Tostis, Trams and Tulips: Our Week in Amsterdam

As a self-proclaimed expert in all things travel, I’ve taken the liberty of categorizing  tourists into two distinct groups : Box checkers and Absorbers. 2a17imBox checkers are busy. They visit 12 countries in 15 days, stop at every Rick Steves’ recommended tourist trap they can find and constantly harass the concierges with statements like, “we want to go where the locals eat.” Their primary objective is to put a completed stamp through every item on their bucket list including their hand-picked list of destinations without taking the time to actually experience what each place has to offer. This group has also been known to interject their travels into every conversation, think that a pair of Merrells and khaki socks will help them blend in and come home with an annoying habit of saying they had a great “holiday” instead of vacation.

The absorbers are the more laid back, enjoy the scenery, smell the roses type crowd. Their approach to travel is to soak in as much of a destination as possible; really trying to get a feel for every place they choose to visit. Snapseed copy 2This, of course, is the group I more identify with and why I’m not spending a paragraph making fun of their quirks and habits! This trip took my wife and I to Amsterdam, the canal covered, leaning house, jewel of the Netherlands that should absolutely be on the destination list for box checkers and absorbers alike. It’s charming scenery and friendly atmosphere made it a great place to visit; even for pessimistic and overly sarcastic travelers like me!

Alright, let’s get the annoying part over with: No, we didn’t smoke weed nor did we solicit services from the “ladies of the night” while in Amsterdam. I know…weird, right? Who wouldn’t want to travel halfway across the world to use a drug that is readily available everywhere else on the planet and potentially contract a venereal disease. emma-stone-wayfarer-sunglasses-easy-aIt’s a true shame that when you mention that you are traveling to or just returned from Amsterdam, the aforementioned activities are the first things asked about followed by a series of IQ lowering puns and chuckles. Much like the unsuspecting high school girl whose notoriety is sealed after just one back seat handy during the homecoming parade, Amsterdam suffers from a reputation that just never seems to go away. Even if the distinction is without merit (yeah right Nancy…you two were just “talking”), clearing that stink off and starting with a clean slate is a tough thing to do.

All that aside, Amsterdam exceeded our expectations on all fronts. Not that we had bad impressions going in, it’s just been my experience that this city is mostly a stopover on a long European itinerary and never a primary destination. The good impressions started at the airport (of course, I would mention that!). Schiphol Airport is an amazing facility. E8C0974E-5A4F-4617-84C0-B55905412BA2-420-0000001B057EFCA9It’s basically a shopping mall, train depot, supermarket and corporate business park all rolled together with a few hundred planes flying in and out in the background. Even the taxis were impressive. We rolled into town in a brand new Tesla Model X driven by a well-dressed, an extremely efficient chauffeur. It actually makes me feel bad for the Dutch people who visit America only to be met by taxi fleet made up of beaten up, old Buicks and minivans that smell like cigarettes, body odor and bad decisions.

 

I’m not going to bore anyone with every tiny detail of our trip but we our plan was to explore, experience and see as much of the city as we could. We opted out of the over-crowded, mass produced tour boats and instead took a nighttime tour on a private cruiser operated by Leemstar. hdrThis was a great way to see Amsterdam while also learning a good amount of history from our very charming and knowledgeable captain, Arnout. Not only did he point out the various interest spots, he dove into the rich heritage of the city with little anecdotes we never would have picked up on our own. As much as I would have enjoyed being packed in to a glass-topped, floating oven with a hundred of our closest friends, going the route of a classy and very much more pretentious private tour is more my style!

Coming from a car-centric part of the world, I’ve always enjoyed the public transit options in Europe. Amsterdam was no stranger to this and have many to choose from. Buses, trams, trains and even an underground rail (which is hard to believe since the entire country is basically underwater). Snapseed copy 5The trams were definitely our favorites. Think above-ground subways cars, hovering through the streets and completely ran on electricity. They were fast, efficient and you could count the seconds between one taking off and another one approaching. We learned quickly not to be in a hurry to catch the tram…sometimes they were actually sitting on top of each other.

The other transportation phenomenon in Amsterdam are bicycles. Oh my! Bikes were everywhere. They had dedicated lanes all throughout the city just for bikes (and mopeds) which were really where you had to pay the most attention when crossing the road. mr beanFor the safety of everybody in this city, we didn’t even dare rent bikes and try to navigate around. Within the first five minutes I would have caused a massive pile up that would have ended in nothing less than an international incident. The bikes definitely ruled the road and cars would yield to them on demand. That is so much different than in America where we have an unwritten points-system for how many cyclists you can take out on your daily commute!

