Posts Tagged ‘Amsterdam’

Dutch to celebrate first King’s Day in style

April 21, 2014
The Prinsengracht canal is jam-packed with boats, most blaring dance music

The Prinsengracht canal is jam-packed with boats, most blaring dance music

It’s a big week in the Netherlands, where the country celebrates its first King’s Day (Koningsdag), after a long run of Queen’s Days — since 1890. I wrote this little ditty about it for the New York Times. The change came after Queen Beatrix abdicated her post to her son Willem-Alexander, who now heads the House of Orange. He changed the holiday to his birthdate, April 27, but because that falls on a Sunday this year, the debut party was moved up to April 26. Willem-Alexander, btw, is Europe’s youngest monarch — he turns 47 on Sunday.

Friends entertain the crowd at Vondelpark

Friends entertain the crowd at Vondelpark

Not much will change for the visitor. In Amsterdam, you’ll still see hundreds of thousands of Dutchies covered in orange, sidewalk sales, open-air music and dance, and family activities (go to Vondelpark for those). The craziest site is the canals, so clogged with revelers on boats that sometimes you can’t even see the water.

The second-largest King’s Day celebration is historically in Eindhoven, to the south. So if you’re looking for a smaller sea of orange, but  still with plenty of activities, consider checking out the action there.

Diane celebrates Queen's Day in Amsterdam in 2010

Diane celebrates Queen’s Day in Amsterdam in 2010

Lina and I joined the Amsterdam fray in 2010 and it was one of the most joyous occasions I’ve witnessed. The key is to leave before the rowdies come out early evening, unless you’re of ‘em. Then have at it! If you’re coming from afar, make sure to visit a bargain store for some orange-colored clothing, like I did. Lina got the inflatable crown for me — someone was handing them out on the street.  Quite fetching, don’t you think?

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In Amsterdam, a new skating rink

January 5, 2014
201401_01c_skating Amsterdam

Skating rink with replica of the Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge)

Fans of Hans Brinker, the fictional Dutch boy who enters an ice-skating race to win a pair of silver skates, can practice their moves at Ice*Amsterdam, the recently opened skating rink in the shadows of the majestic Rijksmuseum, on Museum Square. (An aside: Hans Brinker is an American creation. The Dutch have erected statues to “him” to keep American tourists happy. Nothing wrong with that, I say!)

201401_02c_skating Amsterdam

Skating is especially magical at night

The seasonal rink, previously operated by the city and this year run by a private concessionaire, has been upgraded to include a new design decorated with custom-made mosaic orbs; the restaurant Brasserie Winters, with heated outdoor terrace and bar; and a walkway over the rink replicating the city’s most famous drawbridge, the Magere Brug, or “Skinny Bridge.” It’s especially magical at night, but a lovely spot to visit any time.  During the day you should also visit the nearby Van Gogh and the Stedelijk museums.

At the rink, you can rent skates or bring your own, and nervous skaters need not worry — you’ll see tots and adults hanging onto chairs for assistance. If you’re not a skater, you can watch from the sidelines or from the on-site restaurant while enjoying classic Dutch treats, including Hollandse snert (pea soup), stamppot (mashed potatoes and vegetables), and apfelstrudel (apple tart).

The rink and restaurant are open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. through February.

Lugging, Hugging, and mugging on the plane

December 14, 2009

This Snuz fleece blanket is perfect for snuggling and snoozing

Covered in fuzzy orange with a pink flashlight thingie wrapped around my neck, I was quite the sight on our 10-hour flight to the Netherlands a few weeks ago. It was all in the name of work. I do very little product testing, although I get invites to do so frequently. I just don’t need more stuff lying around the house. But occasionally things appeal to me enough to check them out. That was the case with the Snuz Sac by Lug and the HUG Light from ShowerTek, both sent to me free by the manufacturers. (Color choices were mine. Can’t you tell?) 

LL Bean's LED baseball cap is a great grilling accessory

If I hated them both, I could say “Lug. Hug. Ugh.” But, OK, that wasn’t the case, so that was a missed opportunity. 

