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With Lori Rackl

Long layovers in airports: Should I stay or should I go?

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Thumbnail image for DSC_0030.JPGAMSTERDAM, Netherlands -- It's an age-old traveler's dilemma: You have a long layover in the airport. Do you wait it out or venture into town for some sightseeing?

I chose the latter when my mother and I recently had five hours to kill between flights at Amsterdam's Airport Schiphol, where long layovers are common.

There are plenty of worse places to be stuck. Schiphol ranks No. 8 among the world's best airports, according to Skytrax, a research firm that surveyed nearly 9 million travelers. The airport is packed with amenities (pedicure, anyone?), including a small branch of the world-famous Rijksmuseum, with free admission. But what I appreciated most was how easy and quick it was to escape to the city.

The train ride from the airport to Amsterdam's Central Station, which puts you right downtown, takes about 15 minutes. Hear that, CTA?

We put our carry-on bags in a locker for 5 euros ($7), walked a short distance to the train station in the airport and paid about $10.50 apiece for round-trip train tickets into town. In no time we arrived at Central Station, just a couple of blocks from the myriad canal boats offering hourlong tours -- the perfect way to see the city.

Since we arrived very early Sunday morning, the canal tours hadn't started yet.

"Should we go to one of those coffee shops? Isn't that what you do here?" asked my mom. Mom doesn't drink coffee and, as far as I know, doesn't dabble in Amsterdam's more notorious coffee shop offerings. So we spent the morning walking over the canal bridges, admiring the colorful houseboats and pointing out evidence -- mostly in the form of discarded Heineken bottles -- of what must have been a rowdy Saturday night.

We meandered past Anne Frank's house, where people were lining up before the 9 a.m. opening. Canal cruises also start at 9 a.m., so we squeezed one in ($17) before grabbing one of the frequent trains headed back to the airport.

How have you made the most of an airport layover?

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When on long layover in the States and Canada, check out, and look for people who will be in the airport at the same time as you. Use the Affiliations filters to find friends, or make friends with folks who went to the same university, same employer, etc.
There is also an Airport Shops & Restaurants list, in the Tools section, to find the best places to shop or eat while waiting to board your next flight. Other tools include weather info and airport delay status.

I too, have experienced long layovers at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. I travel to Egypt every year or so to work as an archaeological photographer. I plan the layover to serve as a rest break in the middle of a very long trip coming and going. I book a room at the Mercur Hotel in the airport. I dump my carry ons, shower, take a lying down nap (I don't/can't sleep on the plane) and then venture out into downtown Amsterdam.
Not only is the train as convenient, speedy and inexpensive as you say, but great way to meet interesting folks. I have spent time at the Anne Frank museum, lunching at the myriad of pubs, coffee houses etc., but also make a point of stopping by a local grocery store to stock up on goodies for the next leg of my flight(s).
The canal boats are fun , as is visiting the Cathedrals, which surround the Red Light district, which also an interesting combination of activities. With an average layover of 10 hours, I can and often do wander farther afield visiting other areas within an hour or so from Amsterdam. I was ablr to visit a tulip greenhouse in January. A nice way to prepare for sub-zero Chicago weather awaiting my return.
In short, I never bemoan a layover, but plan ahead via on-line research, word mouth from fellow travelers etc. The time invested before hand always pays off.

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This page contains a single entry by Lori Rackl published on September 1, 2009 3:55 PM.

Should Congress limit the size of carry-on luggage? was the previous entry in this blog.

Southwest's new $10 early boarding fee - will you pay it? is the next entry in this blog.

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