Monday, October 12, 2015

Amsterdammit: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

When David received the message he would be going to Scotland, he asked if I wanted to go.  Initially, I said no.  We were at our son's wedding.  There had been expenses involved with that whole affair.  When my aunt passed away and I traveled to Florida, I spent a lot more than I originally planned.  I had spent quite a bit of money in a very short period of time.  I just couldn't see spending the money for me to go right now.  Then I talked to Carla.

Everyone needs a friend like Carla.  Carla will tell me if I look fat, or tired, or my outfit is awful.  She will tell me if I am being unreasonable or mean or ignorant.  When I told Carla about my not going on this trip she said,"Stop being an idiot."  She may have said I was crazy too.  "When will you ever get the chance to go again for just the cost of your plane ticket and food?"  She was right.  All of our hotel and David's airfare and food would be covered by his company as he is going to attend a conference.

The day after my talk with Carla, David sent me a text as I was getting started on my work day.  "Tim died this morning."  His friend Tim had died after arriving at work.  Sitting at his desk he had a heart attack and just like that he was gone.  Tim was in his 50s.  I sent David a message back, "I'm going to Scotland with you."

Because that is what life is about.  Living it while you can.  Not being an idiot and skipping a chance of a lifetime.  I had never been outside of the US before.  Not even Mexico or Canada when both had been options at different times.  I didn't even have a passport.  David had been on my case to get that done with us living only about 3 hours from the border with Canada but I was dragging my feet.  Not on purpose, but that was the reality.  I printed the paperwork and it sat in my in-tray for a long time.  Then I filled it out and it sat some more.  Then I found my birth certificate and paper clipped it to the application and it sat again.  That is the state it was in when I decided to go.  And because of that, I got to spend an extra $80 in all to do an expedited passport.

Now, at 46, I finally have my passport and a plane ticket to Scotland.  Our trip will take us from Montana to Salt Lake City, UT to Amsterdam to Glasgow.  The flight from Salt Lake to Amsterdam is 10 hours by itself.  I am excited the night before and was worried I would have trouble sleeping.  I didn't, that is until 6 am when Delta sends me a text message.  Our flight in Salt Lake is going to be delayed an hour and we will miss our connection in Amsterdam.  I am not sure how they already knew this since we weren't even due to leave Montana for a few more hours.

We get to Salt Lake and discover that the plane to take us to Amsterdam is coming from Amsterdam.  That's how they knew.  Amsterdam is 8 hours ahead of us so when they left there late, it sealed our fate very early.  Two of David's colleagues are on all of our same flights.  As promised, we leave SLC about an hour late.  Fortunately, David and I are seated in a 2 seat section so it is just us.  I really wanted to sleep and took Advil PM but it wasn't meant to be.  I couldn't get comfortable even with the extra leg room we had and the lack of others in our row with us.  I did that sort of twilighty nap thing where you are still vaguely aware of everything but I never really slept.  Somewhere over Canada, the man in the row in front of us starts nudging David's coworker who is seated in front of David.  They are looking out the window so we look too and we see the Northern Lights.

It isn't easy to photograph the Aurora Borealis with your iPhone through your airplane window while zooming over Canada in the middle of the night.  I have always wanted to see them and now that I have, it just makes me want to see them again and again and again.  Norway and Alaska may have just moved up on our "someday" list.

But as the universe has a tendency to do with me, it gives and it takes away.  It gave me the Northern Lights so it was time for me to pay.  We arrive in Amsterdam to find that we didn't exactly miss our connection as that flight never left, it was cancelled due to fog.  Really bad fog apparently because flights are being cancelled and delayed like crazy and there are people lined up everywhere.  The lines are very, very, very long.  I can't even stress how long.  Longer than anything I have ever seen in a US airport.  No one there knows where they are supposed to be and the airline and airport employees were no help and in our case, sometimes made matters worse.

We get in a line at a "transfer station" that is for Delta priority members - I am gold with Delta.  The line isn't nearly as long as those who don't have status but it isn't short.  There are 4 employees there to help everyone in both lines.  We will be here a while.  We didn't even join this line until we tried to use the automated kiosks which said "report to desk" and "no alternative flights are available".  While we are in line, the men I am with have various conversations about what we should do.  They check the Delta app which has conflicting information ranging from we have a flight in a few hours no flight at all and this changes each time they look.  A few times one or more of them get out of line to try the kiosks again "just in case".  Because Delta is not the actual carrier now, it will be their partner KLM, that website is consulted and is also giving information that doesn't help.

At some point, one of the men is given the advice by a woman in an official looking uniform that we should get out of this line and go down the the gate.  I really don't want to do this.  I think it is a bad idea to give up our place in this line but I keep that to myself.  I am trying not to end up being called that 5-letter B word that I really, really hate being called.  You know the one.  If you know me, you have probably called me it at some point, especially if you are a man.  Bossy.  So I stay out of it and we leave the line that maybe has 20 people in front of us.  Not that the line is moving.

