World Blog Surf Day Goes Orange

world-map-logo-final-150px-ORThe theme of this third annual World Blog Surf Day is Holidays and Celebrations, in which expats from around the world write on the same theme, exploring some of the new holidays and traditions they (we) have been exposed to in our new countries. At first I was a bit lost on what to write about, since the Netherlands isn’t exactly drastically different from the US. Sure, I could write about Sinterklaas on December 5, but I felt like I would have to address the whole issue of Zwarte Piet, but I’ve yet to be able to put my thoughts on it into words without contradicting myself somewhere along the line. Fortunately, Giovanni came to the rescue with the quite obvious and fantastic suggestion of writing about Koninginnedag, otherwise known as Queen’s Day.

Geen Vrijmarkt
Koninginnedag is held April 30 each year and has become a national holiday. The origins of the day, however, go back to August 31, 1885. It started as a celebration of the birthday of Princess Wilhelmina, and was known as Prinsessedag until her coronation in 1890. When Queen Wilhelmina’s daughter, Queen Juliana, took the thrown, the date of the celebration changed to her birthday, April 30. When our current queen, Queen Beatrix, took the throne, she decided to keep Koninginnedag celebrations on April 30, both as a tribute to her mother and as a sensible move since the weather is much better than on her own birthday of January 31.

Besides the sea of orange that overtakes the country — the Dutch royal family comes from the House of Orange — the most traditional form of celebration is the vrijmarkt, essentially citywide flea markets. Whole sections of towns are taken over by stalls of all sorts, ranging from full set-ups to blankets on the ground, as people sell their various odds and ends. Most are normal household items, although a few people take the opportunity to sell various arts and crafts. There are also food stalls of all sorts set up amid all of the household bits and pieces. Here in the Utrecht city center, the whole northern section of the city was given over to the vrijmarkt.
Browser's Paradise

More Orange
The whole day is one of festivities and fun, with many people taking their boats out to sail along the canals with friends, often greeting and meeting up with other boaters along the way. Some of the boats themselves take on new forms as adventurous people strap together multiple boats and pile on sofas and stereos to make the most of the outing!

This was my first Koninginnedag, as we moved here last year just after the celebration. We had heard all about it — including the Koninginnenacht celebrations at the bars the night before — and were looking forward to taking part in the festivities. A friend of mine from the US happened to be in town, as well, so things were looking to be quite exciting. In fact, it was all quite exciting, but not always in such a good way. Koninginnedag 2009 was sadly marred by an attempted attack on the royal family as they were heading to the palace in Apeldorn. After a morning spent meeting people and taking part in various fun and games, as is the family’s tradition, they were headed by bus to the Het Loo palace when suddenly a car came out of nowhere, running over people in the crowd, before crashing into a nearby monument. The royal family was unharmed, but sadly eight people lost their life. My friend and I happened to be watching the tv coverage of the royal family’s outing that morning before heading out — it has been broadcast since the 1950s — and so we saw the attack in real time and were left confused and then horrified by it.

Many of the public festivities were cancelled, obviously, although the vrijmarkt continued, as did many private celebrations. In fact, many people didn’t know about the tragedy until much later in the day. My friend and I did visit the vrijmarkt that afternoon and enjoyed the experience; I even bought a few odds and ends, including a Queen Wilhelmina mints tin. Still, the tragedy of the morning lingered in my mind. Hardly an auspicious introduction to what should be a joyful day of fun and friends.

When I decided to write about Queen’s Day, I couldn’t decide if I should mention the dark side of this year’s event. Yet, considering it’s been my only Queen’s Day, I suppose it’s almost impossible for me to write about this new holiday without mentioning it. Ultimately, I still had a wonderful time, meeting up with lots of friends the night before, making fond memories that help to counteract the not-so-fond memories. There was also a lot of happiness and friendliness as we wandered the vrijmarkt that afternoon. Fortunately, I also have many more Queen’s Days to come. Who knows, within a few years I might be selling some of our odds and ends on a blanket some April 30! But not my peppermints tin. I’m keeping that one.
Royal Mints

Don’t forget to visit Lily over at Fat Bride Slim for the next installment of the Expat World Blog Surf Day!

The event is also being covered on Twitter by Karen of Empty Nest Expat. Karen is an American expat blogger last seen in Prague. The Wall Street Journal said, “Her blog makes a fun read for anyone looking for reassurance that change can be a wonderful thing–and also for anyone interested in visiting the Czech Republic.”


Foto Vrijdag 1.2

I’ve been a bit slack on sorting through all my Kasteel De Haar photos, but I figured I’d post a couple here in honor of tomorrow being Halloween. The fantastic clouds and light we experienced Sunday, along with the castle setting, made some of the photos look like they were scenes from old horror films.

One of the strangest and oddly creepy sights we saw that day, though, was this little Pinocchio-type doll sitting in a cobwebby window. The golf ball, however, saves it from being nightmare-inducing.

Time Trials

We had the fall time change last night, so now my body thinks it’s a quarter after six, but the clock says a quarter after five. Add in the long walk through the gardens and grounds of Kasteel De Haar (a real, honest to goodness castle!), and the result is that I’m both tired and hungry (and glad that G is making dinner tonight).

More to come tomorrow (hopefully) about the castle and a ton of photos to come, as well, but for now, enjoy my first panorama shot. The trees were all so lovely with their different colors, I had to try to get some decent shots to stitch together. I found a program to do it for me that is ridiculously easy and now I wish I’d taken more shots to use in panoramas! (I’d recommend clicking through to Flickr and checking out the large view to get the proper effect.)

