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.

Welcome to Amsterdam!

No matter how long and arduous the journey from Tucson may seem, something about the damp, cold wind hitting me in the face upon exiting Centraal Station joyfully reminds me of all our past experiences in this city. And suddenly, I feel happiness and excitement begin to sparkle from within my heart. Suddenly, I am jerked back into reality when we need to board an overcrowded tram. It winds through the streets, bringing us to the stop closest to our apartment. We pull our suitcases from the tram’s steps down to a sudden drop onto the sidewalk and begin rolling our way toward our destination.

We must have appeared lost as Kurt left me on the sidewalk with our luggage to cross a canal bridge and check out the street names ahead of us. A lady suddenly asked me if she could help us find our way. I told her the street we needed to find and she immediately asked her friend to use the GPS on her phone to help. Before she could give me an answer, Kurt returned to tell me our street was just a street ahead of us. We thanked the lady and her friend and continued our journey.

We came to a quiet street made of bricks. The sound of our suitcase wheels rolling across them seemed to echo between the Dutch buildings that surrounded us. Everything seemed so perfect, I felt as though we were on the set of a movie. Finally, we came to a black wooden door. Kurt turned the key and we held our breath. After nearly falling victim to a rental scam in Amsterdam during our 2013 engagement trip, we both have a bit of skepticism when it comes to the legitimacy of rental apartments. The key turned, the door clicked and the handle turned. Kurt pushed the door open with his knee and smiled at me.

Laurierstraat 50. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Inside, five carpeted steps brought us from the door to a landing area and storage closet. In front of us stood stairs so steep, they almost seemed like a ladder. How we pulled up our suitcases, I will never know. However, I liked how it felt more authentic than a hotel, as though we were Dutch citizens returning from vacation in Arizona. Thankfully, our room was on that floor, although more stairs led to additional levels. We entered our apartment and saw directly in front of us the very reason that prompted us to rent a short-stay apartment in the first place: a stove and refrigerator.

A very small distance away from the kitchen area I found a bathroom existing only of a toilet and sink. To the left was the main room with wooden tables and two leather sofas. Windows looked out at the street where we had just walked. The wooden floors creaked as I turned to the right. I could see straight through the bedroom with its large windows to a small balcony. I walked into the bedroom and noticed another bathroom, only it didn’t have a toilet or door. It had a bathtub, shower and sink, but no toilet. The larger, center window had a handle that allowed access to the balcony. We opened it with the room key and stepped onto the wooden area.

Below us, we could see little patios decorated with plants. In front of us and to the left stood an array of apartment buildings, most of which also had balconies sharing the view of the individual gardens. Looking up and to the right, we could see the clock and top spire of the Westerkerk, a famous Dutch church built between 1620 and 1631. It still functions as a Protestant church and remains Amsterdam’s highest church tower (85 meters).

Evening view from our balcony, April 2017. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

I sat down and closed my eyes, happy to be back in this city of constant action. The distant dinging of an occasional tram punctuated the sounds of bike bells warning pedestrians to move from the bike lane and the voices of many conversations in different languages.

“We’re in Amsterdam! Let’s go get something to eat,” Kurt’s voice suddenly woke me from my reverie. I grabbed my jacket and we headed down the street to find some fresh street fries.