23 April, 2013

The Queen is Dead, Long Live the King. Wait....

For the first time in more than 100 years, Nederlanders will have to remind themselves to drop the "in" when referring to the monarch. "Koning" just doesn't have the same ring as "Koningin" and it's going to take some getting used to saying "Koningdag" (King Day) when it took three years for me to be able to say "Konininginnendag" (Queen's Day). Queen Beatrix announced her abdication on the 28th of January this year, a few days ahead of her 75th birthday.

She has been on the job since her mother, Queen Juliana abdicated in 1980 and has been a hugely popular monarch over the last 33 years.  I think it's fabulous that the monarchs abdicate here.  It seems they get to a certain age and think, "Bugger it.  I'm retiring," and hand over the reigns (see what I did there?) to their first born.  I wonder how often Queen Elizabeth thinks that now that she's staring down the barrel at 90...

So this year, instead of the usual city visit, the Netherlands will be turning its attention to the coronation of Willem-Alexander, the first king since Willem III, who died in 1890, leaving daughter Wilhelmina in charge.

Quirky Fact

Did you know that until 1890 when Willem III died, Luxembourg was also ruled by the King of the Netherlands? The Grand Duchy was granted to the Nassau-Oranje (Oranje-Nassau) family in 1815 as compensation for lands lost to Prussia and the head of the family (Willem I) happened to be crowned King of the Netherlands around the same time. Luxembourg split from the Netherlands in 1890 when Willem III died, as the last male heir in the Nassau-Oranje line.  Because women were not allowed to hold power in Luxembourg, the Dutch heir Wilhelmina could not take become the Grand Duchess, so Willem III's 17th(!) cousin once removed, Adolf de Nassau became Grand Duke of Luxembourg as the first male heir in the Nassau family (source).

Not only that, when Willem III died Wilhelmina was only ten years old, so her mother Emma ruled as regent until 1898 when turned 18.  All makes for a good historical novel, don't you think?

The Festivities

Every year thousands - what feels like millions - of people flock to Amsterdam to celebrate Queen's Day. The party usually starts on the 29th (Koninginennacht) with DJs, party boats and masses of people dressed in orange filling the city. I've never been to Amsterdam on Queen's Night and to be honest, that many drunk people in one place is just not my thing. But more importantly, there is never anywhere to go to the loo. One New Year's Eve I had to go in an alley next to the flash harry Hotel Krasnapolsky while my friend Jess had to stand guard, because there were no ladies toilets anywhere to be found on the Dam Square. I probably should have been embarrassed, but after a bottle of champers I was desperate!

But as usual, I digress.

The first Queen's Day I was in Holland Maarten took me to Amsterdam for Queen's Day and it was sheer madness. I spent most of the day with my nose firmly jammed in somebody else's armpit (as I'm Dutch armpit height), couldn't get a drink anywhere, the parties that we found were all DJs playing doof doof music (which I hate) and worst of all, we don't have a friend with a boat. The only place to be on Queen's Day (or any Amsterdam festival) in my opinion is on the canals in a half-submerged boat drinking beer and singing oompah-pah songs.

In the years since, we have stayed in Almere.  We have a ritual we follow every year.  Pretend nothing is going on on the 29th, get up early and head to Almere Haven to check out the flea markets, then Almere Stad to do the same in the afternoon.  Since 2012 we've thrown the children's flea market into the mix, finding some fantastic bargains.

Flea Market

The flea markets, or vrijmarkt, is a wholly Dutch phenomenon that I just love. Well, of course the flea market concept is not Dutch, but the scale of it is something that I have never heard of before in my life. Every city, town and village turns into one big outdoor market with people marking their space days before so they score the prime real estate. In Almere Stad the market kicks of at 6pm on the 29th and the city goes nuts. If you just happen to be trying to get from one end of town to the train station, forget it. All the streets and squares are clogged with families flogging their unwanted goods, trying to get the best possible price. It's a real party atmosphere, going on throughout the night with music and general gezelligheid. Then, come about midday on the 30th everyone packs up their stuff (or just abandons it) and goes off to celebrate, or sleep.

