Koningsdag

The most anticipated celebration of the year, Koningsdag, came to Amsterdam this weekend! King’s Day (in English) is the celebration of the royalty’s birthday. The first Queen’s Day celebrations started in 1885 to celebrate the birth of Queen Wilhemina, but a king entered the game last year and now we get to celebrate him! So, happy birthday Willem Alexander! First king’s day in 122 years! Throughout the day we talked about whether anything like this happened at home, and quite frankly, not at all. I realize that this time around I am living in the middle of a city, so it’s a whole different situation than what could occur near home in Dallas. The streets were flooded in orange, in honor of the Dutch Royal Family, the House of Oranje-Nassau. Basically it’s a huge pride celebration and it’s something that isn’t even equivalent to the fourth of July.

Haarlemmerstraat King's Day Festivities!

Haarlemmerstraat King’s Day Festivities!

The main components for King’s Day are orange everything, music, selling stuff in the streets, and beer. King’s Night is almost as big as the actual day. On Friday we went to Kingston Crown and Hannekes Boom, a Jamaican-themed evening at one of our favorite treehouse hangouts. We missed the BBQ because the line was so long to get in, but it was well worth it to wait (despite the lightning looming over us, we prayed that it would pass and there would be no rain the next day!) There was a big free concert with plenty of reggae music and some Dutch rap as well. I was super stoked to hear it, just as a change-up from the usual electronic music that the Dutch love to play. Nat and I went to grab a beer and when we rejoined our friends at the front of the stage, we realized they were handing out cake in celebration. So festive! But of course, the crowd was way too hip to be wearing anything orange.

Kingston Crown, Hannekes Boom.

Kingston Crown, Hannekes Boom.

Natalie eating the beloved cake!

Natalie eating the beloved cake!

Despite a late night we all rallied the next morning for a King’s Day brunch in French Lea’s flat. We had to have some substance in us for what the rest of the day held! We ate french toast and eggs and cheese, even orange juice (fitting) and champagne. We headed into the city around noon, when everything was in full swing. Our neighborhood was a bit quiet but everything picked up in our beloved Haarlemmerplein. The main square there was full of people laying out their goods to sell. A lot is just crap, but they also sell coffee and orange cookies and such. The main haarlemmerdijk/straat was packed with people, and they flooded out to all of the little side streets too. We popped over to the Jordaan for more celebrations, included a few street parties. The best part of being in the city early in the afternoon was the street party we found on Singel. People were super crazy and the DJ was playing some good disco. Dam Square had a big carnival, but I’m sure it would have been insanely packed and partying if the square was empty.

Our gang of girls before entering the Jordaan! You can see a bit of the celebrations behind us.

Our gang of girls before entering the Jordaan! You can see a bit of the celebrations behind us.

Surprisingly the canals weren't as packed as we expected! I think we were a bit early.

Surprisingly the canals weren’t as packed as we expected! I think we were a bit early.

King's Day selfies were definitely in order!

King’s Day selfies were definitely in order! I think this captures how happy I was.

We had to get back to our neighborhood in time for King’s Day at Strand West. Strand West is a very unanticipated beach (that I think usually has a bar) literally right behind our containers. We had seen them setting up for the festival for a few days and we had NO idea how huge it was. People were pouring into our container complex when we came back, it was unlike anything we’ve seen around where we live. Strand West was hosting a big electronic festival, and it was the highlight of the day. 4 stages, a mini Coachella of electronic music and the most gorgeous concentration of young Dutch people I’ve ever seen. It was definitely where the hip Dutch young people came to see and be seen, the best party in the city. And it was RIGHT in our backyard. We danced all day and into the evening, but the festivities ended at 8pm.

Main stage at Strand West. The rain came today, not yesterday thank god!

Main stage at Strand West. The rain came today, not yesterday thank god!

Strand West.

Strand West.

I rode my bike through a bit of the city on my way to the gym today, expected mass destruction and trash everywhere. But alas, the street cleaners had already covered Haarlemmerplein and signs of the parties could barely be seen. Not sure if this makes me happy or sad. The Dutch are resuming their normal lives now, and the one day a year they lose it is now over. I think I would have been overwhelmed by the amount of trash, so maybe seeing my clean city again was a good thing.

It was an awesome feeling to celebrate something so loved by the Dutch after living here for eight months now. We get to see little nationalistic things every day, but this was full-blown Dutch pride. This is one of the few days of the year when the general public can fly the Dutch flag, isn’t that interesting? I feel even more like a part of this country now, my second home. I might have to rock a little orange on King’s Day back in the U.S. next year, though I am wearing orange every day anyway (my hair, if you didn’t catch that)! I hope the rest of my Dutchies had a great Koningsdag, I know I’ll remember this day for a long, long time.

 

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Sing Me Spanish Techno

I finally made it to Spain! Barcelona in particular, and it was wild. I think what made this trip so unique was the synthesis of my Hockaday friends (Alison, Andrea and Skee again) and my Pitzer friend, Sonal, who is studying abroad in Seville. This was the first time anyone from home had met a Pitizen, so I can only imagine what my friends from home thought of us together—it had almost been a year since we saw each other last. Alison had a few friends from Paris there as well, from Hopkins. It was a unique mix but we all had a great time staying in an apartment in La Sagrada Familia, getting tapas, drinking sangria, and seeing a beautiful city.

