Queensday was Saturday, and it is celebrated in The Netherlands on the birthday of the late Queen-mother (Juliana). I went with a student group called ESN (Erasmus Student Network) to Amsterdam for the day, and it was so much fun! ESN is an international organization that has offices at a few hundred universities. It’s only 2 euro to become a member, and you gain access to all of their events, where you can meet a lot of other exchange students.
ESN’s website said to meet at the train station at 7am on Saturday, and that the first four people to arrive would get free train tickets. I got there at 6:45am, and other people arrived shortly afterward. The ESN representatives (Dutch students) didn’t arrive until 7:15am, and it turned out that they were able to give 4 people per Dutch student a 40% discount (in The Netherlands, Dutch students can take up to 4 people on the trains with them at a 40% discount). So my round-trip ticket was still 30 euro ($45). The trains were so packed that my ticket was never checked, but I suppose if I hadn’t bought one, I would have been checked.
While waiting for the 8:00am train, I met 4 European Studies master students. One girl is from Finland, one is from Portugal, one is from Germany, and one is from Romania. We sat together on the train and decorated each other’s faces with the red, white, and blue eyeliners that one girl brought (to represent the Dutch flag). I didn’t have anything orange to wear (they wear orange to celebrate Queensday because the monarchy here is called the House of Orange); so I felt much more festive with my face decorated.
The trip to Amsterdam was about 2 hours and 30 minutes. When we arrived, we went straight to the Museumplein, where a huge free outdoor concert was being held. Most of the students stayed there until the last train back to Maastricht at 10:30pm, but as my new friends and I couldn’t foresee staying at the concert for 12 hours of drinking, we set out on a walk around Amsterdam. Also, most of the other students had started partying on the train and were already pretty rowdy. And the ESN representatives spent a good amount of time at the train station making fun of me for arriving so early; so I wasn’t too keen on spending the day with them. Hey, if I have to get somewhere early to save $30, I’m going to get there before everyone else.
Our group of five started the day by walking around and browsing the street markets. On Queensday, everyone is allowed to sell things on the street without having to have a license. So Amsterdam turns into one giant flea market on Queensday, with businesses and residents setting up shop on the sidewalks. We visited the “I amsterdam” sign next for a photo opportunity, and then sat in the grass at one of the big parks and watched the festivities for a while. There was everything from people squeezing fresh orange juice to music, dancing, and mimes. It was surreal, because there were also so many things going on that are completely illegal to do outdoors in the United States. And I didn’t really believe that the famed “coffeeshops” existed until I saw about five of them on every street.
Next we went back to the Museumplein concert to listen to the music for a while and marvel at the sea of orange. By early afternoon we were pretty hungry, and we stopped at a Portugese restaurant for Dutch beer and the most amazing tomato soup I’ve ever eaten. Then we felt obligated to top off our meal next door with espresso, gelato, and fresh fruit.
Fully satiated, we roamed the streets of Amsterdam until about 7pm, when we caught a train back home. We didn’t “sight-see,” because it was so exciting to just experience a huge city with every single street packed to the brim with people…there must have been millions of people walking around Amsterdam. It was so packed that bicyclists and motorists had given up trying to drive anywhere in the city. It was one giant pedestrian zone. We took a lot of photos and had fun standing on the bridges and waving at the people passing underneath on their techno-blasting party boats.
Unfortunately, I wore the wrong shoes to Amsterdam…for some reason it didn’t occur to me before I left that I would be walking a lot. But walking turned out to be what we did for about 9 hours straight. 30 minutes into the day, my feet were already blistered. Half of me was ready to call it a day and go back home, but the other half didn’t want to turn back home when I had just spent $45 and 2.5 hours to get to Amsterdam. There was also so much excitement in the air that I couldn’t turn back. But from walking around in those shoes for 9 hours, the blisters turned into bad cuts/scabs. Hopefully I learned my lesson! I’m happy I was able to see so much of Amsterdam, though.
When we left Amsterdam, we had to run to catch the return train, because the train’s platform was switched at the last minute. I couldn’t keep up with my friends…I got on the right train, but I couldn’t find them anywhere. Thank goodness for Facebook, because I might not have ever seen my new friends again.
Unfortunately, when I switched trains in Utrecht, I boarded an indirect train to Maastricht. So I had to switch trains once again in Eindhoven, and the train from Eindhoven made soooo many stops that it ended up taking an extra 45 minutes to get to Maastricht. Also, in Eindhoven, the train station was under construction, and everyone thus had to walk a long distance outside and around the station in order to re-enter the station and get to the departing trains. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing, but I figured the hundreds of people running in the same direction were probably going the right way. The whole experience felt like a dream…it must have been the extreme pain mixed with being on my own in a completely new place following hundreds of running strangers with Dutch flags painted on my face against a backdrop of house music and streets absolutely covered with trash. What an adventure!
By the time I arrived at the Maastricht train station at 11pm, I was too exhausted to try to figure out the bus situation. So I took a way too expensive cab ride to my house…12 euro for 5 minutes? Come on! I spent Sunday and Monday letting my feet recover!