Bucket List

Get High In Amsterdam (Bucket List #92)

Amsterdam, Netherlands • July 2015 • Length of Read: 8 Minutes

“You know that old cliché about falling in love with a stripper?” mumbled Jake as we awoke, sweating in the bunks of our houseboat cabin.

“Yes,” I replied ominously.

“Well, it’s not like that, but I think Nikki genuinely liked me.”

“Bullshit,” chimed Dave.

“No, seriously guys. Why don’t we go back today and I’ll prove it?”

“For two reasons,” I interjected. “One – she won’t even recognise you. Two – I don’t have another €60 to splash, and neither do you.”

“Fair enough,” he reasoned, coming to some sense.

Climbing up the flimsy staircase, and onto the deck, we could tell it was going to be a scorcher. Despite the sun yet to reach its highest point in the sky, the temperature was already well above 30 degrees Celsius. What better a day to lounge around and sample some of the city’s culinary delicacies then?

Hopping on a tram, we stole a ride to Vondelpark. Situated to the South-West of the city, this is the Dutch capital’s largest expanse of open space, and 10 million visitors per year use it to play sports, walk their animals around the nature trails, and relax on the grass next to grandiose water features. This chilled-out environment also makes it the ideal place to take a trip of the psychedelic variety as well.

Entering a nearby Smart Shop we were welcomed by a stereotypical Dutch guy, tall with slicked-back hair. The pristine white décor and sanitised smell gave the aura of a pharmacy, but we knew that most of the inventory on sale in this particular branch would likely lead to disciplinary action were they to be prescribed by a medical practitioner back home. Beneath the glass casing of the counter which the man stood behind were a plethora of hallucinogenic and psychedelic substances. A jubilee of drugs which would make any stoner think they had died and gone to stoner heaven.

“We are looking to get some magic truffles please,” requested Jake.

“Have you had a trip before?” asked the gentleman.


“Okay. For you guys, I would recommend the Mexicana variety. This is known in South America as Flesh of the Gods and, although the mildest, still gives the user a vivid colour perception and intense laughter.”

Noticing that the next strength up was called Dragon Slayer, we nodded in agreement. I didn’t feel quite up for attempting to tame a mythical beast and save the princess just quite yet.

“Perfect. We’ll have three packets please.”

“No problem. Now, I always suggest that users eat them on an empty stomach and avoid alcohol consumption for the duration of their trip. Most will start to feel the effects within one hour of consuming the truffles, and an average trip lasts from four to six hours. If you do start to have a bad trip at any point, then just take some sugar. This will neutralise the effects and bring you back down.”

“Thanks, man,” we chimed in unison. Wandering out the air-conditioned shop, and back into the sun, it felt like we’d just gone through the process of purchasing a new phone than of a substance marked as illegal by the British Government.

Locating a supermarket, we stocked up on yoghurts, chewy candy, and electrolyte sports drinks, before heading through the park gates. Nearly every blade of grass was covered by picnic blankets and rugs, as every person and their dog (literally) seemed to have had the same idea as how best to take advantage of the glorious weather. We meandered along the crisscrossing pathways and around the park’s two main ponds, before eventually finding a secluded shady spot under a large oak tree. Taking in the surroundings, and making ourselves comfortable, the distinct smell of weed drifted across the breeze. Dave put on his holiday playlist, cracked open the packets of truffles, and we eyed them up with disgust.

I hadn’t had anything to eat since biting into a nuclear hot slice of pizza the prior night, but the tiny, hairy, brown roots in my hand were doing nothing to fulfil my appetite. I stirred them into the yoghurt, scooped up a large spoonful, shoved it in my mouth, and immediately started to gag.

It was what I imagine chewing mouldy tree bark to be like, mixed with the taste of raw cabbage. After just three mouthfuls Dave was vomiting into a nearby hedge, but by some miracle Jake and I managed to swallow them; grimaced expressions glued on our faces the entire process. Once each packet had eventually been consumed we chatted away in nervous anticipation, the intermittent gulps of water doing little to wash away the taste.

The first thing that struck me was the leaves on the trees bursting out in density and colour, zooming straight into focus like someone had just flicked on a ‘high definition’ switch in my retinas. My gaze then shifted upwards as the fluffy clouds puffed out like white paint bursting on a baby blue canvas. The grass under my body spiked up on its end, trying hopelessly to lift me up into the art show above, as the trees waved and clapped on their brave effort.

