Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
January 1, 1970
by Julie Smolenski
Amsterdam Schiphol Airport.
These words have become a heart warming sensation letting me know that I am almost home. Over the last two years I have flown at least ten times to and/or from this airport and now have come to know it as the gateway to home. It’s my guarantee that things will be simple for awhile, less stressful, make sense in the way that I’ve grown accustom to, the way that I like, the Dutch way.
Today I had to pass through AMS just for the train and I was bought back to the first time that I came through that gate.
I was in a state of panic, it was my first time leaving the U.S., my first time even traveling on my own. The only person I knew in the entire country was a friend of mine from high school whom I was visiting, with whom I had barely spoken to since high school. The flight was long but I didn’t mind. I flew with Turkish Airlines so the first flight was to Istanbul, a whopping ten hours, followed by a four hour flight to Amsterdam.
When I got out of the gate I was filled with butterflies, both nervous and excited, curious of what the country had to offer but also terrified of all of the things that could happen, the crazy scenarios my family and friends had warned me that could happen in Amsterdam. The scenario they didn’t warn me about was not having anyone meet me at the gate. I looked around the room like the head of mathletes looking out at his peers as they chose teammates during a P.E. baseball game. Nobody was there, I was the last puppy in the pound to be chosen.
I kept looking, sure that there was just something wrong with my vision or that maybe he had gone to the wrong gate. In a mildly frantic manner I walked around the airport wondering what I should, what I could, do. My phone was dead, not that the thought had occurred to me to use the airport wifi anyway. I had never been in a situation like this before in my life, thoughts ran through my head.
I told myself. Currency. First acquire currency. There was a money exchange about 50 meters from the gate, convenient placing Schiphol. I had no idea how much money to take out or anything. I had been warned to start out small to avoid abhorred airport exchange fees, so, with this in mind, I settled on sixty euro. The conversion fee was horrible and luckily I just can’t remember what it was.
Next: Make change.
What a better way to make change than to buy yourself a comfort white girl drink? I heard the Starbucks calling me from the moment I landed, my signature drink being a caramel macchiato. Schiphol actually has a huge variety of food and drink places, just by the way. Not to mention clothing places, all of which haven’t seemed to have changed in the last five years. Your staples: Starbucks and Burger King, Dutch staples: Hema, Albert Heijn, and La Place, airport staples: “local” eats, Mediterranean, O’Learys, and overpriced fancy fusion restaurant. There are still more, right now I’m at LEON, a healthy place with gluten free and vegan options, holla!
The clothes range from H&M to Prada, Kipling, another airport staple, but honestly I’ve never shopped here because I’ve never needed to, until today because I haven’t packed enough warm weather nothing and I’ve been wearing the same sweater for three days and I’m still freezing.
BACK TO THE STORY! Make a phone call.
There’s a meeting center, this is where you go to meet people, where you can haul a taxi, where you can catch a train or bus to literally anywhere in the country, and also where the Starbucks is. There are also benches there to sit on and, outside of the Starbucks, pay phones. With my shiny new Euros I called the number that my friend had given me for in case I should not see him when I landed. I couldn’t use the phone. First I tried without the country code, it didn’t work. Than I tried it with the country code, it didn’t work. I was freaking out. I called my mom out of desperation, I simply just did not know what to do. I had no idea. And I was sad. Well perhaps frantic would be a better word. Then my mom, it being three in the morning her time, began to freak out. Right across from the phone booths is a police bureau. They looked at me with sheer bewilderment when I entered with my two little Hello Kitty suitcases, messed hair, and reddened, frantic face.
I imagined they were thinking “What even are you?”
I told them I didn’t know what to do, that my friend hadn’t arrived and I didn’t know how to contact him. That I had tried to use the pay phone and it didn’t work. I gave them the phone number and they tried again. In retrospect I can understand their bewilderment. They knew what I didn’t: there was nothing to worry about. I could easily just go to Amsterdam Centraal and find a hostel to stay in for the night and find a way to call my friend the next day. The Netherlands has free wifi everywhere, so really all I needed to do was charge my phone and look for a place. I did not know this, this thought had not even occurred to me or crossed my mind at all. Of course I know this now as a slightly older version of myself with way more experience traveling, being shit out of luck in a different country, and being in complete and utter crisis mode.
This time the phone rang but, to my horror, he didn’t answer. SO MANY THOUGHTS WENT THROUGH MY MIND. I should have been nicer to him in high school, this was that weird sick revenge that you’d see in a movie, like Steve Buscemi’s character in Billy Madison, slowly applying lipstick and listening to George Michaels. Have a girl fly out to a foreign country and then don’t show up. BAM! That’s what you get.
Okay, last resort.
I had an address. I went to sit by the taxi stand, hopelessly trying to connect to the internet via my e-reader, because it could link with Facebook and I naïvely thought that it would offer me some hope for communication. It did not.
Just as I was about to get up to grab a taxi, or cry, a very tall, thin man came run-gliding over to me with open arms.
“Jooooolieeeeeee!” I immediately stood on my chair and prepared to be lifted and twirled, which totally happened. The amount of relief I felt at that moment was beyond comparison and still to this day is one of the most amazing feelings in the world. The sheer knowledge that this little girl would not be dying. Not today, no sir.
What had happened.
Oh man. So maybe you’re familiar with the amount of water/canals in the Netherlands. Well naturally boats pass through these waterways which creates a demand for draw bridges. Apparently a drawbridge on the road he took to get here, I imagine the A2 but I can’t remember precisely, had been used. Due to some strange and frustrating technical error, after the bridge had returned to normal and traffic progressed on the other side of the road, the pike for the side that my friend was on it did not go back up. So hundreds of cars stacked up in traffic for an hour while they tried to figure this thing out. I saw the videos, actually it was a pretty big deal with a small blimp on the social media that day. After I called him he tried to call me back but since it was a pay phone he wasn’t able to. I called him twice and it wasn’t until the second time that he realized that it was probably me calling him. Also the address was only his mailing address at his dad’s house, who happened also to be away on holiday. Had I taken a taxi there I would be really out of luck.
What an amazing learning experience that was. I can’t believe that was me, only five years ago. Freaking out in Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. And now here I am, ten times over, travel expert extraordinaire, calling this very same place home. My what change can happen in just a few years.