Queen’s Day(s) Later

Janskerkhof
Although there was a great deal of celebrating this week for the last Queen’s Day, my silence hasn’t been the result of the world’s largest hangover. With a break in work for a few days, I decided to take a bit of an impromptu vacation, even it there was no travel. Since I write for a living, it was kind of nice to take a short break from blogging, as well.

Still, I couldn’t resist posting a few photos from Queen’s Day and mention a few of the interesting things I found out watching the investiture of the new king. The day itself went smoothly, with no major issues, although two anti-monarchy protesters were arrested — unjustly, as it turns out.
Vrijmarkt
The vrijmarkt (the massive yard sale) went on as usual, although it was definitely a little thinner in places than in past years. It turns out that Utrecht typically has one of the largest vrijmarkten in the country. We wandered through a good chunk of it, but didn’t end up buying anything this year.

Overall, it was definitely quieter this year. Either more people went to Amsterdam to be there for the royal events or more people stayed home to watch it all on TV. We were in and out, watching the abdication in the morning, then heading out to the vrijmarkt, and then heading home again to watch the actual investiture of the king. We seemed to catch a lot of spots in town in between performances, but still saw a few impromptu performances.
Music to Go
As for the investiture (it’s not technically a coronation, since the Dutch royals don’t actually wear the crown), it was interesting to watch. Maxima, the king’s wife, was stunning in her blue gown, but her attempts to keep from grinning like mad were fantastic to watch. Lots of people were commenting on it. By the time they finally took the boat tour in the evening, there was no stopping her smiles.

Interestingly, the investiture of the king is almost more of a political event, in that the king swears support to the country and the members of the government then also swear support of the king. (However, the royals are ceremonial and even Queen Beatrix lessened her involvement toward the end of her time as queen.) During the ceremony, each individual from the government stood and recited a pledge of support. What was interesting to see was that there was both a secular and religious response, depending on the preference of the politician.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a few links to other articles about the abdication/investiture, and also the Go Fug Yourself photo recap of both the dinner and the investiture. It’s worth checking out their site for some bits of interesting gossip about various attendees. They did quite a bit of research!

Go Fug Yourself: Abdication/Investiture

11 Things You Didn’t Know You Needed to Know About the Dutch Monarchy

NY Times: A King Takes the Throne, A Nation Celebrates

Dutch Squared

A Queen’s Day Pause

Bea Bedankt
Every year — for as we’ve been here, anyway — this historic building/store on the Oudegracht hangs a photo of Queen Beatrix every Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day). Somehow, I’ve always missed getting a photo of the picture until this year. It’s a good thing I got it this year, since it’s the last year Beatrix’s photo will be on display.

Today is the last full day she’ll be queen. Tomorrow morning, she officially abdicates and her eldest son, Prince Willem-Alexander will become king. From then on, I assume the building will hang a photo of King Willem for King’s Day. And yes, there will be a King’s Day in the future. The republican/anti-monarchy groups seem relatively small and low key — I only saw one anti-monarchy sign at the Vrede van Utrecht celebration the other week — but I think the group would grow if we no longer had Queen’s Day or King’s Day, a national holiday.

Queen’s Day is tomorrow, but it begins this evening (Koninginnenacht). The vrijmarkt opens in the afternoon and will be followed by a variety of bands playing at podiums throughout the city. The vrijmarkt — held in cities across the country — is essentially a massive yard sale. A large chunk of the northern part of town is designated for people to set out their wares/cast-offs for sale.

Usually on the actual Queen’s Day, the royal family goes to a different city/region each year and takes part in special festivities. As well as walking through the city/town and shaking hands and waving, they usually take part in various games and watch special performances put on by local groups. It’s kind of nice seeing them all getting involved and having fun, riding small ziplines and tossing toilets.

This year, however, the family will be in Amsterdam where the queen will officially abdicate at 10 a.m. at the Royal Palace. Willem-Alexander will go through the official swearing in and investiture at the Nieuwe Kerk at 2 p.m. The process is a little different than the British monarchy. You can read more about it in an interesting article here, which gives a bit more about the roles of the Dutch monarchy and info about the background of the family.

The events will be televised, of course, but if you don’t want to stay home and watch, you can engage in a bit of gezelligheid and join crowds at locations throughout Utrecht (and other cities) to watch on big screens that have been set up. Here in Utrecht, they will be at Neude, Janskerkhof, and the Stadhuisplein.

NOS will be broadcasting and including live streams, I think, for those outside the country who also want to watch. For the full schedule of the events, the royal website has a fairly detailed listing of who is in attendance and when various events will take place. For a listing of the numerous activities going on here in Utrecht, De Utrechtse Internet Courant has a good writeup.

