My last post took me from the hotel to the airport in Ashgabat. I could end my blog right there, but I provide a door-to-door from Pouch Cove, Newfoundland experience. I am not sure if I am trying to show how terrible the getting there and back is, or to show that no matter now bad it is, that you make it through in the end. Anyway, here it comes, my two days of travel back home.
I had a long wait for my flight to Istanbul. This flight is about four hours, just a small part of the 24 hours of flying and airport time that I had ahead of me over the next two days. At least I had scheduled a day in Amsterdam to recover from the first two flights and do a little sightseeing.
The new Ashgabat airport might be pretty, but we were still in regular airport seats. Those are never comfortable.
There was finally some activity at the gate, and we began our chaotic boarding process. There were no announcements. Everyone just started moving to the plane.
I met a nice Turkman in the line. He asked where I was from and immediately informed me that Canada was in the gold medal game at the World Hockey Championship. He told me that he was on his way to New York, that he has his Green Card and was ready to move to the US. This was his third or fourth trip to look for a job. When we got into the plane, he helped me put my bag in the overhead bin.
We took off about thirty minutes late, but with my two-hour layover, I was going to be okay. This flight turned out to be the most unpleasant of the trip. It is redundant to mention that we were all packed into our seats. There was no in-flight entertainment. The big guy in the middle seat was torturing himself trying to cross his legs. Since I considered it still the middle of the night, I passed on the breakfast offering.
This was my third time in the brand-new Istanbul airport. It was another long walk to security and passport control, but there were many people giving directions, advising us to keep walking to the open desks. Rita and Silvio appeared behind me, and we said our goodbyes.
I found a desk with no line and passed on through into the terminal area. I was patted on the back and turned to see Michael who said goodbye and went off to find his next flight. I ended up at the same coffee place where I had stopped on my way out of Istanbul. I had a latte that was too hot and a stale croissant. Maybe I will try another place on my next flight out of Istanbul. I could not get Wi-Fi since you need to be able to get text messages.
I did not bother to finish my latte. I walked to my gate where I joined another disorganized boarding process. There was a line, but the sign mentioned both Athens and Amsterdam. The line next to us was for Kiev. My two seatmates from last night's flight were there, so I walked over and said hello. They asked me why I was going to Kiev. I pointed to my flight. They had been in Turkmenistan on oil and gas business. I talked to them longer in the line than I did during the four hours on the plane.
I talked to a Filipino man. He was travelling with his wife as part of a group going to Athens and on to Israel. I am not sure what amazed him more, that I had visited the 5 Stans or that I live in Newfoundland. But they found that the line was definitely for Amsterdam, so went off to find their flight.
I was standing behind a group of three women and one man. Two of the women were wearing chadors (a cloak that covers the entire body). The other woman was dressed quite western. In fact she had a cat tattoo on her neck and colored hair. It was quite warm as our line moved slowly into the tunnel (with never any announcements). Suddenly one of the women collapsed. The man spoke to the airline staff, but they did nothing to help. The woman sat on the floor for awhile before she was able to stand up and move forward. Everything was moving so slowly that her sitting on the floor had no impact on the lineup.
Yes, I am doing all of this for fun. I find myself repeating that every time I board a plane. I do have fun on my trips. I survive the flights.
I lucked out this morning with no one sitting next to me. I had my regular place on the aisle. I chatted with my seatmate next to the window. He was originally from Pakistan but was now living in the Netherlands. He was returning from Mecca after accompanying his father on the hajj. He discussed the spirituality of doing a hajj with 500,000 people. It was a very interesting, albeit brief, conversation. He then left to catch some sleep in one of the empty rows in the back of the plane. That gave me the three seats to myself, which is the best of all cheap seat setups.
I thought about watching the end of the Ruth Bader Ginsberg movie, but could not find it, so I did what I always do on my flights home, listen to music and flip through my many photographs, remembering all the great things that I had seen.
My new friend returned as we began our descent and we continued our conversation. He had worked for the World Bank but left and moved his family to the Caribbean to live on one of the Dutch islands. They recently moved back to Holland. I told him of my work that involved World Bank funding back in my Botswana days in the 70’s. It was one of my most interesting and enjoyable airplane conversations.
