Stuck in Amsterdam

I’m glad I’ve had an opportunity to get some much needed shut-eye before any attempt at blogging.  My condition earlier did not lend itself to any type of emotionally stable discourse.  So, where to start?  How about at the beginning?

“The waiting is the hardest part”—thank you, Tom Petty.  

As I sit and type, the words from that Petty song swirl through my brain.  Let me explain.  Feel free to laugh if you want.  Eventually you probably will.  Right now, I just wanna go home.

After my sprint around Paris on Friday, I high-tailed it home for Vincent’s apartment.  I went to bed around 10:00 p.m., figuring it would give me enough sleep for my 7:00 a.m. wake-up to get ready and catch a taxi to the airport.

I was exhausted.  After three and a half days of running around Paris, my feet were stumps.  My hips needed replacing.  I had corns on my bunions on my blisters.  I was sure I’d conk out immediately.  That was not to be.  For some reason, my body wasn’t cooperating.  Perhaps it was because I had eaten late.  Perhaps it was due to the bimbos outside my window in the courtyard who had opted to party until 2:00 a.m. thereby rendering sleep an impossibility.

Now remember, this was an old apartment building—at least a hundred years old.  The toilet was in a former closet, separate from the shower area, just off the living room.  That’s how old it was.  So, the high-pitched screeching of these young ladies was amplified in the courtyard of this building.  I was surprised that virtually no one saw fit to yell at them to stop.

I have to admit that I was one of the “reluctants”.  But I wondered if they would even know what I was saying.  Were they intelligent enough to understand that this foreigner yelling out the window was telling them to shut up?  Employing logic in this situation would suggest not since they were obviously too stupid to realize that most people would like to sleep at midnight.

Anyway, I eventually succumbed to slumber.  After only three hours of sleep, my alarm went off.  I got up and quickly showered.  I respectfully declined Vincent’s offer of espresso and a pastry, thanked him profusely for his overwhelming generosity and went downstairs to hail a cab.  Luckily, there were two cabs on our little street (I hadn’t seen any cabs on this street in the three and a half days I was there).  I was thinking “Serendipity, all is going to go well!”  I hopped in one.  “Beauvais Airport, s’il vous plait”.

I was unprepared for the distance to Beauvais Airport.  I had purchased a ticket with Ryanair, which is a low-cost (read: Walmart) airline.  I felt there was no reason to fly a major airline (and pay a major price) for such a short distance (one way) from Paris to Rome.  In looking at the map, it seemed Beauvais was just outside the main perimeter of the Paris city center.

Well, Beauvais Airport was outside of Paris city center—waaaay outside of Paris city center.  Somewhere near Copenhagen, I guessed.  The cab fair was one hundred and fifty euros, roughly $205.  Suffice it to say that I was already in a bad mood by the time I entered the terminal.  My attempts to save money on this trip were looking bleak.

Amount saved buying a Ryan Air ticket:  $300.  Amount spent needlessly on a one-way cab fair to freaking Copenhagen:  $205.  Amount to take a taxi had I purchased a ticket originally through KLM at Orly:  $20.  So far I was still $75 ahead, minus the cost of frustration.  If I could temper my temper, I could still come out ahead.

At the counter, my baggage was four kilos overweight—another forty euros ($55).  The plane was scheduled to depart at 9:35 a.m. and it was now 9:05 a.m. and I hadn’t gotten to the queue where I would wait for my turn to disrobe before walking through the body scanner in my altogether.  By the time I reached the gate at 9:15 a.m., the plane wasn’t even at the airport.

Amount spent on overweight baggage that is not overweight on KLM: $55.  I was now only $20 in the plus column.

I waited for the plane on my low-fare ticket through the first delay:  “Ladies and gentlemen, flight 9261 to Rome will be delayed until 11:30.”  I waited for the plane on my low-fare ticket through the second delay:  “Ladies and gentlemen, flight 9261 to Rome will be delayed until 12:10 p.m.  I waited for the plane on my low-fare ticket until the flight arrived at the third and final delay at 12.45 p.m.  The flight to Rome was two hours and I had to catch my flight from there to Amsterdam at 5:05 p.m.

The flight to Rome was a good one.  Finally!  Something was working out!  We arrived in Rome at Ciampino Airport which is just outside the city.  The main airport is Leonardo da Vinci Airport, also known as Fiumicino Airport, in Rome.  I had already booked a bus for four euros ($5.50) to take me to the terminal in Rome where I would catch the train to Fiumicino ($19).

Amount spent on bus ticket:  $5.50.  Amount spent on train ticket:  $19.  I was still ahead by fifty cents!

