Monday, April 21, 2014

Dispatches from the Netherlands

April 21 2014

I arrived here at 11:25AM local time from Detroit for a week’s visit of our IAPCHE member institutions. I have always travelled through Amsterdam but never quite visited the Netherlands so this is a good trip for me. My colleagues in the Netherlands have put together a good plan for my visit. After clearing with immigration I went downstairs in the Schiphol Airport baggage claim area to pick up my suitcase and then went through the green line for nothing to declare customs check. I walked into the hall way where I saw a few people with names of passengers they were waiting for but not the kind of numbers one would see in, say, an East African airport. I had been given good instructions on how to navigate my way around so I went to look for a train ticket to Utrecht where I am spending my first night. I found a train ticket machine and followed the steps but it turned out my transaction did not go through.
I reverted to the more trusted method, a real person behind a counter. That too did not work as the teller told me she could only take cash or use a bankcard with a chip. I did not have cash or a card with a chip. I asked her where I could find an ATM and she directed me. I withdrew some cash and went back to her since she had already printed my train ticket to Utrecht. I paid for it and went to the train platform to wait for my train. Boarded train along with other people many of who had landed at Schiphol as well. I found a seat and made myself comfortable.
I even realized I had access to Internet on the train so I read some email messages since I had half an hour of travel time from Schiphol to Utrecht. 20 minutes into the ride the train conductor walks in and checks all passenger tickets. He gets to me and checks my ticket then pauses a little and says to me, “you are seating in first class and you have a second class ticket.” Ooops! I told him I did not know which was which since I have never rode a train in the Netherlands before. He waves me to stay after asking if I am going to Utrecht. As you can see on the right I have been traveling a little while but cannot complain having my first class experience. Next time I have to find out what train car I belong to before boarding because I don’t think I can get that lucky again. Alighted at Utrecht Centraal station and followed the instructions given to me to get to the NH Hotel in Utrecht. I already like the hotel (see my room on the right) and will enjoy my time here for the day. Tomorrow I head out to Ede, the following day to Zwolle, then Groningen, and end up in Gouda. I guess that is a good sense of parts of the Netherlands. First thing I did when I got into my room was to get set up to use the Free Wi-FI on the hotel which is quite good. It seems like this connectivity is the most important way of life for those of us with the abilities to travel and have access to computer, smart phones, and tablets that can use the Internet. It is quite interesting how these places all seem to be so much the same despite being so far apart. I do not speak Dutch but I seem to get around pretty well in English, including asking for directions from a person working at a food kiosk in the train station. English has truly become the international lingua franca. I remember being able to navigate my short visit to Hungary in English as well. And then the rooms all seem to use plastic entry keys. Is this what globalization looks like? Let's wait and see what the other days bring.

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