King’s Day

orange
It’s time to get ready for King’s Day.

This is the first King’s Day ever in the Netherlands. The traditional day was started with Queen Wilhelmina in 1885 and was then celebrated on her birthday in August, and we’ve had Queen’s ever since, until Willem-Alexander came to the throne last year.

He’s moved the celebrations from 30 April (Queen Juliana’s birthday, Queen Beatrix never shifted it ) to his birthday of 27 April; but that would be a Sunday and it’s never celebrated on a Sunday so – get ready for a lot of orange on Saturday 26th. I had to explain all of this to a Dutchman during the weekend, in Dutch, I reckon that’s my inburgeringscursis done.

The day’s events will be much the same – party at night, free market in the morning, orange everywhere. There will be the traditional royal visits, this year to Amstelveen and De Rijp.

Lots of the louder music parties are moved to larger venues such as the Olympic stadium, which is a relief for my neighbourhood although there will still be plenty of noise.

I’ve got a stack of books, and found a whole bunch of stuff I didn’t know I had at the back of my cupboard; I’ll wear my orange tiara and sell off the lot.

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Tulip Overload

I was a tourist today; meaning queues, crowds and trips on buses. Which explains why most days I am not a tourist.

So what did I do on my tourist day? Well with the perfect weather we have today I decided it was a good day to go to Keukenhof. Like the thousands of other visitors to the park I took a few photos of the tulips, the highlights are below.

I can see that the garden is planted so that some late flowering tulips will bloom in the coming weeks, but we’re having such a warm spring I think the tulips are already just past their best. If you’re thinking of going, do it soon.

 

 

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Saturday Market; Signs of Summer

PeoniesPeonies were available in the market for the first time this weekend, they’re always a sign that summer is on the way. They’re one of my favourite flowers, despite their bad habit of exploding petals all over my living room when the heat gets to them.

We’ve had such a mild spring – I’m sure they’re early this year.

 

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French Artists at the Hermitage

Do you ever see an exhibition advertised, decide to go, and then not get around to it until just before it closes? No? Just me then. I finally went to the “Gauguin, Bonnard and Denis” exhibition at the Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam today, if you want to go be quick – it closes on Sunday.

Wealthy Russians collected art from a group of French artists, sometimes on a huge scale as in the music room commissioned by Morozov, a wealthy Muscovite businessman, and painted by Denis. It consists of thirteen panels showing the story of Psyche. The pictures are light-filled, painted in a flat and clear manner, peopled with healthily rounded humans and angels. They’re displayed in a scale version of the music room, with period music playing, it’s cleverly done by the curator.

There are clear connections here to the Impressionists, Redon presages Chagall, and the use of light connects to Van Gogh (who worked with Gauguin) but the flat aspect also seems to hint at the forms used in the Soviet art of 30 years later.

My wow moment was in front of the “Zebra at a Waterhole” by Georges Manzana Pissaro, I didn’t know the artist, and the work is full of colour and pattern (and my photo does not do it justice at all). The girl looks lost in thought as she eats an orange, the zebra’s stripes are in gold and shimmer with life, the effect is dazzling. Its subject matter and colour set it apart from the surrounding neat, tame domestic scenes of other artists.

The exhibition is on until Sunday; cost is 15 euro (or free with the Museumkaart)

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Time to Vote

voteamsterdamToday is the local elections for Amsterdam, and I get to vote. In fact I got to vote three times; once for the city council, once for the supervisory board, and once in a referendum on development of Elandsgracht. Add to that the fact that there are 26 parties plus a couple of independents and you can see that I’ve had a busy day.

This is what one of the voting forms looked like.

votelistYou really do need to do some research before you get to the voting booth. I used the ‘kieskompas‘ to narrow down which party to vote for, it asks you your views on various issues of importance, a total of thirty questions. It then plots your position against the policies of the parties. Here’s my result – apparently I’m neither left nor right (in Dutch politics) and I’m only slightly progressive.

partysortThere are quite a few parties in the circle that apparently match my views, including “CU” which is the Christian Union, which bases its policies on the bible. This might be as accurate as a Buzzfeed quiz.

I went back and looked at the issues I found most important, and choose a party based on that, once in the voting booth I then looked down the list for any names that weren’t Dutch. Given that I don’t know any of the candidates it’s as good a way of choosing a candidate as any.