When we booked the trip, we were ignorant to many things. One, it was the spring holiday season including May Day (the EU’s version of Labor Day) and the week leading up to Liberation and Remembrance Days. These are times the country celebrates the end of WWII and pays homage to those who lost their lives. Snapseed copyThis was also the height of tulip season which we learned the Netherlands is the largest producer of tulips in the world. We therefore took a day trip to Keukenhof Gardens and were blown away the grounds. Over 7 million bulbs make up the garden and are arranged in very unique and and varying displays which seem to have no end. As beautiful as it was, I think I’ve had my fill of flowers for the next few years!

In conclusion, any chance you get to spend time in Amsterdam…take it and take it all in. History, beauty, good food (tosti’s are the perfect light lunch) and, yes, the ability to sin on multiple levels are all available in one amazing spot. A big thank you to all the great people who helped make this trip a success and we hope this is not the only time we’ll spend time in your city. Until we meet again!

-DPW

Snapseed

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Five Reasons Americans are the BEST Tourists!

Every six months or so I see an article about the terrible behaviors of American tourists traveling abroad. As a long-time domestic traveler, I just took those at face-value since I wasn’t able to confirm or deny any of the claims made by the authors. Now that my travels have hit the international circuit, I have to say that my perspective has changed and I’m no longer sure that those articles really carried a lot of water. low toleranceAre we really as bad as they say or do the authors just have a low tolerance level for those not from their own homeland? I suspicions are towards the latter and I’ve created this post to explain why.

Americans, like any other visitor to a foreign country, are going to be lost especially in regards to local customs and behaviors that differ from their own culture. No place is every going to be exactly like home and no tourists is ever going to be exactly like a local neighbor. Therefore, I have decided to break the mold of travel writers and provide some evidence on why American are the BEST tourist in the world. I mean, we claim to the best at everything else so why not keep it going on the world stage!

1. Respecting Space
I’ve read that the United States is the land of abundance. Huge food portions, gigantic egos and cars that are bigger than some houses are just a few examples of the American obsession with size. Although, those can be seen outright, one thing we have in great abundance is personal space. According to the World Bank, Americans enjoy 5,000 square meters of open space per resident. This means that every person in the country could spend their time doing donuts in their own personal school parking lot and never hit another car. We like space…a lot!

Many popular travel destinations can be completely opposite. Not only for the country or city itself, but also for those who travel from even more dense areas. People from these places just grow accustom to being so close to everyone else which also means they have no issue violating the personal space of others. close talkerThey’re not doing it to be rude, it’s just they’re way of life. Americans on the other hand will do just about everything we can to maintain the space around us. We also do our best to extend that courtesy to everyone else. Breathing on other people’s necks, touching while riding public transit and even kneeing people in the butt who move too slow (yes, that happened to me) is taboo. If you happen to see some Americans wondering down the streets on your hometown, you can guarantee they will keep their distance. And be thankful!

2. Money to Spend
America has a lot of space while at the same time, we also have a lot of money. We are by no means the richest country in the world (despite what many actually believe) but our personal income does rank in the top five. Add the fact that our tax rate is lower than most of the other countries on the list and you will see that, in most cases, Americans have more expendable income to burn…and we love to spend it!

In 2016, Americans spent over $123 billion on international travel. Only second in the world to China. When we come to your home, we come packing…with cash! Not only do American’s spend, we will buy all the cheap, mass-produced tourist crap you can throw at us with as much of a markup as you can handle. This along with our obsession and having an “authentic” experience is where the locals can rake in the big bucks. leaning towerOf course, by our standards, authentic refers to doing the exact same thing that thousands of other people have already done (and already posted on Instagram) yet for some reason we still think it’s special. Venice gondola drivers figured this out years ago and the price tag for them paddling you down a sulfur smelling canal with 5,000 of your closest friends has skyrocketed. Be on the lookout world, whatever experience spot your locality has to offer then Americans are your cash cow…one photo at a time!