“Look at that,” Dave elated, pointing into the sky. “A lion’s face and mane.”

Sure enough, like daylight star-gazers, I too saw it formed by the clouds, until its roar was drowned out by a plane tearing through the misty mass and leaving nothing but a rippled jet-stream in its wake.

“How cool is it to think there are 300 or so people sat up there travelling at hundreds of miles an hour and heading thousands of miles away?” mused Jackie. He’d turned into a true modern day philosopher.

“Sick man. Holy shit, though, look at that pigeon.”

I had been lying flat on my back, but in re-adjusting my position I’d lifted up my head slightly and locked eyes with a suspicious looking bird. It glared back and refused to break the gaze as if it were saying ‘I know what you’re up to, and I approve.’ I immediately burst out into hysterics, the tears rolling down my face hidden behind my sunglasses. The ‘laughter’ trigger of the truffles had clearly been pulled. Whilst I attempted to subdue this uncontrollable laughter streak an old man walked his dog past and a grin rose on his face. A second round of the giggles started. “He knows what’s up,” I whispered indiscreetly to my pals. “He definitely knows.”

Around the time we were reaching our maximum highs, a group of stacked 6ft+ Dutch guys used their T-shirts to set up goal posts on the grassy clearing we were overlooking and challenged some other dudes to a game of football. With a large number of female on-lookers, the testosterone was running almost as high as we were. Bare-backed slaps were dished out for each well-timed tackle or pass, and group hugs were the norm every time there was a score.

“That guy is so built,” blurted out Jake. “I mean, just look. He’s massive. I’m going to start going to the gym again. That’s certainly some end goals right there.”

Dave and I looked at each other with genuine concern. Was Jake about to come out?

Before we could take this line of thought any further though we were again distracted. This time however so was everyone else in our part of the park, high or not. A woman came by walking the fattest dog imaginable. Its stomach hung so low that you couldn’t even see its legs, and she was pulling a stroller behind her. The dog was so heavy that it had to be wheeled to and from the park before and after its exercise. Satisfactorily amused we turned back to the game of football, and in the time it took them to play the whole second half the dog had still not waddled from sight.

Glancing at my phone I realised that three hours had elapsed since we’d first swallowed the truffles, and I was starting to need the toilet. There were some portable toilets only 100m away, but when I suggested to the boys that I was going to venture off they looked at me like I’d said I was about to attempt a summit of Mount Everest.

“There’s no way you are going to make it man,” said Jake. “Look how far away that tree is.”

“What, the tree right next to the toilet?”

“Yeah,” said Dave, pausing Don McLean’s American Pie, which had been on repeat since we sat down.

“God, you’re right actually,” I found myself agreeing. “That tree is pretty far away. I’m never going to make it.”

In the fear of wetting myself for the first time as a grown adult, however, try I did. I made it across no bother at all, and whilst taking a piss began to wonder what all the initial concern was about. Wanting to get back to our little haven under the tree as quickly as possible, I’d sprinted across the grass like I'd been racing against Usain Bolt. As I began my return journey, however, I became consciously aware of how high I actually was. Feeling like I was floating across the ground like a ghost, and anxious to act normal, I decided to copy the movements of the man next to me who was walking in the same direction. I mirrored his hasty footsteps until I reached the boys, delighted at how I managed to complete the journey with no issues.

“Please tell me you were doing that deliberately?” guffawed Jake through fits of laughter.

“Doing what?” I said, genuinely confused.

“Walking as slowly as possible and taking the piss out of that guy beside you who was clearly as high as a kite.”

“Shut up! I thought he was walking normally so I was matching his steps.”

“Oh dear…”

Four and a half hours after we first felt the effects, the truffle magic eventually wore off and we returned back to reality, with its greying skies and dim foliage. The entire experience was absolutely brilliant and provided me with a host of new perspectives and ideas. They say money can’t buy happiness. Well, for €12.50 I was the happiest person in the world on that Friday afternoon.

Amsterdamage (Bucket List #126)

Amsterdam, Netherlands • July 2015 • Length of Read 8 Minutes

Scotland’s climate in July 2015 had more resembled an Arctic winter than the fresh summer we’d spent the previous 11 months longing for, so I decided to head to Amsterdam for a boys weekend with my two pals, Dave and Jake. We convened in Edinburgh Airport, where it became apparent that, despite being a city break, Dave was going to be treating it like one would an Ibiza holiday. As Jake and I loitered about the check-in desk, our lanky musketeer pitched up wearing a cheap pair of kaleidoscopic sunglasses, a free promotional T-shirt he had acquired from a nightclub, a wicker fishing hat, some slip-on plimsolls, and a pair of maroon cargo shorts.

