I have spent close to two days in Amsterdam now and while there’s several fun Amsterdam-y things to report about, I want to write a bit first about my travel experience getting here.
1. Flight – I have travelled enough out of and into America to know that Airline caterers think vegetarianism means eating raw leaves and a piece of fruit. On one flight from Chicago to SFO, the air hostess said the vegetarian meal of the day was BANANA (not even plural). So I knew not to expect a buffet that thrilled the senses or even one that would fill me up. SFO has a few decent vegetarian options and so after passing thru the security check I picked up some kettle chips, Naked juice, Grape leaves (Dolmas) and a hummus sandwich for my flight.
With holiday season not quite here yet, the gate was sparsely populated for an international flight. And outside of a couple of kids hardly anyone gave me eye contact on the long walk across the ends of the gate. Most people were way too into checking out their online streams prior to losing internet connectivity for 10+ hours. I gave this general social pattern of preferring the online world to the real world a huge shrug of my shoulders and a shake of my head. Two minutes later as soon as I found my seat, I was knee-deep in my Twitter feed on my Iphone.
The first meal served on the flight was dinner and against all expectations, the vegetarian pasta concoction was actually not terrible. Thank you British Airways! A small step for vegetarian mankind and a giant leap for airline food everywhere! My economy class seat was spacious, comfortable and the entertainment options spanned from T-20 world cup highlights to episodes of Veep. It was a comfortable flight and with a host of entertainment options, I got thru fewer pages of Nate Silver’s book than Sarah Palin would have.
My transit at London Heathrow was spectacularly bad. I never for once imagined that navigating the signs in an airport where english is the default language, would be hard. The airport seems to be letting out a huge burp and fart now that the Olympics are done with. The TVs were in fact showing a Welcome to London pre-Olympic footage in a loop! The gate info was hard to find and the lines to get to security were warped and confusing. You could get past everyone if you had a VIP pass but no one checked if you did. They just took your word for it. But if you were honest (more ‘scared of detention’ than honest really) like I was, you were held behind a tape and line the kinds of which you see used to control irate mobs outside rallies and concerts. I could rant on for hours on this topic but it was a clusterfuck the kind of which I have not seen, not even in the US in the aftermath of 9/11. Hope this was an one-off thingie ‘cos I so don’t to want to not like anything about London……
2. Trains and Trams – The flight from London to Amsterdam was ridiculously empty. I could have laid my whole body over two rows of seats and no one would have noticed. I got to Amsterdam and Schipol was dull and damp, just like the city outside. I had instructions from my hostess on how to get to my place of stay and I wanted to follow them to a T without getting any help. This is one of the cheap thrills I get when I am travelling. I will use technology for help for anything and everything (Siri, what is 123-28?) but I treat the act of asking locals some questions like they are finite lifelines I am using in a game show.
I took the long walk to the train station just by following signs but struggled with getting on the train I was supposed to. See, I could figure out platform #2 and the speed train by name but was not sure which direction I should be boarding. This is where I used up a lifeline and managed to get on the right train going the right way. The train ride was uber-comfortable and dropped me off at the Amsterdam Central where I waited 25 minutes before boarding the correct tram towards the De Pijp neighborhood where my hostess would be waiting for me.
I would like to invite famous Indian cricket commentator Ravi Shastri to give y’all a short summary of my tram ride. Take it away Ravi…..
“Well, the roads and tracks are deserted on a chilly windy day. But the people are out and about and hence they are packed in to the tram like a can of sardines. I look out at other trams and people are packed into the rafters like they were all evading a tracer bullet simultaneously.”
3. AirBnB: This is my first time using AirbNb . I still have a few more things to experience before I can give a whole hearted endorsement of the service. But here’s some initial thoughts –
AirBnB is a great idea. What can be better than staying in real homes of real locals at different places? How many more continental breakfasts do we have to try at hotels before we realize they are all a giant homogenous body! Staying with locals who have been reviewed by peers and whose social profiles are visible (Linkedin, Facebook etc.) also lets you stay near where the cool places are.
So I love the idea and I have enjoyed my experience so far. My hostess has been great. She’s renting out the place she normally lives in while she spends the week with her family near a farm. The home has 3 clean rooms, wi-fi, a washer-dryer and a kitchen with a fridge. It is a few blocks from where all the cool people do cool Amsterdam-y things. She also has Burning man and San Francisco stories to share and everything so far has been better than anything I could have experienced in a soulless Ramada or Sheraton.
However, Airbnb has some kinks they really need to work around. Right now they do not have enough of a penalty or check in place for a host/hostess who chooses to void a reservation at any moment and delete their profile. This happened to me twice while planning my trip. So a person could theoretically confirm your reservation and cancel on you in the last-minute for whatever reason and he/she could then create a different profile and screw some one else over! I spoke to the airbnb people and they are aware of this but they believe that this is a small percentage of the crowd that uses it. Also, they refund your whole money plus a small bonus check for your discomfort if this happens to you. But the hassle of having to re-do the whole booking, ping people and search for places one more time is truly mind numbing and frustrating.
Also, I am not sure they have the best system in place to indicate floating room/apartment rates. My hostess told me she had enormous trouble updating her rates thru the system they have in place.
I love the service and I hope they stay for a long time improving and polishing up some of these gaps in customer service. I also love my apartment in Amsterdam so far. Here’s a pic of the living room.
Hope you’re enjoying reading this and you’ll be back for my adventures in the city of Amsterdam. Do comment below if you have any thoughts and do forward to friends.