Many of us global travellers have been there; even those who try to swear off polluting air travel to spare us some greenhouse gases –– we are in a city for a day, a long stopover and we want to get out and see the city a bit. Who wants to waste their lungs on the stale airport environment?
About 10 years ago I had a 7-hour stopover in Amsterdam. I had a friend there I wanted to see (no time to meet all those cool sustainable designers in Rotterdam yet) and on a budget I had to figure out how I was going to get in and out on time, alive and no deeper in than 50 Euros.
My friend reassured me that all the trains arrive on time, even complicated ones coming from remote places so that visiting him in his suburb would not be a challenge getting in or out. I trusted him and the universe and went for it.
After landing in the airport I put my suitcase in a locker down below (follow the signs) and I jumped on a train going into the city. Got off in a snap downtown, bought an apple strudel, and then decided to try one of those Amsterdam canal boat cruises. It was lovely. I didn’t need to book in advance, but just jumped on the first one I came across. It was small, not like the large canal boats in Paris and I liked the intimacy of it.
Visiting Amsterdam the day after the Dutch Independence Day I was a bit surprised to see orange debris floating around in the canal and hanging off of those spectacular little bridges we floated under, but I could not have asked for a more intimate way to meander through the channels, peering into the lives of people who lived on the canal in boats, and into the front windows of the people who lived on the narrow roads lining the canal. It seems like no-one uses curtains there. Less than an hour later, we were done and I felt like I had seen enough of Amsterdam.
With little time to contemplate museums or historical sites I called my friend. I walked to the central train station and did as I was told. Within 20 minutes he was waiting for me at the train stop and we walked through his neighborhood back to his flat, at the time an anti-squat office space. We used bicycles to ride from one room to the next it was so spacious.
Went with my friend to the local market, we returned home and I played with his kids, we ate a glorious dinner, and not long after he was directing me on how to take the train back to the airport. Are you sure I am going to make it even with the connections? Don’t worry, trains in Amsterdam are not like the Middle East, and a hop, skip and a jump and I was back on the train and in the airport.
Now this was more than a few years ago. Long before Uber, Via and all those ride-sharing apps came to the scene. In fact before apps were a daily part of our lives. I think I even had to go to an Internet café to make contact with him. Or use a payphone. Today it’s more than easy to get around unfamiliar cities when you have a phone in your hand. I see the good side of this.
The phone is your lifeline and with it you can take even more risks than I did back then, because you know with the press of a button that you can order a ride to get you back to there in the knick of time. So jump on a canal boat, visit a friend and eat that strudel.