Well grounded in high flying Amsterdam

I have got several opportunities of flying to Europe on official work. My preferred European airline is KLM because of its generous frequent flier program. One negative aspect of flying with KLM is that I have to disembark at Amsterdam and I detest the kind of immigration check that is done at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. They are so strict that sometimes I feel that they have been informed that most of the illegal immigrants enter Europe from there.

This time when I disembarked Amsterdam, I was confident that with all documentation complete and with a few visas on my passport it would be a smooth sail. When the immigration officer on the counter flipped through my passport and commented that I visit Europe quite often, I relaxed and concluded that the battle is won and soon I would be through those fearsome eyes. The officer had something else in mind.

He scrutinized me with his gaze and concluded that the person in front of him did not look like a techie and so his flying frequently to Europe is suspicious. He ordered a thorough check of my hand bag. My bad luck that like many others he also did not find my face, the face of a technocrat. I enjoy being a commoner, but at places like that I don’t mind being treated a special person. But when defense minister of my country can be treated as a commoner & checked thoroughly, how can it be different for me!

Amsterdam Airport Schipol

Amsterdam Airport Schipol

I have written only about my most recent experience but every time I cross that counter, I take a big sigh of relief. So whenever I think of Amsterdam that impregnable immigration check fortress is the first thing that comes to my mind.

Amsterdam airport Schiphol is among the five largest airports of Europe. On my first visit to Europe, I was warned not to get distracted by the alluring-illuminated shops (which by the way, ALLURE by selling perfume of similar name) on the airport. I was told that it was a big airport and as soon as I get down, I should rush to the terminal from where my connecting flight was scheduled to take-off. When I finally landed on Amsterdam airport, I was overwhelmed by its enormous size.

As suggested, I headed straight towards my connecting flight’s terminal without looking at those glittering & inviting shops. It was so well marked that even after it being so big and that being my first ever air-travel, it was not at all a problem to locate the terminal from where my connecting flight was scheduled to take-off. This airport being so well managed is among the main reasons that it has been adjudged the best European airport for 15 consecutive years 1988-2003 and seven times it has been voted the best airport in the world.

This area started to be used as military air-base in 1916. At that time it consisted of a few barracks and a muddy runway. Before that, there was a large lake. Sudden violent storms in the shallow waters of that lake drowned many ships and prompted to reclaim that land. This is the reason why it is called Schiphol airport, when translated in English, it means “ship hole”. In 1920 the airport started to be used for commercial flights.

Before I got married I had spent two days in Amsterdam. However, as Rachit and Jaishree had not seen it, so this time when we were returning from Genoa, Italy in june 2006; we decided to stop in Amsterdam again for two days.

When I was planning the Amsterdam trip, the first thing that came to my mind was prior booking of accommodation. Last time when we stopped in Amsterdam, we didn’t book it in advance. After searching for a while, we stayed in a hotel owned by a Pakistani. I hated that place and did not want to stay with Jaishree and Rachit in that kind of place. I did not hate it because it was owned by a Pakistani.

On the contrary, I feel that Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Sri Lankan people look very similar to Indians. If it would not be of “divide and rule policies” of British, we might have emerged as a single powerful nation on world map. Now, relations between us are so bad that we can never think of merging. Coming back to that accommodation, it was less costly, very spacious and we had a warm host, but it was a dingy dark room with a wall to wall red carpet that was worn-out and in total it gave a feeling of a “cheap place”.

When I searched on net for a possible accommodation, I found that there was an ETAP hotel near Amsterdam airport. Possibility of staying in an ETAP hotel rang bells in my ears. Next thing that came to my mind was its location and reachability through public transport. As I read further, I noticed that they have a free shuttle bus service from airport in every 30 minutes. I have stayed at ETAP earlier in Paris. I love this chain as they are not expensive (59 Euros for one night, with a generous breakfast) & they are immaculate though not luxurious.

The rooms are small, but they have everything very well laid out. Those rooms are an example that how even a small space can give a feeling of a very comfortable stay. Another good reason to book ETAP hotels is that they readily book on phone, without asking for credit card number. I would like to stress that hotel chain having such ethics should be appreciated and in case of change of plans they deserve a courtesy-call informing about it.

At the commencement of the trip, we had our luggage segregated in two kinds – smaller and lighter luggage with all necessary things that may be needed for two days and heavier baggage with rest of the things. After landing and collecting our luggage, we moved towards locker room. There were very big self-operated lockers. We used these lockers to transform ourselves from load-carrying-monsters to strutting-light-backpackers.

