June 30, 2015
In keeping with my confusion regarding dates, although this is technically day 1 of our trip, which would be the 29th, it has all ended up in a blur, due to a long flight, a time change, constant sunlight, lack of sleep, overabundance of movies on tiny seatback screens and wine … always wine … wine all over.
So, suddenly, it is June 30, which technically is the third day of our journey, but feels in all ways like the second day. This is not new to experienced travelers, but I found it disconcerting enough to apply to my method of record-keeping, so I have split the difference and made it Day 1.5.
Oh, an airplane flight, you say, this will be boring. And, yes, it is true, it is boring. But a couple of events occurred and issues arose that I think are worth mentioning, although this will not win me travel blog of the year.
The first thing is the security check in. And right about now, you are already conjuring in your mind the horrible intrusive experiences and the way you felt about the rigorous and strict search methodology utilized by the TSA and Customs; but, before you raise a fist with the middle finger extended in solidarity with the innocent victims of the over exuberance of authorities, hold on.
I was concerned with the lack of proper checks and security protocols
It has been barely a year since the last time I flew internationally. Unless something has drastically changed of which I am unaware; like perhaps ISIS is no longer threatening every western country and has invited world leaders to join together with them in a resounding chorus of Kumbaya on the Temple Mount, I believe passengers are supposed to actually be examined before getting into the departure halls.
Last year, we had to remove our shoes. Not this time.
Last year we were offered the choice between a physical pat-down (which I quite enjoy−who doesn’t like a good massage in the nether regions now and then?) and a full body scan (about which I am also enthusiastic, because I enjoy scaring the bejesus out of the screener with my impressive physique).
Not this time.
Nope. Neither MLW nor I received any attention in this manner whatsoever; once the screener had swabbed my laptop for drugs and explosives we simply walked in past the scan booth, which nobody was manning.
I suddenly felt insecure and slightly offended. The safety protocols, however silly and needless they might appear, are in place for a reason. Human error and complacency were part of what allowed the largest terrorist attack on western soil to happen. And here they both had crept in once more.
On my flight.
An isolated incident? Poor training? Insufficient pay? Were these the causes of the lapse? Possibly one; or most likely all three, I believe. Nonetheless, there are no acceptable excuses, after the shit hits the fan.
Regardless, I press on.
MLW and I were extremely early, as is our preference when catching flights, so decided to have a leisurely brunch at Milestones, which was right beside our gate. While in line at Milestones, a very nice lady behind us admired the Paul McCartney backpack that MLW had, which led to a conversation starting with Sir Paul, after which we found that the lady and her husband were from Mission, BC and riding bicycles though Holland, Austria, Belgium and Germany. How wonderful it was going to be for them.
They were our age, too … the showoffs.
Eventually, we were called to board and found our seats; me, by the window and MLW in the middle. She is not a window person−does not want to watch as the plane‘s engine bursts into flames and we hurtle to the ground through the fluffy white clouds. I enjoy the view out the window and hate sitting next to whatever sized person happens to have been unlucky enough to choose the seat next to me. MLW and I fit well together that way and she in turn doesn’t mind if Mr. Creosote from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life straddles the seat beside her. Well, she might be slightly miffed, but in comparison to the hurtling earthward option, she will put up with it.
I recommend, for those flying Air Transat, to avail themselves of the Options plus feature that can be added to your ticket price. For some it might seem expensive and it is, but for us on this particular trip, we wanted everything to go as smoothly as possible and were willing to pay for it, not to mention Air Transat was the cheapest ticket price I could find and so could splurge a bit on extras.
With Options plus, we received priority check-in at a dedicated counter, a supplementary checked baggage allowance of up to 10 kg per flight segment, priority queue at security checkpoints (which we didn’t get−unless priority checking meant no checking), priority boarding and baggage handling, as well as complimentary champagne, complimentary cocktail and red wine with dinner, a very nice set of wood ear buds for the movies, and a comfortable neck cushion and blanket , not to mention the envy of other passengers as they forked out their credit card for each of the above.
We settled in for the long ride. MLW struck up a conversation with the very nice, very tall Dutch man next to her, whose knees were so crunched up against the seat back in front of him that he had to splay them out, which encroached on her knees. MLW didn’t mind; she was happy to be encroached upon, as long as she could avert her eyes from the window.
I might add at this point that MLW is a very nervous flyer. ‘White-knuckling it’ does not describe the power with which MLW can latch on to whatever piece of flesh or appendage of mine that she finds within her grasp.