Let Loose The Kraken

There I was thinking I didn’t really have much to blog about these days when suddenly there arose such a clatter that I sprang from my chair to see what was the matter. (Or, you could say that I eventually got up off the sofa to see where the music and yelling was coming from and if the students were having a party nearby.) It turns out that there was a protest march passing near our street. I’m not sure where they started from, but I suspect it was at the end of Lucasbolwerk, since there were a number of cars in the procession and Lucasbolwerk isn’t really a through-street. I saw banners and lots of dogs of the mutt persuasion and lots of young people with dreadlocks. They were, in fact, krakers (squatters).

It seems the Twede Kamer (the Dutch Parliament/Congress/political body) recently passed a ban on squatting. This obviously hasn’t gone over well with the squatters, so they’ve staged various protests, including today’s here in Utrecht. The banner in the photo above basically says: Squatting, not a problem but a solution. There are obviously mixed opinions on the matter and pros and cons to it, as well.

The bit of the march that I saw was peaceful and calm. Hopefully it stays that way.

Foto Vrijdag 1.1

A picturesque canal and quiet street toward the northwest part of the city center. It is evocatively called Zwartewater (Blackwater), although the area is nowhere near as ominous as the name. It’s one of those charming little streets/canals that make you stop and admire the view. The inclusion of the bicycle in the little rest area put the Dutchness of the scene into overload, you could say.

And here’s a closeup of the black (and green and gold) water. I loved the ripples and reflections.

Rock the Vote

Go vote for Pamela and Jarno (couple #5) here, so they can have their dream wedding. Such a sweet story and once they mentioned hanging out in Union Square — I spent a lot of time in and around Union Square while living there — I was hooked. Well, I would have voted for them anyway, since Pam is a fellow blogging expat. 😉

Camera Querry

For the person who ended up here on my site after looking for camera shop utrecht, I can’t help too much with the bigger fancier stores, but there’s a lovely little one on Lange Jufferstraat, near Café de Stad. It’s got some lovely old cameras on display in the window, along with various odds and ends. They also develop film and sell frames and such. Probably not what you’re looking for, and you probably won’t be back here to see this, but maybe someone else will be curious about this kind of thing in the future.

Those of you looking for the Utrecht red light district are on your own, though.

How ‘Bout Dem Apples

What do you do when life gives you apples?

Make apple pie (the quick and easy way)!

The apple tart I made earlier in the week was so tasty, I figured I’d do it again, but without the sugar-burnt edges. This time, I also remembered to sample the apple before it was tossed with sugar and spice and baked and it really was quite delicious! Merian was telling us that the tree only produced fruit one year in the seven years they lived here. We didn’t get any apples last year, but this year we’ve got quite the harvest. I’m hoping we don’t have to wait another seven years for another good season! Anyone have any tips on how to care for a potted apple tree to ensure a bountiful harvest next year?

Photo Friday

Sometimes, you end up with a photo that really catches your fancy, sometimes for reasons you can’t quite put into words. This photo is one of those. It’s best seen large (if you have a big enough screen). There’s something about it — the depth via the lamp in the foreground; the Hoogt sign, which blends with the brick; the string of bulbs beneath the sign; the hint of the street off to the right; the splashes of blue from the street sign and the reflection in the window — I was just really happy with this photo.

It was taken at ‘t Hoogt, a small theater/restaurant in town that shows classic films and smaller independent current films. Art house kind of stuff. I went over on Tuesday to get a photo of the place to use for a post for Trippist about the John Cassavetes retrospective they’ll be holding soon, and got this shot for myself.

I used to follow a website that gave suggested topics for photos for the day/week and I’d post the photo I took on Friday on an old blog I used to have. Maybe I’ll start doing this again, posting some of my favorite photos taken here in Utrecht. Not necessarily the more obvious tourism shots; just stuff that catches my fancy.


They Ryan Prebble show on Wednesday was fantastic. Truly impressive and I’m so glad I got to see him perform live. He’s crazy talented and really throws himself into the performance, even in a small venue like U Rock Café. He did two songs from his album Fruits, but the rest were new (at least to me). All were great. At one point, he was going to do another song off of Fruits, but then changed his mind. When I spoke to him afterward, he said that he figured the song was a bit too mellow and that the crowd would probably prefer he keep it more energetic. Understandable. He kept the blues/roots theme going for the whole show and hopefully won over a few new fans.

It turns out he actually performed here in Utrecht a few weeks ago at the Uitfeest! He was part of the big concert going on over at the Vredenburg. I looked at the Uitfeest program a lot and saw that concert listing, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t listed at the time. Damn! Sadly, he’s back to New Zealand soon, so no more opportunities to see him any time soon. I’m just glad I found out he was here in time to see the show this week. I also found out that he was touring in Europe last year as a member of The Black Seeds, filling in for Mike Fab. Another series of concerts I was sad to miss, but I think they weren’t playing the most convenient of dates and places for us to make it last year. Oh well.

Ryan has also been a part of some of the Fly My Pretties programs and I think he’s back for the latest installment in December (in New Zealand). I got a kick out of seeing the FMP sticker on his guitar case. (If you’re still reading, you’re either a fan of kiwi music or completely bewildered at this point. Sorry. Most of this post is really just a bit of fan-girl giddiness. 😉 )

Cheers for the awesome show, Ryan!