26.04.15 – 02.05.15
Having lived in The Netherlands for eight years, until the age of thirteen, I’d seen a few Queensdays in my time, but never experienced it in Amsterdam –let alone as a Kingsday now that the Queen had recently abdicated. And it’s definitely a bucket list worthy item. We arrived the day before, late in the afternoon and relieved to be getting off our sold-out, uncomfortable Eurolines bus ride from Brussels.
After being away from Holland for so many years, it definitely felt strangely familiar being back –hearing the language that challenged me so much, seeing the names of towns I know, and even seeing brands of products in the shops you had all but forgotten how much you enjoyed. I can hardly speak Dutch anymore, I can just about fumble my way through a sentence but can understand it much more than I can speak it. Daniel is 100% confused by it though, which is fair enough because it really is an alien language. If Martians visited Earth they would probably speak Dutch, as Dad says.
We’ve checked into the Flying Pig Uptown, which is really central and directly opposite Vondelpark. It’s not a bad place, though it was super expensive for what we got in return -35 euro each a night for a 12 bed dorm. Ouch. But I guess this is the price you pay for spending Kingsday in the centre of Amsterdam. Everything is ‘okay’ with this hostel, not great, not terrible –just good/okay. There’s no communal lounge area, but there is a bar and also a smoking room. I’d say this is definitely the place to be if all you want to do is smoke weed 24/7 during your stay in Amsterdam. Almost every day while we’d be eating breakfast there’d always be a handful of people blazing up on the other side of the glass. I think a lot of the staff seemed a bit too chilled out most of the time too.
Koningsnacht (Kingsday eve) we spent kind of wandering the streets in a bit of a daze, absorbing the scale and atmosphere of it all. As promised, the streets are completely lined with orange, and you can’t walk a few metres without a pop up beer tent selling you a Heineken. The night before Kingsday is pretty important on the calendar of celebrations as well, I think true Amsterdammers party all through the night and continue going on Kingsday, but poor-form foreigners like ourselves need at least a few hours sleep before starting again.
After we’ve put our best orange clothes on, Kingsday for us begins with experiencing the Vrijmarkt (free market) in Vondelpark. The Vrijmarkt happens all over the country, and it just means anyone is allowed to sell anything on the street. So the streets and walls are lined with stalls with anything from little kids selling home made lemonade, to their parents’ using this as a chance to clear the house of any unwanted junk. So Vondelpark turns into one giant Garage sale-come-Flea Market, and it’s pretty cool to see. It takes us about two hours just to get from one end of the park to the other.
In the afternoon we wander through different areas of Amsterdam, going from street party to street party more or less. It worked out best for us to buy a six pack of beer between us when we needed it and then wander to wherever we were going, rather than buy individual drinks. If we ever get the chance to come back to Amsterdam for Koningsdag, we’d definitely have to make sure we ended up on a boat cruising along the canals. That seemed to be where all the locals were, and they would have had the best view across the whole city. I don’t really know where the day or night went to be honest, all I know/remember is that it involved a lot of beer, street food, walking, dancing and orange. It’s definitely the biggest street party I’ve ever seen, and with surprisingly good spirits all day long –you would not see the same thing in an Australian city if it was overflowing with people drinking on the street all day, there’d be fights and aggression for sure.
The rest of the week we were blessed with still good weather, even though it hardly got above 13 degrees the sun was still shining most of the time; which was something. One morning we tried our best not to wake the other 10 people in our dorm as we crept out of bed at 6am to go to take photos around the city –mostly the I Amsterdam sign in front of the Rijksmuseum which, usually crawling with tourists and selfie sticks, was eerily lonely when we went in the morning. We took even more advantage of our early start by heading to the Anne Frank House. We hadn’t booked tickets online, and if you arrive in the middle of the day you can easily queue for as long as four hours. So, there we were, bleary-eyed but bushy-tailed joining the already growing line at 8am for a 9am open. It’s definitely worth a visit, especially if you’ve read her novel. It’s moving stuff, and it takes a little while to feel cheerful afterwards again.
That same night I had plans to catch up with a group of friends from Primary and Secondary school that I hadn’t seen in over 10 years. We met at the restaurant Smokin’ Barrels in east Amsterdam, and I was actually pretty nervous. I had no idea if it would be awkward, completely normal, whether they would recognise me or vice versa. But it was completely fine, and it was so fun to hear stories of what everyone had been doing for the past decade, and see the ‘grown up’s we had turned into. Facebook is good for this in a way, but it doesn’t compare to the real thing.
We had plans to venture outside of Amsterdam to the area of Hilversum/Huizen/Laren, where I grew up, and was just planning to try and wing it on local buses –but my old friend Clara was a bit of a legend and managed to borrow a friend’s car for the day so she could drive us around and be our personal guide too. It was such a good day. It was kind of surreal, to see the houses I remember so well and also the towns, along with the site where my old primary school used to be, and high school which is still there. I’m really glad we got to spend a day doing that, and so grateful to Clara who spent her afternoon driving us around!
There is just so much to in Amsterdam itself though, that even after almost a week I still feel like we didn’t quite do everything. Of course we walked around the famous red light district and checked out the Coffeeshops, but there’s so much more to the city than that. Our hostel was full of people who came only to get high and party and I kind of feel sorry for them in a way.
Overall, our week in Amsterdam was pretty intense. I’m so happy that we got to experience Kingsday in the Dutch capital at least once in our lives, but I think I’d also like to come and visit again not during the busiest week of the year for Holland. The crowds became a bit much after a while, and staying in a 12 bed dorm with people constantly coming and going, checking in and checking out every day was exhausting. Nonetheless, it was such a fun week seeing old faces and familiar places for the first time in a long time.
Onwards now to Berlin, via bus for about 10 hours.