First day jitters – Amsterdam arrival

How’d they know?

The first hours in a new country can be pretty anxiety inducing and stressful for me. I distinctly recall the stress of finding a hotel in Dubai and a German man telling me it was a bad neighbourhood. I was a little calmer arriving in St Petersburg, but I think this was because I just gave myself a free pass – ie I caught a cab to a hotel. Simple. For Amsterdam, on my last working day (yesterday feels like forever ago, but that’s when it was), I at least had the foresight to print the GoogleMaps directions for a bus and walking to my AirBnB.

Entertainment system for my second leg

So I seemed semi planned. My Australian phone carrier doesn’t do global roaming, and mostly I don’t mind this. However, staying at AirBnBs and coordinating with European friends, when I saw it was under 30 Euro to buy a dutch SIM, i bought one. The cost – not a problem – I just transferred my worries onto ‘how long will that much data last’ and ‘should I use the data for checking an email when I might *really need* it for a map later?’. Because even with my google maps written directions (I opted out of maps), I got off the bus and headed the wrong direction. Once I hit the next bus stop, I found a man who was… hooking up a trailer which I noticed is for recycling of batteries and light globes, and he advised me to head the direction I’d came in. When I found the final street, Google assured me the destination was on the left. It was on the right. One thing Europeans maintain is odd and even sides of the road! Also, quaintly, they are still far more inclined to put their name to their door bell or property. So when I found a home with the right number and “Merel and Mike” it seemed a good enough match to my AirBnB paperwork which said Maria and Mike. I was so concerned that the roofer would be puzzled or annoyed by my rolling suitcase, I carried in the last 50m. Yep – next level considerate (or next level “trying to fit in”).

My sunshine reading perch

So… I’ve knocked on the door. There’s been no answer. It’s about 4pm in the afternoon, and quite unlike my last visit to The Netherlands, it’s sunny and warm and mild! I was last here between Christmas and New Year and it was snowy! So I’ve bunkered down behind a short hedge for the shade, and set my new SIM up in my phone. That’s when I checked the email account I use for AirBnB (which, stupidly isn’t linked to my ‘normal’ accounts I check v regularly) I see my hosts had politely asked what time I was due to arrive. To be honest, I cleared customs far faster than I anticipated.

It seems I’ve landed where I expected

My anxiety is from all the ‘what ifs’. What if I’m sitting here til it’s dark and cold? What if they don’t come. I mean… I’m in a country of very well educated English speakers – there’s not been a person yet whose thrown their hands up and had no idea what I’m saying. Yep – that includes two bus drivers, the man with the trailer – even a dog walker apologised when her dog sniffed me as I was sitting here! I can’t imagine I’m going to end up frozen, starving and camping out for the night in this quiet street, not far from THE famed tulip farm (and therefore, there’s likely hotels). I just seem to be able to do ‘next level worry’ when things aren’t seamless. Like… what’s the bother I walked a kilometer the wrong direction on a sunny day in comfy shoes with a small wheelie suitcase and a backpack? Anyone who noticed my mistake… I’ll NEVER meet. And even if I did, it’s a laughable mistake right? It feels like in the age of smart phones, not knowing things is even more distressing for me. And I have no shame in Australia asking where things are (ie somewhere to donate foreign change in Sydney Airport – there is no exaggeration 15 places you can exchange money, but the two I asked didn’t know where I could ‘donate’ coins. In the end, I was heading to the Qantas Business Class lounge as I know they run a program on board, when I noticed on the general concourse there was a Rotary bin for coins).

