Planes, Trains, and Bikes in Amsterdam
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After spending a little under a week in Sheffield, United Kingdom for work, we’ve made our way to Amsterdam, Netherlands. We’re excited, not only because it’s Amsterdam, but also because we’re doing a 2-and-a-half-week house sit. House sits are great because you get the comforts of a home with no rent or lodging fees. This house sit also comes with the company of a very sweet dog and is within walking distance and public transport of city life. The family we’re sitting for is great, and extremely welcoming. We’re loving our time here so far!
The journey to Amsterdam was interesting on its own. We flew for the first time on a low cost European airline, FlyBe. If you’re unfamiliar with low cost carriers in Europe, compare them to most low cost airlines in the US and then add a charge for everything those airlines give you for free. We’re lucky that FlyBe didn’t charge us for use of the restroom, because they do charge for the smallest things, like seat assignments, water, and printing you boarding pass at the airport.
Our biggest concern going into the flight was the size of our bags. Fully packed, our bags wouldn’t even come close to fitting inside the gate luggage sizers. So thankfully, a few weeks ago we did a pare down and got rid of some of our stuff. However, we still needed to be deliberate of how we pack our bag, since stuffing everything to the bottom of the main compartment and then using the front pockets as well, makes for a very bulky and deep bag. We both meticulously packed our bags the night before (since we were leaving the hotel at 5:30 AM to catch a bus to the train that took us to the Manchester Airport). However, airport security proceeded to take Sergio’s bag apart, piece, by piece. On the upside, they did offer to help repack it! Let us explain what happened…
Manchester Airport Security
As you may know by now, we’re not your average people. So, we didn’t just walk right up to security and proceed through the process with a “well, we’ll see how this goes” mentality. Instead, once we reached the airport, we went to the information desk and asked a few questions about the process, since we hadn’t flown in Europe post September, 11th 2001.
- Did we need to remove our belts?
- Did we need to remove our shoes?
- No. (Unless we were wearing boots or heels.)
- Did all liquids need to be in a 3-ounce container and a clear one-quart (1-litter) size bag?
- Did we need to take out our laptops?
- Would it be a body scanner or metal detector?
- Could be either.
Well that sounded simple enough and very similar to the US. We proceeded to the security lines and were promptly stopped and asked to show our quart size bag full of liquids. This was no biggie, but odd that they needed to visually see the bag before we even got to the scanners. We got to the conveyor belts and set everything in bins as requested. We pulled out our quart bags, took off our jackets and belts, pulled out our laptops and let everything pass through security. Shannon walked right through the metal detector and was soon collecting her stuff. She thought “wow, this was a breeze!” Then she wondered, “Where’s Sergio? He’s sure taking a while.”
Not So Fast
Sergio was stopped at security. Apparently the metal detector beeped when he went through. Note, he went through without a single piece of metal on him. They then tested his hands for chemicals, and it came back positive for a chemical that’s commonly used in making/working with explosives. At this point, Shannon is over hearing this and is stunned. She’s worried they’re going to march him off in cuffs and lock him in a back room where she won’t see him again for hours.
Thankfully, this isn’t what happened. When they tested his hands again, they come back clean. Interesting, since he didn’t wash his hands in between tests, and only about 90 seconds had elapsed from the initial test. They then took apart his bag one item at a time and tested all the contents in the bag, which also come back negative for suspicious chemicals. They questioned him for a few minutes in the open security area and then escorted him to the body scanner. They were kind enough to let Shannon tag along. While they scanned Sergio, Shannon spent a couple of minutes trying to convince the security personnel that Crystal Deodorant (mineral salt rock deodorant) is not a gel or liquid and in fact cannot be ‘spread’ on the skin like lipstick. She actually wore they guy down to the point that he finally just said “ultimately, it will look like deodorant in the scanner, so put it in a quart bag for us, to save yourself from being stopped.”
Of course, Sergio came through all tests with no problems and was let through security. However, he stood there with two bins piled high with the contents of his backpack. We spent nearly the amount of time putting the bag back together as we did going through security and the extra scanning.
We do think it’s important to state that we hold no ill will to security for pulling Sergio for extra security measures. We aren’t playing a racism, ageism, sexism or any other -ism card by any stretch of the imagination, security was only doing their job. We simply decided to write about it because it's an interesting story.
