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August 4, 2015
by Alan (Travelin' Al) Stiebing
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Heathrow Arrival Then Off Amsterdam

I do manage a little bit more rest before the cabin starts showing signs of activity and it’s obvious that they’ll be handing out the morning snacks and drinks before our arrival.  Of course, my little screen still doesn’t work properly and I can’t even call up the little map that shows our progress to Heathrow.  Guess I’ll just listen to a little music on my phone and wait for touchdown.

We finally get to the terminal and I know I will need to transfer to another terminal, that’s just the way it is at Heathrow.  After checking the board for my flight I start down the maze to the transfer buses.  If you’ve ever wondered what a mouse might feel like in one of those little mazes, this is it.  You travel down these winding hallways and down more and more escalators.  In time you will start seeing signs directing you to turn off for your particular destination terminal.  Mine is the fifth and farthest one on the trail.  So I watch as others move off and we are left with just a small line of people.  The final stop is a que to wait for the next bus.  5 is also the farthest from the arrivals terminal and the standing bus ride take a while also.

Once you arrive, it’s time for another series of lines.  If you are on an immediate flight, it is possible to get through to the express line, but even that takes time.  I’m lucky, I guess, because my flight is several hours away.  So the line is my destiny.

The first line is actually to wait in another line.  I kid you not.  They let a few people through at a time to wait in the winding que to check your boarding pass.  There are displays all around you in several languages re-explaining all the things you can’t carry on the plane.  Of course, we all just got off a plane so most of the items are things you shouldn’t have anyway.  I guess some countries don’t use the same guidelines.  There is also a gentleman standing there yelling about all the things you need to throw away before you can go through.

I make it past with no problems and then there is another winding que to get to the escalators.  This one I really don’t understand.  They could just make a straight line to them, but instead they make us walk back and fourth first.  It’s not like we’re moving slowly.  It’s actually a brisk pace to keep up.  Up the escalator now and you come to the real fun part.  The security checkpoints.  I’m not sure exactly how many there are, but it’s a lot and all of them are backed up.  There is no point in trying to find one that looks better, they all are pretty bad.

All in all, from the time I left the plane to finally arriving at the terminal it took about 40-45 minutes.  I remember from my last time through here how crowded it can be and just went downstairs and found a good spot to sit where I could relax and keep an eye on the gate announcements board.

After a few hours I see a number pop up next to my flight number.  Luckily the way down is right next to where I’m sitting.  I grab my bag and start heading down.  I once again find a spot and wait for the boarding to start.  Unlike most US flights, where they board by groups, the sign says to be prepared to board by rows.  Sounds fine to me as I’m pretty much in the middle of the plane.  When they do finally start the process, they let first class and priority customers on first.  Then the announcement come for “All Boarding”.  What?  Ok, it’s a free for all now to get in line and get on the plane.

Actually, we’re not getting directly on the plane, we’re getting on another bus.  Most of the people get on and won’t move from near the door, because they want to be the first on off at the plane.  The driver keeps asking everyone to move forward.  I don’t care, so I go ahead and move to the front to make more room for others.  After a while of this, we finally head out to the plane.  I swear we drove right back to where I was when we landed earlier.  The drive to the same amount of time and I recognized the route.  We get to the plane and the driver lines up to the stairs heading up to the plane.  Here is where he pulls a fast on on the folks who wouldn’t budge earlier.  We boarded the bus at the center doors.  The driver actually opened only the front doors to the bus, allowing those of us who were kind enough to move forward first access the the plane.  It made me smile that there was a whole group of folks who thought they were beating the system, but just got their plans fouled.

After only a few other people, I was next to start my way up the stairs.  I easily manage to find an overhead bin near my seat to place my bag.  I know it’s a  short flight, but I do like having the leg room.  It’s not a big plane and we only have a 50 minute flight to deal with.  I’m actually amazed that the are able to do, or even try, a drink service on the flight.

The pilot announced that we would be landing at a remote strip and would need to taxi to the terminal.  He even described it as farm land.  He wasn’t kidding.  It was this small strip and you could just barely see the main traffic control tower off in the distance.  We taxied so long that I heard a child ask if we were about to take off again.  If you’ve ever been to the Atlanta airport, just think of how long the planes taxi there and double it.  But, it was  nice trip through the countryside of Holland.

Schiphol Airport is not a bad one to just arrive in, just try not to need to transfer planes there.  Almost always your gates will be on exact opposite sides of the airport from each other and there isn’t much of a way other than walking (or running) to get there.  Getting to the baggage area is a walk, but no rush to wait for your bag.  Oh how I wish it had just been a little wait.

