cultural empathy

Responsible Tourism: Amsterdam's Red Light District

Amsterdam’s Red Light District

Through Peace Stamps, I hope to educate people on how to be more responsible tourists. Today, I want to talk about responsible tourism in Amsterdam’s Red Light District.

 Part of Amsterdam's Red Light District

Part of Amsterdam's Red Light District

For about eight centuries Amsterdam’s Red Light District has been thriving.  As a legal venue of prostitution, the area attracts millions of tourists each year.  Many tourists choose to travel to Amsterdam to partake in activities that are illegal in their home countries.  But just because it is legal in Amsterdam does not mean it is ethical. 

Amsterdam’s city council has been trying to eradicate prostitution and revamp the Red Light District for years through Project 1012, but have failed because drugs and prostitution generate approximately 2.5 billion euros a year for The Netherlands.  A large majority of this income stems from tourists.  But what are the negative effects when taking advantage of the legal activities of Amsterdam’s Red Light District?

A Delayed Dead-End for the Prostitutes

Many of the prostitutes in Amsterdam’s Red Light District are poor Eastern European women that are in debt for one reason or another.  They choose to sell themselves to support themselves and their families instead of pursuing another source of income.  The average prostitute in Amsterdam is her own boss and makes about 200 to 1500 euros a day.  However, the average career of a prostitute only lasts through her 20s, due to the low demand for “older” women.  After a decade of prostitution these women find themselves right back where they started with no job, no money, no degree, and no career. 

Human Trafficking and Organized Crime

Although pimps are supposedly not present in the Red Light District, there is still evidence of human trafficking.  According to a few sources, there is evidence of illegal Russian organizations trafficking women to The Netherlands.  The women are often too afraid to go to the authorities for fear of what may happen to them or their families.  There are also men who will coerce the women to fall in love with them and then manipulate them into prostitution. 

Safety of the Women

 Although the brothels are equipped with security buttons in the rooms, police officers, security guards, and other methods to protect the women, there are still incidents of women being harmed by their customers.  With this type of business, women being harmed is inevitable.  While it is not all that common, any harm is too much in my opinion.

How to be a Responsible Tourist in Amsterdam

Although the Red Light District is what draws many tourists to Amsterdam, there are many other appeals of Amsterdam.  To be a more responsible tourist it is important to support the activities that leave the city better off than when you arrived. 

If you are looking to go to Amsterdam, I suggest renting a bike and touring the city.  There are millions of bikes around the city, which contribute to a more eco-friendly mode of transportation.  Renting a bike also allows you to experience the city’s beautiful architecture out in the open while getting a bit of exercising and creating no carbon impact.  Even the Red Light District has amazing architecture.  It is okay to experience the architecture but do not support the actions there.

There are thousands of charming cafes, pubs, and restaurants around Amsterdam.  If you get tired of the normal places in the heart of Amsterdam, there is the NDSM (Nederlandsche Dok en Scheepsbouw Maatschappij) Ship Wharf only a ten minute ferry ride across the bay.  You can catch the ferry near the Amsterdam Central train station.  NDSM is an industrial area that has repurposed shipping containers into unique bars, cafes, and even housing for students and refugees.  It is a really amazing and unique area.  There is also wall art everywhere.  You can even get a picture with a unique version of the “iamsterdam” sign.

 I amsterdam painting in NDSM

I amsterdam painting in NDSM

One of my favorite places was the Brouwerij ‘t IJ.  This brewery is inside an old windmill and serves some of the tastiest beer.

 Brouwerij ‘t IJ in an old windmill

Brouwerij ‘t IJ in an old windmill

Amsterdam is an amazing city that deserves all the tourism that comes its way.  I think it is important that we do not support these unethical traditions in hopes that the city can one day completely eliminate them.

Here’s to more responsible travels! xoxo

 

 

Sources:

https://www.smokersguide.com/articles/30/closing_coffeeshops_and_cleaning_up_the_red_light.html#.WhwKiLQ-fBI

http://www.amsterdam-advisor.com/prostitution-in-amsterdam.html

https://uk.reuters.com/article/us-dutch-economy-drugs/its-official-drugs-prostitution-boost-dutch-economy-idUKKBN0F01N820140625

 

 

 

 

 

Russian Visa-Free Travel

Russian Visa-free Loophole

We always want what we can’t have.  It’s human nature.  In relation to traveling, it is no different.  When the process to enter a country is difficult, it makes going to that country even more exciting.  Such is the case for Russia.  To obtain a Russian visa the traditional way, you must be sponsored by a Russian citizen.  Your sponsor must write you an invitation letter and you have to know the exact dates you will enter and exit the country.  In addition, you have to provide the Russian Embassy a copy of your bank statement that proves you have at least $3,000.  The cost to apply for the visa is $150 plus a $30 visa support fee.  Sounds like a bit of a hassle, doesn’t it?

