Memory from Amsterdam

Amsterdam Mounted Policeman

Back in May 2004, I took a drive up to the Netherlands with Yasmina to visit friends in Utrecht. A big advantage of living in France is that access to most of Europe is overland and most of western Europe is easily accessible. We drove up to Amsterdam one day and toured around the capital which takes its name from the dam built on the Amstel river. On the way up we stopped at a place which explained how windmills worked to pump water out of land diked into polders (see the Wikipedia Zuiderzee Works entry for a large scale example of this). This has been a tradition in the Netherlands since the middle ages; about 26% of the land is reclaimed from the sea and situated below sea level. There’s a lot more to Holland than just recreational drug use. Other countries could learn a lot from their liberal attitudes not just to sex and drugs but to reaching agreement on difficult issues. The “polder model” has existed for centuries and is a good example of how disparate viewpoints can be brought together to make decisions for the greater good.

Pictured above is a Dutch mounted policeman I managed to snap in the square outside the palace on Dam square. I was impressed by the laid back policing: whilst walking back from the red light district we were stopped by police (not on horseback this time). They explained that they were searching for knives and arms and told us we would be searched. After politely searching us, they handed us a leaflet which explained exactly why we had been searched and why the searching policy had been adopted. Compared to treatment I’ve had with rude British traffic police and corrupt police in Morocco, it was a pleasure to be checked in the street. There are plenty of good reasons to go to Amsterdam, it’s a city with great character in which even the police have a laid back attitude as do the residents – and most of the tourists too, especially after a trip to the coffee shop…


  1. Very interesting post. Wouldn’t you think that New Oreans could learn a thing or two from the way dams and levees are built in Holland?

  2. Simon

    4/11/2005 at 11:13 am

    Hi Dave,

    The Dutch have not been totally spared from the wrath of nature. In 1953 there was a flood that caused the loss of over 1,000 lives. The same tidal surge caused flooding in England on Canvey Island, and it was only due to some luck that the Thames further downstream wasn’t affected. The Thames Barrier was created as a result of this flooding.

    New Orleans could learn from the Europeans, especially the Dutch, regarding dams and levees. The friend I visited in the Netherlands is a water expert and knows quite a bit himself. He told me that sadly a lot of his recommendations require enormous budgets and half-assed solutions are often the outcome because the money isn’t there. Until disaster strikes of course, at which point the cost is not evaluated in pure dollar terms…