I arrived at Schiphol Airport at 5am in the morning. Most of the shops were still closed and only the fast food restaurants and cafes were opened. Even though there were other people walking around, the airport felt strangely quiet. There was none of the hustle and bustle that was the characteristic of a busy airport. It felt somewhat like a sleepy giant robot that had not quite woken up.
I spotted one of those self service yellow machines which sold train tickets. I attempted to buy a ticket to the city using my credit card. All went smoothly until it asked for my pin number. What pin number? As far as I knew, my credit card had no pin number. Unable to proceed further, I dejectedly pressed the cancel button and attempted to find another way to leave the airport.
I walked outside and saw buses and taxis lined up on the roads in front of Schiphol Airport. The vehicles moved along the lanes in the serene way vehicles moved when there were no jams and nobody was in a rush to go anywhere. Beyond the constantly moving traffic was a grayish building with a large TV screen on its exterior displaying random advertisements featuring beautiful men and women speaking in a language I could not understand. At least the public transport was in operation and I could take either a bus or a taxi to the city. Except that I did not know which bus to take and more importantly, I had no money.
So I walked back into the airport and searched for the money changer. There were two money changers in Schiphol Airport and they were, you’ve guessed it, closed. Having nothing better to do, I walked around the airport and found the counter for the Connexxion Schiphol Hotel Shuttle that KKH told me about. It was, like the rest of the shops, closed.
There were a row of empty seats in front of the counter. It looked like a good spot to sit and wait. There were minimal people walking around in this part of the airport so I could read my book undisturbed. Best of all, there was a water cooler right behind the seats. Having sampled the various water coolers scattered around the airport, I crowned this water cooler as the one with the coldest water temperature. Being too cheap to pay for a bottle of mineral water when there was free cold water available only a few steps away, I kept taking mouthfuls from the water cooler even though there was a slight mineral taste that I’m not used to.
As I read my book, I thought to myself that it might not be such a bad thing to hang around the airport. Even if I managed to make it to the city earlier, I would have no place to go. The shops would not be opened and I couldn’t check into the hotel until the afternoon. Which meant that I would be wandering the streets for many hours. A prospect that I did not really relish.
A slightly plump lady with rosy cheeks and dark wavy hair opened the counter at 7am. Not wanting to seem too eager, I did not immediately rush to the counter. I waited a while before I got up and walked leisurely towards her. She spoke perfect English and was so very nice and helpful. I bought a round ticket for the hotel shuttle which cost €16. I paid for it using my credit card because I did not have enough cash on me.
A middle-aged man wearing spectacles and short gray hair came up to the counter and conversed with the lady. Apparently he told her that the hotel shuttle had just left. After pointing me out to the man, the lady informed me that the next shuttle would be in twenty minutes and told me which was the nearest exit to the waiting point. Since there was some time before the next shuttle, I decided to go and change some money into Euros. So the lady gave me the directions to the money changers in the airport.
There were two money changers in the airport – GWK Travelex and ABN AMRO. I had tried ABN previously so I decided to try GWK this time. There were already a few people queuing up at the GWK counter when I got there. I changed USD 100 which got me €59. It was slightly less than what I got when I changed the same amount of money at ABN. It appeared that GWK did take a bit of commission even though there were signs around the shop displaying “No Commission”. What I managed to figure out was that the “no commission” was only if you fulfilled certain conditions, like buying a package or changing a certain amount of money. The man at the counter tried to sell me a voucher which would ensure me a better rate when I changed at their company’s outlets in town. He told me that €59 was not enough to last me two days in Amsterdam so it was better for me to buy the voucher. I was rather irritated by this attempt to make me spend more money and I refused to buy the voucher, preferring to take my chances instead. Besides, ABN gave better rates and they did not try to sell me any vouchers.