First, the light. As a camper, I’ve long been obsessed with hands-free lighting, and got a headlamp as soon as stores carried them. Later I fell in love with LL Bean’s LED baseball cap. Then along came the HUGlight  ($19). It’s a one-piece, hands-free, flexible LED light, 13 inches long when stretched out. I love them all. 

Diane appreciates the versatile HUGlight

The beauty is in its flexibility and versatility. When you wear an LED headlamp, you can’t look someone in the eye or you’ll blind them. With the lightweight HUG, you can direct the light more appropriately. Lights are at both ends and have three settings. You can also prop it up in a coil or cobra for a little mini table lamp, or hook it over something. On the plane I used it for reading at night, because I hate the too-high airplane lights, and for help in locating the numerous items I dropped under my seat. Glasses, pens, etc. 

Diane inflates her Snuz Sac neck pillow

Now, the Snuz Sac ($30).  Love the Snuz! Hate the Sac! Which means I should have chosen the Nap Sac ($28), which was an option. Here’s what they have in common — the softest fleece blanket ever! (It’s 35 x 46 inches)  Just looking at mine makes me drowsy. Touching it makes me cuddly. 

The Nap Sac has a little pouch with blow-up pillow and blankie. Pouch becomes pillowcase, about the size of an airplane pillow. Ta-da. Simple. 

The Snuz is a different story. The pouch is in the shape of a neck pillow, the inflatable type that every long-distance flyer must own. You take the blanket out of the pouch. Inside is a little blowup pillow in the shape of said neck pillow. You must cram that inside the sac. I didn’t like the feel of it, so reverted to my old, much-uglier neck pillow. The most annoying part is when you’re packing up. You take out plastic pillow, deflate it, then roll up and try to cram the blanket into a sac that is the shape of a neck pillow. Too many steps and too annoying, and who wants to carry around something in the shape of a neck pillow? 

Diane loves the blanket, but is totally faking it with that uncomfy pillow

But I loved that dang blanket and it is partly the reason that I slept a few hours on the way to Amsterdam (though it didn’t work a minute of its magic on the way home). 

I’ve never thought to bring my own blanket on a plane, but from now on, if I can afford the space, I will. I’ll put my Snuz blankie in a compression bag or Ziploc and carry my own ugly inflatable pillow, thereby making my own Nap Sac, which I should have gotten in the first place.

Cruising for a brews-ing in Amsterdam

September 3, 2009

While Amsterdam has great art, architecture, modern design and so much more, what do people associate the Dutch capital with? Legalized pot smoking and prostitution. This drives Wessel crazy, rightfully so. Also, as he points out to everyone, that’s one part of one big city. Other regions of his homeland are more sedate, even conservative.

Now, after a recent brewhaha, more of the world has seen yet another party-laden side of Amsterdam — beer bikes, or party bikes. These ridiculous things have accident written all over them, yet they do make me laugh.

For the uninitiated, a beer bike (“bierfiets” in Dutch) is a pedal-powered bar holding 10 to 17 people who are served beer while pedaling through the city. Only one (non-drinking) person steers. That still, of course, has not prevented accidents. Last month, three women were injured when the bike tried to zip through a tunnel that was too low. Oops. Other mishaps have occurred, leading to said brewhaha.

Nonetheless, on Monday Amsterdam officials vowed that the (side)show would go on. The city is, after all, the headquarters for Heineken (which, by the way, the Dutch do not think is a premium beer. Because it’s not!)

Comic character Obelix would probably have summarized the situation as: “Rare jongens die Amsterdammers!”

Forget blue, what about Carolina oranje?

May 12, 2009
The Netherlands has had queens for more than a century

The Netherlands has had queens for more than a century

While the Dutch celebrate Queen’s Day in the Netherlands on April 30, here in the middle of North Carolina the Dutchies celebrate it when they have a nearby available weekend.

Here what it’s called in Dutch: Koninginnedag. I have yet to master that pronunciation. Want to give it a try after listening to this lesson?

