Monday, November 1, 2010
As I sit here in the Amsterdam airport at 7:30am, having just
voluntarily/involuntarily missed my flight to Berlin, I’m trying to take
what little comfort I can from my grande Starbucks coffee. The one that makes me feel even more hopelessly American…
After spending several pleasant days wandering the streets of Amsterdam, making a few new friends, and landing a new job for a photography magazine, I decided to change my plans on Saturday and not go to Cologne on Sunday for the sake of saving energy and money. I’m freaking out about money actually, since the euro exchange is so terrible. It’s currently 1 euro for $1.60 US. I was not worried about skipping Cologne and all previous travel plans from there to Berlin, because I knew I could jump an EasyJet flight no problem, and on my last check (last week) it was only 29 euros, which I could easily afford. So, on Saturday night, with frustratingly intermittent internet access and a web browser that defaulted to only displaying websites in Dutch, I looked at flights, cars, and trains, deliriously into the early morning hours and could not believe that my EasyJet flight was now $100 euros! OK, fine. I don’t have a choice and the train was just as much, so instead of having to wrestle with my 2 very American roll-y bags, I decided to book the flight. In doing this, I discover at checkout that they charge you per bag. An extra 11 euros. OK, fine, since it also says that baggage cannot exceed 20 kilos, which I know if I split my stuff accordingly, I will be just as I was on this last flight to Amsterdam from Boston. Worst case, and I mean, WORST case, I’ll have to move a few things from one bag to the other to even it out. I buy the ticket.
I expressed to my Dutch hosts that I was not eager to take the tram back to the train back to the airport, and wasn’t there a shuttle? Yes, indeed there was, right over the canal, down a few blocks, just to the left, you’ll see it… And only $13e! So worth it! So I try to sleep without much success – since my brain and body still want to eat a full dinner at midnight, and not fall asleep until 6am, and I get up at 5am, shower, and sneak out of the house. I start walking. I cross the canal. I walk some more. I cross another canal. It is dark. It is cold. It is too early. My bags are ridiculously cumbersome and not quite as “roll-y” on cobblestones, and even though I have converted one into a backpack, I am still just barely making it. I’m sweaty and my brain is breaking open. I grab my iPhone. The thing I pay AT&T $130 a month for that I can’t actually use overseas without, of course, paying them MORE money. The only thing I have found it good for is finding free wi-fi hotpots as I’m walking past people’s apartments, or Google maps GPS for when i get lost looking for free wi-fi. I bust out the map and see my blinking blue dot, and I’m not anywhere near the Platzenderferdorfenhauserstraatermiester street. So I turn around and a few blocks back in the direction I came, back over a canal, I look down a side street and there is the hotel where the shuttle is. OK. Ok. I climb in, close my eyes, and wish that I could stay in that shuttle forever.
Arrival at the airport is swift, and I give the driver my $13e ticket money. Actually I hand him $15 and he looks at me, looks at my bags, throws them down, says something in a language that is not Dutch or English or anything I can comprehend word-wise, but I get the point. He wants a bigger tip. I offer him more, but now he is saying something loudly to me and all the people around me and waving his hands in a gesture that tells me to go screw. I think I have insulted him without knowing, my stuff is all over the sidewalk. Oye. Just get me on the plane so I can sleep.
The EasyJet check-in has no line, so I take a few moments to repack the bags to try and even out their weight. The cute little Dutch gal looks at my 2 bags and shakes her head. I pull out my passport and also the receipt from the shuttle driver which I had quickly crammed into my pocket when I was hustling to collect my dashed belongings. I look, and It says $15 euros for the ticket. I was told $13 at the hotel. I have pissed off the driver by not tipping him at all. Karma. Be kind.
Little Debbie Dutch Girl tells me to put my bags on the scale, which I do, and one bag is slightly over. She asks me to repack 1.8 kilos from one bag to the other. 1.8? Really? Oye. OK. So I slide everything off to the side, open it all up, move stuff around (for the second time) And I get back in the now very long line. She weighs them. I’m good. Except now She tells me it is $12e for every kilo over 20 kilos. OK, I say, I am under 20 kilos now for each bag. I paid to check 2 bags. Yes, she says, you did. But in TOTAL we only allow 20 kilos per passenger. She puts both suitcases on the scale and weighs them together. The total? $220 euros to get ONE more suitcase on the plane. That’s more than I paid to get to all of Europe. I look at her, drop a SERIOUS trail of sailor slang, and then tell her in more polite English that there is no way in hell I’m paying her MORE since I paid to check both. She¬† suggests sweetly that I go downstairs, buy ANOTHER suitcase, and repack 18 kilos into THAT, and then carry that on the plane because they have no weight limit for carry-ons. Can’t I then just carry on the one I HAVE? No, she says, you have to get a smaller one but you can make it as heavy as you want. But my stuff clearly will not fit in a SMALLER bag. And then won’t I have THREE suitcases to try and move around but still the same amount of weight on the plane? Helpfully she agrees and then more helpfully she points out that not only should I buy another suitcase, put 18 kilos from the bag I already have into IT, I also will not now be allowed to carry on my laptop bag because I am limited to ONE carry-on item, and that too, must now also fit into the 3rd suitcase. GONG.
