Amsterdam – My First Kings Day

I’ve visited Amsterdam a few times over the years but Kings day was still a first for me and, with two of my friends having recently emigrated over there it seemed like the perfect time for us to get together and celebrate.

I arrived on Thursday 26th April, the night before, officially known as Kings Night. The city is alive with celebration from the second you set foot there over that weekend and to be honest, I don’t recall seeing a single sober Dutch person for pretty much the duration of my visit.

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Despite the party-filled atmosphere, I still wanted to fit a little bit of culture into my trip so first stop was the Rijks Museum. This is essentially THE museum of Amsterdam, home to thousands of incredible artefacts and artworks including everything from a hand-worked collection of silver dollhouse furniture to Vermeer’s ‘The Milkmaid’. Which, I discovered, you can buy in Playmobil in the gift shop. Incredible.

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They also have a shirt which was worn by a Dutch woman who was sent to a concentration camp when the Nazis invaded Holland, which sends genuine chills down my spine when I think about what she went through when wearing that article of clothing.  How she had the personal strength to keep that for long enough to donate it to a museum I will never know.

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The Vermeer (one of three) was, despite all of the hype, incredible to see in person. The very nature of his work and his use of materials makes seeing his paintings in the flesh that much truer, that much more vivid than anything a reproduction could ever manage.

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The Playmobil fixation was a continued theme but if that’s what it takes to drag this generation of kids away from their iPads then who am I to question it!

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Having strolled across the canals from the Rijks in unseasonably good weather I visited the famous Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam’s inimitable floating flower market. This is an endlessly fascinating place, if only because my gardening knowledge is so limited that I have no comprehension as to what anybody would use half of their retail stock for!

Being in Amsterdam as a tourist, it seemed only right to visit at least one coffee shop. These are generally packed with Americans and feel like the worst kind of tourist hotspot but the air of relaxation prevails eventually and my selected establishment came with its very own disapproving cat, so a very enjoyable experience overall and a lovely way to spend a relaxing afternoon following a morning of culture.

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With only an hour or so before the party started (for me at least) for Kings night, it felt like high time I finally joined in and got a drink inside of me. I’d been recommended a bar which was underneath a carpark so feeling dubious, I found my way there. Turns out it was fantastic, with a friendly and casual atmosphere and beautiful views across one of Amsterdam’s multiple canals.

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After that one civilised drink, I met my friends for a wild Kings night of partying and I’m afraid to say, things descended into a far less civilised place. The city centre is filled with pop up stages, live music, comedy and general merriment so we were not once short for entertainment. And, I may be a sucker for little twinkly white lights but, the city looked just beautiful. Even more so than normal.

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The whole city was alive with jubilant celebration and floating from stage to stage in a foggy, beer-fuelled haze was one of the best nights of my life.

Waking up slightly fuzzy headed was more than a fair price to pay and having eventually made it back to the centre of town (fuelled by some very cheese-covered carbs), I found the place scattered with orange-clad locals sipping on what was definitely not their first drink of the day. This was at 10am. Perfect start to any great day by my reckoning!

My Kings Day was to be spent down the rails in Haarlem but even watching the build up was fascinating. The canal edges were lined with people passing crates of beer and picnics onto waiting boats, crowds of revellers were crammed into yet more boats and everyone was buoyed by the sense of occasion.

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One of my favourite things about Kings Day is a very odd-seeming tradition which seems to go alongside it. Up and down the canals, literally lining the streets, locals lay out their possessions in what I can only describe as a city-wide car boot sale. Grannies selling bagels and biscuits, one teenager very reluctantly selling off a well-loved SNES and everybody in between selling everything from china plates and fire grates and to prams and old shoes.

I caught the train across to Haarlem to meet my friends and spent an entirely happy afternoon and evening quietly making our way through more beers than was ever going to be necessary. There’a nothing quite like drinking during the day time though, especially safe in the knowledge that all of your colleagues are back at home in the office and working hard!

Bonus points for my trip to Haarlem awarded for this loveable idiot, who is the best dog I have ever known. I challenge you not to love that face!!

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Waking up the next day even more fuzzy-headed, decided that a slow morning was in order. I only had one thing on my agenda before departing for the airport and that was the Anne Frank Haus. Despite having visited the city so many times previously, I’ve never actually managed to make it here so had made my mind up that it was happening this time!

You all know the story of Anne Frank (and if you don’t then seriously, read a bloody book once in a while) so I won’t elaborate on that. The museum is overwhelming, impressive and immaculately preserved. This building is a static timepiece, frozen in time to preserve not just the memories of one family but a nation of people oppressed and silenced.

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The thing which struck me most about visiting this place was the presence of not only integrity, but sheer determination. The fight, the struggle and the lengths that the Frank family (and countless others) went to in order to preserve that most simple of gifts, life, is outstanding. We talk endlessly about people’s rights and needs but what you see here is a group of people who not only deserved those rights but who wanted them, desperately enough to fight to the death to preserve what they felt they were due.

Nothing I can say can ever adequately describe the events which occurred and, this may seem a little blasé to some of my readers but coming out of the Anne Frank Haus, overwhelmed by what I’d just witnessed, I came across this crudely graffitied sign.

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I’m not suggesting that anyone simply “get over” the atrocities committed or the events which took place. Simply that we should embrace life in the way that the Frank family did. Fight to the end for what we deserve and allow others to do the same.

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