We go to the gate where they are going to board a flight to Budapest before the next one to Glasgow.  One of the guys goes up to the desk to ask the gate agent to help.  This was after the kiosks were tried again on the way to the gate "just in case".  Incidentally, now the kiosks say we don't exist at all.  One of the gate agents tells us to go away, they can't be bothered with us right now they are working the Budapest flight.  But they aren't.  There is no one at the desk and they are not boarding or getting ready to board right away.  One girl does start to look up some information but ultimately she can't help.  She tells us to go back to the transfer station and get back in that line.

As a testament to the weirdness that is this airport and this day, the sign on this door says "Emergency Door, keep clear" in English and Dutch.

 That door is on this wall that is in the middle of the floor with no other walls attached to it.  Please do not block this door that is in this wall that you can walk all the way around.

We pass another transfer station on our way back and the line is incredibly long.  Longer possibly than the one at the original station that wasn't for priority customers.  Back at the original transfer station, the priority line is at least twice as long as it was when we left.  We are standing there when the lady that told us to go to the gate walks by (looking for people who do not have status with Delta to kick them out of this line).  She makes a face and says, "Why are you back in my line?"  She sends us away again, back to the gate.  She promises they will help.  She talked to someone on the phone.  

Back at the gate, guess what happens?  They won't help us.  AND the next flight to Glasgow has been delayed.  We have no idea if we are on that flight but it is delayed for a couple of hours more and we are told we cannot get help until about 40 minutes before the flight.  Back to the transfer station.  More consulting of the Delta App, the kiosks and the KLM website occur.  One of the other guys says he shows confirmed on a flight that will leave the next morning.  David is currently showing he will leave at 1 am and I show the delayed flight.  We arrive back at the transfer station priority line which has grown so long they had to put up temporary barriers as it is probably 5 times as long as it originally was.  

Enough is enough.  I decide the B word is worth risking and I call Delta on the phone.  David and I are confirmed on the first flight that will leave the next day.  I get the boarding passes of David's colleagues and get them squared away as well.  Now we have to get a hotel and clear customs.  This isn't going to be an easy task either as we are not the only ones with this problem.  I think we arrived in Amsterdam around 11 am and it is now around 7 pm.  We tag team the hotel acquisition and one of David's colleagues gets us rooms and we head to the customs line.

I am in the front as we try to find the end of the line.  You go down a long hall and turn and there are people as far as you can see.  Down that hall, turn, people as far as you can see.  I think 4 halls later we find the end.  People are cutting like crazy.

These are some of the rudest people I have ever encountered and I have flown a lot and have seen lots of rude behavior.  Besides the blatant cutting in line, people stand right on top of you.  The girl behind us keeps trying to edge past us and makes comments if you don't move up immediately and stand directly on top of the person in front of you.  When we finally get to where the line split to go to one of two custom's agents we were standing back to see which would move faster and she demands to know which line we are in.  BOTH we told her.  I wanted to call her a heifer, my go-to term for irritating people, but since we are not in the US I am not sure how that will translate.

We make it outside and find the shuttle bus to take us to the airport.  On the shuttle, almost immediately the bus driver gets into an altercation with a cab driver.

The cab driver ends up driving right in front of our shuttle bus and slamming on his breaks to antagonize our driver.  Our driver in return is tailgating the cab.  I try not to look.  Even when we turn, the cab cuts us off and our shuttle driver never lets up.  Various fingers were displayed before I took this picture.

We (luckily) make it to the hotel, the cab driver pulls into the parking lot across the street.  The police are called and they actually come.  I am thinking that I would be shocked for the police to respond to something like this in big-city America when there was no accident and no one was physically injured.

I am getting an extra stamp in my passport because of our delay, The Netherlands.  It is late and we are tired and hungry.  What do The Netherlands offer us?  You may have noticed it in the last picture.

That's right...the golden arches of McDonald's.  I have managed for the first time in my life to leave the US only to get to a hotel after a less than ideal day, hoping for some kind of Amsterdammy type experience but no.  They have a McDonald's.  I refused to eat there.  Not for dinner.  Not for breakfast.  It is also the view from our hotel room.  It's like they are mocking me.

In setting up the rooms we learned things can be different over here.  When told we need 3 rooms for 4 adults they ask if we want to be in one room.  Yeah, that is a big fat NO.  They finally understand - 3 hotel rooms, not three beds.

We end up with 2 beds in our one room.  Twin beds pushed together.  I was so tired I didn't care if they were pushed together or not.  I would have taken a cot at this point.  We have been awake for something like 21 hours.  I don't even remember David turning off the light.  I was already asleep.  This set up also works for me because I don't like anyone touching me when I am trying to sleep.  Stay on your side of the bed please.  David likes to tether.  He likes to put his hand on me, or his foot.  I hate that.  It is like a hot weight on me and it drives me crazy.  He had to stay on his side or risk falling in the gap.  Or being pushed.

In another attempt to keep this experience as American as possible, David finds Little House on the Prairie and I watch my first episode ever while we get ready to leave the next morning.  Not just my first episode in Amsterdam, the first of my whole life.

So far, it is feeling like maybe I should have just stayed in the US.  I could have had been stranded at an airport, had McDonald's and watched reruns of 70s shows there too.  Plus there would be two less American men in the world who learned that I can be bossy (allegedly).  I don't know if the men in the rest of the world will find me that way.  I have to find some first.

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