The new King and Queen of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander and his wife Máxima, have spent the months of May and June touring all the provinces of the Netherlands. Today, the royals made a much-anticipated stop in Haarlem, the capital of the province of Noord-Holland.
The preparations in the Grote Markt were in full swing by the time I woke up this morning. Barriers lined the square, platforms were set up for tv cameras, policemen were out in force, and a bright orange carpet lined the route (no red carpets for the House of Oranje). I wasn’t going to miss the chance to see the King and Queen in person (less than 100ft from my apartment, no less!), so I went outside to stake out a good spot hours before their scheduled arrival.
While waiting for the royals to make an appearance, I met a wonderful elderly Dutch couple who were also there to see Willem-Alexander and Máxima. They had lived during the reign of four monarchs (Queen Wilhelmina, Queen Juliana, Queen Beatrix, and now King Willem-Alexander) in their lifetime, but this was the first time they had the opportunity to see their monarch in person. When they found out I was American, the woman told me stories about how she lived in Amsterdam during WWII, and how she still fondly remembers the Americans and Canadians who liberated the Netherlands from German occupation. I was spellbound listening to her speak about her life during the war. It was history coming alive–no textbooks required.
Half an hour before the scheduled appearance, bloemenmeisjes (“flower girls”) handed out orange flowers for everyone, along with the lyrics to a special song written to welcome the royals to Haarlem. As the King and Queen got closer to the square, the crowd sang the song to welcome them.
When King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima arrived in the square, there was a roar from the crowd. There were dozens of police and suited men surrounding them, but they walked down the orange carpet through the center of the square so everyone could see them. They took turns shaking hands on either side of the barriers as they went along.
…And I was one of the lucky ones that got to shake the hand of the King!!!! It was lovely to see how down-to-earth the royal family really is (either that, or they put on a really good show). Both Willem-Alexander and Máxima had genuine smiles, and although they were ushered past the crowds pretty quickly, they still took the time to shake as many hands as possible:
At the end of the square, the royals stopped and were serenaded by a chorus of schoolchildren before climbing the steps of the Stadhuis.
There, the mayor of Haarlem made a little speech welcoming them to the “most beautiful city in [their] kingdom”. After a few more waves to the crowd, they stepped into a waiting car and off they went! The whole visit only lasted about twenty minutes, but it was worth waiting for. How many people can say they’ve met the King?!