Pella was founded in 1847 by a group of about 800 Dutch immigrants who were seeking religious freedom and greater economic opportunity in the New World, and many of today's residents are descended from these original settlers. One resident quipped that the "V" section took up half the phone book because there were so many names in Pella that start with the Dutch prefix of "Van." The town's Dutch heritage is readily apparent in town by the gabled architecture of the downtown storefronts, the Dutch windmills, and (if you visit in the spring) the multitude of tulips!
One of the best times to visit Pella is during the annual Tulip Time festival, which is typically held on the first weekend of May so as to coincide with peak tulip blooming season. But Tulip Time isn't just about viewing Pella's 300,000 tulips; it's also an exuberant celebration of the town's Dutch heritage with parades, shows, music, dancing, crafts, food, and more!
I got there bright and early so I would have plenty of time to do everything, and I decided to start my day with a tiptoe through the tulips! Or, rather, a walk on the sidewalks next to the tulips. Close enough. Like I said earlier, the town plants over 300,000 tulips. There are rows of them along most of the major streets in town, as well as larger flower beds in some of the city parks and gardens. I started in the small but pretty Sunken Gardens Park:
Next I moved on to Central Park, which occupies the town's main square. The square's most prominent feature is the tall Tulip Toren ("tower") which is all decked out in the red, white, and blue of the Dutch flag and is surrounded by a set of 12 flagpoles displaying the flags on the Netherlands' 12 provinces. There's also another small windmill in the square - this one serves as the town's tourist information booth. And of course there were plenty more tulips to see - in just about every color you can think of!
The Scholte House
One notable display contains a few items of Mareah Scholte's Delftware - a renowned manufacturer of hand-painted china (traditionally done in blue and white) from the town of Delft in South Holland. Mareah carefully packed her Delftware away before leaving the Netherlands, but when she unpacked the boxes a year later in her new home in America, she was sad to discover that a great many pieces had broken along the way. She saved what few intact pieces she could, and used the broken fragments as part of a walkway in her garden.
The last thing I wanted to try was a "Dutch Letter," which must be some kind of town favorite, because I had been hearing about them all day. There are two bakeries on the main square, but unfortunately at lunchtime they both had lines extending halfway down the block. But luckily I came across a small cart in the Molengracht selling the letters along with other baked goods. And I'm glad I did because it was delightful! It's a tube-shaped pastry filled with a sweet almond paste. Definitely a must-try for anyone visiting Pella!
Grandstand Show and Parade
The first event in the grandstand show was a Dutch cheese market demonstration. Two guys came out representing the cheese seller and cheese buyer, and they demonstrated the traditional negotiation process of sampling the cheese, then clapping and handshaking when they agreed upon a price. Then teams of cheese porters came out and used special Dutch cheese-carrying tray-things (I'm sure there's a name for them, but I don't know it, so just see the photo below) to carry the cheese away. Then they had some shenanigans where the three teams of porters had a "race" to see which team was the fastest, but of course they all cheated and the cheese went rolling everywhere for comic effect.
Next up was some traditional Dutch folk dancing, which was very cute. There were even some themed dances, including one that involved stomping with their wooden shoes. I think my favorite was the broom song, which they sang in a round, and whose lyrics, roughly translated, went something like: "What is a broom for? To sweep. What do we sweep? The floor." Songwriting brilliance.
Next up was the presentation of this year's Tulip Queen and her Royal Court. If I had come on the first day of the festival, I would have seen her actual coronation, but since I came on Saturday, they just processed up and were introduced to the crowd.
After this came a little Dutch fashion show, where groups of people processed across the stage wearing the distinctive dress of each of the Netherlands' 12 provinces.
And finally, the folk dancers came back to the streets for a final series of dances. Except this time, instead of there being 16 of them, there were hundreds. Clearly this is a popular extracurricular activity for Pella's schoolchildren! They even asked for audience participation for a couple of the simpler dances!