Take a deep breath. Do NOT cry. I’m welling up. I need to pee. I need coffee. I need food. I need to get to Berlin. I need to learn to curse in Dutch.
I make the decision to miss my flight. I head to the ticket counter, explain my situation and of course “EasyJet is a nonrefundable airline.” Thank you.
Yes, I saw that in DUTCH on your website.
Train? Car? Anything has to be cheaper. So, off to the train booth and it’s $120e to take the train. Yes, about the same as the plane ticket that I just wasted. (Ma’am it says 20 kilos on the website. Yes, but your website is in DUTCH) Maybe, it would be fun to DRIVE to Berlin and surely that can’t be more than $120 euros for one day. I find the rental cars. There are all the usual suspects, and I don’t really have any fight in me to go from desk to desk working them over one by one. Christ, I haven’t even had a cup of coffee yet. I sit down right where I am on the floor of the airport, pull out the laptop, glare right back at the the ladies wrapped in burkas who clearly wish with their eyes they could just sit on the floor, pay the $3e for 15 minutes of internet access and I start searching. I find that the local company has a car for $90e!! YES! I’m driving to Berlin! This gets me excited, and I’m almost OK with the last 30 miserable minutes of my life. I head to the counter, tell them my plan, show them the online rate. They
shake their head. Sorry. We have a car, you surely can rent it, but there is an $800 euro drop off fee in Berlin. So your one day car rental will be, with taxes and fees, $1000euros. That’s about $1,800 US DOLLARS. Exsqueeeeze me? I check my ears and ask again. Are you F-ING kidding? Cue the gong.
I take another deep breath. I find a bathroom. I wash my sweaty face and now very blistered hands. In the mirror I try to make out the crack in my skull. I need coffee. I also need to get to Berlin.
Back at the train counter, the kindest most motherly of Dutch ladies
reserves me a seat with plenty of room for my bags. She explains how to find the right rail car, which track to go to, and tells me I have an hour and 45 minutes before it leaves. OK.OK. I can do this. Thank you for being my mom for 5 minutes. I won’t cry. Starbucks is the next booth over. No line no waiting. There is coffee in giant steaming cups with apple fritters and pound cake and meaty sandwiches with graphically designed labels in English that I recognize from Seattle. I buy one of all of the above, make it a point to take up an entire table, and look behind me one more time for the mariachi band I expect to find following me around.
I’ll pay for another 15 minutes of internet. Because I realize in all of
this that I have not heard back from the hostel I inquired about on
Saturday. I have no place to stay at the present moment when I get to Berlin later today until tomorrow and I have to figure this part out quick. I have no idea what could possibly happen between here and the train platform. Between the train platform and Berlin. Isn’t that the fun part? Isn’t it?
There is a lesson here. I’m not really sure what it is, but I have a few
hours on a train to Berlin to think about it. Maybe 2. Maybe 5. I can’t read the ticket. It’s in German.
There will be no posting this until probably much later. The internet at the airport stopped working. Of course it did.
ON THE TRAIN…
After enjoying a fritter, chatting up a young Australian gal who is on her way home after 12 months as an au pair, and doing a little ujjayi breathing between sips of Sumatra, I think the lesson is the same one I have learned recently. It costs more to move the things you have, then to just live with the bare essentials and purge and replace as necessary. Didn’t I just go through all of this? Yes. That IS the lesson. I have just now paid for a brand new wardrobe, a nice dinner in Paris, a ticket ticket to Prague, and all I have to show for it is a useless boarding pass. I’m breathing regularly now. The train has civilized tables and plenty of legroom with an outlet. A porter has even stowed my bags for me. The laptop is recharging, the phone is recharging. I am recharging. The fog of Holland is behind me soon. I am surrounded on both sides by flocks of white swans, brown sheep, little thatched-roof barns with Banksy-like characters spray-painted on their sides in wide open green pastures. I can do THIS. I am an expert at starting over.
But wait. There’s more.
I have just arrived in Berlin after a SIX hour train ride in the fog. It was actually quite beautiful to see the fields, the animals and wind farms through a thick haze of grey. But after the 5th hour, I was hungry, I was anxious about arriving in a new city alone at night, GoogleMaps stopped working, and I still had no place to stay. I figured I would just call my back-up person here in the city if I couldn’t get into the hostel. Well wouldn’t you know. Absolutely NO cell service. I had it right up until the train platform and then nothing. I can’t call anywhere from anywhere in this city. Of course not.¬† Oh, and did I mention I got off at the wrong station? Yes. Yes I did. Because Berlin’s main train station sounds just like the East Berlin train station name… In German. The conductor stopped repeating everything in English about 2 minutes after we crossed the border… But I am determined to end this day if not well, and a wonderful taxi driver named Nelson from Ghana takes me past some of the most incredible museums and architectural wonders I have ever seen, all lit up like Vegas, to the hostel and gets me to the front desk. In one piece. The BEST 20 euros I’ve spent in days.
My room is so small that I can’t open the door unless I put my bags on the bed. What $50e a night gets you. Who cares. Food, booze and then I think I’ll just sleep for a week. The residency is a few doors down, so what could possibly happen between there and here?? What?