Thursday, December 20, 2007

Slouching towards Schiphol

The Christmas holidays can be the worst time to travel: crowds, bad weather, delayed flights, heavy loads, short tempers. A friend also once advised me that, once a day starts badly, you become a 'poo-magnet' for life's debris.

Thus, it was a bad omen to wake to find an ice storm had hit Arnhem the day that I was leaving for the US.

A quick check of the timing...plane at 1:15; arrive 1 1/2 hours before the plane, one-half hour wandering in from long-term parking, a one hour drive to Amsterdam...out of Arnhem no later than 10? I dragged two suitcases, a shoulderbag, a business bag, the garbage bag, and my shopping bag to the base of the stairs, making a pile like a refugee about to board the Titanic.

I stopped at work for a brief huddle with my project group, a Christmas handshake with each member of the Research team, and a laugh with our staff secretary (it turns out I was missing being part of the tradition of parading the staff at the Christmas Party dressed in lederhosen...too bad :) ).

Then to the road...it didn't look good...

Schiphol Xmas Out 02 Schiphol Xmas Out 01

Still, the navigation system wasn't suggesting alternate routes and the overhead traffic control signs still flashed "Filevrij", So, onward. And, truth be told, everyone drove reasonably, nobody spun or stalled, and I arrived at Long-Term parking at a very reasonable 11 am.

"Lang Parkeren", also known as "P3", is a vast field of automobiles located about ten minutes bus ride from Schiphol. At the best of times, it is a frustrating exercise in driving up and down rows, getting further and further from the bus stop, until I am left pinned against the runway fence fifteen minutes walking distance (appropriately marked "Row 502"). In holiday seasons, I expect to get turned away to the dread "P4", another ten minutes away by a second, sequential shuttle bus (euphemistically called "P3 Extra").

But today the crowds were light, the spaces plentiful, the walk short.

And the happy pattern continued. Short lines at check-in. Fast lines at Passport Control. An accordion player in the shopping plaza.

Schiphol Xmas Out 07 Schiphol Xmas Out 06

There was even time to buy a bottle of jenever for a friend, and still make it to E concourse at noon. The monitors said that the plane to Seattle was not yet boarding, although the agent had said that 11:30 was the deadline, and the situation outside looked pretty encouraging...still a bit of fog, but nothing serious. I could make it to the Lounge.

Schiphol Xmas Out 09

Most times, I sit at the gate, feet on my bags, ticket clutched in my hand. Occasionally, though, I get bumped up to business class, which allows access to the upstairs lounges. It's a wholly different world: food, drink, computer connections, quiet. Okay, it's a slice of Gouda and lunch meat on a cracker washed down with a glass of red wine, but it's still an oasis. If you haven't seen it, here's the view:

Schiphol Xmas Out 08

So, three for three for Christmas... It almost prepares me for the ten hour flight and the Christmas Card addressing that lay ahead. Maybe the universe will grant a stay on life's fallout as a gift to us this year. If so, I hope that your travels are similarly easy, and that they presage a warm, safe, and happy holiday for everyone.

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