It’s time to go home.
We awoke to a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky. It always figures that the best weather is reserved for the departure day trip to the airport. I can’t complain though, we had some nice weather and only got rained on for a few minutes one time. For this trip, we decided not to brave the train and asked the hotel to book a driver for us. They had a service they work with regularly and so that was a breeze.
While waiting for the car to show up we had a conversation with the young women working the desk about apartment rentals. As I mentioned previously, we normally book apartments for our travel because having your own place means you don’t have to work around the maids if you want to hang out midday. It also means you can do a little grocery shopping and have as many meals in your own little kitchen as you like. Much less hunting and gathering for meals like breakfast and lunch, when maybe something simple or specific is desired.
I’d looked at VRBO and Booking.com when I booked the air travel back in March and discovered that there was nothing available in our planned timeframe. And when I say, “nothing,” that’s what I mean – not a single apartment on either site. I didn’t bother with AirBnB because we swore them off after our experience with them in Zurich – that apartment was a bit too “personal” for our taste. And so, we ended up in a hotel, which worked out reasonably well. They offered an expensive but expansive breakfast buffet so at least one meal was taken care of and on days when we conflicted with the maid service, we simply handed her the towels and said, “Don’t worry about the sheets.”
I asked the young women if short-term rentals were restricted in the city center and the answer was, “Yes they are.” I’d originally figured that our short time horizon was the main reason I couldn’t find one, but that wasn’t it at all. There is such a housing crisis in Amsterdam that the city stepped in and made the licensing process onerous enough that it resulted in owners simply giving up and renting to long-term customers instead. Her answer validated what I’d confirmed because last evening I’d visited VRBO and searched for apartments in the mid-October timeframe which should have meant there would be options if indeed there actually were any. I found a few, but they were either $700+ dollars a night (yes, $15,000 for our typical 3-week trip) or not quite apartments, rather a single room in someone’s canal house basement with a double bed, a small couch, a dining table with two chairs and a microwave. And a ton of restrictions. For only $250 a night. In simple terms, good business conditions for the hotel business, not so good business conditions for travelers.
If we decide to come back, a hotel it will be.
The driver arrived on time, and we were off to the airport. The trip took about 30 minutes, the traffic was light, and the driver was a maniac. He dropped us at Terminal 3 which was labeled Terminal G on our mobile boarding passes which of course caused no confusion at all. The process from the front door to the other side of passport control was incredibly efficient, which always makes me wonder why we can’t have that kind of service in the US. Almost entirely self-service, with security agents that were polite and helpful at the scanning process, and a final passport check that was based on facial recognition and totally automated. You don’t have to take off your shoes unless they’re boots, you don’t have to pull out your bag of liquids or your electronics. Just your jacket, whatever is in your pockets, and your belt. And everything was humming right along until the human factor entered the equation – the stamping of the passport.
When we were leaving home last week, I was reminded that I’d replaced my passport early in the COVID process and it’s therefore completely pristine, not a single stamp. Upon entering the country last week, MLW and I went through customs together. While one of the agents was looking at our documents and asking MLW questions, I was shooting the breeze in my fractured Dutch with his colleague about our visit. They returned our passports, and we were on our way.
A couple of nights later, I was sitting around doing nothing and decided to check out my new stamp. I started thumbing through the visa pages and there wasn’t a stamp. I went through it a second time, the same result. I checked MLW’s and lo, she had a Schiphol entry stamp. Those guys hadn’t stamped mine. Which got me wondering how that would play out upon departure. Well, today I found out.
The agent took mine and started thumbing through the pages, repeating my fruitless search from days ago. I told him he wouldn’t find one, and once he’d confirmed that fact, he asked me “Why not?” No, I’m not James Bond who snuck into the Netherlands in a secret container hidden in the undercarriage of a Slovenian cargo lorry, rather, I explained my suspicion which he appeared to accept, and moved on to asking for the date of our entry. And then came those words you never want to hear from passport control, “Please step aside while we wait for my colleague.” That’s happened to me once before, on a trip back to China well after I’d returned home and canceled my residence visa. While not a great feeling, believe me when I tell you that being asked to step aside in Beijing is a far different feeling than being asked the same in Amsterdam. And of course, it all came to naught – a young woman appeared 2 minutes later with a different stamp, my agent stamped my passport for entry, added the entry date, stamped it a second time for departure and we were on our way. Now my pristine passport has the much-coveted KMR / NL Correction Stamp.
