With a last name like Van Kooten, you’d probably guess that I’m from Pella, and you’d be right. Having been born and bred in this area, I’ve attended every Tulip Festival since my birth, making my debut at age seven months in the baby parade.
I’ve been a Dutch dancer, a spieler for the tractor-pulled tour wagons, a guide in the local Historical Village, a worker in church parking lot fundraisers and a drummer in various bands in the parades.
So, I'm uniquely qualified to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the “Best Of”….those places you might not stumble across on your own when you come to Pella this May 5-7. Here’s where to look.
If you’re around on Wednesday night, May 4—the evening before the festivities officially begin—join in with the Klompen Classic, a 5K run/walk that saw more than 2,400 people participating last year. All proceeds go to Crossroads of Pella, a non-profit agency that helps families in the area. For more information, go to http://crossroadspella.org/klompen-classic.
Or, if you don’t feel like exerting yourself, pull up a chair along the route and sample some Dutch goodies (many of the stands are open for this event) while watching the more ambitious huff and puff.
There's no problem finding food at Tulip Time. The lines to Vander Ploeg and Jaarsma Bakeries will be down the block, and the poffertje (small Dutch pancakes) tents will be crowded.
If you can’t get enough of the almond-stuffed Dutch letters, you might want to try the little-known banket. Instead of being shaped in an “S,” banket is a long stick that has about three times the almond paste that a letter does. Plus, it’s boxed up so it’s easier to transport without breaking.
My favorite Dutch treat are vetbollen—sometimes call oliebollen—doughnut holes deep-fried and then rolled in sugar. The Dutch traditionally eat them at the New Year, but you can find them at the First Baptist Church booth 1 ½ blocks east of the square across from the Pella Historical Village, hot from the fryer. Warning: They’re addictive!
Everyone loves the two parades that launch at 2:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. each day of the Festival. But for something else the kids will adore, visit the Pella Historical Village 1½ blocks east of the square and take in the Miniature Village.
A complete Dutch village is replicated in miniature and takes up most of the second floor of the Interpretive Center, with more pieces being added every year. Churches, stores, canals, cemeteries—it’s all here, complete with “villagers” in Dutch dress. (The Historical Village also is the site of the Wyatt Earp House—the famous gunslinger and his family lived here from the time Wyatt was two until he was 16.)
For an educational session, the Dutch Demos are held each morning of the festival at the Memorial Building on the west side of the square. This year’s one-hour sessions will let you dress like the Dutch and explain the role of the Burgemeister and Sinterklaas in Dutch history.
If you'd like to don your own Dutch attire, head to Straver’s Hardware on the east side of the square to pick up wooden shoes or to Hometown Variety or Franklin Street Clothing (both near the Klokkenspel) for both men’s and women’s Dutch hats. Or, if you’re feeling a little cold, pick up wooden shoe slippers at Hometown Variety.
You may park your lawn chair or spread your blanket for free anywhere along the parade route, but buying a ticket to the grandstand is really the best way to see the program before the parade—the Dutch dancers, the street scrubbers and Queen and Court.
You can keep the seat for the parade that follows. And if you’re sitting in the first couple of rows, you might even be tapped to dance along. What a deal!
Look for the small green houses near the grandstand to purchase your tickets.
Tulips are what the festival is named for, after all. And there are lots of great places to see these multi-hued flowers—in Central Park and at Sunken Gardens, a few blocks north of the square. But a couple of my favorite, lesser-known spots include the gardens behind the H.P. Scholte House (Pella’s founder) on the northwest corner of the square.
Stroll through this lovely, tree-lined garden and take in the beauty. And, after several years absent, tulips will once again appear in the gardens of the Pella Manor at the corner of E. Third and Liberty Streets. It’s worth the stroll of a couple blocks southeast of the square to take a peek.
And then, for the necessary stuff. Portable toilets abound, but if you’d rather ditch them and find a real restroom facility, head to the Pella Library or the Pella Police Station, located one block south of the square on Main Street (across the street from each other). Another option is the Memorial Building on the west side of the square.
Come enjoy a day with the Dutch, and bon appetit! Or, more appropriately, eet smakelijk!
Get the Pella app for Tulip Time fun
Before heading to Pella, download the Pella NOW app that gives you all the information you need. During Tulip Time, additional features are added, like "Find Discounts and Offers" and "Locate Your Vehicle." Go to pella.org to check it out.
Orange City's 2016 Tulip Festival set for May 19-21
A few weeks after the Pella Tulip Festival, Orange City takes its turn at celebrating its Dutch heritage. This year the Orange City celebration is set for May 19 through 21.
The internationally recognized festival features music and dancing by children and adults in authentic Dutch costumes, two daily parades, nightly musical theater, a carnival midway, Dutch delicacies, delicious food, plus thousands of tulips and a dozen replica windmills throughout this charming village.
For more information go to http://www.octulipfestival.com .
Van Kooten is a freelance writer from Pella.