21 December 2011
I’ve been to Amsterdam before, but never to its airport, Schiphol, which is pronounced “skipple” (by the Dutch, anyway, and they’re the ones who matter in this context. Silly British pronunciations need not apply).
I’ve been through numerous airports on four continents, but this one’s a bit surreal.
I haven’t transited from country A to country B through country C frequently in my life, but I have done so in London (both Gatwick and Heathrow), Mumbai, and Toronto.
Just like for arrivals into a country, every other airport I know of has you land into a secure area, do a long march where you get your luggage, go through customs and possibly immigration, then drop your bags off again and go into the secure part of the airport along with everyone else waiting for connecting flights.
Not so with Amsterdam. I started following people exiting my flight only to realize they were dispersing into the airport — we might as well have stepped off a domestic flight. I had that momentary panic wondering if there was something I was missing, but then I realized we weren’t given landing cards. Not being an idiot, I did double-check with the info desk to make sure; an apparent lack of protocol isn’t an excuse for messing it up.
Once I cleared that up and asked where my hotel was located, I was able to enjoy the airport shopping experience. In addition to the usual international brands, there was a Rijksmuseum gift shop. There were also places to buy Delft wares, cheese, and tulips, as well as a cool cafe where the chairs were Delft-like teacups. In short, there was a lot of pride in what made them unique, something I see too little of in US airports. Hint: sports teams ain’t it.
I used the free airport wifi until it was time to check into my room. There are two “airside” hotels in Schiphol: the Mercure is very small, more expensive, and frequently sold out, while the Yotel is more budget, a bit larger in terms of number of rooms, but the rooms are quite small. They are rented as a minimum four-hour block, but you can book them for overnight if you like.
Airside, in this case, means on the secure side of the airport. In the US, that’d be after you go through the TSA checkpoint. So you can go to a hotel without having to schlep anything. Since my luggage was checked through to its final destination (yay, efficiency), that means that I had made sure that what I needed, including a change of underthings, was available in my carry-on.
Schiphol also has, I found out, public showers, but you need to bring your own towel and soap, so if you’re a hoopy frood, you’re in luck. I suddenly understand the large market in travel towels.
Speaking of, and completely off-topic otherwise, I also newly understand the market in another travel accessory: the travel vest with many pockets. It seems that many air carriers limit weight on carry on baggage, but not travel jackets and vests, so people put their heavier items in the vest/jacket. Lufthansa limits carry-on to 7kg. Air Tahiti (not Air Tahiti Nui, which is a different carrier) limits carry-on to 3kg.
Back to Yotel. There’s two kiosks to check in, but I don’t have my reservation number out. I’m fumbling for it, and the gentleman there says it’s faster to tell the lady at the desk, which I do. I’m given my room key and my access code.
Now, I knew these rooms are small. Twin bed, tiny corridor the length of the bed, and a combined very narrow toilet/sink/shower. They’re about 75 square feet. I worried it might feel a bit claustrophobic, but it didn’t. The bed was wider than I feared. It was firm but not uncomfortably so, and the comforter was cozy. Opposite the door was a mirror and a hangar (hanging my coat obstructed the mirror). Below that was a small ledge wide enough for iPhones and similar stuff, and there were plugs in a variety of configurations, including US. I plugged my power strip into it, then the CPAP, iPad, and iPhone into it.
The door had a window onto the corridor and a blind, which I let down.
There was no apparent light other than the weird ambient purplish light, which is pretty dim, but bright enough for what I needed.
The shower was the rainforest style, which meant that getting one’s head wet was pretty much a mandatory feature. I don’t always wash my hair in a shower, but this time I gave it a rinse as I was feeling sticky all over from the flight.
I have to say: the idea of showers at airports is an immensely civilized undertaking. Until I started reading trip reports and comments by long-haul travelers, I didn’t realize that these things existed. I should have known better; long-haul travel is a way of life for more people than you might think. Generally, showers are reserved for business class and up, which makes sense, really. They’re typically a function of an airline’s lounge, and many such lounges require a ticket in business or first class. (Or, if you’re flying on Emirates air in first class on an Airbus 380, you can have a shower on the plane itself, but that’s another story…and would not be me.)
I climbed into bed and noticed that there’s a TV at my feet, but I don’t switch it on. I set my alarm, and sleep until my appointed time (20 minutes before check-out), getting more sleep in the airport than I got on the plane. Better, because I’m behind a locked door, I don’t have to have that subconscious always watching my stuff. I actually get real sleep instead.
It’s time to shuffle off to Liverpool, so I head down to the gate, go through security screening, and sit in the appointed boarding area. A bus pulls up, and the gate agent scans all our documents, then we board the bus and get driven to a rather large field of KLM planes. This one’s a Fokker 70, which is a fairly small plane, but still large enough.
I’ll end this segment by saying: I booked this trip this way because KLM was the only airline that flew from the US to both Liverpool and Venice. Sadly, they’ve just announced that, as of March, they will no longer fly into Liverpool. I suspect a lot of people fly or take the train into Manchester instead, where there’s a two-hour express train from London. Pity the Eurostar doesn’t go to Amsterdam, but I’m sure there’s some way to get to either Paris or Brussels by train from Amsterdam that’s reasonably efficient.
Up next: Liverpool.