From the air, Queen’s Day in Amsterdam must look like one giant, pulsating orange blob. It certainly felt that way from the ground.
Since the late Queen Juliana took office in 1948, the Netherlands has celebrated Koninginnedag on April 30. Now her daughter, Beatrix, sits in the throne in the House of Orange, but the day remains the same because B’s birthday is Jan. 31, and who wants to play outside then?
Different towns celebrate with different levels of intensity, and not surprisingly, Amsterdam’s fest is the most intense. But all Queen’s Day events feature “vrijmarkten,” or free markets, where folks set up little yard sales/street sales/flea markets all over town, featuring the usual yard sale treasures and trash.
In Amsterdam, where we were, the crowds started to pour into town around noontime, with many folks dressed in orange clothing, wigs, boas, hats, nail polish and even fake eyelashes. Wessel wore a lovely blow-up orange crown the entire day. I was decked out in orange sweat pants and an orange top. I felt foolish early in the day, and proud later, after fielding many compliments (at least that’s how I chose to interpret the attention).
By far the majority of partiers were in their teens and twenties, but there was a smattering of old folks like us. Beer and vodka were the drinks of choice, and the youngsters started early. We stopped at the Museumplein for a look at the pop/rock concert, then literally had to dance our way through a street party before we reached Vondelpark, a long, narrow park that on Queen’s Day becomes a haven for families.
Vondelpark was our favorite stop, as it was plenty festive but not rowdy. Little kids and families set up their little yard sales, and also made games and sold homemade trinkets. (This was also the only place with ample portable potties, FYI.) A lot of kids were drumming for dollars, and one man set up a drumming station, charging $5 for five minutes of drumming. One man staffed a “compliment station” – 50 cents for a little compliment, 75 cents for a big one, and $1.50 for an “ego boost.”
Our favorite silly game was “Challenge the Ash Cloud,” created by three friends in Amsterdam. A painted half-collapsed umbrella signified the Iceland volcano. It “erupted” whenever one of them worked a bike pump that blew air from the bottom, pushing out a mountain of flour. The contestant had to fly a paper airplane over the volcano’s mouth and land it safely on the runway. Three throws cost about $1, but if you could spell Eyjafjallajökull (which we witnessed someone do), you got to play for free. It was hilarious.
At around 5, we started to follow some of the more popular canals, which were packed with boats of all shapes and sizes. Several were set up like party barges, complete with DJs with turntables and giant speakers. Then we came upon the craziest sight of all – for about the length of one city block, from one bridge to another, the canal was so jammed that the boats could barely move forward. It was like standing outside of a dozen open-air discos. One boat even had a smoke machine on it. It was joyous and crazy and loud.
By about 8, we realized we’d never make it to the very center of town without suffocating in a sea of people, most of them by then filled with alcohol, so we headed away from the merriment, basking in the glow of the orange.