Diane and Queen Beatrix go head to head at Dehullu sculpture park in Gees

Diane and Queen Beatrix go head to head at Dehullu sculpture park in Gees

We don’t have anything in the US to compare to Queen’s Day. It’s a day that the royal family, who represent the “House of Orange,” which is a family line and not an “oranje huis,” or house painted orange, come out and play with the common folks. (Sadly this year’s festivities were marred by a loony-toon who drove into a crowd in the city of Apeldoorn, killing seven people and himself.) The whole country parties, but Amsterdam really goes wild.

Though the Royals once took an important leadership role in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, they now are largely symbolic though still admired. Queen Beatrix especially still plays an important part in uniting the country in times of turmoil. And of course the royals keep the paparazzi and gossip rags busy.

Orange was the dominant color during celebrations of De Wieken

Orange dominated De Wieken feest

So every year, no doubt in Dutch clubs around the world, expatriates gather to celebrate their homeland. On Saturday, Wessel and about 40 others from De Wieken (wings of the windmill) Club gathered in Raleigh in their finest orange to dine atop orange tablecloths, and wave the Dutch flag, which in fact is red, white, and blue. They played Dutch trivia (Wessel’s team won!) and then sjoelen (pronounced SHOE-len), a century-plus-old shuffle-board type game.

Special cake to celebrate Queen's Day

Special cake to celebrate Queen's Day

Next on De Wieken’s list is our favorite event, the yearly rijsttafel, featuring Indonesian dishes that the Dutch first started eating after they invaded and colonized the archipelago in the 1600s. Regular readers will recall that Wessel won top prize for his “hete eieren,” or hot eggs. What will he cook up this year? He’s not even telling the royals.

Lang leve de koningin! Hoera! Hoera! Hoera!

Dutch dilemma? It’s all in a name

March 16, 2009
Wessel is a citizen of the Netherlands

All Dutch citizens carry passports from “the Netherlands,” not “Holland”

Don’t mention Holland to my Dutch family unless you mean it or you’ll get this smarty-pants answer:  I’m not from Holland.

Wait, how can a Dutch citizen not be from Holland?

Because the Netherlands has an identity crisis.

Yes, the country is officially, legally, and historically named the Netherlands. Or, in Dutch, Nederland, as in “low country.” Hence the NL country abbreviation you see on car stickers. The country is bordered by Belgium, Germany, and the North Sea. To the west, across the water, is England. (And, for the record, the Netherlands is not part of Scandinavia, as some people mistakenly think.)

So what’s with the name Holland?

Well, two things, one official and one not. 
The provinces of North and South Holland are in the west of the Netherlands

The provinces of North and South Holland are in the west of the Netherlands

The Netherlands has 12 provinces. Two of those are North Holland and South Holland on the west coast. Until 1840, they were one province, called Holland. Their residents were, and still are, Hollanders. The country’s largest and most well-known cities are in Holland — Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague.

So, Holland has always been the most powerful and populated part of the Netherlands. But it’s only a part of the country. (This conundrum has similarities with the whole United Kingdom / England / Great Britain thing, which we won’t even get into here, will we?)

Dutch guilder that was in use before introduction of the euro in 2002

Dutch guilder that was in use before introduction of the euro in 2002

As you can guess, my Dutch family members are not from those provinces, therefore they’re not from the official Holland. They’re from the province of Drenthe, in the northeast, which is more rural and has the country’s lowest population density. (Americans, think Nebraska with canals.)

Holland is used as the commercial name for The Netherlands

Much to the Koks’ dismay, “Holland” is used on most Dutch souvenirs

Making matters even worse for them, the name Holland has, unofficially, been used interchangeably with the Netherlands for many years now. Many Dutch people from all provinces say they’re from Holland. Even the country’s tourism website, run by The Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions, is called Holland.com. Personally, I’ve met several non-Hollanders who refer to their country as Holland.

So, while my famiy’s provincial sensitivity is understandable, I do think they’re fighting a losing battle, and one that does not appear to have all that many soldiers these days. But, as a family member through marriage, I feel compelled to join in and fight the good fight, too. I hereby dedicate this blog post to the Familie Kok and their fellow non-Hollanders. Lang Leve Nederland!