May 122010

My God. Queen’s Day. Where do I even begin? This has been without question the second biggest street party of my life – second only to Brazilian Carnaval – and bigger even than Tokushima Awa Odori, my favorite Japanese Matsuri.

Sadly I didn’t take a single page of blog notes, and since I don’t have a travel companion with me to help recall the nitty gritty details…well…I’ll just have to give it my best.

So here goes.

Almost anywhere you find yourself in the world, Summer means parties; from the world-renowned Brazilian Carnaval to the almost unheard of Ukrainian Kazantip. But nowhere does the Summer vibe seem to come alive more than in Europe, where from May to September you can find at least one massive party in nearly every corner of every country you can think of. The only challenge is getting to them all, as flights and hotels book up fast – and quintuple their prices.

It was only a week or so before my departure to Europe that I discovered “Queen’s Day” in a book about worldwide parties not to be missed. Since its date fell just a few days after I was scheduled to finish work in Munich, it seemed like the perfect way to kick off my 3-month-long adventure. Simply put, Queen’s Day is the reason I ended up in Holland – and Rotterdam, as described in the previous posts.

So starting on the morning of the 29th, I woke up and jumped on the first train from Rotterdam to Amsterdam, enjoying an amazing view of endless tulip fields passing by outside the window.

I’ve driven, trained, and biked through quite a few flower fields in my day – and I must say that this really was an incredible sight to be seen. Every color of the rainbow, interspersed in perfect rows, making it look like the flat landscape was literally painted neon.

I made it to Amsterdam’s Centraal Station in good time, typed the address of the hostel into my GPS, and started off on foot. When I began researching lodging for this trip I was sad to find that all of the “famous” Amsterdam hostels – those known for the most social environments and central locations – had been sold out since months earlier, so I ended up grabbing a bed in the first place with an availability, the “International Budget Hostel.” Not exactly a name that evokes images of chandeliers and free continental breakfasts, but I hoped it would do the trick.

I was very pleased with the outcome.

To start off, the location was spectacular – a 2 minute stroll from one of the main walking promenades in town, 5 minutes from one of the main plazas, and 10 minutes from a large branch of my favorite Netherlands supermarket (Albert Heijn). My room was on the top floor with vaulted ceilings and a view looking right out over the canals. The atmosphere was social as can be, and it didn’t even take an hour before I’d started forming a pretty big group of partygoers to join forces for the upcoming Queen’s Night – the citywide preparty which some say is even bigger than Queen’s Day itself.

This group consisted mainly of three sets of travelers: First and foremost, my roommates, three bartenders from Liverpool who were “out for a bender,” as they so eloquently put it. These guys were absolutely crazy. Although it’s no secret that I like to go out and knock back a few beers when I party, I don’t touch any kind of drugs at all – a fact that most people found pretty hard to believe because, let’s face it, I was in Amsterdam, a city where pretty much anything goes. And while I did remain completely drug-free for the duration of my visit, these three could only be described as the complete and utter opposite. Their breakfasts consisted of an entire box of magic mushrooms each, and by the end of our four-day stay the guy in the bed next to me had gone through 19 pre-rolled joints; that’s in addition to the thrice-daily coffee shop visits, liquid ex, and whatever they were snorting off the wooden bedside chair. Yet somehow they never seemed to act any different, and were generally quite fun (and amusing) to be around.

When I first checked into the hostel the woman at the reception said “You’ll be in a room with three guys from the UK…uh oh, watch out!” Now I know what she meant.

(Side note: for the entire duration of the festival none of them showered even once. Nor did they change clothes. I think one of them may’ve showered on the 4th and final day, but I’m not really sure. Even the guy who spent the second evening shagging in his bed didn’t shower. Good thing that room had a window!)

In addition to the 3 bartenders, there were two Indian med students from Chicago, a Vietnamese girl from Toronto and the guy she was traveling with, a nurse from Vancouver and her 6″4′ friend who we called “Smallville” (because he looked like Clark Kent from Smallville), plus countless peripherals who joined up every now and then.

The Brits and I began our Queen’s Night evening just as the sun started to…actually, wait…no, the sun hadn’t started to set. Have I mentioned yet that it stays light easily until 10pm this time of year? Quite a strange feeling when the shops close at 6, people start heading home at 8, yet the sky still looks like it’s noon for another hour.

So as the sun *didn’t* start to set, we all headed out to the market for a beer run – to stock up our room with supplies for the following two days. 8-packs of local beer for 6 euros…not a bad deal! Wait a minute…that’s two 8-packs for 6 euros. WAIT a minute, that’s THREE 8-packs for 6 euros! Are we really reading this right??

We were. I bought 24 beers for myself. I was worried it would be too many. It wasn’t.

Back at the hostel lounge, we all started donning our orange gear while pre-drinking and socializing with the new arrivals. Just outside the window the canals were beginning to fill up with boats populated by orange-clad locals and earth-shattering soundsystems. I can’t recall exactly why, but for some reason the tradition for Queen’s Day is that everyone wear orange. I knew this in advance, and came prepared with an orange shirt, orange facepaint, orange hairspray, and orange nailpolish. British Dude #1 had an enormous orange afro wig. British Dude #2 had orange overalls that made him look like an escaped convict – or Super Mario. Many of the girls had dyed their hair orange.

