The entrance to Amsterdam's red light district

The working women of Amsterdam

Every evening, as the red light district moves from a bustling thoroughfare to a touristic hotspot, the otherwise nondescript and well hidden red light windows that play host to Amsterdam’s sex workers spring to life. Filled with dozens of women dressed in little more than bikinis and a smile the windows are world famous and attract tens of thousands of tourists every year, with the promises of more legal drugs and sex than any man could ever consume. As the evening sets in many begin to contemplate their next move, are they ready for a night out or would they rather go to bed a bit earlier? For the sex workers of Amsterdam however, the day is just beginning and their focus turns towards plying their trade for another night.

With 800 or so of the famous windows crammed into just a few hundred square metres the competition for male attention is fierce. Many of the women have turned to Botox to give themselves a competitive edge, while more than half have silicone breast implants. Some women use a costume to stand out, and those who do so pose as maids, police officers and naughty nurses. Despite the glamour and showiness of their attire photography is strictly prohibited, and any tourist who breaks this unspoken agreement quickly finds themself facing the wrath of several very angry women.

As the rain pours down on a cold November evening you find yourself pulling up a chair on the second floor of a café that overlooks three of the famous red light windows. The girls have already started work for the evening, and as you await your traditional Amsterdam munchies food of waffles and hot chocolate you find yourself absentmindedly watching them go about their business, a voyeur besot with curiosity. In the first window a tall, black haired sex worker in an electric blue bikini sits idly playing with her phone and looking incredibly disinterested. A shorter, blonde haired sex worker in red heels, lipstick and suggestive nurses uniform fidgets with a strap on her corset in the second window. The third window, although open, is currently empty and the woman nowhere to be seen.

Over the course of the evening you sit and talk with your friend, enjoying the comfort of the café, the sound of the pouring rain outside and the seemingly endless supply of sweet hot chocolate. As the conversation piques your interest so too does the routine of the sex workers below as they flitter between texting, fidgeting and trying to entice passers-by to part with their Euro.

*tap, tap, tap*

*tap, tap, tap*

The three men passing by the window stop, apparently surprised that the short blonde girl on the other side of the window has even noticed that they were even there. She ceases rapping on the window with her fingertips and instead singles out the man closest to her, blowing him a kiss to get his attention. As of his friends have suddenly ceased to exist she locks eyes with him and begins to wiggle her finger suggestively, inviting him to make contact with her. He stands memorised before turning to his friends and, after a quick conversation, he clasps one of them on the shoulder and shakes hands with the other before they melt away into the darkness and the rain, leaving him alone with the woman.

Glancing left and right, he looks to see if anyone he knows just happens to be wandering down the same alleyway at the same time. Satisfied that he’s anonymous in the crowd he lowers his hoody and he steps from the darkness and into the vivid fluorescent glow that the red light window casts upon the cobblestones. Taking care to display her ample cleavage the naughty nurse opens her full length window and leans out to converse with the potential suitor. After a few moments of conversation she stands up, brushes down her costume as if making herself presentable and opens the window entirely, allowing the man to enter. As he eagerly steps inside and disappears from view she draws a large red curtain across the window and turns her attention towards her waiting client.

It takes approximately one hot chocolate and half a waffle before the curtain is drawn back and the man steps back out onto the street. Raising his hoody to cover himself from the worst of the rain he turns to thank the woman, however she has already drawn the curtain again and closed the window, not bothering with the formalities of saying goodbye. For a few moments he stands there, unsure of his next move. He takes a few steps in the direction he came from, before seemingly realise he was originally headed the other way. As disappears into the night he has a slight spring in his step that he didn’t have before.

Fifteen minutes go by and as your thoughts begin to turn towards bed the blonde sex worker suddenly reappears, drawing the curtain back in the same manner one would do to let a bit of light in on a sunny morning. She has rearranged her makeup, applied new lipstick and once again begins to fiddle with the laces on her corset, setting everything back in place the way it was at the start of her shift. Satisfied that her uniform is ready to go she straightens up and casts her eyes up and down the alleyway, scanning for single guys or groups of men. After a few moments later two guys wander past, seemingly enjoying an animated conversation. Their attention, however, is waylaid as a sudden distraction dressed proactively in a naughty nurses costume seizes their attention by rapping on the widows with her fingertips.

*tap, tap, tap*

*tap, tap, tap*

 

Warsaw – Poland

dubrovnic_8 Warsaw dubrovnic_7 dubrovnic_9 dubrovnic_10

 

View my reviews for hostels in Poland on Trip Advisor:

Krakow – Atlantis Hostel

Warsaw – The Warsaw Hostel

All Saints Day – Krakow

All Saints’ Day is an important traditional Polish holiday where Poles recognise the deceased and spend time with their loved ones. On All Saints Day Poles traditionally visit church for a Mass that remembers the dead and in the evening cemeteries are visited and candles and flowers placed on graves as the living say prayers for the deceased. As the holiday is about remembering all the deceased, not just loved ones who have passed away, old and forgotten graves and the graves of strangers are also visited. The graves of historical Polish figures are also visited by admirers.

As the evening approaches people make a journey with loved ones to the cemetery, taking with them a number of candles in colourful glass jars, resulting in thousands of candles dotted about the cemetery and creating a wonderfully colourful spectacle.

 

euros

Cash, Cheque or Card?

