Friday, May 18, 2012

Queens Day in Amsterdam and Hauke's visit

Hauke and I on Queens Day
At the end of April the Netherlands celebrates Koninginnedag, or Queens Day. April 30th was the birthday of last queen, and the current Queen Beatrix kept the same date when she took the throne. It is absolutely crazy, the whole country seems to dress in orange and get out on the streets partying. The celebrations start on Koninginnenacht, or Queen's Night, and continue the next day as people get up early to participate in a giant fleamarket all over the country - apparently one fifth of dutch families sell things, and half of the dutch population buy things every year.

Hauke in Amsterdam
Normally the Queen heads to a different town to celebrate with the locals every year, but there are organized activities in Amsterdam too, like free concerts in the biggest squares. This year, a lot of official events were cancelled because the Queen's son is in a coma after a skiing accident, but that didn't stop anyone from partying! The use of orange as the dutch national colour comes from the royal family being the House of Orange-Nassau, and people were as into it as the Irish are into green for St Patricks Day. I'd heard about Queens Day years ago from an exchange student living in NZ, and been excited about it ever since I decided to move here with the family. They were nice enough to let Hauke come celebrate it too, so he visited for five nights over the weekend.

The World Press Photo Exhibition in Oudekerk
On Friday morning I biked into the city and hired a bike for Hauke, before meeting him at the train station. We spent the rest of the day bumming around the city, doing a bit of shopping and having a picnic in Vondelpark. It was pretty cool to reflect on all of the parks in different cities and countries that we've sat and had picnics in over the last 18 months! We then visited the World Press Photo Exhibition, housed in Oude Kerk in the red light district. Its the oldest building in Amsterdam, so it's a amazing space for a photo exhibition, and the photos were phenomenal, although quite depressing given all of the subject matter. We then biked back to Badhoevedorp to have dinner with everyone before biking back to the city to go out again. Pepi and Ollie were a bit shy around Hauke for the first 5 minutes, but then they quickly warmed to him again and Pepi banished Rogier to the far corner of the table so that Hauke could sit next to him!

The old man we met in Badhoevedorp
It was a really beautiful evening so we first sat on the side of the canal by the windmill out here to drink a few beers. As we were sitting there, a old man jumped out of a car and started talking to us, eventually talking to Hauke in German for what felt like a good half an hour about Badhoevedorp and what it used to be like, and the Netherlands in general. He looked like real salt of the earth, wearing a fishermans hat, a woolen jersey filled with holes, and pants covered in paint, so I had to ask to take his photo! We then biked into the city and went to an Internations event at a club called Jimmy Woo. Internations here seems quite different from Internations in Luxembourg - people are a lot older and a lot more poncy! It was harder to begin conversations, especially because Hauke was there too, but we did talk to a group of younger people. This was also my first time in a club in Amsterdam, as my friends here normally prefer to drink in pubs or bars rather than go out dancing. It was a cool place, quite fancy and expensive, with a massive line queuing outside by the time we left. Biking home was an interesting experience, managing a straight line was a bit beyond me that night, but we made it in the end!

Hauke playing supermarket with Pepi
We were definitely feeling the effects of the night before when we woke up on Saturday, and took things pretty easy. Hauke conned Pepi into helping him get ready by drying his hair, brushing his teeth and putting on his socks and shoes for him. We didn't leave the house until after 3pm, and despite some pretty nasty weather, we biked out to Haarlem to have a look around. We didn't have so much time there, and I was feeling truly lousy, so we just had a walk around, checked out the fair set up in the main square for Queens Day celebrations, and then went to Joppenkerk for a drink. That night we babysat the kids - or I should say, Hauke babysat! Pepi doesn't want a bar of me whenever Hauke is around, so he played with Pepi and then put him to bed while I sat on the couch with a glass of wine!

The four of us up the windmill
Sunday morning we were also on duty, so we took the kids out of the house for a bit. I had planned on spending the day at the big playground out here, but for some reason the gate remained closed passed its opening time, so we messed around in a smaller park until it got boring and then took the kids up the windmill. The scraps of information I heard from the windmiller showing us around were interesting - he runs the windmill at different speeds when its raining to keep the place from flooding, instead of purely for decoration like I thought - but I spent most of the time trying to keep the kids in check. They seemed to enjoy it though, Pepi told Jacquie some crazy stories about where we'd been and everything we'd done that morning, like going to see a children's movie (probably the 10minute animated documentary on Rembrandt we saw at the windmill!).

Music stage at the Live I Live festival, the Hague
Then, we headed to the Hague to celebrate Queens Night. While the whole country celebrates to some extent, the Hague is supposed to be the place to be. Apparently years ago there used to be big riots there on Queens Night, so they started planning a lot of events to make the atmosphere more positive and put an end to the rioting. Now, they have the free Life I Live festival, which sees the whole central district shut down as stages hosting different bands are set up throughout the city and bars and restaurants spread tables and chairs out onto the streets.

Hauke and I infront of the Parliament buildings in the Hague
To get there, we biked to the airport out here and took a train, arriving in the middle of the afternoon. While I'd been to the Hague last year for a quick visit, I hadn't done more than find all of the shops, so after a quick stop at the tourist office, we set out to explore everything. I really like the Hague, its pretty and a good mix of old and modern, and seems like it would generally be a nice city to live in. Although Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, the Hague hosts the government and parliament, and the parliament buildings are pretty cool, you can walk right through the middle of them to get to the street on the other side. The palace is also located in the Hague, although the Queen lives at another residence - I don't really know what to say about the palace, I've seen so many here now and this one doesn't stand out in any way.