3. We Don’t Hold Grudges
One thing America is really good at is pissing off the rest of the world (there I said it!). We come by this naturally. Our country started because a bunch of old, business men got tired of drinking tea and decided to chuck boxes of it into the ocean and start a war. peaceFrom that point on, it was just one fight after another. Great Britain, Mexico, Germany, Austria, Vietnam, Iraq…you name, we’ve fought it. Yet despite all this aggression, we for some reason have a burning desire to visit the countries we have either beaten down, or those who have handed us our own asses and told us to go packing. It seems like we have a middle school mentality when it comes to warfare; you fight, get up, shake hands and move on to get a juice box!

Out of the top international destinations for American travelers, the ones where we have fought extensive and bloody wars have steadily grown in popularity. Over the last few years, American tourism to Vietnam has increased over 30% making it one of the most popular places in Asia. And it’s not just the generations to come after the war traveling to these areas. Many veterans and even tours specifically for veterans of foreign wars are the ones heading there the most. This just shows that although we may be the world bully ever now and then, we’ll eventually let our defenses down and go enjoy the destination…maybe as a way to say, “Hey man, I’m sorry!”

4. Obsession with Sanitation
Every suitcase, carryon, backpack, purse, fanny pack or satchel either carried, dragged or worn by an American tourist contains one item in common…hand sanitizer. You will never find an American anywhere in this world without at least one tube of jellied alcohol stashed somewhere in their luggage. 457821This is just a single example of how crazy we are about sanitation and the lengths we will go to so that nothing funky from somewhere else in the world enters our bodies without at least having to wade through a sea of anti-bacterial, -viral, -parasitic concoctions.

Like Starbucks, shopping malls or commercials advertising pharmaceuticals, sanitation is just part of the American lifestyle. It’s forced-fed into our brains from the minute we pop out of the womb and continues throughout our lifetime. We take this mentality with us when we travel overseas by means of anti-bacterial products, preventative medications, water filters and even face-masks on some occasions. Of course, there are plenty of locations where precautions are needed and anyone traveling to these regions should take heed. Americans just seem to take this (like everything else) to the next level. Another tip to the locals: If you want a quick hand wash without going to the restroom, just look for the nearest Yank…we got you covered!

5. Discovering our Roots
One hot-button political issue in America over the last decade has been immigration. Depending on whichever polarizing media outlet you choose to frequent, this can either be a good or bad thing. The funny thing about U.S. immigration is that if you really stop and think about it, we’re all immigrants from somewhere (and no, that is not me taking a position…). That very fact (although, hated by one side of the aisle) makes for a great reason to travel. Americans, by and large, want to discover our heritage. And we will travel far and wide to find it.

Nothing solidifies this argument more than the impressive growth in genealogy services and products sweeping their way across the U.S. 4thCousinEvery day you see a new commercial advertising a different type of service allowing you to spread your DNA on some sort of swab or piece of paper and send it back to a lab for analysis. Of course, a red-headed mick like me doesn’t have to think too hard about where my ancestors originated but for many, this is a mystery. Once their newly found heritage is revealed, the next part of the journey is to travel to your soul’s original destination and pretend like you fit in. This American sense of discovery seems like a trivial matter, but I can’t help but think the rise in new popular tourist destinations isn’t at least somehow connected to this phenomenon.

So, there you have it. Solid and not at all sarcastically opinionated reasons why Americans are the best tourists. Although, I will concede that the occasional American jack-ass will ruin our image for some unsuspecting locals, in the grand scheme of things, we’re really not that bad. Having people visit from other parts of the world, wherever it is, is always a treat for both the tourists and the hosts. The hope is that we all continue to learn from each other and create a more unified global community. Ha, ha…yeah right. Let’s just do our best not to start another war!

-DPW

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International Travelers Guide to American Airports

Despite questionable travel bans, negative media coverage and an a politically divided rhetoric surrounding the entire country, travel to the United States (U.S.) is still as popular today as it has ever been. Travel for leisure, business, academics and myriad of other reasons keep the U.S. as a top destination for people around the globe. With so many flying in and out of the country every day, your good friend, Dr. People Watcher, is going to take a break from ridiculing various airport subcultures and instead put his knowledge to good use for the sake of our soon to be foreign friends. Statue_of_Liberty_-_4621961395I’ve chosen to focus on the airports because in many cases this is the first impression a visitor will have of our country and I would like to make it a good one.

Here are some useful tips that anyone traveling from outside the U.S. can utilize to help make your trip easier, stress free and less likely to start an international incident!