There will, of course, be orange everywhere. I’m already wearing my new orange T-shirt. Hats, inflatable crowns, orange clothing of all sorts will be out in full force. Sometimes I think the sheer volume of orange on Queen’s Day could possibly even be seen from space as a faint orange hue.

Hopefully all goes smoothly tomorrow and everyone has a good time. It will be the first time since 1890 that the Netherland’s has had a king. Of course, Willem-Alexander and his wife Maxima have three daughters, so Queen’s Day is just taking a short break and will be back with the next generation.

Royals and Trajectum Lumen

Expat Shopping

Expat Shopping
I’ve been here long enough that day-to-day life feels pretty normal and I don’t notice most of the differences. Yet occasionally I’m reminded of my multi-culture lifestyle. Today was one of those days.

The weather was nice, after a day of rain yesterday, and I wanted to get out and enjoy it. We decided to head to the Vredenburg market to pick up ingredients for dinner tonight and stop off at a few other shops along the way. First up was Hema, which can be a bit like Target in that you go in for one thing and come out with a whole bag of other things. It didn’t help that they were having a “vrijmarkt” sale this weekend, with lots of items marked down. I went in for a T-shirt to wear on Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day) this week and came out with a new shower puff, a purple sweater, and the T-shirt (seen above with the crown print on it). I actually got out pretty light, all things considered!

After dodging the numerous people that hang out in one spot on Steenweg trying to get you to answer various surveys, we headed to the Centraal Toko, because that’s another shop I can’t resist going in when I’m there. It’s an Asian market with a nice selection of items that aren’t so easy to find in the normal grocery stores, including good ol’ Arm & Hammer Baking Soda, which I stocked up on, just because. We also picked up another bottle of Sriracha sauce, since we were getting low. I also picked up a can of Del Monte creamed corn, because that’s also a “foreign” food and I get a craving for it occasionally and can’t be bothered to make my own. You know you’re an expat when something like a can of creamed corn is a special treat.

However, the big find was a jar of molasses!!!! I had used the last of my jar of Grandma’s Molasses late last year and had been dreading going to the expat food store on Steenweg to buy more, because their prices are so expensive. They charge twice the amount the toko does for baking soda. A can of Libby’s canned pumpkin cost me more than €6 a number of years ago. I don’t use molasses often; in fact, I probably only use it to make my own bbq sauce, but the sauce just isn’t right without it.

When I see something pleasantly unexpected, I have a habit of somewhat loudly saying, “OH!!” I’m not snobby about what excites me. It can be a church in Mantova designed by Alberti or a bottle of black strap molasses on a bottom shelf of a store in Utrecht. G teases me about it regularly. But sometimes you just can’t contain your joy over a happy surprise!

After also purchasing some ras el-hanout spice blend, some ground cumin, and some spring roll/loempia wrappers, we headed next door to Blokker, another shop with a mix of odds and ends, mainly of the household variety. We went in to look at their food processors, since ours broke a while back, but before we made it that far, we were stopped by the collection of knick-knacks commemorating Queen Beatrix standing down and Prince Willem-Alexander taking the throne. It happens on 30 April, which is also Queen’s Day, a public holiday, so we figured we’d get a little something to commemorate the day. After all, how often do you get to experience a royal change of crowns. We were tempted by the kabouter/gnome, but decided to just go with the more useful placemats (seen in the photo) and we bought some matching coffee mugs, just for the fun of it. They were all 99 cents each, so hardly a big splurge. Still, a fun and useful way to remember the event.

By that point, we figured we’d better get out of there before we bought more silly stuff, so off we finally went to the outdoor market held every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. We picked up some shrimp for dinner tonight and I bought a big bag full of okra for dinner tomorrow or Monday. The toko carries okra, but the stall at the market has better stuff and for less, along with a number of other vegetables that are harder to find here. We were just about out of the market when we heard one of the vendors hawking his fresh strawberries. One more inexpensive impulse purchase and we were done, heading to the grocery store for a few odds and ends we couldn’t get at the market.

So that’s typical expat shopping. We embrace our new life here, buying items for the upcoming Dutch holiday, while also remembering favorite traditions and foods from home, be it America or Italy. With the sun shining and a good mood, it’s a fun way to shop and be reminded of how lucky we are to be able to broaden our horizons.

The Highest Mailbox in the Land

Postkantoor
No, I don’t mean the mailbox had too much wietsaus over the weekend …

Yesterday saw the opening of the highest mailbox in the Netherlands, located on the top of the Domtoren. Poor postal worker, having to climb all those stairs! That might make me want to go a bit postal, as well!