Now, you might be asking why I would fly from Paris south to Rome and back north to Amsterdam before heading to America.  Well, there’s another story there and it’s really quite simple if you live in my head.  Sidebar music, maestro:

Initially, I was going to buy my ticket in June, but I opted to gamble and wait, figuring prices might come down due to the economic crisis in Europe.  Instead, the price of the flight increased fifty percent.  In addition, flight availability decreased due to my procrastination.  Plus, I have a severe aversion to the turbulence that I always experience when I cross the Rockies.  This is why I always fly over the Pole via Portland-Amsterdam and Amsterdam-Portland, when I travel to and from Europe.  I should have just flown straight out of Paris to Portland, but I was unwilling to put up with the Rocky Mountains.  Fade out music, maestro.

Anyway, back to the story at hand.  By the time I had picked up my baggage, hopped on the bus, hopped off the bus, hopped on the train at the train terminal, hopped off the train at the airport terminal (lugging a huge suitcase and a satchel and sweating like a pig in heat), I reached the KLM terminal too late.  I had missed my flight.  I had specifically chosen my departure time from Paris so I would have enough time to get to Fiumicino. However, those three flight delays in Paris ate up that extra time.

My next step was to talk to a KLM rep about my plight.  She was very sympathetic and told me that, if another airline was responsible by being late, they could accommodate me–until I told her I had used Walmart Airlines from Paris to Rome via Ciampino.  Her eyes widened and she shook her head in pity.  Apparently, Walmart Airlines’ flights into a different airport do not qualify one for any type of special accommodation.  I would have to buy a new ticket to Amsterdam.

Amount spent on new ticket to Amsterdam:  $300.  Amount behind on my attempt to save money:  $299.50….so far.

The rep was fortunate enough to get me on a flight to Amsterdam, four hours later.  This would prevent me from having any down time before bed but, by this point, I didn’t care.

“Get me to Amsterdam, please.”

I arrived last night exhausted and checked into Ibis Hotel which I had pre-booked back in October–a hotel I wouldn’t have needed had I originally bought my ticket in June.  Amount spent on very nice boutique hotel near the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam:  $86.  Amount behind on my attempt to save money:  $385.50.

It gets better.  This is where my intelligence goes on an extended hiatus.

At my hotel, I plopped into bed.  The concierge told me that I would need to be at the airport three hours ahead of time.  Now, I’ve flown through Schiphol Airport many times and I’ve never needed three hours.  My flight was at 10:00 a.m.  I left a wake-up for 7:00, figuring I’d have plenty of time because, as a resident of Salem, Oregon, I obviously knew more about Schiphol Airport than a hotel concierge who deals with international travelers at Schiphol every day of his life.  After hanging up, I decided to be safe and set my own iPhone alarm for 6:30 and hooked it up to the laptop to charge.

At 7:00 a.m. the wake-up call arrived (don’t ask about the iPhone; I’m still trying to figure that one out).  I jumped into the shower bleary-eyed, ran a toothbrush across my teeth, got dressed, packed up my computer in the satchel, grabbed my oversize suitcase and ran out the door.

At the airport I saw huge lines, bigger than anything I’d ever witnessed at Schiphol and I realized something then and there–my previous experiences at Schiphol had been as a traveler on a connecting flight–I would hop off one plane from America and onto another one to Rome.  Big difference from two entirely different flight tickets.

Nevertheless, I continued to the Self Check-In.  I got my boarding pass and started toward the gate when I realized that, in my haste, I had left my satchel with my laptop on the bed at the hotel.  I looked at my boarding pass.  Boarding started at 8:25 a.m.  It was a few minutes before eight, so I had time to take a shuttle back to the hotel, retrieve my laptop and get back to the hotel before self-checking my luggage.

I ran out to the hotel shuttle area.  It was then that I realized that I had dropped my boarding pass.  It was nowhere to be found.  Panic-stricken, I ran back into the airport to KLM Customer Service and told them of my plight.  The rep took my request to the desk personally and got me a new boarding pass.  It was now 8:10 a.m. and I still needed to get my laptop.

I also needed to check in my luggage.  I thought and thought, my mind racing furiously. Check my luggage first?  Run back to the hotel first?  When do the doors to the plane close?  Stopping another KLM rep, I asked her how long I had before the doors closed.

“Fifteen minutes before takeoff.”

That meant I had until 9:45 a.m. to check my baggage and get my laptop from the shuttle. It was now 8:25 a.m.  What to do?

Wait!  Maybe the hotel could put my laptop on the airport shuttle and I could pick it up.  I called Ibis and spoke to Michael, the concierge.

