I flew into Amsterdam Airport Schiphol on a very snowy morning in January a few years ago. This was an exciting trip for me, of course all of my trips to Germany were exciting and fun, but this one was special. Dirk would be coming back to America with me when I left. We would finally be spending the next several years together in American.
The trip began from Grand Rapids, Michigan. From there I flew into a very snowy and windy Detroit Metropolitan, very typical for a Great Lakes Region day in January. The flight wasn’t too bad, very little bumpy air and I did just fine (I have a bit of a problem with motion sickness. By a “bit of a problem,” I mean I’m a puker. As in I turn green and vomit, A LOT. I made it through all the various check points with plenty of time to spare and I was feeling pretty darn good(no puking). We then boarded the jet that would carry me to Amsterdam. It was really snowing hard at that point, but I did not care since I had taken 2 tablets of Dramamine(to prevent me from turning in to a creature from the Exorcist and filling the plane with pea soup colored vomit). I was feeling pretty relaxed. The plane was being pulled out onto the runway by the little tractor who’s job it is do do such things. It took a really long time for this tractor to pull us out to the runway. When we got there, the pilot decided to announce that he thought it would be a good idea to go back to the gate and get the wings De-iced. Really?? Where did they find this guy? He didn’t think of this BEFORE we left the gate? SO, the little tractor came back and towed us back to the gate for the De-icing.
At this juncture in time, the calm, non-nauseated feeling I was having, left. I was full on anxious. So, I did what every well seasoned traveler does, I took some Xanax and washed them down with a mini bottle of Vodka. (Don’t judge me! If you were on that plane with me, you would want me to do this, trust me!) I should also add that I am just shy of 6 ft tall, and I have the shoulders of a linebacker. I do not fit well in coach seats. I do not fit well in any seats for that matter. I usually sit with one leg wrapped behind my head and the other folded across my chest. Adding anxiety to an already physically uncomfortable situation is dreadful. But, the self medication did help, and by the time we were finally in the air I had relaxed again. So much so, that I actually fell asleep in that position(I may be exaggerating the way that I sit in plane seats just a tad).
I woke up several hours later, when the crew had turned the lights on for breakfast. The pilot came over the loud speaker to announce that we would be arriving in Amsterdam well before the scheduled time as we took advantage of the strong tail winds. This was amazing news! No worries about rushing through check points or frantically trying to find the correct gate. I enjoyed a nice glass of champagne with my breakfast and just relaxed.
I do not usually look out the window during take-offs or landings, I just don’t. So, when we got off the plane and into the airport I was quite surprised to see mountains of snow outside the window. LOTS of snow. I had a quick thought about how glad I was that I didn’t have to go out in that stuff.(Silly me). I quickly found the departures screen, and noted that I was supposed to go to the Transfer Gate. That was different, I had never gone there before. I soon found out that the Transfer Gate is actually the gate to Hell. I then stood in line with passengers from all over the world to find out that the airport was shut down due to the snow storm that I had brought with me from Michigan. There were hundreds of us poor souls, and there were two people manning the desk. Two. They probably thought this was hell too. After waiting an eternity in this queue, I finally got to one of staff at the desk. I told her who I was, and where I was supposed to be going (Köln, not Hell!). She spoke some English, but not the kind of English you need to hear when getting detailed instructions. She smiled, and assured me that I would be able to leave Hell and go to Köln, but I would need to take a train. Oh, and the train would be leaving in 30 minutes! Just Grand!! “Where is the train?, ” I asked with a bit of mania in my voice. She replied, “It’s outside, but not outside.” This was said with a beautiful customer service smile and tone of voice. I said, “Pardon, I don’t understand what that means. How can it be outside, but not outside?” She then proceeded to repeat this cryptic information 3 times for me. Each time saying it louder, in case I was deaf and not just an English speaker. Clearly she felt I was also an idiot because I did not understand what this could possibly mean. She then added, “Just look for the Starbucks.” OK, now this I understand! And off I ran, to find the Starbucks and exit gate from Hell.
By “outside, but not outside” the customer service person meant that you leave the gated/secure area of the airport. I couldn’t be upset with this woman as she was obviously ahead of any game I have simply because she was almost fluent in several languages. I got in line to get my train ticket, precious time ticking away. I then had to go and pick up my bag to bring with me on the train. This turned out to be a Sub-Station of Hell. There were two very tall, blonde women working at this desk. They made me look short and petite, I am neither of those things around the average person. There were just a few other people with me that were trying to exit Hell and go to Köln. The large women stood there as if we were not there. I asked politely which belt our bags would be on as we had to catch the train. I was told, “No.” “No? No what? Which belt will we find the bags? We were told to stop here to gather them.” Again, “No.” At this point one of my fellow travelers through hell lost her shit and yelled at the giant, blonde woman. This did not help in anyway what-so-ever. After this outburst, I did manage to get a little card with a phone number to call to try and find my bag that had been doomed to stay in Hell without me.