She is not a fan of takeoffs and landings and doesn’t like the high altitude parts in between, either. Her ears can fill with fluid, which makes her dizzy and consequently stresses more about it, which of course makes everything worse. And no amount of gum-chewing, decongestants, blowing out the Eustachian tubes or applications of ear plugs can help, if she has a bad case of it; which on this trip, she had, due to contracting a cold the week before. Yes, flying for us often requires a Timothy Leary-worthy cocktail of sedatives and well … cocktails, which I don’t mind being a wing-man for. To be sure, MLW is getting better the more we travel and fly. Yakking at the next door neighbour helps too, therefore I was happy for Mr. Big Knees’ intervention, as it probably saved me from losing a few strips of skin from my hands and arms.
We got through the first takeoff okay, as well as the first landing and second takeoff (a stopover in Calgary, Alberta to take on more passengers) and were headed on our way to Amsterdam. All went swimmingly, or at least dog paddlingly, in MLW’s case.
Although, we did observe that we seemed to be passed up by the flight attendants every time they handed out goodies or drinks or retrieved the garbage. At one point, both MLW and I had a large mound of napkins, and plastic wrap, cups, cream containers and utensils on our trays.
But, it was when I was on my second bottle (the 6 oz.-type bottles, okay? I can see the disapproving looks) of white wine, that things took a definite turn. I was happy enough, as the drinks to this point were free, until I raised the plastic glass to my mouth and spilled almost the entire contents on the front of my shirt and shorts. Naturally, I was embarrassed at first and wondered what had happened to my lips that they didn’t catch such a volume of liquid, until I checked my glass.
The glass had a hole the size of a dime burnt into its side. A glass hole, if you will.
Small wonder I was drenched. I asked MLW to press the signal for the flight attendant (but not before I finished the glass by drinking it from the opposite side).
We waited a few minutes, during which time I wiped myself down with napkins, creating an even larger mound of garbage on my tray. Finally the flight attendant arrived and asked how she could help. I showed her the glass and pointed to my shirt, saying: “It appears the glass has a hole in it and consequently, I am soaked.” Something like that, anyway. Maybe slightly less erudite.
To which the attendant reached up, turned off the signal light, smiled and even laughed, and said, ever so sweetly: “Oh, so you need to go to the bathroom, then?”
Took the glass and began to walk away. Did not even offer to remove the slag heap that was on my tray.
(I wanted to save the glass to show the blog readers and potential lawyers, but did not get a chance, as you can see, so here is a rendering….)
I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to her total lack of concern or non-offer of solutions or compensation. No towel to help dry the shirt, no offer of the air marshall’s white dress shirt to take its place, no replacement of the half bottle of wine I had spilled. Okay, I admit, that was what I was angling for, but really! Either she truly did not care that one of Air Transat’s customers had been drenched by a faulty piece of their equipment−contracted out or otherwise−or she was a flighty attendant as well as a flight attendant. No problem-solving skills, that was for sure.
I didn’t press the issue, or my shirt for that matter, as I was on holidays. Who cares if I looked and smelled like Nick Nolte on a bad weekend? In case you are interested, they did not remove the by now Indian-trash-heap-sized debris mound of waste from our trays until we were descending into Amsterdam, almost 6 hours later.
Air Transat … gotta say, not impressed with the non-service at a deeper level than ‘Welcome aboard’ and ‘Here are your complimentary earbuds’.
Neither of us slept during the flight. I was busy absorbing the shirt alcohol into my skin as I watched movies, and MLW was engaged in attempting to clear her sinuses and ears while reading and talking to Big Knees.
Schiphol Airport is a medium sized airport, I reckon from what I saw; however, it seemed we had to taxi for almost 20 minutes from our landing point, before we arrived at the gate.
Dutch customs … hardly worth the effort and cost of setting up the booths and entry lines. A very lovely, very polite, very disinterested officer asked what we were doing in Holland; we said ‘pleasure trip’ and she stamped our passports. Most people enjoy that level of intense questioning. Me, not so much, as already stated.
Once we got our luggage, we headed out into Arrival Halls 3-4. We had two missions at this point: firstly, to pick up the iAmsterdam card we had ordered online for the tourist-y portion of our visit to Amsterdam, which was to occur on the 9th of July and secondly, to call for transport to the Renault Eurodrive car pickup location where we would receive our new lease car.
