When you fly to your European destination, chances are you'll fly through one of three major rerouting cities--London, Amsterdam, or Frankfurt. If you do, your layover may range from 1/2 hour to a few hours. What do you do while you wait for your connecting flight? If you are in London or Frankfurt, you should probably hang out in the airport and just wait (read a book or a magazine while you're at it), but if you are flying through Amsterdam you have another alternative. If you have 2 1/2 hours or more between your flights...GO FOR IT--go to the city. I'm serious.
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This is the story of how I (and two friends I was travelling with) spent 2 hours 25 minutes in Amsterdam last summer while waiting for our connecting flight to Berlin. This will give you a few tips and lessons.
It was July 30th. After an overnight flight over the pond, our Boeing 747 landed in Amsterdam at 7:15am. Amsterdam's Schiphol airport--one of the biggest in Europe--is conveniently connected with the city center by a 20 min. train. What's more, to get to the train, one doesn't need to go outside; the airport train station is just underneath the main terminal. Our connecting flight to Berlin wasn't leaving until 9:40, so we figured we had enough time to catch the train to Amsterdam, walk around a little, eat breakfast, and catch the train back and make it in time for the flight. And so we did.
By the time we boarded the train it was 7:40; it took us some time to get the money from the ATM, buy tickets for the train, and wait for the train itself to arrive. We got to the Amsterdam's Central Station--which, in fact, is the center of the city--at 8am (1 hr. 25 minutes before our scheduled flight to Berlin). I had been in Amsterdam before--in 1998, for a couple of days--but my friends had not. So, what's the first thing that people want to see in Amsterdam? The Red Light District, you guessed it right. OK, OK, we couldn't really go to Anne Frank's house or Van Gogh's museum anyway, because we had no time, but the Red Light District is pretty close to the train station, about 15min. walk. Of course, there isn't much action going on in the Red Light District at 8 o'clock in the morning; it is empty, the lights are out; no call girls standing in the windows flirting with their prospective clients, but at least my friends saw what the place looks like and now they could have imagined how wild it gets when the sun goes down.
After eating very good pancakes in a cafe across the street from the Central Station, we made it to the platform at 9:01 just to find out that the train to the airport had left one minute earlier. The situation was somewhat desperate since the next train to the airport wasn't leaving till 9:28, which was certainly not enough time for us to catch the 9:40 plane. There was no other choice but to spend $35 and catch a taxi to the airport, which still wasn't a guarantee that we would make it to the airport in time, but this was the only hope. We made it to the airport at 9:33, which gave us only 7 minutes to find out from what gate the plane was scheduled to depart, clear the customs, and physically get to the gate itself.
Let me step aside for a moment and tell you briefly about the Dutch customs. Of all the places in Europe, Canada, and the US that I have been to, the Dutch customs system is by far the most liberal of all. What else can one expect from the country where prostitution and smoking marihuana are acceptable and considered nothing extraordinary. Seeing that we are late for our plane, the Dutch customs officer was quite empathetic and didn't even examine our passports. In fact, the whole customs inspection took literally less than a second, probably less than 1/2 a second--as we were running for the gate, we opened the first page of our passports, flashed it at the customs officer and that was it. No questions asked.
Of course, it just had to happen that the departing gate for Berlin was all the way at the end of the long hallway. We heard our name on the airport radio, "...please proceed to gate C16 immediately. The flight for Berlin is about to take off." There was little we could do, but run, run, run with our heavy backpacks on, passing gates C1, C2, C3... the distance between which seemed to be a mile long, and hope that the plane wouldn't leave a single minute earlier than it was supposed to. We made it! Exactly at 9:39. We were on our way to the German capital.
The point of this story is that if you have a few hours between the flights, I recommend going to the city. Just make sure not to be late for the train to get back to the airport.
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