If you’re trying to think of somewhere to take a recently-bereaved dad for a spirit-lifting long weekend away, Amsterdam is surely a great choice.
Beautiful architecture, art galleries, atmospheric canals, bars and more history than you can shake a tulip at. Well, it’s all true. My dad loved Amsterdam when we went on a father-and-daughter trip to get away from it all and share our memories of my late mum. There’s just one thing I did wrong (or not, depending on how you look at it). I didn’t check a ‘What’s on in Amsterdam’ list before choosing a date to go, and managed to book our visit to coincide with Queen’s Day. Oops!
Queen’s Day – The world’s largest street party
Yes, I managed to choose the weekend of Queen’s Day – and Amsterdam’s biggest street party. We got our first inkling when we left our hotel for a morning stroll, and saw people setting up boom boxes all around the canalsides. Tables offering ‘high tea’ were being arranged (and I’m not talking cucumber sandwiches and fairy cakes here). The streets were already filling up with excited people wearing lots of orange. As the day wore on, the crowds grew, until it became almost impossible to move. Eventually we sought refuge back in our hotel for lunch.
Dinner – but not as we know it
For dinner that night, as a treat for Dad, I had booked us on a canal cruise which served a 4-course meal on board while a historian talked us through what we could see in the various neighbourhoods around us. The cruise departed from a wharf near the Centraal Station. On any normal day this would have been a 20 minute walk from our hotel. But this was Queen’s Day, and the main thoroughfares were jam packed!
There was nothing for it but to attempt another route, which took us right through the notorious red light district and all its infamous window displays. By now the party was in full swing, with blaring music, stoned or drunk (or both) individuals having the time of their lives, and the canals full of boats of all shapes and sizes. We had never seen anything quite like it! I’ve since joked to friends that I managed to confront my 76 year-old dad with sex, drugs and rock n roll all in one day. Needless to say I felt dreadful about it and fretted all the way to the wharf. Dad, who worked in factories as a toolmaker all his adult life and was certainly no wallflower, took it all in remarkably good humour. “Ah well, that’s just life isn’t it” he grinned, as we finally made our way down to the cruise boat – in the nick of time.
The morning after
Next day was, as you can imagine, deadly quiet! The big clean-up started at lunchtime, and by the day after, the city had largely returned to sedate normality. We resumed our planned itinerary, making a poignant visit to Anne Frank’s house – highly recommended – and taking a day trip to the bulbfields at Keukenhof. Otherwise, we just strolled around enjoying the city and its riverside bars. We regaled family and friends with our story of Queen’s Day for a long time afterwards! It was certainly a trip to remember.
Since our visit, Queen’s Day has become King’s Day, following the abdication of Queen Beatrice in 2013. The authorities have clamped down on some aspects of the event in order to manage it better, such as controlling the number of boats on the canals.
But the party goes on, in April every year. So make sure you keep it in mind when planning your trip. And don’t (or do!) take your elderly parent!
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