I have been to toga parties, beach parties, raves in warehouses, parties in Hollywood, a party on the top of a skyscraper in New York City, Carnival in Rio de Janerio, a party in an underground club in Buenos Aires, a party in a shower, a party where I danced so hard that I lost 15 pounds and thought I needed to go to the hospital and I have been to Burning Man four times. With all of that, there is one party that stands apart from the others and funny enough, up until I went, I had never heard of it.
Queen’s Day in Amsterdam is the single greatest party I have ever attended. Technically the holiday is about celebrating the birthday of the former queen of the Netherlands. (The current Queen was born in the winter so they decided to celebrate the birthday of a Queen who was born in the summer. My kind of decision making.) In reality, the party is about packing as many people as possible into Amsterdam and feeding them an excess of beer, food and live music. Imagine if the world was about to end and the Dutch suddenly got an unlimited supply of orange fedoras and beer. That is Queen’s Day.
I was lucky in that my expectations before the event were devastatingly low. Without exception, none of the Europeans I talked to outside of the Netherlands knew about the party. Because of this, I expected to show up, see lots of photos of some queen, see a parade or two and then go to an Amsterdam coffee shop to give me something to actually write about.
I don’t think I have mentioned this before but I decided upon a lot of the contents of my bucket list a few years ago when I was out drinking with some co-workers. We were in an overpriced speakeasy in Seattle and we were drinking whiskey that was older than I was. That night I introduced the idea of my bucket list and the group reflected on all of their favorite places, events and activities that they had or hadn’t yet done. I hadn’t heard of them all but I wrote them down anyway.
Fast forward a couple years and I now have the list published online and the deadline for completing my list (05/25/2017) tattooed on my butt cheek. I am now in the fortunate situation where I have no choice but to dive head-first into the listed adventures. It is funny how the casual conversation of that night ended up making such an important impact on the course of my life.
Queen’s Day is broken up into two days. The first part is Queen’s Night. It is actually a whole day of drinking capped with a party filled night. The next day, the rest of the country joins in on the celebration and floods the streets of Amsterdam to repeat the process.
My first day there, (the day of Queen’s Night), I walked around unsure of what to expect. The crowds seemed relatively docile but the police presence was incredibly high. I wasn’t sure if I was in for a protest or a rave.
I spent the day walking around the city, meeting new people and working at various cafes. As the sun started to set, the crowds started to form. Thousands of people, all wearing orange (the royal color) were around the city and starting to condense around various outdoor DJs. I was feeling the energy in the air and watching as drunk Dutch people started to get more and more excited.
I was feeling unsure but very excited myself.
It was about this time that I stumbled upon the happiest person I have ever seen. I was driven to a side street by the sound of an extremely entrancing bass line. It was the type of bass that you can feel in your chest from several blocks away and is impossible to ignore. I grabbed a beer (it was happy hour) and ventured off to the source of the noise. The music was great and loud but no one was there… except for the DJ. I am guessing this was Armin van Buuren’s little brother or something because the music was really good but it was clear from the DJ’s excitement that this was his first show. A small crowd formed not to dance but instead to watch the little DJ explode with happiness.
The experience of seeing the little-DJ, was just the ignition I needed to get me into the right mindset.
I spent the next several hours bouncing from outdoor club to outdoor club. There were no lines and no cover, only drinks and dancing. It was near perfect.
I met a ton of people and and learned the best way possible that my American accent was attractive to the locals. (hell yeah!) Throughout the night, I made my rounds exploring the city.
Learning to Dance
Growing up I never understood why people liked dancing. While other people described it as freeing and and an outlet, I described it as embarrassing and cruel. I vividly remember High School dances where the girls pulled the guys onto the dance floor. Time and time again, I liked the attention of being pulled onto the floor but hated the trap I had just been caught it.