  • Americans only speak English

No matter where you come from, the easiest thing to do is just assume that nobody in the U.S. speaks a language other than English. In fact, only 1% of Americans are fluent in a second language which compared to other countries is a complete disgrace. Therefore, learning a little bit of English before heading over is not only a good idea, but a necessity especially if you plan on spending time outside of the major metropolitan areas like New York or Los Angeles.

englishIn the airports, be prepared to go English only the minute you land. Some of the larger airports have multi-lingual signage but it is usually restricted to Spanish, French, and maybe Chinese. However, just like anywhere else, following the crowds will usually place you in the right direction. America does have a fairly diverse population (again, mostly in the large cities) so you can find help there. Still, brushing up on your English and downloading some translation apps will go a long way after you land.

  • Personal space is a necessity

One thing America has in abundance is space. As the #3 largest country in the world (in overall square miles), we have plenty of room to grow which is a point of national pride. Unlike cities in Europe and Asia that were built in close proximity for protection against invaders, U.S. cities were built with space in mind and stretch for miles in every direction. This has created a space themed obsession amongst our population.

personal-spaceWhen you land in the states, keep in mind that Americans are accustomed to at least an arm’s length of separation from anyone around them. When getting off the plane, waiting in line at customs and getting your luggage at baggage claim, be sure to put enough space between yourself and those around you. Also, enjoy this as a luxury add-on to your trip. If your home country doesn’t have the same practice, this will be a nice vacation in itself.

  • Tipping is an unfortunate custom

The U.S. likes to brag that its low taxes (compared to other countries) keep the economy strong by putting more money in the pockets of citizens and visitors. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we will find any way possible to nickel-and-dime you during your trip. Tips are not just common courtesy; they are pretty much required. tippingBoth in- and outside of the airport, you are going to be inundated with hands reaching out for an additional payment for everything from being served meals, to giving you a (paid) ride, and even transporting your luggage. At the airport specifically, if you use the curbside check-in, sit down for a meal or even get a cup of coffee, the expectation is 15-20% for a tip. Exceptions being at fast food restaurants and retailers.

The best thing to do is to budget a certain amount of tips into your travels plans. You can also avoid some tipping outlets by not using the curb side check-in, carrying your own luggage and utilizing shared service companies like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb. Of course, if you do run across a tipping situation, be generous. Many service workers rely on these to supplement their income.

  • Smokers are being phased out

Smoking is not allowed anywhere surrounding air travel including the plane, in the terminal and in some places, even within a certain distance from the airport entrance. This varies significantly by airport but many are phasing out the designated smoking areas to promote a healthier lifestyle amongst travelers.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Even outside of the airports, smoking is looked down upon. While growing up, most restaurants had both smoking and non-smoking sections which was abandoned city-by-city, state-by-state starting in the early 1990s. Of course, that practice was like having a pissing section in a swimming pool so it has been well received by most Americans. As a visitor who smokes, be conscious of where you can and cannot smoke especially near tourist heavy sites. You can still have your smoke break outside, but just keep it in your own lungs, not ours.

  • Security will be tight

After 9/11, airport security became serious business which has not subsided especially with the onslaught of terrorist attacks routinely happening around the world. With all governmental fingers pointing to sources outside of the U.S., visitors from just about any non-Western country can expect multiple layers of security while entering and exiting America. Even those from our more trusted allies are going to be thoroughly checked out upon arrival.

tsa-searchTo prepare, make sure you have all your documents ready and answer questions from security personnel truthfully and with a certain amount of confidence (uncertainty will just bring on more questioning). Don’t take anything personal as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) folks are just doing their duties and trying to keep everyone safe. In the event you have to go through additional screenings, just continue my advice from above and all will be fine. Unless, of course, they do a cavity search…that part sucks!

In conclusion, I hope these tips help you have a more enjoyable experience state-side. With all the great things we have to offer (unnecessarily large food portions, an entitled yet whiney population and people everywhere running around yelling “America is the greatest country in the world”) how could you not have fun. Thanks and enjoy our little piece of the globe!

-DPW

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welcome-to-america-sign

38 Miles, Broken French, and Beaucoup du Vin Rouge: Our Week in Paris!

The universe has a way of messing with us. Some people think it comes from a Devine source while others think it’s just purely coincidence. Either way it happens to us all eventually and we either deal with it or just give up. This was my thinking about a month before my wife and I took our first trip to Paris wondering if some force was either trying to stop us or just throw enough obstacles in our way so that we properly earn our ticket east. Whatever was going on I can now say…with all respect to everyone’s beliefs, dogmas and philosophies…EAT ME UNIVERSE, WE FUCKING MADE IT!

