Monday, September 5, 2011

I guess that's what you get for flying Easy Jet!

It began with a hundred annoyed passengers, a few clueless airhostess and a very confused pilot. The plane that had been flying for over an hour wandered aimlessly in dark and stormy skies. Passengers were beginning to feel restless, some walked the length of the aisle and others tried to occupy themselves with in flight magazines and books.  Thunder and lightning pulsed outside our windows turning our plane into a target on a dart board that was the sky. Noise levels increased within the compartment as passengers exchanged worried glances over half finished sentences. The pilot himself was clueless as he steered the plane this way and that to avoid violent streaks of lightning. The plane began to bounce, turbulence.
   Passengers began striking up polite conversation with one another. The girl who had been standing in front of us at the airport and was sitting beside us in the plane would have remained a complete stranger had it not been for this delay and utter confusion. Neha (my travel buddy) turned to the girl and they began to chat. The girl, who was more than glad to put away her book, began to tell us her life story. Her name was Laura, Laura from Texas USA. She told us she was an engineering graduate on holiday by herself, before heading home to dive into the world of work. So together we were an Engineering graduate from Texas, a film student and a psychology student sitting, wondering where it goes from here. So now we were no longer just two Indian girls on a ten day trip around Europe, but a triage. 
    Moments later the plane began to go down, literally. We were no longer high up amongst clouds and stormy skies but headed towards what was later announced to be Düsseldorf, Germany. The pilot who still seemed confused said something about a storm, fuel and landing in Germany. Silence filled the compartment for a few minutes and then the roar began. In my mind I wondered if they knew we were coming, we began to discuss what would happen once we land. We were asked to grab our stuff for we wouldn’t be coming back here tonight. So it was true, they were now dumping us off at Düsseldorf airport, expected to fend for ourselves. As the door opened people pushed past one another like animals who had escaped from the zoo. The pilot stood in the aisle in case anyone wanted to chat as though flying to Germany was on our list of plans for the night!
  I know Easy Jet was a low cost carrier, but this was the height of low! Dumping innocent passengers at an unscheduled airport made to make their way alone. How the hell did they expect us to get to Amsterdam if they weren’t planning to fly us there? Passengers hurriedly piled into the terminal building only to come to a dead stop. Where the heck were we supposed to go? People looked at one another, exchanging empty glances. Everyone was talking but no one really knew what to do. Guess that’s what you get for buying 35 euro tickets!
     After much debate and argument amongst passengers, a voice on the airport speakers told us to head to the bus to stop located where, only they know! The information was of no help at all! We would have been better off if they announced it in German! We watched passengers scatter in various directions. Some headed toward the toilet, others in search of food, and some stood statue still in states of complete confusion. Our triage headed towards the baggage counter, then food, phones and the bus stand.
  It felt like we were being made to play treasure hunt. The bus was the treasure and we confused players. We walked in one direction only to be sent back to the other. Time was not on our side. Using the nearest exit we escaped out into the streets of Düsseldorf airport. For the first time since we’d been dumped here, we saw some ground staff who would help. Majority of the passengers from our flight were already seated on the floor where our bus was soon to arrive. We made a bonfire of bags and bonded with others like us.

  Along the way we met Martha & Libertad from Mexico City, Melissa of New Zeeland, Laura (whom we already knew) and Jo (Joanna) from the United Kingdom. So there we were two Indians, two Mexicans, a Britisher, an American and a New Zealander. Five different countries, five different nationalities far away from home seated around an array of bags sharing one unique story. 
  As the night progressed our bus still hadn’t appeared. We sat with our burgers, cokes, beer and a whole bunch of bags getting to know one another. When tomorrow would come we would be in different places, doing different things and this night would be nothing but a memory.  We watched as groups of passengers from fancier airlines were escorted to their buses. And later watched as they took off whilst we sat in the rain on a side walk in Düsseldorf waiting for someone to come take us away.
   It’s no secret that in India people are unable to be on time. If you ask someone to meet you at 10am, it means oh you can show up by `12! IST (Indian stretchable time) but in Europe, hell anywhere else in the world people are on time! Planes leave at their scheduled departures, schools begin at their start time, and the world revolves around being on time. So this delay by the bus companies was totally unacceptable! The airport knew we were coming, they knew how many of us, so why the hell was there such a delay? Why were people landing after us, leaving before us? It was heart breaking, every time a bus showed up people got up and grabbed their bags. It was like watching a puppy opening its eyes for the first time, heart breaking I tell you.