No, I do not talk if my neighbor indicates that they want to be left alone. But I find it part of the strangeness of air travel to be stuffed into a plane next to people and not talk to them.
After landing, we were held up in the corridor. The lines were too long in the immigration area, so we had to wait at the top of the escalator. Only EU citizens could keep going. We were only delayed for about 10 minutes. Down below it took another 10 minutes to get through. So even a backed up Schiphol airport immigration line was way better than Heathrow.
I left the arrivals area and went downstairs to find my train to the center of Amsterdam. There was a line at the information desk, so I decided to just use the machines and sort things out on my own. I bought a one-way ticket and found my train. The car was fairly full, but several people had bags on the seats which no one seemed to want to move so that the rest of us could sit down. I finally asked a young man to move his bag. I had never seen anything quite like it.
The train took me into Amsterdam Central Station. I then had a hard time getting out of the station. I kept scanning my ticket, but the wicket would not open. I tried a couple of times at different places until someone reached over and scanned for me. I did not know who they were but was grateful to escape.
I exited into a different world than my last visit. That time I was in the Museum District. During my one day in that area, I kept thinking about how civilized everything was. Now I was in central and all my thoughts were about how crowded everything was. There were locals going to work and tourists, so many tourists. The bicycles which seemed so quaint last time were now a menace as I tried to walk without getting run over. And there are the even more dangerous silent assassins, the scooters and the trams.
My hotel, City Hotel Amsterdam, was about ten minutes from the station and easy to find. I was pleased that my room was available. But after the fine hotels of my Central Asia trip, I had obviously fallen on very hard times. The hotel looked great from the outside, but the rooms were quite basic and my view of the wall was a bit depressing.
I took a short nap before venturing out for some coffee and lunch. I stopped in the maze of crowded streets wondering which way to go. I glanced to my right and was a bit startled to find that I was standing next to a lady in her underwear. There was a window in between, but she was only a few feet away. Being ever so polite I did not stand and stare. And I knew the etiquette that said no photos. I had found my way into the red-light district. Yes, I will admit that I was planning to visit the area, but at that moment I really just wanted a latte.
I found a little café so I got my latte along with a sandwich. Before long I retreated back to my room for a bit more sleep. A couple of hours later I woke up not feeling very refreshed but wandered out again to get something for supper. Once again I had to navigate through the many tourists, including maybe a bachelorette party?
I found a restaurant with a nice patio where I could watch the tourists rather than bump into them. I ordered a pizza and a glass of wine.
I walked a bit afterwards and decided that I should try a waffle for dessert. I should have known better as the sweetness just about knocked me out.
As I walked down the canal to get back to my hotel, I heard someone talking to me. I turned and there was another lady in her underwear. She motioned for me to come closer. I decided that she was not trapped in her window and in need of help to escape, so I just shook my head and walked on. A few steps later I was hit with the overwhelming aroma that emanates from the many “Coffee Shops”. These establishments sell coffee, but they primarily sell pot, much of which is consumed on site. That creates a powerful smell which I did not find very pleasant.
Back at the hotel I chatted with the receptionist for a few minutes. She was from Italy and did not like the damp Amsterdam weather. I noticed an espresso machine and asked if she could make me a latte. It might not have been smart to drink one just before going back to bed, but it did help to get the very sweet waffle taste out of my mouth.
Back upstairs, I managed a call to Po and a quick video to see Bella. I closed the curtains as best I could, as it was still very bright outside, and attempted my last sleep of the trip.
It is almost all over, day 30 of my trip. Today I will take my 9th and 10th flights and end my day in Pouch Cove.
I slept quite well, but with the time difference and after an early to bed found myself awake at 5 am. I then encountered my first stomach issues of the trip, something to worry about before my 11 hours of flying. I decided that I would take some Imodium just in case.
I was the first one at the buffet which was better than many of the ones at the fancy hotels on the tour. They had a nice cappuccino machine and some fresh croissants. I added some fruit and cereal.
As I was checking out the desk clerk told me that the trains will be on strike tomorrow. That would have been something to deal with, but no worries for me, since I will be in Pouch Cove when that happens.
