I Predict A Riot

Don’t you just love when you’ve got friends visiting and you get to take them out, show them around, and get them to the fringe edge of a riot? That’s what I did yesterday when I took a visiting friend to Amsterdam. We had a bit of culture first, with a visit to the Van Gogh Museum, and then took in a bit of political protest-turned-riot. Water cannons, included!

Student Protest in Amsterdam
A student protest had been taking place in the Museumplein behind the Van Gogh Museum. That explained the unusually large police presence we’d seen in front of the museum. There had been vans full of police who looked a bit more paramilitary than your average street copper. As we left the museum, we heard and saw a few fireworks coming from behind the museum, but I figured it was just people setting off New Year’s fireworks a bit early. After all, we’ve been hearing fireworks here in Utrecht for the past week or so.

The fireworks soon stopped and we decided to head over to the Museumplein to be touristy and see the I Amsterdam sign/sculpture. As we rounded the corner, we suddenly saw a lot of young people and a lot of police. Then we saw the water cannons. Then we saw people scattering, running toward us, as the huge tank-like vehicle with the water cannons started racing around the field where the protest had taken place.
Water Cannon Vehicle

Water Cannons

To be honest, I think the students who were left on the field were probably the ones least invested in the idea behind the protest. A lot of them just seemed to be having fun running away from the water. I think the more serious students had already left when the protest had broken down into small fights and random acts of idiocy. As we were leaving the museum, we had seen a large group of students standing together outside of the museum, many with purple scarves of some sort tied around their heads or necks. I honestly hadn’t known who or what they were, so I thought they were just one of the school groups visiting the museum or something similar. When I finally saw a news story about the day’s events, I realized they had been part of the protest.

Student Protest in Amsterdam

For the record, the protest seemed to be based on a proposal by the education minister for longer school hours. The students were protesting that they would be “confined” despite not having enough teachers to actually teach any classes for this additional time. For those of you who can read Dutch, there’s an article about the protest here at nu.nl. I suspect the original protest had some merit, but was ruined by those who just want to cause trouble.

Regardless, it was certainly an interesting sight to see. I’ve never seen water cannons in use in person before. The whole experience was a bit surreal. To go from admiring the works of a great artist to suddenly stumbling across rioting next to a major tourist spot in the middle of Amsterdam was odd. To be taking photos of the water cannons and then taking photos of the I Amsterdam sculpture while the water cannons continue behind me felt a bit weird, as well. A bit like fiddling while Rome is burning.
Student Protest in Amsterdam

Street Patrol

Street Scene
I was sitting downstairs this afternoon when I suddenly heard our dog start barking upstairs. Beneath the din of his woofing, I could hear some other clattering noise from the street. Eventually, the sound registered as horse hooves, so I grabbed my camera and raced upstairs, where I knew I could get a better shot. The weather has been clear and sunny, but not that crisp, sharp-edged clear, and from the distance, things got a bit hazy. I liked this shot in black and white, but I also like the splashes of color in some of the color shots I took. Either way, it’s nice to see life returning to the streets. I’m sure the horse police patrols are out other times of the year, but it does seem as if they’re out more as the weather improves. Just another sign that spring is on its way!
Security

Giro D’Italia in Utrecht

25 To Go
Just a quick follow-up on the Giro D’Italia that came through Utrecht yesterday. Around mid-day I took Pippo out for his mid-day break and saw that the excitement was definitely starting to build. More and more people were out, especially for a Sunday, and the barriers were out lining the main street through town, down which the racers would pass. All, and I do mean all, of the Italian shops were open and making the most of it! Italian flags were flying, banners were out, specials were on offer. Even our Italian neighbors had hung the Italian flag outside their window. (G’s not that patriotic, so we have no flag to fly.)

A little later, G and I went out to wander around a bit further and see what was going on down at the Neude. We saw the 25km-to-go marker (above) over by Janskerkhof and as the road was still open to cyclists, many people passing under the 25km gate seemed to enjoy pretending a moment of greatness, riding through it with arms in the air. Further down, we found a huge crowd of all ages over at the Neude. There were lots of Red Bull marketing items, including some sort of bouncy toy for kids, but there were also beer stands for the adults. 😉 Naturally, there was a large screen so that people could watch the race while enjoying the festivities.
Neude Feest
We didn’t stick around for long, though, because Italian that he is, G wanted to get back home to see the Bologna football (soccer) match that was on that afternoon. It was an important match, after all; Bologna secured its spot in Serie A for next season and doesn’t have to worry about relegation now. It was a close thing. So while he was stressing over the Bologna match, I was watching the bicycle race on tv with my parents. The race would be passing by the end of our street, so I wanted to keep a close eye to make sure I could get down there in time to watch, but still be able to watch most of it on tv. As they got closer, I set the tv to record and finally with about a minute to go, G, my dad and I hurried down the street and then rushed to find a free spot in order to see the racers speed by.
Giro D'Italia

Chase Group

Go Speed Racer
Lousy photos, I know, and that was with the sports/action setting turned on! They went so fast! Watching tv, it looked like there were a lot more of them, but when they passed in person, it looked like a much smaller group. We really did see all of them, though! Blink and you’d miss them is what it felt like. We were surprised at just how fast it was; we were also surprised at just how many support vehicles bring up the rear! I got video of the last few racers and most of the support vehicles, along with a few shots of the helicopters hovering overhead.

Unfortunately, despite recording it, we didn’t get to see the part we were at on tv, because one of the racers had fallen earlier and they were showing him rather than the tiny bit where we were! Still, we recognized Biltstraat and some of the other areas in town, which was kind of exciting.

One of my favorite moments of the whole experience is probably when the last two police went past on bicycle. All of the racers and support vehicles and everything else had gone by, and then these two lone police officers rode past and as they approached, the crowd started cheering in much the same way as they did when the racers themselves arrived. It was a nice moment of group-think humor and even the police seemed to get a laugh out of it.

In the News

Utrecht introduces cycle ambulance

Monday 28 July 2008

Utrecht is the first city in the Netherlands to get a cycle ambulance, reports Monday’s AD newspaper.

The city’s ambulance service RAVU tells the paper that it has been forced to introduce this unusual form of emergency medical aid because of the increasing difficulty of reaching city centre destinations with a traditional ambulance.

Only four ambulance staff are entitled to ride the bright yellow cycle ambulance which is fully equipped with medical apparatus but cannot transport patients.

The only thing the cycle ambulance lacks is a siren and flashing lights. ‘That would only cause more accidents. People become alarmed by a siren and if they can’t see where it’s coming from they’ll jump in front of the bike,’ says ambulance man Ruben Verlangen in the AD.

I should just let the story speak for itself, but I have to say I found the comment that the ambulances had a hard time reaching the city center destinations a bit strange. I guess they mean along the Oudegracht and other pedestrian areas. The police seem to get around just fine, at least on Lucasbolwerk. They seem to show up at least once each Friday as some idiot does something stupid. One week it was a fight among a group of idiots (from one of the other bars, I should point out, and it was never anything more than a spectator sport for our group, particularly due to the fact that the combatants didn’t seem very good at it all.) I’m not sure what the police showed up for last week; it was over and done quickly. A few weeks before, someone tried to steal a scooter, but was probably a bit drunk at the time, crashed it, and get held by Kris and a few other patrons from our bar. Heroes!

My point being that even with minor infractions that probably wouldn’t see the police show up that often in the US, they do show up here, and quickly, on both bike and in cars. I’m guessing the bike ambulance is to get quickly to people in pedestrian areas and treat them until a path can be cleared more easily for the proper ambulances. So, all in all, probably a decent idea.