Visiting the Amsterdam van Gogh Museum

I presumed kettling only happened during violent protests in London. I wised up during a recent visit to the Vincent van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Like other tourists, I found out the hard way, it is this museum’s favoured means of dealing with visitors.

The van Gogh museum used to have two cash tills and extremely long queues. I wrongly presumed, they’d learned a lesson and access would be smart and smoothly. Sure enough, when nearing the building’s former entrance, I noticed it had been refurbished into a special groups-entrance. The group entrance was shut. Me not being a group, I had no problem with that.

Round the corner and at the back of the old building, there were three ticket boxes “for all tickets”. An overwhelming improvement, at first sight. Of the three, only two ticket boxes were open and … museum stewards directed all they noticed heading for these box offices to the first “kettling” place: three long queues.

As I have a special card, I was ordered to join a special queue. The other two queues were for hapless tourists who had no discount cards and were after ordinary tickets. There was no distinction as far as shelter was concerned: all of us were fair game for the elements.

If you have ever been to the Netherlands during the late autumn, winter, early spring, you are familiar with the wind, wet weather, humid cold. Everybody in the queues endured the drizzle which sometimes threatened towards wet snow, as well as a blustering wind. Hands, noses, ears turned white and purple, for the “crowd controll” platform is a raised concrete block, surrounded by steps.

The “crowd controll” works like this: if the stewards are not chatting to each other or to the folks in what ticket offices are open, they kind of watch the new wing. Inside the new wing with new entrance is a long queue. Outside the new wing with new entrance is a long queue.

If the inside queue dwindles, numbers from the outside queue are allowed to enter the museum. If stewards are paying attention, they allow one small group of visitors from any of the three queues with or without cards – but without tickets – to stampede down the steps and then up a flight of stairs, to mob the ticket office with one to max three ticket vendors.

Believe me: this is one of a handful of Dutch museums remaining stubbornly stuck in such medieval crowd control. One suspects this museum actually uses “kettling” to ensure only visitors totally gaga about van Gogh end up inside.

Regardless: just as the four OAPs and me were loudly starting to wonder through chattering teeth, if the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam might not be a better place to visit, our queue with its preferred cards – which should ensure owners get reduced tickets and fast entrance to over 600 Dutch museums – were finally allowed out of the first “kettling” area.

After mobbing the two ticket boxes and then clutching our tickets, we were directed by other museum stewards to the queue outside the museum’s actual entrance. This queue is the one for anybody with any kind of ticket. If you buy your E-ticket in advance, as this time-warped museum hooked on “kettling” and queues prefers you to do, please realise you only get to jump one of its many queues.

From the outdoor-queue one graduates to an indoor one, where a limited number of staff scan your ticket barcode. This is more like a 20th and 21st century ado. No idea why I and many other visitors with cards with bar codes needed to buy tickets costing us nothing and having to wait for ages in bad weather. Other busy museums scan ticket and card bar codes inside and if things get busy, at least provide their queues with shelter.

If you think you are free to roam the van Gogh museum after all this queuing, fear not. Once past the scanners, down in the museum’s large hall, there is more queuing. You now need to hand over bags, coats, trolleys, suitcases, any bulky stuff visitors insist on carting with them. Notices warn you, you hand over your personal belongings to the museum cloak room at your own peril.

Not that there is any choice. You are allowed to trek into the museum wearing a coat and of course your clothes, but that’s about it. When I visited, there were a mere three long queues of visitors not that eager to hand over personal belongings or desperate to get these back and waiting for their turn. All queues were for folks wanting to hand over stuff as well as folks hoping to get handed back the right stuff.

After handing over my coat and large bag, while hanging on to my ticket, I was finally allowed to visit the new temporary exhibition of the van Gogh Museum. Buying an E-ticket might have saved some time, but as mentioned above: it only allows you to skip one queue.

After my visit, I ended up in the main hall again. There were still three long queues waiting to either hand over or hoping to get handed back stuff. Experience had taught me it would take at least a quarter of an hour to get my belongings back. So I deemed it sensible to collect coat and bag first, as the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam was to be my afternoon stop.

Stupid decision! You can visit the large museum shop with coat and bag, but they do not sell anything related to the temporary exhibition. There is a very small corner selling a few cards and books to visitors interested in buying mementoes of this temporary exhibition.

After inquiring if that was all, I was told there was supposed to be more. Apparently it might be found in the museum bookshop. This happens to be on the third floor inside the old building. To get there, you need to join one of the queues and hand over your coat, bulky bag, trolley, suitcase …

The old building contains the museum’s bookshop, café, auditorium, permanent collection with most of the van Gogh paintings and drawings and a lot more. The new wing houses temporary exhibitions. But I had had enough of queues and was certainly not going to join one again to strip off coat and get rid of a bag, then visit the bookshop and then join a queue again to get my personal belongings back.

I had had it with this museum. I headed for the much visitor-friendly Rijksmuseum.

So: totally gaga about van Gogh? Interested in the museum’s “Easy Virtue” temporary exhibition? Start planning your visit like a special forces military expedition and do not tell me I did not warn you about “kettling” and queues!



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