The art of trust in Amsterdam

“Just open the door and go in” our landlord said over the phone, “We don’t lock doors on the boats in Amsterdam.” A lovely trusting attitude which makes an interesting contrast to the level of policing on Amsterdam’s public transport…

Today the water was not only under our canal-boat beds, but in the air around us. It was a drizzly, wet and enduringly gray day. When we finally roused ourselves to venture out we’d decided on at gallery visits – as, it turned out, had every single other tourist in Amsterdam.

The other consequence of the rain was that we caught a bus and a tram to the museums rather than walking. This reinforced what we’d noticed yesterday that the Dutch are far less trusting, or far less economic-rationalist, than the Germans. In Berlin we bought a weekly ticket for a very reasonable price. No one checked it, there were no barriers on the tram or train. We understood that occasionally there would be checks and the fines were serious, but the simple metric of the reasonable cost of the pass lead us to buying the weekly ticket without being forced to. From our research the locals take the same attitude.  And the cost to Berlin of policing the system was clearly minimal.

In Amsterdam, the individual ticket cost is 2.60 euro, that’s over A$3 for every trip; and  there’s no discount for kids. That led us to buying a three-day ticket for a slightly less extortionate, but still painful, price. But what makes it contrast with Berlin is that in Amsterdam there are barriers everywhere – there’s no trust, there’s just a constant round of swiping your ticket under the watchful gaze of inspectors. And that ticket-focus comes at a cost. In the stations there are barriers; on the trams they have barriers and a conductor in addition to a driver.  You can’t help think that the cost of the ticket is largely attributable to the cost of policing the ticket.

Anyhow, tickets duly swiped, we headed to the Van Gogh and the Rijks Museum which are conveniently situated beside each other (and beside a great little cafe serving wonderful dutch pancakes).

The Rijks Museum was great. We found the potted history of Dutch triumphs in the 17th century particularly interesting. For a time this little country was at the top of the world’s pile of influential places – and all because of trade (and pillage) not industry.  And also because of their tolerance which lead to their acceptance of educated and well-connected refugees from elsewhere. It was the English who brought to to a crashing halt; which perhaps explains why the King’s crest from a British flagship vanquished by the Dutch holds pride of place in the Rijks Museum.

The Rijks Museum also has a great range of Rembrandts including his, arguably, most famous work – The Night Watch. This depicts a police force of its time – probably just about to set out and check people’s public transport tickets.


For those who may come after: The two-hundred meter long queues of very wet people waiting to get into the Rijks Museum and Van Gogh Museum would have depressed us had we not already bought our ticket online. Google or someone ought to use today as an advertisement for buying over the web. Everyone else waited in line in the rain for up to an hour – we walked right in with our pre-purchased tickets. Just visit the museum websites and print out.

5 thoughts on “The art of trust in Amsterdam

  1. Thank you, this is good to know.

    I’m taking Wilder to Amsterdam three weekends from now, and I am going to be reading with even greater attention than usual.

  2. I’m interested… How does the itinerant and nomadic family simply “print out”. Do you guys carry a printer around and shop for stationery or am I missing something?

    1. No, even for us a printer is a step too far. Internet cafes is the answer. We’ve found them pretty easy to find, although the cost varies enormously. Given how much easier and cheaper it is to buy train tickets online it’s been a necessary part of the travelling process. The mildly vexing thing is that the train companies wont accept PDFs on the iPads – that would get past the need for printing entirely.

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