Scheveningen beach at the Hague
We also took the tram out to the seaside. While still part of the Hague, the district is called Scheveningen, and is a big beach holiday destination, with a huge esplanade filled with shops and restaurants and a huge pier. It is a little bit too commercial for me, and apart from the amazing Kurhaus hotel and restaurant building from the 1800s, I think the rest of the architecture there is pretty ugly. The pier is cool, we walked along to the end where people can climb a tower and bungy jump. There's several derelict builings coming off the end of the pier too, they look like former restuarants or casinos, and while I always love dilapidated buildings, I reckon these would make awesome night clubs or something similar.

Why buy one beer when you can buy five?
On the way back to join the music festival we decided to stop for a beer at one of the bars spilling out onto the street. One beer turned into ten beers, and then we were in a pretty good mood for enjoying everything. The music was all dutch, and we didn't really find a stage playing a type of music that we were really into, but we had a good time checking them all out, wandering around and getting both falafel and Febo (a dutch fast food chain where burgers and croquettes are sold vending-machine style, you enter coins and the window opens and out they pop instantly, no waiting around or dealing with queues or cashiers). I really enjoyed the atmosphere there, the streets were packed with happy people and had we not been worried about getting home early and sober enough to go out and celebrate Queens Day the next morning, we would've stayed later and really let loose.

Hauke and Anissa walking through the Jordaan
Monday morning we donned our orange gear and biked into the city. The weather was insane, after a couple of weeks of windy, grey, drizzly skies, the day was brilliantly sunny and hot, I even got a little burnt. It was a weird atmosphere biking into the city, Badhoevedorp was really quiet and empty, although Dutch flags had appeared on flag poles at many of our neighbours' houses, and there was a steady stream of orange-clad cyclists heading the same direction as us. The streets were packed so it took ages to reach Westerpark on the other side of the city - what would normally be a 40min trip took us about a hour and a half. There we met Anissa and her friend Lex from Germany and Matteo from Italy, and we spent several hours lying in the sun drinking and enjoying the free music.

Street and canal filled with orange partiers
Later, we headed into the city, walking through the Jordaan neighbourhood. The Jordaan is a really old working class neighbourhood, now really upscale and artsy. The place was truly packed, there were kids out on the street selling second things in front of their houses, people busking, stages set up at street corners with bands playing, bars spilling out onto the street, and orange decorations everywhere. The canals were fill of boats jam packing with people partying to loud music, I would love to know how many drunk revelers fell from the overloaded boats into the water!

boat party on the canals
We went to Anissa's friend's place where they had set up couches on the footpath in front of their place, in the central city next to a canal. From there, we had an awesome view of the boats going past, I bought some weird wooden parrots from the neighbour, and we passed the rest of the day drinking with her friends. Eventually, we went to get food (more Febo and our second trip to Wok to Walk so far that weekend!) and moved location to another friend's apartment just off Leidseplein, where we stayed until we finally called it a night and headed home. There, everyone started to run out of beer, and we witnessed some bizarre arguments over it akin to what you'd expect on a desert island running out of fresh water! By the time we walked back to get our bikes from the Jordaan and set off for Badhoevedorp the streets had empty and barstaff were sweeping the sidewalks. The amount of trash on the streets was horrendous; beer cans, discarded orange accessories, unsold junk from the fleamarkets, and general rubbish, however the council cleaning staff was out in full force. It was a long day, and I'm surprized we survived the 12 odd hours of drinking in the sun as well as we did!

Anissa and Lex on the canal-side terrace at Soundgarden
Tuesday we got off to a pretty slow start, and biked back into the city to have brunch with Anissa, Lex, Barbara, a friend from Hauke's university city Mainz, and her friend. From there we headed with Anissa and Lex straight to a bar around the corner, and settled down with beer out on the terrace. I also wanted to show Hauke the Tara and the Brouwerij 't IJ, so we headed back to drop of the rental bike and then I fearful perched on the back of my bike while Hauke navigated the rush hour traffic to the Tara. This was a interesting experience, as I couldn't see anything past him and he's a bit more bold than me, so suddenly he would zip through lanes of traffic or wind around pedestrians!

Hauke and I at the windmill brewery bar
After a couple of rounds of pool and a few more drinks at the Tara, we biked out to the windmill brewery bar. This time I got the hang of the perching thing and really enjoyed the free ride! Carmela came and joined us there, and we continued drinking and snacking on fries and the dutch dish bitterballen, balls of stewy meat crumbed and deep fried. Around midnight we called it a night, and after a detour for more Wok to Walk and Febo, began the ardous process of biking the 13km home with two of us on one bike. Hauke did an amazing job, and I was quite impressed with myself for managing 4km with him sitting on the back - look how dutch I'm becoming!

Pepi brushing Hauke's teeth
Wednesday morning we were up early and Hauke was off. I took the kids with me to the bus stop to say goodbye, Pepi handled it pretty well but Ollie cried and cried, it was really cute, and then the whole morning he would ask for "Hauk" and then tear up when I said he'd gone. I had a really good time with him here, but after five days of alcohol consumption and numerous trips to fast food places, I think my body was glad to say goodbye!

More photos from the long weekend are here.

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