There is SO MUCH going on in this lovely adopted hometown of mine. We’re leaving tomorrow for a weekend getaway to Edinburgh and though I”m looking forward to it, in some ways we could not have picked a WORSE weekend to leave Amsterdam.
For starters, there is the Grachtenfestival, a 9-day feast of classical music in, like, 50 venues around the city. It culminates in a huge concert on the Prinsengracht canal on Saturday (which we will miss).
But the big news right now is Sail. Every 5 years, Amsterdam plays host to this giant nautical event. There are tall ships, old war ships, and sail boats from around the world. Yesterday was the sail-in, and through Sunday there will be concerts, events, tours, and so much boating it beggars belief.
Of course, an event like this, spread out along the IJ River (a central waterway not just for pleasure boats but commuters and transport vessels) is bound to cause a few hiccups to daily life. My bike ride home, which normally involves a 5-7 minute ferry ride, took almost an hour an a half due to an overcrowded ferry and heavy river traffic. And then there’s the 2 million or so visitors and tourists that the event is expected to draw.
Still, even with a few inconveniences, it seemed like something we shouldn’t miss. When you think you’re in a place for a limited time, you don’t want to skip anything as significant as Sail. I mean, who knows where we’ll be when Sail 2020 comes around? There is, generally, some self-imposed pressure to do EVERYTHING on offer in Amsterdam. It was not a pressure I felt in Boston – there always seemed to be time to visit a museum or check out a festival. But there is a greater sense of urgency here, of wanting to experience everything so that when (if?) we leave, we’ll have no regrets.
And so, we headed out into the throng of people, walking down to the IJ and eventually finding our way to a bridge that was thoughtfully turned into a bar and terrace, where we could watch the parade of ships and wait for the nightly fireworks. It was an extraordinary sight, just for the sheer number of boats and people and activity all around us.
The fireworks were late getting started, which we learned about thanks to Twitter. The good news is that we were distracted by the fact that we actually understood a Dutch joke / comment that was made in response to the delay notification! It’s the little victories that make the difference.
When the celebration ended, we started on our way home, making our way through the families and visitors and all the bikes. (We had the good sense to walk.) We’ve noticed, on more than one occasion, that the Dutch are really good at having fun, particularly in large crowds. The tension that you might feel in the U.S. when you’re in a heavy-drinking and slightly rambunctious crowd doesn’t seem to exist here, at least not in the venues where we hang out. From King’s Day to Pride to Sail, the Dutch have good fun, enjoy themselves, but not at anyone else’s expense. And certainly not to the point of being confrontational or belligerent.
The rest of Sail will carry on without us. Our next door neighbors will continue their nightly revelry (they are currently singing what I imagine to be Dutch sea shanties). The city will continue its once-every-five-year celebration of all things nautical, and by the time we return to Amsterdam on Monday, things will be back to normal. But it’s been – once again – one hell of a party.