Want to visit Holland? Go by bike.
As some of you may know I am a Dutch person living in Germany since 2001. This week I had the privilege to go to Holland on business and learn how the country can be to visitors. For the Holland loving people out there, you might want to skip this post, since it is not going to be very friendly.
The preparation of my trip started in Stockholm. The goal was to work in Stockholm on Monday and Tuesday, go to Holland on Tuesday, work there on Wednesday and then go back to Stockholm again. If that sounds stressful to you, you may join the club, but hey, I’m not complaining about that part of the trip at the moment.
Step 1: getting a ticket at the KLM website
This should be trivial, I thought. Just a question of entering www.klm.nl, filling out the form and pressing something like “submit” should take care of it. Have a look at screen and try to figure it, remember we want to book from Arlanda (Stockholm) to Schiphol (Amsterdam) and back again.
Can’t see how to do it? You are not alone! I actually had to write a mail to the KLM servicedesk to find out how one can select Arlanda as the departure airport. It is all very easy: you just have to change the language to Swedish! Proof is in the screen below.
Why a Dutch person has to change a language to anything but Dutch on the website of the Royal Dutch airlines, to book a flight to Holland is completely beyond me. But hey, I claim to speak at least three languages, so this should not be a problem for me.
I have to say that the service on the airplane was excellent, even when you, like me, fly cattle class. A great relieve after three weeks of no-on-the-plane-service-whatsoever-unless-you-pay-a-premium ™ when you fly with SAS.
Step 2: getting to the hotel and eating on the way
After arriving in Schiphol I needed to get on the train to Rotterdam. I got myself a ticket for “Rotterdam Alexander” at the machine and found the right platform. At the platform I noticed that Holland now features high-speed Trains as well. The signs indicated that an extra ticket was needed for these trains so I tried to find out where to get such a ticket. I asked two persons, both told me they had no idea. They also told me that the high-speed was not a big success since: a. it is almost impossible to get tickets and b. prices are too high.
Needless to say: I settled for the “normal” train.
In the train I noticed that I had made a mistake. The return flight was booked for the 31st of March and the idea was that I would come back at the 30th of March. How it happened, I really don’t know, I just blame it on the KLM website that got me kind of frustrated.
With a little help from Tanja, I called KLM to change my ticket. Costs 167 Euros. Bang there you have it: don’t make a mistake ’cause it is way too expensive. If an airline sells your seat to someone else, so you can’t fly, they will pay you 150 Euros, however if you make a mistake it will cost you more than that.
After arriving in Rotterdam I went straight to Dudok to order myself some food. I asked the waitress what I could eat and was informed that the kitchen closes at 21:00, I was 15 minutes late. Oh well, I waited for my colleague and had a beer. We discusses a bit about the next day and then we went to take the metro.
Step 3: the OV chip card
Maybe you remember I bought a train ticket to “Rotterdam Alexander”. Back in the days when I was still living in Holland you could use that ticket to get on the metro as well. Those days are long gone, the Rotterdam metro now has the OV chip card.
The OV chip card can be regarded in a couple of ways:
- An easy way to have a flexible pay system for all kinds of public transportation.
- A good way to track the mobility of your citizens
- A good way to make money on tourists
- A cheap way to travel, since you can completely hack your card and travel for free
I ran into the third option: since I only needed a single ticket I was charged 3.50. That charge is for two hours of travelling. Even if you only need five minutes.
Step 4: more fun with trains
After a successful meeting I went back to the train. I’ve found two connections that would get me back to Schiphol on time. I left the office on time and arrived at the platform on time. The only problem was that there was no ticket machine on my side of the platform. So I first had to go all the way to the other end of the platform, down the stairs to find a ticket machine. Hence, I missed my first train.
No problem, I thought, I will just get the second connection and go for the high-speed train, things will be fine. So I entered the requested data on the ticket machine, only to find out that it would not accept “Maestro” cards – a reason was not give. I’ve tried all three machine, but no luck there. Small train stations in Holland do not have any persons selling tickets anymore, so I kinda was afraid that I needed to have a discussion on the train and maybe even pay the extra 35 Euros for not having a ticket.
Luckily an old lady, helped me out and told me that tickets are available at the local Albert Heijn to go (another Dutch phenomena I could blog about, suffice to say: it is a small supermarket). I asked the guy for an additional ticket for the high-speed train. According to him, he could only sell me four of those tickets, not one. So I kindly declined and settled on a ticket for a “normal” train.
My second connection came on time, so I had no worries, it is only a short ride from Alexander to Central Station. At Blijdorp the train stopped and halted five minutes, so I missed my connection.
Now there was a real need for the high-speed train. I asked someone working for the Dutch train system and he told me that I could the tickets at the other end of the station at the counter. So I ran through the station and entered the tickets office.
At the tickets office there was a special counter for the high-speed train. Behind the counter was a woman. She was very busy with things. I couldn’t tell what those things were, but the things stopped here from helping the people who were waiting for her counter. And since the high-speed trains are operated by another company, you can not use any counter to get the ticket… NO, you have to wait for the things to be sorted. After five minutes I had to give up, there was no way I could make it to the high-speed train on time. (I learned afterwards that the ticket machines have an option to buy the tickets for the high-speed train. You “just” have to press the “FYRA” button. If you’re not from Holland chances are you have no clue what “FYRA” means, at least that is what happened to me).
So I settled, again, for a “normal” train and knew that there would be a large time pressure on the rest of my schedule.
Step 5: getting on the plane
I arrived at Schiphol at 16:05, my plane was leaving at 17:00 and I still had to get my changed ticket. I went straight to the KLM ticket office. I got to a desk rather quickly but to hand me out the ticket the guy at the desk had to press about a zillion keys on his keyboard. After he was done, he explained that he also had prepared my boarding pass for me. Which I did appreciate. He also told me that the ticket would not cost me 167, as I was told on the telephone, but 174,50, since I was paying with credit card and not with a Dutch bankcard. I argued that I had already paid those 7,50 when I booked online, but the rules seem to be that you have to pay that money every time you transfer money to KLM through credit card.
I dropped off my bagage at the counter and ran forward to security: a huge line awaited me. I showed my boarding pass to the girl guarding the queue and told her that I had doubted that I could make it to the gate on time. She told me not to worry, since it would only take ten minutes to get through security.
It took me 20.
I ran to the gate and arrived there at 17:02, two minutes after the official departure time. The ladies at the gate explained that with KLM you have to be on the plane ten minutes before it leaves, else you will very probably run into the problems that I faced. I mumbled something like: I’ve never seen a plane NOT wait for five minutes, but since I also could see the plane leave in the background I decided that nothing would probably help me in this situation.
The next plane leaves only four hours later and the nice KLM lady, responsible for my rebooking, did not charge me extra for that, although she should have.
So why the bike, what about a car?
The feeling I get when I am in Holland is that the country might be nice, if you live there and you accept the way of the Dutch. If you can’t do that for any reason (you don’t want to, or you don’t live there) they will charge you for everything. Don’t have a Dutch bank card, only a credit card? we’ll charge you!
The same goes for parking a car: you can chip at most parking spots, something that only works with a Dutch bank card. If you don’t have one: parking houses are your best bet, or stay far away from the center.
The only transportation that does not cost extra for people who live abroad is: the bike. I am sure they are working on it though.