A King’s Day in Amsterdam

Stephanie and I were walking through Vondelpark on our way into the City Center of Amsterdam. It was noon on King's Day; the sun was shinning but it wasn't hot. Occasionally, a song would come into clarity, but after a few seconds it too would join the white noise of indistinct music that hovered in the air. Smiles were worn on the faces of Dutch children who, along with the leafy fauna, lined the interconnecting walkways of the park. If you are hungry, they have your sugar fix. Every 25 meters another stand sells fluffy, golden brown homemade pancakes that smell like Saturday morning. Or maybe you would like to win a prize. Creative games like a live version of Angry birds or "slice a sausage" are here too. They also sell their once loved toys that have fallen out of favor. And they are musicians, dancers and face painters as well. Part of King's Day tradition are the large flea markets that dot the city. In Vondelpark, the market has a definite family feel to it. We stopped briefly so Stephanie could tip one of the only non-smilers - a drummer not more than three years old, that was lost in concentration on a full functioning drum set. 

Instead of walking, we could have taken the tram, but it wouldn't have gotten us very far. During the festival, Amsterdam swells by one million people, making public transport inside the city center impossible. In any case, the park was much more exciting than the inside of a tram. As we neared the end of the park, a carnival game where you have to knock orange cans with the faces of King William-Alexander, his wife, Queen Maxima, and the recently abdicated queen Beatrice off a pedestal with a squishy ball reminded me of the recent festival name change - Koningsdag used to be Koninginnedag - the extra "inne" signifying femininity. In 2013, William-Alexander succeeded his mother to the throne without any Game of Thrones style drama (Oh how boring the world is compared to HBO!). It's also not the first time that the holiday has undergone a name overhaul. The very first such celebration, held in 1885, was actually Prinsessedag, for Princess Wilhelmina, heiress to the Dutch throne, on her fifth birthday. Only after her ascension was the festival name changed to Koninningsdag. When we asked a Brazilian who had been living in the city for 20 years why the day was so important, he told us that the Dutch just love an excuse for a good party and this was as good as an excuse as any. 

We continued our journey into the city; past the end of the park, passed the guys selling Lachgas, passed the tourists laughing after doing a ballon of the Lachgas - one ironically saying to the other "why are you laughing" - passed a small concert at Max Euwelplein, passed a group of orange clad Harry Krishna's and then through a shower of confetti at Leidesplein where a mass of orange festival goers seethed to electronic music. Ultimately we stopped for a beer at the Bulldog cafe. I read somewhere that King's Day is not unlike carnival, so it wasn't strange for me to see three women in Rio Carnival get-up, feathers and all, inside the Cafe. After listening to various disco tunes for a bit, we headed back on to the street to join the party again. We walked by canals filled with boats of partiers and watched a man jump into the canal without a shirt on.  We tasted Oranjebitter, a strangely bitter and sweet orange liquor consumed in quantities at the festival. We then headed to Rembrandtplein, where we hung out amongst the multitude of statues and festival goers. Eventually the day wound down, our eyes heavy from the Heinkens and Oranjebitter and our feet from all of the walking. After dinner, we made our way back to the hotel through a dark and deserted Vondelpark, which only hours earlier was so full of life.

 

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