Monday, May 6, 2013

In Holland, that was a party!

In The Hague, with Ridderzaal (Knights' Hall) behind us.
This is where the King speaks at the state opening of the
Dutch Parliament the third Tuesday each September.
      We spent nearly two wonderful weeks in The Netherlands, two weeks that left Beatrice and me fulfilled and left some indelible impressions.  
    I loved being back in my native country; it's a great place to visit and, I believe, a great place to live. But I have lived there, and there's another country that I now prefer.
       We had some adventures, or that should read misadventures, mostly with the airlines, and also trying to figure out directions and the trains/trams stations and schedules. And we did a lot more walking than we bargained for.
       Still, this journey into my past and into today's Holland was one I'll always treasure.

Kitty, our host
        I have my wife to thank; this was her idea and she invited me, and while we've each been there before (this was my third trip back since my family left late in 1955, and it was Bea's second trip), this was our first one together.
        But there are other people to thank, first and mostly, Kitty. Catherine "Kitty" Kruyswyk-van der Woude is a second cousin of my father's and she was our host. She opened her penthouse apartment in Zaandam -- about 6 kilometers northwest of Amsterdam -- to us for nine days and nights, she gave us her time, fed us and advised us, and played tour guide.
Peter and Patricia DeWeijs, with Bea, in The Hague
      Peter DeWeijs, once a Centenary College basketball player (1977-78) and his wife, Patricia, met us in Den Haag (The Hague) and showed us the International Peace Palace and then Holland's seat of government (the Prime Minister's office, the Parliament buildings and the Queen's working office/palace) and finally drove us through the nearby countryside and dozens of fields, rows and rows, of flowers in bloom.
        The next day, my closest relative other than family in the U.S., my cousin Heleen Kopuit-Borgenicht (who grew up in Amsterdam), and her husband, Jacky Borgenicht, drove from their home in Antwerp, Belgium, to meet us in Amsterdam and showed us some sights significant to my family (more on that in the next blog).
         There was Kitty's sister, Reina, who with her daughter Josine and grandson Sammy, hosted us for a lovely dinner, then provided car rides to and from a concert at Amsterdam's famed Royal Concertgebouw.
          There was the crew of the MS Allegro, the ship (from the travel company) on which we took a five-day, four-night cruise which stopped in several harbor towns in North Holland/Friesland. This was a mostly Dutch cruise -- the great majority of the 70 travelers were Dutch (and older than us), so most of the conversation/instructions/entertainment was in Dutch.
          That made it more difficult -- my Dutch isn't much, except for a few words and phrases (but no sentences) and Bea had little chance -- but we found a hero.
          Wim Smits was the cruise director -- and a more-than-willing interpreter. He speaks several languages, English among them, and he was a congenial, informative conversationalist. Not just with us, but also with another English-speaking group (from Canada) and with everyone on the trip.
         The cruise was the centerpiece of our trip; it fell almost in the middle of our time in Holland. It was relaxing, and interesting, and just right time-wise -- not too long, not too short.         
        And it set us up for the journey's final five days, including the most important day.
       For years, April 30 has been Koninginnedag (Queen's Day) in Holland, which annually is a big party. But last Tuesday was the most significant Queen's Day -- one of the most significant days, period -- in Dutch history.

       Willem-Alexander, until that day the Prince of Orange, became the King of The Netherlands -- the country's first king in 123 years. 
     If you love royalty -- and I've always loved Dutch royalty -- this was as formal and dramatic as pomp can be. Overblown? Maybe. Pretentious? Maybe. But don't suggest that to most Dutch people. They loved it. So did I. Watched it all on TV; Amsterdam was far too crowded for us to venture in there that day.
       Yes, England is best-known for this type of theater, but Holland can play, too.
        Willem-Alexander handled it with style and charm, and showed off his beautiful queen, Maxima, and their three young daughters; the oldest, Catharina-Amalia, 9, became the Crown Princess of Orange, the next in line of succession.
       We saw Queen Beatrix -- the elegant, classy woman who I remember as a teenage Princess -- abdicate her throne after 33 years, and become once again a Princess.
        We saw -- and heard -- the Dutch sing in unison, and dance, and party (and drink and eat) ... and they do all these things as well as anyone in the world. (I already knew the Dutch soccer and speed-skating fans were among the best in these categories; now I know it applies to the whole country.)
       We saw people dressed in orange (the national color) ... hats, shirts, scarves, pants, replica crowns.  We saw the national flag -- red, white and blue horizontal stripes -- everywhere.
       I heard the Wilhelmus (the national anthem) at least a half dozen times that day. I do like that anthem and, yes, I can sing it (not in public), but I didn't need that much practice.
        Still, it was a day to remember and -- because Beatrix announced her abdication after we had made our reservations for the trip -- fortuitious that we were in Holland for it.
        One note: Willem-Alexander's birthdate is April 27, which now becomes the new King's Day. Because it falls on a Sunday next year, the celebration will be held April 26. Whenever, Holland will party on. 
         But it's not likely to match this year. Now that was a party -- Dutch pride on display at its absolute best. It was a joy to be part of it.    
        There's a lot to tell about our adventures and I intend to do so in the next several blogs.
        Next: Touching my roots


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