Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lost in Amsterdam

Notes from my travel log:

When you start looking like your passport photo, its time to go home, said Erma Bombeck. I thought of this immediately upon seeing my new passport photo inching it’s way out of the auto-photo machine in the Amsterdam main station. As I stood looking at it in dismay, a small wiry man with a knit cap, blue jeans and a sweat shirt, pushed by me, ripped back the curtain and darted into the booth I’d just exited and using some sort of hand tool, relieved the machine of the 5 Euro I’d just deposited for my picture. As much as the horrible passport photo dismayed me, the sneaky thief was even more disturbing. The fact that we witnessed his robbery didn’t seem to bother him at all. He was more concerned about getting out the 5 euro before some other thief came and got it first!  We stood for a while agape watching him moving around the station, lurking and darting from machine to machine. 

We were having our pictures taken because our passports were stolen…filched, we think, from my backpack the night before. A night of tossing and turning, worrying over replacing the stolen documents gave me the gift of giant bags under my eyes and a strangely guilty expression on the passport photo. Amsterdam is a great city to visit on foot and we had enjoyed many days of tramping around sight seeing. The night prior after a very satisfying roast duck dinner, we stopped in at a “brown” café to use the internet and retrieve email. Brown cafes are well known around the world because you can openly buy marijuana in them, along with your cup of coffee. 

Somewhere between the café and the tram, my travel wallet with passports, money, cash card, credit cards had vanished. Stolen or lost, we’ll never know, but most assuredly gone. Following the advice of many, we filed a report at the police station mid-city.

The officers on duty were most helpful. Because most everyone in Amsterdam speaks English, if you have to have such an experience, this is the city in Europe to do it in. Trying to explain the situation using my halting French or Richard’s German would have made it very challenging. Instead, the experience was pleasant. The station has bathrooms and free coffee. Officers, one female and one male, dressed in smart blue uniforms and starched shirts, took the time to take a very detailed report and explained that all such information is tracked on a central computer and lost/stolen/recovered items are all ultimately turned into a central lost and found. They weren’t particularly encouraging about possibly recovering the stuff, but they did run through a check-list of what should be done, such as putting stops on the credit cards. We were astonished when they presented us with the gift of two muslim neck wallets which they advised we should use in the future. While waiting for the paperwork to be completed we wandered around the station reading bulletins and tourist information posted on the walls including cautions against various and sundry scams. We were only moderately surprised to learn that some of the remarkably beautiful women we saw, “on display” in the red light district, may very well be men. Visitors to the area to sample the wares were clearly warned that transsexuals and transvestites also plied their trade in these establishments.

The red light district amazes everyone and is a regular stop for city tours. We saw a Japanese family (2 adults, two kids) engaged in a game of face making with one prostitute in a sleazy alleyway where red lights are in the majority. These tourists were behaving exactly as they would at a zoo. The prostitutes lease rooms identified by a red neon light framing the main window. They're on display in these windows which they make into a tableau of sorts. Some of the windows are equipped like bathrooms and the prostitutes wear underwear and preen in front of their mirrors. Others are furnished with an easy chair and magazines or books. The prostitutes are as scantily clad as the bathroom gals but posed reading – perhaps appealing to a more intellectual type? One magnificent looking creature was dressed in a sequined red, white and blue bikini and filled her window from corner to corner and side to side. She must have been 6 foot 3 inches, muscular but curvy and very beautiful. After reading the posting in the police station, we thought she may have very well been a he.

At the American consulate we were well treated and actually had new passports within the day. I was dismayed that no one mentioned how little the passport picture actually resembled me. With passports replaced and credit cards cancelled, we were all set to continue enjoying our remaining time in beautiful Amsterdam.


  1. Two things stand out in my mind about Amsterdam- Anne Frank's attic and the red light district. Two sides of humanity!
    Although I knew about the red light area we happened upon it by accident. Kind of shocking to come around the corner and see those ladies posing in their windows. It didn't occur to me at the time (sometime in the 60's) that they might be men.
    I do remember loving Amsterdam. A great city.
    You definitely should write a travel book or maybe a blog all about travel. You've been everywhere and you write so well!

  2. I hated the red light district - dayglo meat on the hoof. I was more of a fan of the coffee shops. They conveniently put pancake shops or pannikoken right next door in case your blood sugar drops too severely. Amsterdam has cars and bikes whizzing by from every direction, kind of scary. A conspicuously young city, first place I think I felt old. My favorite museum in the world, the Reichsmuseum, Rembrandt's fighting with Vermeer's for best of show. Hated all the graffiti in Vondel Park. Dutch women are quite beautiful, at any age.

    Amsterdam is a city of hubs and spokes and you can get lost really easiy. One street off and soon you are a mile away.

  3. Maybe because I'm Italian, and for this less trusting in people honesty, since my first trip without my parents have always used neck wallets and I've been happy. Included in the Netherlands. ;)
    BTW: I also read an Italian translation of Erma Bombeck's book! Really fun!