My tip: If you're a serious shopper, make a list of what you want to buy and go on a mission to find it.  Otherwise you'll find yourself wandering for hours picking up loads of crap that you will get home and realise you have no use for.  Having said that, we did pick up a fantastic cast iron pot one year for 50c.  Too bad it was at one of the first stalls we stopped at and then had to cart it around all day.  Correction requested by husband:  he had to carry it all day.  Obviously I was far too busy buying crap that I didn't need...

Next Year

It will be Willem-Alexander's time in the sun.  Controversially he has changed the date of the celebrations and King's Day will be on his birthday - 27 April.  One of the (many) reasons Queen Beatrix has been so greatly loved is because she made the decision not to change the Queen's Day festivities to her own birthday, which is in January as she wanted to make sure that the Dutchies at least had a chance at some sunshine.

The controversy isn't that Willem-Alexander is changing the date however, but that the new date falls on a Sunday.  Big deal, I hear you think.  Well yes, it is.  Unlike other countries, when a national holiday falls on a weekend the government does not make the following Monday a holiday in leiu.  So we are being robbed (robbed, I tell you!) of a public holiday in 2014.  Actually, it saves the economy millions.  But that doesn't make it any more fun.

And finally, it must be highlighted that one may not be king without a beard: Zonder baard, geen koning

How do you feel about our new king?  And how do you celebrate Queen's Day?  Or what is your favourite holiday from your home country?

10 April, 2013

Best Customer Service Ever!

After almost five years of living in the Netherlands I've become very accustomed to the lack of customer service, the niet mogelijk and kan niet, and argumentative wait staff.

So you can only imagine my shock when I experienced great customer service in the extreme yesterday.

I've only recently been able to afford to be able to return to my awesome hairdresser after a year's hiatus.  That's right, a year.  After Raina was born I started working less and my disposable income essentially disappeared completely.  But out of the blue the opportunity arose to make some money out of advertising on this site, so I jumped at it.  It isn't much, but enough that I could go back to my beloved hairdresser.

Anyway, yesterday I had a hair appointment and rocked up at the time in my agenda - 4.30pm.  Problem was, my appointment was at 3.30 according to their agenda.  Shit.  I was fully expected to be told to go away and make another appointment (as would be the norm), but the manager went to see if my hairdresser was still around, or if she had gone for the day.

Next moment my hairdresser appeared; I had caught her right in the middle of having her own hair done!  She was dressed in a cape and half her head was covered in foil and hair dye.  We both fell over ourselves laughing and apologising for the mix-up (also a rarity) and she suggested that if I give her 15 minutes to finish painting her hair I could come back and we would have our appointment as normal.  Wow!

She then proceeded to colour my hair while still dressed in a cape and with her hair all covered in hair dye.  Not only that, because she wasn't happy with the job she did last time - I was fine with it, liked it in fact - she was going to re-do it for free.  Free!  Can you honestly tell me the last time somebody offered something for free, anywhere?

Then, after drying and styling my hair for half an hour, she decided that the ends were a bit dry and quickly ran over my hair with the scissors to tidy it up.  Again, for free!  Unreal.

I have to say, that even before this amazing instance of customer service, I was recommending this hairdresser of mine to everybody who would listen, but now I'm going to shout it from the rooftops.

If you're in Almere and looking for a perfect stylist, head to Salon B and ask for Nanja.  And for future googling remember:  Mooi Haar, door Nanja.

Updated 19 September 213:  Nanja has since left Salon B and has set up her own business.  So, if you're looking for a fabulous stylist, get in contact and I'll connect you with her.  You won't regret it, I promise.

Tell me about the best customer service experience you've had recently.  We complain about the bad points so often, sometimes we need reminding of the good.

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