A VISIT FROM DUTCH ROYALTY

Future king of The Netherlands and princess wife come to Albany on 400-year anniversary of city's founding

DENNIS YUSKO STAFF WRITER
Section: Main,  Page: A1

Date: Wednesday, September 9, 2009

ALBANY -- The bells of City Hall welcomed European royalty Monday when the future king of The Netherlands and his fashionable wife visited Albany on the 400-year anniversary of its Dutch founding.


On a September summer afternoon on the front steps of City Hall, Willem-Alexander, Crown Prince of Orange, and Princess Maxima received the key to the city from Mayor Jerry Jennings. Visiting on the quadricentennial year of Henry Hudson's voyage to Albany, the couple also met privately with Gov. David Paterson, and in the State Museum, inspected Colonial-era records from Dutch settlements that grew to become Albany.


The royal trip also came 50 years after Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands arrived in Albany. During that visit, Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller reportedly was so embarrassed by the condition of the city's downtown that he vowed to replace its aging homes and storefronts with what became Empire State Plaza.


The changes impressed the prince and princess.


"Beautiful, beautiful town," the prince said Monday, walking on a red carpet out of City Hall.


This actually marked his second trip to Albany, the prince explained, and he promised it wouldn't be his last. He had stopped here as a junior Navy officer in 1986, when he navigated the Hudson River in training.


"I'll be back," he said, getting into a vehicle to applause.


Outside City Hall, the heir apparent and his bright red-dressed wife warmly greeted area residents before being escorted to the museum, Some in the crowd grew up in Holland, while others simply wanted a rendezvous with royalty.


Claire Nolan and two friends from Albany rode their bikes to City Hall to deliver a message written in Dutch. Translated, it read: "Talk with our mayor about bicycling." The sign caught the prince's attention, and he walked to the threesome for an impromptu discussion.


"You want me to talk to your mayor about bicycling? I think your mayor is very open to it," the prince told Nolan, with Jennings in tow. He translated the sign for the Albany mayor. After some chit-chat, the prince departed, but another member of his entourage encouraged Nolan further: "Don't stop talking about (bicycling)."


"Oh my goodness! I was so surprised and delighted," Nolan said.


Her friend, Lynne Jackson, said they were excited because "Holland is the bicycling capital of the world, and I think we should adopt some of their bicycling accommodations here."


Hennie Kohut of Albany left her job at Albany Medical Center early Monday to see the prince and Princess Maxima, who was born in Argentina. Carrying a Dutch Lion soccer mascot with bright orange hair, she recalled being a Girl Scout in the Netherlands on the day Willem-Alexander was born 42 years ago.


The Albany woman didn't realize the city had a Dutch connection when she moved here many years ago from the town of Ede in The Netherlands.


"It's really neat. You start to learn about it and get very proud," Kohut said.


Wilhelmina Downs of Selkirk came to the U.S. from Holland in 1967. On Monday, she wore a pin with the Netherlands' national colors - blue, red and white - and was excited to meet Dutch royalty. "In Holland, I would never get to see them so close," Downs said.


The prince and princess spent a few hours in the Capitol. Princess Maxima, who married the prince in 2002, is extremely popular in The Netherlands, Downs said.


Prior to going on a private tour of a 1609 quadricentennial exhibit at the State Museum, Maxima spoke with Amelia and Ingrid Colafati, 7 and 5, who had waited for the royal couple at the end of the red carpets at City Hall.


The princess asked the children's names and told them that she had a child named Amalia.


"It was cool to actually talk to a real princess," Amelia said.


Reach Yusko at 454-5353 or by e-mail at dyusko@timesunion.com.


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