   After almost another hour, three double Decker buses came to a halt before us. Passengers hurried back and forth pushing to get into the bus. Parents with young children tried desperately to push past others to find a seat for their young ones. Not wanting to sit amongst whining children for the next god knows how many hours we found ourselves seats in a quiet bus. We couldn’t find the others, all of them had scattered. No matter what happened, I couldn’t afford to lose Neha! Finally we ended up with seats near one another. Laura and I sat on side of the aisle and Neha and Melissa on the other. With Martha and Libertad in front we and Joanna behind us all ended up together.
   The journey time to Amsterdam Airport no one knew. I don’t think anyone gave a dam really, we were on the bus! That was all that mattered now. Martha pulled out a huge bar of Milka which she had hoped to have on their last night in Amsterdam. Together the five of us sat eating Milka and watching the pouring rain. The smoothness of the roads lulled us into deep sleep. Melissa, Neha and I switched on our respective music devices and fell into sleep.
   It was quarter to two in the morning when the bus finally pulled up in front of Schipnol airport. Rain continued to pour; the driver popped the baggage safes and hauled bags down onto the wet side walk. Finally tired, wet, and four hours late we were at the airport. Melissa and Laura went their separate ways never to be seen again. Now the five us walked into the airport together. We were supposed to go to Amsterdam Centraal; it was 5 mins to two. The intercity that ran every one hour was leaving in 3 mins. Without thinking Martha ran to the ticket counter, dropping my back pack I followed her pulling out money. We had the tickets, now all we had to do was get to the train. We ran down the stairs, the train stood doors closed on the plat form. A man seated in a red jacket holding an empty trolley informed us that the train would leave now. No shit old man! We stood and watched as the train pulled away from the platform. The man who we had forgotten about decided to be advice us once more. “Go away please, the next train will arrive at 3am, please go upstairs I need to sleep!” Can you say Ho-bo? I guess that’s what you get for flying Easy Jet!
   Once again we trudged up the stairs to go find somewhere to sit. I know I’d been in Europe for only a week and seen only two airports, but aren’t they supposed to have coffee shops, chairs, a magazine stall, anything?? With none of the above in sight we plonked ourselves on hard benches near the entrance. So there we were five tired girls with a whole bunch of bags in a half dead airport. I bet we all wished at that moment we were Laura or Melissa. At least they had Dutch friends, nice one’s who came and picked them up at this ungodly hour. By now they must have been in a bed, or a bar or something, anything better this airport!
  The hour passed by slowly, time was mocking us. None of us had a map of Amsterdam so we had to rely on the information lady. So there you have it, five girls, one dead airport and a whole lot of backpacks.  If it weren’t for Jo and Neha we may have lost those! (Security guards who thought together these two were carrying about five bags of varied sizes) Can you say terrorists? So whilst Martha and Libertad emailed some people, I went over to information lady. Information lady, a woman in her late 60’s I’d say sat alone in a booth with her computer. I’m amazed she lived so long. After all you know what they say; people who spend their whole lives behind computers tend to die young. (If you’re wondering why, I’d say it’s probably because of utter boredom and loneliness!) But information lady was helpful. So, so helpful to Joanna she wanted to jump into the booth and hug her! Ah, that lady really was a charm! And once again we retreated to our benches and waited. Since Martha had decided it was time to capture the moment, we pulled out the cameras! And in the dark, dead airport, four girls sat, back to the platform with smiles upon their face. Finally we got on the train and rode to central station, took a taxi and went home. The end, goodbye!
   Ha-ha yeah I’m kidding, that was nowhere close to the end. The last seven hours were only the icing on the cake! We arrived at ten to three on the platform once again to find our friend waiting. “The train will arrive in 10minutes, please go upstairs, I’m trying to sleep!” He never quits, does he? I have to say Hobo was doing a good service to the night travellers of Amsterdam! We stood patiently and waited for the train to come take us away.
    Finally we were on the train. Sometimes things happen, you can’t explain why, you can’t explain how, they just happen. I guess this night, this adventure, these people, was something we couldn’t, wouldn’t be able to explain. It was now 3.02am; we had been travelling for over five hours. We were wet, hungry and tired. As we sat there we all began to laugh. Maybe it was exhaustion, maybe it was fear but something happened at the moment that none of us could explain. Tears of joy streamed down our faces and laughter filled the air. We were now laughing so hard, that we were crying! We sat at the edge of our seats listening to Joanna explain how she ended up in a dorm room, with a guy she didn’t know. (The rest of the details are a little scattered, there was something about alcohol, money and a lack of clothes!)
    Just when you think things are going to be alright, something went very wrong. The train came to a dead stop in the midst of nowhere. A sense of sadness filled the compartment; we were so close and yet so far! (No, literally, from where we stood now, we could see the lights of Amsterdam station) An announcement in what was presumably German told us to be ‘patient’ or at least that’s what we gathered. (That lady did not know the meaning of patience!) We had been patient for the last five hours and what good did that do?