Amsterdam airport is very beautiful but still as we came out of confined closed space, we felt liberated. The area outside was beautifully & tastefully decorated with large flower pots. Rachit immediately started to run amongst them as if he was celebrating coming out into open space. He was enjoying the beautiful flowers, fresh air & the rainy day.

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Flower-pots outside Amsterdam airport

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Close-up of the Flower

Free shuttle service point was near-by and it took just 15-20 minutes to reach ETAP. The journey was marked with vast expanses of manicured greenery. And then there was something that made me feel very proud. Let me put it forth as a quiz: Can you name the world class Indian IT solution provider that is Ferrari’s technology partner? Well the answer is in the next photograph so you can always cheat and tell me that you are not as ignorant as I am!

I used to wonder why young parents talk so much about their kids. When I became a parent myself, I understood the reason. In those tough years, this is the only subject that these poor souls can speak about and in-fact general awareness becomes IOKAMK – “I only know about my kids”. The world shrinks to the kids, their activities and their surroundings. Look, I have already found an excuse for my unawareness :)

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The TCS advertisement

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The Close-up

After doing all requisite paper work at the reception, as we reached the room booked for us, Rachit got excited to see a number lock on the door. As we entered inside, another surprise awaited him – a bunker bed. It was for the first time that he saw a bunker bed and that was his for two nights was unimaginable for him. He checked everything in the room and looked pretty satisfied. I am sure many of you would have gone through those anxious moments when you are newly wed; it’s your first travel and your spouse checks carefully the room you have booked. You start wondering she will like it, she will like it not… The anxiety is as if you owned that room and if it is not up to her mark, it’s your fault. The fear is that she might wonder if this guy is not able to book a room properly how could she believe that he would be able to take her responsibility for the rest of her life. Though it’s slightly different for the kids, but finally when both – the kid and the spouse – approves it, you feel similarly elated – as if Taj built has been approved by Mumtaj. For Rachit, prized possession was his bunker bed. He never sleeps alone, but for those days in Amsterdam he decided to enjoy his bunker bed all alone.

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Rachit on his bunker bed in ETAP, Amsterdam

After taking quick breakfast we again took the shuttle towards the airport. In Amsterdam airport, there is a big shopping plaza just before customs and it is easy to spot equal number of flying tourists as well as non-flying visitors. Now, it is also possible to get married at Amsterdam airport. I wish that high-flying residents of NCR region will also be able to read it and understand that now it is normal to have bridegroom landing from a helicopter.

What about getting married at the airport and flying directly from there to honeymoon! In-fact flying is not at all necessary, this airport is envisioned as one terminal for airplanes, trains and busses & is well connected with trains on its underground terminal and with busses just outside the terminal, so one can also take train or bus.

It is possible on Amsterdam airport to visit the terrace and to have complete view of the airport. Even though I have traveled so many times in planes, desire to click these gigantic machines in my camera is insatiable. When Rachit gets excited and try to identify different airlines with their logos, I have realized that somewhere in deep, I share the same urge. The difference is that my adulthood had made me lazy and I lack his enthusiasm in spotting them.

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From the terrace of Amsterdam Airport

At the top we spotted big cans of Heineken. Well, these big cans of “Madhu” (nectar), reminds me of sensuous Madhushala by whom, other than Harivansh Rai Bachachan:

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Big-bottles of Heineken

मदिरलया जाने को घर से
चलता है पीनेवाला,
किस पथ से जाऊँ असमंजस
में है वो भोला-भाला

अलग-अलग पथ बतलाते सब,
पर मे यह बतलाता हूँ,
राह पकड़ तू एक चला-चल,
पा जाएगा मधुशाला

(Rough translation of it can be –

Seeking wine, the drinker leaves home for the tavern.
Perplexed, he asks, “Which path will take me there?”
People show him different ways, but this is what I have to say,
“Pick a path and keep walking. You will find the tavern.”

In Amsterdam, one can visit Heineken museum and take a peek in the world of world’s best beer – Heineken, most of which is brewed in Netherlands. This museum has everything about the history of beer making & one can take bottle ride to see the process of beer making from beginning to end. The building in which this museum is housed was used as brewery from 1867 till 1988.

सुन कलकल, छल-छल मधु,
घट से गिरती प्यालों में,
सुन रुनझुन-रुनझुन चल,
वितरण करती मधु साकी बाला.

बस, आ पहुँचे, दूर नही कुछ,
चार कदम अब चलना है,
चहक रहे सुन पीनेवाले,
मेहक रही ले मधुशाला

(Hark! The wine gurgles and splashes as it falls from the goblet.
Hark! It sounds like the tinkling of bells on the feet of an intoxicated girl.
We have reached there, a few steps are we from the tavern,
Hark! Hear the laughter of the drinkers, as the fragrance of the tavern wafts through the air.)

