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travels

Nederland: Holy Schiphol!

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
— Marcel Proust

FYI:  Usually each blog post is filled with pictures. I only took one after landing here, the one of me smiling at the terminal.  Afterward, everything moved so fast that attempting to take any photographs while racing through the airport would have been disastrous.

I didn’t have time to change my flight on EasyJet, so I had to endure their shitty service one last and final time to Amsterdam. However, I was happy that the flight was short and sweet.  By the time I got comfortable it was over and I couldn’t wait to get out. After spending an awesome week in Germany, I had high expectations for the Netherlands.  I grew accustomed to many things; yet, I also had to learn to hit the reset button.  New country, new adventures.

Once again I didn’t get the window seat nor did I get to see the Keukenhof tulip fields from the sky.  Not a problem, I’ll see them later.  Oh, you mean I’ve arrived a week late?  Rats! Cats! It looks like I’ll have to make a trip back (oh no!). Only weeks prior to booking the second leg of my first European trip, I thought I would give Couchsurfing a try. I was communicating with several hosts trying to find the perfect fit for my needs.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t afford an AirBnb rental.  All I wanted was to get to know the Netherlands like a local and more importantly with someone who could offer me some advice that couldn’t be found in a guidebook.  I spent months conducting over-the-WhatsApp interviews, exchanging messages on CS, and then forming friendships to ease the transition from having a loft to myself to sharing living quarters with a total stranger.

I texted “Jay” before leaving Berlin at roughly 6am.  He doesn’t have a WhatsApp account and all communication has been through either the CS site (he doesn’t own a smartphone) or via text. After passing through passport control, I immediately ring him to get directions to his place.  Until now he’s been a bit of a mystery, which I love, but at this point, I’m also doubting my decision. Why do I have to be so damned adventurous and curious.  Hardly able to get a word in, he has a thick accent and speaking a mile a minute. I’m getting worried that I’m missing relevant details, so I kindly ask him to send me the address through CS. Since I have some time, I could figure out through the magic of the interwebs how to get to his place.  Caught in between bewilderment and excitement I forget the part where he tells me which train station stop is closest to his studio.  He’s taken over the conversation and I’m reduced to hmms and okays, occasionally nodding as if he could see me through the phone. Hunger has been mistreating me for the last three hours and I feel myself getting anxious. Now, my host is telling me I have to wait until after 10am since he’s out running errands.  Looks like I’m stuck at Schiphol for approximately two hours.

At least this airport was modern, and a stark contrast from Flughafen Berlin-Schönefeld. It was bustling and it felt like LAX. That is, eerily familiar, but full of wooden shoe keychains and tulips. In any direction, I could easily find food, gift shops, information and ticket vending machines. Sleek and chic, still it’s easy to get lost when you are exhausted and disoriented.  Although I had read about the many options one has for getting into town beforehand, it can be quite overwhelming just by seeing the little yellow boxes in the middle of the square.  If you aren’t quick enough someone will swoop in, start punching keys and buy their ticket all before you even have the chance to say, “Excuseer mij.” This was a bit intimidating and reminded me of a story my friend Roxy told me about her experience when buying a subway ticket in NYC.  Evidently, a flustered woman grabbed her money, shoved it into the ticket vending machine to expedite the process. How helpful!

Each time I’d walk up to a machine, a line would swiftly appear. Trying to be mindful of other travelers, I would apologize profusely and let someone else in if I didn’t get a ticket within 30 seconds. I kept seeing signs on top of kiosks showing the benefits of purchasing the Amsterdam Travel Ticket, but couldn’t find the option anywhere in the menus. After four attempts at two separate kiosks, I waved the white flag and headed to the counter instead. Apparently, the Amsterdam Travel Ticket could only be purchased at the counter, but I didn’t realize that until GVB personnel directed me to the ticket counters.  The look on my face must have been a dead giveaway.

Located behind the Ticket Vending Machine Plaza, are the ticket counters with stoic faces eager to help.  Prepare yourself for the battle of the queues (that’s the waiting line for us ‘Mericans) and queue jumpers. If I had to do it all over again, I would forgo purchasing the ATT and just buy a GVB 7-Day Pass.  What they didn’t tell me at the counter was that the ATT 3-day pass was €8 more than a GVB 7-Day Pass.  The only noticeable difference is having access to two buses operated by Connexxion that can also transport you into Amsterdam, a map (attached to your card), and the 2nd class rail between a number of stations within Amsterdam.  I won’t get ahead of myself, as it will all make sense later.

The ticket lines seemed endless and people were noticeably frustrated.  At least I didn’t see any fist fights.  I guess I’m just used to seeing some raging maniac yelling at the top of their lungs to get their way.  Here, quite the contrary. Just ensure you are standing in the correct queue: Domestic trains.  The guy in front of me switched lines several times and then decided to cut in front of me since he felt he had already waited long enough.  Maybe he combined his total wait time between jumping queues and thought being an asshole about it would justify his action. I couldn’t tell what nationality he was, but the Brits (using this as a generic term) behind me were not amused and were more impatient than me.

“Look at this bloke, holding up the queue!”

On top of holding up the queue, he determined now was the best time to ask 1,001 questions about the train system, check ticket pricing in every price bracket, and make the counterperson do some math to save him money.  As I stood there singing West End Girls to myself, the guys behind me got louder and more agitated. I just wanted to get to a bed, safely. My turn.  By now I had already heard the spiel, read the signs, and gone through the kiosk menus, so the transaction took less than 2 minutes.  I also didn’t want the guys behind me to read me to filth. Suddenly I had a burst of energy and booked it. Another GVB agent directed me to the designated area to activate my card. Tap, beep, and tot ziens!

Taking the escalator to the ground floor where the Schiphol train station resided, the platforms were littered with muttering passengers. I overheard a group of young women venting, and rolling their eyes in exasperation because they had been waiting 20 minutes for a train.  At that moment, I knew that the days of the punctual Deutsche Bahn trains were over. Pacing back and forth I was already looking into plan B,C,and D because escaping Schiphol was harder than escaping Alcatraz. Appearing out of the blue was a GVB train, but strangely enough, nobody was walking towards the boarding platform indicators.  “This can’t be right,” I thought to myself and therefore continued to wait. Approximately five trains came and went, each one with a different final destination that I didn’t recognize and how could I? I’ve never been here before!  I haven’t used this transit system, yet! It took me 40 minutes to buy a train ticket! Blargh!

“Are you trying to get to Centraal, too?”

In bold letters, the platform screen reads Lelylaan, followed by several stations denoted by a smaller font underneath.  I know I’m taking a chance rushing to the train car to get on as I don’t really know where this is going.  Part instinct, part stupidity, and betting everything on this train, I feel a sense of relief once I’m squeezed against a train window holding onto my luggage.  We’re moving and the entire train car erupted in gasps, whoas, and hissy fits. I’m just happy to be out of the tunnel and getting my first glimpse of the Netherlands.