Koninginnedag: Celebrating Queen’s Day in the Netherlands

Every year on April 30th the Dutch celebrate Koninginnedag, or “Queen’s Day”.  Queen’s Day is a national holiday recognizing the official birthday of Queen Beatrix.  For one day, the entire country dresses in head-to-toe orange and goes crazy partying in the streets.  This year though, Queen’s Day will be more than just a party.  It will be a historical event!

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Earlier this year, Queen Beatrix announced that she will be abdicating the throne in favor of her son, Willem-Alexander, and that she would officially step down on April 30th—Queen’s Day.  So in addition to the normal Queen’s Day festivities, Her Majesty will abdicate during a ceremony at the Royal Palace on the Dam Square in Amsterdam; in a separate ceremony the same day, Prince Willem-Alexander and his wife, Maxima, will be invested as King and Queen at the Nieuwe Kerk.  Starting next year, the holiday will become Koningsdag, or “King’s Day”, and will be celebrated on a different date.

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The soon-to-be King Willem-Alexander, and his wife Maxima

The Netherlands is already simmering with excitement about the historical celebrations that will be occurring on next Tuesday, and so am I! Every window display is saturated with orange, and a constant topic of discussion revolves around whether or not the weather in this perpetually cloudy nation will cooperate for the millions of people planning their outdoor parties.  In case you’re interested in knowing a little more about this insane (and surprisingly underrated/unknown in the rest of the world) holiday, I’ve compiled some essential facts about the day to get you in the mood to party like it’s the last Queen’s Day in history!

Interesting Facts about Queen’s Day in the Netherlands:

  • A Day in History- The holiday that evolved into the modern-day Queen’s Day was first celebrated on August 31, 1885, in honor of the birth of Princess Wilhelmina, who later became Queen Wilhelmina.  
  • Weather Worries- Queen’s Day, while commemorating Queen Beatrix’s official birthday, is not her real birthday. Queen Beatrix’s actual birthday is on January 31st; however, she chose to continue celebrating Queen’s Day on her mother Juliana’s birthday because the weather in April is much more conducive to outdoor celebrations than January in the Netherlands.
  • Don’t Coronate! Inaugurate!- Dutch monarchs do not have a coronation when they become King or Queen because they are not technically crowned.  Instead, the new monarch is “inaugurated” or “invested” as King or Queen.  It sounds strange, but that’s the way it is done in this quirky little country.
  • Girls Rule- When Prince Willem-Alexander is named king on April 30th, it will be the first time the Netherlands has had a king since 1890. That is a long line of strong ladies!
  • Crowd Control- Amsterdam is (unsurprisingly) the most popular place in the Netherlands to celebrate Queen’s Day.  Combine Amsterdam’s 750,000 inhabitants with over 1 million visitors and you get a very crowded city. In fact, the city of Amsterdam has literally been filled up on Queen’s Day in the past.  I use literally in the true sense of the word here: one year the city was actually CLOSED to further cars/buses/trains because the city was at capacity.  This year is expected to attract even more people, so come early if you want to make it into the city on public transport.  Once you’re in the city, expect to do a lot of walking.

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    Crowds on the canals in Amsterdam on Queen’s Day

  • Hoarder’s Paradise- Queen’s Day is the only day of the year in the Netherlands where people can legally sell goods on the street without a permit and without being subject to value-added tax. This is called the Vrijmarkt, or “free market”.  Anyone and everyone is free to take part in this national yard sale madness.  In Amsterdam, the vrijmarkt temporarily becomes one of the world’s largest flea markets. Savvy wanderers can find anything—from antiques to worthless knick-knacks. It is a hoarders dream.
  • Orange Craze- If you plan to celebrate Queen’s Day with the Dutch, make sure you wear something orange.  This mass orange-wearing by the Dutch populace during holidays and sporting events even has a name: Oranjegekte, or “Orange madness”.   Why do the Dutch wear so much orange, you ask?  The Dutch royal family is descended from the House of Orange-Nassau, so despite there being no orange in the Dutch flag, the color remains close to their hearts.  To help you blend in on the big day, below is a little fashion inspiration I created for celebrating Queen’s Day in true Oranje-style. Add in a few orange feather boas and a bright orange hat, and you’ve got yourself an outfit!

Fingers crossed the weather on April 30th matches the sunny Dutch spirit of revelry!