But seriously, from now until 5 May, anyone who takes a guided climb up the Domtoren will receive a special card that can be placed in this mailbox. However, the final recipients of the mail are limited to Queen Beatrix and soon-to-be King Willem-Alexander. People can have their personal messages delivered directly to the royal family.

Why? Well, don’t forget that Willem-Alexander will become king in just a few more days on 30 April. This allows well-wishers to send a nice message to the outgoing queen and the incoming king.

(Source)

A Treaty, A Queen, A Future King, and Some Lights

Vrede van Utrecht
Yesterday, 11 April 2013, marked the 300th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht (Vrede van Utrecht). That was the treaty that helped end the War of Spanish Succession. I’ll let you read the Wikipedia page if you want more of the actual history. The treaty was pretty much the only thing I knew about Utrecht before making plans to move here. As a result, I was kind of excited when I learned a few years ago that the anniversary was coming up and that the city was planning some festivities to commemorate the event.

For the past few years, the city has been installing various light art installations throughout town, known as Trajectum Lumen, referring to the old Roman name for the city. The final installation was revealed last night as part of the celebrations. The final lights were installed on the Domtoren and the big news was that Queen Beatrix, Prince Willem-Alexander (who will take over as king at the end of the month) and his wife Princess Maxima would all be here in Utrecht to celebrate the anniversary and officially “light” the Domtoren.

They arrived in town during the day and attended a special concert inside the cathedral. I didn’t joint the party until later in the evening. When we arrived at the Domplein, a crowd was gathering around the Academiegebouw, the Utrecht University’s historic building on the square. It seemed that the royal family would be appearing on the balcony for the lighting ceremony.

The crowd was friendly, relatively small — although it definitely grew as the evening went on — and I only saw one anti-monarchy protest sign. Even the police presence seemed relatively small, although there was definitely an officer standing near the protest sign holder.

Finally, there was a sign that the ceremony was starting. Drums began to beat and horns came from on top of the cathedral and from the Domtoren itself. Then a strange white figure began to approach.
Weird and Wonderful
Weird and Wonderful
Weird and Wonderful
Weird and Wonderful
She and her robot spotlight friends swirled around in front of the Academiegebouw, while the horns and drums continued. (To be honest, I haven’t had a chance to catch up and find out the meaning behind the performance, but it was still impressive, especially considering the stilts she was on, while moving across uneven brick.)

Then, a familiar hairdo appeared in the doorway of the balcony.
Royals and Trajectum Lumen
It was Queen Beatrix! I was a little disappointed that she wasn’t wearing one of her famous hats, but it was still interesting to see her and Maxima and Willem-Alexander. I’m not particularly pro-monarchy, especially when cuts are being made to people’s benefits, but if I don’t think about the silliness of having a monarchy in this day and age, I’m generally ambivalent. Having seen them on tv occasionally since moving here, particularly on Queen’s Day, it’s interesting to see them in person, in the same way it’s interesting to see anyone famous that you usually only see on screens or in print.
Royals and Trajectum Lumen
They were accompanied by Aleid Wolfsen, the mayor of Utrecht, who made a short speech, including a quick bit of unplanned gushing about the queen at the very end. The event is one of the last public events the queen will make before handing over the throne to Willem-Alexander on the 30th of April. It was the last official event she’ll do here in Utrecht as queen. As a bit of trivia, Willem-Alexander was actually born here in Utrecht.

And then it was time for the lighting of the Domtoren. All of the arches are now lit each evening from sundown to midnight, and on the hour, there’s a special light show that takes place. Hopefully, I’ll have more photos and video and information on that to come. For now, here’s a look at the Domtoren all lit up, looking lovely as ever.
Vrede van Utrecht/Trajectum Lumen
Vrede van Utrecht/Trajectum Lumen
By the way, celebrations continue tomorrow night, with a big feest (party) on the roof of the A2 tunnel in Leidsche Rijn.

News Story Links
Bea Bedankt

Celebrations Begin

Queen Bea Says Bye

It’s an historic evening here in the Netherlands. Queen Beatrix made a speech on tv and radio tonight at 7 pm to say that she is abdicating on April 30. Those of you who are familiar with Queen’s Day will recognize the date. Prince Willem-Alexander will take the throne that day.

Queen Beatrix became queen in 1980 and is one of the longest reigning monarchs in current times. This will be the first time we’ve had a king in three generations.

It’s been fascinating to watch it in real time, even if the speech was technically prerecorded. Royal history has primarily been limited to marriages and births for me, and those were UK-related.

Not surprisingly, it’s big news here. TV coverage is ongoing and Facebook and Twitter are alight. Twitter here wasn’t even working well, since I’m sure there was so much traffic, since the Dutch are very involved with Twitter. Most of the trending topics were related to the royal family and the abdication.