“Jesus Christ,” quaffed Jake as we headed through security. “We didn’t even set you the challenge of turning up looking like an idiot and you’ve still manage to exceed all expectations. How much did that total attire set you back?”

“£9.89,” grinned Dave, genuinely proud of himself at having fashioned together an outfit for less than the cost of the three pints we’d ordered upon reaching the departure lounge.

I spent the short flight intermittently reading some Hemmingway and humouring the middle-aged couple beside me, who were laying over in the Dutch capital before heading off to the wilderness of the Norwegian fjords. From the look on the woman’s face, I could tell that it was clearly her husband who had proposed, and then booked the trip. I was pretty jealous, but couldn’t figure out a way of asking whether I could trade my two nights on a canal boat for a week on their luxury cruise liner.

That’s right, the three of us were going to be staying on a barge for the weekend. We’d been extremely efficient in getting the flights arranged, but somehow booking accommodation had slipped all of our minds. Realising too late that, on a July weekend, Amsterdam was most likely going to be choc-a-bloc, we’d scoured travel websites for hours looking for somewhere to get our forty winks each night. When a canal houseboat had popped up for only €20 p/p per night we pounced on it immediately, thinking that, if nothing else, it would provide a bit of laughter along with the mild claustrophobia and sea-sickness.

Pier 4 was where the vessel was moored. A short stroll from the Central Train Station past the floating Chinese Restaurant and NEMO museum. It turned out that check-in was closed from 2pm-4pm, so we dumped our stuff on the deck and tried to strike up a conversation with the bikini-clad American girl stretched out on one of the sun loungers. Unfortunately, however, Melissa would have been shoe-in for first prize at the ‘Most Mundanely Boring, Plain-Vanilla, Humanoid on Planet Earth’ competition. We were relieved when Ursula, the manager of the barge, arrived back from her afternoon lunch break.

This woman was quite the sight to behold. Strikingly overweight with a du-rag bandana was wrapped around her thinning grey hair. Showcased on her arm, thanks to the cut-off tank top, was a large love heart tattoo with the words ‘Mom & Pop’ stencilled inside it. She was certainly not one to forget quickly... unlike whatshername up on deck.

The ventilation in our cabin consisted of a tiny porthole in the roof. With Jake’s farts renowned as being some of the smelliest in town, this brought up the dilemma of whether we kept it shut and suffocated to death, or left it open and risked likely theft. As Jake left Dave and I deliberating whilst he used the toilet, however, it was quickly agreed upon that the rest of the guests looked trustworthy enough. Despite this decision, however, upon checking out, the aroma coming from our room definitely wouldn’t have been bottled for a new line of perfume anytime soon.

Already in desperate need of some fresh air, we wandered into the hub of the city and took seats at a canal-side burger restaurant outside the Bulldog Hostel. This chain has expanded into cafes, bars, coffee shops, and clubs; cornering the twentysomething-tourist-stoner-party scene in the process. The girls entering and exiting the venue were dressed as provocatively as possible, appearing as if they were attempting to challenge those hidden behind the doors illuminated by red lights further along the street for sluttiness. The lads were all tensing their egos and ripped torsos, which were bursting out from under beer-stained tank tops. It had been three years since I used to live in The Netherlands and frequent Amsterdam at the weekends, and nothing had changed.

This included the calibre of talent. There was so much fucking talent. Wherever I looked there were heavenly blessed beauties roaming along the pavements. Then they started appearing not only on land but on the water as well. One of the boats actually obtained a round of applause as it weaved its way slowly between canal bridges, the 15 blondes on board wearing short, billowing dresses and flowered headbands a real sight to behold. And they knew alright. It was a surprise then when their thunder was stolen by the lonesome bald bloke cruising along about 10 metres behind them. One hand operating the rudder of his shitty little rust bucket, and the other clasping a beer, he was so laid back that he was almost horizontal. An absolute boss. Whether he’d started out on his cruise with a bucket of fucks or not, we didn’t know, but it was evident that there were absolutely none left to be given.