Queen's Day AmsterdamQueen’s Day Amsterdam bysbedenbaugh

 

Tulips Galore: The Famous Dutch Flower Fields

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Aerial view of tulip fields in the Netherlands

It is finally spring here in my little corner of the Netherlands, and it’s about time!  Normally by the time my birthday rolls around I’ve already broken out the sundresses and shorts, but this year my birthday came and went and I was still bundled in my peacoat and scarf for trips to the grocery store.  So when I awoke last weekend to sun streaming through the windows and a balmy breeze outside, Willem and I decided it was the perfect time to do one of the ultimate Dutch tourist cliches- a drive through the Dutch tulip fields.

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A painting of the fabled Semper Augustus, the most expensive tulip sold during the “Tulip mania” of the 17th century

Chance are, if you ask someone outside the Netherlands to describe things that are typically Dutch, you will receive one of three answers: Windmills, cheese, and tulips. And as much as the Dutch hate these cliches, they ring surprisingly true.  Tulips have been an important part of the Dutch economy and culture for hundreds of years.  In the early 1600s, there was even a “Tulip mania” (known as one of the first economic bubbles), where a single coveted tulip sold for as much as a house! Today, the Netherlands still supplies the majority of the tulip bulbs sold around the world. Embarrassingly for Willem, he had never seen the flowers that make his own country famous around the world. In my mind, this made our weekend excursion even more necessary. Flower fields or bust!

We started in Haarlem and drove towards Lisse, a town that exists almost solely due to the bulb trade.  Lisse is also home to the famous Keukenhof gardens.  The gardens are home to the largest display of tulips in the world, with a kaleidoscope of colorful flowers blanketing over 70 acres of land.  The gardens are open only eight weeks each year, from March-May, but receive over 800,000 visitors during that short window of time–100,000 visitors per day! However, the high entrance cost (as well as the acres of buses stretching as far as the eye could see in the parking lot) deterred us from going inside.

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Tour buses at the Keukenhof

We’re not really tour bus kind of people.  We decided we would have a better time exploring the farmer’s fields at our leisure than fighting crowds of tourists in the gardens.

A few minutes outside of the gardens by car, we saw the first fields.  They were an explosion of yellow and purple.  We parked the car and walked into the field.  The first thing I noticed was the powerful scent of the flowers.  I’m not talking about a whiff of floral upon the breeze. No, this was an assault on the senses.  It almost felt as if you could swim through the air, or bottle up some floral perfume simply by reaching out and grabbing the scented air.  This is not a place for someone with hay fever!

Upon closer inspection, we saw that the flowers in this field were not tulips, but rather daffodils and hyacinths.  I didn’t mind, because daffodils just happen to be my favorite flower.

 

After Willem got tired of playing paparazzi taking pictures of me frolicking among the daffodils, we jumped back in the car in search of the real deal.  When we got near, they were impossible to miss.  The fields we found were full of bright red, yellow, and mixed-color tulips.  The red tulips were definitely my favorite out of the bunch.

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Frolicking in the sun amongst the fields of daffodils!

Photos of the fields don’t do these flowers justice (at least not my point-and-shoot camera).  They were such a saturated red color that it almost hurt to stare at them for too long.  You could almost imagine that someone took a giant paintbrush and splashed primary colors all over the flat Dutch landscape.  It was wonderful being outside in the sun, wandering the rows of flowers, and breathing in the fresh, flower-scented air after so many gray, windy, and rainy days this winter.  Who wouldn’t be cheered up by such tangible signs of warmer days to come?

Below are some of my photos of the tulips.  If you can believe it, the tulips this year are nowhere near as colorful as normal due to the longer-than-normal cold weather.  Many of the tulips are blooming weeks behind schedule, so the rainbow of colors seen in the aerial photo at the beginning of this post likely won’t happen this year.  If this is what the fields look like in an off year, then the rainbow of flowers seen on a good year must defy imagination!

Want to see the tulips for yourself?  Peak blooming is typically mid-late April, although this varies from year-to-year.  The website of the Keukenhof has a wealth of information on the subject, and the Netherlands forums on Tripadvisor are updated constantly during the year with information about the state of the flower fields for those planning to visit. Many Dutch citizens may not have seen the fields in their own country (*cough cough* Willem), but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth a visit!  For a trip to the Netherlands in the spring, the famous Dutch tulip fields are definitely a must-see!

