Travel Mishap

In the gleam of florid neon, every street began to look the same, and my mother kept telling me not to look around anyway, so I had no idea where we were. I think everyone else in our party was in the same boat. We were lost in a foreign city. More importantly, we were lost in Amsterdam. In the red-light district. With my grandparents.

Yup. This, folks, is the stuff legendary family stories are made of.

The summer of 1997, the summer I turned 12, my grandparents came over to Europe to visit us while my family lived in France for language school. (It’s a rough life, but somebody’s got to do it.) Since we were all on summer break anyway, we took the opportunity for a whirlwind trip through Europe. We visited five countries in two weeks and raced through innumerable museums and cathedrals. This, in turn, prompted me to grow bored with Empress Josephine’s crown jewels in the Louvre and pull out my Gameboy for a quick level or two of Donkey Kong instead. Oh the death glares I received that day”¦

mont saint michel at night
Mont Saint Michel, another place where I played my Gameboy and received death glares. So many death glares…

Overall, it was a fantastic trip, albeit exhausting. I saw all kinds of places that ranged from religious (Mont Saint-Michel, the Vatican) to historic (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre, Versailles) to tragic (Dachau, Anne Frank’s house). In the end, that trip was certainly memorable, even life changing, and I hope to keep my memories of that time for many years.

My family retells stories from this trip often, especially since my grandfather is no longer with us and so many of those stories revolve around him. For instance, there was the time that he needed to leap from a moving train in order to get off at the right station in Caen. There was the time that his pocket was picked in the Gare du Nord. There was the time that he insisted on drinking the sparkling water in Venice that we had purchased and then refused to drink it because of the carbonation. And then there was Amsterdam.

In all fairness, the Amsterdam story isn’t entirely my grandfather’s fault, but he definitely contributed to the story. For whatever reason, when we were in Holland, my grandfather decided that Chinese food was what he was craving for dinner. (The stomach wants what it wants. I don’t judge.) Being tourists, we decided that we ought to ask a local about where we could find some good restaurants and were given some rough directions.

Directions in hand, we set off into the darkening twilight, stomachs rumbling and eagerly awaiting delicious orange chicken or wonton soup and”¦oh my. Why is there a woman in that window?

I looked to my (conservative Christian) mom for an explanation, and her only response was to instruct my sister and I not to look around and to pull us closer to her. As we wandered awkwardly, trying to find out where we were, I’m sure we drew all kinds of stares. Here we were, a full family of grandparents, parents, and wide-eyed prepubescent munchkins walking around the red-light district in the dark. I’m sure people laughed at us. By the time we found a restaurant – not a Chinese one, sadly – we were happy to get inside and sit down. And then we laughed. Oh how we laughed!

Amsterdam bridges at night
Beautiful Amsterdam–I would definitely return!

Later, when we got back to our hotel for the evening, my grandma was looking through her guidebook and came upon the following advice that Amsterdam offered several wonderful Chinese restaurants”¦all located in the red-light district.

Although it was awkward at the time, that story has become a family favorite, and I love telling it to people. Have you ever had a similar, awkward or epic travel story?

By Dormouse

Bilingual (and a half) white girl who spent thirteen of her formative years in Africa. She is a writer, mentor, coffee drinker, wife, cat owner, language lover, photography dabbler, aspiring speaker, and a lifetime student. She keeps her writing going over at

6 replies on “Travel Mishap”

My otherwise rather proper parents like to retell a story about an overnight boat trip across the White Sea to the Solovetsky Islands. The waves are supposedly something else out there… neither of them gets seasick, but over the course of the trip, they watched most of the rest of the passengers get violently seasick, at first people were puking somewhat discreetly in the ladies’ or the men’s rooms, then, as the seas got rougher, at whichever toilet was nearest, and then pretty much wherever. Apparently this near-collective all-night vomitfest was a good bonding experience for the group.

I don’t get seasick either, but I do wonder sometimes where I get my taste for the morbid and the gruesome stories from.

Most of our family stories have to do with that point where someone snaps at the other person because you’ve just been around each other for waaaaaaay too long. My mom and I have a very clear memory of us both crying on a street in a small Spanish town because were were hungry and cranky. It was comical.

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