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If Mexico and France had a baby, it would be Barcelona. That’s probably so politically incorrect, and I’ve never technically been to Mexico aside from hopping the border and peeing on the Mexico side (I blame GSES Classroom of the Earth for the encouragement) and I spent only one night in Paris a few years ago. However, from what I see of the cities and their architecture, it seems like it would make sense. The city has this tropical/Mediterranean feel, but also a rich, established vibe. It was a great change of scenery (and climate!) from Amsterdam, so unlike some of the other cities I’ve been to, I felt very out of place in a great way. I think my favorite aspect of the city was the various green spaces and parks, even if they were small. The structures and Gaudi architecture was unlike anything I had ever seen, but more on that later.

We all arrived on Friday morning. We went out exploring and to find lunch, and we happened upon a restaurant called Mussol, which means “Little Owl.” How adorable! We got our first pitcher of sangria of the trip and enjoyed little salads and meat and cheese plates. Afterwards we ventured to La Rambla, a shopping street with a great market, La Boqueria, attached. There were so many amazing sweets and fruits, lots of juices, and even some interesting meats and fish. We all got some chocolate, and Skee and I thought it would be great to get a super-sized truffle but they were five euros each and we didn’t know that initially; the woman wouldn’t let us put them back, so there’s that. At least it tasted good. We kept on exploring, saw some beautiful streets, and then went to the Arc de Triomf. We grabbed some tapas for dinner and went home early because we knew Saturday would be a big day. I don’t know what I was expecting from tapas but I was a bit underwhelmed the two times we had them. Sangria, on the other hand, was all around always good.

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Actually marzipan! Skills!

Arc de Triomf with Sonal

Arc de Triomf with Sonal

On Saturday, Sonal and I split from the pack to see the Museo Nacional d’Art De Catalunya instead of the inside of the big Sagrada Familia cathedral. I don’t think I regret this, because we ended up seeing a great photography exhibit of Joan Colom. He is a Catalan social photographer and got most of his shots from inside his jacket. His main projects were on the Easter Processions (really freaky) and The Street, photographs of barrios in Spain. He was part of an artist group called, can you believe it, El Mussol (like the first restaurant we went to). The building itself and gardens around the museum were gigantic and beautiful. The day started out as overcast, but eventually we were greeted with the sun. After the museum, we took the hot and steamy (in a bad way) metro to Parc Guell, the gardens which house various Gaudi architecture pieces. We had to trek up a huge hill to get to the park entrance, then I guess Sonal and I went the wrong way and hiked through the outskirts of the park. Luckily, some of the hills had escalators. Ridiculous, but I was thankful. We met up with a Pitzer friend also studying abroad in Seville and her friend from home. The four of us got the most amazing burgers at Kiosko, a gourmet burger bar with great prices and incredible burgers. The area where that restaurant was reminded me more of the West Village in Dallas, and I have deemed it my favorite area in Barcelona. Sonal and I spent the rest of the afternoon in Parc de la Cuitadella, a short walk from the restaurant.

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View from Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

"I didn't know I was doing social photography at that time. I just took photographs and went after pictures I found exciting. I've sometimes used the term to describe my work, but to me it just means I don't do landscapes or still lifes. I work the street. I try, through my photographs, to be a kind of notary of an age." Joan Colom

“I didn’t know I was doing social photography at that time. I just took photographs and went after pictures I found exciting. I’ve sometimes used the term to describe my work, but to me it just means I don’t do landscapes or still lifes. I work the street. I try, through my photographs, to be a kind of notary of an age.”     Joan Colom

Parc Guell

Parc Guell

Looking out from Parc Guell

Looking out from Parc Guell

Heaven.

Heaven.

Sonal and I in the beautiful park! Unreal.

Sonal and me in the beautiful park! Unreal.

That night, our last night, we had a big dinner of tapas and sangria (again, but also what else were we supposed to eat in Spain?) and headed for a bigger night out. We went to Pippermint, and bar suggested by a few different friends and known for giant pitchers of Sangria. Eight of us split 6 liters, which surprisingly ended up not being enough because more than half of the pitcher was ice! It was a rip-off but I guess just something that had to be done. Next, we trekked across the city to another bar, Dow Jones Bar, which is referencing exactly what you think. The drink prices go up and down, and sometimes the stock market crashes and drinks get pretty cheap. We were only there for a bit, because we had spent too much time crossing the city. Barcelona really isn’t all that walk-able, which took up a lot of time. I am an incredibly fast walker, however, and even if the girls got frustrated with me, I don’t have time to waste!

Sunday was a day of relaxation around the city and on the beach. We went to Barceloneta and grabbed food for a picnic lunch. Alison, Andrea, Skee, and I are extremely successful picnic-ers. We just laid on the beach all day, enjoying the sun but avoiding the freezing water. On our way home, we stopped by a few more Gaudi buildings. Sonal and I had to go back to the apartment to head to Amsterdam (yes, she came back with me!) but by the end of Sunday I was ready to be back home.

