Queen's Day 2011


One month ago today, I experienced my second Queen's Day in Amsterdam. The first one would be tough to overcome - I was amazed by the parties on every street, the floating nightclubs filling the canals, and mostly by the exceptionally positive vibe of it all. 500,000+ people come into the city for the day each year, all, it seems, happy to shake off the winter chill.

And so it was once again, at least to begin with. We toured the street markets - essentially a city-wide garage sale, where everyone rolls out a sheet and sells anything from cupcakes to designer clothes. Great start, sunny day, crackling with promise.

The slow walk towards the Jordaan neighbourhood was similarly enjoyable. We saw the early starters around 1pm floating past, once again with jaw-dropping sound systems and everyone decked out in orange.

The mood - mine anyway - quickly went south though. I saw my first (and hopefully last) boat-on-boat violence. It's not clear what started it, but one guy jumped from his boat onto another, obviously with bad intentions. As he began getting stomped by the partiers who were a little less than enthused about his arrival, one of his mates stood on the bow of his boat arguing with the others on the invaded boat. A pretty massive punch followed, and the recipient staggered back on hands and knees to the deck of his boat, bleeding from the mouth.

Nothing like an incident like this to cut the party vibe short. Vodka, orange juice, good friends and some street-boogying helped shake off the sting later, but it took a few hours. My orange-tinted bubble had burst, unfortunately, with seeing that nasty dust-up.

The entire day can be summed up in a photo essay.

You can see how there might be some potential for conflict on the waters.

This is a transit ad - a pretty cool inside joke for Amsterdammers. The word "bezet" means "reserved" or "set aside", and in the days leading up to Queen's Day, you'll see sections of sidewalk all around the city marked with tape and this same word. This is done by anyone who wants to sell their wares as mentioned above.
So here... this guy's palm is reserved for a Heineken.

A royal breakfast

The trick to walking around the streets isn't finding food or drink - there's plenty everywhere, and in every tasty variety. It's where to unload these items throughout the day.

Which brings us to this guy. This enterprising fellow works at this building under construction as a mason during the week. He decided to make a little (ok, a LOT) of cash on the side on Queen's Day. For 2 Euros a pop (or a poop), one enters the unassuming doorway to this place. You then line up - women patiently, with men able to go to a nearby wall - for the one port-a-potty on the premises.
Highly illegal, and more than a little unsafe, with open pits in the ground and hundreds of drunk people coming through the door all day. He also sold beer, for those waiting a while, for a tidy 300% mark-up. He willingly told me all this as I was fascinated by the smarts and cojones involved.

For reasons which I don't understand, he insisted on taking shirt off when I asked for a photo for my blog. And for other reasons which might explain his lawless rebel mentality, he also insisted he show me his tattoo. Which would NOT have served him well if the cops happened to wander by and break up his little operation.

What a small-town mason in the Netherlands has in common with N.W.A. I'm not quite sure.
Amsterdam continues to amaze.

P.S. - Dude, it's "tha". Represent, homeslice.

Some of the stuff for sale on a sidewalk. "Beer" is actually "bear", though at first glance it's a pretty advanced kids' book.

Huh. Alf made it across the Atlantic. Remarkable.

The day winds down with a mellow, peaceful de-boarding for many boats near Utrechtsestraat, with a bubble machine adding a nice touch.