What if you could bypass all of these requirements and still visit Russia??  That is what I did!  There is a loophole that allows you to enter Russia for 72- hours visa free.  To be eligible for this visa-free travel there are a few requirements:

1.     You must enter and exit Russia via ferry.

  • You can travel via ferry from Helsinki, Finland to Saint Petersburg, Russia. 

2.     You must book a 25€ city tour while in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

  • The city tour was really just a shuttle from the port to the city center.

3.     You cannot stay in Saint Petersburg for more than 72- hours.

The Ferry Line

 To travel via ferry to Saint Petersburg, Russia, I used the St. Peter/ Moby Line.  The cruise ship was a bit outdated and my room was very small and claustrophobic, but I paid for the cheapest room possible, so that was to be expected.  There was nothing else wrong with the room other than the size.  There are several restaurants of differing price ranges on the 7th deck of the ship.  You have the option to choose a meal plan while on the ship, but I chose to forego the meal plan and just ate when we docked at each city.  I believe I saved money by doing that.  Even if you do not get a meal plan, you can still may for individual meals at the restaurants.  Sometimes the credit card machines do not work, so try and carry euros around with you.  Euros are the accepted currency on the ship.

The direct route to Saint Petersburg is from Helsinki, Finland, but you can choose to get on the cruise ship in Stockholm, as well.  I found this to be a good option for me because I am attempting to travel to every country in the world, so I was able to hit three countries for 250€. 

There is one important detail I wish I would have known before I booked the cruise!  Please refer to the picture of the ferry schedule below.

russia ferry schedule.jpeg

If you look at the schedule, you will notice that the ferry only arrives in Saint Petersburg on Thursdays and Sundays at 09:00.  The ferry only departs Saint Petersburg on Fridays and Sundays at 19:00 and 18:00, respectively.  If you arrive on Thursday at 09:00 and want to stay in Saint Petersburg for the full 72 hours, the next ferry does not depart until 18:00 on Sunday, which is 81 hours.  If you depart on the Friday ferry at 19:00, you only get 34 hours in Saint Petersburg. 

To take advantage of the full 72 hours, you can wait to disembark from the ship until at least 14:30 on Thursday.  You must make sure you return to the ship by 14:30 on Sunday to avoid fines for surpassing the 72- hour rule. 

I was not aware of this loophole before I booked the ferry, so I only had 34 hours in Saint Petersburg. 

Disembarking the Ship

The process for entering Russia was easy when you got off the ship.  When you board the ship, you receive a “Boarding Card,” “Departure Card,” and “Arrival Card.”  An example of the “Departure Card” is pictured below.  The “Boarding Card” is your pass to get on and off the ship and it serves as your room key.  The “Departure Card” and “Arrival Card” are what you hand the immigration officers when you arrive and depart Russia. 

IMG_2956.JPG

In addition, you must provide proof of accommodation to immigration.

The City Tour

When you clear immigration and customs, you walk outside and the city tour bus is right in front of the building.  There is a St. Peter’s Line/ Moby logo in the front window of the van.  You just show them your “Boarding Card” and the bus takes you to the city center, which is Saint Isaac’s Square.  To return to the cruise ship, you meet at the point where you were dropped off and show the driver your “Boarding Card” again.  The shuttle bus departs Saint Isaac’s square every half hour starting at 14:00. 

The “City Tour” is not actually a tour, but rather a shuttle, so make sure to book a separate tour if you want a guided tour of the city.

Additional Options for Visa-free Travel

 In 2018, the World Cup will be held in Russia, so there will be an opportunity for visa-free travel via a “fan passport.”  Fans must register with the Russian migration authorities within 24 hours of their arrival in a city where a match is being held.  Normally when you check into your hotel, this is done for you.  The World Cup is May 25- July 25, 2018, so if you have always wanted to go to Russia, consider this option, as well!

 

Please do not hesitate to email me at info@peacestamps.org if you have any questions about my experience!

 

A Mission of Constant Denial

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.” ― Randy Pausch

Throughout our lives, I am sure we have all heard wise people harp on the importance of perseverance.  Although I have been constantly reminded of this importance, I do not think it ever really sunk in until recently.  