Finishing our food, we moved down the street to the Old Sailor Bar for more beers, taking up a bench by the open window. I went to the bar to order the first round and got chatting to the cute little blonde girl who squeezed in line beside me. Charlie was Romanian, and I could see her travelling companion eyeing us up from a nearby table.

“Feel free to come over and join us,” I said, nodding towards where Jake and Dave were sitting.

“Perhaps,” she winked back.

I paid for our drinks and headed back to the table. Dave and Jake were in deliberation with an Aussie guy called Ryan as to whether or not the uniformed policewoman across the street was an actual on-duty cop or just a role-playing sex worker. I admitted that it looked like she had fitted herself from the wardrobe of a softcore porn photo shoot, but when she whipped out a set of handcuffs and arrested two guys for throwing fists at each other we erred with caution as to what was further said.

Like clockwork, the Romanian pair then slid onto the bench beside us. The brunette was absolutely gorgeous, although when she started telling us crazy stories about her mother it was this more senior female in her family we were wishing we’d met. When Alina was just fifteen years old, her mum had forced her to get high and drunk so as to ‘get the inevitable out of her system’ and sounded like she’d had an even wilder upbringing herself. Unfortunately, Alina also had a boyfriend, and despite her blonde sidekick’s best efforts to get her to loosen up, she was remaining loyal. As Dave proceeded to pour a glass of white wine all over her lap, we thought it be a good time to part ways. Interest lost.

Following this, we started to do what we do when in any bar, regardless of where about in the world. That is: troll others, fuck about, act like morons, and set our companions stupid challenges. Spotting a woman entering the bar with a broken arm, I set Jake the task of having to sign a stranger’s cast. All failures were punishable by a slap across the face. Fearless, he immediately rose and marched over to a girl at the bar with a bright pink cast around her wrist, oblivious to the fact that she was surrounded by an ominous group of less-than-friendly-looking butch males.

“Can I sign your cast?” he sheepishly asked?

“You can fuck off,” was her curt reply, the locals clearly out for a quiet drink and fed up of constantly being harassed by drunk tourists.

“Yeah beat it,” added one of the entourage, leering over Jake in a menacing manner.

He scarpered back to the safety of our table as a timely tussle erupted between two even larger guys at the other side of the bar. Guys that were so big, even the bouncers decided to just let them resolve their differences for fear of receiving a beat down. Once the storm blew over, it became apparent that the pair were actually best friends who hailed from Scotland’s northern Orkney Islands. It is written in the law that, when abroad, Scottish compatriots must have at least one drink together. As the rest of the bars’ patrons stared at us gibbering away in nonsensical slang, we learned that Barry and Kev were best friends currently on a stag party. The groom was nowhere to be seen, but it was clear that the group has probably split when they decided to sample some of the local cocaine. Kev’s eyeballs looked like they were about to pop out of his skull, but with the girl in the cast and her posse still looking us up and down, we thought that having such allies might be quite useful in case something else kicked off.

Slamming back four Jaeger bombs, Barry decided that what we really needed to keep the game alive was a visit to the strippers. Three of the drinks had actually been bought for us, but we thought it best not to argue with, or upset, the bear of a human. We nodded in agreement and followed him along the street, down a seedy looking staircase, and to the entrance of an infamous haunt.

“It will be €60 for a 1-hour show,” said the ruffian at the door, “and that includes free drinks throughout the entire performance.”

“What a bargain,” yelled Kev. “That’s only about €1 per minute.”

It was clear that Kev’s formal education had likely stopped before he hit puberty. Which, from the look of him, could have been at about 7 years old. Jake, Dave, Barry and I forked out our cash, however, Kev had spent the last of his bank notes on the coke and was struggling to remember the pin code to his credit card. Numbers really weren’t his strong point. For their size, the islanders probably didn’t have a complete brain cell between them; lumbering ogres who did manual labour for a living.

“9-9-9-9,” Kev voiced out loud, as he bashed the keypad of the card reader.


“9-9-9-9,” he tried again, shouting even louder in the hope that the reader would feel empathetic towards his frustration. Again, however, the error message popped up.


“Fuck. I can’t for the life of me remember what the password is, and there’s only one chance left until it gets blocked.”

We thought for a couple of seconds that we might have to leave him at the entrance, which wouldn’t have been such a loss, but then it suddenly hit him. With an air of confidence and smugness, he plugged in his final attempt, again speaking them out loud in a rhythmic tone.