The information email for the iAmsterdam card advised we could pick it up at the tourist office at the Schiphol Airport. Arrival Hall 2. One would think the arrival halls would be very close together, but no. Hall 2 is about a 5 minute walk from Hall 3. I know it doesn’t sound like much of a distance, but carrying luggage, while drenched in stale wine and suffering from lack of sleep apparently slows time down−if Einstein were alive I would have written him a note about it. It took forever to get to the tourist office. MLW was not happy that I was comparatively sprinting ahead and so focused to the point of snapping curt answers to her very reasonable but perhaps untimely questions.
Luckily there were no issues picking up the card. The young woman at the tourist office sported a big white smile, even after smelling my cologne: the ever popular Eau de Pinot Grigio.
The directions on the lease contact specifically told us to call their Sky Park representative to pick us up. Now, this was our first time making a call in Europe to a phone in Europe. Theoretically it should be just as simple as it is at home; however, the matter becomes complicated when the numbers that are quoted on instructions are written as though we were in Canada. After several tries, taking out country codes and unnecessary zeros and so on, we finally reached a fellow who introduced himself as something that sounded like Sky Park, so I told him we were to be picked up. “You are Mr. Wong?” the fellow asked.
“What? No! Keats … Colin Keats. Here to pick up a car−Renault. Eurodrive.”
“Oh ja … Keats, Keats, Keats …”
I could tell he was running down a list. How many people were short-term leasing a car today, I wondered.
“Ja OK, will be there in 3 minutes.” It sounded like he was about to hang up.
“Wait! Wait! Where do we meet you?”
“Oh, ja … go out Arrivals 3-4 and you will see a big white building with a black head on it that is the Sheraton. I will meet you there. 3 minutes.”
We were in Arrivals 1, which was an Einsteinian half hour away from Arrivals 3-4.
“We gotta go! Quick.” I frantically yammered at MLW.
“Did he tell you where to meet him?” MLW asked.
“Of course he did, what do you think we were doing on the phone?” I had no time for niceties, it seemed.
MLW has a lovely glare.
I received it at that juncture.
I shut up and gathered up my portion of the luggage and headed back the way we came; MLW walking deliberately slow behind me.
“I imagine he will wait for us.” She yelled at my back.
“I’m sure he will.” I flung back over my shoulder. But what if he doesn’t? I finished, but only in my head.
As we walked out of the Arrivals door, I saw the Sheraton hotel directly opposite …. With a big black ‘S’ emblazoned on it. “O-o-o-h,” I said, in an effort to cheer up MLW, “Not a big black head, then … but a big black ‘S’. Makes sense.”
“Not to you, apparently.” MLW answered brightly. “By the way, did he tell you how we were to recognize him?” This was added as we both saw the lineup of shuttle buses, vans and taxis in front of the hotel.
“Sky Park. He’s … uh … he’s Sky … Park.” I answered lamely. Like I was naming a super-hero.
“You don’t know, do you?” MLW stated it rather than queried.
We waited for a few minutes and I paced back and forth, eyeing each vehicle that arrived looking like something that could be a Sky Park. Nobody hailed us. Nobody looked like Sky Park, the hero with super driving and passenger discernment powers.
“Call him.” MLW commanded. I obeyed.
No answer. I called again. As the phone rang a white van pulled up and a nice looking young man in a muscle T-shirt and blue jeans got out and went to the back of his van and opened the hatch.
This time Sky Park picked up, and I went into a long-winded explanation as to why I was calling back, how we weren’t sure what car he would be in, if this was the correct meeting place, was he in the red van labelled Sky Park that was sitting suspiciously like a police stakeout just out of sight behind some bushes around a corner?
Meanwhile, the young man had come to the curb about twenty feet away and stood with his arms wide, mouthing into the air as he looked at me.
Was he a loony? Were we standing in the wrong place? What the …?
“Mr. Keats.” Said the voice. “It is me in front of you. I am talking to you on the phone.”
Of course … he had a Bluetooth. I had envisioned I was speaking to a fellow back at a dispatch office, not the driver of the vehicle.
Oh ha-ha … much merriment was had over this turn of events as we clambered into the van, all by Mr. Sky Park and his trusty sidekick, MLW.
We arrived at the Renault car pick up office, which was literally a shuttered window in a tiny room in a small building under a turnpike, manned by a bearded, bespectacled twig of a man. I expected to have to review the contract, go over the car−dos and don’ts, tips and tricks, procedures and protocols. Another half-hour to an hour, at least.
