Fifty years ago the land on which our house stands was underwater. Flevoland was reclaimed from the Ijsselmeer - which most English people will know as the Zuiderzee, but the Dutch haven't called it that since the Afsluitdijk closed it off from the zee in 1932. So Almere is a new town - the first house was built here in 1976. It is the Milton Keynes of the Netherlands. Sounds dreadful I know. If Bill Bryson was Dutch the famous opening line of his book ‘The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America’ would reference Almere rather than Des Moines. As a concept everyone hates Almere: except, that is, for the people who live here - who think it's perfectly fine - and Kevin McCloud, who based his series Grand Designs: The Street on the house building activities that go on here. In terms of modern, high density urban housing, Almere is the bees knees. It regularly tops Dutch polls for having the best library, the best hospital, the best shopping centre, the best car parking, the best transport, the best bike tracks. And it always comes bottom of the polls for atmosphere. It's a dormitory town for Amsterdam, 20 mins away by train. It's a big housing estate. The council do their best to tart it up, but it's a tough gig.
When we moved here fifteen years ago the city was still half built - the now swanky new shopping centre was just fields and wasteground. We live on the edge of the city centre and near our house is a huge expanse of grass which we assumed would be built on one day - multistorey apartments/offices/car parks, whatever. It's a prime site - in the city centre, 2 mins from the station, easy access to the nearest motorway which could take you all the way to Istanbul if you wanted. People walk their dogs on this patch of land, kids play football, weeds grow. Over the years some student/low cost housing has nibbled at one edge of the land but, remarkably, it has survived intact. It's about the size of 6 football pitches.
Flevoland is the most important tulip-growing area in the Netherlands. In the right season postcard manufacturers send their drones to Noordoost Polder to take images for the postcard racks of Amsterdam. We took my mum to the Noordoost Polder about ten years ago - the colour is so overwhelming it gives you a headache - but we haven't been back since. Stupid really. Tourists always see more of your local area than you do.
Then, in April this year, my wife rode back from the station one day and said: 'Have you seen the tulips?' 'Uh? Where? 'On that bit of waste ground near the station. They're BEE-you-TIF-ul'