On my recent business trip to Amsterdam — actually my 25th to the land below sea level — I visited one place that I have been to several times before but one that I have never grown tired of. For someone who loves miniature models, this is one of those “Heaven on Earth” spots. Madurodam is a miniature park located in The Hague just a short train ride from Amsterdam where you will find 1:25 scale models of many historical Dutch buildings and scenes. The park opened in 1952 with funding from the Maduro family in honor of their son George, a Jewish lawyer who died at Dachau after being imprisoned for his participation in the Dutch resistance.
My first introduction to this miniature world was in 1994 as a part of a multi-stop tour of The Hague. As my wife and I exited the tour bus on that rainy overcast day, the driver told us we had one hour to explore the park before the bus would leave for its next stop. When we walked through the entrance and stood on the promenade to the park, my eyes were amazed at what they saw. Everywhere I looked, I saw miniature models of buildings, bridges, windmills, trains, highways, and even a functioning Schipol airport with planes taxiing around the runway. Right at my feet, was a large pool with an oil tanker floating in it. All of a sudden, flames started coming out of the tanker, sirens began going off and a fireboat rapidly motored up next to the tanker and began spraying water to extinguish the fire. So began my first magical discovery of Madurodam. I could immediately tell one hour was never going to be enough for me and that future trips would be necessary.
As we walked along the paths exploring the small-scale structures, my wife was actually a very good sport. In spite of the chilly rain, she followed me around the park as I marveled at the detail of the models. When the time arrived to depart on the bus, I had only whet my appetite.
On another business trip to Amsterdam five years later, we were able to take our two sons and daughter with us and obviously Madurodam was a place we had to go. Fortunately this trip was in June and the weather was perfect with no chance of rain. While my wife and daughter mostly amused themselves in the gift shop and coffee shop, we three boys ventured throughout the park together.
We watched the planes at the airport circling the tarmac and driving down the runway before returning to the gate.
We saw four lanes of cars and trucks driving along the highway next to the airport.
We sat next to a train station as trains and trams passed through on their way around the park.
And we captured a self-photo of ourselves in the reflection of a shiny skyscraper.
I don’t know how long we stayed on this visit but I know it was more than an hour. But as we were leaving knowing my wife and daughter had probably had enough, I knew I hadn’t and would have to return again.
Six years later found me again traveling to Amsterdam for business. On this trip, I was traveling alone so I knew I could spend as much as time as I wanted at Madurodam without having to be mindful of other family members wishes. This trip was in the spring and my journey to The Hague took me past fields of colorful tulips, much like the ones you see on postcards from Holland.
Upon arrival, I was greeted with the usual fireboat rescue as I began my tour of the park. I had never been in the spring before and was happy to see small flowers incorporated into the scene of the Alkmaar Cheese market.
And being alone, I felt it was safe to capture a shot of the infamous Amsterdam red light district.
Visiting in the spring also gave me a new appreciation for the multitude of bonsai trees and dwarf shrubs integrated into the many scenes including those in front of the famous Rijks museum, which were just beginning to bud after the cold Dutch winter.
In spite of being able to spend as long as I wanted to at the park, my visit was hampered by the large crowds clustered around many of the buildings. At times I simply got tired of waiting for others to move so I could capture a clear photo and moved on to less crowded scenes.
On my train ride back to Amsterdam, I scrolled through the photos on my digital camera, a new addition since my previous trips that I hoped would help me capture lasting images of the park. I was disappointed to find I had fewer than 20 pictures. In spite of being jet lagged from my flight over earlier that Saturday morning, I could still think straight enough to realize that I would have to come back another day, a less crowded day, and a day after I had had a good night’s sleep in a bed, not a cramped airline seat in coach. Little did I know that it would be almost 10 years before I would be able to make a more memorable visit to Madurodam.