After a lukewarm start, royal visit gained momentum

POSTED: 11/14/13 12:50 PM

St. Maarten – The royal visit got off to a lukewarm start yesterday morning, but in the afternoon there was a nice crowd on Front Street to welcome King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima during their monument walk that led them from the Oranjeschool and the Methodist Church to the courthouse.

The first visit of Willem-Alexander and Máxima in their function as King and Queen of the Dutch Kingdom to Sint Maarten passed without any incidents. It elicited from one bystander a remark with a reference to the tomato throwing-incident in Russia last week. “In Sint Maarten we do not throw tomatoes, we eat them.”

The visit began with a ceremony at the Clem Labega Square at 9 a.m. Half an hour before it started, the suppliers of the red carpet for the event – Fleming’s Carpet from French Quarter – was still busy putting together the small podium on which the King and Queen would stand later.

The Navy Band in its splendid white uniforms and a squadron of the voluntary corps VKS formed an honor guard on the square, but the public interest in the smart of the day was disappointing. Dutch reporters openly spoke of “a lack of enthusiasm” but all this was about to change as the day progressed.

The king and queen arrived at two minutes to nine in the company of Governor Drs. Eugène Holiday, while Prime Minister Wescot-Williams and dignitaries of the high Councils of State were already in position for a proper welcome. A band played the Dutch national anthem, the Wilhelmus, and the Sint Maarten song before the King inspected the honor guard.

After this part of the program concluded, the royals left for a visit to the Cabinet of Governor Holiday, where the King unveiled a plaque.  At 10 a.m. the royal couple arrived at the parliament building. In the Wilhelminasteeg schoolchildren with orange flags awaited them, but there were also quite some tourists and casual onlookers that managed to get quite close to the action. The parliament building was decorated with an orange bow on the Front Street side and between the building and the courthouse orange banners stretched across the road.

When we asked an employee of the parliament building how the place was decorated inside he said: “This is my opinion, but to me it feels like a funeral. They just put up a picture of the king and the queen and surrounded it with flowers.”

After the visit to the parliament, the royals had a meeting with Prime Minister Wescot-Williams and with the Council of Ministers.

Shortly after eleven o’clock in the morning, there was what the program described as a “waving moment” at the balcony of the Government Administration Building. In the sweltering heat, some onlookers were disappointed with this moment. “We have waited here for one-and-a-half hour to see them for fifty seconds,” was one of the complaints we registered, even though the appearance of the charming royal couple was hailed with cheers and applause.

The royal couple continued its tour of Sint Maarten with visits to the Milton Peters College and the Raoul Illidge Sports Complex.

In the afternoon, the monument walk on Front Street proved to be the most successful part of the program. While the audience got lost in the space of the Clem Labega Square in the morning, the close proximity to the action of Front Street created the festive atmosphere that does justice to a royal visit.

At the Oranjeschool pupils sang their school song and they were rewarded by applause from King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima. At the Methodist Church, the choir sang two verses and the church leadership offered the royal couple a frame depicting the three historical buildings on its grounds.

Front Street was lined with royalty watchers and bewildered tourists asking whom the crowd was waiting for. One tourist was absolutely perplexed to learn that there is a government in the Netherlands, a government in Sint Maarten and also a government on the French side of the island.

Walking from the Oranjeschool to the Methodist Church, King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima engaged in brief conversation with the people that lined the route, smiling and shaking hands. Even Kingdom Relations Minister Ronald Plasterk who accompanied the royal couple put on a smile, even though the integrity investigation the Kingdom Council of Ministers ordered in September cannot have been far from his mind.

When the king and queen left the courthouse, the crowd cheered them one more time, before they boarded the bus that would take them back to the Divi Little Bay Beach Resort.

In the evening, there was a one-hour program at the Festival Village with performances by 250 children from the National Institute of Arts.

Today the royals visit Saba and in the evening they are the guests of honor at a reception offered by Governor Holiday at the Captain Hodge Wharf in Philipsburg.

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