Boarding the fast train from Amsterdam airport within 30 minutes we were at the city central station.

Have you ever been to Turkey? With resorts like Istanbul, Antalya and Bodrum, the popularity of Turkey holidays can be easily understood. The beaches are gorgeous, the scenery picturesque and the food delicious.

9 Comments

  • nandanjha says:

    Manish Khamesra – Your out-of-office e-mail is still on :). I really wish that your boss doesn’t read these posts and feel jealous.

    I have been to this airport few times but never stepped out. Always as a mid-way stop on to USA or once for Canada and I love KLM. Thanks for all the history. If I remember correctly, there is this Sunflower garden on the terrace where you can see gorgeous flowers each holding his face high. Also the terrace is a hang-out zone for smokers :)

    I can claim to be with you regarding Kids’ thing, more so since I am just back from Dubai (Pihu’s first international trip) and for every sojourn which we did, we wanted to be sure that she likes it or at least copes with it decently. She is now an equal decision maker on where we spend more time.

    It takes lot of courage for a teetotaler like you to write and praise Beer (doesn’t matter which one and please keep doing that). As I have my next sip of Tiger Beer (yeah, the one from Singapore and now brewed in India as well), I remember the iconic rendition of Madhushaala by Manna-dey saheb.

    You have made my evening Mr. Khamesra. Jai ho.

  • Patrick says:

    Ahh Amsterdam. We visited amsterdam twice when I was a kid in 7th or 8th i guess and I still remember the sights and sounds. I remember we joined together with an unaccompanied teenage girl from India or rather she joined us in sight seeing as she was alone. I still remember the enchanting boat rides. and yes we didi travel by KLM, which even then was one of the best airlines, but i dont seem to recall anything significant about the airport – Childs mind u see.

  • manish khamesra says:

    Nandan,

    Thanks as ever for your detailed comment that as always add value to the overall post :)

    When a teetotaler – Harivansh Rai Bachachan – can write Madhushala, I don’t think, I need special courage to praise Heineken ;)

    I do have cassette of Madhushaala by Manna-dey saheb, and I like Manna-dey ‘s singing a lot. I had heard somewhere that he used to take lot of time for every song he sung. And the classics that we remember are reminder his search for perfection. I once heard his interview a couple of year back. The interviewer was trying hard to put her words in his mouth about the bad quality of modern singers, but Manna dey not even once criticized them. He was on the contrary, full praise for them. It shows his greatness as a human being.

    Still I feel that I would have loved to listen it either from Amitabh or Harivansh Rai Bachachan himself. May be I don’t want to listen it as geet but as Kavita. Though I and my wife differ in our opinion on this.

  • manish khamesra says:

    Patrick,

    Good to know that you have been to Amsterdam. It will be a pleasure to remind you some of your past beautiful moments.

    You will find it odd or may be you feel that I am trying to be an over patriotic – but I have some even better memories of trip with Air India or Indian airlines (I am always confused, which one flies in India and which one abroad). Once due to non-cooperative attitude at Dubai airport, I failed to book Veg food in Indian airline. One of the air-hostess, told me that they have scarcity of veg food, but finally served me veg food. Later on I learnt that she gave her own. I cannot imagine such thing in KLM. So I think in their limited capacity Air India is also a great airline :) LONG LIVE MAHARAJA

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Beautiful narration supported by some good pictures.

    The post reminded me of my solitary visit to the Amsterdam Airport way back in 1999, on the way to London.

    The connecting flight allowed me couple of hours to go around the large shopping arcade. Wow, some kind of festival was going on and there were a number of wine tasting stalls put up by the Dutch wineries. As we all know, after France, Netherlands is the second-largest exporter of cheese in the world. So, when there was a wine festival, how could the cheese products be missed. For the first time in my life, I came to know about the combination of cheeses with different wines. I vaguely remember, the goat cheese, Feta goes well with sparkling wines, Emmantaler with the white wines, Roquefort is best paired with sweet fortified wines and Cheddar with white or sparkling wines.

    Thanks for refreshing my memories.

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Thanks Ram uncle for sharing these beautiful memories. In-fact your short description brought back images of this beautiful airport. I had been to this airport when it was illuminated for Chirstmas, but never got this opportunity of visiting it during wine festival (though it would have been only intellectual gain for me) :)

  • Rahul says:

    Wow, very detailed! I guess the description of the city is already on its way?
    p.s. I was having similar feelings about San Miguel beerwhen I was in Spain recently!
    :)

  • manish khamesra says:

    Thanks for your comment. In-fact I am working on Amsterdam city trip.

    So when are we visiting Spain with you ? I am looking forward to it :)

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