“Fucking yes lads. I’ve got €1,000 on that bad boy. Tonight is going to get messy.”

“4-4-1-4,” we chanted, so loud that the entire street could hear. “4-4-1-4.”

As the man behind the till looked at us in amazement, it dawned on me that never in the history of the world would credit card theft have been easier than at that point. Kev’s joy was short-lived, however, as upon entering up the staircase he lasted only four minutes of the sixty before being kicked out for acting aggressively drunk towards the employees. The rest of us stayed for the remaining fifty-six minutes, telling the bartender to keep the drinks coming as pretty girls danced provocatively around.

Leaving Barry to his own devices, i.e. pissing in the canal and turning his anger towards us, we staggered into a bunch of Aussie girls who’d just experienced a similar ordeal – minus the unwelcome countrymen. Jake was starving, so we grabbed some pizza slices before attempting to find our way home. With its winding look-a-like cobbled streets, Amsterdam is not the easiest city to navigate, large quantities of alcohol in your belly or not. Stopping a couple of girls on bicycles to try and cheekily hitch a lift, however, backfired spectacularly when, mid-conversation, I bit into the spiciest piece of chicken pizza I’ve ever tasted. Immediately my mouth turned into an inferno and the remaining conversation involved them trying to interpret my gasping, tongue-waggling effort to cool down. They soon left. With no other options, we staggered through Dam Square and towards where we thought Central Station might, possibly, maybe, hopefully, be.

Our bearings were slightly shaky, but thankfully we made it to familiar surroundings with only a couple of wrong turns and pointed ourselves in the direction of the barge. Upon passing the floating Chinese restaurant, now gloriously lit up with lanterns, we noted a familiar looking body lying motionless in the gutter at the side of the road. Kev had clearly come down hard from his ‘roid rage’. Not willing to stir the beast and risk another streak of aggression, we stepped over him and continued on our way home. I wondered if his bank card was still in his pocket…

7 Reasons Why Times Square Sucks (Bucket List #139)

New York, New York, USA • May 2016 • Length of Read: 6 Minutes

At the heart of Manhattan Island lies Times Square; colloquially named the Crossroads of the World. Having its name changed from Longacre Square when the New York Times newspaper moved its headquarters to this location in 1904, Times Square acts as the hub of the Broadway theatre district; is the location for the country’s iconic New Year’s Eve countdown; and is one of the busiest pedestrian thoroughfares in the world.

For these reasons, and more, it was therefore highlighted as one of my 'must-do' things during a recent trip to New York. I’d had reservations as to whether it would actually be as mesmerising as I’d been told (I mean, it’s just a square right?), however I never quite imagined how much of a let-down the entire area would be. Here are my 7 reasons as to why I think Times Square is a little bit shit:

1) It’s Not Even a Square

If you’re going to name something, then at least have it make sense. Not only is Times Square not even a square, it doesn’t really resemble any geometric shape at all. Among other absurd suggestions, its general area has been described as a rough-polygon; two inverted triangles; a sand-timer; and, a bow-tie shape. OK, perhaps I should have done a little more research prior to my visit, but I was busy. This leads nicely on to my second reason...

2) The Selfie-Stick Wielding Tourists

Ever wondered what it’s like to be crushed in a mosh pit at a death metal concert but don’t like the music enough to buy a ticket? You’re in luck. Times Polygon is the perfect place to experience the displeasure of strangers’ sweaty bodies rubbing aggressively against you without the accompanying screaming angst. It being pointless to try and swerve around the stereotype, Chinese tourists, with their 6 ft long selfie sticks and 15-person group photos, were largely to blame for the congestion during my unfortunate visit. Dark lyrics aside however, noise pollution is still prevalent, and that’s primarily due to...

