Nothing has ever made me want to buy a pair of wooden shoes as much as Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. We hadn’t been there for five minutes of our five-hour layover between Harare and Seattle before I was wanting to fill my carry-on with clogs and tulip bulbs and blue Delft trivets.
I’ve never fallen in love with any airport and I’ve never fallen in love with a city or country based on an airport. Certainly, there are airports I prefer and there are airports I avoid (I’m looking at you, Dallas-Fort Worth) and airports I suffer through (specifically you two, O’Hare and JFK) if the destination is a good one. But if I have to get trapped at an airport because of a passport mix-up or bad weather, I think this is the one I choose.
Full disclosure, by the time we walked into the airport, I had taken itching medicine and relaxi medicine and a pain killers that no doctor would have prescribed for mosquito bites but which I felt entitled to use and grateful, yes, grateful, for the case of shingles I’d had earlier in the summer that made said pain killers available to me. Also, I’d been sitting for nearly ten hours with bags of ice on my swollen, bite-ridden feet, daring to scratch only when Z had drifted off, so chances are that any airport anywhere would have looked to me like that first happy scene inside Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory where all the furniture and flowers and whatnot are made of sugary goodness that you can bite right into.
Even so, Schiphol should be on the list of Top Ten Airports of All Time. Certainly I’m not the first person to figure it out, I just wish I would have known about it sooner. Before, what I knew about Amsterdam was basically Ann Frank, drugs, prostitution, and tulips. Now, I’d book EVERY flight through Amsterdam, including my layovers between Seattle and Indiana if I could.
The airport is bright and clean and easy to navigate. Second, it is one of the few airports that seems to have been designed with actual travelers in mind: in terms of giving them what they need, giving them what they want, and giving them reasons later to book a trip that ends and stays in the Netherlands. I spent a portion of the last leg of the flight home doing calculations about how soon we could go back to Amsterdam. I have a variety of travel lists, including Places I Want to See Before I Die, Places I Never Want to See, Places I Have Nightmares about Being Forced to See, and Places I’d Loved to Go to if Someone Else Paid. Holland was always on that last list. Sure. Why not, but not with my own money.
But now? Amsterdam alone has definitely shifted to List A.
One of the reasons Z and I work together well as a traveling team is that we are similar in our methods. We both like to arrive at an airport early and to have a decent layover if we’re catching a connecting flight. Despite knowing we have five hours stretching in front of us, we also cannot relax until we know exactly where our departure gate is.
We headed to the gate after a requisite restroom break. (Even the restrooms were delightful with very civilized seat sanitizer available in every stall, so you can avoid the annoyance of trying to figure out exactly how to get those paper seat covers to work. Seriously, are you supposed to punch out that perforated hole or what? Those just never work for me with any satisfaction, plus I then feel guilty about the extra natural resource I just wasted.) Once we’d located the gate, we headed back to the shopping/restaurant area to walk our bodies back into some semblance of normal. My feet hurt, I wanted to take a cheese grater to my mosquito bites, but it was impossible to be as crabby I felt I was entitled to be in this amazing airport.
Yes, there was a McDonald’s, but also many delicious restaurants. We chose one and had an excellent breakfast that I can no longer remember, and when I tipped the server it short-circuited his little credit card machine because, as he said, “You are too generous with the tip.”
The airport boasts short stay hotels, where you can rent a room for no more than four hours for a quick sleep and a shower. My desire to stay at Hotel Yotel was intense, but we couldn’t justify it when there was so much there to investigate. For instance, a cafeteria with Disney World sized blue Delft tea cups that you sit in while you eat your morning Danish. Or, if those are too kitschy, you can sit at a sleek white bar with actual Delft-ware encased in glass in front of you. You can stop at a place called The Living Room, that was nothing but wingback chairs, faux fire place, and the sense that you should be sitting there reading a leather-bound book and smoking a pipe. If that gets too boring, you can go to the casino. (Z and I do not recommend this. No, we do not recommend this at all. It took longer to get our American dollars turned into Euro than it did for us to lose our Euro at the airport casino. And the slots there are the exact same ones as in America, and therefore, definitely not worth it. If we’d been losing at a slot with a Wooden Shoe Bonus, we might have felt it was worth it.)
We weren’t there to shop, but the shops we walked past made me want things I never knew I cared about. For instance, I somehow survived the whole of the 1980s without owning or even wanting to own a Swatch. I didn’t understand them then, not as single watches and definitely not in the bunches you were supposed to wear them in down your arms. They were a little too bright, plastic, and trendy for my tastes, so I just curled my hi-gloss lip and stuck with my silver Timex back then. But now? In Amsterdam? I have never wanted a Swatch so badly in all my life. They looked so refreshing and fun. So completely delightful.
Z was able to pull me away, thankfully, because the truth is, I had not done the Euro to Dollar conversion that would have proven to me once again that I am just not a Swatch girl.
The airport has a library with books you can check out for the length of your stay in Holland. Also, a museum. (Like most museums, I spent more time in the tiny museum shop instead of the tiny museum.) The children’s play area made me wish I were still a kid, so elaborate and adorable was it. There was no end of places to get massages, aqua-sages, and mani-pedis. And also, the whole airport seemed to understand how tired we were, so there was an endless supply of interesting shaped furniture on which to curl up. Our favorite place was upstairs in a quiet area where there was a sea of lounge chairs so you could put your feet up and sleep if you wanted. (I did! And Z, bless him, bought me a cup of ice that cost $4.50 so I could re-pack my plastic anti-itch bags before I napped.)
And also, the whole airport seemed quieter than any American airport I’ve ever been in. I’m not sure how they accomplished this. There were announcements on the loud speaker, but somehow they seemed more like gentle suggestions whispered into your ear instead of the abrasive, scratchy hollering that I’m more used to that is so loud I usually can’t hear myself think long enough to write a cohesive sentence and where I cannot have a successful phone conversation. Even when one family was late for a plane, the voice that publicly shamed them for holding up their flight mates was stern but not shrill.
In general, I hate the travel limbo that is the international layover airport. With wi-fi, it’s a little less like being in a coma than it used to be, but still, you aren’t in your fun vacation life, you aren’t in your normal life. You are exactly nowhere. No one there knows you but your travel partner if you are lucky enough to have one, and there’s a coldness to being unknown that I’ve never gotten comfortable with. Yet here, I wasn’t completely ready to leave. If our flight had been cancelled and we’d had to spend some time at Hotel Yotel, I would have been fine with that. (Though, I confess, I would have definitely purchased that rainbow colored Swatch if I’d had to stay another day.)
As it was, our flight was on time. I said goodbye to the most excellent airport in the world, settled in for another nine and half hours of bad movies and ankle and foot itching, and waited for the Eagle to land. When it did, Airport Schiphol evaporated like it was just a dream.