The tulips I came here for

I think my discomfort goes to something deeper though. I like to appear, to others, including strangers, as capable and confident. I don’t like feeling out of my depth, and I seldom do feel that way. Connected to that, I don’t like to inconvenience people – by asking for help. Yet I’m someone who is acutely aware of someone reading a map in Sydney streets and OFFER to help (supposing they may have the same ‘which stranger do I ask’ anxiety). I also feel very aware that as an English speaker, we come to assume every speaks English, and how gosh darn lucky I am, by nature of my birth, that it’s my native language. Everywhere I travel, I wish I spoke the language. And in some countries, it’s much much harder to travel there due to language and the penetration of English (I’m looking at you Russia!) I can only imagine my stress levels if english was my second language, and I was travelling communicating with others whom it’s their second language, and then second guessing if my English was right.. or theirs, or we’d ended up speaking nonsense and making things worse… It’s times like these, mime seems a viable alternative!! And iconography!

I love Europe – wind turbines are a common thing to come across

In the end, i think I sat in the sunshine reading for about 3 hours.  The neighbours across the street had been in and out, walking their dog, and their kitchen faced the AirBnB.  Their 22 year old son came out and asked if I’d like to come inside and join them for dinner.  I politely agreed!  What a wonderful offer (cause I had been thinking that once my hosts arrived, and I’d showered, then I’d need to work out where and what to have for dinner in my state of tiredness).  I sat at their dinner table in their light and airy home, ad of course, being Dutch, Mum, Dad and both sons spoke English!  Once I’d eaten, and they’d poured me a cup of tea, the hosts arrived.  They have an eight week old baby, and today the mother had gone to her mother’s house to get some help caring for the baby whilst she did some work tasks.  Combine that with a traffic jam and the father not having keys and I think that explains the ‘we could be there in 15 mins’ turning into a very pleasant three hour wait.

8pm – still so light, I read on the balcony as I let my freshly washed hair dry and read a book

Everything turned out better than fine – and it usually does.  I can logically think that in those moments, and I tend to reach out to others to talk to and distract me, and remind me, things are FINE.  A wonderful friend from church was on line to talk, as was my little brother in England. By the time I’d checked into my AirBnB, Australia was almost waking up…

Flying Qatar Airways for the first time

My flight to Europe was on Qatar Airways. I recall watching a documentary on a hotel TV a few years ago, about how Qatar Airways is one of the newest fleet of planes and is angling to compete with Ethiad and Emirates. Thankfully, they match them in style and service, without the popularity out of Australia that results in full planes.  Google tells me it’s 23 years old, where as Emirates is 32… just like me

Cheeky shot of staff in Doha airport

Firstly, I really like their colours – the predominant colour of check in staff uniforms is a deep burgundy. Once on board, there’s a little more variety – there’s a neutral light toned blouse with a motif of a horned dessert animal. I notice most, if not all, female flight attendants wear pants, which seems very forward thinking for a airline based in a more traditional society. The trousers are either navy or burgundy. Then, almost all of their staff work a navy jacket for the meal services, with a deep pleat in the back, making it quite stylish but also more movable. Overall, I feel like their uniforms run rings around Emirates, which I see as quite daggy in their odd tone of beige pin strip and a red that’s a little too gaudy. I saw one set of uniforms in Sydney airport that I’ve never seen – which appeared to be a dark brown with purple details – I’m not sure the airline, but wow – not a colour range I’d want to have to pitch.
There were Qatar branded check in staff – this seems to be less common lately, there seems to be contracting companies. I know Qatar used one or two contractors but they were outnumbered by Qatar staff. The gate check was therefore quick and smooth with minimal lines as it was well serviced for the A380.

There’s a lady curling her eye lashes… in the quiet lounge. Where I thought I’d do it too – I mean, only 7 more hours of flying to look my best for :p

Once on board and the door closed, there’s a steady stream of ‘freebies’ – a synthetic fabric pouch handed out to Economy passengers with socks (which always seems like a weird inclusion to me), an eye mask, a small toothbrush and toothpaste. I feel like there was one more item – I repackaged it and handed it back to the staff – there’s NO way I need any further freebies of this nature! I had bought my own items – and my Emirate eye mask (which may be 4 years old and from Business Class as it’s super soft). Then there’s single serve sachet’s of moist towelette – I feel weird about this being packaged, but then I’m probably deluded in thinking that a fabric hand towel or face washer being reused!! There’s also a menu handed out – as there’s two meals on such a long service.

