Europe Echelon: Amsterdam – Zaandam

When you’re in motion, you don’t think – you do what you have to do.

But what happens when it stops? After more than 15 hours of flight, I found myself here: at the quiet, dull, whitewashed interior of Schiphol airport’s baggage claim hall. Most passengers arriving from Paris travel light, and quickly reform with the crowds outside. A few stay put, me included – waiting for the rickety chains of black rubber to stir. It kindles, the discomposed jolt arouses an anticipatory attention as all eyes shifts to the murky, oscillating tongue. Despite my fairly frequent expeditions, I’m quite the dumb frat when it comes to identifying my belongings. If I can’t even remember what my property looks like after a 2-hour hop to Bangkok, I sure as hell won’t recall what my bags look like after a 14-hour marathon. What might seem like an easy task for regular folk, is an ardous task for me. Fortunately, I’ve gotten a little smarter – noting down key features down in my phone, legible only to me. I pick up my navy black trunk, and head into Amsterdam.

The landside arrivals hall of Schiphol airport is nearly synonymous with the airport’s transportation centre, and most associated with the eponymously named train station. While the airport was sleepy and nearly devoid of any beings, the centre is a hive of activity. As per instructions on the hotel’s navigation pages, which seemed pretty straightforward, I attempted to buy a ticket from the Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS) vending machines. It was user-friendly enough, even in Dutch, but it only accepted coins (which I’d find out most, if not all vending machines only accept coins), and being unfamiliar with Euro coins, I was frequently reset. I didn’t give up – I refused to, and only stopped when I realized I didn’t have enough coins to make the 11 Euro journey to Zaandam station. Eventually, I crossed the concourse of the station to the manned ticket counters, and was quickly dispensed with a ticket.

Using the NS network is pretty simple. Before you head to the platforms, check the train service information display screens – look out for your station on the list, for example, Amsterdam Centraal, and head to the platform for the earliest arrival. Regardless of service, Sprinter or Intercity, you’ll be charged the same. Note that if your station isn’t listed on the service (even if it’s on the same line), it won’t stop.

Scenes at Schiphol railway station.

I’m not joining the tourists, literally.

Aboard my mostly empty train.

As I stood at the platform, waiting in the 1 deg C cold – watching trains bound for Amsterdam Centraal departing every three minutes or so, for twenty minutes – it suddenly dawned on me that my hotel wasn’t in Amsterdam, but was in fact, in a northwestern suburb outside the capital. “What the hell was I thinking”, reflecting on my decisions weeks before. I surmised that based on the fares I was paying to get to Zaandam from Schiphol, I was better off staying at the Ibis in Centraal – I made a mental note to stay inside Amsterdam the next time I visited. This worried me: I didn’t have the luxury of splurging, so I couldn’t just do it spontaneously – I didn’t have the flexibility of using my hotel as a rest-stop and Wi-Fi zone. I had to plan my visits to Amsterdam wisely.

When my train bound for Zaandam finally arrived, I must admit: I was kinda weary. Fewer than five people were aboard the train, and in Europe, that’s a dangerous situation. Fortunately, the commute was pretty quick, and Zaandam turned out to be a pretty pleasant neighborhood. The hotel, Inntel Hotel Zaandam, was located beside the station and radiating from the hub was a pedestrian retail mall which stocked all the big names from H&M to Primark, and even a McDonald’s for good measure.

View of the mall from my room.

Zaandam is located in Zaanstad, the birthplace of the windmills and Dutch identity as we know it.

Surprisingly good toilet.

Maybe, this wasn’t so bad after all.

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