We could have flown between Amsterdam and Cardiff, but instead chose to use Bristol as our UK airport. The schedules were better and the flights also turned out to be less expensive. Neither Cardiff nor Bristol airports are particularly close to their respective cities, so while it would generally take about 36 minutes for us to get from my father’s new Cardiff house to the Cardiff airport, which is in Penarth, it only takes about 20 minutes longer to get to Bristol airport. KLM happens to fly to both Cardiff and Bristol from Amsterdam, but there are many more flights to more destinations from Bristol. One bummer about flying into Bristol is that you have to pay a toll (one way) on the bridge over the Severn to get to Cardiff. The joke is that it costs to visit Wales (£6.70 if I recall correctly), but you are free to leave!
Since our itinerary involves traveling essentially three round trip airfares on three different carriers that do not have interline connections, we decided to play it safe and instead of flying from Bristol to Amsterdam and connecting on to Reykjavik, we would stay overnight at the airport. Otherwise, we would have to have claimed our baggage, rechecked it and gone through security again. And of course if the first flight was late, we could easily be screwed.
We got an amazing rate at the Radisson Blu by Schiphol, which gave us a full additional day to spend in Amsterdam since our IcelandAir flight did not depart until the following evening. The hotel was great, except that they couldn’t get the door on our original room to open and ended up having to move us to a new room.
Spending overnight here really made me appreciate Schiphol, and I have to say that I think it must be the best airport in Europe. For starters, it is well integrated with the public transportation system, with a major train station below the terminal, only a short walk from arrivals and departures. From there you can quickly get into Amsterdam, or pretty much any major town in the Netherlands and even beyond.
To me, Schiphol is more like a good shopping mall or a village with an airport attached. We found reasonable prices in the shops, there is a supermarket, a cleaners, barber, etc. Some of the clothing shops had sales going on, just like at any non-airport shopping location. I bought some Leonidas chocolate bars, which I ended up seeing in town the next day for almost double the airport price. I can’t think of the last time something was cheaper at the airport!
There are lockers of various sizes, including large ones that could fit both our bags in them, so we could leave them at the airport when we went into the city. They also have a very cool observation deck so you can view the aircraft coming and going – all of this is pre-security, so the opportunities are not restricted to passengers only.
We ended up having dinner at the airport on the day we got there, before going back to our hotel.
The next day after making use of the lockers, we took a train into a suburban Amsterdam station where we connected on to a tram that got us to the large Albert Cuyp market. After walking the length of the market, which was interesting, but not really selling anything that we needed, we walked across town, stopping on the way for me to get some raw herring with pickles and onion, very tasty.
Our destination was the very hip Jordaan and 9 Alleys districts. Sort of like a Dutch Greenwich Village with lots of cool cafes and shops but relatively few tourists.
We wandered around for quite a while, eventually stopping to have lunch.
Heading back to the central station we took the (free) ferry across the river Ij (pronunced “Eye”) to the Eye Film Center, which is a combination arts complex and cinema, currently hosting a Martin Scorcese exhibition and film retrospective.
Then it was time to head back to the airport where, after hanging out in an airport lounge for a few hours, we flew to Keflavik, Iceland’s main international airport, about 45 mins from Reykjavik. We arrived around midnight Iceland time, which is 2am in Central Europe, picked up our car, drove to our hotel and fell into bed, looking forward to a good night’s rest and ready to start to our Icelandic sojourns a few hours later.