Tulip Mania

A flower journey though Amsterdam … and beyond.

In 1994 as a non-traditional college undergrad, I spent three months in the Netherlands as an InterFuture scholar, conducting cross-cultural research. As academic as this may sound, it morphed into a color infused floral extravaganza, and one that opened my senses to the wonders of the Netherlands.

I arrived in Amsterdam in late January, and while the Dutch do not have as dramatic snowfalls and drastic dips in temperature that we experience here in Northern New England, it was still quite cold and gray. Towards the middle of March though, the sun began to rise a bit higher and the flower markets had more colors and varieties to choose from, especially tulips – buckets and buckets of tulips, in yellow, violet, orange, purple, red… a full kaleidoscope.

Oh, I just love tulips and the Dutch do tulips right!

One spring Saturday afternoon as I was walking across Amsterdam to my Oosterpark apartment, I wandered through the local flower market, one of many sprinkled throughout the neighborhoods of the city. It was closing time and they wouldn’t be opening again until Monday morning. As I cut through the back of the market I noticed a man loading bundles of tulips into a garbage truck. He wasn’t just tossing them in either, but was carefully arranging them as a florist would do.

I remember, they were all the same color, bright red with yellow tips, and neatly bundled in packs of twelve, each pack containing one dozen tulips.

I stopped to ask him what he was doing. He told me that these flowers were already too far along to be sold on Monday. I then asked him if I could have some. He smiled and handed me as many as I could carry, four or five bundles with each bundle containing a dozen dozen blooms, that’s hundreds and hundreds of tulips!

I scurried home, giving tulips away to strangers, a local pub and restaurant, my neighbors, and still was able to fill my apartment with the rest. Remembering the gift of these discarded tulips brings a smile to my face. It remains one of the most spontaneous and joyous days of my life.

If you love flowers and you’ve never been, spring is when you need to visit the Netherlands. While traveling on the train to conduct my research, I sped past a blur of color, fields and fields of flowering tulips.

One morning I took a tour of the Aalsmeer Flower Auction. It is like the New York Stock Exchange, but instead of stocks and bonds, buyers from around Europe attend and trade around 20 million flowers and decorative plants daily. As a visitor to the Aalsmeer flower auction, I was able to witness the flurry of activity from an elevated walkway above the busy warehouse. Once sold, wagons and containers are sorted and sent to the shops, further distribution centers, or for export. Aalsmeer is said to have run short on supply of flowers after the death of Princess Diana, as up to 60 million flowers were scattered throughout London to honor her.

As I was in Holland through the end of April and my birthday is the 26th, I decided to celebrate and wander through the famous Keukenhof Gardens, an international and independent showcase. As I recall it was one of my most fragrant and colorful birthdays to date.

My travels have taken me to many other world-renowned gardens, including Kew Gardens in London, the Summer Palace Gardens in Beijing, and the Kirstenbosch Gardens near Cape Town, South Africa. And then there are my favorites closer to home, including our own Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Booth Bay, the Montreal Botanical Garden in Quebec, Asticou and Thuyla gardens on Mount Desert Island, and the Crescent Street Garden in Portland.

Should be obvious by now that gardens and flowers bring me joy… I hope this is true for you too. Cheers to you, your garden, and your appreciation of gardens here, there, and everywhere.

Nancy Dorrans is a West End resident and independent travel agent at Adventure Marketplace.

When One Door Closes, Fly To Australia

In 2014, after my traditional travel agent position I had held for twelve years ended, I took a brave step and ventured out as an independent travel counselor, launching Adventure Marketplace.  

I was encouraged by a few colleagues and travel professionals to stay in the travel business and go out on my own.  They said “You have to stay in the travel business, it is in your blood” and “We need you” and “YOU can do it!”   Four years later…I’ve learned a lot and I’m still doing it.

Early that spring, a window opened and I was invited by the rep of one of my preferred tour operators (GAdventures), to join in on their educational journey to the outback of Australia. On the morning of April 24th, I flew from Boston via Toronto, Vancouver and Sydney (a 15+ hour flight) onto Adelaide.

Including all layovers, the journey lasted approximately 35 hours. April 25th disappeared while crossing the time zones and I landed in Adelaide on my birthday, April 26th, making this the longest birthday of my life…close to 36 hours.

Our Awesomestralia experience began in Adelaide, a town originally built as a defense presence; it is now known as the city of churches, a produce mecca and one of the top wine regions in the world!  We enjoyed an amazing welcome dinner and I had a most delicious birthday Paella! 

We headed north the next morning into the “Red Center” of the continent or OUTBACK, traveling through the Clare Valley Wine region enjoying a wine tasting and tour at Seven Hill Winery built by Jesuit priests which is where I spotted my first kangaroo hopping amongst their grape vines. 

