Sunday, 18 December 2011

... Tanzania: On Your Marks... Get Set... Go!

Amsterdam is the largest city and the capital of the Netherlands. It is also where my KLM flight from YVR landed smoothly at around 1015 local time. It was an uneventful flight where I drifted in & out of sleep, only really waking to find food placed in front of me or stare out of the window to look at the sky. It is both a blessing and a curse ordering a "special" meal. The blessings include that the meals are usually pretty healthy and have had some thought go into them. The biggest bonus is of course being fed before everyone else... But herein lies the curse.... By the time everyone else gets fed you've eaten your meal a lifetime ago, are absolutely starving again and now have to sit next to someone eating. It doesn't even have to look edible it's just the sheer action of someone else eating food whilst sat next to you, who has nothing on their plate. The food was pretty good... Lots of tasty veggies & fruit dishes. Even the pile of what looked like vomit complete with chunky bits actually turned out to be a very tasty tofu dish, if not a little odd for a breakfast meal.

I had over 10 hours for a layover and so there was no way that that was going to be spent with my arse camped out in some uncomfortable airport chair hugging my luggage so that some wily thief didn't try his/her luck when I passed out from sheer exhaustion. Once I located the plenty big enough locker for the larger of my two bags plus a few other items I didn't want to lug around with me, quickly freshened up in the washroom (wet wipes are your friend!) and grabbed a latte from Starbucks, I left the airport and boarded a train for the city centre.

The train station is conveniently enough right at the airport and you purchase your tickets through one of many machines with touch screens. Unfortunately I picked the one that decided it would only talk to me in either Dutch or Japanese (I think) so I'm not truly sure if I got the correct ticket. When, not long later, I was riding a high speed train that had free wifi and comfy seats I couldn't help but wonder if I was quite possibly (probably) defrauding the Dutch transit system with my €4.40 "weekendretour" ticket. Especially when on the way back it was standing room only in a double decker bone-shaker. I have to say I was a tad disappointed not to see a little mouse with clogs on going clip-clippity-clop on the stairs during my time in the city. No windmill either. *shakes angry little fists*

Of course it started to snow/heavy hail on my way in and I'd left my warmer ski jacket in the airport locker in favour of my windbreaker. Still, I pretty much knew my plan of action. I was going to take in the sights via the canal system, a trip I had previously made 21 years earlier. I opted for the €13 excursion which would last just over a hour but take in most of the sights such as Anne Frank's hideaway house. That is if you can cross the square to the mooring safely enough without losing a limb or worse. It's not the cars you have to look out for here.... It's trams & BICYCLES!! The Dutch are definitely a cycling-mad nation. There would have been some very no-at-all-funny irony has I suffered at the hands, well, wheels of a bike. The first "sight" pointed out to you on the boat is a several storey high bike-park (bike version of a car park anyone?). It fits a lot of bicycles and yet it's still not big enough!?!

In the early 17th century, when immigration was peaking, a plan for a canal system was developed based on four concentric half-circles. Known as the Grachtengordel, three of the canals were mostly for residential development: the Herengracht (Canal of the lords), Keizersgracht (Emperor's Canal), and Prinsengracht (Prince's Canal). These canals served for defence, water management and transport. Today they are littered with, in no particular order, waterfowl, house boats and tourists. The old city centre is the focal point of all the architectural styles before the end of the 19th century. Most historic buildings in the city centre are houses, such as the famous merchants' houses lining the canal. Although these days they have been converted into businesses (usually financial in nature) and/or apartments for rent.

There are a set number of houseboats and the city has decided there can be no more unless one leaves. Basically one leaves, one replaces. The city's also on a pretty aggressive green kick. They're having houseboat energy sources changed to cleaner ones (didn't quite catch at cost to whom). People seem quite happy to live in a shoe box, although that's funny coming from someone with a Vancouver apartment.

Resting my tired body in this way was a great idea, although towards the end of the excursion just after pausing to look at Anne Frank's house I could feel myself starting to drift off. It has been a long day with even more of it to come. So,I decided upon completion of the boat trip I'd get myself back to Schiphol and just camp out. Oh and perhaps a Starbucks! Yes, I know... I should have shares in that place with the amount of money I spend.

In about 3 hours I should be boarding my next flight. I have, however, just looked at my ticket and there is a rather large discrepancy between what is printed on the ticket and what is on the information screen. My flight was supposed to leave at 2040hrs to Nairobi, Kenya. However my ticket says boarding at 1920hrs for a 2025hr departure. Hmmmm. I think I'll head to the gate early just to be on the safe side. I don't want to be the subject of a very polite but still extremely embarrassing announcement over the PA system. "Passenger X, traveling to X, you are delaying the flight! Immediate boarding please at gate X or we will proceed to offload your baggage." You almost expect to hear "have a nice day" at the end of it!

In the meantime I think I need to forgo my no caffeine rule and get a cup of my own jet fuel!

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