Luggage and Pickpocket Woes in Amsterdam
Back in the spring of 2002 I had spent two wonderful weeks in London staying at the flat of a friend of mine who was attending the London School of Economics.
During my first week there my friend and I decided to take a short trip to Holland. We hopped a flight from Gatwick and arrived just a few hours later near Amsterdam (I forget now which airport.) Next we took a train from the airport to the Centraal Station in Amsterdam.
I had borrowed an overnight bag from my friend for the trip, as we were only staying two days. When we got on the train I wasn't sure where to store my friend's bag, which had all my toilet articles and a change of clothing. I had decided to keep it on the floor in front of me, when one of the passengers sitting directly across from us complained that it was in his way. He suggested that I store the bag in the space behind our seat. Big mistake!
I ultimately forgot about the bag and left it behind on the train when we arrived at the station. I didn't realize it until after the train had departed again. The bag also contained two new, disposable cameras that I had brought along for the trip. Frantically I reported the incident to the Station Manager, who took my name and my friend's address in London in case the bag should turn up (long story short: it never did and I eventually had to reimburse my friend for it!)
Fortunately there was nothing in the bag that couldn't be replaced; but I would have to go out at some point after I got settled in and purchase a new razor, toothbrush and other toilet articles. I had booked a room at a local Hostel near Amsterdam's infamous "Red Light" district. My friend, who had a paper to write for school. decided to stay at a nearby hotel. After my friend and I went our separate ways (we would meet again in two days at the train station to return together to London) I went up to my room to unpack.
I had made sure that my passport and traveler's checks were tucked away safely in one of those nylon "waist-safes" that one wears underneath clothing to prevent theft. Unfortunately I forgot that I had a 50-Euro Note and my ATM/Check Card unsecured in my shirt pocket. While I was out and about looking for a Chemist's Shop where I could purchase toothpaste, etc., I encountered a woman who seemed upset. She was babbling incoherently and was speaking a language that I didn't recognize or understand. I got the impression, however, that she was either asking for help or for directions.
At one point she grasped my wrist with one hand and had her other hand on my shoulder. She started tugging at my wrist as if she wanted me to follow her somewhere. At that point I saw a police officer a few yards away and I suggested that we go and ask him for help. The woman got nervous when I pointed out the officer, however. She then politely declined any help in very Broken English and then quickly departed.
I stood there for a moment, scratching my head and wondering why she ran off so fast... and then resumed walking. When I finally found a Chemist's Shop I reached into my shirt pocket for my money, only to find that the Euro Note was gone! That woman was obviously a pickpocket and had slipped her hand that was on my shoulder into my pocket while she distracted me by tugging at my wrist with her other hand.
Fortunately she didn't take my ATM/Check Card and I was ultimately able to withdraw more funds from my checking account. I made darned sure, however, that my card and any cash were always secured in my waist-safe from that moment on! When I told my friend about the incident she said that the woman was probably a homeless person and/or drug addict who may have been looking to score cash with which to buy drugs. She probably would not have had any use for my ATM/Check Card, my friend added.
So I learned a valuable lesson the hard way... always keep an eye on your personal belongings and your cash and credit cards; or you could be a pickpocket's next target!Related to:
- Business Travel
- Study Abroad
Amsterdam's Red Light District
This is just a warning, not a danger. I never felt like this area was dangerous.
I'm going to be frank. We've been through a lot of tips, Gentle Reader, and I think by now you know I'm in this for the love of travel and seeing and experiencing new things but even I have limits. Maybe it's because I'm a woman and feel fairly strongly about women's rights or maybe because I'm an American and as the rest of the world seems to think, we're all prudes over here but I did not enjoy the Red Light District. I want to describe the way I saw it just to give you another view of it to help you decide if you want to check it out for yourself or not.
Now first of all, keep in mind that I am quite a liberal person. I strongly believe that people should be allowed to do whatever they want to do as long as it's not hurting anyone else. So, I was in Amsterdam. I was attempting to enjoy the whole unusual vibe this place has. For example, I went to a cafe, just to look, because I've never seen a menu that had marajuana on it before. I'm a curious person and I like to see things for myself. However, I hadn't yet been to the RLD until I accidentally went there when I got lost after leaving the Oude Kerk.
What bothers me the most about this area is that everyone who talks of it takes it as joke. The minute someone mentions it, it seems most people start laughing like they're suddenly transformed into a frat boy. What I saw wasn't funny. The women I saw in these windows had a very hollow, distant look in their eyes that made me feel very sorry for them.
Some of the toys I saw in the shop windows? Yeah, those were funny. But, for me, the RLD makes me think of just one thing - this one woman I saw and the look on her face. I know that it's legal there and no one is making her do this for a living but her haunted face definitely said otherwise.