After standing at the carousel for a while and watching the monitor I saw it turn to “All Delivered”.  Um, no all has not been delivered!  This is when I see the growing line at the claims office.  Yeah, another line!  This probably takes a good 30 to 40 minutes to finally get one of the three agents trying to deal with all these people.  I get all my info entered into the computer, including my best possible description of my new backpack that I’ve never really looked too closely at and the address and phone number of the hotel where I’ll be staying.  They do have a little care package for travelers to try and help them out until their bag is returned or they can purchase replacement items.  A small favor to say the least.

After this I have nothing else to do but head to the hotel and get cleaned up and see a bit of the city before getting some sleep.

It is a bit of a walk to the hotel.  I’m staying on the Prinsengracht canal, which is one of the outer most ones.  At least I’m not having to carry both my backpack and day pack.  Small favors.  They are expecting me and I only have to sign a few papers before being handed my key and it’s up the lift to my room.  On a side note, it’s nice walking into a place and have them pronounce my last name with ABSOLUTELY no problems or hesitation.  My name is German and although this is Netherlands, their language shares some similarities and they deal with Germans on a daily basis.

My room is small.  Let me be a little clearer, my room is tiny!  I’ve had friends describe their quarters on a sea ship for the people working.  This is about what I imagined them to be.  It’s OK, I’m not here for the room, but for the city and I’ve stayed in worse places.

After cleaning up and putting back on my original clothes, since I don’t have a change, it’s time to make a quick jaunt around and get some food.

I had already planned to head up to the museum area where the IAmsterdam sign is to get a quick pic.  With that accomplished, I start my quest for food.  I settle on a small Italian place not too far from my hotel.  The ravioli is good and the beer is quenching.  I just wish the service was a little more attentive to me.  Unfortunately, the owner is entertaining some friends and both waitresses are forced to give most of their attention to that table.  After that they seem to only have time to visit the other tables with multiple people and not so much the individual guy in the corner.  After finally waving one down and getting my check it’s time to head back to the room and rest.  Just a quick stop at a store to grab a large bottle of water.

August 3, 2015
by Alan (Travelin' Al) Stiebing
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And The Adventure Begins

I have found that I really enjoy evening departures.  I have all day to finish any last minute details and by the time I’m on the plane, I’m usually exhausted and ready for sleep.  So, I picked the flight leaving at 8:00 PM this time.

Most of my day was just going through everything “one more time” just to be sure I didn’t forget anything.  I guess I’ll know if I succeeded on the trip.

For such a long trip, I really don’t want to pay for parking all that time.  Seems like Uber would be a good thing to try.  I’ve been on work travel where it has been very  helpful for the quick pickup and times when you just don’t want to walk anymore.  So out comes my phone and withing 8 minutes I’m on my way.  The young lady who picked me up was very friendly and we talked most of the way.  I found out that they had just lifted the restriction on Uber not being able to pick people up inside airport property.  They had always been allowed to drop people off, but now they just have to purchase a permit and can come inside to retrieve also.  This was welcome news, since I figured I was going to have to jump on a light rail out of the airport before I could request a pickup.  This option would be much easier.

She dropped me off where I needed to be and in a short period of time I was waiting at security and then a little after that a restaurant having a little bite before my flight needed to leave.  I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and was ready for something and just didn’t feel like waiting until whenever they decided to feed us on the plane.

Boarding went smoothly and I got situated into my window seat and was ready for the flight.  I ended up having someone in the neighboring seat, which is not too unusual and not a problem for me.  What was a problem was when I plugged my headphones into the arm chair, I just go this horrible popping and clicking sound that didn’t seem affected by the volume control.  When I asked the flight attendant if that was common, he apologized that some seats did have a problem.  He told me of an open isle seat and offered it to me.  I was reluctant at first, because I like having the wall to lean against and when you’re on the isle you usually have to deal with people needing to get by you.  But I decided to give it a go, because I didn’t want to just listen to the music on my phone for the next few hours.

The new seat was just ahead of the next bulkhead, which of course means I won’t be able to lean my seat back too much.  It was a middle section of five seats with an empty one between me and the next person, which is also nice.  The sound works here and in a short time they get us our first round of drinks and then dinner.  I’m glad they got this out of the way quickly, so we can try to catch a few winks before landing in London.

