After months of eager anticipation, avid rumours and legendary tales of bygone eras – the time was finally upon us. A time to celebrate; a time to rejoice; a time to relinquish all prior commitments and join the rest of the Netherlands in consuming copious amounts of alcohol whilst prancing about the streets in a deluge of orange.
Of course this wasn’t purely prancing for the sake of prancing, nor partying for the sake of partying – though for the most part it appeared that way. No, this inimitable national holiday is primarily designed to honour a certain national treasure:
Queen’s day, or Koninginnedag, is celebrated annually on the 30th of April (birthday of the late Queen mother, Juliana) and is, quite frankly, an exceptional excuse for a good old knees up – something at which the Dutch excel.
In the months preceding this illustrious event, we encountered an abundance of animated gossip. Talk of the celebrations being ‘scaled down’ due to excessive partying in the previous year lay uneasy on our impatient minds, and worse still, mention of the unthinkable – ‘Queen’s day being cancelled altogether’ – invariably provoked gasps of horror. Thankfully, these malicious rumours did not prevail and, as the eagerly awaited day drew near, our only uncertainty lay in where best to celebrate it – Leiden or Amsterdam? I couldn’t help but feel that if these were our only misgivings, then good things lay in store.
After a late night/early morning spent relishing the merriment of Koninginnenacht in Den Haag, we rallied the somewhat groggy troops for a hearty breakfast of blueberry pancakes and war-paint application. Once the red, white and blue stripes of the Dutch flag had been firmly branded upon our cheeks and the oranjebitter (a suitably revolting orange liquor) cranked open, we were ready to go.
As students, we are often notorious for being both excessive and outrageous. Yet, as we dispersed into the swarms of oranjegekte (‘orange madness’) on the streets of this generally serene and picturesque city of Leiden, our oversized orange sunglasses and barmy orange wigs were merely par for the course.
Skirting the periphery of the Oude Rijn were countless makeshift stalls, governed by local Dutch children flexing their entrepreneurial skills as part of the vrijmarket (‘flea market’) and peddling a plethora of trinkets, antiques and bric-a-brac. Various stages erected in such run-of-the-mill locations as car parks, blared the catchy jingles of Dutch pop music into the air, where mouth-watering whiffs of fresh stroopwafel drifted on the warm breeze.
Having gradually swam through the array of jovial festivities in the centre, we arrived at Leiden’s number one attraction. With its free entrance, the City Moves festival was suitably tailored to our student budget and boasted the likes of world-class DJ/former Leiden inhabitant, Armin van Buuren. From there on in, we spent the day swept up in a haze of orange euphoria. Dancing to the ground-shaking beats that resonated through our bodies long into the night, our feet became fiery, pulsating in time to the music, and our elation was engulfed, though certainly not subsided, by an exhaustion that no amount of frites and mayonnaise could quell.