So if you're thinking about going "just to see it," keep in mind my experience and think twice about going if you're not sure. This is not a light-hearted adult version of Disneyland or something.
Offers of Help
I encountered this several times while in The Netherlands, mainly in Amsterdam.
What happens is, a man approaches someone they suspect is a tourist and offers to "help" by giving directions. Not a big problem, except after they give directions, they want money for helping.
The first time this happened to me (and also the last, if I may proudly say;-)), I had just arrived in Amsterdam and I was at the Centraal Station trying to figure out where the heck I needed to go. This pleasant enough-looking man came up and said I looked lost. Well, yeah. So I asked him if he knew where the main office was because I needed to have my train pass validated. He took me right to it. And then asked for money. I'd barely had enough money to buy my ticket in from Schiphol so I gave him the two coins I had on me. Luckily, he smiled, nodded, and left. What concerned me was, I don't travel with much money and what money I do have on me is *very* tightly budgeted. What if I hadn't given him anything? Or what if what little I did give him wasn't enough as far as he was concerned? This guy seemed nice enough but what if the next person who tried that wasn't as nice?
The next time it happened to me I was near the Oude Kerk, not far from the Red Light District and really turned around (I didn't know I was near the Red Light District but ended up in it, unfortunately, that's how lost I was). This guy approached and asked if I was lost. I smiled and said, "No," and moved on with purpose, like I knew exactly where I was going. He didn't follow.
The next time it happened to me it made me rather mad because I wasn't lost at all! I'd been in Amsterdam for several days at that point and knew exactly where I was and where I was headed and this guy still asked if I needed directions like he was doing me a favor! I replied, "No" with a tone that implied, "Why in the world would you ask me that?" put on my best confused smile and left. What I'd been doing was taking a picture so I think he assumed I was a tourist and therefore lost.
Anyway, my point is, if you don't want to part with your money, especially if you're a woman travelling alone, be careful of these people. Like I said, who knows how one of them might react if you don't give them any or enough money. And if you do have some money and don't mind paying someone for directions, I would still be a little leery of these guys because although the man at Centraal gave me the correct directions, who's to say all of them will? If you took them at their word and they were, in fact, the wrong directions, you could end up even more lost than you already were. I would only take directions from people you approach for help, not vice-versa.Related to:
- Budget Travel
- Women's Travel
Watch out when crossing roads
This is for those of us who come from countries where they drive on the left because in Europe, they drive on the right or as they claim they drive the right way!! Be extra alert especially in the Netherlands.
When crossing roads, You have to look LEFT FIRST for bicycles coming along the bike path, and CONTINUE LOOKING LEFT again for cars or trams and then right for cars/trams and right again for bicycles.Related to:
There are different speed limits on the the Dutch roads:
120 km/hr on the highways
100 or 80 km/hr on non-highways
60 km/hr on rural roads
50 km/hr in cities/villages (The city name sign is the start of the speed zone!)
30 km/hr in designated housing communities
The speed limits are enforced with laser guns, speed camera's, marked and unmarked police cars and on some highways with trajectory control.
Foreigners that are stopped by the police after a speed violation, must pay at the spot.
If you are speeding 50 or more km/hr over the limit your driver's license will be impounded for some weeks.Related to:
- Road Trip
- Adventure Travel
- Budget Travel
Heavy traffic in The Netherlands is expected daily between approx. 7-9.30 am and 4-7 pm.
Especially in the western area (called Randstad), on the A4 (Amsterdam-The Hague), A13 (The Hague-Rotterdam), A12 (The Hague-Utrecht), A1 (Amsterdam eastwards), A2 (Utrecht southwards) and ring roads (A10, A9 around Amsterdam).
Normal morning and evening traffic jams can be around 200 kms total.
You could familiarise yourself with traffic jams by having a regular look at http://www.anwb.nl/verkeer (then click on the area where you will be driving).Related to:
- Road Trip
"Coffee shops are catering establishments and therefore subject to the tobacco legislation. Like other catering establishments, they may set up enclosed smoking areas."
This means that the selling area has to be completely separate from the smoking area. There is no difference in weed/hasj or tobacco when it comes to where you are allowed to smoke: if there is no enclosed smoking area in the coffeeshop, then you may not smoke anything.
Here's the formal information (in English) from the Ministry of Health:
or click here
and also a FAQ from the same Ministry:
or click here
As of April 1, 2007, Dutch coffeeshops can no longer sell alcohol. This covers all coffeeshops that sell cannabis products. Dutch coffeeshop owners who had licenses to sell both alcohol and marijuana were offered a choice: they could choose to keep one of those licenses.
School holidays 2008/2009 part 2 - dates
The date notation is: Day/Month/Year
Primary school = PS (age 5-12)
Secondary school = SS (age 12-18)
If you want to know what regions are meant, read the previous tip.
