Saturday, July 17, 2010

Queen's Day Weekend

We’ve had another action packed week here in Den Haag. The kids are making friends. We’ve had our first set of play dates. We experienced our first Queen’s Day. We’ve again had a chance to learn more about the Dutch.

Jordan and Jack are quickly making friends here at the American School. We took Jack’s buddy Tanner to the beach at Wassenaar after school on Monday. It had rained all day, but just as we left for the beach, the wind picked up and the clouds blew away. It was my first time at the beach where I could see the horizon. In one direction up the beach we could see Den Haag, in the other we could see Amsterdam. It was windy and beautiful with quick moving clouds racing across the sky. The kids built a sand fort in an attempt to hold back the tide. We stayed to watch the ocean wash it away.

Jordan has made friends with a sweet little girl named Norah. Her mother is Spanish, her father is Dutch, she was born in Germany. That means that Norah can speak and understand Spanish, Dutch, German, and this year, English. I am humbled.

Queen’s Day is a huge national holiday here. It celebrates the Queen’s Birthday. At 8 am on Thursday, every bell in Den Haag started ringing in honor of the Queen. Around our house there are at least four medieval bell towers. The bells continued ringing for 15 full minutes. The kids and I went out on the balcony to listen. It was amazing and overwhelming. I’ll never forget it.

Later that morning we went to the children’s flea market. Every Dutch child is encouraged to sell old toys or baked treats to make some money. We picked up a Chinese yo-yo for Jordan.

We spent the afternoon at the carnival near the parliament building. I should have known that something was wrong when I could not find anyone wearing orange (the Queen’s royal color) anymore. The lines for the rides were very short. The trams were empty.

It wasn’t until that night that a friend let me know that a maniac had tried to crash his car into the Queen’s caravan on parade in the town of Apeldoorn. In the process, he plowed his car through a crowd of onlookers, killing five instantly and seriously injuring twelve more. The driver has since died. No one really understands the reason why this happened. It is all so very sad. Please keep the injured and their families in your prayers.

The next day at the school, I spoke with three different American families. None of them knew anything about the incident. The expat community here seems to be very insulated from local news.

On a lighter note, Audrey and I have had a great time riding the trams this week. Walt being away has forced me to go and get things done for myself. I am becoming much better at getting around by public transport. At one tram stop a Vietnamese man started a conversation with us. Using his extremely limited English (better by far than my Vietnamese), he asked if we were from the United States. When I told him we were, he smiled a HUGE smile, gave me two thumbs up, and said “OBAMA!”.

I’ve seen lots of interesting things along the way. Did you know the Dutch love dogs? Dogs are welcome in restaurants (of course!) but not butcher shops. People carry their dogs on their bikes in large milk-crates in front of their handle bars. I’m not talking about little dogs, either. I saw a full grown golden retriever carried this way. Fancy dogs have little dog trailers that tag along behind their owner’s bike. Dogs are welcome to ride the trams and busses, too, if they have their own canine ticket (no joke!). They are not allowed to take a seat though. I guess they have to draw the line somewhere.

We are still keeping track of interesting things seen on a bicycle. This week’s prize winner was a portly sixty year old man riding his bike wearing nothing but a speedo thong bathing suit.

It is time for me to go. The kids are making paper airplanes and sending them down the two story stairwell. I need to help them with some design work.

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