Flying high at Schiphol is a pleasant surprise

Is it a mall, maybe Las Vegas or even a culinary village. Ah, it’s Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. With over 40 million travellers each year, and rated fourth busiest airport in Europe, the airport authorities were ahead of the pack when they created a mini village as far back as mid 60s. Since then there have been many expansions relating to the needs of the peripatetic person.

To be stranded here is not a hardship. Schiphol could be considered a destination. Here’s a scenario. You’ve missed your connection, or maybe there isn’t one until next morning which means an overnight and you certainly don’t feel like trekking into Amsterdam since it’s too late and departure is early.

If a shower will revive your spirits, put you into a better mood, go directly to The Mercure Hotel in Terminal 3, ticket and passport in hand. They will have to see both as it’s located within the airport complex. Although rooms are usually pre booked, showers can be had for about CDN$15, towels and soap included. If you’re lucky enough to get a room for the ½day or overnight, prices are reasonable, approximately $50-$70.

Still feeling cranky? Right in the main corridor to the various gates, is an area filled with chairs and ‘Back to Life’centre where you can be stretched and massaged without undressing. Or try the aqua massage, in the same zone, using water pressure and pulsation frequency with 36 water jets. Again, you stay dressed for this ultra distressing machine and never get wet. Circulation is increased, aching muscles are revived and stress is reduced. Finally, you feel ready to take on the world? So just a few metres away for culture vultures is a small branch of the renowned Rijksmuseum which is located on Holland Boulevard between the E and the F pier. On permanent exhibit are Dutch masters of the Golden Age- Jan Steen, Jacob van Ruisdael and of course Rembrandt, are only a few. Temporary exhibits change every 3 months. (no admission charge). Just below on the main floor, is the museum’s gift shop so if you’ve forgotten to buy a little something, you’ll find high quality merchandise from the museum right here. Art at Schiphol is one big gallery. The red and white blocks called Meeting Place by Dennis Adams, Sigurdur Gudmundsson’s Beyond Good and Evil is humorous, the spiraling work of de Goey’s, Travellers, relates well to the airport and those are only a few of the public sculptures.

That done, feeling much better, head over to Holland Casino where there are tables and slots. And if have the kiddies with you, there are play rooms. For toddlers and up the attractions include slides and swings. Teenagers can play video games until they become blearry eyed. And for really little ones, there’s dimly lit room with cribs, perfect for them and for you. However, none of these rooms are supervised. The caveat is that parents must stay in attendance.

Although there are many restaurants and food stalls, La Brasserie ( second floor) is quite posh with white linen clothes and napkins and Mediterranean menu. The food court, of course, has everything from hamburgers to wok offerings. But when in Holland, eat herring. And on the departure level, my favourite counter has a variety of herring a choice of other seafood. There are tables nearby to sit and enjoy. Sushi lovers will be surprised by the excellence provided by the trained sushi makers. I found myself creating a pathway between the two stands.

Now for amusement with a difference. If you’re ready for an adventure, go to the toilets with A Smile at the entrance.. The Dutch aren’t known for being eccentric, but an elderly local collected miniature ceramic toilets for decades which was purchased and perfect for the witty concept that the airport authorities had in mind. Ninety ceramic ‘johns’were bought for display and encased in plastic in both the ladies and gents. These bathrooms are really creative works of art. Another which brings a smile to even the grouchiest traveller, is for men who will be doubly amused to find city buildings painted on the walls “It’s the only place in Amsterdam where you can’t get arrested for urinating in front of a building,”my guide Marianne, tells me. After insuring ourselves that there was no one in the space, we snuck in to see the famous bees etched in the urinals. “Nobody misses their aim with this insect,”Marianne laughs. Meanwhile on the other side is the women’s which is also a delight. – soft ocean sounds, real grass and huge mural of sea and sand.

Since Schiphol is a hub for business people, the communication centre is fully equipped. For those who want complete privacy, small offices can be rented out. Nearby is the Meditation Centre. Muslims, Jews and Christians can have services or meet with a minister of their faith.

After one very frustrating with several delayed departures, I finally arrived and had a long lay over until my next flight. After showering, ( this in the business class lounge of KLM), I needed a new top and pants to get me to South Africa and discovered that shopping is made for the tireless consumer. There’s everything from high tech to high fashion, diamonds to deli, cigars and wine. This one stop shopping has something for every one.

And I stepped off the plane in Johannesburg gleaming, well rested and fresh as a new born baby.