Autumn holiday: North PS+SS - 18-10-08 until 26-10-08
Autumn holiday: Middle/South - 11-10-08 until 19-10-08
Christmas (all regions): 20-12-08 until 04-01-09
Spring holiday: North/Middle PS+SS 14-02-09 until 22-02-09
Spring holiday: South PS+SS 21-02-08 until 01-03-09
May holidays: All regions PS+SS 25-04-09 until 05-05-09
Summer holiday: North PS 04-07-09 until 16-08-09
Summer holiday: North SS 04-07-09 until 23-08-09
Summer holiday: Middle PS 11-07-09 until 23-08-09
Summer holiday: Middle SS 11-07-09 until 30-08-09
Summer holiday: South PS 25-07-09 until 06-09-09
Summer holiday: South SS 18-07-09 until 06-09-09
Autumn holiday: North PS+SS - not yet known (new school year)
Autumn holiday: Middle/South - not yet known (new school year)Related to:
- Family Travel
- Budget Travel
- Business Travel
Average rainfall in October (autumn)
The normal average rainfall in October is 78 mm.
Anything under say 65 mm is considered a dry month.
October has the autumn school holiday (one week), generally the 3rd week of that month.
Over the last 10 years:
2007: 32 mm
2006: 91 mm
2005: 49 mm
2004: 56 mm
2003: 74 mm
2002: 82 mm
2001: 55 mm
2000: 109 mm
1999: 62 mm
1998: 172 mm
Smoking in The Netherlands
From 1 July 2008 there will be a new anti-smoking regulation.
Smoking in all public places (governmental buildings, local governmental buildings, schools, hospitals, all public transportation including stations) is already prohibited.
From July 1st 2008 this will also include hotels, restaurants, pubs, and also shopping malls, congress halls, concert halls, and airports.
Outside terraces at restaurants are ok to smoke.
The restaurant business (and all other related businesses) may have separate, closed off rooms and spaces for smokers. Staff is not allowed to serve there.
In coffeeshops the area where the products are sold must be smoke free.
Trespassing will be fined.Related to:
- Family Travel
A 'slightly' different map view!
I was fiddling around with my VT travel map when I noticed the shape of my home country Netherlands. According to the graphical interpretation of VT, it is quite different than its actual shape!
The appendix isn't on the bottom left, it's on the bottom right (the province Limburg is missing). And there is a big bit missing above Amsterdam as well. That's just about most of the province Noord-Holland. Hmmmm... VT made my country smaller than it already is!
Just click on the photo and you'll see.
How has your country been portrayed on the VT travel map?
Dutch railway refunds if'...
Although I don't like to say anything negative about my country, sometimes one has to be realistic. Dutch railway schedules can be a mess. And they recognise that.
So if your trip is not on schedule due to a train mess-up, here's the rules for refund:
30-59 mins late: 50% refund single trip or 25% refund return trip.
60+ mins late: 100% refund single trip or 50% refund return trip
Amounts under 2,20 euro: no refund
Rule not valid in case of announced maintenance, extreme circumstances such as storm, earthquakes or war.
To get the refund you need to get a refund form (called: Geld terug bij Vertraging) from any NS counter. You can ask for refund up to 3 months after your trip.Related to:
So this may seem like a strange warning, but a lot of tourists get hit by a bike. Pretty much everyone in the Netherlands has a bike and uses it a lot as well. So you've got the side walk on which you're walking, and the road for the cars, but between those, there also is a bicycle path. Mainly bikers have all the power in traffic and they use it, so take a good look before you cross the road, because a bicycle won't stop for you!Related to:
Speeding fines (updated 2007)
Within built-up area's
up to 10 kms too fast: 16-39 €
building up to
66-69 kms too fast: 660 €
Outside built-up area's
up to 10 kms too fast: 14-36 €
building up to
66-69 kms too fast: 620 €
up to 10 kms too fast: 14-34 €
building up to
66-69 kms too fast: 570 €
More than 69 kms per hour: court order
From 50 kms and faster the drivers license is taken in.Related to:
- Road Trip
Traffic Fines (updated 2007)
Some of the most common traffic fines:
Fines for speeding
Drivers license past date: 50 euro
Not being able to show drivers license: 50 euro
Driving without drivers license: 190 euro
Driving without insurance: 320 euro
Overtaking when prohibited: 130 euro
Driving through red lights: 130 euro
Overtaking on or near a pedestrian crossing: 200 euro
Overtaking on the right: 130 euro
Parking on a parking spot for handicapped: 130 euro
Not wearing safety belts: 75 euro
Insufficient lights on the car: 75 euro
Handheld telephoning while driving: 130 euroRelated to:
- Road Trip
- Business Travel
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