Thursday, 25 April 2013

Up, up and away

Lübeck Hauptbahnhof.
With Tuesday came another journey day. My flight to Amsterdam was due to leave Hamburg at 2.50pm and check-out was at 11, so I had one of those odd bits of a day that you wonder what to do with.

And low cloud had descended over night, obliterating the tops of the spires of the Marienkirche that should have been visible from my room.

Packing done – complete with that memorable moment when, having managed to jam your case closed and started to congratulate yourself on it being far easier than expected, you next consider where the keys are to actually lock it, only to realise that they are themselves ... inside the case.

So after breakfast, I took my iPad and headed back up Beckergruße to ‘my’ Turkish-German cafe and planted myself down outside with a coffee to sit and write for an hour or so.

A taxi got me easily to Lübeck station and I had only a short wait for a train to Hamburg. That went easily enough and, with a little help from a young woman who was also going to the airport, I made it in uncomplicated fashion to the right S Bahn line and the right carriages (front three only).

And so, under hazy but bright skies, I arrived at the airport in sensible – but not overly early – time for my flight.

Which is where the fun started.

First my passport was not recognised for the purpose of getting my ticket. So I hauled out my phone, pulled up the flight confirmation email from ebookers and used the number instead. Still no joy.

A lady at the machines gave me a ‘voucher’ to go straight to the baggage check-in desk.

And there I was met with the reassuring news that my flight had left an hour or so earlier.

Phone calls followed before I was sent to another desk where a young man and lady proceeded to try to work out what had happened.

I should have been sent an email from ebookers telling me that the flight had been rescheduled for 12.50. Unfortunately, I hadn’t seen it.

We then spent a fascinating few minutes trying to get through, by phone, to ebookers in London. Eventually, I got someone to talk to.

‘Yes,’ he said. They had sent just such an email at the end of March – as though that were the end of the matter.

Now, a number of things could have happened. It could have gone directly into my junk basket or I could have dumped it myself on the grounds that it was yet another one of the interminable emails you get from online travel companies once you’ve booked through them, trying to sell you everything from accommodation to car hire.

And then it might not have arrived at all but be lost in cyberspace.

I adopted my very best polite-but-plummy-and-firm voice and pointed out that many things might have happened to the missing email, but “that's as maybe now – what are we going to do about it?”

Fortunately, my panic had been calmed somewhat by having been informed that there as one remaining flight to Amsterdam that day, at 6.30pm, and there was space on it.

The young man I was talking to then had to go away and ring KLM to check that they would, in effect, change my flight.

A few minutes, he came back to me to tell me that yes, they would, and my ticket was being changed to the early-evening flight even as we spoke.


It was as though, after everything else had gone so easily, something would have to be just a bit more complicated.

The airport let me put my baggage through then and there, and I passed through security straight away too. My only problem was to occupy myself for four hours.

As it happens, Hamburg is – as large airports go – a pleasant one: light and with plenty of space. I found myself a quiet corner, pulled out the iPad and gave myself up to writing for the best part of the time that remained.

Boarding was fine. We were delayed by 20 or so minutes so that we wouldn’t have to circle Schiphol in windy weather before landing, but our captain explained all this, which always helps with delays.

As a side note, every time I’ve flown with KLM, it’s always been fine, but Dutch captains seem to be astonishing laid back when they talk to passengers. Are they all high before we get high?

Talking of height, we had hit an altitude of 7,618m within a few minutes of leaving German soil (or Tarmac), were cruising at 546kmph and there was a temperature of -36F outside.

I am not particularly keen on flying – or to be more accurate, I hate take off: my mind goes into fatalistic mode, no matter how much I try to inject safety statistics into it. And then that moment where the engine sound changes as you level off and it’s almost as though it’s stalling ...

But once we’re over that, I can settle a little. This was a short flight (rail would have required five changes), but it was a large enough plane that those little, drop-down screens provided constant information as well as a graphic showing where we were.

Amsterdam at last.
That fascinates me – that that’s what’s happening to this cylindrical metal tube that I’m sitting in. It’s both rather awesome and somewhat discomforting.

We landed and disembarked with ease. A busy 737 produced just four passengers waiting to collect actual baggage and that didn’t take long either.

Then it was outside and into a cab that, due to the advanced hour of the evening, was able to speed into the Centrum in next to no time, giving me the opportunity to check in at the hotel and unpack before The Other Half arrived via the train.

And there was the extraordinary feeling, as I stood outside, under Amsterdam skies, of knowing, at last, that I’d ‘done it!’

As a final little bonus, neither of us felt much like food, so we headed straight for the Café Heuvel, our home from home in the city.

A brown cafe – in other words, an ordinary cafe/bar – it’s within sight of the Rijksmuseum, right on the Prinsengracht, yet few tourists seem to notice it. We have been visiting for 15 years and are treated like honorary locals – not just by Wim and Pierre, but by real locals too.

We famously spent a crazy night there on New Year’s Day 2009, at a party at which (allegedly) I joined Pierre’s wife in dancing on the tables in this tiny, slightly-bohemian-but-still-very-down-to-earth place.

Since then, nothing has changed – and that’s part of what I love. Instantly welcomed, it was the perfect end to a day that, in it’s way, had been testing and most certainly tiring.

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