At my age — and as lucky as I’ve been to be able to travel extensively, teaching visual journalism — I don’t have a lot of things left on my “bucket list.”
But one that remains is: I’d like to visit Amsterdam. It’s a gorgeous city. I love what I’ve seen, via pictures and books, of the architecture of Amsterdam.
The good news: I’m there. The bad news: All I’m going to see is the inside of the airport.
Ah, well. I will have to wait a while longer before I can kick that bucket list.
In the meantime, it is a very nice airport. Perhaps one of the prettiest — and most efficient — I’ve ever seen.
The House of Tulips. Where else but Amsterdam, right?
But let’s back up a day. I last wrote you Saturday morning from Johannesburg, from which I was preparing to depart after a week in South Africa and three weeks total in Africa teaching visual journalism.
I had a few files I wanted to send out before I left, but it took me longer than I had planned to send them out. Smack in the middle of all that, my internet service expired. So to hell with it; I’d have to deal with it later.
And then there was a small hassle checking out of the hotel. And then there was a small hassle turning in my rental car. And then there was a small hassle checking my one bag at the airport. There was even a hassle going through passport control: The guy there stamped the wrong boarding pass. Sure glad I spotted the error or I might not have been allowed to board my plane.
I flew Kenya Airways from Johannesburg back to Nairobi. I didn’t have a window seat, so I wasn’t able to get much sleep on the flight.
The good news was that the folks at Kenya Airways checked my bag all the way through to Norfolk. I had been told that I would be compelled to go though passport control in Nairobi and pay the standard fee for an entry fee just to retrieve my bag and recheck it. That turned out not to be the case.
On the other hand, I got kicked out of the restaurant in the Nairobi airport. That’s the first time I can remember something like that happening to me.
I had a lengthy layover in Nairobi. I had dinner and two beers and was on my MacBook Pro, building a graphics template when a waiter came over and informed me they needed that table. I’d have to leave.
I sat there kind of stunned for a moment. As I pointed out to the waiter, roughly half of the people in the restaurant had been there longer than I had. I’m not quite sure why I was singled out. But he just stared at me, apologetically.
Gee. Thanks for the hospitality.
On the other hand, I managed to dump some of the foreign currency I had been carrying around. I had no less than four — count ’em, four — sets, which I kept organized via little sandwich bags.
The South African Rands — upper right — I exchanged at a booth in the Nairobi airport. The Kenyan shillings, I used to pay my bill at the unfriendly restaurant.
The Nigerian Naira that I have left over from March — bottom left — I never could find a buyer for. No one in Kenya, South Africa or the U.S. will take the Naira off my hands. Very curious.
Another thing that struck me oddly in Nairobi last night: Like I said, my big bag — left — was checked all the way through from Johannesburg to Norfolk, which is good.
And my computer briefcase — upper right — is fine, of course. But as I went to board the huge KLM jet from Nairobi to Amsterdam, a little Kenyan airport official stepped forward to inform me that my carry-on bag was too large to carry on.
Again, very interesting. It was good enough to get me to Kenya in three legs earlier this month. It got me to Johannesburg a week ago. It got me to Pietermaritzburg and back just fine. That’s six times on this one trip I’ve carried that bag on. So why is it suddenly “too large”?
Occasionally, when I’m boarding a tiny “puddlejumper” plane, the airline will ask to put a tag on the bag and then return it to me at the top of the ramp when we arrive. That’s fine. But I keep my camera in that bag, so I have no intention of checking my carry-on. It just ain’t gonna happen. Plus, this KLM flight was aboard no “puddlejumper.” This was aboard a new 747-400.
So I did something I rarely do: I argued with the guy. And he backed down. Quickly. Which struck me as odd.
Once aboard the plane, I found my seat smack in the middle of the middle section. A nightmare for someone like myself who depends on a bulkhead so I can sleep. And, of course, I don’t really fit in airline seats anyway. So I would doubly screwed here.
In fact, I couldn’t even get my tray down in order to eat dinner and breakfast. Especially when the guy in front of me leaned his chair back.
