Saturday, May 11, 2013

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It's Off to Amsterdam We Go!

Rather than take another two-week-long vacation this year, Mark and I split our vacation time into two single-week vacations. While this meant that we couldn't realistically do another crazy trip like New Zealand this year, it did mean that our last trip and our next trip were a LOT closer together. This one snuck up on me! At any rate, we were going to spend a week in the Netherlands and Belgium in hopes of seeing the tulips in Holland and eating our way through Belgium, since everyone I know who has been there says it's delicious. I managed to cram the rest of my stuff in a suitcase and we were off to the airport!

While we waited to board I got to drool over the A380. It is HUGE. This is the flight to Paris I was hoping to take in the summer, but between my furlough and some house repairs it may be a little out of my price range for now.

The flight over wasn't too bad, especially because it was direct! They fed us dinner, I watched a little TV, then slept for a few hours since it was an overnight flight. I woke up in time for breakfast, and before we knew it we were getting ready to land.

Good morning, Schiphol Airport!

We cleared customs, picked up our bags, and grabbed our rental car. We had done our research ahead of time and rather than try to park in the city, we went to a Park + Ride instead. Amsterdam is smart; since the city is so full of bikes and trams and mopeds and small cobblestone streets, they encourage people to park their cars outside the city center and give them cheap parking and a free metro/tram pass in return. It's really easy to use, and the trip into the city was painless.

Maybe this is where I should mention when we got to Amsterdam. We got to Amsterdam on Queen's Day. Most years it's a day-long festival to celebrate the Queen of the Netherlands as she honors citizens for their service. The city turns into a big outdoor market/dance party, there are parties and concerts all over the place, and the canals are full of boats packed with drunk people wearing crazy orange outfits (orange because the heirs to the crown of the Netherlands are Prince/Princess of Orange). This year was a little different, though. This year, Queen Beatrix was abdicating her throne to her son, Willem-Alexander! Abdication has become a bit of a tradition with the Dutch, to give the next generation a chance to step up, and doesn't have the negative implications that an abdication in most circumstances might have.'s not often you get to actually see one! This also meant that as the last Queen's Day for the forseeable future (since next year it will become King's Day and the date will change), it was going to be an even BIGGER outdoor market/dance party than normal.

It seems Mark and I weren't the only ones who wanted to be in Dam Square by the Royal Palace while the actual abdication took place. The square was PACKED. We still had our luggage with us because there were so many streets blocked off for the ceremony that we couldn't get to the hotel, and there was no way I was going to miss this! The Royal Palace is actually around the corner, but they had a screen set up on the building in the middle of the picture so you could see the ceremony live as it happened inside.

If you look really close, you can see the actual papers they signed up on the screen in the middle of the picture. Everyone started cheering and waving flags around and singing things in Dutch right after this.

After all the papers were signed, Queen Beatrix became Princess Beatrix and her son became King Willem-Alexander. The whole royal family (including the new queen and their three little princesses) came out onto the balcony of the palace and waved at everyone. We hung out for a little while longer, then started to snake our way through the alleys and crowds and eventually made it to the hotel.

These are the steps leading up to the hotel lobby from street level. This picture doesn't even start to do justice to how steep and narrow they are, plus they curve around at the top. Sure was fun dragging several bags up that!

The view sideways down the street from our hotel room. We were only a couple blocks from Dam Square, and you could hear a band playing from the room. There were a lot of people lined up at the end of the street, and we found out later that they were waiting for all of the VIPs to attend a service in the cathedral. There were kings and queens and princes and so on and so forth from a lot of other countries; Prince Charles was even there from England.

After dropping our stuff off at the hotel and taking a couple minutes to just breathe, we were back on the streets to check out the festivities and find some lunch.

You could buy anything you could possibly think of on the streets; since it's the one day Dutch citizens are allowed to sell things on the street without needing a permit, the whole city becomes a giant flea market. I wound up buying a really cool leather bracelet that looks like a ruler from a lady selling jewelry on a canal bridge. I also saw people selling used vacuum cleaners and other random appliances, clothes, food, toys, shoes, beer, and pretty much anything else that wasn't nailed down in their house. There were even a few little kids playing the violin and drums, trying to earn some extra money.

I wish I had a better picture to capture just what it was like on the streets. Everyone was wearing something orange and there were people EVERYWHERE. Families were sitting out on their front stoops selling stuff, people were joking around in the streets, people were sitting on the sidewalks eating things, and DJs were blaring music on the street corners.

This guy was teaching people who walked by how to blow huge bubbles. The bubbles would float up over the crowd, then pop and drop blobs of bubble solution into the canal.

Did I mention that on Queen's Day you're allowed to drink in the streets? Because you are. It seemed like everyone was walking around with a Heineken in their hand. I figured if it's good enough for the locals, it's good enough for me.   :)

There were tons of boats cruising through the canals, jammed with so many orange-clad people that on most of the boats it was standing room only.

After a little while the jet lag started to catch up to us, especially since we had both worked the mid the night before our overnight flight, so we weaved our way through the crowds, made our way back to the hotel, and passed out for a few hours. The sleep made a big difference, so after a little while we decided to head back out to check out a bit more of the city.

Mark had read that there was going to be a huge boat parade and a concert a bit north of the city center. We couldn't get too close to the boats, but we could just make them out in the distance.

We found seats on the edge of a pier, and spent some time watching a little kids' sailing class while we listened to the orchestra playing across the water. Some of the kids were better than others, and we watched a couple of them smack themselves in the head with the boom as they accidentally jibed. Oops.

There were a lot of people lined up on the bridge, waiting for the boats and trying to sneak a peek at the concert.

And by a lot of people, I mean a LOT of people.

After a while, we could see the tops of a couple boats passing by on the other side of the concert. One of the police boats came into our little area, and a few minutes later it was followed by a few more boats...including the one carrying the royal family! You can just see it in the background; it's the long low white boat in the back on the right side.

The royal family's boat eventually pulled up to where the orchestra was playing, and they launched a bunch of orange streamers out of something. You can see the confetti on the left side of the picture; it all got tangled up in the antennas on one of the boats, which was pretty funny.

After a little while the boats started to move, and I figured they were just going to zip back out and go away, but instead the royal family's boat did a slow pass through the whole little harbor area! I had to zoom this in and mess with the colors a bit so you could actually see the people on the back, but I promise that is the King of the Netherlands and possibly his wife, Queen Maxima. They passed by and everyone was waving and cheering; it was really cool to see the royal family so accessible, instead of hiding behind barriers and staying away from us common people.

After the royal boat left we started to make our way back to the hotel. It was a pretty long walk and there were thousands of people, but it really wasn't too bad. We stopped at one point on a bridge overlooking a concert hall where all of the VIPs were getting off the boats to go inside for some fancy dinner party type thing, and as we stopped a bunch of fireworks went off and a formation of fighter jets did a low flyby overhead. We eventually made it back to our hotel and promptly passed out. Not a bad introduction to Amsterdam!

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