After King’s Day, there is no festival bigger than Gay Pride in Amsterdam. The festival involves a Canal Parade through the city, which takes place in a week full of activities for the LGBT community – but enjoyed by all.


The evening prior to the big Canal Parade is similar to King’s Night, with street parties concentrated largely along Reguliersdwarstraat, home to many of the city’s most popular gay bars and nightclubs. But my favourite pre-Gay Pride activity is the Drag Queen Olympics, hands down.


The Drag Queen Olympics are described as “the world’s premier sporting event for drag queens & kings, with the crème de la crème of the drag athletic world descending on Amsterdam to battle it out for Olympic Gold.” I would not label the athletic value of the event featuring the 100m stiletto sprint, handbag toss and hula hoop as especially high, but you cannot find a more enjoyable way to spend an evening.


The Drag Queen Olympics will celebrate their 12th anniversary in 2017, while the Gay Pride festival in Amsterdam began in 1996.


My first Gay Pride parade took place on a hot, summery day, where I met up with friends and found a place along the canal parade route to wait for the boats. I had moved to the Netherlands in May, so missed King’s Day, which meant this was my first taste of how Amsterdammers celebrate.


The crowds lining the canals were deep, and people had been waiting for hours saving their prime positions at the front or even in their own parked boats. It was clear that if you want to sit down, you need to arrive with plenty of time before the parade begins. Various sound systems blasted different music from all directions as we waited for the first of the parade boats, which carried hordes of people dancing in colourful, not-exactly-understated costumes.


Boats full of scantily clad people – men in shiny purple briefs, angel wings, black leather that barely covered anything, or simply plain clothes with banners proclaiming their pride, and of course women (though men’s outfits tend to differ more obviously from their standard daily attire) – slowly came into view and the all-day party increased its ferocity.


The number of boats is so immense the parade takes several hours if you simply stand in one spot, and you will rarely see the same costumes twice. It was during this time, watching, laughing and dancing, that I felt something fly up inside my dress and buzz around my back. Instinctively, I reached around to shoo it away but instead accidentally trapped what we soon realised was a wasp between the material of my dress and my back.


Naturally, the wasp responded by stinging me several times as it tried to figure out how to escape its coral cotton prison – and I did everything I could to help it, but in the process confirmed that wasps in fact cannot follow human direction. Later my helpful friends commented that the Gay Pride parade was probably the one day a year I could get away with lifting my dress completely in public and no one batting an eye.


In any case, the wasp and I finally went our separate ways, after which my Dutch friend promptly dragged me to the pharmacy where I purchased, under her guidance, some sort of contraption designed to remove any venom. As wasp venom is harmless, and I’m from Australia where we have somewhat more dangerous insects, I was a bit sceptical as to the necessity for this but being a foreigner did not want to question what locals do. Looking back however, I realise I probably could have ignored the advice of a person that didn’t grow up checking their shoes for redback spiders as a matter of course.


Despite the silent struggle that was the Courtney versus wasp battle, my first Gay Pride parade was incredibly fun – and the enjoyment continued as I made my way home, passing the occasional man waiting for a tram in lingerie or some other conservative outfit.

Courtney Gahan is a serial expat, traveller and freelance writer who has bartered with Moroccan marketeers, seen the sun rise at Angkor Wat and elbowed her way through crowds on NYE in NYC