One memory in particular has proved especially sticky in my head. It was Senior Year of High School and and a girl I liked pulled me onto the dance floor. It was clear that she wanted to do something more than dance but I had absolutely no idea of what to do. I decided to suck it up and try my best. Five minutes into my dance/exorcism she said, “you move your hips a lot when you dance”. Even typing it years later I shutter with embarrassment. I have no idea why it hit me so hard. That’s what I get for putting myself out there, I immaturely thought. She might as well have sat on my face. (Actually in hindsight, that is a poor example :-p)
In college it was a similar situation but I discovered that that a casual bathtub full of vodka could make the dance trap less terrible. Well really it was the mixture of vodka and sorority girls.
It wasn’t until I first went to Burning Man that I discovered the alternative. Totally sober and in a group of strangers at some ungodly hour in the middle of a rave in the desert, I learned to like dancing. I finally learned to let go.
Queen’s day brought out the same feeling. Surrounded in a group of strangers, everyone stopped caring and just partied. The music was a mixture of electronica and live performers. They had hard core sax players and live singers. The group was fun and friendly.
The Key To The Party – The People
Meeting random Dutch partygoers in Amsterdam was a lot like meeting certain groups of Christians back in the States. They were inconceivably nice! My head kept going back to the thought that they couldn’t possibly be this friendly, they must be trying to get something. Instead, they kept offering me drinks and inviting me to come to their parties. I said yes to both offers. Unlike the people trying to convert me back home, the Dutch really seemed to be just that nice.
Late that night, joined by three beautiful british girls that I had met earlier, I tried to enter one of the few clubs that required advanced purchase. I waited until I got to the front of the line and told the bouncer that I didn’t have a ticket but I was bringing three fantastic ladies who did have tickets. She looked skeptical so I slipped her some cash. In doing so, she instantly lit up, laughed and then took the bribe. She then did something I have never seen before in this situation. She reached behind the desk and gave me change! Who does that?!? The Dutch, that is who.
Throughout the night, I was approached by various women from various countries. Romania, The Netherlands, England, Spain, Bolivia. What. Up.
At one point, I was talking to one of my new British friends and noticed a completely adorable Dutch girl spike up when she heard my American accent. She gave me a quick glance and quickly pretended she had been looking at someone behind me.
I knew that look. Game on.
I started talking to her friend to see what kind of reaction I could get from the first girl. The first girl and I eventually broke away from the crowd and started chatting. It turned out she was a local and preceded to tell me her past and the history of her country. As she proceeded to brag about her country and reveal a little of her cocky mentality, I felt for the first time what is meant by the expression ‘weak in the knees’. Her rendition of Dutch global dominance was unbelievably adorable and likely true.
Several hours later, the hotel receptionist couldn’t hold back a smile as my situation unveiled itself while I tried to explain in a mixture of English, Spanish, Drunk and Dutch that my room key was no longer working and needed to be reactivated.
The next morning I woke up late and prepared myself for the holiday that I had actually came for. After all, I had a bucket list item to do :-) It was Queen’s Day and I was ridiculously excited.
Land and Sea
The single coolest part of Queen’s Day is the collection of people. Throughout parts of the town, they hang scaffolding stages over the streets so that the party can take place below without the necessity for a traditional stage. This creates situations where the party literally happens in the streets rather than in corners or clubs. Amsterdam as you likely know, is built around a series of canals. On this day, these turn into a party of their own. The canals are so full with party boats that it would not be too terribly difficult to walk across the canals from to boat to boat.
Even with all of the near-chaos, the party seemed to stay safe. I didn’t see any fights break out or overly drunken people remind the world what they had had for breakfast.
Instead, I just saw a lot of really great people dancing, flirting, swapping stories and having a ridiculously good time.
(I don’t know what that sign says but I have my guesses ;-p)
While walking around that second day, I actually had someone stop me to tell me that I had a ridiculously big smile on my face. I replied with an even goofier smile which they immediately reciprocated. They followed this up by offering me a beer and inviting me to meet their friends. It was a perfect snapshot of a perfect party.
I am posting this from the lobby of an extremely funky hotel somewhere in Switzerland. I give the staff four more minutes before they try to forcefully stop me from stealing their wifi. Time is ticking :-)