I need to improve my ability to count. Granted, this trip has been a bit last minute, and I only got my travel itinerary four days before my departure. But four days is plenty enough time to figure out that the difference between 8 and 14 is 6… not 4. Perhaps with all of unpleasant surprises that have been sprung on me over the past few weeks, it was my sub-conscious working up to a pretty damn nice one.
When I checked the departures board at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam just before 8.00am on Wednesday, I could not find my connecting flight to Atlanta. Why? The board displayed departing flights up to 1.30pm. I was certain that my layover was only four hours; however, my flight was not listed among those around midday. I took out my boarding pass to confirm the actual time of the flight, and it was not until 14.35. SURPISE! Really? Did I really have six and a half hours to kill before my next flight. SURPISE! “No,” I told myself. “This cannot be right.” I’d calculated my layover as soon as I got my travel details because I’d wanted to do something I’d never done before: leave the airport and explore Amsterdam. But from all accounts, four hours was not enough time—especially if I’d never been to Amsterdam before and was not used to going through immigration, going downtown, getting back to the airport and through security and immigration. But six and a half hours is a horse of a different colour, indeed. SURPRISE!
Since I did not want to spend the little time I had to experience Amsterdam for the first time lost and aimlessly wondering streets on a cold morning in Holland, I opted to go with the more convenient option of booking a tour at the tourism booth (named Lovers) that was just down the corridor from the Swatch stand with the purple Swatch that immediately caught my eye and cried out, “Buy me!” Schiphol is probably the most convenient and user-friendly airport I’ve passed through. Within a space of only a few squared meters, you can buy a purple Swatch, visit a free museum with works by master artists, get breakfast and book a boat tour of Amsterdam.
The train ticket to Central Station was included with the price of the boat tour, and finding my way to the embarking point was easy enough. Luckily, many Dutch speak English. When I stepped out of the train station, I beheld an amazing sight!
I have never in my life seen so many bicycles. Bicycles everywhere. Zooming past me. Being pushed on the path behind me. Chained anywhere there was free space… and even where there wasn’t. To borrow a word from Zanzibar Bill: AMAZING.
Deciding on gifts to buy for my nieces and nephew at duty free was the most stressful aspect of my Amsterdam/Schiphol experience.