3) The Construction

Never have I set foot on an island with as much construction taking place as Manhattan. There are more than 100,000 people employed as labourers in NYC, and I don’t think a single one of them had called in sick or taken a holiday during the week of my visit. The pneumatic drill seemed to be the weapon of choice for these hard-hat wearing, slang talking, workers; closely followed by the wonky-wheelbarrow. Nobody could debate their hard work, but with Times Polygon seemingly going through more repairs that a recently bombed middle-Eastern state, they didn’t exactly have time to dilly-dally; Na’ mean? At least most of this construction could just be covered up by all of…

4) The Billboards

This is a health warning: If you suffer from latent epilepsy then please keep your distance from Times Polygon. The annual electricity bill for this small block of streets must be higher than that of Belgium. Hundreds of electronic billboards cover every square inch of the leering skyscrapers that border it, advertising the latest movies; beauty products; fashion trends; [insert consumer product here]. I’d imagine you’d be hard pressed to find a room overlooking Times Polygon that actually has a functioning window. If you are a cautious driver then I’d also heed maximum caution when navigating around these streets. As well as the large number of roadworks; blacked-out Chevrolet Escalades; and suicidal businessmen, there are also a large number of…

5) Street Performers

OK, I’ll admit that the Naked Cowboy is pretty cool. Almost all of the other street performers who brace Times Polygon however are, at best, mildly irritating. Take the fat man dressed as a giant baby who does nothing but wail for hours on end, for example. Or, how about the entire cast of frozen who, because they are wearing the costumes of loved Disney characters, feel that this gives them the right to be your best friend. At least they don’t invade your personal space as much as…

6) The Leafleting and Flyering

If I'd collected and bound every single leaflet and flyer that was shoved in my face, I swear the resulting book would have been thicker than Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix. Hello? I'm in New-fucking-York, there's already quite a few things going on. Even if I'd been visiting York, United Kingdom, however, I doubt I'd ever get to such a loose end that a three hour one-man re-enactment of the 'life and times of so-and-so' would sound like a good way to pass the evening. If you did find yourself being involuntarily dragged to such a performance however, one way of getting out of it would to eat some of...

 7) The Food

I'm now going to address a second cultural stereotype in this short post; that being the one about Americans having shit diets and eating too much. The food choice available in-and-around Times Polygon is comparable to that of a state penitentiary, with the hygiene standards being on a par with those found a zoo. There is also an obsession with rushing diners through their three courses as quickly as possible. One evening I ate at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company and before my brother had even finished his starter they threw his main course on our table like it were a smelly turd. It also tasted a bit like a smelly turd. Not that I'd know what a smelly turd tastes like...

This goes to show that not all things on my bucket list will turn out to be'call home and ring your friends to tell them how good of an experience you had' awesome. And I never expected it to be. The bucket list is more an expression of: 'Hey, these are the really cool things that I’d like to experience and undertake at some point in my life, and regardless of whether they turn out to be enjoyable or not I'll still be happy to have done them'.

Thankfully the rest of my visit to New York turned out to be a roaring success.

Bathe in the Blue Lagoon (Bucket List #36)

Reykjavik, Iceland • May 2016 • Length of Read: 5 Minutes

Our bus trundled out of Reykjavik’s BSI Main Terminal and onto the arrow-straight highway; briefly accelerating up to fourth gear before settling down into what must have been one of the most economical driving speeds imaginable. Despite Route 41’s 80kph speed limit our driver was clearly reluctant to take the engine beyond what would be considered slow even in a built-up suburban neighborhood with school crossings and play parks.

Perhaps this was due to the demographic of passengers he had on-board, the average age most likely higher than the speed limit. If OAP bus passes were accepted we would have been the only passengers required to actually purchase tickets. Aside from my family I can’t imagine there being a full set of dentures in the house, but as my brother grimaced at the snails’ pace of our journey these gummy octogenarians seemed more than content in letting the gorgeous Icelandic scenery roll slowly past the windows.

The wheels on the bus went round and round in slow-motion until we eventually made it to the world-famous Blue Lagoon, the most visited attraction in Iceland. Located in a lava field in Grindavik, 40km north-east of the capital, this geothermal spa is an open-aired swimming area with a natural temperature of 38oC. The water is rich in minerals such as silica and sulphur, giving it a milky colour, and has been proven to help alieve skin conditions and other ailments.

All of the staff members behind the welcome desk looked like they had been showering in this fountain of youth since birth, and their perfect complexions were very accommodating towards the throngs of tourists piling in by the bus load. One can actually visit the blue lagoon on a 5 hour trans-Atlantic layover and not even have to spend a night in the world’s most northerly capital.

Strapping on my wristband, which doubled as a locker key and payment card, I headed through to the changing rooms. Putting on my trunks alongside a group of Europeans a woman’s voice suddenly echoed off the pristine tiled walls in strong Irish accent, the reverberations giving everyone a bit of a fright. “NEIL,” it boomed. “NEIL.”

