There are any number of reasons for spending some time in Amsterdam: the shimmering beauty of the city (it, and not Venice, inspired the original planners of St Petersburg); the remarkable range of its music and theatre; and not least the open friendliness of its inhabitants towards visitors – something quite unlike other European capitals one could mention.
To this conventional list of accolades I can add a new one: if you are going to lose your passport, this is the place to do it.
As my daughter and I got into the taxi to take us to Schiphol Airport, the driver, a large bearded man of North African appearance, asked us if we had got our passports. She had. I hadn’t.
After over an hour of frantic and fruitless exploration of my suitcase and of the room we had just vacated, I decided we should go to the airport, so at least my daughter could take the flight we had booked.
‘No need to panic,’ I told her as we sped towards Schiphol. ‘Why should I be panicking?’ she replied with her usual calmness. ‘I’ve got my passport.’
When we got to the airport the driver, Farid, insisted on abandoning his vehicle and accompanying us to the British Airways check-in. Then, after my daughter got through a minute before the flight’s close, Farid escorted me to the airport’s police station, to report the passport’s loss.
Naturally, being Dutch, the duty officer spoke English, but it was reassuring to have a local as a sort of ally in misfortune.
Then Farid took me up to the British Airways emergency and information desk, continuing to offer his assistance with any negotiations. For a brief unworthy moment, I wondered if this large, bearded Muslim was an ideal guarantor: only the previous day two Yemenis had been arrested and held at Schiphol, on suspicions about the contents of their luggage.
But the Dutchwoman at the BA counter was all smiles and sympathy, and called the representative of the UK Border Agency.
Most unusually, there is such a person permanently based at Schiphol; in other countries, one would have to travel to the British consulate, which in the Netherlands would have meant a trip to The Hague, and – it was already evening – goodbye to any chance of leaving that day.
Fortunately, I was able to give the man from the UK Border Agency the number of my missing passport, which he fed into his computer, and after asking various questions to test my knowledge of my own claimed identity, he told me he was prepared to escort me through passport control.
At this point, I noticed Farid looking at his watch; he had been with me for about two hours. I apologised, and asked how much I owed him. To my amazement, he just quoted the standard fare to the airport; I handed him all the remaining euros in my wallet, which was about twice that. Farid looked at me almost reproachfully. ‘I was not doing this for money,’ he said.
‘It would make me feel much better if you accepted this,’ I replied, and to my relief he smiled.
We have managed to reserve you a seat on the last flight of the day to Heathrow,’ said the lady from British Airways, after Farid had waved goodbye to us. I began to pull out my credit card: ‘And how much do I owe you for the new ticket?’ I asked. ‘Nothing,’ she said. ‘Don’t worry about it.’
I was starting to imagine that I must bear a resemblance to a popular Dutch film star; the truth, I suspect, is much more encouraging – this must be normal for Amsterdam, however gloriously unreal it might feel to someone more used to the way errant foreigners are treated in other international airports.
With a couple of hours to go before the last flight of the day, I went to the Cafe Amsterdam, airside at Schiphol.
‘Sit down; I’ve been expecting you,’ said the waiter. I was strangely touched by this, even while realising how practised a line it was. ‘Double brandy, please,’ I said.
‘Excellent dinner choice,’ he replied. ‘Unfortunately we don’t sell that – but I’ll bring it to you from the bar next door.’ At this point, it was a struggle to contain tears of gratitude.
After drinking my dinner, I headed slowly for the departure lounge. As it hove into view, I checked that I had my new flight boarding pass; and checked, and checked again. The result was the same on every occasion. Yes, I had managed to lose that, too.
I headed back to the Cafe Amsterdam – but there was no sign of the boarding pass on the table. After unavailingly going through all his bins, the waiter told me not to worry. ‘That’s happened to me before,’ he said. ‘They’ll just issue you with another one at the departure desk.’
‘Even if I don’t have a passport?’ I replied. ‘Ah,’ he said. ‘That could be tricky.’
I pulled out the card the man from the UK Border Agency had given me, and called his mobile number. ‘You’re not going to believe this,’ I began. Somehow, he managed neither to laugh nor cry. ‘I’ll be with you in a few minutes and take you through to the flight,’ he said. ‘I was going to be there anyway to keep an eye on things.’
Once on the flight, I found that I had been allocated the seat next to a baby who had been screaming piercingly as she was carried on board. I deserve this, I thought. Then, as the child was strapped in to her seat, she stared at me and instantly fell into a sleep, which lasted the whole flight.
I began to hope the day would never end, but it did, at the usual time of midnight, which is when I finally arrived home. ‘Let me look inside your case,’ said my wife. Within a couple of minutes she presented me with my (now invalid) passport. It was marking pages inside a book I had been reading.
In theory, this discovery should have been very annoying: the whole palaver might have been avoided. Yet how else could I have discovered the full extent of Amsterdam’s hospitality? – Dailymail