Our gallant guide Damian prepared a phenomenal lunch at a public Barbie where he grilled giant prawns, salt/pepper calamari and steamed barramundi which was served along with fresh local fruits and salads.

That evening we arrived at Beltana Ranch; a sheep and cattle ranch run by Laura and Graham!  Travelers are welcome to come and stay for a night or longer and might be put to work if they are willing. We were treated to a feast of roasted lamb, kangaroo, beef, potatoes, veggies, a yummy native peach/coconut dessert and a ranch style bonfire!

As the starting point for expeditions to Western Australia, some of the first camels were imported to S. Australia at Beltana Station which in 1870’s became the largest depot for camels!  Who knew?

Jetlag had me wide awake before dawn and so I took a walk-about the ranch and watched the sunrise. As I breathed in the view of the vast horizon and pastel sky I was surprised by a loud TWANG, then a thump, thump, thump. Again, Twang…thump, thump, thump. I wasn’t afraid, just curious and then it became clear…a kangaroo had jumped over the barbed wire fencing and hit his hind legs on the top wire, creating a sound like that of a base guitar.  He looked at me and then continued along his way, having treated me to this early morning song of the wild Outback. 

From Beltana to Flinders Ranges towards Williams Creek, we worked our way north, stopping for a tromp at Great Salt Lake Eyre and the Bubbler thermal springs. On to Coober Pedy with its underground town, cave hotel and opal mines, a visit to a kangaroo orphanage and rescue/rehab center and then to Uluru or Ayers Rock which is sacred to the Aboriginal Ananu people, is a World Heritage site and home to over 130 bird species and reptiles.  

Leaving the outback, we flew from Uluru to Cairns, the kick off point for adventure tours to the Great Barrier Reef, rainforests and indigenous inland people!

Perhaps I’ll share more details of the rest of my journey from Cairns to Cape Tribulation in another article…for now I’m savoring the memories of this adventure and the song of an Australian Outback kangaroo at dawn that only came my way after one door closed. 

Treasuring Every Moment of 2017

So long 2017. You’ve introduced me some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met and taken me to new places only dreamed of. To kick it off, we marched in DC and have since “Marched Forth” for justice and action, locally and beyond. From the winter wonderland of Quebec City’s Carnival to winter fun in Maine and the White Mountains of New Hampshire at Loon Mountain as a volunteer coach for New England Disabled Sports, the crisp winter air and mountains embraced me and my friendships and community grew. In the middle of the long Northern New England winter, Bermuda invited me to experience their colorful, delightful, active tasty island “Beyond the Beach” Back from Bermuda a late season snow storm blanketed Maine as it welcomed and stranded my friend Bill Johnson just back from Cambodia, “a bit too soon” he said after I shoveled him out of his front door in South Portland order to open the front door.

Springtime came early as I headed south for an Easter visit with family and friends at Natural Bridge State Park in Kentucky. A vast variety of wildflowers were in bloom; Trillium (white and red), Dwarf Iris, Blue Phlox, Pennywort, Showy Orchids, Wild Geraniums, and many others. A late April spring Adventure Marketplace weekend tour to New York City, gave a small group from Southern Maine Health Care the opportunity to kick up their heels for Kinky Boots on Broadway.

If April brings wildflowers and Kinky Boots, May brought birthdays, house music concerts and another small Adventure Marketplace group to Africa to experience the wonder and contrast of Namibia and Botswana. Our journey began in Namibia with stunning desert landscapes, and the towering sand dunes at Sossusvlei. From there heading westward through canyon passes we spent two days along the Namibian Coast. As the road stretched far into the horizon, we drove across the vast lands to Etosha National park and encountered many species of wild animals roaming freely. Entering Botswana offered us the opportunity to interact with the Koi San Bush people and spend two nights camping in the Kalahari bush. More game drives, an Okavango Delta scenic flight, a sunset cruise on the magnificent Chobe River left us longing for more. The journey gave me and my six travel companions an unforgettable experience… from the herds of elephants to the beautiful people, the African country of Botswana offered so much wonder as it celebrated 50 years of proud independence.

I’m sure we all understand the beauty of Maine in June, July and August and much of my summer was spent enjoying the local natural su

rroundings, tending to my community garden on Crescent Street and enjoying the colorful and delicious bounty of our efforts. Mix in some quality outdoor adventure time at friends’ camps, the Tall Ships in Casco Bay, camping at Thomas Point Beach, the new rooftop at Bayside Bowl, The North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland, hosting Warmshower biking guests and hearing tales of their rides across continents and a week on Star Island off the coast of Portsmouth all left me feeling blessed.

Autumn began with an Adventure Marketplace small group tour (off the beaten path) Icelandic journey in early September in search of Iceland’s “hidden people”. A seemingly endless vastness of glaciers, mountains, whales and hot springs, the Icelandic land is rich in history, outlaws, mystery, sheep, horses, beauty and intrigue.