The movie system on this plane is a little outdated compared to the ones on other international flights I’ve been on in the last few years.  It gives you a selection of things, but it’s not an personal stream.  It tells you when the next movie or TV show starts and you have to wait unless you want to just watch one that’s already playing.  Not horrible, just disappointing after having the newer versions of the system.

I picked my movie and everything was fine until it gets to the climactic part of the movie where all the action that will determine the results starts and everything gets choppy and then freezes.  The next thing I see is some error message and it takes me back to the main screen.  Great, you get me to the high point of  the movie and then leave me hanging.  I try to see if I can reconnect, but now the whole system for me is slow and glitchy.  Oh well, probably should start trying to sleep.

Sleeping upright in a chair is not always the easiest thing to do, especially on a crowded plane.  Just as I’m finally drifting off, I feel a tug at my sleeve and it’s the woman from the center seat needing to get out.  In my half asleep mode, I begin undoing myself to allow her passage from the row.  As I said, I’m half asleep so this is a clumsy task and takes me a minute.  I know there is no point in re-situating myself until she returns so I just sit and try not to drift off again.  When she finally makes her appearance back at the row, she insists on stand right at the opening where I need to step out to get out of her way.  I guess she thinks I can just move my legs out of the way, but planes don’t have that kind of room.  It’s hard enough trying to get down a row when it’s empty.  Impossible if someone is in it.

She manages her way back and I start my reassembly of my place to try and get back to sleep.  Of course, my mind is now awake and thinking about all this, so sleep will not come back so easily.

August 2, 2015
by Alan (Travelin' Al) Stiebing
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Summer in Europe 2015

Back in 2009 I set off on a trek across Europe, from Netherlands to Romania, for about 21 days (Europe 2009).  When I finished that trip, I swore I would never take on anything that ambitious again.  So what am I about to do?  Why I’m heading out for 28 days on a journey that will have me starting in Netherlands again but this time I’ll only go as far as Slovakia. Continue Reading

Bratislava, Slovakia

September 18, 2013
by Alan (Travelin' Al) Stiebing
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Traveling To Bratislava Had It’s Issues, But Worth It

When I decided to take my first trip overseas, I chose to head to the deep end of the pool.  I had made several online friends in Europe, one in The Netherlands and another in Slovakia.  After a little contemplating, we decided to meet up in Bratislava.  I would be there 21 days with only a few days on my own.  It was going to be a great trip. Continue Reading

St. John the Baptist Cathedral

August 23, 2013
by Alan (Travelin' Al) Stiebing
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Trnava, Slovakia

Trnava, Slovakia

Trnava, Slovakia – Main Street and City Tower

It’s a bright sunny day as I walk down the main  street(hlavná ulica), now a wide pedestrian walkway with large planters filled with greenery. The city clock tower acts as a guide post to Trojicne namestie (Trinity Square). My morning departure has deposited me in the city of Trnava, Slovakia(trnava.sk). Founded in 1238, it was the first city to receive a town charter and the concentration of churches has earned it the title “parva Roma” or “Little Rome”.

Continue Reading

Slavin Memorial, Bratislava

August 7, 2013
by Alan (Travelin' Al) Stiebing
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Slavin Memorial – Bratislava, Slovakia

When I first traveled to the Slovakian capital city of Bratislava, I tried to do my homework ahead of time.  But, like most people, there were things that I missed in my travel guide book.  One was tall stone pillar with the stalwart soldier keeping an eye over the city.  After a little research and a lot of exploring, I found myself at the historic Slavin. Continue Reading

hostel

July 31, 2013
by Alan (Travelin' Al) Stiebing
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Hostel Misconceptions – Not Just For Youth Travelers Anymore

prague-hostel-advantageFirst off, let me just say that I am not a young person. Not to say I would be considered old by most, but certainly not in my twenties or even thirties. I also didn’t do a lot of international travel until later in life. So, I never had the experience of staying in the large sleeping halls associated with most hostels. You know what I’m talking about. The room with 6 to 8 (or more) bunk beds and no real place to secure your belongings from the unknown roommates you’ve been situated with. Continue Reading

Rahr & Sons Brewery

July 16, 2013
by Alan (Travelin' Al) Stiebing
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Rahr and Sons Brewery

Rahr & Sons Brewery

Rahr & Sons Brewery

Less than 10 years old, the Rahr and Sons Brewery sits in the South-side neighborhood of Fort Worth, TX.  It’s an unassuming place most of the week. But for a few hours every Wednesday and Saturday it is a hot bed of activity.  That is when they host their “Brewery Tours”, although the tour is a small part of the event. Continue Reading