Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Royal Birthday in Cheese Town

We heard the hype about Queen’s Day when we moved to Holland.  There were always tales of orange-wearing revelers jumping on boats, dancing and drinking enough Heineken to boost company stock until at least August.

The celebrations began in Alkmaar this year on April 29th, the day before the marked celebration of the birthday of Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands.  The city center was packed with local folks selling and trading their old, unwanted household goods in a festive atmosphere of food  and live music swirling in the wind.

Photo by Camille
We were returning  that afternoon by train after spending Easter school vacation in France.   Our little old BMW was parked in a nice residential spot on the edge of the city center not far from the train station – easily retrievable when returning so we could load suitcases and drive home.  Or so we thought…
My ten year-old daughter and I jogged from the station to get our car while the rest of the family sat on suitcases and waited.  She and I started to see crowds of people as we neared the parking spot, and I was becoming sure that our car had been towed away.  All we could see were people shuffling through the biggest outdoor garage sale that I had ever seen.  Somewhere I could faintly hear Bob Dylan's voice taunting us when the wind blew our direction.
Camille and I laughed when we arrived at a blocked street and racks of used clothes for sale on our car.   The people selling the clothes found our predicament funny and suggested we take a taxi from the station, and then retrieve our car later.  I offered them a commission if they sold our old car and we returned to the station by foot.
Photo by Camille
The celebrations in the city on the next day were very lively.  People wearing orange wigs and shirts were in boats motoring down the canals by mid-morning.  We decided to join them by renting a boat at the shop near our house.
We were warned to watch out for plastic in the water, and to stay away from the crowds and craziness of the canals that lead through the heart of the city center.  We were then on our way to the city center just to have a look.

by Camille

Our boat propeller caught some plastic at less than 100 meters into our boat trip.  We pulled over to the side of the canal and were able to get back going after removing the plastic and flooding the engine with too much fuel while trying to restart.  We caught more plastic as we neared the very center and our boat kept cutting off at low speeds and bumping into other boats anchored there to party.  I really felt like a foreigner in this rented boat, not speaking much Dutch and running into other boats like this.  We did find our rhythm after a bit and enjoyed cruising around.
It was late afternoon by the time we were back on foot and touring around town. People were packed tightly near stages for live music and DJs, while many streets were hard to pass because of the crowds.  Not many children were playing around, as perhaps they were the day before or earlier in the day.  I would occasionally sound a “drunk monster” warning for my wife or kids to move out of the way of some nearly seven feet tall, staggering Dutchmen - the tallest people in the world.   These were probably gentle folks during normal times, but one Frankenstein with beer foam coming out of his ears nearly crushed my wife’s ankle as he staggered past with a distant look on his face.  She was OK after a minute, and I think he had no clue what happened or even where he was.

All together, it was a good time. But we will be sure to catch the day-before activities next year, and see how much of our old stuff that we can sell.  I will also keep my old combat boots ready for the family to wear when getting into crowds of drunken giants.  And perhaps we will try a canoe to better navigate the hidden obstacles in the canal.
by Camille

This post was first published on 12 May 2011.


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