Since the beginning of the Peace Stamps mission, there has been constant denials, whether it is denied visa applications, denied grant applications, denied sponsorship opportunities, the inability to find volunteer projects, or just the general disapproval of people I tell about my mission.  After my most recent denied grant application, I was wondering to myself why I am even trying to achieve this goal.  World peace and cultural empathy is such a lofty goal.  Is it really achievable?  

I believe it is!  I believe in this mission so much that I am willing to persevere through the constant denials and hurdles because the end goal is worth it.

If you truly believe in something, do not let any amount of impediments stop you from pursuing your goals and dreams.  There will always be obstacles and set backs; but when you overcome them, it makes that end goal so much more worth it!

I know it sounds cliché, but I hope that each and everyone of my readers will do what makes them happy and not stop until they have achieved their dreams.

Breaking Down Barriers

A story of how traveling brings you closer to strangers.

As an avid traveler, sharing my experiences and stories is so exciting to me!  The ultimate story experience is when you can connect with someone from that country and build a relationship because you understand their culture and have seen their country.

In this edition of the Peace Stamps newsletter, I want to share with you an interaction that really resonated with me.  At the end of August, I took a cruise to hit four Caribbean island countries, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Antigua & Barbuda, Saint Lucia, and Barbados.  My father was lucky enough to join me on this cruise! On the cruise ship, my father and I sat with two couples at dinner.  One of the couples lived in California and were Vietnamese.  Over the next seven days, we spent a lot of time talking at dinner and getting to know each other.  My love of traveling became a topic of discussion one evening and through our discussion the most amazing thing happened!

The couple opened up to me and the dinner table about how they immigrated to the United States.  It is an amazing story about how they escaped from communist Vietnam and lived on a remote island in Indonesia for an extended period of time!  They had to live off of canned food and had no electricity.  The only belongings to their name were what they could fit in a backpack!  They also shared their experiences after they immigrated into the United States and about how hard it was for them to assimilate.  People would make fun of their accents and inability to speak English.  I was really touched by how they opened up about their experiences and I don't believe this would have happened had I not been to Vietnam and started talking about their culture with them.

I realize that not everyone has the means to travel the world, but it is experiences like this that make me truly believe that if people put in an effort to understand other cultures, we would be heading in the right direction towards a peaceful world!

Positivity

Let’s Focus on the Positives

With so much bad going on in the world right now, it is easy to generalize and say the world is a bad place, but that is not the case.

Over the past few weeks, I have been able to experience what is occurring in the United States from an outsider’s point of view.  Many locals I talk to ask me, “What the heck is going on with your country?”  I often don’t know what to say.  I am at a loss for words because I know that our country is not actually the way it is depicted in international media.  I believe it is not the way national media depicts it either, quite honestly.  I feel that there is too much emphasis on the negative and not enough on the positive.  This week when the terrible events were occurring in Charlottesville, Virginia, there were also a lot of good stories out there.  For instance, the non-profit organization, Life After Hate’s work.  Life After Hate is a non-profit that employs former neo-Nazis and white supremacists to help others renounce their extremism and hateful lifestyles.  The organization “utilizes education, dialogue, and community in order to help extremists realize the root of their hatred.”  Personally, I feel we rarely see stories like this in the mainstream media.  

Another great story this week is about a man who gave up his six-figure salary to go teach at a poor school.  Now 95% of the students have been accepted to top colleges.  How great is that?!?  

In our fast paced world, it is easy to just focus on what the mainstream media tells us.  With so much focus on the negative, it can be difficult and time-consuming to dig for positive news.  I urge you to start focusing on the positives of the world.  One of my favorite places to read positive stories is at www.goodnewsnetwork.org.  I love reading their stories and they always bring a smile to my face.  

In relation to traveling, I often hear from people, “Why are you traveling to [insert country]??? It’s so dangerous!”  The same thing applies to other countries- do your research.  I often find that blogs depict a more accurate picture of what a country is really like.  The media focuses on the negative events in countries when the country is actually full of peaceful people.  This week I wrote a lengthy Facebook post about every person that has made a positive impact on my life so far in this journey.  I encourage you to take three minutes out of your day to read it here.  

There are so many good people out there.  Just remember that and focus on the positive.  My main mission behind Peace Stamps is to bring positivity to the world and share positivity that we may not have the chance to see.  I promise to keep doing that :) 

-Katelyn Jarvis