I walked through the large automatic revolving doors that separated the cold outside air from the warm interior and found the waiting point for the hotel shuttle with little difficulty. There was a already a group of people waiting at the spot and they all seemed to know one another. I stood a little to the side and hoped nobody would try to engage me in conversation. The wind picked up and there was a slight drizzle so I put on the windbreaker to keep warm.
The hotel shuttle eventually came. It was a dark green van with the Connexxion logo on the side. The middle-aged man from earlier was there to assist us in putting our luggage in the back of the van. He recognized me and told the driver to drop me off at Hotel Ajax. I listened as the rest of the passengers told the driver the names of their hotels and it turned out that they were going to different hotels from me.
I was the third person to drop off. It took me a while to find the hotel entrance because it was just a tiny door with a staircase leading up to lobby on the second floor. A dark-haired man was sitting behind the counter. He was friendly and helpful although his English was not very good. I tried asking if I could have a refund for the hotel room since now only one person would be staying in the hotel but he did not seem to understand.
He looked at the piece of paper with the list of reservations and said, “You have booked a room for today and tomorrow?”
“Yes, we have it here,” he pointed at the paper.
“Yes, I paid for two people but now there is only one person,” I said.
“You have paid for it already so no problem, you can check in after 3pm.” He obviously did not understand what I said.
“Yes, but…” Overcame by a sudden feeling of weariness, I decided not to pursue the issue anymore. I left my luggage at the hotel and walked out into the streets.
I walked around the city aimlessly as I did not have a destination in mind. I passed by some familiar places which KKH and I had visited before. By noon, I was feeling the effect from the lack of sleep but I could not stop and rest. Whenever I sat down on a public bench, I would doze off. So I kept walking, like Johnnie Walker. Although if you asked me about where I had been, I would be unable to give you a complete answer as there were times when I just walked around in a daze. I was so sleep-deprived that there were moments when I just dozed off for a split second while walking and woke up to find myself a few steps further away from my last position. It was the kind of disconcerting feeling that I imagined drivers felt when they dozed off at the wheel.
I did have a general impression that I was walking in circles with the hotel as the epicenter. I must had passed some streets once, twice or thrice. I waited until it was around 3:30pm before heading back to the hotel. Along the way, I stopped by a convenience store and bought the cheapest sandwich I could find and some drinks. Right now I was too tired to feel hunger but I might be hungry later on. It seemed that the convenience stores in Amsterdam did not have a habit of giving plastic bags. Never mind, my bag was big enough.
I returned to the hotel and found a different person at the counter. It was a young woman who looked like a college undergrad. Her dark hair was tied up neatly in a bun. I took my room key from her, collected my luggage and went to my room. My room was two floors up, at the highest level of the building. I found my room 316 easily as it was right next to the landing.
The room was small and the furniture looked used. But it was clean and it had an attached bathroom so it fulfilled my most basic needs. There was also a small TV but I could not find the remote. No big deal though, there were only a handful of channels in English so I would not be flipping channels often. I placed my sandwich and drinks in the mini fridge, which wasn’t working but I couldn’t be bothered about it at the moment.
I hit the showers and had a nice bath. It always felt good to wash away the grime and come out of the bathroom feeling clean and refreshed. After changing into my pajamas, I lazed on the bed and read until my eyelids started to feel heavy. I woke up at 7:30pm and decided that it was too late to venture outside on my own. Congratulating myself on my foresight, I opened the fridge and took out my dinner.
I ate the sandwich (€2.50) and finished the bottle of Coca-Cola (€1.70). When I saw the word “kip” on the packaging, I thought it meant kippers. It actually meant chicken in Dutch. There was nothing to watch on the other channels so I ate my dinner while watching CNN reports about some violent situation in the Middle East. At the end of the meal, I was left with a contented feeling that all was well. Consuming Coca-Cola always comforted me.
Although it was already 8pm, the sky was still so bright that I could read without needing to turn on the lights. Dusk only arrived at 10pm. It was a good thing too because I discovered that the lights in the room did not work. Only the bathroom light turned on when I flipped the switch. But no matter, it was time to sleep anyway.