Obama Tulips Visit 2023

Obama Tulips Visit 2023

Obama Tulips Visit 2023

Rory, founder of Amsterdam Tulips Tour, and a certain Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States.

On Friday, April 28, I was enjoying a precious day off. I was taking the train from Hoorn to Amsterdam with my brother Brian who was visiting for Kings Day.

An email came my way.  “Hello Rory, I have a VIP who is interested in a tulip tour in or near Amsterdam…” A text followed shortly, and from there ensued a rather intriguing prospect: This particular VIP had their own transport, a security detail, and wanted a very private tulips tour.

Alas I was already booked for the day they wanted. I was on my way to meet Rachel, for her to handover the keys of the minivan to me.  She too was unavailable! We started speculating who it might be. Rachel remarked that Obama was in town for a speaking event on the Monday that she had tickets for and wondered – whimsically – if it was him?

At that moment I was almost certain it was Obama. Brian and Rachel started playfully chiding me, but the level of security involved, allied to the fact that Obama was actually in town meant that it was almost certainly him. It’s possible that Brian was not fully sober (Kings Day is a big party weekend) and it’s possible that his teasing was particularly colourful.

I spoke with my correspondent on the phone and told him that unfortunately we were unavailable. To be honest I would have found a way to finagle it, but luckily he suggested the day after. It was in the midst of this phone call that I basically became certain it was Obama. In the midst of trying to schedule the event, the guy said that he was presently at Keukenhof but that the VIP wasn’t getting in until the day after (the Saturday).

This mean that he was on a scouting trip to Keukenhof, and that was most certainly the level of planning involved for a former President. Plus, Obama actually had an event on the Monday evening. The arrangements dragged on through intermittent texts and later that evening when we agreed on the outline of the tour, my correspondent threw me a bone: “I can’t tell you who it is, but I’m confident you’ll know him.” I responded, “Does his first name begin with B” and was met with a chuckle.

The Big Day

Obama shaking hands with a tulips tour guide
Shaking hands with the man himself
Barack Obama and friends near a field of tulips
And then with his friends

Ultimately the tour itself was a bit different than other tours. That happens when the client is a former US President: There would be no driving with the client, no six hour tour. I’d wait for the entourage at the tulips field itself and explain all about tulips there and then.

On the day itself I got there early and met with the handler (the guy who emailed me) and we went over how it would unfold. It was quite nice: he was very friendly and mild mannered (though very thorough). There was also a Secret Service agent and two plains clothes Dutch security forces officers. Later when Obama and his friends arrived, the entourage also grew. I can’t remember exactly, but perhaps about 20 people in total.

I eventually took my place in the tulips field and waited. Betsie and her husband Loek, and their daughter in law, Cristal, were working in the tulips field, so I chatted with them a bit. Also present, was a quality control man from the regulatory body (yes, the Dutch have a semi-state office that regulates the quality of tulip bulbs). He’d later be very surprised to find himself looking at Barack Obama during his day’s work.

This year Betsie’s tulips field was about a 10-minute walk into a green field. Eventually, I saw a group moving towards me, and as it grew closer it was rather surreal to recognise the figure of Barack Obama moving toward me, near the head of the group.

Betsie shakes hands with Barack
Barack Obama with a tulips tour guide and a tulips farmer near Amsterdam
Obama was very curious and had plenty of questions for Betsie and me
Betsie explains how she harvests tulips bulbs using nets

I had been curious if I’d be nervous or relaxed, but Obama greeted me with a warm handshake and thanked me for taking the time to meet him and his friends. I responded that it was very gracious of him, but that I suspected I’d ultimately get more from the encounter than he would.

He was exactly as you see him on TV: relaxed, humorous, curious, engaged. Everyone was in a good mood, and the size of group also meant there was great energy in the air. I sometimes start by asking the group to estimate how many tulips they see in front of them. The answer is two million, but I give no context and this means answers can vary wildly from 10,000 to 30 million. Barack’s answer was furthest off: 80,000, and this got a bit of a laugh. I assume he never personally negotiated any agricultural trade deals.


The Bit With Bruce Springsteen

After about 15 minutes I explained that we were actually in Betsie’s field and as she was working nearby I beckoned to her and introduced her to Obama (not a sentence I ever though I’d say). She then further explained Dutch tulips to him as I dealt with questions from others in the group.

Betsie is a big Bruce Springsteen fan, so much so that she named her (female!) dog after him. Obama happens to be friends with Bruce and the week before had attended a concert where Michelle took to the stage. Betsie and Obama were chatting about this when I told her to explain about the dog. This prompted Obama to take out his phone and call Bruce to introduce Betsie.

Unfortunately Bruce didn’t pick up. It’s kind of fun to picture the Boss screening calls, thinking oh God, not Obama again.

Barack Obama with Dutch tulip farmers
Barack with Betsie and Loek (centre) and their son Niek and his wife Cristal

Winding Down

Ultimately I think the whole thing lasted maybe 30 or 40 minutes. Rachel had travelled with me too, but the handler had asked that she hang back and said that she’d get to meet Obama on his way back to the vehicles. Given the festive moment in the field and the fact that it was a 10-minute walk back to the cars, I sensed that the moment was going to pass by the time that was scheduled to happen. So, she got clearance to come and join the group, and she was able to share a few last tulip facts with Obama.

Barack Obama with two tulip tour guides in Amsterdam
Rachel(with her back to camera) and Rory saying goodbye to Obama