McDearmon-MuttA few weeks ago, I had started a post about a trip to Nashville, Tennessee which was abruptly ended with the passing of my grandfather. Stewart “Mutt” McDearmon died on April 19, 2017. Although it was an extremely hard time and difficult seeing someone larger than life as Mutt laying in a casket, we can all be thankful that he had a great life, a loving family and will leave a legacy that can never be matched.

One thing grandpa would never want us to do would be to grief to the point of missing an experience that he was never to have on his own. On top of losing a relative, we also battled bronchitis, a sick pet and my wife almost being denied entry into Canada (more on the Canada thing later). After all that, I’m happy to report that we did in fact make it to Paris and back in one piece.

My travel posts usually start at Indianapolis (IND) but for international trips it’s just as easy (and less expensive) for us to fly out of Chicago (ORD). We booked an Air Canada flight several months ago after seeing a deal via the Points Guy. BLAME_CANADAWhen trying to check in the day before the system kept asking me for our Canadian permanent residency card numbers which of course we do not have. Believing it was a glitch in the system I opted to wait until we arrived at O’Hare and deal with it there. Of course, no glitch. Somehow Air Canada decided my wife was a Canadian citizen and had her on the “no board” list until she could provide proof. The agent even called the consulate which determined this was an error and then we had to fix it with the airline. Luckily it all worked out and she was cleared but talk about an odd way to start your vacation!

The flight over was uneventful except for the unexpected complimentary wine which we eagerly took part. A few glasses down and we were out for the overnight portion of the trip. img_2389The Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport (at least the terminal we traversed) was nothing to write home about but I didn’t really care. I was just anxious about getting through customs seeing we had flown in the day after a heated Presidential election. I thought we would be there for hours but the agent gave me one look, stamped my passport and sent me on my way. Actually, I think she had to use the bathroom and she wasn’t going to let a nervous American cause her to shit her pants! After that we hopped in an Uber and headed to the city of lights (or love or whatever).

I have found that when people ask you about a trip like Paris, they always start with “did you go to ?” I’ll simplify this by listing the destinations we actually visited:

  • Eiffel Tower
  • Arc de Triomphe
  • Luxembourg Palace and Gardens
  • Paris Aquarium
  • Bois du Boulogne
  • Cathedral de Notre Dame
  • Isle St. Louis
  • The Louvre Museum (although it was closed for Victory in Europe Day)
  • Does the original Chanel Store count?Snapseed

I’m sure there are many people who visit Paris for less time than we did and have a much longer list but destination sightseeing is just not our thing. One thing you may notice is that there are no museums on the list. We don’t have anything against art, and especially the quality you can find in a place like Paris, but one little detail prevented us from making them a priority. THE WEATHER WAS FLIPPING GORGEOUS! How could you go indoors knowing that it was between 65-70 degrees (fahrenheit) and sunny outside.

SnapseedWe had the most fun just exploring new neighborhoods, sitting in random cafes enjoying a nice snack or beverage and just soaking in the culture of a great city. We specifically enjoyed wondering around what seemed to be an “old money” area in the 16th arrondissement (close to Bois to Boulogne) and the college town atmosphere in the 6th near Luxembourg. These contrasting neighborhoods along with the many more we traversed brought our experience full circle and allowed us to get a small glimpse into the diverse culture of the city.

For those who may be planning their own trips or if you’re just interested in my silly interpretations of the world around us, here are a few things I learned in Paris:

Contrary to popular belief (in the U.S. at least), Parisians are not rude. SnapseedThis is just one of those cultural differences that not enough people investigate before drawing a conclusion. Take for example going to a restaurant. In America, you are constantly waited on. You’re greeted promptly, given time to look over the menu, asked if you’re doing OK multiple times and then eagerly ushered out the door. In Paris it’s not this way at all. We were always greeted but never hassled to make an order until we prompted the server we were ready. If we needed anything, we had to ask and not just wait for them to come around again. And when we were done, we could sit there for hours if we didn’t ask for the check. From what I gathered, by bothering us during our meal/snack/drinks/whatever, that would be considered rude to the French. Once you realize this you’ll see that it’s just a different perspective than you may be used to.

