For the sake of completeness, I thought I'd add a note about my flight on KLM from Tel-Aviv to Toronto via Amsterdam. The blog for the route the other way is here.
Like most other European flights, KLM leaves Tel-Aviv for Amsterdam at about 5:20 a.m. This means getting to the airport at about 2:30 a.m. It's a nasty start to any trip. I suppose it works well for Israelis with short term business in Europe who would like to arrive in the morning. But for travellers back to North America, it is quite painful and tiring.
The lines can be long at Ben Gurion Airport (particularly for these early morning flights to Europe) but they move along reasonably quickly. Although the line-up looked quite daunting when I arrived at the airport at about 2:45 a.m., I moved through it in less than 15 minutes.
The flight from Tel-Aviv to Amsterdam is between 4 1/2 and 5 hours, depending on tail winds. The KLM planes are quite cramped with no video or other entertainment. A breakfast of sorts was served. I opted for the vegetarian meal and received something that vaguely resembled an omelet. The seats were very tight. However, I was extremely lucky and wound up with a vacant seat beside me. This was pretty incredible given that the flight was otherwise completely packed. Even with the extra room, the seat was still cramped but it was much more endurable. The flight attendants were quite friendly, helpful and accommodating. They came around often offering drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. They were cheerful and polite. They spoke English well though I don't think I heard any of them speaking Hebrew (even Air Canada has some Hebrew speaking flight attendants for flights to Israel). I wound up assisting with some translation services for some Haredim whose language skills were limited to Hebrew, Yiddish and perhaps Aramaic.
We arrived in Amsterdam ahead of schedule, just before 9:30 a.m. I then had a four hour wait until the flight to Toronto. That scheduling is not nearly as convenient for flying to Toronto as some other European cities, but, then again, Schipol airport is huge and has lots to do. There are some great places to eat, many different shops and lots of places to relax.
I wandered around for a while in the different duty free shops including a chocolate shop, a cheese shop and a book store. Then I found the perfect place - "The Exquisite Whisky Shop" located near lounge 2. It features a huge tasting menu and many whiskies for sale. I had a few hours, so I figured I might as well do some sampling.
I sat down and thumbed through the menu booklet which included various whisky "flights" - groups of three that had been put together as suggested combinations - as well as single options. The prices ranged wildly. You could sample something fairly common for as little as 5 Euros. Or you could try the Louis XIII Cognac for 100 Euros a shot.
I settled on a "flight tasting" of three peated whiskies that looked interesting. The cost was 15 Euros (about $21 Cdn). These are the single malts that I sampled:
1. Bruichladdich Port Charlotte 11 - I was told that it was not widely available but that it was very popular and sells out quickly. Only 12000 bottles were released. It was about 120 Euros a bottle. It was smoky - yet it had a very interesting range of tastes to it. Overall, I quite liked it even though I generally tend to prefer smoother whiskies. It was a cask strength Scotch - 59.5% alcohol. I enjoyed it straight up as well as with a bit of water.
2. Talisker "Dark Storm" - This was somewhat more smoky - supposedly aged in "charred barrels" - yet still with a fairly interesting taste to it. It is apparently the smokiest whisky that Talisker has every sold. I enjoyed it but not as much as the first glass that I had tasted.
3. Bruichladdich Octomore - This was super smoky, described as "super heavily peated." It was too much smoke for me - a peat rating of 167, which is apparently off the charts....
All of that was 15 Euros - (for a "flight) but my server was generous with the servings. I guess she liked me (or hoped I would spend a lot of money) so she offered me some Cragganmore 19 (on the house) - a special edition carried exclusively by duty free shops. It was okay but nothing too exciting. It was not very smoky but had some interesting fruity tastes.
The generous attendant suggested that I try the Old Pulteney 21 for another 7 Euros. Apparently this one was rated as the best whisky in Jim Murray's 2012 Whisky Bible. I had a look at my watch. Lots of time until the next flight. I looked around a bit at the other offerings. Ultimately, I said "what the heck" and plunked down another 7.5 Euros. Since I was wavering, she provided me with a very generous serving. This offering was fruity and interesting - not smoky at all. It was apparently aged in both a bourbon cask and an oloroso cask. So it had a very sweet finish.
At this point, I thought I was pretty much done (in more ways than one). But the very helpful Scotch pro decided to really spoil me. She brought out a glass of Laphroaig 25 year - that she explained costs 400 Euros a bottle. She quietly told me "not to tell the manager" - and hid the bottle quickly....(though I am quite sure this is all part of the promotion and sales in the place). I have to say that this one was quite nice, even sublime. It was not nearly as smoky as some of the less expensive Laphroaigs that I have had. It had a range of interesting tastes and only a relatively mild peaty taste. It is a cask strength whisky with an alcohol content of 59.5%.
So I guess that adds up to about 6 healthy shots...Finishing the tasting with that last dram was somewhat like the encore at a good concert. It brought everything to a nice conclusion and left me with lots of time to make my way over to the gate for the next flight. Overall, I can't say that the prices at this shop were amazing - but the selection was nice - and the people at the tasting shop were quite friendly, helpful and generous....For whisky lovers, it is a great way to spend some time at the Amsterdam airport without necessarily spending a huge amount of money.
I made my way over to the gate and I still had about two hours to go. So I found a comfortable chair and rested for a while. There is free internet at the airport with a sign-in, for 1/2 an hour.
Each gate has its own security machines, including full body X-ray machines. I didn't pay too much attention to the gate lineup until about an hour and twenty minutes before the flight. At that point, I went to wait in line - and it was painful. It was an incredibly long and slow moving line-up. They were processing one or two people at a time. With a line-up of more than 200 people, all winding around through the gate, this meant standing in line for close to an hour and moving along at a creeping speed. Ouch. It was probably about the worst security line up I have been in, other than the line-up at JFK (or maybe the Boston airport).
But once again, the flight attendants were cheerful, helpful and constantly available. The Asian vegetarian meal that I had ordered was fine (some curried chic peas and tofu). The house wine was decent. It was a South African Cabernet-Shiraz. The cabin crew were also offering VSOP Cognac. I grudgingly accepted, several times.
When I arrived in Toronto I couldn't resist taking this picture of two planes, side by side...
One of the airlines is El Al. And right next to it....I believe that is Pakistan Airlines. I wonder if the respective crews had the chance to mingle and get to know each other a bit. Since Israel and Pakistan do not have diplomatic relations, there are probably few opportunities for this type of exchange.
In any event, that side bit has nothing to do with flying KLM between Toronto and Tel-Aviv. Once again, as I have said before, it is worth considering if the price is right. You can spend a day in Amsterdam from Toronto to Tel-Aviv and spend a few hours in the whisky shop from Tel-Aviv to Toronto. If you have no interest in whisky or Amsterdam, well, you might need to consider another airline or bring along several books.