Seattle - Rome, 15-16 November 2004
OK, then. The first thing you need to know about the first leg of our trip is that when we left on Monday, 15 November, we were exhausted. Becky had just finished working on a campaign, I had been slammed at work for months, and then we did nearly all of our packing and whatnot on the Saturday and Sunday before we left.
We did make it to the airport, though, checked in, no problems with security, I remembered to put my pocketknife in my checked luggage and my film in my carry-on, so all was well.
In terms of pure travel mechanics, in fact, you couldn't have asked for a better transatlantic flight. As we reached cruising altitude, the captain announced that we were enjoying the benefit of 110 knot tailwinds, which meant we were going to arrive in Amsterdam over an hour early.
The flight was unremarkable: the movies were crappy (A Cinderella Story... yeesh), the food actually wasn't bad (veggie curry!), flight attendants had to look for a doctor because someone had collapsed... the usual.
During one of the snack cycles, one of the flight attendants who I had chatted with earlier told Miz Becky "He's so nice, you're lucky to have him." Becky gave me a dubious look and went back to sleep.
And then we landed in Schiphol airport, before dawn. And for the first 20 minutes, I wandered around with a goofy grin on my face. Look! I'm in Europe! Beautiful Dutch infodesign! Announcements in Dutch! It was probably a sign of my jetlagged state that I found it hysterical that I could understand the Chinese tour group perfectly, but got not one word of the Dutch announcements.
The only problem with our beautiful, fast, turbulence-free flight was of course that our five our layover had turned into a six and a half hour layover. And that's a lot of time to kill in an airport, especially before most things are really open. Becky slept, I read, and we wandered. Schiphol Airport has both a casino (reported to be the only casino in the world with clocks in it) and an art gallery (with a very nice little show of Dutch Baroque Era painter Jan Steen and some of his contemporaries). The gift shops, of course, sell a lot of cheese; there was also a DVD store, with the top row of several shelves taken up by hardcore porn. (I've never really understood selling hardcore porn in an airport. Is someone going to watch "Double-headed $he-males" on their laptop sitting in the middle seat in economy class?)
Eventually we headed to our actual gate, where we passed through a small security check with a couple of bored and sleepy uniformed guys who asked us where we were connecting to and stamped our passports. As it turned out, that was our entire immigration check. When we got to Italy, we picked up our luggage, and just strolled out. No immigration, nothin'. EU rulez!
But I'm getting ahead of my long, boring story. The flight to Rome was equally uneventful, aside from Miz Becky's unfortunate airsickness... oh, and the Dutch flight attendant spilling hot coffee on the Italian woman sitting next to me. Hilarity ensued as he tried to get her to keep the WaterGel burn pack on her arm, and she kept deciding she had spent enough time with this tacky looking thing on her arm. Then he'd come back, and patiently and reasonably explain (in English of course, the Lingua Franca as Dan Cory likes to say) that she needed to keep the cloth on her arm for at least 20 minutes, and she'd take it off a few minutes later. This ended with him scolding her (after he scalded her, hah hah) in an increasingly strong Dutch accent: "No, you must keep the gel on. Gel gel gel. All the time gel. Yes. Gel."
Without further incident, we got to Rome, strolled out of baggage claim as I mentioned earlier, and caught a shuttle to our hotel (getting a deep eye roll from the woman at the shuttle desk when she heard we were only spending one night in The Eternal City).
Let's talk briefly about Rome traffic. We were in other cities later, and I've been in many large cities in Asia, but my friends, traffic in Rome takes the cake. I'm not sure if I can describe it, except to say that if you nearly covered the bottom of a box with 2/3 marbles and 1/3 ball bearings, and then shook the box, you'd approximate the chaos that is Roman traffic. The marbles are the cars, which can't move very far, and the ball bearings are the scooters. The rule for driving a scooter in Rome seems to be "if there is a scooter-sized hole in front of you, fill it." The shuttle driver said "Two million cars in rome. One million scooters. All crazy."
Finally we got to our hotel, or close at least. This was our first example of something we'd see again and again: a space between buildings that might fit a dumpster in Seattle is a major arterial in Italy. As near as I could tell there were no abandoned alleys... they were all streets people used regularly. And our hotel was on one of them. So the driver got us close, and (nice guy) led us directly to the front door.
That's enough for now. You'll have to wait a few days to hear about roof kitties and our first meal in Italy.
Robert Jahrling, on Friday, December 3, 2004 at 11:52 AM:
Is someone going to watch "Double-headed $he-males" on their laptop sitting in the middle seat in economy class?
Hey, I sat next to a couple on a flight once and the woman was quite obviously giving the guy some, uh, massage with happy ending, if you catch my meaning. So I bet you'd be able to find someone who would watch porn in-flight. Besides, there are morons who look at porn in the middle of a crowded library.
heather, on Friday, December 3, 2004 at 12:43 PM:
I loved our taxi ride from the Rome train station to our hotel - it was everything I had expected and more from watching kodak TV commercials and European Vacation :-) We had a crazy cabbie that talked and talked non stop the entire time - he would frequently look back and use BOTH hands to gesture wildly (and we weren't stopped or anything) while pointing out some building or monument and giving us the history. Highly entertaining, and we got a great (if whirlwind) tour and intro to Rome in the process! It was all very Italian :-)
Joshua Edelstein, on Friday, December 3, 2004 at 1:38 PM:
Yay, me brudder and I have both been through Schiphol! I don't know why that's fun, but it is. I also don't know what you mean about easy immigration--we got WORKED OVER in Schiphol, and that was pre-9/11. Maybe it was your sleepy morning people. I did have easy boarding, though--when you're sportin' the punk rock get-up and a German last name, the flight attendants automatically address you as "Herr Edelstein."
I'm also feeling you on the Chinese--the most relaxed I felt in Europe was in a Chinese grocer's, because I could finally understand what the people around me were saying. Of course, it suprised the proprietors to hear a white boy speak Mandarin, and even more so to find out I'd come all the way from the U.S. to shop at their store.
Timothy, on Saturday, December 4, 2004 at 3:48 PM:
Tell us another neat story about your trip Dave ... bonus points for using the word porn again ....
Michelle, on Saturday, December 4, 2004 at 4:21 PM:
We had the exact same experience going through Schiphol to Greece. It wasn't until a day later when I was finally really awake that I thought, "Where the hell was passport control?"