If you speak bad enough French, anyone will address you in English. One of the tips I heard over and over was that most Parisians speak English but are appreciative if you at least try and talk in their native tongue. Therefore, in preparation for the trip, I dusted off my college level French by signing up for Rosetta Stone and Duolingo. In my head, I was fully prepared for speaking slowly and generally being understood by most people I encountered. That wasn’t the case. My words may have been on par but my accent wasn’t even close. My attempts seemed the frustrate more than communicate so eventually, just about every server/hostess/hotel concierge would just stop me and say “what do you want?” I did feel a sense of pride when I was able to have an even elementary French conversation and hope that this effort was not in vain. Either way, communicating was not an issue and am at the same time both happy with my performance and disgusted by the U.S. educational system.

American men need to come here and learn how to dress. Do I really need to write this? AfflicitionI mean, let’s call a spade a spade! I recognize that I am not the most fashionable person but I at least try to dress presentable and in clothing that is the correct fit. Unfortunately, that is not the mindset that prevails in the American male psyche. Pants that are too long, suits that are too big, camo, plastic shoes, Affliction t-shirts…where does it end? Parisian men really hit the mark on this one without having to work too hard. Even those in casual wear were put together, simply but in a way that displayed they had put some thought into the outfit before walking out of the door. The professionally dressed men were in well-fitted suits or sport coats supporting a “third” piece like a scarf or pocket-square. All-in-all, any man could take a lesson from the fashion in Paris and up their wardrobe without having to go on a spending spree. Of course, since I was there…I went on a spending spree!

Smoking dominates the landscape. With all the good things to say about Paris, the one obvious negative is the sheer amount of smokers in the city. Mad-Men-Don-barEverybody smoked; it was unavoidable. Every café was filled with smokers wall-to-wall and to the point where you eventually got used to it. Luckily the government was smart enough to ban smoking inside (or at least I think that’s the deal) so you could escape the second-hand clouds of death by walking through a set of doors. But again, the weather was great and we wanted to be outside so it was something we just tolerated for the time being. I can only imagine their lung cancer rates must be through the roof and hopefully they have a healthcare system that can sustain this habit. But again, it’s a cultural difference and not my place to judge. Of course, by the end of the week we felt left out and were tempted to start sparking up. Luckily the feeling passed and we didn’t pick up any bad habits.

Overall, our timg_2527rip was great! On the way back we were seated near some Griswolds who’s kids (ages around 18 months to 3 years) never slept or stopped moving in general. I actually started feeling bad for them. Here we are, on a flight or almost 8 hours and these two are constantly having to shift the kids around, get up and walk them around the plane and, as best as they could, try to get them to not scream bloody murder every five seconds. They did a pretty good job but it had to be exhausting (in their honor I decided to take a nap!). We flew through Montreal in route to Chicago which was a nice airport and our welcome back to the (North) American way of life. A meal larger than a family a four could handle, constant service at the airport restaurant and English…oh sweet English!

Thank you Paris for a wonderful time and we hope to visit again soon. There is much more for us to explore so we both decided that this would not be our last trip to the area. Au Revoir my new French friends…until we meet again!

PortTik – Reykjavik-Keflavik International (KEF)

Now that the economy seems to be back on track and more people are once again taking their annual vacations, odds are somebody you know has visited Iceland over the last few years. Dig past the almost never ending political rants on Facebook and you’ll probably find several posts from people who have taken the Arctic plunge and visited this small, volcanic island in the middle of the north Atlantic. Of course, for this blog, I will not bore you with our Icelandic adventures but instead turn my focus to the point of contact for most of the world who want to explore this mysteriously European gem for themselves: Keflavik International Airport (KEF).keflavik-international-airport

KEF, which is also goes by Reykjavik-Keflavik Airport, is the largest airport in Iceland and the country’s main hub for international transportation. Its claim to Reykjavik must be for name recognition only since the airport itself is nearly 45 minutes away from the capital city. This distance does not pose a problem for visitors as the country has made sure that there are an abundance of transportation options available to and from Reykjavik or any of the surrounding areas. Even the famous Blue Lagoon has shuttle options available almost around the clock so that the maximum amount of tourist can take advantage of the country’s most famous landmark. Rental cars are also readily available for those who wish to skip the public options and go out on their own. Speaking from personal experience, driving in Iceland is a very pleasurable experience; although unless you have extraordinary language abilities, opt for the pre-programmed GPS unit to help quickly access the best Iceland has to offer.