The Manchester Airport deserves a small mention of its own. It has some great features, like a train station at its doorway. But it’s odd that flights, at least in terminal 3, don’t get assigned a gate until about 5 minutes before boarding. So all passengers in terminal 3 wait in a single ‘lounge’ waiting area. This means that we had to keep a constant eye on the monitors to see when our flight was assigned to a gate. Very odd Manchester Airport, very odd indeed. On the other hand, is this maybe the norm in Europe? We’ll soon find out, as our adventure will have us flying through various European airports.
The Flight on FlyBe
So, if you recall from the beginning of this post, we weren’t sure if our bags would be too big, depth wise. So, we boarded the plane, saw the overhead compartments, and cringed. We knew immediately we were going to be doing some pretty heavy ‘stuffing’ of our bags into the tiny space provided. Sergio went first and promptly realized that he had to completely empty the front compartments, then it fit just fine. Shannon did the same and again, hers fit just fine. Phew, sigh of relief.
From there, Sergio will tell you the flight went without a hitch. It had an odd 10 minutes worth of taxiing the plane upon landing, but other than that, not great and not bad. Shannon on the other hand has a story that she thinks is worth mentioning, Sergio barely noticed it. However, either way, we’ll tell it. We’d been sleeping on and off for the short 1-hour flight when we were woken up by the standard, "Please place your seats and seat trays up and in a locked position" announcement for landing. Which, Shannon still suspects, the flight attendant spoke with a little extra volume into the speaker for affect. Then the flight attendant did the rounds and made sure everyone was compliant. She stopped at our row and loudly got our attention to tell us that we needed to put down the middle arm rest for landing. What?! The plane can’t land with the middle arm rest up? Does it affect the structural integrity of the plane? Does it interfere with our personal safety? We complied, but seriously, what is the purpose of that other than to cross your T’s and dot your I’s. Silly I tell you, silly. (If you have a better explanation, comment, we’d love to be corrected!) In all seriousness, we're sure it has something to do with safety.
Another Language? Dutch? What?
Landing in the Netherlands took a moment of mental adjustment. We were eased into international travel with our first countries of visit being Ireland and the United Kingdom, since they speak English. The Netherlands is the first country we’ve been in where their national language isn’t English. While most people speak some amount of English, and very proficiently at that, Dutch is the primary language.
After exiting the plane and making our way to the train station to buy tickets, it took a couple of times speaking to people to realize, wait, they may not speak English. It’s also probably common courtesy to ask first if they speak English, rather than assume. It’s probably an easier adjustment in a country where the locals look different than Americans look. Before you take offense here, let’s be honest, there’s a noticeable difference between an Asian person, a Latin person and an American person (think typical height, eye and hair color, facial structure, etc.)
Trains and Planes
We navigated our way through purchasing a train ticket, finding the correct underground platform and getting on the right train. Let us say, trains are a great way of travel. They’re incredibly convenient and efficient at getting you to where you need to be. No security lines, no pat downs, no need to arrive 2 hours early. We’re liking us some trains!
Trains, Planes, and Bicycles!
We walked out of the train station, apparently one of the major ones in Amsterdam, and were immediately confronted with a sight to see. It was like suddenly walking into “The Truman Show” or some other alternate universe where cars no longer existed. Bicycles and cyclists are everywhere. We’re not exaggerating when we say that at times, there are easily 30-40 cyclists for every car. The bike racks are filled to the brim on every street and corner. For example, at the train stations, there are two street blocks of bike racks, and these aren’t your standard racks. They are two-tier high capacity racks that hold and incredible amount of bicycles.
So, it then makes sense that the city is set up for cyclists, not pedestrians and not automobiles. There’s often more space on the road for bikes than there are for cars. They have their own bikeways, that from what we’ve learned, are only for them. This has been an odd adjustment because in the US pedestrian walkways look just like the bikeways here. Because everyone bikes, it’s also easy to follow logically that they then have the right-of-way, over cars and over pedestrians. We still aren’t sure if pedestrians are 2nd tier or 3rd, before or after cars in right-of-ways.
We’re primarily walkers, having walked a minimum of 3-4 miles daily when home in the US. Now, without a car most of the time, we’re walking as a means to get to know each location we’re in, as well as get groceries and do tourist stuff. So, in the couple of days in Amsterdam so far, we’re walking 6-7 miles a day or more. We think it goes without saying, Amsterdam is an adjustment for us as pedestrians. Having grown up in typical car centric cities in the US, this city, built around cyclists, sure is surreal!