Friday, August 8, 2008

Friends going to Scotland .

I have a some very good friends who are an awesome couple! Why can't I find a spouse like that?...has been my lament about them for many years. They have been gifted a trip to Scotland by their two sons. is that AWESOME or what! So knowing about my travels over they years, they wanted to know my thoughts/feelings/suggestions about their upcoming journey. So I sat down and created a short manifesto of things to watch for and plan for and be carefull of. When I shared it with another friend they insisted I add it to the here it is, uncensored and raw! My rambling thoughts on preparing for a first time ever European trip.

MUST DO! Make copies of your passports, and drivers licenses, and ANY credit cards that you will be carrying. Leave a copy with me and/or with the boys. In EVERY SUITCASE and EVERY CARRYON and in each others secret compartment where you will keep your passport. Have a copy of the other's passport and DL (not credit cards) DO carry with you the phone numbers to any credit cards in case you lose them and need to let them know right away. DO use your credit card to get cash from ATM's in foreign countries (it's the cheapest rate) OR the monex (money exchange in Amsterdam is usually a good place) Hotels/banks/stores are NOT a good place to try to use dollars or Euro to pay for something in Pounds, they will rape you. If something bad should happen in the world get a hold of the US consulate
Principal Officer Lisa Vickers U.S. Consulate General Edinburgh, Scotland
3 Regent Terrace Edinburgh EH7 5BW
phone: [44] (0)131 556 8315 fax: [44] (0)131 557 6023

They can tell you if it's safe to fly, etc. If something even worse should happen, get there, get out your passport and tell them "I'm an AMERICAN." They will let you in and help you. Remember it's ONLY in America that you innocent till proven guilty. Over there it's the opposite, you're assumed to be guilty and you got to get yourself out of a jam. Just present your passport, say you're an American and that you want to talk to someone from the Consulate. NO MATTER how they try to console you or tell you that they have a few questions first, just go silent except to ask to talk to someone from the Embasy!

When you return to the USA you have to itemize ALL the things that you are bringing back. It's a mess to try to figure it out in the last 1/2 hour before you land. Better to keep 2 envelopes with you. In one put all the receipts (with notation) of the things you'll be bringing back. In the other put all the receipts of things you are buying and consuming whilst "in country." Also have with you all medical cards. If you have Blue Cross/Blue shield kind of coverage, they have a web page you an go to and download a list of providers that will take your card, just like you walked into the emergency room in Crookston. It's awesome. If you have another kind of coverage, get a hold of them and find out how to handle an emergency along the path that you'll be going. BTW in the AMS airport (upstairs) there is a full on medical clinic. They have a full on pharmacy and can prescribe must anything (except aspirin...blood thinner...which is what I of course want to prevent clots...go figure) the Dr. visit is free but any drugs/services are expensive, but a great thing to know if you need it! If you don't have any insurance that works in Europe, purchase some on the internet...with a high deductable, it's relatively cheap assurance that you won't be stuck owning some foreign hospital a LOT of money, or getting refused services.

Also know that (in my humble opinion) KLM is not near as friendly as NWA in some instances. One of those is that sometimes you will run into a person who doesn't like Americans (yes a KLM employee...I hit one in Berlin last Christmas) She wouldn't let me take my perfectly legal size/weight carry on on the flight citing that it was going to be a full flight and that I had to check it through to GFK. (ironically when I got on the plane the entire bin above me was empty) My NEW computer was inside and an awesome camera. But I backed down and next time I won't. They have what they call a Gate Check. This is where you give up the bag as you get on the plane and then it's waiting for you at the bottom of the steps (or in the jetway) as you get off the plane. I demanded to do that and she refused. So I took the computer out of the bag and hand carried it all the way home, BUT forgot my heart drugs in the bag, which is how I know all about the clinic in AMS. The pisser was that after me, (I counted) 14 Germans got on with multiple carryons and oversized bags and she let them right through. I now carry the KLM and NWA baggage allowance rules with me and WON'T let that happen again!!!!

When going TO Scotland it's pretty simple. Your bags will be checked through from GFK all the will never see them again (while traveling...not "never") In MSP I recommend that you get to the gate and try to be in the QUE as soon as they call the flight. I stand right in what us Air Warriors knows as "the ZONE!" And after they call for 1st class passengers, and premier club members, and handicapped, and families and those in exit rows, then I'm the next one on the plane. Why hurry to get on a plane that's not going anywhere for 30 or 40 more minutes you ask? Because folks are taking WAY to much carryon stuff on the plane and they just start packing it ANYWHERE they can. TOO often I got to my seat with my LEGAL sized carryon and there was NO place to store it except under the seat in front of me. THEN I have no where to put my feet for the entire flight! GRRRR SO I STAKE MY TERRITORY EARLY.

