Holland still possesses a tremendous amount of Dutch heritage, something the city and tourist sector is quick to capitalize on, but it brings in dollars and tourists to the area and supplements and offsets the other more traditional methods of employment available.

For example there is the De Zwaan windmill, located on an island in the river.  It is an original dutch windmill, over 250 years old and stands 125ft tall with 40ft sails, it’s name in native Dutch means “The Swan” or “Graceful Bird”.  It was first erected in 1761 near Amsterdam and was badly damaged during World War II, it was because so many of their precious windmills were irreparably damaged during the war that the Dutch government banned the sale of any windmills to countries outside The Netherlands.  This particular windmill was the subject of much controversy in its homeland due to the war damage it received, three Dutch groups were arguing over the fate of the building when two local residents of Holland, MI heard about it and wanted to preserve it for their city, so the Dutch government agreed to sell it for them for $2800.  It was the last Dutch windmill to leave the country and is the only fully restored and working Dutch windmill in the United States.  It was dismantled and shipped to Muskegon, a little further up the West Coast of MI, finally arriving at it’s destination in Holland by truck in October of 1964.  After a 6 month restoration and rebuilding project it was finally dedicated to the city of Holland in April of 1965.  It is now owned by the local city and sits in the middle of a 36 acre park and garden, visitors are welcome and the windmill is open to view for a small charge.

Other Dutch attractions in the area include a Dutch Village (a bit chintzy to be honest!); the famous Dutch Delftware produced in MI which is the only production facility for this pottery in the US; the De Klomp wooden shoe factory and The Veldheer Tulip Gardens.  Each year the Tulip Festival is celebrated in early May when downtown Holland is transformed by the 6 million tulip bulbs planted over the last 80 years, and if that’s not enough colour for you The Veldheer Tulip Gardens add another 5 million bulbs to the display!  Downtown has been regenerated over the last 20 years or so and now features a wonderful array of shops and eateries, tree lined streets, flowers, wonderful old houses and a vibrant and bustling Farmers Market.  Andrew and I last visited about 14 years ago and completely missed this part of Holland!  We only saw the chintzy part and were not at all impressed, but we liked our visit last weekend and would like to go back for a week.

We camped in the local State Park with our friends from the last trip, Graham and Sheena, along with Chewy Dog, although if you saw my post from Monday then you will know that they sadly had to have him put to sleep as he had been diagnosed with a large tumor in his stomach and was going down hill rapidly.  It saddened our weekend somewhat as he’s such a lovely and loving dog, but he had a wag in his tail to the end and that’s what counts.

We took our bikes this time and not the kayaks and found that Holland is filled with bike paths, every where you go there are pavements and paths to ride on, we didn’t see any off road trails or anything like that but we biked through some beautiful neighbourhoods with wide avenues lined with mature trees and virtually no traffic at all.  This is the area Graham and Sheena would like to retire to at some point and I admit to being rather taken with it myself, but the average 75″ of snow that falls every winter would seriously make me think twice!!  By comparison the Detroit suburbs typically only receives something like 40 or so odd inches a year.

West Michigan is renowned for its breathtaking sunsets as the sun finally slips into the lake for another night.  These few photos were taken on the Friday evening but because of some incoming rain it was a bit cloudy, it made for some lovely shots though but there wasn’t the normal intensity you would usually associate with West Michigan sunsets.  Still pretty though.  Sheena has the exact same photo of me taking a photo of her as we both turned our cameras on each other at the same time!

The rain started during the night sometime and continued off an on until about Saturday lunchtime before clearing up completely.  We knew it was coming and so made plans for a leisurely breakfast and a trip into Holland for the wonderful Farmers Market held every Saturday.  It wasn’t too heavy so I was able to cook up a big skillet breakfast for us both.  You might notice the new tent in the background, we decided that as we intend to do a lot more camping we should really get a bigger tent with good head room and more space for our stuff, especially if we go away for a week later in the year, so last week, after some internet research, our new tent arrived, this was it’s first real outing and it worked perfectly.

After breakfast I tried to capture some of the beauty of the rain drops in the pine tree next to our tent, the whole tree looked like it was covered in little sparkling diamonds, this was about the best shot I got.

My own photos of downtown Holland are not very good due to the rain and the grey skies, especially if you compare them to the two above that I stole from the net!  We had a nice coffee after these were taken and by the time we headed back to the car the sun was out again.

After lunch Andrew and I set out on a bike ride for a couple of hours, there are these bike paths all over Holland, we must have covered at least 20 miles.  The particular street below is actually just a residential street, even though it looks like a park, it was very beautiful and very quiet.

It got busier as we headed back towards the main part of the town, this is just one of the many marinas dotted around Lake Macatawa, which is the inland lake you can see in the very first photo at the top of the post.

After the marina we headed past the campground and on to the beach to see what was going on before heading back to the base for a refreshing cuppa!  We had dinner quite late that night (about 9ish) and consequently missed what would have been a stunning sunset.

Sunday morning Andrew and I hopped on our bikes again for a shorter, but equally nice, ride around.  We then decamped completely and sat with a coffee before heading out to the beach for a little while.  Below is the channel leading out into Lake Michigan, with “Big Red” Hollands famous lighthouse at the entrance/exit of the channel.  This is a great spot for boat watching, it’s like a busy two lane road, only instead of a constant stream of cars, it’s a constant stream of boats of all shapes and sizes!

And this is the reason that the kayaks got left at home for this weekend, it’s crazy out there, boats zipping past in every direction.  The wake they were all kicking up was serious, even some of the boats trying to get back in were having trouble with it.  We nicknamed this stretch “The Boataway”!

And also, the second these big powerful speed boats cleared the retaining wall of the channel they just opened up and shot away leaving everyone reeling in their wake.  We felt that there should have been more of a speed limit imposed immediately around the beach and channel areas, but if there was one we saw no sign of it.

[Ah, now that’s a more dignified way to travel.]

Finally, just before we headed back to the car to begin the journey home we stopped off at the beautifully pristine beach for a few minutes.  I do think it would be great to live here, especially in the summer months, imagine having all this right on your doorstep.  But my God, 75″ of snow in the winter!  Hard to imagine isn’t it?

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