Saturday, 28 April 2018

King's Day mayhem

Friday was King's Day. For those non-Dutch folks, that's the day the whole country celebrates the King's birthday, wears orange, and gets drunk (or stoned) in a giant public party. Yes, when there was a Queen, it was Queen's Day, and instead of being held on the King's April 27th birthday, it was held on her birthday, April 30th.

In Amsterdam, the centre core of the city shuts to traffic, and since that includes the central station area, there's no trams or busses or taxis on the streets. Only a loon would ride a bike or scooter in the mobs of humans. Anyone with a boat drives around the canals (even if they have no idea how to drive a boat). Any boat that has room fills to overflowing with standing people dressed in orange. Any boat that can, carries a generator and a DJ and blasts music (even though there's a law that says you're not supposed to be able to hear music 10 m from the boat).

If drinking large quantities of beer isn't your thing, there are people selling balloons full of laughing gas for €2. There are street vendors selling cannabis lolly pops or ice cream...
But is is chocolate or vanilla?
...or weed cakes or Smart Shops selling magic mushrooms, and I'm pretty sure the police turn a blind eye to almost everything (because we saw most everything).

In addition, everyone and their brother becomes a street vendor or busker. Kids set up tables selling their old toys or sodas. People open their doors and sell access to their toilets for €1 a visit (and more people should do this; more later). Ladies lay out blankets and sell their old shoes or clothes. Little kids sit on a stool and play recorder (badly) with a hat in front of them.

Every restaurant or bar blares music and hangs up orange banners, in addition to having a little table selling food and beer. Coffeeshops (the ones that sell cannabis) have reggae bands. And everyone is wearing orange.

For you Calgarians, imagine Stampede on steroids where the entire downtown core of the city is closed to everything except people and there are no rules -- and the parade take place on every street continuously for 9 hours. From New Orleans? Mardis Gras, only fifty times as big with only one colour visible. In terms of street parties, this is world class.

For us, it started gently at 11 AM with the first of the overcrowded boats puttering by blaring music.
One or two on board
We had the grand plan to sit in the window and watch the parade, taking pictures of every boat. In an hour we took 200 pictures and it was obvious ours was not a "busy" canal.
This one had a smoke machine
Occasionally, boats would pull up to the empty canal wall across from us and disgorge their passengers for a while. Turns out, they were off to pee somewhere (a lot of beer will do that to you). At 1 PM, the peeing was often "discrete"; later, not so much.
Two boats "docked" 
This dude is peeing against the boat's wood box. 12:30 PM
Some canals become "one way streets"; our didn't. 
Much orange
In the world of wearing orange, we saw:

  • orange hats
  • orange shirts
  • orange scarves
  • orange suits
  • orange ties
  • orange tuxedos
  • orange skirts
  • orange dresses
  • orange bathing suits (note: it was not warm)
  • orange pants
  • orange bathrobes
  • orange socks
  • orange glasses
  • orange jackets
  • orange wigs
  • orange cones
Silly orange hats

Orange rabbit ears, orange lion manes
A boat wrapped up in orange tarps

Turns out that if you strap a motor to it, even a dock becomes a boat.
Be careful near the edge
Some boats appeared... overloaded.
Standing room only
While the canal traffic on our canal was good, we were missing the street party. So we went out for two walks through the day, one through the Jordaan/Western Canals and Dam, and one through the Red Light District and the Old Town plus Southern Canals.
Our canal, just up from our house

Many streets were like this
We found out that our canal was indeed relatively quiet. Traffic controls are put on the canals, and the traffic enters on the Prinsengrascht, then fans out. Here's where they come in.
A solid line
The "best" places to see the canal traffic were at a few bottlenecks in the system. The bottlenecks had throngs of people all jockeying for a good vantage point.
Folks line the canal walls
At least one boat turns off
Some boats included live bands.
Acoustic guitar, electric bass & drums
When there are no trams or bikes or cars or busses, the roads fill.
Spui fills
There's no room for cars anyway
A car tries to get through, disturbing a group who was sitting, stoned, in the middle of the road
The throngs 
More throngs
But in the end, it's all about the canals, the boat traffic, and the antics of the boat passengers.
A bottleneck. Boats lined up, trying to get under a bridge
Those orange sparkles are a confetti cannon they just shot off
A boat story in pictures:
4:35 PM: A rental boat comes in to dock
4:37 PM: The reason for docking becomes clear
4:38 PM: He's joined by another
4:42 PM: The local constabulary suggest his behaviour is inappropriate
4:43 PM: Despite the constabulary's advice, when you gotta go... 
By late afternoon, we saw people peeing randomly. Guys peeing into the canal while boats sailed by waving (he waved back). Two ladies hopped off a boat, step down three steps, and dropped them. There were more bathrooms than usual, but there needs to be more. Many, many more. And don't be naive: we saw a number of urinals with drains directly into the storm sewers or canals.
Another bottleneck
We saw folks jump off bridges and onto boats. We saw folks jump out of one boat onto another.
This guy jammed his boat between two posts trying to turn a tight corner
The traffic jam he created
Two boats making a mess going the wrong way up the street
A drunk guy offering the captain driving instructions
Magically, around 7:30 PM, the boat traffic subsided and other than a TON of garbage in the canals (plastic bags, balloons, beer cans, wine bottles, etc), things started to return to normal. I understand that the rules say that all the outdoor concerts have to shut by 8 PM. This morning, all was quiet; I suspect 2/3rds of the country is hung over.

Because, fascinatingly, this is a party for and by the Dutch. There are tourists here; lots of them (it's Amsterdam). But 99% of the people yesterday were speaking Dutch. This is a party for the country, that we happened to crash.

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