Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Traveling: You Never Know

“A journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it,” said John Steinbeck once. My last travel back from New York to my hometown Bonn/Germany reminded me of this aphorism.

I had booked a flight with Delta/KLM from JFK airport to Cologne with a transfer at Amsterdam Schiphol, starting on Wednesday July 13th at 6.00 pm. The first plane  took off  - almost as scheduled - at around 6.40 pm. The airline claimed the small delay was due to a technical problem at airport control which caused a little traffic jam with the departing planes. However, we arrived the next morning in Amsterdam around the scheduled time (7.30 am local), with enough time to connect to my next flight, which was scheduled at 9.20 am. A delay of 10 minutes was already announced for the flight to Cologne. While I was waiting the delay was expanded to 20 minutes. But at 9.45 am the boarding would still begin.

Shortly before 10 am the KLM staff announced that the flight had been cancelled because the plane had "a technical problem". It was recommended that the passengers go to the nearest service desk of KLM . The one airline person directed the group of stranded passengers to this area. The situation reminded me of a mother duck walking in front of her offspring.

A line of passengers developed who were waiting for their next boarding pass at the service desk. The next flight to Cologne (at 5 pm) was already booked out by the tim it was my turn. Therefore I accepted the boarding pass for the following flight at 9.15 pm. Due to the inconvenience, I received also a booklet with 3 vouchers: One was for a free telephone call to announce the delay to a friend, another voucher which offered a discount of € 10 for a meal in an airport restaurant (or alternatively some bonus miles for my frequent flyer account)  and a third voucher (travel discount certificate) with a €50 discount if I booked a flight directly  with Delta/KLM by January 1.2013. 

While waiting for the late flight I burnt my time by walking around in the spacious waiting area, reading, spotting other waiting passengers and eating. Schiphol has - as usual - many restaurants. I choose a pasta di mare at Schiphol`s Grand Cafe Het Paleis where I cashed in my discount voucher of €10.  The quality of the meal was a bit disappointing and explains why worldwide there are not many Dutch cuisine restaurants in comparison to Italian, French, Thai etc. Later I allowed myself an apple pie at Starbucks, which was delicious!

Sometimes I checked the crowded announcement board in the waiting area for my flight where it appeared in the late afternoon. When I checked again around a quarter before 8 pm I couldn`t believe my eyes: This flight was also canceled! Apparently they had just one plane for the connection from Amsterdam to Cologne, and it was still in need of repair.

I asked the first KLM person I saw where I can find the closest KLM service desk and was sent downstairs to the baggage claim area. Once again, when I arrived there was already a long line of stranded passengers. While I waited the line got even longer and seemed to fill the whole baggage claim area. But not only passengers waiting to go to Cologne were there. I heard a woman next to me telling her neighbors in the line that she was trying to get a flight to Chicago.

Finally - after around 1 1/2 hour waiting - it was my turn at the desk. I got a voucher for an airport hotel (Dorint Hotel Amsterdam-Airport, a bus shuttle to and from the hotel, plus free dinner and breakfast in the hotel. The airline person also gave me a bag with a "care collection", containing things like a toothbrush & tooth-paste, a razor, a variety of lotions, socks and a white t-shirt. But the staff person could´t get me a boarding pass for the next possible flight. Instead I got just a phone number where I could call the next day for changing the flight. And I was also told that I could trade my boarding pass in for a train ticket to Cologne.

I decided to give up flying for the moment and chose the train ride. That was astonishingly easy. Schiphol also includes a railway station and there is a desk for buying train tickets. There I fast and easily got my boarding pass changed into a train ticket (for the fast German "Intercity") to Cologne and a schedule for the departing trains, connecting and arrival times.

Then I went straight to the waiting area for the shuttle bus to the Dorint Hotel which was at the airport entrance. There was pouring and chilly rain, but luckily the bus station, where already a crowd waited, was very close and had a roof. Soon the bus for the Dorint Hotel arrived. The crowd rushed through the pouring rain and tried to squeeze onto the bus. Many people had vouchers in their hands which started disintegrating because they got soaked in the rain. Luckily I caught a seat in the crowded bus but many others had to stand and at least one man could´t even get on the crammed vehicle. Later I learned that the shuttles bus leaves every half an hour.

We arrived some minutes later at the airport hotel, and already there was another line waiting, my 4th line of the day. But we were under a roof and the hotel staff of 3 persons worked quick and efficiently. Therefore I didn´t have to wait long to get my room key. What a relief!

The rest of the evening was relaxing. The dinner was satisfying. It was a small buffet with bread, cheese and some cold meat, salads, plus one free drink. I choose the Chardonnay. There also was free water on the tables.

The nice hotel room had wifi, but the connection was very slow and didn`t function when I came back from dinner. I went into the hotel bar (sports bar) which had fast internet access, which is maybe an incentive to lure guests to this place.

The next morning I got a wakeup call at 8 am to follow my planned new schedule. The hotel offered a surprisingly generous brunch. Maybe it will be a reason to come back sometimes. I got a large pot of coffee and choose between a nice variety of fruit juices (I decided for the delicately fresh squeezed grapefruit juice), scrambled eggs,  an assortment of meat, fish, cheese, cereals, dairies, salads, marmalades and lots of other tasty things. The caramelized plums in marmalade especially made my day. I also enjoyed some of the pastries and tried their mini-chocolate muffins. The gourmet buffet provided lot of comfort for the tedious day before.

Inspite the sumptuous breakfast I easily caught the planned shuttle bus at 9.30 am, thanks to a quick and efficient checkout. At Schiphol train station I caught an earlier train than planned (shortly before 10 am instead 10.14 am), which took me to Utrecht Centraal (after around 30 minutes), where I then had to change trains.

This short train ride was pleasant. I sat in the upper level of the 2-leveled car where I enjoyed the Dutch landscape which was unknown by me. First I spotted some modern buildings near the airport (Wikipedia describes Schiphol as an airport city, meaning a modern city built around the air-traffic hub, and then the picture changed into fresh green meadows with a golf course and later lots of cows & sheep. After a day on the bustling airport and the waiting in long and slow-moving lines the calm views were very relaxing.

At Utrecht Centraal I effortless caught the fast train (the German "Intercity") to Cologne (going further to Frankfurt). But the "Intercity" was crammed! Every seat was reserved, thanks to the peak holiday season. But some carts were still locked and empty! It seemed they were reserved for passengers with reserved seas that would be picked up at distant destinations. In spite of the overcrowded situation, the German train staff couldn´t get the permission from Deutsche Bundesbahn management to open the other cars. The crammed in passengers got the announcement: "We are not allowed to open our rear end" (in English, (sic)).

Therefore I had to stand the whole time (from 10.47 am till 1.12 pm), but that was no problem for me! I found a place in the tiny train café ("Bistro"); where I allowed myself a Cappuccino. And happily, this kind of bar smelled better than the rest of the train.

At Cologne train station I got a ticket for the subway to Bonn (E 6,80), which I could also use for the bus home at the periphery of the former capital, and I finally arrived around 3pm.

Conclusion: The trip lasted one day longer than expected and was sometimes stressful. However, it showed me pleasant parts of the Netherlands where I have never been before and hand`t planned to see at this trip.

“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving,” the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once taught.

No comments:

Post a Comment