Posted by: Michelle | May 18, 2012

An American Princess Among Dutch Queens (Or How I Celebrated Queen’s Day)


Yah, yah, yah. I realize I’m about as close to a princess as George Clooney. But you feel like a bit of the royalty culture when celebrating the Dutch holiday Queen’s Day. Obviously, we don’t have an official royal family in the USA but I am fascinated by the countries that still have a monarchy, regardless of the political power they may or may not possess. So when Rachel suggested we schedule our visit around Queen’s Day, we decided to see what it was all about. I will say I had a bit of hesitation as I do not like crowds and I’m not much of a partier by nature, but it definitely sounded like a once in a lifetime – bucket list –  type of opportunity and if I survived the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, I can surely handle the Dutch celebration.

First and foremost, you must wear orange. The name of the first royal family was Oranje hence the tradition began – and we’re talking ORANGE, as in the bright kind of orange. I set out to find an orange tee shirt and was amazed how many shades of orange there was: melon, rust, burnt, etc. but finding “orange” was tough. I managed to find one on my many, many trips to Chicago but as it turns out, I ended up buying an orange tee shirt in Amsterdam anyway. Rachel bought us an orange hat and her friends from Germany bought us orange leis so we were all set.

The weather certainly hadn’t cooperated the first three days we were in The Netherlands however, Queen’s Day turned out to be a great weather day, the kind that would have made Goldilocks happy – not too hot, not too cold but just right. The evening before, the rain dissipated as we meandered around the city to check out the evening festivities. It started with dinner where we met up with a friend of Rachel’s and her friend. Both had driven up from Germany where they live with their military husbands. The five of us got to know each other a bit before setting out as the sunset over the city. Rachel led the way, seeking some good music and perhaps partake in a local beer. There were bands playing on virtually every corner, some with a small gathering, some with a large crowd. No matter your nationality or taste in music, there was virtually something for everyone. Rachel told us that as the evening wore on, you would hear more Dutch music with rowdy drunk people singing along. We didn’t stay too long in any one area but slowly made our way around, stopping and listening occasionally and always people watching. Because we had a full day touring (Anne Frank Huis, Zaanse Schans, etc.) we didn’t stay out too late. The girls got their one beer and we made our way to Centraal Station where we parted ways with Elyisa and Trish. The noise followed us all the way to Rachel’s apartment where we fell into bed and drifted off to sleep as the party continued around us.

The next morning we donned our orange gear, cameras and other necessities before heading out. Fortunately, the celebration is throughout the city so there was no one place we had to be at any particular time. Of course, I had to get my morning coffee so we stopped at the Starbucks concept store near Rembrandt Square. The long was fairly long and full of people wearing orange. So far, so good. We hadn’t encountered any large crowds (they make me feel claustrophobic) and I was enjoying seeing all the different expressions of orange from the normal to the outrageous. The crowds started getting a bit thicker as we got closer to Vodel Park. We could see that the canal was starting to fill with boats and it was getting harder to maneuver through the crowded streets. We met Elyisa and Trish near the Hard Rock Café and sat in the patio area for a quick bite and a drink.

Next stop was the Iamsterdam for a Kodak moment. It was literally crawling with revelers so we got our picture and moved on. We then moved on to Vodel Park, where the crowd turned into more families with loads of children selling all sorts of toys and clothing. There were several booths where kids who were a little more ingenious with earning some money with games. My favorite was three kids who had a ladder, PVC pipe, a table and a sledge hammer. One girl stood atop the ladder and inserted a tomato into the pipe which was angled with the end on a small table. The tomato would shoot out and the contestant would attempt to smash the tomato with the hammer. A boy stood ready and the end and caught it if it was missed. They didn’t have a lot of tomatoes but it turns out, it wasn’t needed. There was evidence of one smashed tomato but after observing for several minutes, it was clear it was a lot harder that I looked. Many people were waiting their turn so I can only assume they made some good money. There were others who performed, a few that painted nails or did face painting. The park was quite crowded so you had to be careful where you stepped. Here we met up with a few more friends of Rachel’s. After spending some time in the park, we parted ways with the group. The three of us decided we needed to sit a spell and get some food, water and a toilet break. We found a small French café with an open table outside giving our feet a much needed break.

As we slowly headed back to Niewmarket, we stopped along one of the larger canals to watch those who were on boats. By this time, they weren’t moving and you could literally cross the canal by walking across the boats. Further down, we ran into a massive crowd. In the distance, we could see a small stage with a band rocking out. Rather than try and penetrate the partiers, we turned around and took the long way back to the apartment.

My impression of Queen’s Day would be much like what I image Mardi Gras to be minus the floats and beads. There is an energy when people gather to celebrate, forgetting their worries if only for a few hours and let themselves be happy and enjoy the company of friends and strangers. There were some strange costumes, a little over the top perhaps but in the spirit of being Dutch (if only for a day) it is a good excuse to express yourself however you chose to. Except for the urinals placed strategically around the city which not only reeked by the end of day but are not a great visual, I had a great time participating in a local tradition. Although it wasn’t on my bucket list, I have since added it and crossed it off. It may sound silly but there are unique experiences that few get to have and typically, if one happens to experience something like Queen’s Day, it only come around once in a lifetime.

 

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