There must be a word to describe someone who has traveled to a city so many times, that they know it almost as well as the town in which they live. They’re not merely a visitor but at the same time they’re not a permanent resident in spite of having an intimate familiarity with that destination. This was a thought that ran through my mind as I landed at Schiphol airport to teach my course in Amsterdam for the 29th time. If I add up all the days I have spent in Amsterdam over the 20+ years I have travelled there, typically staying for at least a week, I come up with almost seven months. Even though it was not consecutive weeks making up those months, which I guess would make me a short-term Ex-Pat, surely I am still something other than just a visitor.
As with my trip to Amsterdam in 2016, this year found me travelling without my wife or other family members. And so being the sole guinea pig, I decided to try an experiment in my travel plans.
Normally I would be landing at Schiphol about 10:30 or 11:00 in the morning and then arriving at my hotel before noon which often meant I could not check into my room. This frequently after a fitful night of less than successful sleeping in coach for an eight or nine hour flight when the hardest thing to do upon arrival is to stay awake the rest of the day so you don’t fall asleep at 7:00 PM and then wake up in the middle of the night (which is really sometime in the afternoon to your body).
For this trip, I booked a connection through Atlanta that didn’t leave until 10:30 at night. Normally, I would be leaving on my direct flight to Amsterdam around 7:00 or 7:30 PM, which by the time you get wined and dined, you’ve lost, 2.5 to 3 hours of your potential sleep time during your flight. This late flight was advertised as only serving breakfast so I figured I would be able to get a reasonable five or six hours of sleep.
And the bonus was this connection was operated by KLM, an airline I used to enjoy flying with but have not been able to ever since Delta bought out Northwest. In the “good ole days”, I could even get a direct out of Memphis on KLM and earn Northwest frequent flier miles. And an even greater bonus for me this time was that it would be my first chance to fly on a Boeing 777, something I have wanted to do ever since watching the PBS special of how Alan Mulally brought this modern airplane into existence.
With a 2-hour layover in Atlanta, I managed to get in a number of steps walking between terminals, eat a quick sandwich for dinner, and begin to tire myself out reading before boarding. Once on the plane, I must say I was impressed with the modern interior. The technology was also up-to-date with what appeared to be an iPad in the back of the headrest of every seat. This allowed superior graphics and entertainment.
The ergonomic seats and generous legroom allowed me to easily stretch out my six-foot frame without encountering a hard surface; all the better for me to get some sleep.
Assuming they would keep the cabin lights off after take off, I read a little more to make sure I could easily fall asleep. But no sooner had we leveled off than the flight attendants began coming around with their noisy drink carts. Armed with my sleep mask, I whipped it on to get a head start on my sleep and so not be disturbed since I had already satiated my appetite for food and drink on the ground. Not long after, having squirmed around to find the least uncomfortable, partially reclined sleeping position, my olfactory glands began to sense Indian spices. Pulling my sleep mask up, I was amazed to see the passenger in the aisle seat chowing down with delight. Argh! That was not supposed to happen on this flight.
Needless to say, irritating serving and clean up noises disturbed my sleep multiple times (I unfortunately forgot to bring ear plugs).
Probably my longest period of uninterrupted sleep was about 45 minutes and all told, I might have gotten a total of about three hours of non-contiguous sleep. But I did get a delicious hot breakfast (KLM is known for their superior food), a cheese omelet with sausage and cottage fries, fresh fruit, yogurt, and actually very decent coffee which left me fairly refreshed and awake when I deplaned. Which helped me with my next surprise.
Typically I teach the three-day course staring on a Monday and to help acclimate myself to the 7-hour time difference, I usually arrive on a Saturday morning. But since I would be arriving much later having a 10:30 PM departure out of Atlanta, I booked my flight to arrive on Friday rather than Saturday. When I went to exit the airport, I found a phenomenally long queue line to go through passport control. Whether it was due to arriving during the business week or heightened security due to recent terrorist activities, it took me over 45 minutes to get through, about 44 minutes longer than normal.
As a result, I didn’t actually arrive at my hotel until 3:00 PM, about normal check-in time, which assured me of getting into my room for a sorely needed shave and hot shower.
Refreshed and cleanly clothed, I took in one of my favorite activities, sitting by a canal and enjoying a Dutch treat, a cold “domestic beer”…
…before wandering along the canals that I know so well. At the end of my first day, I was having a delicious dinner…
…at a balcony restaurant overlooking Leidseplein square.
But even following a small after dinner nightcap…
…and having had the rest of the day to ponder my original question, I still had not come up with a term that I could use to describe myself instead of simply visitor. But even if the visitor term is the best I can come up with, I was still glad to be back in this city that I know and love so well; a city that in spite of my numerous trips, I always find something new and fun to do.