One of the main reasons we left life in the tropics for a brief stint in Europe, was for Queen’s Day. April 30th, the day the the Dutch celebrate the Queen’s Birthday en masse, with celebrations across the country. Outdoor parties, markets, and people fill the streets in honor of the Queen and The Royal House of Oranje. (While technically the Queen’s birthday is in January, the current queen, Queen Beatrix decided to keep Queen’s Day on April 30th in honor of her mother’s birthday, and because the weather is typically better for outdoor celebrations.)
2011 was my fourth Queen’s Day and somewhat of a reunion between me and 3 friends who all celebrated our first Queen’s Day ever, together, 10 years ago. Sarah, Liz and Annette have been celebrating together ever since, but unfortunately for me, getting back every year has been a little harder. While I lived in Amsterdam I was able to partake in Queen’s Day twice and in 2006 went back for my third. During that trip I made a promise to come back for our 10th anniversary, so when 2011 rolled around I knew I had to be there.
For those of you who have never been, or perhaps have never even heard of Queen’s Day it can be tough to convey the sheer magnitude of this country-wide party, particularly what it’s like in the city of Amsterdam. For months leading up to it, I had been trying to explain things to Mike, but I don’t think he truly understood what he was in for, until he was standing in the midst of it all.
Like every year we gathered at Sarah’s apartment for a hardy breakfast of bagels and orange cocktails (establishing a good base is essential for surviving Queen’s Day). We donned our orange outfits and posed for the obligatory photoshoot, before taking to the streets.
Once you get past all of the orange, one of the first things you’ll notice on Queen’s Day is the vrijmarkt (free market), which is what we North-American’s would essentially call a garage sale. Except, it’s everywhere… One giant, city-wide garage sale. Every piece of available sidewalk, park or street corner will be filled with whatever unwanted household belongings the Dutch can gather up to try and sell. Everything from cassette tapes and dishes to ceramic statues and second, third and even forth-hand clothing. It’s pretty likely that people have been selling the same crap every year since 1970. On our first Queen’s Day, Sarah bought some ridiculous kiddy pool that she carried around with her all day. I think Annette finally made her throw it out 8 months later.
In addition to selling their wares, you’ll often find the Dutchies embracing the arts. Usually by dressing up their children or pets in ridiculous costumes and encouraging them to perform all manner of dance and acrobatic routines, all for a few measly coins. This year’s highlight perhaps being the cat, made famous by dutch film and television, who would pose with you, for the bargain price of €2.00.
As the afternoon wore on we pressed further into the heart of the Jordaan, one of the most popular neighborhoods for Queen’s Day celebrations. The crowds growing thicker by the minute, both on the streets and in the canals, we eventually managed to meet up with some friends of ours from Roatan. Small world I know, but the 4 of them happened to be in the Netherlands, outfitting a tug boat, to return to the Caribbean, so we invited them out for the day. Finding people in the crowds of Queen’s Day can be a difficult task at best, so I was pleased when we finally managed to meet up. Sarah, of course, wasted no time at all, outfitting them with what always seems like an endless supply of orange.
We pressed on, taking in the sights and consuming copious amounts of beer and assorted orange cocktails. Eventually we made our way to a house party, for a short-lived but much needed break from the crowds. A chance to rest our feet and mingle a bit without fear of getting separated in the streets.
From there we carried on. Towards Dam Square and eventually the Red Light District. We ate poffertjes, crochets and friets. We drank more beer and we walked. As expected events started to blur, day turned into night and before I knew it another Queen’s Day was over.
It was great to be back again. To celebrate with old friends and new. To have one more Queen’s Day together the four of us. I’m not sure where we’ll all be come next April 30th, but you can bet I’ll be reminiscing about the great day we had this year!
Posted by: Kelly