“Of course, Mr. Mulkey.  We can put it on the next shuttle which arrives at 9:10 a.m.”

“Perfect!  Do that, please.”

“Absolutely, Mr. Mulkey.”

Feeling somewhat relaxed, I got into the queue for baggage check-in.  It seemed interminable, only because I was living on borrowed time.  Eventually, I got to the counter, checked in my luggage and ran out the door.

I found the shuttle area and waited.  Michael called me on my iPhone.

“Mr. Mulkey, I’ve found your laptop and labeled it with your name.  It is on the shuttle and will arrive at 9:10 a.m.”

“Thank you, so much, Michael, ” I exclaimed.

With my blood pressure now in normal range, I did some calculating…I would have approximately 35 minutes from the time I picked up my laptop to get through airport screening and to Gate D7.  I figured I could do it.  I thanked God that I hadn’t been banished to Gate D94 in Brussels.

At the shuttle area I waited patiently.  I kept checking my iPhone clock.  Only a few minutes to go.  Are the Dutch as organized and efficient as the Germans?  We’ll see.  Double-checking to see if I was in the right place, I asked an airport shuttle employee.

“Ibis Hotel shuttle is over there,” he said in a thick Dutch accent.  I ran to the shuttle stop where he pointed.  It didn’t look right.  I tried to picture where I had disembarked in my rush to get to the airport nearly two hours earlier.  I walked back and forth.

Arrival time came.  Then it was 9:11, 9:12, 9:13.  I tried not to stroke out.  At 9:19, twenty-six minutes before the doors of the plane closed, I called Michael.

“Mr. Mulkey, she was there, waiting for you for ten minutes.  She could not wait any longer; she had to keep her schedule.”

“My God, I’m going to miss my flight.  What can we do?”

“I can send it on a taxi immediately.”  I looked at my iPhone.

“Never mind, Michael.  By the time it gets here, I won’t make my flight.”  Just put it on the next shuttle.”

“OK.  It will be there at 10:10 a.m.”  Ten minutes after departure.  I waited.

I found the shuttle the second time around.  It was in the same place as before, only I, after seven hours’ sleep in two and a half days, with no food, coming off a cold, hadn’t recognized it in my panic.  I had been only ten feet away.

By this time, I had resigned myself that I would obviously not make my 10:00 a.m. flight.

But my luggage will still get to Portland on time.

After retrieving my laptop, I walked with a less deliberate and more leisurely pace, back to the KLM desk.  I relayed the trials of my journey to a sympathetic KLM agent.  For the next two hours he worked to get me on the next flight out of Amsterdam to Portland.

“We have nothing available today.  Next flight is tomorrow at 10:00 a.m.  Cost is roughly $1600.  Plus the $350 flight change fee.”

“What?!  What about Tuesday?”

“Tuesday we have Amsterdam/Seattle/Portland, which is $1200, plus the change fee.  Let me see if I can find something through Detroit or Los Angeles.”

Eventually, he found me a flight, Amsterdam/LA/Portland on Tuesday arriving at 5:00 p.m.  I took it, again resigned to the inevitable.

Amount spent on newly booked ticket because I’m a clueless dumbshit:  $1187.  Amount spent on two more nights at Ibis Hotel:  $172. Amount spent on needed personal hygiene items:  $30.  Amount spent on first of several meals before I leave:  $30–so far.  Amount behind on my attempt to save money: $1804.50–so far.

But my luggage will still get to Portland on time.

So now I’m in my hotel.  I have to admit, it felt good to be able to relax.  Once I relegated myself to the facts of the situation, I felt a tremendous relief, despite the cost.  I came back to Ibis and collapsed into bed and slept for nearly four hours.  My medications, including those for my recent surgery, are in my checked bag.  I will be wearing the same socks, the same jeans, the same sweater and (sorry for the visual), the same boxer briefs for three days straight.  I will have to scramble to find someone to pick me up on Tuesday.

But my luggage will still get to Portland on time.

A word of caution to anyone who travels—pay the extra price.  You truly get what you pay for and you will kick yourself for not spending that extra $300 because you will spend five times that amount in actual moolah, not to mention the frustration (which is incalculable).

But your luggage will still get to Portland on time.

Oh, and as an addendum, I heard from Ryanair, er, Walmart Airlines, via email.  It seems that, due to European Union rules, they are not obligated to reimburse me for any out-of-pocket expenditures I incurred because they made a “good faith effort” to get the plane to Paris on time…even though they were three hours late.  

So here I am waiting.  It definitely is the hardest part.

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