During the seven years I have been GTO for Chevin Probus Club I have worked closely with Greatdays Travel, particularly when organising tours that come under the banner of ‘package tour regulations’. I have always found them to be efficient and to make a first class choice of hotels.
Two years ago, while in conversation with Martin Slater, the National Sales Manager, he mentioned the Dutch dahlia flower festival and highly recommended it. Taking his word, I booked to go in September 2015 to Zundert in Holland to enjoy the spectacle. Nobody I have spoken to has heard of the Dahlia Flower Festival; it has been going for 80 years yet somehow it has passed under the British radar.
As 2015 was the 125th year since the death of Van Gogh, who was born and lived in Zundert, the theme for the parade was Van Gogh: 125 Years of Inspiration.
Twenty villages in the area each create a float decorated with pom-pom dahlias, and depicting some aspect of his life and death. The winning float depicted his death. The float was not unusual being over 20 feet high and nearly 40 feet long. Some 20 or so youths from the area were inside pushing the vehicle along.
Each float takes 12 months of preparation and is kept a secret from the other competitors. All that work is for one day after which it is broken down and a start made on the next design.
The arrangements were made for a 6.15am departure allowing for traffic delays en route and to arrive at our hotel in time for 8pm dinner. Because at the time Calais was the source of delays caused by various factors I arranged for packed lunches for everybody, including the driver. The Bistro which prepared the lunches made them at 4am for me to collect at 5.15am (the price one has to pay for being a GTO!). I also purchased ample supplies of bottled water at a wholesale price of 30p per bottle ( £1 to £1.15 elsewhere).
For our first day in Holland we travelled to Antwerp for a guided walking tour and, courtesy of Greatdays, everybody was issued with a street map of the city. With all the magnificent buildings, years of history, the favourite must-do was the C&A store!
The following day was the Dahlia parade. Zundert is only a small village and it was completely taken over by the festivities. All the side streets were taken over by stalls selling practically everything: bulbs of course, clothing, sweets and so on. Street entertainers were also very much in evidence.
While it is not necessary to buy seats in the stands (many people had folding chairs, or sat outside cafes enjoying drinks) I decided to purchase superior seats at a premium. These were located next to the stand occupied by the judges and attending dignitaries, and afforded a first class view of the proceedings.
I can thoroughly recommend this tour as one of the highlights of my time as GTO and something members are still talking about.