April 30th 2015

Hail to the King

King’s Day (Dutch: Koningsdag) in Amsterdam:
48 hours spent in the country’s capital to celebrate the King’s birthday

Do you want to join us in Amsterdam on King’s Day?

I looked at the message one more time.

I had never heard of King’s Day before. The national holiday of Princess’s Day (Prinsessedag as the Dutch say) or Queen’s Day (Koninginnedag) in the Netherlands was something I had read about a couple of times, yet never experienced.

A quick google search spills out the following details: In 2013, after Queen Beatrix abdicated and her son ascended the throne, the national holiday was turned into what is being referred to as Koningsdag, the King’s Day. The celebration remains unchanged though and during an entire day, the Dutch fill the country’s various cities with their orange frenzy.

I just type: “I have never been in Amsterdam. This sounds like a good introduction to the Dutch culture.”  

Immediate reply. “Perfect. I will pick you up in Zurich on Saturday and we’ll take the plane in the evening.”  

A couple of days later, I find myself walking out of Schiphol Airport for 48 hours of Amsterdam tasting, including a short and unexpected visit to the village of Den Ilp in the middle of the night (but I won’t go into the specifics of that nightly excursion).

We spend the Sunday strolling through Vondelpark, conveniently located right next to our place of stay, visit the Van Gogh museum and the overall district of Museumkwartier, get lost in the “straats” of the city, discuss politics (will Cameron get re-elected?) over lunch with a British couple and two Americans from Florida (who clearly had a thing for European cities), check-out what is said to be the oldest Jazz Bar (Jazz Café Alto) on the continent and get a first glimpse of the madness that is about to unfold the next day as the celebration and partying kicks off on Sunday evening and continues into the night (which – of course – is called “King’s Night” or “Koningsnacht”).

But the real fun is on Monday.

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On Monday, wandering around is mesmerizing in itself.

The city turns into a gigantic street market (nothing less than the world’s biggest garage sale) with kids of all ages displaying some impressive business acumen (according to reports, the average street seller turns in a profit of €90 that day). People wearing orange clothes and accessories come pouring into Amsterdam, parties take place on every square, in the streets, on rooftops and on boats cruising through the city’s canals. Talking about a boat parade. Unmissable.

The boats cruising through the canals are where it’s happening. Lots of boats (this is Holland after all, a former nation of sailors with a strong merchant marine). All packed with people partying and dancing to whatever music is on board. As the ships progress through the canals, pass under the many bridge sections and reach Prinsengracht canal, traffic jams quickly become bigger and bigger because of the sheer number of barges, boats and other floating somethings. People jump from one boat to another. It’s a “little” chaotic to say the least.

But a lot of fun.

After a couple of hours spent on our barge and as the sun slowly descends on that Monday afternoon, I ask the captain to drop me off on the bank of the canal. I navigate through the crowds, find a taxi and while I sit in the car on my way back to the airport, I realize that my mind is still processing all the impressions I collected over the past 48 hours.

What a great experience.

Hail to the King.

Pictures shot over the course of two days in and around the center of Amsterdam.

I took along the Canon 5d Mark III with a simple “nifty fifty”, the Canon 50mm 1.4.

This post is also available in French and German

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