Happy New Year!!!

Trip Start Apr 15, 2003
Trip End Sep 01, 2011

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Flag of Netherlands  ,
Thursday, January 1, 2004


Yesterday we experienced Oudejaardag - "Old Year's Day" and, in the hours around midnight Oud en Nieuw - "Old and New" - our New Year's Eve. It is very different here than in Chicago. For example:
-- Restaurants and bars are almost all closed. At about 9:00 p.m. we walked around the Jordaan, an older neighborhood that is usually very busy with lots of restaurants, brown cafes and pubs. Usually it reminds us a little of New York's Greenwich Village. Last night it was completely dead. Quiet. Like a ghost town. The bars and restaurants, with only a very few exceptions were closed. In contrast, in the U.S., New Year's eve is a huge money maker for bars and restaurants - a very busy night.
-- If bars or restaurants were open, most of them closed by around 10:00 p.m.
-- Instead of going out to eat, people have big meals with family and friends in their homes. As we were walking around we noticed that many people had small groups of 6-10 people sitting at the dining table enjoying their meal. Traditionally this is a holiday spent with family in the home, not with a bunch of strangers "out on the town."
-- There is no city sponsored fireworks display. When Melanie asked her colleagues at work about this they were quite bewildered and couldn't think of anyplace to see a public display like we are used to in America.
-- Normally fireworks are illegal in the Netherlands, but for the few days before New Year's it is legal to sell them and shoot them off. Almost any little tobacco store or snack shop also sells fireworks during this week. Beginning sometime in the next couple of days (or maybe today?) it will be illegal to sell or shoot fireworks again until next year.
-- So, instead of the public displays, individual people set off big fireworks all night long. Actually, there have been sporadic fireworks going off all week, but last night was the Big Night. People pretty much just walk around the streets setting off fireworks anywhere they like. We started to notice this with regularity around 8:00 p.m. They'll set them on bridges, on stoops, throw little firecrackers under the feet of people walking by, shoot them out of beer and champagne bottles. Anywhere and everywhere - often in the middle of a big crowd. People had warned us not to be on bikes last night as it is common that people throw firecrackers at people riding by on bikes.

We spent much of the night walking around the center of Amsterdam trying to see what was happening where.
-- In the Jordaan, it was completely quiet except for a few people on the street. Most were either on their way to visit friends and family or were lighting off fireworks in the street.
-- We tried to go to the Red Light District, but when we got to the edge and saw the mass of people cramming the alleyways we decided it probably wasn't worth fighting the crowd. Again, their were people shooting off fireworks despite being surrounded by other people.
-- We thought about going to the Leidseplein, but we had met somebody in the airport on our way back from America who said he had a friend who was blinded in one eye from fireworks at the Leidseplein last year, so we decided to skip that.
-- At Dam Square there was a big stage set up with a DJ playing disco music and lots of people drinking and dancing. Although most bars were closed, Heineken had set up several beer tents and was selling beer in plastic bottles. Also there were people standing throughout the square with cases of champagne selling this to the people in the crowd.
-- We started to go to the Niewmarkt, in the middle of Chinatown, but would have had to go through the crowded Red Light District, so decided against that too. The pictures on TV today show a very crowded area, but lots of fireworks and lights. It looks like this would have been worth fighting the crowd.

Pickpocketing was even more rampant than usual. Chris said that everywhere he went he felt people grabbing at his ass - and we don't think this is because it's so cute!

Melanie's colleagues had warned to keep our coat pockets zipped and hoods over our heads or we might end up with firecrackers in them. We didn't see evidence of this happening, but zipped our pockets just the same.

At midnight in Dam Square it was really packed with people and everybody started to set off their fireworks. Typically they would pop their champagne, drink it, then use the bottle to launch the fireworks. So, there were showers of color coming from and going in every direction all over the square. This went on nonstop for about 20 minutes and then gradually slowed down and the fireworks became less regular - but continued. When we were walking back at around 2:30 a.m. there were plenty of people out and many fireworks being set off. We don't know how late this went on since we decided that it would be too noisy to sleep in the front of the house and so we spent a quiet night in the back loft instead.

Some traditional New Year's Eve foods include Olliebollen and Appelflappen. Olliebollen (literally: oily balls) are like our donuts only round balls (about the size of a racquetball ball) without the hole in the center. They are balls of dough deep fried in fat. They come in many flavors - with raisins, dipped in powdered sugar or cinnamon, etc. - like our doughnuts. Appelflappen are basically apple turnovers. It's traditional to eat these - fresh from the bakery or kiosk -- around this time of year to have good luck for the coming year. We skipped the Olliebollen but had wonderful Appelflappen from the bakery around the corner. So, we would probably only have half luck, but we'll make up for it by eating black eyed peas (brought back from America) today!

We're starting the New Year with the first snow of the season -- Yeah!

There is NOTHING open today - no shops, no grocery stores, no movie theaters, no museums, no restaurants, no bars, no fitness centers -- NOTHING. So, we'll stay inside, watch some videos, enjoy the snow, eat black eyed peas, drink hot chocolate, and go to bed early.

Wishing everybody a happy, safe and healthy New Year!

-- Melanie and Chris


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