Thursday, October 3, 2013

Driving in Holland

The Dutch are known for their liberal policies. They have legalized prostitution and the recreational use of Marijuana, same sex marriage and euthanasia. These policies are not entirely altruistic; by legalizing sex and drugs, the Dutch government is raking in millions in taxes. But these sources of revenue are peanuts compared to what the government earns as a result of their insanely complicated parking system and their exorbitant speeding fines.

In Holland the speed limit is neatly marked on signs the size of postage stamps. By the time you have taken out your binoculars, a camera has already fined you for speeding. Five or ten miles over the speed limit and you are in deep Dutch doo doo. Nobody in Holland seems to mind that the speed limit changes every five minutes or that road sections under construction have two or three different speed limits. It is not clear which one overrides the other.

Even though the nice GPS lady in your car politely warns you of speed traps, she is also pre-programmed to take the ‘ecological’ route. Before you know it, you find yourself driving your minuscule eco-rental in the middle of an ecological cow field at which time her sing-song voice kicks in with the refrain: ‘route recalculation’.

And what’s with the ‘You have now reached your stopliver’? What on earth is a stopliver? Is it the GPS trying to pronounce a Dutch word for ‘destination’? There is that, you know, the danger zone between two languages. My daughter Aniko pointed that out to me, when we drove by the town of ‘Castricum’. ‘Mom’ she said, ‘everything is wrong with that word. How can they give a town such a name?

Once you have passed the hurdles of highway driving and arrived at your ‘stopliver’, you are faced with the serious challenge of parking. Parking regulations are set by each town government, which means that the rules are different everywhere. If you haven’t taken the time to research the rules of parking, which would take longer than study for a PhD, you probably will get a ticket, no matter how hard you try to follow the rules. In Amsterdam, finding a parking space is as rare as spotting a nun in a bikini, but figuring out how to pay the six dollars an hour fee (ahead of Tokyo, Geneva, New York and San Francisco), is almost impossible.

Parking meters are a thing of the past here, just a centrally located machine. The new 'digitized' paying system doesn’t accept cash, credit cards or foreign debit cards, which is a bit of a problem for a foreigner like me. I have to ask a passerby if he would be kind enough to pin his Dutch debit card in return for cash. I feel like Blanche Dubois in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ when she says: ‘I have always been dependent on the kindness of strangers’. But that isn’t the end of it. Now the digitized system wants my license plate number. Piece of cake, memorizing random letters and numbers is my favorite pass time on my vacation. A mad dash to the car before the transaction time expires, back to key in the number, wait for proof of payment… wait for proof of payment… wait for… there is no proof of payment.

After a three-hour visit to the Rijksmuseum, I come back to the car, where I find a neatly folded 90 dollar parking ticket stuck under the windshield wiper. All told, my visit to the Rijksmuseum has cost me 120 dollars. Was it worth is? At least I got a story out of it. But be forewarned if you plan on visiting Amsterdam; drug dealers, junkies, pick pockets, urinating in public, those are minor hazards compared to the dangers of parking. leave comment here