At this heckle one of the changing room security guards went marching up to the door and, in a complete contrast to the eloquently spoken Adonis who had served us at the welcome desk, greeted her with some of the most broad Glaswegian I’ve ever heard. There I was in an Icelandic spa, half-naked, and bearing witness to a conversation between two accents more used to haggling with one another in an East End Scottish flea market or chanting at one another during a football game.

“How can I help you lassie?”

“My husband has gone into the male changing rooms with my bathing costume in his bag and I’m trying to get it back.”

“What’s his name and where’s he come fae?”

“Neil. Neil Hamilton from Donegal.”

“NEIL, YER WIFE WANTS YE,” screamed out the helpful security guard. “You better not be slipping into a little two piece down there.”

“Don’t worry,” called back the elusive Neil in an equally strong Irish voice from one of the cubicles, “She hasn’t been able to fit into it for years anyway.”

I turned to the Europeans who were still beside me, sensing a large amount of confusion swirling in the air. It was as if their spa mud-masks had hardened and frozen the looks of disbelief on their faces.

“You scaffy bastard,” grinned the Scottish guy as he was eventually tossed the garment. “Dressin’ yer wife in drapes fae JD sports?”

“Ah it’s a grand clothing store for all intensive purposes,” reasoned Neil with absolutely zero shame.

I went for an obligatory pre-lagoon shower and, whilst conditioning my hair, tears of laughter mixed with the soapy water as it rolled down into the drain below. The Europeans had no idea how golden the banter being thrown about was and I felt a little sorry for them.

The lagoon itself was as warm and relaxing as everyone had told me, and I was able to unwind with a few pints of beer from the swim-up bar under a cloudless blue sky. This was then followed by a sauna and mud-mask treatment of my own before drying off and heading for some sushi in the overlooking restaurant to top off a couple of hours of sheer bliss. A day pass to this natural wonder costs €66 per person (price correct as at May 2016) and I’d recommend getting there as early as possible to avoid the crowds; serenity being an absolute Godsend in the Blue Lagoon.

“I can’t get my locker open,” questioned a dreadlocked guy to the Scottish security guard as I went to hand my towel back.

“I don’t bloody believe you,” he sarcastically barked back before resolving the guy’s issue in two seconds flat.

It’s always nice to get a little taste of home whilst on the road isn’t it? Especially in the most unusual of places.

Lithuanian Rifle Range (Bucket List #94)

Vilnius, Lithuania • December 2015 • Length of Read: 5 Minutes

“The taxi will drop you off here,” said Paul, pointing at the city map with the nib of his pen. “Then you just have to walk up this hill to the dilapidated building behind the sports centre. You can't miss it." Our bearded hostel owner had booked us in for an afternoon of shooting at a rifle range and we were absolutely buzzing.

Paying the €2 cab fare, Gadams and I shuffled along the ice in the direction instructed and found ourselves at the entrance to some bathhouses; not quite the grandiose open-aired amphitheatre we were expecting. Making our way through the tunnel between these presumed changing areas we exited onto an abandoned athletics track; a icy climbing wall looming over the snow-covered basketball court to our right like it were the north face of Everest. As an eerie chill swept its way around the arena and shiver ran through my bones. I felt like we'd inadvertently stepped into a real-life level on Call of Duty.

We followed the frozen track round to the far side in what must have been one of the slowest 400 metres ever covered; hesitantly slipping our way past the steeplechase pit. Reaching the perimeter fence at the back however we still couldn't see the building Paul had circled. Pulling out the map in plummeting sub-zero temperatures we turned a blind eye to the warning signs plastered along the chain-links, taking the ignorant view that anything written in a language we couldn't understand didn't apply to us. As I tried to hold the map steady with trembling hands however a caustic bark started to pierce the thin air. This was something we definitely couldn't ignore.

Despite the fact that it was on the other side of the fence, the sheer sight of the big black dog was enough to send us gliding right back into the arena. As the wolf-like creature continued to defend it's territory we then quickly hopped up onto one of the grandstands for safety, and from there we noticed a yellow-bricked structure that had previously been hidden from view. A large plaque on the door bore the word: 'Policija'.

"That must be the place," I said to Gadams.

"Looks like it," he shivered. "I'm presuming 'Policija' translates to 'Police'."

We wandered over to the door and knocked. A man in a full-face balaclava answered.

