Cheap flights allow for prostitution at Amsterdam airport

prostitution at Amsterdam airportA large number of budget flights from Eastern Europe and other parts of the world to the Netherlands has created a ring of prostitution at Amsterdam airport, giving a new meaning to the word layover. Prostitutes are flying into

Schiphol Airport and using the hotels in the international transit area to meet with clients without going through customs, often making a hefty profit even after “commuting” on cheap flights into Amsterdam.

Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, and though what is happening in the airport is unregulated and thus technically illegal, Dutch police have no plans to stop it unless they receive specific complaints. The Amsterdam Prostitutes Association is also fine with the ad hoc red-light district as long as the women are doing it on their own accord and there is no human trafficking.

Flying through Amsterdam but not interested in the sex trade? Check out our guide to layovers at Schiphol Airport.

Hat tip to WhichBudget.com for the story. Photo courtesy Flickr user algenta101.

Ten things to know about your destination before you go

know before you go travel planningSo you’ve chosen your vacation destination – booked the tickets, agonized over TripAdvisor to find a hotel, and bought the guidebooks or downloaded the apps. Whether you like to plan your itinerary in advance or play it by ear, there are a few things you should research in advance to make your arrival – and your trip – go smoothly.

From airport taxis to local laws to transit passes, what should you know before you go?

  1. Best way from the airport to the city – This should be your first order of business – figuring out the most efficient and/or least expensive way to get to your hotel before you find yourself being hounded by taxi touts at baggage claim or standing in the rain waiting for a bus that comes every two hours. London’s Heathrow Express is a great compromise between an exorbitant taxi ride and a long Tube ride with transfers, but other cities may have cheap cab fares (find out approximately what you should pay before you get in the car) or excellent public transportation systems connecting with the airport. Check out any guidebook or the Getting In section of a Wikitravel article for the best info and check if your hotel offers pick up service for a good value.
  2. How much cash to start with and in what denominations – Now that you know how to get to your hotel, you’ll need cash to pay for your transfer. No matter what the exchange rate, you should find out how much money to withdraw from the ATM or exchange at the airport (note: most airports in the world have ATMs and will give you a better value than exchanging currency, but it never hurts to have some backup cash). Lonely Planet‘s Cost Index is great for determining about how much cash will cover a taxi ride, a meal or two, and other expenses for your first day or so. Some countries will give you large bills that are hard to break – try entering an odd amount like 130 to get some smaller bills or visit a newsstand to get change.
  3. What’s the tipping culture – So you’re in the taxi, cash in hand to pay the driver, do you tip? In many countries, like Turkey, people don’t generally tip taxi drivers, perhaps rounding up to the nearest lira or two, so a 38 TL fare would cost 40 TL (taxi drivers here are so loathe to give change they may eat the cost of a 52 TL fare and give you change for the 50). Likewise for restaurants and cafes, 10% is standard in many places outside of the US and often included in the bill. I’ll never forget leaving a 20% tip on top of an included 10% in a London bar – the waitress was thrilled but I felt like a fool. Figure out what’s appropriate and do as the locals do to avoid stiffing or overcompensating for service.
  4. A few key phrases in the local language – This is a necessity in some countries, and always a courtesy to know a few words of a foreign language. “Please” and “thank you” and “where is the bathroom?” will always be useful, and “two beers,” “another one” and “check” will usually result in good things.
  5. When to leave for the airport when you depart – It’s hard to think about going home when you’re enjoying vacation, but knowing how much time to allow for your departure can help you to maximize your last day. While your airline might tell you how far in advance to arrive, better to ask someone who really knows how long to budget, like your hotel concierge. A Lisbon hotel front desk clerk once saved me several hours waiting at the airport by letting me know the recommended three hours before check-in was overkill.
  6. What’s legal – Learning about the local laws can save you headaches and money. I just discovered that in Warsaw, jaywalking is illegal and punishable by a 50 zl fine, hence why all the residents wait patiently at crosswalks for the light to change. In some cities, it’s fine to bring a bottle of wine or beer into a park for a picnic, but in others, public drinking can get you fined. Knowing what’s legal can also help you avoid (or seek out, depending on your proclivities) potential danger areas such as red light districts. Wikitravel is good at listing info on local laws and dangers.
  7. What days museums are free or discounted – Visiting a museum on a free day might allow you to see something you’d otherwise miss due to the admission price, and free nights are often packed with locals and fun events. Find out what days you can get free to help plan your itinerary. Rick Steves’ guides always have a good summary of free (as well as closed) days.
  8. The real value of a transit or tourist pass – Many cities have a museum or tourist card that you can purchase to get free admission at many sites for a set time. But before you invest in a pass, check out if you really want to go to the included places (cheesy sights like wax musuems are invariably included) and if you’d have enough time to really enjoy visiting them all. Similarly, public transportation passes can be great in a city like New York, where a Metrocard can save you time and money, but if you prefer to walk or cab around town, you might skip it. The single best deal I’ve found is the Japan rail pass, which must be purchased in your home country, and gives free or discounted access to public transit and many of the country’s awesome bullet trains.
  9. Where to get help if you need it – I used to think registering with the U.S. Department of State when traveling abroad was a bit silly but a friend at the embassy in Istanbul stressed how important it is in case of a disaster in locating citizens, as well as to help Americans abroad in trouble. Leave your travel details with friends back home, carry the contact details for your embassy and credit cards and check your insurance policy for coverage away from home.
  10. Can’t-miss tips from locals and travelers – Here’s where social media can really help you have a great vacation – before departure, ask your travel-savvy friends on Facebook and Twitter what their don’t-miss recommendations are for what to see or where to eat. Even if they are well-known attractions, having a tip from someone who’s been there will help you prioritize. You can always ask us at Gadling, chances are one of us has been there and can provide recommendations – just post to our Facebook page or send us a tweet @Gadling.

