King’s Day 2017, pt. 1

Stories of a countrywide birthday party for the Dutch monarch have intrigued me for years. The idea of an entire nation mutually celebrating their leader’s birth really seems like a nice strategy to unite the people. I cannot imagine citizens of the United States jovially participating in any sort of birthday party for any politician.

I had heard rumors of crowds wearing orange, city-wide rummage sales and public intoxication. However, nothing could have prepared me for the actual experience.

Flags of the Netherlands and their national color, orange, wave above the city for King’s Day. Amsterdam, April 2017

Morning. Within the first few moments of consciousness, we could already hear muffled music coming from all ends of the city. I opened the window and stepped out onto the balcony. The music suddenly grew louder; I could hear it coming from everywhere. The Dutch flag flew proudly from the spire of the Westerkerk in celebration of King Willem-Alexander’s birth.

The flag of the Netherlands displaying its national colors from the Westerkerk on King’s Day. Amsterdam, April 27, 2017

I went back inside to our front window, which overlooked Laurierstraat. People joyfully paraded down the street brandishing bottles of beer or cider and wearing black jackets with orange accessories. Some wore orange hats or shirts, while others wore feathered orange boas. Down the street, a band played rock songs in both Dutch and English.

A band performs on Laurierstraat in celebration of King’s Day. Amsterdam, April 2017

We emerged from the apartment into the festivities below with no real destination in mind. Turning from our street onto Prinsengracht, we suddenly encountered a sea of people. A bridge ahead of us had some sort of message written in white, so we waded our way through the crowd until we found ourselves standing on it. The message read: Re-Vest Life. Apparently, they built the sign with life vests used by immigrants going to Europe. 

Made from the life vests of immigrants, “Re-Vest Life” uses King’s Day to get out their bright orange message. Amsterdam, April 2017

People in boats displaying the Dutch flag floated under the canal where we stood, as a variety of music, singing and dancing came from aboard each skiff. People smiled and waved to each other, regardless of any cultural differences. The reason to celebrate united everyone under its one common goal of happiness.

Orange-clad people singing and participating in festivities to honor King’s Day. Amsterdam, April 2017

We walked toward Dam Square to see the Palace. It seemed as though music played from every corner of the city. No matter where we turned, crowds had gathered to listen. As we approached Dam Square, the streets began to resemble a massive rummage sale.

Racks of clothing, purses and souvenirs lined the street as stores and citizens alike displayed their wares, hoping passerby saw something that caught their eye. Something definitely caught my eye, but not an item. A large crowd had gathered around a performance I could not see. As I approached, I saw a man covered in raw eggs preparing to fist-fight any egg thrown his way. People in the crowd purchased eggs to throw. Most missed him, but a few actually made their target.

A man prepares for the next aerial assault of eggs. Amsterdam, April 2017

After watching for a few minutes, we began to aimlessly stroll through the vast array of commodities until hunger finally overpowered us. Thankfully, Koh-I-Noor, a favorite Indian restaurant of ours since 2014, stood down the street, its dark red sign drawing us in. Without saying a word, we smiled at each other and headed toward their welcoming door.

German Breakfast

The October rain began to fall as we quickly made our way across the square toward a sea of red umbrellas. Red letters hung above the entrance, proudly announcing the name of our warm, dry refuge.

“Welcome to Früh,” said a man as he came from around the corner. He took two menus from the podium and led us to a wooden table, saying he would return in a moment for our order.

A booth at Früh awaits customers. Köln, Germany, Oct. 2016

The restaurant had opened for the day less than an hour before we arrived, so only one other patron sat nearby, drinking beer in silence.

I watched him momentarily, reasoning with myself that I wanted to participate in local traditions, especially on my birthday. When our waiter returned, I ordered a glass of Riesling. Kurt looked mildly surprised, but kept with tradition and ordered a beer. Soon our server returned, drinks in hand.

Riesling and beer: breakfast of champions! Köln, Germany, Oct. 2016

“Do you know what you would like to order?” He asked us. We each ordered three fried eggs with toast. He thanked us and disappeared around the corner.

I looked at my drink with mixed feelings of intrigue, excitement and hesitation. Kurt toasted to my birthday and took a sip of his beer. I raised the glass of cool, light golden wine to my lips and took a sip. It tasted so light and refreshing, I had to take another sip. By the time the server had returned with our food, I ordered a second glass of Riesling.

Breakfast at Früh. Köln, Germany, Oct. 2016

Steam rose from the plate of fried eggs topped with parsley. A smaller dish sat to the side, holding three slices of toast and a large pad of butter. Everything looked perfect.

The eggs glistened on my plate under the lights. The yolks actually looked orange and not yellow as they do in Tucson (plus, they tasted so much better than eggs in Tucson). Never before had I considered parsley as something to sprinkle over eggs, but I loved it as soon as I tried it. The warm toast complemented the perfectly fried eggs.

Fried eggs in all their splendid glory. Köln, Germany, Oct. 2016

During the course of our breakfast, I ordered a third glass of wine, feeling as though I could totally handle it. However, instead of going straight to the Cathedral, we made a detour to Starbucks for coffee where, according to Kurt, I fell asleep for more than an hour.