   It is important to take a moment to note down the important things we had learnt by this point in our journey. First, when unsure of the food you’re buying, eat McDonalds!
Second never trust a Hobo no matter what he tells you!  And third when in doubt just remember, JESUS LOVES YOU!
    Amsterdam Central station is a beautiful place to be at 3am. The doors are locked, shops closed, not a soul to be seen. Perfect destination don’t you think? To be kidnapped, raped, murdered, god only freaking knows what else! Just what we needed to spice up the evening, locked in Amsterdam central station five girls survive the night on a bar of Milka! Can’t you see it in the headlines? I sure as hell could, what the hell we were to do now? The only exits were locked and all stair wells lead to platforms. And so in the midst of Central station five girls stood in the dark waiting once again for someone to come take them away. Destiny came that night in the form of two Dutch girls who walked in through what must have been the only unlocked doors. I guess you have to live here for a while to know the secrets of the station. And as we walked along the water’s edge, destiny called out to us once again. So as we got into our taxi we waved goodbye to the only friends we knew.

   After a brief game of ‘I told you so’ we found ourselves in the midst of a dark and lonely alley. We were nowhere close to Lutmastraat and the thought of wandering the streets in the darkness sent shivers up my spine. I tried hard not to show it but my heart was beating so fast I felt it would jump of out of my chest at that moment. If you looked carefully you may have been able to see fear coming out of my ears! Neha, my loyal and faithful companion, my travel buddy, my map was a little too calm if you ask me. She continued to roll her suitcase carelessly as we continued to walk. Moments later we arrived at an intersection. At the tip were two boys in their twenties standing shirtless smoking what could have been ‘pot’ Not wanting to stay any longer we turned the corner and headed up yet another darkened street.

   Finally, (and I really do mean finally!) we turned the corner and arrived at our destination. Now this would have been a reason for celebration (especially after the night we had) except, attached to the door frame was a small piece of paper stating that the door bell doesn’t work! Brilliant, just freaking brilliant! It was now 4am; we had been on a plane, a bus, a train and taken a taxi to the wrong street. We were wet, cold, tired and not to mention hungry! It was moments later that we realized we had been standing before the wrong house. So we walked to the next one, rung the bell with great satisfaction and waited for the door to open. The door began to rattle wildly! A light was turned on and a woman in a Kaftan appeared in the stair well. The door opened and we breathed a sigh of relief!

 Guess that’s what you get for flying Easy Jet!

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