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 are scolded often as most of the illegal immigrants enter Europe from there.
This time when I disembarked Amsterdam, I was confident that with complete documentation and 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 as 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 the Defence minister of the country can be treated as a commoner and checked thoroughly, how can it be different for me!
This is all 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 actually landed on the airport, I was overwhelmed by its enormous size. As suggested, I headed straight towards my connecting flight’s terminal without looking at those glittering and 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 fifteen consecutive years 1988-2003 and seven times it has been voted the best airport in the world.
The airport 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 it being used as the military air-base, 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.
It is my second visit to Amsterdam, before marriage I had spent two days in Amsterdam. However, as Rachit and Jaishree both had not seen the city, so in June 2006 when we were returning from Genoa, Italy, we decided to stop again in Amsterdam for two days.
When I was planning the trip, the first thing to do was the prior booking of an accommodation. Last time, we didn’t book any in advance. After searching for a while, we stayed in a hotel owned by a Pakistani. I hated that place, not because it was owned by a Pakistani; On the contrary, I feel that Pakistani, Bangladeshi, and Sri Lankan people look 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 the airport. Possibility of staying in an ETAP hotel rang bells in my ears and I checked its location and reachability through public transport. I learnt that they have a free shuttle bus service from airport in every thirty minutes. I have stayed at ETAP earlier in Paris. I love this chain as they are not expensive (fifty-nine Euros for one night, with a generous breakfast) and they are immaculate though not luxurious. The rooms are small, but they have everything well laid out. Those rooms are an example that how even a small space can give a feeling of a 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 them to transform ourselves from load-carrying-monsters to strutting-light-backpackers.
Amsterdam airport is beautiful but still as we came out of confined closed space, we felt liberated. The area outside was beautifully and tastefully decorated with large flower pots. Rachit immediately started to run amongst them as if he felt liberated coming out into open. He was enjoying the beautiful flowers, fresh air and the rainy day.
Free shuttle service point was near-by and it took just fifteen minutes to reach ETAP. The journey was marked with vast expanses of manicured greenery. And then there was something that made me feel 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 was! Ignorant, I guess I owe an explanation for that.
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. Convinced, about the excuse for my unawareness 🙂
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 by Shahjahan 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.
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 and 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 urge. The difference is that my adulthood had made me lazy and I lack his enthusiasm in spotting them.
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:
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 and 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.)