Fijne Koninginnedag

Koninginnedag Domtoren
Today is Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day), which is a national holiday. Tradition is to wear orange, visit the vrijmarkten (special flea markets on the street), drink a lot, listen to a lot of music (live and DJs) and generally have a gezellig time. I think we succeeded. Best of all, we got a respite from the rain and ended up with tons of sunshine and warm temperatures. Not a bad way to spend a Monday!

In the News

There are a couple of recent stories that have caught my interest, with some of them having tie-ins to things I’ve posted about recently or in general. I thought I’d do a quick run-down here of some of the stories and why they’re of interest to me.

Tick Tock

First up is the news that the Domtoren is no longer signaling the quarter hour as it used to do. It seems that one of the pieces that is used for the automatic playing is damaged through normal wear and tear, so it won’t be used until it can be replaced. The current piece in question has been there since 1980. Fortunately, once the piece is replaced, the Domtoren will go back to chiming every 15 minutes.

Lego My Chair
Next up is the news that Rietveld’s famous Red and Blue Chair (seen here in a Lego version) is inspiring artists yet again. DWA, along with RnB, has used the chair as the basis for their redesign project:

The redesign project is an experiment into using music as inspiration in the design process, we ‘remix’ existing designs according to various musical genres, with the hope of making design as expressive as music.

I particularly like the RnB IKEA (pop) version of the chair, perhaps because of the interactive element, as well as the humor of it.

Headscarves
Finally, in somewhat more serious news, Queen Beatrix has been in Abu Dhabi this past week on a state visit, and while there she visited the Great Mosque. Naturally, she wore a headscarf/hijab (over her hat) as is required of any woman wishing to enter the mosque. Of course, members of the generally anti-Muslim PVV party decided to lambaste the queen for doing so, claiming she was legitimizing the suppression of women. The queen fired back that it was “echt onzin/sheer nonsense”.

As one of the articles about the story points out, “Ironically the party’s remarks came while Beatrix was in Abu Dhabi, one of the Islamic world’s most emancipated states, where two-thirds of university students and 70 per cent new business owners are women.”

As another article says, Wilders, the leader of the PVV, has certainly been known to wear a yarmulke when visiting synagogues, despite the fact that he is not Jewish. Depending on the branch of Judaism, there are sects where you could argue that there is similar suppression of women. For that matter, I remember lessons learned at a Southern Baptist school that also made it clear that women were lesser beings. In other words, Wilders and his supporters are being a bit hypocritical to say the least.

So, there’s my roundup of stories I’ve come across this week and found of interest. Hopefully, you found some of it at least vaguely interesting, as well. If you’re in Utrecht tomorrow, don’t forget it’s the kick-off of the monthly Cultural Sunday events held throughout the city. There’s always something interesting going on somewhere!

Oh, one last thing … Go Saints! (The New Orleans Saints are playing a play-off game tonight. Fingers crossed that they win!)

Queen Bea

PHOTO CREDITS: REUTERS/Jerry Lampen

Today marks the 73rd birthday of Queen Beatrix, making her one of the oldest Dutch heads of state. Only King Willem III reached the same age while on the throne: he died in 1890 at the age of 73. She took the throne when her mother, Queen Juliana, abdicated at the age of 70. Beatrix was 42 at the time. She may be one of the oldest monarchs in Dutch history, but she’s a spring chicken compared to some other European monarchs. Those in Belgium, Spain, Norway and the United Kingdom are all older than her. And she wears a hat like nobody’s business!

Still, I find myself wondering if she’ll be sitting in a birthday circle at some point today.

Trivial Pursuits

Last night was Quiz Night once again at the Potdeksel. G and I managed to maintain our track record of coming in second to last, always beating at least one all-Dutch team (usually made up of more people than our lonely two). The fact that we can beat an all-Dutch team is a big deal, because the quiz is done in Dutch (although we can get translations) and more importantly, many of the questions are about Dutch topics (tv hosts, radio DJs, athletes).

Still, we do learn things on occasion. Here are two facts we learned last night, which might come in handy if you’re ever playing a Dutch-themed game of trivia.

  • The capital of Aruba is Oranjestad, which basically translates to Orange City. Did you know that Aruba, along with the Netherlands Antilles, is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands? (I knew the last part; it was the capital of Aruba that we didn’t know.)
  • We also learned that the first castle that Queen Beatrix purchased when she moved out on her own was Drakesteijn. It’s actually here in the province of Utrecht! She purchased it in 1959 and took up residence in 1963, a few years before her marriage. There’s some renovation work being done on it, I gather, so there’s speculation she may move back there when she eventually abdicates the throne to Prince Willem-Alexander. It’s really quite an interesting castle; octagonally shaped with its own moat. It’s like a very tiny island.