Amsterdam has a reputation for being a party city. In response to telling them I was moving here, some people (mostly those who don’t know me well) would offer an assuming glance, as if to say, “I know what you’re going there for.” And you can tell by the gaze and stammer of the tourists. They come here with the expectation of playing with alcohol, (hopefully soft) drugs, and sex workers. And from the looks of them, most of them seem to find what they’re looking for.
But for the most part, everyday life isn’t this way – at least not the everyday life I live and observe. Folks ride their bikes to work, take the bus to the grocery store, walk to the park. The public library is always so packed that I have to check multiple floors before I can find an available computer. And you’ll find people having a beer or glass of wine before you’ll find them taking shots or frequenting coffee shops (the weed-selling type). Not to say Dutch people don’t party. They definitely party. They’ll party hard until 6 in the morning – and it can be fun. But not everyday. Unlike the tourist approach, the party ends at some point. There’s far more balance in the lifestyle than the reputation would have people believe.
Well, except for last week, of course. Everyone went crazy last week.
April 30th was Koningennedag, or queen’s day, celebrating the queen’s birthday. I know what you’re thinking – “wait, isn’t one of the (many) things that you have in common with the queen the fact that you’re both born on January 31st?” And yes, you’re correct. Queen Beatrix was indeed born on the 31st of January. But her mother, Queen Juliana, was queen first. And her birthday was April 30th. So Beatrix, like the kind-spirited aquarius she is, decided to keep the official queen’s day on her mother’s birthday to allow for better weather and plenty of outdoor celebrating. So every year beginning the night of April 29th, all of Holland turns into an orange garage sale/dance party (the national color is orange stemming from the Orange-Nassau royal family).
Orange flags and balloons were hung from restaurant doors and windows. Other places hung signs that read “Gesloten Koninginnedag” (closed queen’s day). It felt exciting before it even started.
So in order to fit in with the rest of the country (locals and tourists alike), I joined the festivities. Beginning on Friday night, I rode my bike to my friend’s house in South Amsterdam, which is about 30 minutes from me – at my pace. She, her boyfriend, and I headed to an outdoor party in Rembrandtplein, which was maybe 20 minutes toward the center. Normally, nighttime streets are pretty quiet, with no traffic and a few bike-riders. The party is only obvious when you arrive. But on the 29th, the bicycle traffic was insane. As we got closer, the crowds multiplied and were more intoxicated. Everyone was happy – most people wore orange. One woman fell off her bike in the middle of a busy intersection, hopped up to drop the bike on herself again, and laughed the entire time. Other people swerved through the lanes, shouting and singing enthusiastically.
Now at this point, although I have become 100x more comfortable on my bike since my earlier day debacles, I would like to remind you of my humble beginnings. As the drunk people multiplied, I was facing more traffic and more chaos than I ever had before. So although I was laughing and smiling on the outside, I was freaking out. I could get away with a few screams disguised as happy shouts. But I was happy to finally park the bike and walk the rest of the way to the party.
We ended up on the street of the club hosting the party. A stage was set up for djs and performers. It was packed with a great crowd and the music wasn’t bad. We stayed for awhile then walked a bit to another party. And as I considered meeting another friend at the Rich Medina party that was happening another 20 minute bike ride away, I assessed I was already pooped by 1am, before most people were barely getting started. I felt a combined sense of being lame and relieved as I rode out of the madness.
But then I rode right back in the following afternoon to meet some classmate friends. Every street was lined with vendors selling things, including some people just selling – and eventually giving away – junk from their homes. Everyone freely smoked and drank their substances of choice. Yummy, fried food was everywhere. And most importantly, I think, there was a different party, with a different vibe no matter where you turned. The entire city was a party. Even the canals were filled with party boats (my plan for next year, by the way) blasting disco music. So we walked from one party to the next, our ultimate destination a party in a parking garage (although, due to its misleading name, I thought it was going to be a park). And I shared in the free-flowing substances each time they came my way. It was delightful.
Well, until I was exhausted (which didn’t take relatively long). We took a break for a bit by some water, went to a couple more parties, had some pizza and wine, and I was done. Hopes of sticking with my initial plan to party into the night were not so regrettably squashed. Once again, I proudly hopped on my bike and rode away from the orange madness. I was asleep, like a rock (passed out?), by 11.
Happy belated birthday to the queen…she sure can party!