Day 1 – Friday 2 November 2007.
Amsterdam – Parijs – Havana
On Thursday I already checked myself in via the Internet for the flight from Amsterdam to Paris & the flight from Paris to Havana.
Seat 10A in the Airbus A320 and seat 20L in the Boeing 747-400.
I made a seat reservation for the seat for the flight from Paris to Havana back in August with Aifrance. I also posted this on the Shoestring forum. The rest of the group checked in at 08:30 in the morning. Given the fact that I didn’t want to be that early at the airport (the flight for Paris didn’t leave until 11:00), I asked Shoestring to send me the visa for the trip by regular mail. This gave me the opportunity to arrive at Schiphol Airport at 09:45. My suitcase was 21kg, no problem to bring this along.
After I had checked in my suitcase I was supposed to stand in line at departure terminal 1. But because I knew that you can skip ahead through depature terminal 2 and the transfer zone I didn’t have to wait in the very long line, I cleared customs in 5 minutes instead of the 20 minute wait. Then I waited at the gate until boarding began.
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While I was waiting, two ladies sat down next to me. Curious as I am, I looked at their tickets and recognized their last names. I checked the Shoestring list of participants and I was right. So I introduced myself to Roos & Lieke. Lieke isn’t a big fan of flying, also they told me that they didn’t have seats next to each other. Nice arrangement from Shoestring. It turned out that they weren’t the only ones with this problem. Fortunately people onboard both flights were willing to exchange seats. Although that didn’t work in all cases. Makes me happy that I arrange this sort of thing via the internet. Nothing much that can go wrong that way. Martijn & Renate did read my message on the forum so they did have seats next to each other.
The flight from Amsterdam to Paris was quick and smooth. The captain wasn’t willing to provide me with a copy of the flightplan. The French do have a bit of a reputation on that part.
When we arrived at Paris there was a gate agent waiting for the people that had a transfer to Havana. He escorted us from Terminal 2F to Terminal 2C. At Terminal 2C we had to pass customs again, many people bought some bottles of water at Schiphol, they had to leave them in the bin at customs. Kind of weird though, we passed customs at Schiphol and we didn’t leave the EU, so checks aren’t required anymore. But because both terminals don’t share a common customs area there was no other way to get from one flight to another. After everybody had been checked again it was time to stand in line for boarding the 747-400. Boarding 460 people takes a while.
Once onboard I was sitting next to a Danish and a Spanish guy. Didn’t really chat with them. I entertained myself by watching the in flight movie, listening to music, looking out the window, make some pictures, walked around the plane, visited the toilet, standing in the isle, etc. The usual stuff one does on a long flight. In spite the delay of 30 minutes at Paris we arrived on time at Havana airport, at 17:30 during the sunset.
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The airplane was (as most AirFrance planes are) really dirty. Both outside and in, ventilation holes filled with dust, old chairs (no personal entertainment system) and the food was terrible.
During the flight I asked one of the stewards if he could ask the captain for a copy of the flightplan. The captain then came down himself because he was curious who was asking! He agreed to give me a copy after the flight. The first time that I would receive a copy of the Flightplan from AirFrance! The exception to the reputation does exist!
After the Boeing docked at the gate and the doors were opened, I walked with some others of the group to the customs check. That didn’t take really long. In 10 minutes we passed customs and we could wait (at the wrong baggage claim) for the suitcases. Apparently there were 2 places where you could claim you suitcase, most of them where on the 2nd one.
After everyone had claimed there suitcase it was time to go to the arrivals terminal and meet the tour guide. A young guy who listened to the name Yuri. He directed us to the exchange office where we could exchange our euro’s into CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso’s). For 100 euro’s you received around 128 CUC’s.
When everyone finished exchanging money we went to the bus. Because Yuri wasn’t really down to pronouncing the Dutch names of everyone I assisted him. In the bus Yuri also told his famous one-liner: “Unplug Europe, Plug-in Cuba, there here go Cuban style!”
The group was made up of:
Annemieke (1981) & Erwin (1977)
Harma (1975) & Mireille (1973)
Martin (1949) & Hannie (1950)
Marcel (1975) & Maaike (1979)
Esther (1983) & Joost (1981)
Roos (1978) & Lieke (1980)
Simone (1981), Nienke (1981) & Judith (1980)
Peggy (1976) & Patricia (1974)
Martijn (1983) & Renate (1981)
Emilieke (1979) & Matthijs (1979)
When we arrived at the hotel Yuri gave everyone a key to his / her hotel room.
Simone, Nienke & Judith told us that they where supposed to share a room with the 3 of them. This wasn’t possible so they where provided rooms next to each other. Later on they explained that they had a nice discussion with Shoestring about that. In the end it turned out to be possible that at some hotels a 3rd bed could have been put in the rooms very easily. Also at one hotel someone had a room with 3 beds, all for himself!
My room turned out not to be ready. So I was given a different one. After I put my suitcase in the room, I had a couple of beers with Erwin & Annemieke. Later Yuri joined us and others came as well. Some even ordered some food from the bar.
While we were enjoying our drinks a man with a guitar and a woman with a nice singing voice preformed for us. Nice acoustics in the large lobby of the hotel. At 22:00 local time it felt like in the middle of the night in The Netherlands so I went to sleep to be fresh for the next day, the first impressions of Cuba!