Saturday, April 20, 2013

shape-shifting schiphol

     Photo: jpmm

I am what may be called a middling traveller. I have travelled further than some people and not nearly far nor often enough as many to be considered seasoned. For me, airports have generally ranked pretty low in the popularity poll, down there with malls and large megastores where I feel as if humanity has been sucked out with the air.

And then I landed at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport and fell in love. And then I landed there again and fell in love all over again. And now, I would gladly spend five hours there on a layover than travel to another closer airport on a mind-numbing bus ride.

In 2013 it has been named the best European airport for the second year running, and moved up a place to number three of the top five airports in the world, the only airports topping it to be found in Asia, where I have never travelled. What makes it special? Well, it doesn't feel like an airport -- it feels like a visit to a spa or your own personal hotel. Wherever one walks the building opens up and shifts and changes to reveal little pockets of repose and sanity, wonderful, endless imagination and splendid design.

The spaces all seem set up to make a person relax, in whatever way they would like. On an upper level are rows of overstuffed chairs available to sleep in, cushy lounges with faux fireplaces, uniformed massage therapists ready to knead knots out of muscles. Need a shower? They are available for a small fee. Need to pray? There is a non-denominational meditation center with prayer rugs and other amenities available. Want to gamble? There is a casino discreetly tucked away on one side. Are the kids ready to rumble? There is a kids' forest playroom and a mother's quiet area. There are computers available for easy hire and a free library. There is a branch of the famous, newly reopened Rijks Museum with free, changing exhibits of the Dutch Masters.

Hungry? The dining areas ease around each other, with healthy and desirable choices laid out at good prices. The Dutch Kitchen, my favourite with its Delft pottery scheme, offers individually made omelettes among choices of sandwiches that include fresh salmon on rustic bread. Even the McDonalds (of which I've seen two) are inviting, quiet places.

                     Photo: mooste

Photo: tennanval           
The library

Photo: a.currell
'Delft' tables at the Dutch Kitchen

Photo: kannenberg
Branch of the Rijks Museum
Photo: a.currell

Rembrandt's The Night Watch -- watch shoppers caught by surprise
as this painting re-enacted for the reopening of the Rijk's Museum

Photo: mooste
At the arrivals gate -- where I haven't personally been

If you find yourself at the airport for a long stayover you can make the twenty-minute trip by train into Amsterdam. You can do it on your own or hook up for tours that will take you on city excursions and return you to the airport. I haven't even made it to Amsterdam yet. I'm pleasantly stuck at Schiphol, always finding something new -- seeing a painting I've never seen before, finding out that Rembrandt was really a rebel and realizing I know nothing about him.

If I find Schiphol fascinating, I'm guessing I will like Amsterdam as much and more. My brother and sister-in-law will be there for a day visit in May to kick off their European business/holiday. I will make it there, hopefully, some time this year as a weekender. You'll just have to kick me out of the airport.