kef-wwiiWith its beginnings as a U.S. military base during WWII, KEF sits on about 10 square miles, with four runways in total (although they usually only operate on two). KEF has one two-storied passenger terminal named after Leifur Eiriksson the country’s symbolic founder (that’s Leif Erikson for you American readers). It consists of 35 gates with plans to expand extensively over the next several years. In 2015, almost 5 million passengers traveled through KEF which has been growing steadily since Iceland started emphasizing tourism as a major industry following the global financial collapse. KEF is almost exclusively used for international flights with the closet domestic airport located on the southern end of Reykjavik.fullsizerender

One of the most impressive aspects of KEF is the modernization found throughout the airport both from the building’s architectural design to its many services upon your initial entrance. For example, Icelandair’s flight check-in procedures are fully automated. By using self-directed kiosks, you can print out your boarding pass, retrieve you checked luggage tags and even weigh and send your luggage on its way all without ever needing to talk with an actual human. Once you print your luggage tags, you place them on the handles and move them to a conveyor belt that whisks it away to its designated flight. Because of Iceland’s international reach, all of these machines accommodate every language imaginable so even non-English or non-Icelandic speaking passengers can easily make it through the process (Icelanders are very well versed in English due to their proximity to the United Kingdom).

The modern design extends throughout the terminal with tall ceilings consisting of tilted glass panels in the main hub. hallwayThe wide corridors are fashioned with dark, metal-paneled walls that meet light hardwood floors creating an interesting contrast with an almost industrial like feel. The seating was limited around the actual gate areas but plenty could be found just down the hall. Brightly colored signs greet both arriving and departing passengers and are conveniently located enough to where you always seem to know which direction to head. Power stations are located everywhere and accommodate many different international plug-in types. This along with the airports free WIFI makes it a very tech-rich place which was very convenient for first-time international traveler like us. There was even a children’s play area which may be more attractive to families instead of their kids just hanging around watching an iPad.

It’s a hard call on whether or not I’m going to give KEF my seal of approval in regards to the restrooms (or water closets as they are referred to in Iceland). First and foremost, no dividers between the urinals. wc1Of course, this is usually my unforgivable sin but the restrooms did include a plentiful amount of fully stocked stalls meaning they had ceiling to floor doors, toilets and sinks all in one impressively sized room. The main sinks included the Dyson double-duty water dispenser/hand-dryer which I usually don’t care for but in this setting it was nice (Dyson, by the way, has a lock on all of Europe’s restrooms). The restrooms were clean and well-lit and could accommodate many travelers at once. We only found one set after we made it through security which we found quite odd. It was located away from many of the gates and down a flight of stairs. I’m sure there were more somewhere but we didn’t have time to explore around.

Of course, not everything about KEF was to be desired. Consider yourself lucky if your flight lands at a gate with an actual jet bridge. I imagine that I’ve been spoiled by American airports but it’s still a big enough deal for me to mention. This is especially relevant on a cold, rainy afternoon when getting wet before a six-hour flight is not exactly my preferred way to start a journey. Take the frustration of waiting on someone to cram their plus-sized carryon into the overhead bin and times that by 1,000 when you’re doing it in the freezing rain. This will turn you into a disgruntled passenger really quick.terminal

Also, the KEF staff did not seem to be very interested in keeping things organized. On both of our flights, instead of boarding by row or group like we usually experience, just calling out that the flight was preparing to board sent everyone into a free-for-all. Of course, everyone stayed civil (at least by my standards) but that seemed to completely lengthen the amount of time it took to fill up the plane. I would think that the organizational methods used by the same airline at other airports (in our case, O’Hare and Gatwick) would translate to KEF but I was wrong. You got in line regardless of where you were sitting and hoped for the best.

I should mention that even in the most chaotic areas of an airport (the ticketing area, security, right at the gate) the employees at KEF were amazingly calm and collected. Although I’m sure it’s frowned upon by the umbrella organization that makes up the Icelandic border control, the agent at customs could have cared less about who was wandering into their country. They did the normal checks of our passports but that was about it. I guess this could be looked at as a con (from a national security standpoint), but as a passenger, I was good to go.

All being said, KEF is a great facility and an embodiment of the direction Iceland is heading in the future. I can only imagine that every time I fly through this airport, the differences will be dramatic as they continue to become a first-rate international tourist destination. For those of you who want a truly unique experience, give Iceland a try and I doubt you will be disappointed.kef_overhead