Must-See: Amsterdam’s Koninginnedag

This Must-See post has been written and shot by Bulgarian Tripper Atanas, avid traveler and photographer.

Koninginnedag, a.k.a Queen’s Day and 3 days in Oranje*

So here I am, after just a week of planning, several phone and Skype calls with friends from Amsterdam, enjoying the beautiful view from the airplane’s window. First thing that grabs my eyes after the deep-blue skies and snow-white clouds are the Alps. Still all covered with snow in the beginning of May, they look just like clouds on the ground. After the Alps, comes the vast region of mountains, green meadows and huge forests, also known as Germany. Just after that I am sure I am close: I see a huge flat land, covered with color plains shaped so perfectly and they are so vivid it looks like a painting – white, red, yellow, green, pink, violet etc. And in-between – canals. That’s The Netherlands.

I arrive at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, The Netherlands’ main airport early in the morning of Thursday – the day before the party starts, good that my friends are here to pick me up. I see tourist flocking all over the buss-station of the airport and actually – everywhere. I catch a train instead of buss to reach the final destination – Amsterdam. In just over 20 minutes I am seeing what I have heard so much about – the countless network of canals and beautiful mediaeval houses everywhere, some dating from 1500’s and still standing there (although quite crooked and twisted). Along the canals there are countless boats. It is really the Venice of the North!

The last stop of the train – Amsterdam Centraal – the main train station of the capital is located just in the heart of it all. It is a beautiful old building, which reminds me more of a castle, than a train station. First impression – I see why they make Koninginnedag at the end of April, and precisely 30th of April or 29th if  30th is Sunday – the weather is just beautiful, sun is shining and although I come from a southern country, here it is almost 25 degrees and everyone is happy.

We walk just a couple of minutes and here we are – the place I am staying is an old house, dating back to 1560 and it is the building next to one of Amsterdam’s main cathedrals – The Sint Nicolaaskerk (Church of St. Nicholas). Ok, I just need to leave my luggage and I can’t wait for a Heineken. WOW, those streets are really crowded. It seems Amsterdam is ready for tomorrow.

Day 1 of 3  from Koninginnedag: Friday morning. You should definitely try Dutch coffee. Well not as strong and short as Italian, but that was one of the best coffees I’ve tasted. Good for a gourmet like me. Dutch people drink a lot of coffee, so you will taste it many times, even if you had enough, it is so tasty, you can always have one extra. Heading towards what I am willing to experience most – the canals boat trip. With a tour-guide in 4 different languages I hear the most important things about Amsterdam’s history as we pass by the places mentioned in the lecture from a duck-view. Love it under those bridges.

The boat trip was amazing. Now let’s eat somethin’.  I’m in love with Amsterdam’s restaurants. All located on the first floor in those old houses, which are so narrow, most of the restaurants in the historic center are so small and cozy that you hear what’s happening in the kitchen. You can also find some that are cooking your meal in front of you, between you and the other customers.

In the evening – time for beer again. And in the center there are hundreds of bars. The most crowded area seems to be the Singel, Reguliersdwarsstraat, Herengracht, Keizergracht, Kerkstraat and Prinsenrgracht all crossing the Leidsestraat. It is really hard to walk among hundreds of people along those narrow streets. We somehow managed to.

Day 2 – the culmination. It is Saturday, so naturally everyone is here. Even the Queen is in Apeldoorn to say Hi to her people. Too bad there was an accident, luckily no one got hurt from the royal family or the crowd. People are shocked, but the party isn’t. The whole city and all the streets are covered with plastic beer mugs. It reminds me of a music festival, or the way Turks drink their tea and leave the glasses everywhere. There is something awesome about just walking around in a completely new environment and drinking all day with thousands of people, doing the same. Anyway, the Queen was not in Amsterdam, so we saw only her portraits in local bars.

We even have time to see some architecture. Dutch people are famous with it. They have that distinctive architecture that you would never forget. Especially Amsterdam’s old warehouses with the shutters. Used in the Golden Dutch ages when Dutch were one of the world’s dominant cultures, Amsterdam was only canals and no streets. A huge port city for its time, it used to trade goods from and to the rest of the world and supply whole Europe with flour, sugar etc . So they needed warehouses with shutters, to keep the goods from the sun. Ah, they have lots of those.

Day 3 – the final chapter. Sunday. As most of the native people and tourist are gone, we are a bit more into sightseeing. Now it is easier to get from point A to point B without having to be jostled by the crowd of hungry for beer and music people. There are still tens of boats in the canals with their music, but not as in Saturday, when the canals were like the Shibuya intersection in Tokyo. First stop – the Amsterdam Historical Museum. All about the city – just behind a narrow gate on Sint Luciensteeg. Awesome place, especially the model of a red-light cabin. All the women are flocking to get in and take a picture behind the window display. So we are already here, let’s see the Begijnhof – a collection of small buildings used by Beguines. It is really beautiful.

The good thing about accommodation in the heart of the city – all the landmarks are closer and all the transport connections are here. So we still have time to see the biggest Dutch museum and the proud of the Dutch flower industry. Next stop – the Rijksmuseum and Keukenhof. Rijksmuseum was closed for overhaul but let’s smell some spring flowers then. After a bus trip to Leiden, we continue to Lisse, where the huge garden is. Words are totally insufficient, photos are at least something, but this thing has to be seen for real. After all that’s why it is the world’s biggest garden for spring flowers.

I haven’t seen so many tulips and hyacinths for my whole life. The colors and shapes are countless. There are thematic gardens, just like the ones in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. This park is opened only in March, April and May. During the rest of the year it is being completely remodeled. For several years now Keukenhof has chosen to feature a different theme each season. This year’s theme was featured in honor of Henry Hudson and it was called New Amsterdam – New York, 400 years later.

After all day under the sun, watching colors, cultures and people posing for photos it is time to go back, although we loved sitting on the grass and having a fresh Hollandse Nieuwe which is The Netherlands’ typical fast food – marinated or smoked herring in bread, sometimes served with onions and/or pickled cucumbers. Delicious and healthy at the same time, strange but it is.

My last night in Amsterdam. I’d definitely come back again A.S.A.P. Ever since I visited this country, I went to so many places, but The Netherlands and especially Amsterdam during the end of April/beginning of May has this typical Dutch atmosphere I can’t explain or capture on a frame, you can only feel it. So if it is April already, then you should be picking your stuff and book your ticket to the city of canals, boats, diamonds and flowers.

P.S. And wear some orange clothes. :)

* Oranje is Orange in Dutch.  The Netherlands’ national color.

This is a guest post by Tripper Atanas Dubarov, from Bulgaria. Obviously enough, Atanas loves to travel and capture emotions and places through the lens of his camera. If you’re planning a trip to Burgas, Bulgaria, make sure to contact Atanas for some local tips.