Wednesday, August 31, 2005

September dispatches 1: Again to Amsterdam

ONE OF US, I won’t specify which, determined that the bus to the airport left at 11:45, so we got to the bus stop at about 11:30. Two busses soon arrived, one with a few passengers, the other empty. Both drivers strolled away for a few minutes, for a smoke I suppose or a humanitarian mission to a facility inside the Sonoma County Airport, where we were catching our bus to SFO. When they re-emerged they informed us that they had no intention, neither of them, to go on to San Francisco.

So we drove, and Eric came with us, as he’d planned to take our car back home, and we pulled into SFO right behind the bus we should have taken — at 11:15, not 11:45. Then, on going through security, one of us, I won’t specify who, had to unpack one of our backpacks completely, because the x-ray machine insisted there was a pair of folding scissors in it, though we both knew we’d never owned a pair of folding scissors. But there ultimately they were, in a first-aid kit meant to cope with blisters, an issue never far from our minds as we embark on another walking trip.

Oh well. My report on the flight is nothing but favorable. The Dutch national airline KLM has kept its old-fashioned, comfy attitude toward service. The bar is open and free; the meals were tolerable; the in-flight entertainment can’t be beat — each seat has its own DVD player, with dozens of movies, documentaries, and features available — as well as scores of music recordings. I watched a British documentary on 5th- to 10th-century Islamic innovative mechanics, optics, and chemistry; and then I listened to the Mozart clarinet concerto, two Schumann string quartets, some bossa nova, and cuts by Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday, and the Modern Jazz Quartet.

The plane left on time and arrived fifteen minutes early. There wasn’t much leg room, of course, but one expects that. Six or eight passengers in our crowded coach section were coddled a little bit extra: they turned out to be a sailing team returning in triumph, as they’d just taken a prize in San Francisco. The pilot congratulated them on the public address system, and we all applauded them.

The baggage took almost no time to arrive. (Of course we checked only one piece, since much of the trip this time will be on foot, and we’ll be carrying everything for that period on our backs.) We enjoyed re-acquainting ourselves with the big modern airport at Schiphol, whose crowds of travellers seem particularly cosmopolitan — though there are many Dutch, Dutch of all sizes and colors, businessmen with cigars in their pockets, nuns in their crisp grey suits, tattooed mothers tethered by green plastic leashes to two or three little kids pulling in various directions, pretty girls whose skin is peaches and cream, or cafe au lait, or nearly ebony, all chattering away in Dutch, whether to present friends or, as is increasingly the case, absent ones momentarily in touch thanks to Nokia and Motorola and Vodafone.

We’re in a cheap hotel, the Seasons, on the Stadhouderskade, not far from the broad Amstel river, the river whose dam lies at the heart of the old city. There are cheap hotels there, too, near the Dam: we didn’t take one, because I assumed they’d be noisy. And of course it turns out the Stadhouderskade is an arterial favored by braying emergency vehicles: it’s going to be a noisy night.

But the beds, though narrow, are soft and clean; the bathroom is acceptable though lacking a tub; and there is wi-fi — though it isn’t free, and I’ve yet to figure out how to send group e-mails on it. Perhaps that’s insoluble: if so, this blog will be the only way for me to entertain myself with my Dispatches, at least for the time being. We’ll see how it goes.

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