Last weekend was one of several days in the Amsterdam social calendar when the whole city pours onto the streets. This time celebrating the birthday of the queen (on the date of her mother's birthday). The day comprises of three distinct sections:
1. Koninginnenacht - Queen's Night
This is the party night, the night before. When every square has a podium or two and people clamour onto the streets to fulfil their Queen-given right to consume alcohol until their higher brain functions cease.
2. Koninginnedag: Morning
This segment is when people (especially children) grab a piece of pavement and sell all their old tat (especially toys). People start selling early to be sure they get a good spot, and keen bargain-hunters (as the Dutch naturally are) rise with the stall-holders to snap up the best deals.
The must-sell item of this year appeared to be rollerblades. So many stalls I passed had them. Queen's Day is great for assessing last year's trends.
Later in the afternoon, the make-shift stalls (those not selling food that is) start to close up. Most usually with a lot unsold. Some people in fact just leave the crap they were selling where it is, and much is picked up by people who like things no one else does.
The one important thing to know about Queen's Day is that if you are going to venture out on the streets or canals, you must wear something orange - the colour of the royal house of The Netherlands. It is a absolute must. A simple hat or scarf will suffice, but it is not uncommon to see people decked entirely in this colour. This year included people in orange bath-robes. People with their hair en-oranged is also very common.
3. Koninginnedag: Evening
During the afternoon, the buying and selling gives over to more drinking. People still wander aimlessly, but this time it is between bars or beer stalls or many of the impromptu stages playing anything from loud techno to cheesy Dutch folk songs interspersed with loud techno. Some stages have bands. On the Museumplein they always have several stages often with big names. I didn't see the schedule, but someone mentioned Jamie Cullum, the Diet Jazz popstar. Many of the smaller podiums feature live bands. It's the sort of day that if you are a cover band but you don't get a gig, then give up, because you're obviously crap.
A lot of people take to the water during the day. Boats cram the canals and sections get so clogged with boats full of people drinking, dancing and playing loud techno that you can spend 30 minutes fighting for a place to get through a small bridge. Strangely this is usually very good humoured. Any flashes of anger soon dissipate. If the same thing would happen in England - with people stuck on boats unable to go anywhere, or with the streets so crowded with drunks, there would be fights on every corner.
The day starts winding down early as people have usually had a very late night the night before and started on the beer pretty early. This does seem to be the difference between the Dutch and the English. The Dutch will drink until they go, "I've had enough," and then go home. The English will drink until they're lying in their own vomit and only conscious in as much as a house-plant can be said to be conscious, by which time they will only leave when the barman says "you've had enough."
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