“Just need your passport and your signature … here.” The twig pointed to a spot on a piece of paper. He examined my passport. I kept a wary eye on him as I signed, thinking he might surreptitiously scan the passport under the counter while I wasn’t looking, to use later in his commissions of theft and fraud. I don’t think he did it, but if I get hauled away by Interpol within the next 2.5 months, you will know why.
“OK, we go to the car now.” He stated.
He ran out the door, we followed with all our luggage in tow. We found him waiting by a shiny new black Renault model CLIO 4 Estate, tapping his foot. When I arrived he handed me the registration in a large black packet.
“This is your passport, keep it with you and not in the car.”
“Passport, got it.”
“You want your systems in English?”
“I have your car already all set in English.” He stated satisfactorily, as if he had been psychic enough to anticipate my needs.
“The car has 15 litres of fuel. This is a diesel car, do not put gas in it. Go out to the road, turn left and left at the lights. There is a BP, which is a gas station. You go to a pump, fill up first then pay inside. Ja?”
“Oh, yah.” I said, feeling like I was in Fargo.
“Good. Enjoy your car.” Twig-man sprinted off, disappeared into his office, came out, slammed the door, locked it and took off in another van, before I could turn to MLW and hand her the registration packet.
“This is like your passport.” I said.
This is not a picture of our car, but a stock photo of one very similar. I find it very peppy, comfortable and with plenty of room so far, for all passengers and luggage. I recommend it.
In the spirit of keeping things short (Too late! I hear you say), I won’t go into how novices at setting GPS navigation should first figure out how to turn off the radio that was on so loud we couldn’t hear the navigation directions and consequently turned off the GPS instead, at a critical point, thus missing an exit which led to a merry go round of maps and a modulated female British voice repeating “Turn around when possible to do so.”
Enough to say we got our hotel, an IBIS back at the Schiphol airport, checked in with no problems, got directions to go into Amsterdam by bus and threw ourselves onto the bed setting the alarm on MLW’s phone so we could nap for an hour or so, before we needed to go to town to meet distant cousins of mine, Louis Charles and Laura, whom I had never met but with whom I had corresponded over the years.
This is the room we got at IBIS. For one night, who cares? But it was very small and in the old part of the hotel – http://www.ibis.com/gb/hotel-0649-ibis-schiphol-amsterdam-airport/index.shtml.
We napped, woke up to MLW’s phone alarm, fell back asleep and startled awake an hour later, in an almost hypnagogic state. You know the times you wake up and know you should have slept even 15 minutes more to align your cycle or rhythm? That state. Foggy and furry mouthed.
We were later than we had wanted, but still in time to catch the bus and head to our rendezvous. We maneuvered the bus system with proficiency; we were world travelers! We were so proud of ourselves when we hopped off exactly where we had mapped out: Leidseplein.
We had a small map that gave us a way out from Leidseplein to the intersection of Ten Katestraat and Kinkerstraat, where we were to meet Louis Charles and Laura.
Unfortunately for the world travelers, we could not find a single street sign. We located The Holland Casino, which gave us a north south direction to work with and walked a couple of blocks before we noticed that the street signs were embedded high up on the brick walls of each street corner.
We made our way to the intersection. Thankfully, Louis Charles and Laura were already there. They took us to the Brasserie Halte 3 restaurant – http://www.halte3.nl/, We had a few drinks of wine and then for dinner I had the tuna with Nicoise Salad and MLW ate the Chicken Satay. Marvelous food! Accompanying the dinner was a pepper and fruit delight of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc by Eradus Wines.
And no holes in the wine glasses!
I naturally had suffered some apprehension about meeting someone for the first time in a foreign land, whose first language was not mine and whom I knew virtually nothing about except our tenuous blood line connection, which was probably outstripped in size by the internet connection we had shared.
In fact, this next few hours at dinner were the most joyous of our trip so far, as we immediately felt a camaraderie with the couple. It was as if we had known each other forever but had been separated for years and now had catching up to do. They had fantastic senses of humour, which were very similar to ours and we laughed the whole time. Fantastic people!
We got along so well, in fact, that they invited us to their home on the 10th for another supper, which we are very much looking forward to.
They even drove us back to our hotel where we passed out, only to wake up an hour later … unable to sleep.
OK, so it doesn’t quite catch their nuances; I told you I was tired. I will endeavor to get a photograph and their permission to use it on the 10th.