Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Actually, The Longest Day continued until we finally took off from Dulles at 11:45 pm, three hours late. MA was asleep before the wheels cleared the tarmac. David was unwillingly awake until around 2 am “body time” but finally caught a few hours of fitful sleep before we landed at Keflavik Airport in Reykjavik at 5:30 am.
Every other Icelandic plane was landing at about the same time. For reasons which were never given to the passengers, the planes could not land before 9 am Iceland time [4 hours ahead of Baltimore]. Do the math and you will see that our flight was 5 hours and thirty minutes. We had another 90 minutes to wait until the plane to Amsterdam departed, so we hung out near the boarding gate.
When we were last in Reykjavik, it was a sleepy little airport with fewer than 10 gates. Now, there appear to be in excess of 35 gates. The little waiting area we remembered has transformed into a shopping mall complete with Brookstone and Starbucks. There are several sit-down restaurants as well as fast-food outlets. Where once it was a silent airport – no announcements were made for anything -- now there are last-minute calls for missing passengers. The flights themselves are still not announced; passengers are expected to watch the electronic signs telling them gate numbers and times. Our flight went from “report to gate” 9:45 to “last call” at 10:30 with no “boarding” announcement in between. [As a result of this policy, there were quite a few individuals and even families making a mad dash to board because they had not paid attention.]
The onward flight was, fortunately, uneventful. The delayed flight was posted for 11 am and we were in the air by 11:15. We were served lunch [veal chop for her, fish for him] shortly after take-off and then spent the rest of the 3+ hours reading or playing games on our electronics. We were wheels down at 4:05 local time [10:05 am in Baltimore]. We wandered like nomads through the Schipol Airport desert [the place is huge] to the baggage claim area and then had to wait even longer for our 3 suitcases to appear on the luggage belt; they were among the last to arrive. We joined the queue to stroll through Customs since we had nothing to declare and walked to the Arrivals Hall, as it is known. Much to our relief, there was a man holding a Vantage sign waiting for us. The three of us walked to his waiting van and he whisked us away to the ship which is docked near Centraal Station in old Amsterdam. We were on board at 5:30.
We were shown to our cabin and waited for the luggage to be brought to us. Once everything had been delivered, we headed to the lounge where there was an informational meeting already in progress. Even though we were the last of the 130 passengers to board the ship, we were not the last ones to appear at the meeting. The captain, cruise director and concierge all spoke about the services they provide for the “guests.” It was pretty standard stuff as river cruises go – we will meet each night before dinner to hear about the next day’s activities and any options which are available. For example, the concierge, a licensed guide, will conduct walking tours of some of the towns we will visit including one tomorrow afternoon in Rotterdam. He calls them “2 euro tours” because that is the cash price.
The Vantage Navigator is luxurious compared to the Avalon ship we had in 2008. It seems longer, wider and more plush. Of course, length and breadth are limited by the size of the canals and locks the boat traverses, so it might not really be longer or wider but it is definitely more extravagant. From the 2-storey atrium to the hair-dresser, this is not the previous generation of river boats. In 2008, we had to choose dinner entrees the night before so the staff knew what to order; here, we will be given a printed menu at lunch and dinner and be able to order from it. Service tonight was impeccable and the food drew praise from everyone at our table [her, vegetable paella; him, roast pork]. Although we did not particularly like our dinner companions, we had no major problems. Since there is one "open" seating – no reserved tables – we will look for new people tomorrow.
Tomorrow’s activities include trips either to Delft or Gouda in the morning followed by free time in Rotterdam in the afternoon. There will be the previously mentioned 90-minute 2 euro tour, but we plan to rest and relax. We have spent time in Rotterdam with our friend Edwin who will figure prominently in this journal beginning May 3. Because other Dutch friends are spending the day with us in Delft the day before we return to Reality, we have opted to visit Gouda.
In other developments, there is only one US style outlet in the room to keep our computer, tablets, Kindle and tablets charged. Luckily, David brought a multi-outlet strip anticipating this kind of problem. Unfortunately, the wall outlet does not accommodate a 3-prong grounded plug. Luckily, again, David has a universal adapter which allowed him to plug in the strip. At this writing, there have been neither sparks nor flames, but it’s only Day 1. But the best news of all is that wi-fi is free! The down side is that it may not always work well as we travel the rivers between Amsterdam and Antwerp.
Tomorrow – Gouda and Goofing Off