Barceloneta

Barceloneta

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More stunning Gaudi

More stunning Gaudi

This trip proved that a little more planning would have helped in terms of restaurants and transportation, but I think we did the best we could have given the fact that we were all busy in our respective cities before travelling. All in all I had a great time with friends, touched a new body of water (the Mediterranean), had some real sangria, and saw a new place that I wasn’t anticipating visiting. That amounts to a pretty great weekend.

24 Hours in Brussels

Although I’m not a strong supporter of taking as many trips (usually short) around Europe as possible while abroad, I did feel the need (and had the free opportunity) to tag along to Brussels with my parents for a night to add another (unexpected) destination to my abroad travel list. My parents have been in Amsterdam since last Wednesday and do a lot of high-quality exploring themselves (yay, I didn’t have to go to Van Gogh for the fourth time!!) and then we do a lot of high-quality eating together at night. Since they will be in the Dam for a solid week, sneaking out to Brussels was a good plan. We left Amsterdam on Friday midday, got to Brussels by mid-afternoon, and had the rest of that day plus all of Saturday to explore. And quite frankly, that was enough! I should point out that we rented a car and drove, since trains are surprisingly expensive from Amsterdam to Belgium. The countryside was beautiful driving down and especially once we got closer to Brussels. Poor Jim, bless him, for having to maneuver around both Amsterdam and Brussels. There’s a reason I ride a bicycle.

Sidenote: Obama is in Amsterdam today visiting the Rijksmuseum. His helicopter landed on Museumplein and there was absolutely no way of seeing him. Trip advisor said if you want to risk getting a sniper bullet, go ahead and hang out down there. I opted not to! Anyway, welcome, Obama!

I’d describe Brussels as a mix of Prague and Amsterdam–in the older parts–with some New York City littering (yes, littering) the main drags. I love both Prague and Amsterdam so the old city was enjoyable! It is much hillier than I’ve been used to so bicycles were not nearly as large of a thing. That afternoon/evening was spent meandering around Grand Place and the Town Hall, as well as gawking at the Mediterranean sweet shops and beautiful lace in storefronts. Although we wanted to sneak in a museum on that first day, there was too much to see outside while the weather was still beautiful. The best way to see a city is to simply meander around, so that’s what we did. Super relaxed and super gorgeous.

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A Simon family vacation, or even just a Simon family dinner, is not complete without mussels. When we were in Curacao 2 summers back we had the best mussels of our lives that were imported daily from Belgium, so we knew that if one day we were all in Belgium, we’d have to relive that meal. We ended up at La Maree, an excellent fish and mussels restaurant that is super local. I swear every single person eating there knew the waiters and owner; everyone was kissing each other and catching up. We got 3 different types of mussels; Dad got the simplest with just salt and pepper and vegetables, Mom got them a la Provencale with tomatoes and peppers, and I went with the white wine and cream. You can never get enough mussels. We stopped to get some of those mediterranean sweets I mentioned above after dinner and they were delightful. See pictures!

Mussels at La Maree

Mussels at La Maree

Goodies!!

Goodies!!

We got up on Saturday morning to rain, but also to an adventure. We set out to find Musee Renee Magritte, a surrealist from Belgium. Unfortunately the museum was almost exclusively in French (although I could read some of the Dutch descriptions…) and we didn’t get any English guide or headsets. I’ll have to read about him separately when I have some time, but I did gather that he went to Dallas in 1960. My favorite art by him would have to be “The Curse” or “Companions of Fear.” After that, I dragged my parents to an Ethiopian coffee house which is known as being one of the best cafes in Brussels. It lived up to that. We enjoyed cappuccinos and a piece of lemon cake. So beautiful.

Looking over the Royal Palace area

Looking over the Royal Palace area

Magritte, no pictures in the museum!

Magritte, no pictures in the museum!

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After refueling we headed to find Manneken Pis. The story we heard was that a bomb landed in front of a little boy in Brussels that really had to go to the bathroom; he then peed on the bomb and it was diffused, thus he saved Brussels. No idea if this is remotely true but it’s silly. I personally liked the Manneken Peace graffiti located close to the statue. Mom and I walked around to find a lace Christmas ornament and stumbled upon merengues the size of my head (unfortunately, no picture). I brought one back for Natalie. Brussels knows theirs sweets. My favorite part of the day, however, was where we stopped before heading back to Amsterdam. I had found the Erasmus House online as a place of interest. It’s located in Anderlecht, a small town a bit outside of Brussels. Erasmus hung out and worked in this house for a few months in 1521, and the house was really beautiful. It even had an original Bosch! The back of the house has a medicine garden and beautiful structures. It had just rained so everything was green and alive. Such a great find!

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Manneken Peace.

Manneken Peace.

Erasmus House from the garden

Erasmus House from the garden

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I think we did well for the short amount of time in Belgium. The drive back into the Netherlands and up to Amsterdam was beautiful and sunny. I saw many a cow and many a cute cottage. Even though I can be a total grump when travelling and tired, I thoroughly enjoyed going on this little adventure with my parents to a place none of us knew. If only Anna was with us!

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