After a short rest period (mostly for the leaders) at the hotel we headed out for our evening program which included stops to take some photos of the canals, canals with houseboats, canals bridges with street musicians, all the while trying to avoid being run over by bicycles…thousands of them. We had dinner at the train station while Mark started the process of picking up the replacement Eurail passes. Mark stayed at the station while the boys took their 30-minute stroll through one of Amsterdam’s most famous attractions, the “Red Light District.” I don’t think anyone was particularly impressed and we were early enough that the streets were relatively tame. The final stop was at the Anne Frank House for a self-guiding tour of the rooms in the attic hiding place of Anne Frank and her family and a family of friends.
We picked up the replacement passports in the afternoon. That was easy. The evening chore of buying new eurail passes proved to be quite the challenge. After waiting in the queue for about 45 minutes my turn came to purchase the passes. All went well until the moment it was time to pay and then started a very memorable period of sheer panic. I handed the agent my usual trip credit card and she said, “Sorry, but we can’t take that card. It has to have a microchip on the front.” There was a sign clearly stating that, but I just assumed the hologram you see on all the US cards was the microchip. So, I went through the other four cards I was carrying and of course none had the microchip. She said I would have to go find the cash somehow, somewhere and come back. They closed at 9. At this stage I was only in a mild panic figuring I could handle this…after all my cards had plenty of credit limit on them. I knew I couldn’t get that kind of money from the ATM machines (looking for 3186 euros). I thought, okay…no problem I’ll just go to the Western Union office which dispenses all kinds of currencies and loans, etc. and see what they could do. They said, no problem…they could get me money from each of my cards. I pulled out that wad of cards and he said, “Sorry sir, but without the microchip I can only give you 500 euros on each card.” That sounded closer to being doable so I handed him my cards and then he asked for my passport. “Sorry sir, but this isn’t you!”
“What do you mean it’s not me, yes it is,” was my reply. He said, “Well sir, your passport says you’re David Mark Levin but all of these cards say you’re Mark Levin so I can only give you 500 euros for the card with David Mark Levin and nothing for the other cards.” I tried to explain that in the good old USA we usually just go by two of our names and use the other one for formal purposes only. He wasn’t humored and said, “Sorry….he couldn’t help me – perhaps I had a relative or something in Amsterdam or that I could wait until Monday to go to the bank.” I asked if he would like to adopt me on the spot, but he was not in a joke-making mood by this time and the line behind me was getting impatient.” My panic had moved up to a more appropriate severe level by now and a usually calm and collected trip director was starting to think Donner Party! (You’ll have to look that up.)
This story is getting long, but I whipped out my trusty International Phone (which I’ve never carried before) and started calling the two banks back home I was using for this trip. And within a few minutes I had upped the withdrawal limits on my two main debit cards. It would take a few minutes for everything to be reset and by this time the Eurail office would be closed and I needed to meet the group at the Anne Frank House. I wasn’t about to go to the ATMs and see if would dispense that kind of money without back-up behind me and then walk home with a pocket full of bills after people had witnessed me hitting what would look like a Las Vegas jackpot.
I walked the twenty minutes or so to the group, many of whom were still inside the house, and started to retell my story. I will say it got better and better with each version. And then, before retiring for the evening…we took the tram back to the station and put in the card for the first withdrawal. I tried 2000 euros first and the transaction was declined. A minor panic started to return, as I figured one of two things: either the resetting of limits hadn’t worked by my bank or the ATM machine had limits. I’m happy to report it was the latter and after three consecutive withdrawals of 1000 euros each (all in twenty euro bills) and with another small transaction…I had more than a pocketful of euros and more than enough to pay for the tickets though that would have to wait until the next day. But, I was feeling much better about all of this working. I still didn’t have the passes in hand but was tasting success.