Today is Queen’s Day in the Netherlands.  It started way back when as a celebration of the Queen’s birthday and even though the present Queen, Beatrix, was born in January, Koninginnedag is now fixed on the birthday of her mother, Juliana.  Presumably, if you want to have a massive national celebration outdoors, then it makes more sense to do it when the weather is tolerable.

So what do the Dutch do on Queen’s day?  Too much to tell in a short blog, so I’ll give you our own experience of the last 24 hours…

At dinner last night we started our celebration with Oranje tompoucen for dessert.  Imagine a rectangular sandwich-like pastry whose “bread” is a crunchy crust topped with a thin layer of orange glaze frosting, and whose “filling” is two inches of a thick whipped-cream substance.  Very lekker.

If we had wanted to we could have followed up our tompoucen by watching an enormously popular national TV quiz show, “Ik Hou van Holland” (I Love Holland), where two zany teams of celebrities try to outdo each other in their eclectic knowledge of Dutch (pop-)culture.  But we passed on the quiz show.

At about 9:30 p.m. our street started to get busy with people streaming to the town square, about 200 meters south of us.  At 10:00 p.m. we looked out from our front window at the fireworks display.  It would have done the neighborhood proud on New Year’s Eve, but seeing as this was supposed to be a big event for the whole town….well, it was a bit meager.  Times are hard everywhere.

We went to bed and were kept awake half the night by groups of young revelers leaving the pubs at the town square.  This morning early, as I walked the dog in the drippy mist, some of these groups were still wandering around, looking like cold and bedraggled neanderthals heading into the McDonald’s for breakfast.

The main event for Queen’s Day are the numerous “vrijmarkten” (free markets).  Imagine the Mother of all Garage Sales.  Then push it to the limits of your imagination, and go further.  Everyone – at least half the population – who has any old junk to sell brings it out and spreads it out on the sidewalk, hawking it to the other half of the population who have decided that this year they are going to buy and not sell.  In amongst all the buying and selling one can find innumerable children playing their instruments, performing acts, organizing games, selling home made baked goods, etc. etc.

We made two forays into the fray today, one in the morning, one in the afternoon when the sun had finally come out.  Honestly, it makes me dizzy. Something about walking slowly by stall after stall of stuff, trying to spot anything that might be worth taking home.  I’m awful at it; I never find anything.  But Renata comes home with armfuls of goods, proud at her amazing savings.  Today her focus was on her school class, and she got 4 brightly painted little wooden chairs and a number of games.

In between, at lunch time, we turned on the TV and watched the live reports of the Royal Family’s visit to a town in Zeeland.  And after our final outing was over I downed a cold beer, and  had a well-deserved nap on the couch.


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