On the flight from MSP to AMS You're departing in the 7pm hour I think. This is not as good as the 9:15 flight but WAY better than the 3:15 flight. Here's what you need to do. As much as you can, start waking up early in the morning and going to bed early. Remember as I type this at 4:30 pm on a Friday afternoon, it's now 10:30 pm where you're going. The more you time shift before you leave the easier it is. Then on the day of your flight, really get up early, do some physical work, a long walk, etc. Try not to get tied up in last minute rush to finish kinds of things. You'll be flying to MSP which is a 1 hour flight. 4:35-5:43 then departing MSP at 7:35 so you got some time to kill in MSP. When you take off, they'll come around the cabin with 1 set of drinks (sometimes they come a 2nd time) then they'll serve the big meal which will be high in carbs. I suck up a LOT of wine as part of this meal, and NO COFFEE, then because I've been up some hours and am tired, I try to force sleep. Do you have eye/light masks? YOU MUST HAVE them to trick your brain into darkness. If you're sleeping and the person in front of you turns on their reading light, that's enough to tell your brain WAKE UP WAKE UP, and just about when you get it settled, it will happen again. SO darkness is a BIG KEY! About an hour before you arrive in AMS they will turn on all the lights and bring around a breakfast snack, usually yogurt and a banana and juice.

A trick is...the MOMENT they turn on the lights, before the others sort of "come alive" get to a bathroom, and as part of that, do a good face wash, I even shave. It's psychological, but it's like you're body is accepting that it's a whole new day! Then enjoy breakfast. When you land, please look out of the plane a lot in the last 20 minutes. You will be soaring over all the reclaimed land of the Netherlands. It's many feet below sea level. Very fertile soil and you'll see LOTS of greenhouses!! Much of the lettuce, peppers, and such that you'll enjoy even in Scotland come from right there. Mainly cause of the international airport...things fly around the world from right below you. If you land on the "outbound" runway, (it's 10:55am) don't be in a hurry to get all ready to get off the plane, it's about a 20 minute ride to the gate, then they let the 1st class off first and ALL the people in the center cabin (remember you're in the front of the rear cabin. So there's just no reason to be in a hurry and standing shoulder to shoulder with all the "GET ME OFF THE PLANE RIGHT FRICKING NOW" crowd.

When you land in AMS just get off the plane and follow the people. You usually come in on Gate E-5 and you will wander along finally ending up at some people control pillars where you wait at the line on the floor, then go up together and give the man your passports and boarding passes. He will smile at you and do a couple of stamp stamps and you pass by into the other 1/2 of the airport. It's called PASSPORT CONTROL. Then you're in the 'local' side of the airport. Depending on your available time, it's pretty straight forward from here. There is 1/2 a chance that you will NOT have an airplane at the terminal for your next flight. You will go to the gate and you all get on city busses that have no seats in them. Then it's a mad scramble to the plane and up the outside staircase one at a time. Here's the trick. The busses always pull up so that the plane is on the drivers right hand side. The busses are long/articulated in the middle. Be about 1/2 way back in the first part of the bus and by the Right side door, and then when the swoosh open you can make a dash to be first or almost first in line up to the plane. AGAIN so that you can put your carryon stuff near you and above you. There will be a snack on that plane. Sometimes they're pretty cool so enjoy. Then you're in Scotland. You're in the EU so there should be no more TSA or stopping as you enter the country.

I got no help for you there, but I'm thinking it will be a pretty awesome time! If you should get to the baggage claim and 1 or more of your bags don't arrive, DON'T PANIC! (OK PANIC a little bit) What's great is to actually carry a printed photo of your bags, from the front, from the side, from the top. Go to the baggage claim, fill out some forms, there is a 99.9% (OK 62%)chance that your bags are on the next flight. They're going to want you to wait, or come back for them. Be STRONG in your demand to have them delivered to your hotel. It's a rule that they must (yes even to your farm in Fertile if you loose one coming back) deliver them to your home or hotel!!! This is the reason why you should actually pack a little of each others things in the other suitcase. So if only one makes it, at least you're covered for the basics.

NOW for the return trip. Unless they tell you different at EDI, your bags will be checked through to GFK BUT with one difference. When you get to MSP coming back you have to claim your bags and have them in your possession when you go through the 2nd wave of customs/immigration. Then you go through some doors, put your luggage back on a moving belt, and then go through the entire security check again before you are dumped into the MSP terminal. YIPPIE welcome to America! You'll get on the plane in Scotland and it will be much like GFK to MSP, then you will land in AMS. I think you have a little time to shop. If you like cheese, this is the time to purchase some great gouda or edam. DO NOT purchase any liquids or perfumes at the risk of loosing them in MSP. One thing you probably can do is slide them in your bags just before you put them back on the belt in MSP, because you won't be able to take them through the TSA screening to get into the airport.

