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Holland is more than tulips

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer

Every spring I think about making a visit to Holland by Lake Michigan to see the tulips in their famous festival. Based on a recent visit, though, I think Holland has much to offer in addition to its flowers.

In 1847, a group of 60 Dutch men, women and children, fleeing from religious oppression and economic depression, were traveling from Rotterdam enroute to Wisconsin for a new life. A stop-over in Detroit expanded into a visit to Black Lake—today’s Lake Macatawa—and a new home they named Holland.

While you might expect wooden shoes and other quaint symbols of its Dutch heritage, Holland also has a very cool, hip hotel, City Flats. Like its sister hotel in Grand Rapids, City Flats is an environmentally certified hotel, meaning they have made it their business to leave a lighter imprint on the planet. Tall ceilings and big windows made the rooms feel very spacious. Those who read my column regularly might know I have a thing about comfortable beds, and City Flats rates at the top of that category, using some very special bamboo sheets that fit right into the eco-chic.

The lobby was slightly severe, but the bar offered lots of comfortable seating areas. On the top of the hotel, the City Vu Bistro was worth a visit. I particularly liked the braised short ribs and one of the New York style pizzas, the Brooklyn, with basil-infused olive oil, fresh mozzarella, roma tomatoes, and sweet basil. A local told me this was one of the best restaurants in town.

We spent a few hours wandering downtown with a stop at the Model Drug Store and Apothecary Gift Store. The pharmacy there has been serving customers for over 100 years. The store had a good selection of thoughtful gifts, including my favorite line of bags, Vera Bradley. Down the street, the Fabiano family has operated the Holland Peanut Store for five generations. You can stick with healthy, fresh-roasted nuts or tuck into their homemade chocolates.

The wood-paneled Alpen Rose Restaurant and Café offered a tasty lunch on an outside patio with European accents. We started with the goat cheese fondue, which just about filled me up. I simply had to try the classic German Wiener Schnitzel, the breaded and golden fried pork cutlet with red cabbage and spaetzle, a noodle dish.

We wanted to stop at Lemonjello’s coffee bar before heading home, and a decaf iced coffee was perfect. After lunch, I couldn’t find any room for the scones and baked items, but they looked wonderful. It was too bad we missed the Friday music act featuring local and regional artists. I’m sure it’s a great gathering spot.

The city perches right on the shore of Lake Michigan. Holland State Park offered a really wide, sandy beach for sunbathing or lazy walks to take in “Big Red,” the iconic lighthouse. Watching the sun set on the lake was one of those soul-refreshing moments. While I’m not really a camping person, the park offered camping possibilities at two of the busiest campgrounds in the state, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Holland has a civic theater, a museum and even a symphony orchestra, in case you worry you might get bored eating, shopping and sleeping. It’s a happy place, that in 2009 was named the second happiest place in America on the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, released by the Gallup Group. If you miss the tulips, don’t worry about it. The city of Holland offers the visitor just about everything else you could want in a compact and friendly small town.

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