Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Queen's Day

I arrived in Rotterdam yesterday evening.  Today is Queen's day in the Netherlands, and an extra special occasion as the Queen has abdicated and her son, the new King, has been crowned.

This is the second Queen's day I have experienced.  Queen's day has a large number of traditions associated with it.  The population wears orange clothing to show their support of tradition, and it isn't unusual to find men in orange suits, women in orange clothing, and either with orange wigs or accessories.

It is a national holiday, and children traditionally set out their toys and bric a brac to sell.  a lot of the stuff to sell is children's clothes and toys - I would think it is possible to kit out your baby for the first four years at a bargain price on Queen's day.   In Delft there are streets full of children selling things, as well as market stalls with professional traders selling everything from records to boxer shorts - like one big mediaeval market.

There's lots of street food, lots of entertainers, and lots of sideshows...children posing as living Vermeers seemed popular in Delft.  We stopped off in a dark cafe, Het Konings Huys, to have a hot chocolate and a slice of Dudok apple pie.  It was rather nice, just the right amount of sweetness and a very generous portion.  As a result we weren't that interested in the other food on offer around the town, and there seemed to be a great deal of both traditional Dutch fare and a lot of spicy foods from the Far East.

The central square in Delft was filled with people sitting in the street cafes, and listening to a live band that was playing the national anthem among other things.  The ceremonies from Amsterdam were streamed live to a huge screen over the stage in Delft.

We spent four hours touring the stalls, but I bought very little - some tiny bare wooden clogs, and some Delft blue and white pottery.  we visited the Vermeer Centrum and had a personal tour by a very nice guide, who did the whole thing in English for me.  She explained the symbolism of Vermeer's paintings - the positioning of jugs and windows in his painted is extremely significant and would have completely passed me by without the explanation.  By two o'clock Delft was getting very crowded indeed, and as neither of us much like big crowds, we decided to come back to Rotterdam.

The feeling of the day is one of absolute unity, positive about their country and seeing the Queen and now King as the head of state, without the mystical class-ridden quality royalty seems to have in the UK.  I asked if there is any anti-royalty movement, but there doesn't seem to be a strong anti-royal movement... people are reconciled to the idea of a mutual benefit, and quite practical about it.  The Guardian interviewed people whose views seemed to be summed up as "if he does a good job, great, if he doesn't we'll think again."   And it has to be said that the Dutch don't treat their royal family as a race apart.  They are used to them cycling and doing ordinary stuff like real human beings.

It seems to me a shame that the only time I have experienced this sort of feeling in the UK was during the Olympics... an event I didn't really have any interest in, except for the interesting effect it had on my fellow countrypeople.  I'm especially sad that there isn't really anything in celebration of being English that equates with this positivity - the Scots, Welsh and Irish all have a distinct national identity and celebrate it in various ways, but the celebration of anything English seems to have become something shameful - as though to celebrate Englishness is to be racist, or celebrate trampling on the countries and rights of others, somehow.

The Dutch seem to manage to celebrate their country without any of the triumphalism - well, as far as I could see.  And it feels like a whole country comes together to have a party, to celebrate being themselves. 

We travelled back on the upper deck of a double decker train - the first I have ever been on.  It rocked rather alarmingly when it entered the stations, but gave you a great view of the countryside.

We had Patatjes in the station, which are like chips, with mayonnaise, and made our way home with sore feet.

The club underneath E's apartment is holding a party and the bass is booming through the building.  I'd always assumed tall buildings were rather quiet, but the sound is often louder up on the 27th floor than it is on the ground - the sound has nothing to stop it in between.  Not sure how loud it will get....

One of the amazing things about Queen's day is that there is mess and broken glass in the streets on the day... and the following day everything is spotless again - rubbish and broken glass cleaned away.  The Dutch know how to party - but also how to clean up.

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