(Originally written in April, 2011, and published in San Diego Reader in June, 2011)
This might be hard to believe for the fun-loving Irish lads, but I dare any Irish person out there to out-party the Dutch. Not gonna happen – and I’m not sure you’d want to.
In town for work, I coincidentally arrived in bicycle-loving Amsterdam on Queen’s Day, or Koninginnedag in Dutch. Go ahead, say it – just conjure up the loogie sound and you’re there. It’s an annual national holiday on April 30 to celebrate the Queen of the Netherland’s birthday – even though her actual birthday is in January. The Dutch say April has better weather. I mean, how can you get wasted and trash your city in the cold?
The day is an occasion for the Dutch to flood the streets by foot and canals by boat wearing anything orange they can get their hands on – clown wigs, scarves, feather boas, blow-up hats, oversized sunglasses.
Even more than looking like a construction zone exploded, the streets looked like a landfill exploded. I’ve been to my share of Third World countries and I have never seen anything like it. There were bicycles leaning against trees, fully upright, buried in trash. You’d have better luck finding regurgitated dinner than you would your ride home.
By day, it’s a festive, family atmosphere. The country participates in a nationwide garage sale. They set up shop on blankets side-by-side along every street in the city, where neighborhood kids provide entertainment with their tortuous violin lessons or by singing in unison – loudly. Locals tout the “family-oriented” occasion, but seem to deny to themselves that it is, more importantly, a day for drinking in excess.
It’s similar to St. Patrick’s Day with the chosen path of celebration, but the crowds of drunk and stoned orange people precariously dancing on boats and sidewalks with beer bottles in hand makes it more like an enormous Bob Marley concert with Lady Gaga as the opening act.
By nightfall, people were puking in the streets, passed out in chairs, pissing in public… What more could you ask for from a holiday? I’m fairly confident the Queen can’t fit a visit to Amsterdam into her schedule that day. The entire city celebrates with fervor and solidly puts the Irish to shame.
Of course, Amsterdam is known for its “coffee shops” and legal prostitution in the surprisingly organized Red Light District, which doesn’t disappoint. Want a mellow, happy high? Try “Bubble Gum.” Want to see the blond girls selection? Over here. Or the “pretty” girls? Down this street.
This is a liberal, democratic society at its best and appears to be a centuries-old throwback to the days of ports and pirates.
But be forewarned – the Dutch government is beginning to ban foreign visitors from entering coffee shops. It’s true. They want to stop drug tourism, which opponents have labeled “tourism suicide.” Luckily, places to stay like the Oud-West or Oud-Zuid sections just south of the city center offer a cool vibe all on their own – no “coffee” needed.