A new drama I found thanks to in flight entertainment system

I pre-selected my seat, an aisle seat in the centre set of 4 – and the result was that I was the second person in the row – the other person at the other aisle. He was an older gentleman, whose first language wasn’t easy. So after the evening meal, I used mime to suggest my feet might creep into a third seat (near his seat) but no need for him to move his overflow of gear. Interestly, many hours later, he tried to lay down in two seats (neigh on impossible!) so I mimed he could extend to three seats as I sat upright and started watching a new TV drama (and by accident watched the episodes out of order). The TV show is called Queen Sugar – it’s produced by Oprah, so it speaks strongly to racial disadvantage, as well as some gendered barbs. As you can imagine, there’s a collection of STRONG female leads and there are male characters, but it really does feel like they play support. So I’m high fiving to that! Overall, there were more than a handful of recent films I was keen to see, in addition to TV shows I’d not heard of but interested in. With respects to music, I didn’t find anything I wanted to listen to. I suppose liking ‘Triple J’ is hard to articulate and translate elsewhere… I often struggle to find artists I like in the common categories or genres of music!

That’s a 3.30am sunrise as we land in Doha in the distance

The in flight entertainment systems appear to be the most modern I’ve seen. It’s a large flat screen with all these backlit icons which aren’t full buttons. Under the screen there’s the earphone port – tricky when eating and watching something. There’s also a USB, so I got a phone charged. There’s also another input, I’m not nerdy enough to know what it is! In addition to the main screen, there’s a smaller smart phone sized screen – which pops out, which may help with gaming.
My seat was row 54, which is still relatively close to the front of the plane as the rows ‘start’ on the top floor. I was one row away from where BOTH food services started! Some airlines are good at reversing the service the second time, so you aren’t ‘last’ both times. And I’d almost forgotten I’d requested Gluten Free meals. I’ll admit some of it was hoping to get an early service of a special meal. Nope, still lucky last! To be honest, I know it’s better for me (not eating gluten), but I’m also a little envious having seen the menu and the choices, they sounds delicious and not that gluten ridden. OK maybe the breakfast pancakes may be! In my breakfast meal, I got cling wrapped rice crackers?! I skipped them!
I’ve already learnt things, 15 hours into my trip. The inflight magazine mentioned that flights to the US it provides laptops to it’s business class travellers. Reading between the lines, it appears that flights originating from Doha/Qatar must have a US immigrations restriction, requiring all electronics to be checked. Surely a terrorism measure? Anyhow, you can ‘pick up’ a laptop and use a USB to transfer your work. I can imagine as a business person that’d be little compensation – you want certain programs potentially. And you get used to the layout of your icons and keyboard etc etc. Still – interesting and innovative response to something outside their control! The airline is also offering double sized ‘beds’ in business class, and also a configuration for up to 4 people to be able to ‘face’ on another. What a punish to travel with 3 colleagues AND need to work on the flight, in my opinion!

The statement and much photographed art piece in Doha airport

Overall, I’m pleased to try a new airline, and see what features it offers. I’m incredibly pleased that the flight is probably half full as this really helps me sleep! The plane and facilities are modern. The meals seem great, so I might adjust my order preferences and be ‘normal’ once again!! And… I also chose Qatar Airways on price. It was $1300 for a Europe return trip – into one port out of another. It is the shoulder season, being May, but it’s possibly the cheapest Europe fare I’ve ever paid (and I’ve… been to Europe a little too often for a 32 year old who doesn’t travel for work!)

Oh, and yes, I packed the laptop, and less than 24hrs in, I’m thankful I did.  It’s not been too heavy.  Still has battery life after drafting this post on the plane, and posting in airport wifi.