“Hi guys, my name is Charlie. Are you here for the shooting?”

“Yeah we are,” replied Gadams. "Sorry for the delay, we got a bit lost.”

“Not to bother, come on in out of the cold and we will get started.”

Charlie led us along a corridor lined with tiny sleeping quarters and into a storeroom that was stocked floor to ceiling with weapons and ammunition. Beneath the balaclava he sported a scraggly beard, and his army jacket; khaki trousers; and boots portrayed the image of a soldier who had just returned from military combat.

“I’m assuming from your outfit that you’re ex-special forces?” I queried, usually quite attune to these sort of clues.

“No, this is just how I like to dress,” he chuckled. “Shooting is a hobby of mine.”

“And is this a government compound we’re in right now?” chipped in Gadams, keen to clear up our whereabouts.

“No, it’s just a shooting range.”

Gadams and I looked at one another with similarly questioning glances. A random, non-signposted, hut hidden on a snowy Lithuanian hillside; a tutor who held no qualifications; and an up-front cash only payment policy. Seemed legit.

“What package did you guys opt for?” asked Charlie, pulling out some boxes.

The Gang Banger,” we replied.

“Come again?” he frowned.

The Gang Banger," I said slightly more hesitantly."It was the third one down on the sheet.The seven gun package if that's any help?"

“Ah OK, I follow you now. We just know the packages by the number of weapons, not these stupid names. What did you call it again? The Gang Banger? Some people I know might have taken that as an invitation for a completely different type of weapon. Have you brought along a receipt for this said 'Gang Banger' package?

“Eh… we never actually got one,” gulped Gadams.

“Not to worry, the administrative stuff can be easily sorted out later. There are more pressing matters currently on our hands. If you could grab these,” he said, handing us some bundles to carry, “we will head upstairs to the range and get shooting.”

Lugging the equipment up a rickety staircase we dumped it on a table and took a seat. From one side of the stuffy, low-ceiling, room we got a remarkable view out over the athletics track, and on the other side was the range itself.

“Before we get started," said Charlie, "a quick safety briefing is in order. As agreed, today we will be shooting seven weapons: two pistols, two semi-automatic machine guns, a pump-action shotgun, and two big beasts. The handguns are probably the hardest to hit the targets with, so we will start with them from a 10 m range. If you would both like to take a pair of goggles, these should help protect against any ricocheting cartridges.”

Gadams and I put them on as Charlie then proceeded to give us an ‘alternative’ run-through of the workings, merits, and flaws of each of the guns we would be shooting. The Uzi’s 30cm retractable stem apparently made it the perfect size to be holstered inconspicuously under one’s suit jacket; not the usual piece of office equipment given to employees of British corporations but a handy snippet of information nonetheless. The AK-47 had ‘seen a lot of rounds pass through it’, but quite where Charlie refused to say, and the M4’s built in laser scope apparently made it 'perfect' for picking off targets at 50 m. He was extremely knowledgeable but the way in which he spoke made us frightened to ask too many probing questions, thinking it best just to sit in silence and nod. When his phone rang 5 times straight whilst teaching us how to load a magazine cartridge however I spoke up.

“You can answer that if you want. We don’t mind.”

“No it's OK, honestly. It's just some girl wanting to get a hold of me and I've learnt that it's best just to let my phone ring out."    

“Wait. Are you saying that's a mid-afternoon booty call?” asked Gadams in disbelief.

“Something like that,” he answered with a wry smile.

Concluding the briefing Charlie nipped out onto the range and put up the silhouette posters that would act as our targets onto some wooden stands. Once he was safely back inside we then took our positions at adjacent windows and let rip. The kickback from the handguns initially took us by surprise, but by the time we'd switched to the semi-automatics the targets were being splattered; the empty shells from Gadams' MP5 bouncing off my back as I tried to focus down the scope of my M4. Once the magazines had been emptied we then headed out to see what damage had been caused. It was evident as soon as we approached who had been the most accurate.

“Where the hell did all my bullets end up?” I said in confusion, scratching my head. Whereas Gadams' target looked like it has been shelled by a mortar, my silhouette had escaped with nothing but a few grazes.

"Looks like you'll be buying the first round tonight," giggled Charlie, the man's smile having remained a permanent feature all afternoon.

We thanked him and headed back down the hill and into the town, smelling of live rounds and buzzing with adrenaline.

"What a way to spend the last day of 2015," I beamed.