Queen’s Day 2013 is over, and what a day it was! As you may know from my last post on the tradition of Queen’s Day, I was worried about the weather. Well, the day couldn’t have been better! The weather cooperated, the people were orange, and we now officially have a king in the Netherlands for the first time in over 120 years.
Leading up to the event, we had been hearing all week about how crowded it was expected to be in Amsterdam. Some of Willem’s work colleagues were even planning to go away from the city for the day in order to avoid the crowds. But I was determined to go all out for this Queen’s Day–right in the middle of all the action. Who knows how many chances I will get to see something like this? I was lucky enough to see the Queen of England in person last year as she floated down the Thames during her grand Jubilee celebrations, and so the “cultural anthropologist” side of me was also curious to see how the Dutch celebrate their own monarchy compared to the British.
On the morning of the big day, we woke up by 6:30am (I dragged poor Willem out of bed at the crack of dawn on the one day he has off from work) so we could catch a train to Amsterdam before the crowds got too terrible, and so we could be in the Jordaan in time to find some treasures from the vrijmarkt. It was rough getting up that early, but at least now the days have lengthened enough that it was daylight outside. On the way to the train station in Haarlem we saw the first people setting up their stalls for the vrijmarkt, but we didn’t stop. We were on a mission to Amsterdam!
The trains were running smoothly, and we made it to Amsterdam Centraal with no problems before 8am. There was no public transport, so we walked to the Jordaan with coins burning holes in our pockets, ready for some haggling at the vrijmarkt. It was fascinating to see how the whole business worked. Enterprising Dutch citizens had marked their “spots” on the pavement outside their houses and shops with tape or signs in the days prior to Queen’s Day. There is a kind of unspoken honor code that you respect the tape marked out on the street and do not steal someone’s spot. Willem said he had read stories in the Dutch news about people fighting over the best locations on the bridges, but everything we saw was perfectly civilized.
We spent the next few hours meandering along the streets of the Jordaan and along the canals, looking through the goods. Our biggest problem was that Willem and I are both obsessed with books, but we quickly agreed that we would have a miserable day if we actually bought all of them and were forced to carry our body weight in paper for the rest of the day. Willem couldn’t resist though when he found an amazing, complete set of Russian literature–all for only 5 euros! My reaction was something along the lines of, “Good luck carrying those all day, buddy”. We later bought a backpack from a girl for 3 euros, so the load turned out to be manageable.
Around 10am we started getting hungry and began looking for a place to sit down and have a snack. We realized we were quite close to Dam Square, where Queen Beatrix was supposed to officially abdicate at that exact time. So we decided to walk in that direction and see how close we could get. We arrived just in time! We ended up right next to the Royal Palace, but we were around the side of the building slightly and thus could not see the balcony where the royal family was expected to appear. We could see a giant screen though, so we got to witness Queen Beatrix signing the abdication papers! And we were there in crowd when the royal family walked out onto the balcony.
I did find the adoration slightly odd, in a way that I can’t really put into words. For me, it was an electric atmosphere just being in a crowd that was witnessing history (likely the only time this event will happen in a generation), but I confess that I really don’t understand the Hollywood-style celebrity worship of the royal family. It was strange to see them in person, because it is easy to forget that these people are real when the only time they are seen is generally on TV or from a distance.
We decided not to wait in the Dam Square for the investiture of Willem-Alexander, which would be happening in a few hours at the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church). Instead, we made our way south to the Vondelpark. The neighborhood directly surrounding the park is gorgeous, with massive (we’re talking many millions of euros) houses. We wandered around the vrijmarkt in that neighborhood before entering the park. It is interesting how universally little the amounts of STUFF everyone was selling. Even the people selling their wares out of these huge Amsterdam McMansions only had a blanket or two laid out with things to sell. Either these people own nothing, or they are very stingy with their yard sales! If yard sales in the U.S. were limited to a few blankets laid out on the sidewalk, the blankets would have piles six feet high!
The Vondelpark, it turned out, was where everyone brings their children for family-friendly Queen’s Day activities away from the drunken hordes on the canals. It was a nice atmosphere, with children getting in on the vrijmarkt action, selling everything from their homemade lemonade to Legos and Barbies. If the Vondelpark is anything to go by, the Dutch are bringing their children up to be quite the savvy entrepreneurs! Another plus to the Vondelpark was that it had some of the only accessible free toilets in the city. In most places, restaurants and other portable toilet areas were charging 1 EURO to use the bathroom. It was pure gouging, and ruined a little bit of the experience to know that the shop owners were using the lack of public toilets on such a crowded day to their advantage. I can see why they did it, but it is bad enough having to pay .30 or .50 cents to use public toilets on a normal day. Paying a euro to use a disgusting port-a-potty or shop bathroom with no toilet paper? No thanks. I’d rather pee in the canal. It’s no wonder Amsterdam has such a problem with public urination.
We rested in the park for a while, enjoying the green grass and blooming tulips before we headed back towards the city center. I’m pretty sure we walked at least 10km back and forth across Amsterdam over the course of the day. The entire city was festive, which lent the day a really amazing atmosphere (as long as you weren’t desperately looking for a bathroom that didn’t cost more than the drink you were holding). There were smiles and dancing on every street corner, and the sunshine certainly didn’t hurt the mood. I only wish we had had a boat to cruise the canals! Below are a few of my favorite pictures from the day. I wonder what this country will do next year to top this for the first King’s Day (Koningsdag) in history!