I then ran down the stairs(without my bag) to what I assumed would be my train. I had never been on a train, and it did not occur to me that there would be more than one.( I know this is very naive, but I really had never traveled by train before.) My ticket was printed in Dutch, or German, or maybe Mandarin. I had NO IDEA what the damn ticket said, or what train I was looking for. But I did really have to pee, I was going to miss my train out of Hell because I have a bladder the size of a raisin. Why are there not more public toilets in public places like train stations, bus stations, or the gates of Hell?? I saw the big Starbucks sign and knew where I had to go. I then purchased a $15 latte so I could use their restroom. I was then able to focus a little better as I was no longer worried that I would actually pee my pants in public.
I still didn’t know what train to get on, so, I followed the biggest group of people and then got on that train. (DO NOT EVER DO THIS!! IT WILL NOT BE THE CORRECT TRAIN AND YOU WILL GET LOST!!) I got lost, I ended up somewhere in Amsterdam. It was not cool, hip or fun and there were no pot brownies involved. Near tears,(this is a common theme for me when traveling alone) I finally decided that I would try and ask someone for directions. I was still a little wary as the last directions I received were so damn helpful(In no way what-so-ever). After several attempts to make myself understood, and a few rounds of charades the staff member understood my questions. She let me know that I should go back to the airport(She also wanted to know why I left the airport in the first place. Questions, Questions) and there I needed to look for the ICE train, it would be red. By this time, I was able to reach my then Boyfriend to let him know that I was hopelessly lost in Amsterdam and I may never see him again. He assured me that I would find the train and that he would be waiting for me at the train station. He also let me know that if I couldn’t find the train he would then drive to Amsterdam and rescue me. (This is just one of the many reasons that I married this amazing man). His words filled me with the confidence I needed and I got on to the train heading back to the airport.( It never occurred to me that I should need tickets for my random train rides around the city of Amsterdam).
I was back at the gates of Hell but I knew what to look for. A big red train. I didn’t see any red train. I again had to talk to a staff member. “Excuse me, but where is the big, red Ice train kept?” This time the staff member was able to tell me that I needed to take a train to find the red train. She also gave me the platform number, all of this without any charades or interpretive dances. I was now super confident as I walked over to the correct platform and waited for my train like a boss.
It was then that I noticed two guys in their 20’s following me. After all of this, I was about to get mugged?? I then noticed that there was a change in the platform number that I needed to be on, so I quickly moved to the changed platform. Tweedledee and Tweedledum followed me. They continued to move closer and closer to me. I finally had enough and just asked them why they were following me. The shocked look on their faces was so funny. But funnier still was their answer. They were very surprised to realize that I was an American. They had been following me because they were lost and they thought I was a local. I let them know that they had made a terrible mistake, and they agreed. So, we all finally got on the train together to take us to the next train.
There it was, the big, red ICE train. It had been delayed due to the storm, so I had not missed it even with all my travels through the city. I showed my ticket to the man at the door and he let me on. I walked through the train, didn’t find my seat, and ended up back where the ticket man was standing. He must have felt very sorry for me(I had been awake for well over 24 hours at this point and may have appeared a little worse for wear) because he then took me by the arm and walked me to my seat. I was seated next to a German speaking man. I asked him if he also spoke English, to which he nodded. I then asked him, if it wouldn’t be too much of a problem, to please let me know when we were close to Köln. I told him I was afraid that I might fall asleep and miss it. I said, “If I am asleep, you can just punch me in the arm if you need to.” He didn’t say anything, and I just left it at that.
I may have drifted off a few times, but I was definitely awake several stops before we made it to Köln. I was sitting upright, looking out the window when the German man beside me punched in the arm. Not a tap, or a gentle nudge, but a full on punch in the arm. The man smiled and said,” this is your stop.” I thanked him, what else could I do? I had asked him to punch me and he had been waiting several hours to do just that. German Humour at it’s finest.
Just like he had promised, my wonderful German boyfriend was waiting for me with a cup of hot chocolate at the train station. He was also sweet enough to buy me a new pair of jeans and a sweater since we didn’t know when(if ever) I would get my luggage. So that my friends was my trip to Amsterdam and my first experience with the German sense of humour.