Amsterdam, with its canals plied by water-taxis and private boats. Photo: Supplied
Anyone who's ever acted will know there's nothing quite as tacky and tatty as a theatre when the lights have gone up, the audience has gone home and actors are out of costume.
So, too, you would expect Amsterdam's famed Red Light District to be in light of day.
But it isn't.
In fact, it's rather more attractive and personable once the sun is up, and the working girls/boys/all shades in-between have headed home for some shut-eye.
To describe what De Wallen - the district's local name - is like during the day, is to compare it to what it is at night.
I have wandered into the odd zone of negotiable virtue, in the name of story research (naturally) and even though Amsterdam is regarded as a carnival of vice, it possesses none of the edginess and latent criminality of the Reeperbahn in Hamburg's Sankt Pauli or Rio's Vila Mimosa.
Prostitution in Holland (willing buyer, willing seller) has been legal for over 200 years.
The Dutch government, however, only lifted its ban on brothels in 2000, perhaps thinking along the lines of The Patrician in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld fantasy series:
“Crime was always with us, he reasoned, and therefore, if you were going to have crime, it at least should be organised crime”.
The glass-fronted “pleasure palaces” - which have the same shape, size and aesthetic appeal as shipping containers - are technically brothels and, as such, have to be licensed.
Both prostitutes and brothels are taxed on earnings.
           The district's coffee shops do a brisk trade at a reasonable price as their patrons are generally locals. Photo: Supplied

There is a strong and obvious police presence in De Wallen and CCTV cameras abound.
This gives the place, especially after dark and particularly in the case of the poky little shop front cubicles, a slightly unreal atmosphere at best a Disney world of quickie sex, at worst a badly dressed Stepford Wives scene.
Know the difference between an establishment lit in red or pink, and those with a blue light hanging outside the door: the former house women who were born as such, the latter don't.
Don't gawk or take pictures.
Unsurprisingly, Amsterdam is one of the world's LGBT capitals.
Actually, for all the sex that's going on (and has been, apparently, since the 13th century) there is very little that's sexy about the Red Light District after dark.
Imagine haggling over furtive pleasures, with a scantily clad young woman sitting behind a window, while someone's granny and grandpa, quasi-innocent tourists abroad, look on and lick soft-serve ice-creams.
Sex shows are interesting rather than titillating but only for a short time.
There's only so much a woman can do with a piece of fruit or sex toy but the upside (as it were) is that your alcohol is included in the entrance price.
I managed to sink nine Heineken draughts in an hour, so I figured I came out marginally on top.
The really tawdry stuff happens in the grey pre-dawn when all the regular Johns have gone home.
I know this because it was just getting light when I walked down Warmoes Street to Durty Nelly's Irish Pub; the only place I could find in town that would show an early morning Rugby Championship clash between the Springboks and All Blacks.
The myriad of bars in the Red Light District, as well as the adjoining city precincts of Oude Zijd and Nieuwe Zijd are brilliant at any time of day or night.
They're a placid boozer's delight because visible policing keeps even the most determined yobs, over from Bournemouth for a stag weekend, in line.
For another thing - and this is very relevant - Dutch men are among the tallest and brawniest in the world and they really, really don't like testosterone-lashed people from other countries trashing the place.
          The streets are remarkably clean by day as well as by night. Photo: Supplied

There's a certain decorum to debauchery in Amsterdam.
The rising sun reveals something extraordinary: The streets are remarkably clean.
Had Warmoes Street, and all the medieval alleyways branching off it, been the high street of Glasgow or even Cape Town's revelry centres, it would have been disgustingly filthy.
That's because the Red Light District is as much of a tourist attraction by day as it is by night, albeit to an altogether more genteel type of traveller.
This is one case where darkness doesn't hide the imperfections but rather that light reveals the character and charm.
Emerge from the Central Station, the most convenient way of accessing the greater red light area and you're immediately struck by the almost whimsical architecture yet sheer ordinariness of your surroundings.
Actually, as a first time visitor, you'd probably think you'd alighted at the wrong station.
The curtains of the sex cubicles are drawn and the oggle-emporia are closed.
The Red Light District, and its two adjacent suburbs, owe their location, character and style primarily to their immediate proximity to Amsterdam's harbour and The Netherlands’ history as a wealthy seafaring nation.
Obviously, cash-flush sailors coming ashore felt an impelling need for grog and nooky, but the docks were also where wealthy corporations such as the Dutch East India Company had warehouses and offices.
An inscription on one of the first buildings one encounters when entering the district reads “De cost gaet voor de baet uyt” - the cost comes before benefit.