That night we pretty much spent bouncing about the city without a particular destination in mind. Amsterdam has a relatively small center with a few main plazas all connected by trams, walking streets, and canals. For Queen’s Night/Day, the trams all stopped and the roads filled up completely with bright-orange pedestrians – parading about, blowing whistles, shouting, laughing, and generally increasing the energetic feel of the city – so simply roaming about was loads of fun.

And these were just the roads – the real parties took place in the plazas, which each contained stages with free concerts and performances for the public. The canals, usually populated by just a tour boat or two, filled completely up with massive party-barges as people made waves by dancing just above that oh-so-clean water.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I can’t really recall most of the specifics of the evening – especially considering that I’m now writing this nearly two weeks after the fact (in Budapest, 2 stops beyond Amsterdam). I do know that everyone got separated at some point or another, each making his or her way back separately – but not until the whole group had somehow gained access to a 3rd-story balcony with a fabulous view overlooking one of the town squares (somewhere I’m certain we shouldn’t have been).

I woke up with a pretty funny video on my camera where we spent a minute or so struggling to cram 20 people into an elevator designed to hold 10, stood there chatting and laughing about the ludicrousness of our situation for another minute, and then the door opened in the same place as we’d entered. Nobody had remembered to press the button 😛

I myself spent the majority of the evening bar-hopping with two orange-haired Canadian girls, but ran into one of the Brits and the Vietnamese-Canadian just a few blocks from our hostel as I was on my way home. The Brit immediately stumbled off and disappeared, making his way back to the room four hours later – to the light of the following morning. He still has no idea how.

Apparently another one of the Brits ended up in a local house party, and the third ended up getting into a nightclub for free.

You know, the problem with trying to blog about a party is that it’s really difficult to describe what it feels like to be in an environment of total, um, I guess the best word to describe it would be “electricity.” Or maybe “chaos.” But chaos can mean anything from dangerous riots to natural disasters to droves of smiling youths screaming at the top of their lungs because they’re having the time of their lives. Even as I read my own post I don’t feel like the party sounds like all that much fun – but trust me, it was. It’s just one of those things you truly have to experience to understand.

Or maybe I should’ve been writing blog notes throughout, to really help capture my feelings at the moment, rather than assuming I could reproduce them two cities later. Ah well, lesson learned 😛

Anyway, on to the following morning – the actual Queen’s Day. After our long night out, we didn’t get started until later than planned – so by the time we made it out the door the city was already absolutely crazy.

If the streets had been energetic the previous evening, today they were exploding; If the canals were busy on Queen’s Night, today they were overflowing. Some canals had so many boat parties that you could literally hop right across by jumping from boat to boat if you really wanted to (and were sober enough to keep your balance).

Although the day had started off drizzly, it wasn’t long before the skies had cleared up to a beautiful blue, which always adds a more positive energy to things. And whereas only some of the stages had been playing live music the night before, today they had the volume cranked up to eleven, many with well-known International DJ’s…

…culminating, of course, with a free live performance by DJ Tiesto. See here.

Anyone who knows about electronic music will know that Tiesto is one of the biggest names on the planet. I would expect to pay no less than $100 to attend one of his concerts – if I could get a ticket at all – and here he was, performing for free. I was giddy with excitement.

Too bad I only caught about 15 minutes of the hour-long performance.

Due to their drug-induced paranoia, the Brits decided that the dense crowds were a bit too much to handle and opted to leave the concert not too long after arriving. Looking back on it I really wish I’d just stayed on my own – it was stupid not to – but at the time I was thinking that if I separated from the group that early in the day I’d have no chance of relocating them later. So I headed off too.

I regret it. But at least I can claim to’ve seen Tiesto live in Amsterdam – even if it was only for 15 minutes.

The day continued similarly to the evening before, hopping from performance to performance, dropping by the room or supermarket or coffee shop for a bit of a recharge from time to time. I did spend a portion of the day exploring the city just with the two Indians, but they were so high that they could barely walk so we ended up separating and continuing the party on our own. The day concluded at the same houseparty as Brit #1 had discovered the evening prior.

Or I suppose I shouldn’t quite call it a houseparty – the venue was actually a huge frat house with a full bar and huge dance floor. Some of the locals I met there were flabbergasted that a random backpacker could’ve found his way to such a gathering – after all, when’s the last time you were at a frat party and encountered one? – but they were all nothing but friendly.

I really like the vibe of the Dutch.

We returned to our room somewhere around 1:30am – way earlier than usual (for me), but when we decided to drop by so the Brits could recharge on drugs, everyone just sort of got lazy and hit the sack.

Not quite Brazilian Carnaval, but a damn good party if I do say so myself 🙂

  9 Responses to “Queen’s Day”

  1. Sounds like an awesome experience. Definitely on my list now!

  2. Jeez. What’s a parent to do…

  3. I’ll have to go there next year!
    So I take it you didn’t meet up with my friend?

  4. Nope – he didn’t make it there because of the volcano…

  5. LMAO! I don’t see it, but that SOOO made me bust up laughing!

  6. Hi Justin,

    Nice shots from Queens day! Seems that you had a great time:) I wonder if it´s ok with you if I used the “spandex picture” on Face book in our Mountain bike group “Tajta brallans vänner” (Swedish for “The friends of Tight pants”) as an illustration for many people in orange dresses. Orange is our Mountain Bike Team color, you see.

    Best regards
    Per Engström / Norrköping, Sweden

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