According to a poll conducted by Dutchnews, expats and foreigners in Amsterdam are choosing D66 this year. I spoke to a Dutch friend who said that for D66 is the party most likely to attract well-educated people with a social conscience, and I guess that matches a lot of expats living here.

The turnout is expected to be low, but in the four major cities there could be a change in who leads the council, in Amsterdam it’s between PvdA and D66, (centre left and centre right, both somewhat progressive), PvdA is the incumbent and probably suffers because of that. In The Hague the contest is more interesting; the socially progressive libertarian D66 and the anti-immigration “Partij voor de Vrijheid” (Party for Freedom). That’s one I’ll watch with interest.

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My Experience as Cyclist in Amsterdam

This post is inspired by MarcoRecorder, who is a bigger cycling fan than I am, and wrote of his experiences cycling in Brussels.

I grew up in a city with a lot of hills, so cycling was a challenge, but it had the advantage of giving us freedom, it extended our range as teenagers. I went to University in a city full of bikes, I lived in Beijing – full of bikes, and then I moved to Amsterdam. Of all those places this is the most bike-friendly of cities. Here’s the good and the bad.

Infrastructure

Not only does Amsterdam have cycle lanes, clearly marked, and often separate from traffic, cyclists have their own traffic lights.

Driver Attitude

Mostly drivers are aware of cyclists and take care to give them space on the road. There are three reasons for this;

  1. If there’s a traffic accident between a driver and a cyclist; it’s the driver’s fault.
  2. If you sit a driver’s licence in the Netherlands one thing the examiners must see is that you look for cyclists at every intersection.
  3. Most drivers are also cyclists, and so they’re aware of cyclists behaviour and look out for cyclists.

Of course the cyclists tend to regard road rules as a recommendation so I’m sure drivers do get frustrated – but they don’t seem to take it out on cyclists on the road… see #1 above.

Bike Theft

It’s the most common crime in Amsterdam – to the point that when my bike was (inevitably) stolen, Dutch friends said “well now you can say you’re an Amsterdammer”. That was a while ago, when I replaced the bike I bought a new lock – it’s a massive heavy chain, that’s what you get when you ask for an “Amsterdam Lock”.

The anti-theft mechanisms have gone up a notch, I noticed last week that you can now have your bike engraved for free to make it easier to find the owner if it is stolen.

Expensive Bike Market

A second-hand bike at a reputable shop will cost anything from 100 – 300 euro depending on the bike. I’ve heard you can buy bikes on the black market for 25 euro but I’ve never tried. Bikes aren’t a fashion item, so haven’t succumbed to the hipster inflation Marco notes in Brussels.

Expensive Repairs

vending machine for bike lightsMost people do basic repairs themselves, but there are plenty of repair shops all over town. You’ll often find them near the larger train stations, but I prefer my local cycle repair place. They have never charged me more than about 15 euro for repairs (plus more for parts). They also advised me to stop getting my last bike repaired because new parts would be more than the bike was worth.

Not only are there lots of repair shops, you can buy bike lights and city cycling maps from a vending machine at Central Station.

Parking your bike

There are large parking areas around central station and bike racks all over town, even so it can be a challenge finding a good place to park, at least if you prefer to lock your bike to something (as I do).

If you leave your bike parked in the wrong place or even one place too long you risk having it removed. If this happens you have to go and claim it back – and buy a new lock.

bikeremoval

Pedestrians

This is a frequent challenge when cycling here, particularly in tourist areas. Tourists frequently stroll onto the cycle lanes unawares, but that’s why bikes are equipped with bells here.

These are the lights I bought from the vending machine, they’re designed to be easily removable fromĀ  your bike, they’ve got a flashing setting and an “on” setting. Decode the logo on them – the three “x”s is from Amsterdam’s coat of arms. Amsterdam loves bicycles.

bicycle lights

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Protect Your Bike

Bike engraving truckBike theft is the most common crime in Amsterdam, and you pretty much never get your bike back. But here’s something that might change that, an engraving service. For free – so bound to be popular with the Dutch.

You’ll need ID, and they’ll engrave your bike and register it as yours, if your bike is later stolen and recovered it’ll be brought back to your home for no charge.

Great system, shame I didn’t have my bike with me.

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