In the first four European countries we've visited, when riding public transportation, you must have a valid ticket in your possession or be liable for a fine. The fine is stiff enough so that the transportation people can get away with a minimal amount of spot-checking. Amsterdam trolley
The Netherlands has taken a more hands-on approach. On the two-car tram/trolleys there's a second employee at the back. So your ticket is sold and examined and punched manually on each ride. It also makes the trolleys a little slower as people queue up for ticket operations.
At the major Amsterdam tram stops there are signs predicting when each trolley will arrive at each track for unloading and loading passengers. There are also loud bells and lights that ring and flash for a long time before and after a trolley crosses a pedestrian crossing; but they ring and flash so long that everybody ignores them and just watches for the tram.
There's a tourist tram as well. It takes a meandering, roundabout path. In the back of the tourist tram the conductor tells you what museums and shopping centers are near each tram stop, and sings a few Dutch songs, too.
We found the local office of EasyEverything, a growing European chain of internet stores recognizable by its bright orange and white decor and hundreds Flower market of flat screen terminals set in rows. The non-prime-time rate was 2.50 guilders for ninety minutes. Since the dollar is now fetching almost 2.7 guilders, that works out to about one cent a minute. That's the best price we've seen so far for internet access. Moreover it was extremely fast; we were downloading at the rate of nearly 40K bytes per second.
Despite the drizzle all of Amsterdam was outdoors on this Saturday. We walked past the flower market where three-foot-tall amaryllis plants sat next to bonsai next to trimmed bamboo next to grafted cacti next to fresh tulips and you could get health certificates for this stuff to be sent to most of the world except Australia and New Zealand.
One of the tourist guides said the stamp dealers set up shop along one of the Amsterdam streets near city hall. It was true; they had brought along stalls like any other market merchant, only these were filled with books and Public museum passage boxes of stamps and coins. We didn't linger long, though, because the rain was increasing. Most of the dealers were folding up tent, too. The outdoor stamp and coin market is held every Wednesday and Saturday.
We happened upon the Amsterdam Historic Museum and decided to try it because it had been recommended by our fellow train riders yesterday. It was a great choice!
The trail through the museum taking you from prehistoric times to the present winds around like a snake, through tunnels and up staircases, occasionally crossing itself, but always well marked in Dutch and English. At one point you are up on a bridge while other visitors look at paintings on the floor below. But wait a minute! Those aren't paying visitors! The museum has opened up a gallery of paintings in an alley between two streets, so that people could take a short cut and see some of the museum displays, perhaps to pay a full visit soon. The alley is glassed over and glass doors at either end can be locked at night. Meanwhile the paying visitors look down on the alley from a second floor bridge.
It reminded us of the city museum in London: based on a lot of archaeology and documentary research, with a lot of modern displays - computer graphics, interactive screens, film clips. Although virtually all the signs Brass Token Banquet were in Dutch and English, few of these newer displays have been dubbed or subtitled as yet. One charming exhibit was a theater showing silent films of Amsterdam life and activities from the 1920s and 1930s.
Amsterdam is a nifty city to study, because it was once almost all water, and over the centuries has gradually been filled in and built up as part of the incredible reclamation of land from the sea. When new buildings are excavated, the archaeologists get a chance to sift through the layers of debris from centuries past and find tools and utensils, and even a few treasures. Leather shoes and doublets have been preserved for centuries.
Right away one of the best parts of this museum was the ancient painting of 17 Reserve Officers drinking and singing. These are the officers of the Civil Guard of Amsterdam, and they are getting together for their once a year big banquet in the year 1533. It's called the Brass Token Banquet. Probably something to do with a coin. Kind of like ROA Midwinter. These are Second story washer delivery their mess dress uniforms of the time. The one officer is holding the words to the song, probably the junior guy has to do it. Anyhow, the words of the song are, "In my heart I have chosen a maiden."
The museum is nicely oriented towards the point of view of the residents of the city, in the past and present. The Golden Age was the seventeenth century, when merchants and the Dutch East India Company brought back the treasures of the world to Amsterdam's warehouses. Then the merchants could afford fabulous houses on the canals, filled with collections of art (the Dutch Masters) and books and porcelains and jewelry and, of course, with tulips.
Although Amsterdam remained a merchant town after 1700, the centers of commerce moved elsewhere, and the city basked in the glory of the Golden Age through the eighteenth century.
Amsterdam suffered from the industrial revolution in the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, and suffered again during the German occupation, but now has become one of the most vibrant and active cities in Europe; it's much less Dutch than it once was, filled with immigrants from all over the world. The population has stabilized at 750,000. It has a certain fame as the home of radical social movements, a large red light district, and coffee houses, where cannabis and hashish are openly sold. There are drug laws, however, and the wholesalers are prosecuted.