I can’t be sure, but I doubt any country celebrates it’s monarchy as enthusiastically as the Dutch. I hadn’t planned on it, but my brief stopover in Amsterdam, Netherlands coincided with the national holiday of Koningsdag, or King’s Day, preceded by Koninginnenacht, Queen’s Night. Coming directly from another monarchical system, I reflected on the difference between the two approaches to governance. While the King of Morocco is certain appreciated and very much respected, he is not celebrated in the same way. Even in England, celebration of the monarchy is more pomp and circumstance than nationwide, wild extravaganza.
It’s a fascinating holiday. “Koningsdag is known for its nationwide vrijmarkt (“free market”), at which the Dutch sell their used items. It is also an opportunity for “orange madness” or oranjegekte, a kind of frenzy named for the national colour” (Wikipedia). So, it was a strange combination of swap meet and Mardi Gras. One park at the edge of the city was taken over by folks selling their wares. “The vrijmarkt (literally ‘free market’) is a nationwide flea market, at which many people sell their used goods. Koningsdag is the one day of the year that the Dutch government permits sales on the street without a permit and without the payment of value added tax.
Another aspect of vrijmarkt is the many children out doing small things to earn money. I must have passed 20 different children playing instruments for donations and as many more offering to paint faces, make bracelets, dance, etc. As I passed one adorable young girl painting faces, her father asked if I wanted a Netherlands flag on my cheek. I explained I was Canadian (my preferred travel designation considering the current political climate of the US) so we decided on one of each. He Did a quick Google images search for the Canadian flag and his daughter set to work.
Much of downtown Amsterdam was shut down, blocked off, and a carnival was place in its center. The canals were full of party boats blasting dance music while revelers bedecked in bright orange—wearing feather boas, cowboy hats, full suits, furry costumes, you name it—danced and drank.
Drinking and other intoxicating behavior began early. Walking around in the morning, about 9:00 am, I noticed several taverns were already full and booming with drunken songs of king and country and everywhere was the pungent odor of burning marijuana.
I walked around the canal zone for a while, then headed toward Museumplein, or Museum Square, where many amazing galleries are located including the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, the Stedelikmuseum, and another whose name I forget that had exhibits of Banksy and Andy Warhol. And, what do you know, through the middle of the main plaza came a huge band of Hare Krishna chanting their familiar mantra. One woman even offered me cookies.
All in all, it was an amazing day in an amazing city. The love of country and of king was palpable. I felt a great desire to be Dutch.
One last note about where I stayed while in town. Amsterdam is expensive. I had put out some feelers on CouchSurfing, but nothing panned out in time, so I booked a room with CityHub Amsterdam. It’s a fascinating concept. There are 50 interlocking, fairly soundproof, sleeping pods, called ‘hubs.” Each is shaped like an ‘L’ with one on its back and one the opposite (see photo left). The bed is in the long horizontal portion and has lights and outlets along side it. Inside are some shelves that, for an upper hub, serve also as stairs to reach the bed. Above the shelves is a coat rack on which hangs kimonos to use for the shared bathrooms and shower area. Surprisingly, the hubs feel fairly roomy and the bed was quite comfortable.
Upon check-in, you are given an RFID bracelet that controls your hub, the exterior entrance door, the sleeping chambers room, and the automated vending machines which serve everything from cappuccino to shots of whiskey to Coca-Cola. You are also given, at no additional cost, a portable cellular wi-fi device that provides Internet access throughout the city.
It was odd, but interesting. My only real dissatisfaction was the perpetual loud music in the lobby/gathering area which made it difficult to hear each other, much less gather.
Below are some other images of my time in Amsterdam:
Also published on Medium.