For first time travellers choosing the right way to access your money abroad can prove difficult. Twenty years ago it was much easier as travellers cheques were the only way to transport large sums of cash as there was no access to cash machines or internet banking. While some older travellers still insist on using travellers cheques the increase of fraudulent use and alternative methods of accessing money abroad have all but rendered these items a relic of a bygone era, much like disposable cameras and barbed wire tattoos.

In place of travellers cheques banks and card companies such as Visa and MasterCard have created an electronic version, the Travel Card. While each version has its own unique name they all offer essentially the same services. Before you travel you buy a prepaid card and load it up with the currencies and amounts of your choosing. The exchange rate is fixed at the time of purchase and any additional top ups are done at the current exchange rate at the time of topping up. You can then withdraw or spend this money at cash machines, stores, restaurants and anywhere else that accepts debit card transactions. When you return from your trip you can convert the remaining funds to your local currency and dispose of the card.

It all sounds so straightforward, so why aren’t Travel Cards more popular with backpackers? Like most things sold by banks and card companies there is often a catch. The exchange rate is often quite poor and losing the card abroad can be a nightmare if it’s your only way to access cash. There are fees just about every step of the way and, depending on your card provider, these can include a fee to purchase the card, a fee to top up, a fee for a replacement card if yours is lost and a fee to convert the remaining funds to cash when you arrive home. Additional fine print often stipulates that the card issuer is not responsible for any fraudulent use in the event your card is lost or stolen, effectively absolving them from reimbursing your for any fraudulent transactions. To put it simply, unless you have a real need or desire to use a travel card there are plenty of better ways to access your cash abroad.

An alternative option is to purchase currency before you leave home which ensures that, upon arrival at your destination, you’re able to make purchases straight away. Banks and foreign exchange stores offer competitive rates and an easy way to access foreign currency before you travel. Not only does this lock in the current exchange rate it also gives you a chance to familiarise yourself with the currency, thereby minimising your risk of accidently overpaying for things or being short changed by scammers. It is, however, not a good idea to arrive at your destination with several hundred dollars’ worth of foreign currency as you are more vulnerable to theft, loss or spending your cash too quickly. As such it’s often best to purchase just enough cash for two to four days’ worth of anticipated expenses and obtaining more from a cash machine at your destination.

It should be noted that not every currency is available for purchase and, asides from staple currencies such as the Pound, US Dollar and Euro, the range of currencies offered can vary quite significantly. In some cases, such as the ‘Dirham’ in Morocco, it is illegal to take currency out of the country and you will not be able to purchase it prior to arrive. Additionally some other currencies, such as the Argentine ‘Peso’ are deemed too high risk and as such you will struggle to find them available for purchase outside of neighbouring countries. When comparing rates be sure to take into consideration any applicable fees that currency exchanges may charge and, if possible, get a quote from several different outlets before making your purchase to ensure the best price.

Another option is to apply for a travel friendly credit card, such as the 28 Degrees Card (http://www.28degreescard.com.au/). These types of cards are specifically designed for travellers and often have no currency conversion fees, no international transaction fees and low or no annual fees. Having access to a credit card not only allows you to access emergency cash if required, it also allows you to track your spending abroad and adjust your budget accordingly. Ensure that you read the terms and conditions and compare cards before making any purchases, as some cards have certain restrictions or fees for services. If you do decide to apply for a credit card make sure you pay the card off in full before the due date to avoid paying interest on payments and purchases.

The final, and most popular, option is to access funds abroad from your local bank account with a debit card. Not only is it easier than the options listed above using your debit card enables you to withdraw cash as you need rather than carrying around large amounts of cash. While this option is popular and easy be sure to check what kinds of fees you may incur if making cash withdrawals abroad and how good the exchange rates are. Examine your own account and determine its suitability for travelling. If the fees prove to be too high, or the exchange rate too low, consider opening an account elsewhere specifically for travelling. Ensure that you notify your bank of your intended destinations and the dates of your travels to prevent them from blocking your card when you use it abroad.

Madrid – Spain

Sol Square, Madrid
Sol Square, Madrid
Parque del Retiro, Madrid
Parque del Retiro, Madrid
Parque del Retiro, Madrid
Parque del Retiro, Madrid
Royal Palace of Madrid, Madrid
Royal Palace of Madrid, Madrid
Royal Palace of Madrid, Madrid
Royal Palace of Madrid, Madrid
Royal Palace of Madrid, Madrid
Royal Palace of Madrid, Madrid

 

 

View my reviews for hostels in Spain on Trip Advisor:

Madrid – Barbieri Sol Hostel

Zürich – Switzerland

Zurich
View from the Rathaus Bridge
Zurich
View across the city
Zurich
Houses on the edge of the Limmat River
Zurich
The view from Limmatquai street
Zurich
View from the Rathaus Bridge
Zurich
The Limmat Club
Zurich
The view from Münsterbrücke bridge
Zurich
Grossmünster Church
Zurich
View from the Rathaus Bridge
Zurich
A statue looks out over Obersee Zürich

 

View my reviews for hostels in Switzerland on Trip Advisor:

Zurich – City Backpacker Hotel Biber

Luxembourg City – Luxembourg

View my reviews for hostels in Luxembourg on Trip Advisor:

Luxembourg City – Youth Hostel Luxembourg City