Other tips you’ve found handy to know in advance? Leave us yours in the comments.

Amsterdam invests millions to clean up the Red Light district

Amsterdam has long been a bit of asordid playground – it is one of the only places in the world where you can go to legally smoke some pot and visit a prostitute.

Because of its very liberal laws, Amsterdam created a pretty bad image of itself. To many people, the first thing they think of when you mention Amsterdam is not its many canals and beautiful architecture, but hookers and weed. It’s the main reason thousands upon thousands of tourists visit the city each year, helped by extremely low airfares from the European carriers.

The Amsterdam council is trying its best to change that image, and has started project “1012” (1012 is the postcode number for the city center).

The city has already purchased, and closed over 100 of the windows where women would display their “goods”. Next up are the many coffeeshops, which obviously sell more than just coffee. The city has created a multi-million Euro fund to pay for converting these stores to something less sleazy, like an ice cream shop or bar. One entrepreneur was paid 25 million Euro’s to close 60 of his windows, obviously making for a pretty decent retirement payment.

The end result should hopefully convert the old Wallen into a more tourist friendly district, without window after window of prostitution. That does not mean the city is completely abolishing the Red Light district – there will still be some windows, just a lot less than the current 482. Amsterdam clearly hopes to attract a different kind of tourist than the ones heading to their city for nothing more than sex and drugs.

Times Square becomes a pedestrian zone

New York City’s famous Times Square became free of cars this Monday.

This is the latest in two decades of radical changes to what used to be a dirty, dangerous, but uniquely vibrant part of one of the world’s greatest cities. City officials have blocked traffic from 42nd to 47th Streets at Times Square and between 33rd and 35th Streets at Herald Square in a much-anticipated move we first reported on back in February.

The traffic jams are being replaced by pedestrian plazas and more shops. The hope is to attract even more visitors to New York City’s iconic square by getting rid of noise, pollution, and frequent accidents. New Yorkers celebrated Monday with a big block party and setting up lawn chairs in the middle of the road. The city plans to have various events and street performers every night in the coming weeks to attract more people to Times Square.

Old-time New Yorkers like yours truly have fond memories of the old Times Square, full of seedy bars, seedier adult shops, and crumbling movie houses where you could watch a double feature of martial arts films for two bucks. I saw my first Jackie Chan film in Times Square, my first zombie picture, not to mention countless Z-list action flicks. Ah, the Eighties!

But not everyone liked Times Square at its decadent best. It was too close to Broadway, where accountants from Omaha wanted to see musicals without being reminded that the world isn’t like it is in A Chorus Line.

First to go were the movie theaters, replaced one by one by adult video centers, as if the area didn’t have enough of those already. No more blaxplotation or ninja flicks, just hard core. Then the porn shops got shut down. Times Square began to look like Disneyland. Now the squalling, bumper-to-bumper traffic has gone the way of the dodo. The armpit of New York has been replaced with the outdoor equivalent of a shopping mall. Progress? Well, it’s certainly safer (how I survived my teen-aged trips to the old Times Square still amazes me) but I can’t help but think that by killing Times Square, New York City has lost something.

Every city has its grotty area. Amsterdam has its red light district, London has Elephant and Castle, and New York had Times Square. The thing is, these neighborhoods are often really interesting and alive. The red light district in Amsterdam has some of the city’s best architecture. Elephant and Castle has an amazing variety of African shops and restaurants. Times Square has. . .well, had. . .an exciting street life and a variety of movie houses for every taste. And no, I’m not talking about the adult stuff. Back in the day, all sorts of people went to Times Square, everyone from well-heeled businessmen up to no good, to curious teenagers like I was, all the way down to street hustlers and petty thieves. That’s what I liked about it. Now it’s tourists and the middle class. Aren’t there enough places like that?

Any other old-time New Yorkers out there have any thoughts on this?

Enter Madrid’s red light district

Just north of Gran Via, you’ll find all the leather, sex toys adult novelty items, prostitutes and hook-up bars you’ll need – whether you’re in Madrid for a few hours or several months. For wholesome distraction, however, look elsewhere. The narrow streets and tight alleys can frustrate navigation and make a sketchy space feel even more confined. A mere two blocks from my hotel, I found an “erotic boutique,” “Bears Bar” (which is not a celebration of Yogi or Winnie) and several posters advertising all manner of gratification.

So, why would you hit this neighborhood?

Aside from the obvious anonymous lust-fueled jaunts into a neighborhood designed to satisfy with minimal effort, the bars may be worth the trip. There is an evident party scene in this corner of Madrid, and it’s not limited to the Bears’ niche. After 9 PM, the restaurants and bars along Calle des Infantes [verify street name], especially, attract a young, energetic crowd. Stop by El Tigre for tapas (and be prepared to eat standing), and then crawl from one dive bar to the next … there are plenty to occupy your evening. Finally, in a drunken stupor (or, “stooper,” as a commenter on one of my previous stories put it), decide whether to hunt or pay for an evening’s companionship.

A word of caution: I’ve read that this part of town can be dangerous for accompanies women after dark. While I’ve made light of some of the risks in this neighborhood, please be smart. Both prostitution and drugs, I understand, are common just north of Gran Via. There is a cool bar scene up there, but you probably don’t want to check it out alone.