I walked over to the station, dodging bikes and scooters. I used a machine to buy a ticket and then needed to find my train. I saw a guy in what looked like a uniform and tried to ask him. He ran away. Maybe he was not an employee. I could not find anyone to ask but finally found the track number on the overhead screen.
My ticket worked this time, and I walked up to platform 14 where there was a train pulling out. It did not say Schiphol, so I did not rush. Another one arrived. It was from Schiphol, but I was not sure if it would just return or go on. A young guy assured me that it was the train I needed. I got on and was soon joined by many people with suitcases. Finally, there was an announcement that the train went to the airport. I could definitely relax. The train was not crowded, and it was a fast trip of less than 20 minutes to the airport. I was quite early, just the way I like it.
I went to the electronic kiosk to get my boarding pass. This had not worked on my Turkish Airlines flights, and I always had to go to the check in desks. But it worked fine for Air Canada and my instructions were to go to the gate.
I then had the worst security experience of my trip, worse than any security over the past three big trips. They said to take everything out of your pockets. They really meant it. I had left a couple of things in my pockets such as tissues and some cough drops. It all went downhill from there. I had to go into the body scanner but afterwards, for the first time on this trip and including last year’s trip, I had to remove my money belt. I felt that my pants were halfway off as I was patted down.
Yes, I am doing all this for fun.
At the passport control I ended up in the line for a live person. She asked me about my name, my nice Dutch name. At that moment I was not feeling so warm and fuzzy about my Dutch heritage.
I stopped for a quick latte at a place called Joe’s. It had no lineup. There was a long line at the Starbucks on the other side. Joe's coffee was quite okay.
Unlike the past many flights, there was an actual announcement about boarding. There was a big line to board, but Air Canada was more organized and called out zones. We had to take a shuttle bus to the plane. I stood next to a couple from St. John’s. They were also sad that they could not take the direct flight from London to St. John’s. I discussed all of that in a post before I left.
The flight seemed to go quickly, but I kept thinking that if I was on the direct flight from London to St. John’s I would have been home before we reached Toronto. I wonder if that flight will ever come back.
Once on the ground I followed the signs for domestic transfers. There was a passport control which seemed almost cursory. There was no line; I just showed my passport and handed in my customs form and was sent through. I made my first purchase in Canada, some Fisherman's Friend lozenges, my favorites. I had been missing them since Uzbekistan, and unfortunately still needed them. My second purchase was a latte.
Now that I would be on a Canadian domestic flight, I knew that there would be no meal service, so decided to sit down and have a meal at the restaurant right beside my gate (or what I thought was my gate). When I finished, I looked around and decided that since there was no one at the gate nor my flight number above the desk, that maybe this was not my gate after all. Sure enough, it had been changed, it was a long way away, and it was almost time for boarding.
There were some rough looking guys waiting for the flight. I wondered if they were bikers. Then I overheard that they were a British rock band, The Cult, on their way to play in St. John’s.
Once on the plane I experienced something that has never happened to me before. I sat back in my seat and fell asleep. I woke up when they announced that we had begun our descent into St. John’s. I went back to sleep until the announcement that we were landing. I guess I was tired. It had been a long trip.
Po was there to meet me. She asked me to drive home, perhaps not the best idea considering how tired I was. It is quite straightforward to get from the airport to our house. You turn left, then left, and finally left, and keep on going. I missed the second left. But I did not crash.
Bella was suitably excited to see me. She shot out the door and ran around in circles. She kept her eye on me for the next few days to make sure I did not go anywhere. I took this photo the next morning. I was gone during iceberg season. There were still a few around.
It took me a couple of weeks to get rid of my cold. It was definitely one of my all time worst, maybe up there with the "90 Day Cough" from Beijing. My doctor confirmed that it was virus, and that there was really nothing to be done but wait it out.
I was reading one of my New Yorkers that came during my absence. There was a story about Georgian food and said that one culinary organization has called it the Cuisine of the Year. Another omen?
I have a list of three trips to consider for my next travels: Georgia and Armenia, Trans Mongolian Train-Moscow to Beijing with a stop in Mongolia, or Bhutan via Nepal. I will start looking into those once I sort out everything from this trip. Anybody want to comment? Or sign up?