Schiphol is enormous and very busy. We’d planned on hanging out in the lounge until departure time, but that turned out to be quite an adventure. First of all, it was in a different concourse, second of all, it was closed for renovation, third of all the services were being offered temporarily in a concourse restaurant, and finally, they couldn’t make the computer log us in. It all worked out though, we had a snack and some coffee and then took a 20-minute walk to the G Concourse for our departure.
On our way there, two men stepped out in front of us and politely asked if we would mind participating in a random “security scan.” We stepped to the side of the course where they had a mass spectrometer set up. They were screening for explosives. We had to open the zippers on our bags and have our hands and midriffs swiped. They then placed the pads from the wands in the machine to see if we’d been exposed to anything nasty. While waiting, my guy asked me the purpose of our visit. Never one to pass up an opportunity to show off, I replied, “Vacantie” and he looked at me like I was the only person who ever spoke Dutch to him. And I imagine aside from the occasional Dutch chosen to participate in his testing, I probably am.
He asked me why I could speak, and was even stunned when I told him, “Ik spreek een beetjie” or “I speak only a little.” I told him when we decided to come over, I’d undertaken a cram course to pick up as much as possible. He asked, “How long,” I told him “A month” and now he was really impressed. I mentioned that I’d probably overdone it a bit, trying to grasp too many tenses when I should have just worked on the Present and some vocabulary, and he replied that Dutch is tough, even for the Dutch. He added that he too likes to pick up a bit of the language of his destination when he’s traveling, because it often breaks the ice, and the native speakers appreciate it. And I agreed because that’s my technique also. Try to make some friends whenever you can. I left with a “Tot ziens” and we were off.
Loading onto the plane was a little bit weird, you line up in the departure area by boarding group, they scan your boarding pass, you pass through a gate, and you end up in a different departure area where you stand around some more. Then they open a door, check your passport and boarding pass again, and if you pass that test (the guy in front of me failed) you get sent down the jetway.
We departed about 15 minutes late due to a “computer error” and headed out over the North Sea. Per habit, I stayed glued to the window to try and capture a photo of the exact spot where we leave the land end head out over the water. I compare that photo to Google Earth when I get home and pin the location in a little Google Earth directory. And I have some cool ones – Tianjin, Porto, several in France, Corsica, and A Coruña on the final vanishing point of the coast of Galicia.
Flying out of the Netherlands, you really appreciate just what a green country it is. The famous Dutch weather produces famous Dutch greenery.
I got a good shot of the Netherlands coast as we crossed over, mere minutes from the airport. In the distance, hundreds of wind turbines were doing their job well offshore amid a slew of small cargo ships.
And then the rigs in the North Sea Oil Field started to appear. Our route crossed the water and then came back to land in the middle of England (another good photo,) angled up toward Glasglow before crossing out across the tortured northwest coast of Scotland (one photo crossing the start of the fjords, no photo on the ultimate exit, too many clouds) into the broad Atlantic, passing well south of Iceland. We made landfall across the southern tip of Greenland, and while the clouds were still thick there were a few holes. I managed to fire off a couple of shots of that bleak, snow-dotted expanse of dark rock.
We’re flying on a Boeing 787, and being such a modern plane, it doesn’t have window shades. It has adjustable tinted windows. You have a button that makes it darker and lighter. On these planes, the flight attendants can darken the windows remotely, and they do just that so people can sleep. If you want to take a photo though, you can lighten yours to take the shot. Though there is something I just noticed – the adjustment controller appears to change not only the 2 windows in my pod but the one behind me as well. Every time I jack mine up, I see a hand reach for the controller behind me to turn theirs back down. I wonder if they know who’s really in control.
The rest of the way home was socked in with heavy clouds so my photo work was done for this trip. Despite the “computer error” we arrived only 3 minutes late. It was a quick walk to the immigration hall which was thankfully completely empty. I was using a new CBP app called “Mobile Passport Control” which is supposed to allow you to sail right through. You add all the travelers in your party to the app, fill out the Customs forms and save the file. The minute you land you take a selfie and submit the form to CBP who sends you back a QR code. You’re channeled to a special line where you show the code and off you go. Of course, we entered the line and were sent to the station which was being manned by no one. We ended up shuttling off to the next agent, where indeed the process was as simple as advertised. The rest of the trip was easy and we arrived back in Albuquerque 20 minutes early. Thirty minutes to get home and it’s like we never left.
I think we really enjoyed Amsterdam. We’re always looking for another place that we like to travel to more than once, to join Paris, Madrid, and Sevilla in that special group. I’m not sure Amsterdam rises to that level, but it might. Time will tell. Now on to our next adventure, wherever it might be.