Back to New England, I embraced the colors, foliage and flavors of New England with hikes in the Whites, a weekend retreat at Baxter State Park and into Grand Falls hut with a hearty group of MOACers (Maine Outdoor Adventure Club). Guests from away, an invitation to Colombia (see last month’s story for more on the emerging South American country), another jaunt to NYC during the Hap-happiest time of the year to see the high kicking Rockettes, an early Christmas in Ohio and Michigan with my family and extensive family extensions and again I’m blessed.

Now as I reflect, 2017 has been quite a year and did I say I am grateful, and blessed. The year has been full of adventure and also full of emotions… I have cried for those I know and love that are sick and recently departed. I’m praying for peace, strength and like Carole King I’m going to do my best to “wake up every morning, put a smile on my face and show the world…all the love in my heart”

Happy New Year – Take good care of yourselves and Treasure every moment.

Back to Biking Basics

Nancy Dorrans

There’s a sense of freedom and control that wraps around me as I pump up my tires, don my helmet and head out and off the Portland peninsula on my bicycle. I don’t ride to race. I don’t ride in a pack. Sometimes, I ride with friends, but often it is just me and my bike.

My “go-to” ride is from my West End condo on High Street, over the bridge to South Portland, down and off the Eastern Trail through Wainwright Fields to Highland Avenue. Then left on Pleasant Hill Road, and right on Route 77 to Higgins Beach. The total trek is about eighteen miles round trip, or twenty miles if I return via Crescent Beach State Park. This ride never gets old or redundant. As I visit the ocean, I take a deep breath and feel grateful to live here with this ride at my back door! Continue reading…

Bucket Lists and Tips for Senior Travelers

Nancy Dorrans (third from left) with tour group. Cape of Good Hope, South Africa (May 2016).

What is on your bucket list? Or maybe I should start with, “What is a Bucket List?”

According to Travis Bell, the Bucket List Guy, “A bucket list is, by definition, a list of things that you want to do before you die.  The term gained in popularity after the 2007 movie “The Bucket List” where Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson (both of whose characters are dying of cancer) create a bucket list of things to do before they die – and then actually do them.  But where did the term come from?  Better yet, what kinds of things would you put on a bucket list?”

I suppose the term or idea of Bucket Lists, while fairly new and now quite mainstream to some may seem a bit silly and daunting to others. Consider my previous articleabout how positive posts helped create a shift in my attitude. Similarly, writing down or having a mental list of the things and places you want to go or have always wanted to visit is the first step to getting there. To quote my new Adventure Marketplace mantra, “NOW is SOMEDAY.” Continue reading…

Spring Camping at Kentucky’s Natural Bridge State Resort

Last month I traveled south just before Easter. While it was still cool, damp and gray/brown in Portland, where I was headed spring was in full bloom. My sister had invited me to join her and her husband along with my father, nephew and his girlfriend, and some other family friends for a three-night camping adventure. We headed to Natural Bridge Kentucky State Resort Park, about three and half hours northeast of Knoxville. The park is adjacent to the Red River Gorge geological area and Daniel Boone National Forest.

The Shasta camper.

Natural Bridge State Resort

The park has a campground, and this is where my sister and her husband set up with their recently renovated Shasta Compact 1963.

The resort also has a lodge and cabins for rent, which is where my dad and I stayed. All told, for our Kentucky Easter camping adventure there were thirteen of us plus three dogs crammed into two cabins, two campsites and one lodge room.

The Red River Gorge in Kentucky is “Gorge-ous” and quite popular with rock climbers and hikers of all ages and abilities. A few trails allow hiking with dogs. The area boasts over 500 miles of trails through rugged terrain made of limestone cliffs and exposed limestone rock faces.

According to Hiking the Red, a complete trail guide to Kentucky’s Red River Gorge written by Bluegrass Group Sierra Club, “…this trail network is larger than any other National Forest in Kentucky. Activities include hiking, camping, picnicking, hunting, fishing, boating, swimming, horseback riding, bicycling, rock climbing, spelunking, bird watching, photography, nature study, and more.” Continue reading…

Susan, Nancy and Kelly at the Ice Boat Races – Feb 4, 2018

Winter Carnival in Quebec City was amazing! A spur of the moment trip for me and Nancy at Adventure Marketplace made it terrific. I have only taken 1 other bus trip, but for the Carnival, it was the perfect option. I didn’t have to worry about parking, my luggage, or arranging transportation. All done flawlessly. Although several group activities were scheduled, I especially appreciated the detailed information Nancy provided and the opportunity to explore the carnival at my own pace. I would definitely take another trip with Adventure Marketplace!  

- Susan Holton

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