Koninginnedag!!! (Queen’s Day)

Grab a boat, a beer, and something orange and you are ready for the national Dutch holiday that is a cross between the debauchery of Mardi Gras and country pride associated with the Fourth of July.  Koninginnedag celebrates the Queen’s Birthday in The Netherlands.  The current Queen Beatrix’s birthday is actually in January, but she chose to keep the holiday on her mother’s birthday, April 30th, which makes for pleasant outdoor celebrations.

Plastic animals for sale

Can you land the ring on the bottle?

The day starts very early in the morning as it is the one day of the year anyone has rights to vrijmarkt(free market) to make a few extra euros–commonly know in the states as a garage/rummage/yard sale.  Early birds may happen upon some worthwhile finds, but the majority of the stuff appears to be junk that sat in a box gathering dust since last year’s Koninginnedag.  You can also sell perishable items such as baked goods or bottled water; however, alcohol is off-limits unless you have a license.  Other than selling items, the Dutch creatively craft games in an effort to consume the euro coins you have reserved in your pocket to pay for the use of restrooms as you trek all over the city while consuming beer.

Judd, Geo, & Keely

If you are a lucky soul who owns a boat, you will have friends appear from the woodworks.  The canals are filled with orange clad revelers floating along in boats and barges.  So why orange when the county’s colors are red, white, and blue?  Orange is the color of the Dutch Royal Family. The lineage of the current dynasty — the House of Oranje-Nassau — dates back to Willem van Oranje (William of Orange).  If you are a futbol fan (soccer) and plan to watch the World Cup this year, you will see the Dutch in orange and black for their home jersey and red/white/blue for their away jersey.

Canal boats in Jordaan

Rach & Keely in Jordaan

My friend Keely and her friend Judd came to visit from the states.  We spent Koninginnedag roaming all over Amsterdam to soak up the celebration and give our guests the “highlights of Amsterdam” tour.  Oud Zuid to Vondelpark to Museumplein. Skirt the edge of Leidseplein to the Jordaan, wander the Canal Belt and Nine Streets towards Dam Square, a quick walk through the Red Light District and arrive at Nieuwmarkt.

Click this foto for a video of the ride

With the sun setting later and later, it is now 9p without realizing it…and still a 3.5k walk to get home!  Needless to say, we were not early risers on Saturday morning.  I had a fantastic Queen’s Day, but I think my heart still belongs to the neutral ground on St. Charles Avenue and Carnival season.  CLICK HERE for a few more fotos from Queen’s Day in Amsterdam.

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Black to Green?

I take after my mother in several ways (yes mom, really!).   She loves to spend her day piddling in her garden which produces beautiful flowers, fruits, and veggies.  Sadly, I didn’t inherit her green thumb.  Mine is the blackest of black.  I’ve made attempts in every city I have lived, but the plants always seem to die.  In my defense, I have not had a “real” backyard since I left my parent’s house—I also know this is no excuse.  So with the snow gone and spring in the air, I will try again.    G and I picked up this rode peper (red pepper) plant the other day and gave it a new home on the kitchen window.  Shouldn’t every southern girl have a pepper plant? It looks good now and even has a few peppers ready for us to eat.  We’ll see what happens over the next few months…stay tuned!

Bruges, Belgium…30 days later

Better late than never, right?  I didn’t intend to post this a month after our visit to Bruges but I did manage to narrow down the 200+ photos to 53 during that time for the online album.  Digital photography is both a blessing and a curse for me.

Bruges

Our trip to Bruges was a tad on-the-fly.  We had just returned from NYC on Tuesday with a bit of jetlag and the weather appeared to be rainy for the upcoming weekend in both Belgium and The Netherlands…typical for late March.  We tossed the idea around all week, but didn’t book a hotel until mid-morning Saturday.  Within an hour we were packed, showered and on the road.  Those of you who really know me, know that kind of timing is pretty much a miracle.  The drive to Bruges was sunny and we were optimistic; however, rain showers mocked us a few hours after our arrival.  Who cares…this is the land of bier, frites, bier, mussels, and more bier. Chocolate too, but it was Lent and I was abstaining.

G at Brewery

Our first stop was the Brouwerij de Halve Maan which produces Bruges Zot and Straffe Hendrick.  This goes down as the day I officially fell in love with Tripel Ales and couldn’t wait to try more. Our tour guide was extremely entertaining and quite animated, not to mention really passionate about the brewery where his grandfather used to brew.  The tour included a climb to the roof and our first aerial views of Bruges.  I recommend the brewery as a must visit if you are in Bruges. There is also a café on site if you need a place to leave your travel companions who are non-bier/non-brewery lovers—but if that is the case, what are they doing in Belgium???

Minnewater Park

Minnewater Park

We managed to squeeze in a chilly, but quiet stroll through the Begijnhof and Minnewater Park before the rain.  This Begijnhof dates back to the 13th century and is home to the Benedictine nuns.  At one time, approximately 1500 begijnhovens existed in Belgium; however, only 22 remain today.  Appropriately situated near the Begijnhof is the Minnewater Park (Water of Love) with a peaceful lake and swans gliding along the canals.  My photo happy fingers were put on hold as the rain came down and umbrellas went up.

No trip to Belgium would be complete without a meal of mussels, frites, and bier.  Poules Moules proved to be a great little spot for our Belgian fix.  Mussels in bier for G and mussels in white wine for me.  Each coupled with a huge cone of frites and a trappist bier (Orval & Westmalle), we soon had very full tummies and no room for dessert—but plenty of room to try more bier!  Heading out of the main center and away from the tourist crowds, we trekked to Café Vlissinghe, Bruges’ oldest pub since 1515.  The interior is well preserved and littered with memorabilia which supports the claim to oldest pub.  Amongst the local crowd, I savored my Tripel Karmeliet in the tulip shaped glass with a band of fleur de lis.  But the antique chairs were soon uncomfortable and we decided it was time for a new scene.

G's coaster creation

If you aren’t looking for ‘t Poatersgat (the Monk’s Hole), you could easily walk by without realizing the extent of bier that awaits underground…and sadly, choking clouds of cigarette smoke too.  From the sidewalk, only a small wooden sign and cellar doors suggest descending into an unknown area.  The curious are rewarded!  With 100+ Belgian biers and a large selection of Trappists, the candle lit cross-vaulted cellar combines old world beauty with subtle modern accents.  Hop plants playfully decorate the ceiling and the bartender’s iPod is shuffling through a Beatles playlist.   G enjoys a Bruges Zot while stacking coasters and I have finally found one of my favorites that I first discovered in NYC…Troubadour Obscura!  Mmmm.  Another must visit if you are in Bruges, just don’t plan to recycle your jeans the next day as the smoke lingers on your threads.

View from Belfort

The rain gods were kind on Sunday and showered down while we climbed 366 narrow and winding steps to the top of the Belfort.  The hike was worth it, however the promised panoramic views were a bit limited due to the belfry receiving a facelift.  (nb: Never travel with me.  A “must see” is always under construction and riddled with scaffolding to make for poorly composed photos.  And the rain clouds follow me as well.)  The center of Bruges is a great place to wander on foot and see what surprise is around the next corner.  We spent the afternoon enjoying a lazy walk, soaking of the sites, eating warm waffles, and of course, drinking more bier.  Click here for a slideshow to enjoy more sites in Bruges. Proost my friends!

Our Souvenirs!