You hear so many stories of airlines losing luggage – but sometimes passengers lose it themselves…
It was January 2010 and I’d spent a short break – just a weekend – in Amsterdam with a friend. I’ve long been used to air travel because of my work, but my friend – who is Provencal and hates flying – restricts his travel generally to Europe and drives rather than taking a plane. Whereas I’m used to checking I’ve got my bag, passport and plane tickets, he rarely has to bother.
So. We’d left the Jolly Carlton Hotel, just by Amsterdam’s city-centre flower market, and had a few hours to wander around the city before getting a taxi to Schipol airport for the plane to Marseille. We were each carrying small bags – I always avoid putting luggage in the hold and having to wait to collect it after the flight.
We had a coffee in a little café and then decided an hour or so later to have lunch. We ate in one of those Amsterdam steak houses you see all over town and I asked for the bill. I’ll pay he said kindly, looking around for his bag.
It wasn’t there.
It took about three seconds for us both to realize that the passports, plane tickets, all his ID, his credit/debit cards and euros were in his lost luggage. So was his French identity card, French health care card, driving license, car keys and house keys. Worse, because I hadn’t had much space in my own bag, I’d put my make-up bag, wallet and small document bag in his luggage. As well as having no passports or plane tickets, we had no ID at all and no money. We couldn’t pay the restaurant bill – and if we missed the flight home to France we had no means of paying for a hotel or a new flight. We’d have to go to the French and British consulates and ask for help…. But how would we even prove who we were?
The café he said. I must have left the bag in the café.
The trouble was, we had no idea where the cafe was. We’d walked all over town, chatting as we went, and neither one of us took any notice of the location of the little café we nipped into for ten minutes. Anyone who knows Amsterdam knows there are countless similar-looking small streets containing countless similar-looking small cafés. I know Amsterdam well but I have a useless sense of direction and could hardly even think which part of the city we’d been in. He didn’t know Amsterdam at all.
With time starting to run out before our flight would close we explained to the very doubtful restaurant staff that we’d lost our money. They – obviously – didn’t want us both to leave the restaurant so we decided he’d stay there and I’d dash round the city fast, on my own. I must have looked like a lunatic running around the streets of Amsterdam peering in café windows to see if they looked like the right one.
After a while I had a feeling I’d retraced our steps and was in the right vicinity. But even if I found the café the bag would surely be gone? I was beginning to get desperate when I suddenly had a lightbulb moment. The young girl who’d served us the coffee was either Chinese or Japanese. She was very sweet and had a distinguishing feature. She was very cross-eyed. Ditching the diplomacy that would normally stop me referring to this, I dashed in and out of cafés explaining the lost bag at breakneck speed and asking staff if they knew a nearby café with a cross-eyed waitress. No. No-one. In about the fourth café a young guy said Yeh, I know her – the café’s just round the corner on Spuistraat.
Thankyou thankyou thankyou. I flew out of there, dashed into the café – the right café – and saw the young waitress taking money from a customer at the till. When she saw me, her eyes lit up and she smiled. She bent down and from behind the counter hoisted the bag up. You left your bag! she said.
I know, I said. I know we did.