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Report 121: Three Months in Holland

By Marta (Moderator) from Washington State, Spring 1996

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Page 6 of 8: Queens Day (Koninginnedag)

May 1, 1996 Yesterday, April 30th, was Koninginnedag or Queen's Day. This is one of the biggest holidays in Holland. It is the day that Holland celebrates the Queen's birthday. It isn't the real birthday, which is actually in January, but the former Queen's (Julianna) birthday. January is dark cold time to celebrate so the holiday remained on April 30th which is a much better time of the year.

You know something is up even weeks before. Shop windows are filled with orange items. The royal family is the House of Oranje-Nassau and orange is the royal color and a favorite color of Holland. Orange clothes, orange shoes, orange balloons, orange streamers. I even saw an orange bridal dress with matching dyed satin orange shoes. Many of the shops will also have pictures of Queen Beatrix in their windows.

Koninginnedag is actually a cross between the US 4th of July (for patriotism), a citywide garage sale and a huge street party on Bourbon street in New Orleans, especially in Amsterdam. It is declared as a free market where anyone can setup a stall in the city and all bars and restaurant takings are tax-free for the day. Even in Leiden and other cities near by people would gather up old house items, stake out a spot on the sidewalk in the center of town and have a sidewalk sale. It is particularly big with children. I heard of children making 300 guilders in a day or about $200.

Monday we had a small celebration in the office. We went for gebak or pastries. They were creme or custard filled napoleon pastries with orange colored frosting. Before leaving we all toasted the Queen with a shot of orange bitters which is somewhat like drinking cough syrup.

The celebration started the night before in Den Haag. A carnival was setup opposite the Hotel Des Indes and ran along the side of the Hof Vijver. There were also 4 stages setup in different areas with bands from 9-1am. People streamed into DenHaag. The walkway through the Binnenhof was packed. You could hardly move.

But the real celebration takes place in Amsterdam. We had been warned that lots of people go to Amsterdam. The population of Amsterdam can quadruple with visitors. This is an extra million people on the street. Trains going into the city were packed. We had to stand in the aisles.

Everyone was wearing orange. orange hats, orange balloons, orange scarves, orange sunglasses, orange jeans, orange inflatable Dutch shoes for hats, and orange bow ties. Everywhere, there were stands selling items: foods, soda, beer, pot. Outside many of the bars were large speakers and DJs playing dance music with people dancing in the streets. We headed up Spui towards Leidseplein, the canals and the Jordaan area. But first we grabbed something to eat - frits, broodjes (sandwiches) and a couple of cans of Heineken.

You notice the litter right away. The street parties had been going on all night. Everywhere there are beer cans. You can't walk without kicking a couple. There's nowhere else to throw away your cans or plastic glasses. You just go with the flow and accept it. The cleanup the next day was very fast since the street sweeper is also a street vacuum cleaner and they just vacuum up the litter.

We headed towards Leidseplein. This was not a good idea. It was thick with people and the crowd just stopped. People would be pushing but there was nowhere to go. We saw an out on a side street and left. This took us into the Jordaan area and we walked along Prinsengracht.

Prinsengracht is a fun street. Not only did people take to the streets, but also to the canals. Flat barge like boats (to go under the low bridges) cruised up and down the canals. Many were filled with people wearing orange, drinking beer and dancing. The sides of the canals were perfect for people watching! Every block or so would be a band. Many of the residences had set up stalls outside their houses and were selling items. It was like a gigantic flea market. At other houses, hot plats and griddles set up outside and the residents were selling pannkoeken (thin pancakes) with syrup, jam or sugar.

I purchased a gold foil crown to wear. I had seen several women wearing them and it looked like fun. As we walked through the crowds, I realized that people were talking to me. It took me a while before I realized that they were making remarks like "There goes the queen" "Beatrix.. Beatrix". I wasn't certain if they were saying good things or bad??!!

We turned down Egelantiersgracht in the heart of the Jordaan. It was the wildest flea market. Most of the items looked like leftovers from the late 50's. Lots of books, vinyl records, china, glassware. There was even a singer doing a good impression of Tom Jones.

We cruised back along the other side of Prinsengracht. There were also people who set up street games. On the tarps covering construction scaffolds, you could throw darts at a 20 guilder note to try to win 10 guilders. It cost you 1 guilder for 3 darts. But the best one was the human slot machine. 3 women sat on the top of a flight of stairs wearing hats and each had a bracelet of bells. On each of their laps was a basket of fruit. The "slot machine" started when they stared forward and circled their hands over their forearms like an NFL referee calling backfield in motion. This represented the spinning fruit on a slot machine. The bells on their wrist sounded like the bells ringing in the casino. After a couple of seconds, they would each grab a piece of fruit from the basket on their lap and hold it up. Cheers would go up when they held up the same fruit - a jackpot! I loved it! It was so creative.

But we were getting tired and it was time to head back. It started to rain a bit. I grabbed one last beer at the De Bierkoning (Beer King) and we trekked back to the train. Overall, a fun day!

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