May 09, 2010
So the train trip from Paris to Amsterdam was uneventful. I rode first-class on the Thalys again. No meal service, just snacks since it was the middle of the afternoon. I used the time to edit and upload part of my pictures. I got through the end of the Netherlands part of my trip and part of my trip to the Louvre before I had to pack it up. I thought it was funny that in the first-class car, I was the only person there not dressed in business attire. Way to make it obvious that I was a tourist, but screw running around in work clothing when this is the pleasure part of my trip.
Got to Schiphol airport and found my way over to the hotel I had reserved, which is next to the terminal. I would be staying at the CitizenM hotel this evening. The hotel itself is funky, designed to look somewhat futuristic. You walk in and walk over to a bunch of computer terminals to check in, and there's a basket of key cards for you to take one and create your room key.
The room itself might scare some people. It is just one large rectangle, with the door at one end, and the bed at the other. In between are some chairs, a sink and vanity, and a circular shower stall and a circular toilet stall, both with sliding doors. The TV is a flat panel TV that is mounted to the wall at one end. Also the room has a safe, which is helpful for keeping your valuables away from thieves. The fun part about this room though is that there is a remote control to control most aspects of the room. You can change the brightness and even the color of some of the lights, open and close the blinds, adjust the temperature, and even set a wake-up alarm. There are a few pre-defined themes you can use, but you can customize your own. I played with that a bit until I got the room how I liked it. It's fun having a shower stall that is now Ravens purple. I checked out the TV and there are a number of TV channels, music channels, and even free movies on demand. When you leave the room, you press one switch to turn off the TV and all the lights. When you return, as soon as you wave your key card at the door lock, the lights and TV come back on to where they were when you left.
Since I felt pretty icky from traveling all day (and the towel I had been using at the hostel was getting a funk smell) I hopped in the shower. How the shower there works is that you have to have the doors closed for the water to even run. The controls are standard, and it has a mounted hand shower, and the main shower head is mounted on the ceiling and it is a rain shower head. They suggest you start with the hand shower and get the temperature set before switching over to the main shower head. I did that, and oh, my, God...best...shower...ever! I could have stayed in that shower for days because it felt so good. I have got to put this shower stall in my bathroom when I finally buy a house. Also, said stall was big enough for two, and I could see myself getting someone in there with me ;-D Rawr!
After getting all cleaned up, I headed down to the lobby to use their computers to check-in with the airlines and get my boarding passes printed. I tried to check-in online and their websites were giving me a headache. I was scheduled to fly on Lufthansa from Amsterdam to Frankfurt, Germany, then switch to United Airlines and fly from Frankfurt to Dulles. Well I was able to check in at United, but Lufthansa wouldn't check me in. I close out, try again, and then Lufthansa would check in and give me a boarding pass, but United, even though it said I was checked in, refused to offer up the boarding pass via their website. I didn't want to take any chances so I walked back over to the airport, found the check-in kiosks for Lufthansa/United and after some navigating of the screens, got them to print both of my boarding passes.
By now it is time for dinner and I decide to hit the restaurant at the hotel. Citizenm has a bar/cafe area with refrigerated shelves with food and drink. There's also microwaves so you can heat up some of the foot. It wasn't overly expensive, even for being at a hotel next to the airport. I went with a tuna sandwich and hard cider while I checked my E-mail using the free Wi-Fi that they have at the hotel (it's free everywhere inside). Later I decided to get up and get another sandwich. That was a small mistake because their staff is so efficient at keeping things clean that when I got back with my prime rib sandwich, all of the dishes were gone, including my half-consumed hard cider, oh well.
After dinner I went back to my room, re-packed all of my bags so everything was organized and ready for me to depart in the morning. It turned out that I did not need the extra duffel bag I had packed. I was able to make everything that had to be checked (olive oil, wine, etc.) fit in the one checked bag, so no luggage fees for me, score! I put on some music and worked on processing photos from my trip while I chatted with a few folks. I got a lot done but sleep eventually took over.
The next morning I was going to get up before 6, but I ended up finally crawling out of bed at 6:30. What can I say, I was really comfortable. I had plenty of time as my flight was at 9:45. After another shower, I got checked out and headed to the airport.
Getting through Schiphol was easy for the most part. I got to the kiosk, checked my bag there, and then brought it to the bag check-in desk. Went through security and then found my departure gate. I went back and picked up a BLTC and a Fanta Orange Zero for my breakfast. Just an FYI, if you're going to have your drink there at the airport, you have to drink all of it before you get on the plane. Otherwise they have to take the drink and put it in a sealed bag and you can't drink it until you land. I also saw a toy store along the way and picked up a cute stuffed tiger for myself and at another store I got a few magnets of Holland to bring back.