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Everyone should sit in a field of flowers at least once in their lifetime…

More Luggage, More Problems: How I Travel with Only a Carry-On

I hate lugging around a huge suitcase when I travel.  European cobblestone streets, five floor walk-up apartments, and public transport with no escalators/lifts are all common enemies encountered on my travels.  Still, I had to learn the hard way that a battle between me and my over-packed luggage ALWAYS results in a win for the luggage (and an exhausted, grumpy me).

Over the past few years though, I have gotten really good at packing for trips using only carry-on luggage.  It’s lighter, easier, and it means you don’t waste money on checked baggage fees that you could otherwise spend on enjoying your time in your destination.  I have used a carry-on for trips lasting anywhere from a weekend to two weeks, and had everything I need.

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My trusty carry-on suitcase

So how is this possible? The following is my tried and true method.  Note: The clothes in this post are aimed at a spring/summer holiday, but I have done this in winter as well.  The trick is to wear your boots and heavy coats on the plane, and to pack layers instead of all those bulky sweaters and jackets.

At the bottom of the post is an exhaustive list of everything that I fit into my suitcase for a 4-5 day trip.

Start with an open space on the floor. Lay out everything you think you will need on the trip.  Then put at least 1/3 of that pile back.  You can live without that tie-dye glitter-encrusted tank top for one week, I promise!

Once you have culled your mountain of clothes and items to something resembling this, you can begin to pack:

 

There are a multitude of methods out there on the internet about how best to use the space in a suitcase, but I have found that a combination of rolling and folding works the best.

Start by squishing all of your socks and underwear inside your shoes. This prevents your shoes from losing their shape inside your suitcase.  Then line your shoes around the edge of the suitcase:

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The next step is to pack your bulky items of clothing.  Start with your long jeans.  Fold them in half, and then roll them as tightly as you can.  Place the roll in the bottom of your suitcase.  Do the same thing with your shorts:

 

Now move on to your shirts.  Lay all of your shirts out (unfolded) and stack on top of each other.  Next, fold the shirts lengthwise in half.  Place in your suitcase next to the bundles of jeans and shorts.  All of this should take up only about half of the bottom part of your suitcase!

 

Leave this half alone for now, and move on to the other side of the suitcase.  Take any last pieces of clothing (skirts, dresses, leggings, etc.) and bundle them in the same way as before. Place those bundles in the bottom of the suitcase.  Next, fold your scarf in half and place any small or fragile loose items in it.  Roll the items in the scarf.  This will prevent the items from moving around in your suitcase:

 

Begin packing your makeup bag and other toiletries in the space between your clothes and scarf bundles.  Think of it as a puzzle!  Do not pack things you need to access on the plane yet, or your 1-quart bag of liquids, as this half of the suitcase is more difficult to get to in a hurry.

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Zip up this side of the suitcase.  Fill in the final of your suitcase (the space you had leftover in the first side of your suitcase).  Pack your 1-quart bag of liquids last, on top of your clothes or in a zip pocket on the outside of your suitcase (my suitcase is hard-sided so it doesn’t have an outside pocket), where you have easy access to it when you get to security.  The same goes for any books/electronics you plan to use on the plane. This is particularly useful if you plan to fly on budget airlines like Ryanair, as they do not allow more than one item to be carried-on.  If you have everything you want to use on the plane near the top zipper, you can quickly reach in and take it out as soon as you board.

 

Almost done!!

Put any last small items in a pocket inside your bag. This is a good place to put things like cell phone, earplugs, eye mask, and important documents/passport.  These are all things that I would normally carry in my purse, but when traveling on Ryanair they all have to be packed away (at least until you get through the boarding gate and on the plane itself).  My bag looked like this:

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This may seem like a lot of work to pack for a few days away, but the beauty of the method is that you can fit everything you need in a single, small suitcase.  When your suitcase zips shut with ease, and you come back from vacation without a backache in sight, you will thank yourself.

Here is the list of things that made it into my standard carry-on sized suitcase:

Clothing:

  • 4 pairs socks
  • 4 pairs underwear
  • 1 pair shorts
  • 2 pairs jeans (1 pair dark blue jeans, 1 pair white jeans)
  • 2 skirts (1 long maxi skirt, 1 mini skirt)
  • 1 blazer (for dressing up an outfit in the evening; also doubles as light jacket if it gets chilly)
  • 1 pair leggings (to go under skirts/jeans if it gets cold)
  • 1 tank top and 1 pair athletic shorts for pajamas
  • 3 pairs shoes (1 pair of nice flats, 1 pair of sandals/flip-flops, and 1 pair comfortable walking shoes, to be worn on the plane)
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 belt
  • 1 sweater
  • 1 sundress (can double as swimsuit cover-up)
  • 2 nice blouses
  • 5 normal shirts
  • 1 pashmina scarf (to dress up an outfit/to use as a wrap if it gets chilly/to ball up and use as a pillow on the plane/to use as a towel or swimsuit cover-up in a pinch…this gets the award for versatility)