HERE'S something that might take you by surprise. When you get to the departure gate in Amsterdam (and get there early) You will be in a LONG LINE! It seems like it doesn't move. Finally you will get to a gate keeper. His first question will be "how many in your party" He will look at your passports. He will write some codes on your passports. He will send you to one of 16 interviewers based on his feelings of how much interrogation you need. It seems that the worst place to get sent is the left side (his right) way in the back (plan for a body cavity search if he sends you there). If you get sent more to your right (his left) it's where they put the novice screeners who as some basic questions and move you along. This is the toughest moment of your flight. HIDE NOTHING!

In my case they always ask if you have electronics with you and I respond, "I have a BAG FULL!" This takes them by surprise cause everyone is trying to minimize. By doing that they realize that you're not trying to pull something past them. They they will ask about if you've had anything repaired in the last 90 days. The right answer is, "I've never had anything fixed, if something breaks I fix it myself or throw it!"
When you get past your screener, you will go through the new walk through scanner and your bags will be x-rayed. GET to the front of the room (remember THE ZONE) up by the gate access or 299 people will get on the plane before you!!! Again just be right up front there. BTW there's usually NO bathrooms and for sure no drinking fountains within the gate area so get everything done before you enter! Then get on your plane and stake your claim. Remember going you will be on the side of the plane that you enter on, so get on the plane, take an immediate right and go through the center cabin and you're toward the front in the back cabin. On your return you are in the same cabin but on the other side of the when you enter...cross the plane and then head back.

Coming back, sleep as you like, but it's not difficult because it's just a LONG day with 2 full nights on either end. Except for your sleep time, do get up and walk around on the ocean flights. Feel free to go to the open space between cabins and do a little exercise. I do this unashamedably and it's so ironic what I often start as the fat guy, others start following suit! Feel free to walk a big circle around the plane...all the way to the back, then across, and up to the front of the middle cabin and across and back to your seat. As you do, look around and see if you can figure out which two are the sky cops (air marshals) There will be at least two of them. You'll see them "bopping" around like they're all casual, but if you watch their eyes, they're constantly scanning the passengers. Could be young, could be as old as 55. About an hour out of MSP they'll give you some forms to fill out. You need to declare everything you're returning with that you didn't leave with. If for some reason you have more than allowed, it's better to tell them and 9 times out of 10 they'll thank you for being honest and wave you through, worst case, if you cheat and they catch you, you loose it all and get a tick by your name for flying for the rest of your life. Remember my motto...I'd rather ask forgiveness than permission! Then you'll get off the plane in MSP.

NO HURRY as you watch people even passing you as you take a LONG walk along the gateways, go downstairs and then get in a line to meet your first immigration guy. He'll ask the basic questions, just give him direct answers and look him right in the eye! A smile never hurts, remember they do this for 8 hours a day and they know that at least 1 or 2 percent of the people going by them are criminals that they are supposed to be catching. I've always found that a genuine smile with eyebrow lift really does wonders for me! After this first guy, you go to what seems like baggage claim, find your bags, this is why there's no reason to hurry, you'll always be there waiting for your bags. When you get them continue through the room to the 2nd guy, he's pretty friendly, and then you're out to dump your bags again. NO MATTER WHAT YOU DID in Scotland, DO NOT get in the "I was on a farm" or "I was hiking in the wilderness" Cause you will be stopped, questioned, have your shoes inspected, samples taken, they will want to know how to get a hold of you at your's get's UGLY. SO You didn't go to a farm, you didn't go hiking in the wilderness, you didn't touch a cow/horse/elephant. Just walked the streets of big towns. Which is what you told me you're going to do.

That's all I got for now other than you MUST ABSOLUTELY Check out the Urinals in AMS. they are not white but urine colored and there is a FLY in the porcelain on every one of them. WHY you ask? CAUSE it give the little boys (aren't we all) something to aim at, and they have definite proof that that urinal area will require 32% less cleaning/maintenance as the identical one WITHOUT THE FLY. Only the Dutch would figure this out!!

If something happens and you end up with a longer than expected layover in AMS, do NOT PANIC! but REVEL in your good luck. Assuming it's not overnight, put your carry on bags in one of the readily available lockers, take your day packs, and ID.. You'll have some euro that I'll send with you. The train station is underground right at the exit of the airport. Take the train into the CITY costs about 4 or 5 euro each way for each person. WELL WORTH IT! From the big train station you are within 1/2 mile of EVERYTHING that is Amsterdam. The canals, the xxx zone, Observe out the cabinet girls Mostly used by Brit guys. Have some Chinese food (china town to the left as you exit the station) XXX straight ahead van gough museum is a train or taxi ride. Just wander around, it's AWESOME!!! but make sure you get back to the airport at least 2 hours before your flight 2 1/2 is even better.

My mind is empty talk to you soon!