Eventually I boarded my flight, a 45 minute hop to Frankfurt. I found out I was in an exit row seat, which was great for being able to stretch out. They did make me put my carry-on bag in the overhead bin so I took down my pillow and a book to read. There isn't must to report with that flight because soon after we took off, I fell asleep.
The Frankfurt Airport was interesting with the way they handled us. The plane taxied to what I would call a parking lot of planes because there was a line of Lufthansa planes there, and we were not near the terminal. We pulled ito a spot, got off the plane and got onto a bus to take us to the terminal. At the terminal we went down a hallway to the area where folks who were changing planes went, and then passed through passport control. I found my gate and then went to grab a sandwich to take with me on the plane. I got back and they started the initial boarding. When they called my row, I went up to the agent, only to be sent over to the check-in desk at the gate because apparently all passengers had to have their passport scanned before they could board. I wasn't pleased to hear about this because I never heard an announcement that this had to be done. So I get the passport scanned, then get back in line, and again I get asked if I had gotten my passport scanned. Um, yeah, you just saw me go over to the desk, didn't you? Then I get to the next agent to scan my boarding pass, and I get asked once again if my passport had been scanned. I answer, but now my tone is becoming exasperated from having to repeat this over and over again. Then I start getting asked about my carry-on luggage, if I had packed it myself, if anyone asked me to hold anything for them, if I had bought anything at the airport, yada yada yada. You could tell I was becoming annoyed with all the questioning. Eventually they were satisfied and let me board the plane.
I was in an aisle seat of the 5 person row in the middle of the plane, but it was not a full flight so the only other seat taken was the aisle seat on the other side. I would spend the 8-9 hour flight editing photos until I killed both batteries on my laptop. For lunch I got to have BBQ chicken, rice, salad, and dessert. The flight attendant cracked me up because he was really nice, and he saw one of my Paris photos and it turned out he had lived in that area. So we did have some basic conversation in French. For entertainment I got to watch Sherlock Holmes, Young Frankenstein, and Nine, all of which I liked. Later a small lunch pack was given out with a sandwich, chips, and a Mars bar.
I finally landed in Dulles around 14:30 EDT. I got off the plane and headed through the terminal to the people mover. We were brought to international arrivals and I went through passport control. I was surprised at how short the line was for U.S. citizens returning to the U.S. I had no problems with them, they read my customs declaration form and passport and sent me on my way.
At customs I showed them my declaration form and then managed to get myself sent to secondary screening. Apparently if you are given a sandwich on the plane, you had better eat it and not save it for later because that is a no-no at customs. However, what was funny was I got to the woman who was doing some of the secondary screenings, and when I told her why I got set over, she got this look on her face that looked like she was saying "Really? What a waste of time." So I showed her my food, told her where I got it, she checked the list, said it was fine, and sent me on my way.
I got to the front of the Dulles terminal, and I realized I had no freaking clue where the MetroBus stop was. Dulles, unlike BWI, has no signage telling you where the buses pick up. You suck for that Dulles. So I found an information desk and the staff told me where the stop was and I made my way over. There were about 30-40 people waiting for the bus, so this did not seem to bode well. Two minutes later the bus arrived and we boarded, very slowly. It probably took about 15 minutes to board because of the sheer number of people who were boarding and paying cash. There has to be a better way to get folks on board the bus, especially those who are visiting and would not have a SmartTrip card.
The bus slowly made its way towards DC, stopping first in Herndon and then Reston. Since it was after 3:30 when we left, traffic was already beginning to suck ass, and we did get caught in a traffic delay getting to Reston. Eventually we made it to L'Enfant Plaza, and I ran for the train to Greenbelt, hopped on, and made my way towards home. I got to Greenbelt, found my car (I had parked in the multi-day section) and drove home. I had clocked when I started waiting for the bus to when I got home...2 hours and 10 minutes. Ugh, too long to do so, but at least I didn't have to drive back there. This suckfest of a commute back is why I avoid Dulles like the plague and go to BWI instead.
As I would learn the next day, I got lucky that I left Europe when I did because then the volcano in Iceland blew up, and my flights went through the airspace that they closed. While some might say that I might have had a nice time while waiting to be able to come back, the reality is that it could have been but it would have been a pain in the ass as well. Not only would I have to scramble to find a place to stay, then I would be trying to work with my agency's travel agency to find me a way back home, and they were likely slammed with calls from folks that were stranded as well. We won't even get into the financial aspect of being trapped as well, I'd probably still be trying to get reimbursed for it.
Still, a good trip, now to find an excuse to go back.