Toiletries/Other:

  • Passport
  • Important documents, tickets, confirmations, etc.
  • Guidebook for my destination
  • Book to read on the plane
  • Empty water bottle (to be filled up past security)
  • 1 empty tote bag to use on arrival if necessary
  • Sunglasses
  • Packet of tissues (can also be used as toilet paper in an emergency)
  • Hairbrush
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Body wash
  • Deodorant
  • Essential medicine (allergy medicine/ibuprofen/pepto-bismol, etc.)
  • Makeup bag
  • Small bottle of wrinkle releaser (in case your clothes get wrinkled on the road)
  • 1 packet laundry detergent sink packets (if you need to wash something in a pinch)
  • 1 travel-size stain remover pen (these things are AMAZING)
  • Small notebook and pen- always useful
  • Earplugs and sleep mask for the plane- also a lifesaver if staying in a loud hostel or hotel
  • Camera (plus charger)
  • Cellphone (plus charger)

Haarlem, Here We Are!

Well, we have finally made it to Haarlem and are all settled in our lovely little apartment.  We love it here, although the move was more difficult than we had anticipated.  I have no idea how two people who came to the Netherlands from London with only a few suitcases managed to accumulate so much stuff in six months!

The Friday before last was the day of the big move.  Willem and I had spent the entire day Thursday packing all of our stuff in Tilburg into boxes and cleaning the apartment from top to bottom.  As I mentioned in my previous post on house hunting in Haarlem, many people in the Netherlands bring their entire floors and kitchens with them when they move, so outgoing tenants are usually required to strip the floors of any carpet or other flooring, as well as detach and remove all kitchen appliances and cabinets before they vacate the apartment.  This provides a clean slate for the incoming tenant to customize the apartment with their own items.  We were lucky enough to find new renters who were willing to keep the floors that were already installed, saving us the hassle of ripping up 50 square meters of flooring. However, the things we did have to do to ready the apartment for the final inspection before moving still kept us busy for the better part of two days.

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These IKEA boxes were the bane of my existence for about six hours

On Friday, I woke up before the sun rose in order to take the train to Haarlem ahead of Willem in order to prepare our new apartment for the move-in.  Willem and his cousin planned to load the van without me and drive it to Haarlem to meet me, where we would all move the stuff into the apartment.  I got to the new place around 10am, and got started putting together what seemed like endless IKEA bookshelves and tables.  Six hours later, my hands were scraped up and swollen, and my knees were killing me from kneeling on hard floors for hours, but the products of my work were all in place (and they look good, if I do say so myself!).  If anyone ever needs an emergency furniture putter-together, I’m your girl.  I could put together a Billy bookshelf in my sleep now!

About the time I was congratulating myself on my IKEA-building skills, I started to wonder where the boys were with all of our stuff.  It turns out moving takes an inordinate amount of time when you have to carry each box down two long hallways, three flights of stairs and out to the street where the van is parked.

By the time Willem arrived with the van in Haarlem, it was 8pm.  We immediately started to unload the big items of furniture. I wasn’t much help with the furniture, mostly because it was impossible for more than two people to move up the three tiny, winding staircases from the bookshop to our apartment.  So the poor guys were left to suffer, trying to figure out how a couch wider than the stairwell was going to ever get upstairs.  Oh, the joys of moving in Europe!

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Success! All of our stuff is up the stairs and inside the apartment. Now, to make sense of the mess…

It was after midnight before Willem’s cousin had left and we had finished getting everything dumped into the living room of the apartment.  I’m pretty sure I had walked up and down the three floors at least 100 times by that point.  We decided to admit defeat for one day, and retired for our first night as residents of Haarlem.  The next morning we got back to work, and spent the entire day unpacking and making the apartment our home.  Instead of describing how the process went, I figured it would be more interesting to illustrate the transformation in pictures.  Welcome to our new home in Haarlem!

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Living Area BEFORE- Notice my beautiful bookshelf handiwork?

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Living Area AFTER

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Living Area AFTER

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Living Area AFTER

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I love the living area rug!

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Attic/Bedroom Area BEFORE

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Bedroom AFTER

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Bedroom AFTER