The young lady to my right was kind enough to allow me to share her tray.
I skipped dinner but did eat breakfast. Which was delicious. How do I know? Because the label told me so.
Ah, a delicious meal. As opposed to the other kind. Got it.
I slept fitfully, dreaming of being trapped in an airline seat that is neither wide enough nor has enough legroom for me and of not having a place to flop my head.
Sigh. What a miserable night.
So when we arrived in Amsterdam a few hours ago, I felt awful, looked awful and was in an awful mood. So it wasn’t difficult to choose a place where I could feel at home and eat a familiar meal.
The McDonald’s here in the Amsterdam airport is gorgeous. And huge. And has lots of receptacles where you can plug in your laptop and linger a while.
I love the decorative garbage cans I’m finding here in Holland. Makes me wish I could read Hollandaise.
I set up, downloaded my messages, topped off my battery.
I even loaned my power adapter to a guy who was desperately seeking a way to charge up his phone.
The one thing I did not do immediately was take a shower. I had spent much of the previous few hours sweating profusely. I had hoped to buy some shower time here, but the gentleman whose phone needed recharging made use of them and was saying nothing but bad things about them.
So I sat there at McDonald’s, checked my messages and wrote up this blog post. Just as I went to post it: Bam! My internet service crapped out. And this was after I had paid for an entire day.
Well, hell. My luck during this return trip has been bad. But at least it’s been consistent.
Trying to turn that around, I went over to the hotel/shower area and rented a shower stall. Which turned out to be a fabulous idea.
I was just settling in for a long soak when — Bam! — the water cut off. Just like my internet service. Wow. I must have used too much bandwidth or something.
No, it turned out the water control works for only about three minutes at a time. Punch the button and it immediately turns on again. This kept me from exiting my shower room with a scalp full of soap.
The shower felt so good. I won’t say I was a new man when I got out. But I was certainly less shopworn than I had been before. And looked less shopworn, too, I’d guess.
Another issue: I keep having coughing fits. During my two weeks in Kenya, I found myself reacting, most likely, to something blooming there. And then an infection set into my lungs. I’ve been coughing ever since.
I’ve long ago used up all my American cough drops. I stocked up on enough South African cough drops to get me home… or so I thought. In fact, they barely got me to Amsterdam.
So I set off down the concourse in search of a pharmacy where I might find sugar-free cough lozenges.
So now I’ve taken a shower, stocked up on “sans sucre” cough drops, eaten two Egg McMuffins and had five Diet Cokes. I think I’m about ready for the next leg of my journey.
I’ll arrive in Boston at 1 p.m. EDT, which will be 7 p.m. South African time. I’ll have a five-hour-and-forty-five-minute layover before departing for Norfolk. I should be home by 8:35 p.m. tonight.
I’ll be tired as hell. But I bet I’ll sleep well.
My blog entries for this trip, so far…
- Friday, July 20: Leaving today for my next consulting assignment: Kenya
- Saturday, July 21: Hello from Paris
- Sunday, July 22: The last leg of my trip to Nairobi
- Monday, July 23: A Sunday stroll around downtown Nairobi
- Thursday, July 26: Why manufacturers of customized hotel towels need a copy editor
- Sunday, July 29: A Saturday spent at the famous Thorn Tree Cafe
- Sunday, July 29: The Exchange Bar here in the Stanley Hotel has a new fan
- Monday, July 30: Life as a traveling infographics instructor and evangelist in Kenya
- Wednesday, Aug. 1: Good day, Sunshine
- Thursday, Aug. 2: Here, ‘KFC’ stands for Kenyan Fried Chicken. I think.
- Sunday, Aug. 5: My final few days in Kenya went by very quickly.
- Monday, Aug. 6: My weekend in Johannesburg
- Monday, Aug. 6: One of the two sports teams staying here in the hotel this week
- Tuesday, Aug. 7: My week — so far — consulting in Johannesburg
- Thursday, Aug. 9: Front pages show a very rare snow here in Joburg
- Saturday, Aug 11: A whirlwind news design teaching expedition to Pietermaritzburg