Queen’s Day 2010 (HAPPY)

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Some years are defined by a hot summer holiday. You know the kind I mean; a holiday that you wait all year for because you genuinely believe you have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and seeking out sunshine will miraculously cure your blues (HAPPY).

These kinds of holidays are all about the promise of airport queues, parasol-lined beaches, drinking lots of Fanta (vodka optional), the smell of chlorine and coconut oil, late-night ice cream eating, and moulding your feet to the shape of your flip-flops.

This year has not been one of those years (well, not yet anyway – still investigating last minute autumn deals). However, it has been a year of fantastic city breaks and, despite the lack of sun, I’ve been left feeling relatively HAPPY (suggesting that it might have something to do with your destination, rather than the season). Just a thought…

It’s a bit belated, but for this blog post I’d like to focus on a segment of one of the city breaks I took in April: a rather enlightening week spent in Amsterdam over Holland’s national holiday, Queen’s Day.

For non-Dutch aficionados, Queen’s Day (or Koninginnedag) is the national event of the year, celebrated in honour of Queen Beatrix’s birthday (and several throne-bearers before her). Traditionally a day of unity, today it represents everything that Holland does extremely well: free-spirited and non-judgemental partying.

I was lucky enough to be staying with a good friend (and excellent tour guide) in her beautiful European flat in Amsterdam South. She promised to show me all the delights of this national holiday, which she spoke about with a very “you have to see it to believe it” kind of tone in her voice. After trying to get her to tell me everything about it and reading Time Out Amsterdam cover to cover, I naively thought I was well prepared for the festivities that were about to unfold. I was quite wrong and she was absolutely right: I definitely needed to see it to believe it.

We woke up to the sound of sirens, foghorns and revellers reverberating down the street and throughout the city. As instructed by my friend, I proudly wore a bright orange sundress to fit in with the ‘orange craze’ (or oranjegekte) to mark the traditional national colour of the Royal House of Orange, while she wore the more traditional red, white and blue (colours of the flag).

We began our walk through south area of the city, across the Vondelpark in the west, along Amsterdam’s main canals until eventually arriving at the trendy district of Jordaan. On a normal day, this walk would have taken about twenty-five minutes. On Queen’s Day, it took five hours.

Crowds of orange – busier than the busiest football match I’ve ever been to – were everywhere. Street performers, children singing, loud boomboxes balancing on army tanks, clouds of orange confetti, balloons, and several dozen ‘party boats’ were common sights, as were odd white taped areas that people had cordoned off as their ‘private land’ to sell their tax-free wares. It was like a combination of a car boot sale, street party, parade, market, festival, Mardi Gras and hardcore rave rolled into one big jumbly celebration.

The Vondelpark was jammed with merry children, while the city centre pulsated with even merrier adults, full of beer, herring, and my favourite Dutch food, bitterballen or ‘mystery meat’ (fried balls of meat and gravy: sound horrendous, taste delicious). Perhaps the only dampener on the day was those who had consumed a little too much ‘Dutch Pride’ and ‘released’ themselves into the canals…not attractive (particularly not for those gliding past on party boats).

Effigies, giant blow-ups dolls and murals of the ‘Queen Bea’ towered over the crowds, and every man, woman and child was either dressed up as her, or singing her praises. I can’t quite imagine similar scenes on the streets of London somehow.

Among other things, we amused ourselves with smashing tomatoes with mallets, watching a ten-year old solve a rubix cube behind his back in under a minute, drinking vodka and apple juice, waving to a nearly-naked gay couple parading in a window, and consuming a vast Middle Eastern feast.

As evening drew in, the impact that the day had on the city became clearer: rubbish was strewn everywhere (unusually the cleaners were striking), but there was absolute happiness among the revellers and several famous DJs and radio stations helped close the day’s events with some concluding street parties and open-air concerts.

Who needs a generic beach when you can get your HAAPY-ness elsewhere?

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