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  • Writer's pictureBrooke Radi

tulip time: thoughts on small town festivals

Tis the season for tulips to come popping out of the ground here in Iowa, and we're all so excited to see them after our apparently endless winter! Once the snow finally decided to leave in mid- April, we've laid in wait for the first splendid signs of spring to appear. Because once spring starts to show her lovely face, it's almost time for the 83rd annual Tulip Time, a tulip festival in the Dutch town of Pella, about 40 miles from Des Moines.

Now, I should probably preface this with the fact that I'm a sucker for quirky small town festivals. When I was a little girl, I'd beg my grandma to take me to Pioneer Days in their town (yes, it's exactly what it sounds like) and look in awe of the folks dressed up like Laura Ingalls Wilder and run around the smoky campground. We have Summerfest, Turtle Fest (yes, you read that right), and PowWow and I am HERE for all of it! I love it when small towns embrace what makes them unique and run with it. Pella's Tulip Time was no exception, and it may have been the best small town festival I've ever seen.

Pella is a town of around 10,000 people founded by Dutch settlers, and they've very much preserved their roots. A glance through their downtown square is all you need to see their roots in the business names, offerings and architecture. You can get a dutch letter here any day of the week, and not just at the farmers market. Even some of the chains have gotten on board with the trend. Smokey Row Coffee offers a dutch letter shake. You can also buy traditional dutch outfits for your four-legged family members!

My sweet adventure buddy, Lauren and I had both been meaning to go, since we're so close here in Des Moines, and now that we have two weeks until graduation (yikes!), we realized it was now or never. We pulled up to the visitors parking and rode their trolleys into the town center. There were kids everywhere running in front of their parents to see the flowers and friends. It was just the quintessential, Stars Hollow-y vibe we came for.

THE FLOWERS, you guys! I can't get over how simply beautiful these flowers were. It was mostly just tulips, but they were planted in such volume and with such variety that it was nothing shy of stunning. I can't even image the hours of care and planning that goes into this. And everyone seemed so proud to be there and be a part of it. It's no wonder that people come from far and wide to see the tulips and enjoy a day in the sun with their friends.

Tulip Time is also the time for the locals to go out around town dressed in traditional Dutch outfits. The little girl in me who thrived at Pioneer Days was absolutely thrilled. While I can only imagine how hot it was in those heavy black trousers and long-sleeved dresses (complete with a bonnet), it really added to the fun atmosphere, since all of us visitors knew that even the locals were way into it.

Also: just in case you were wondering, Pella has windmills! Like, actual, functioning windmills. The Vermeer Mill is the most distinct of them, mostly because it's the largest and there's a museum inside. It's 124 feet tall and the top part of the structure was made in Holland. The door in and out of the museum was packed with throngs of people, so Lauren and I didn't try to go on a tour. However, if I were to go back on a random weekday, I'd definitely go check it out!

We had a fantastic afternoon, lingering in the square, soaking up that early spring sunshine, and eating massive ice cream cones. And if we hadn't heard from others, we wouldn't have known it was even there! Take some time to do some research, wherever you are to find local festivals near you, and you'll be shocked at the hidden gems you find! What are your favorite small town traditions? I'd love to hear about them!

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