A Three-Day Carnival Celebration (Bucket List #125)

Maastricht, Netherlands • February 2012 • Length of Read: 14 Minutes

day one

I awoke on Sunday morning bright and early at 9:15. Buzzing, and ready to start the day, breakfast consisted of Bran Flakes accompanied by what would be the first of an unhealthily amount of beers consumed over the course of the proceeding 3 days. Donning my cow onesie costume we made our way down to Vrijhof Square at 1 pm to meet the Erasmus Student Network crew and watch the opening parade. The blue morning sky had unfortunately turned to freezing sleet so it was lucky I happened to be wearing the warmest piece of clothing ever to be manufactured! The Dutch, however, just like the Scots, are unfazed by poor weather and the show definitely went on. Float after float made their way along the streets of Maastricht, each with more colours than the rainbow, accompanied by traditional Dutch music, drummers, drunken conductors shouting into megaphones and a general fantastic atmosphere. All very enjoyable, but having stood there for 2 hours we were fresh out of alcohol. The pub was a waiting.

After a further 2-hour solid drinking session I refuelled myself with KFC and went back to Kevin’s with Ettiene to chill out for the afternoon and play some Super Smash Bros on the N64, accompanied by a bottle of rum of course. Darkness was soon upon us which meant pedalling half-cut back home, hosing down my dinner and then going back into town to continue the celebrations. Meeting up with Jaicy at 9 pm we miraculously managed to find everyone else enjoying a street rave down by Markt Square, and of course were more than happy to join in the fun. Two Aussies, Lyndon and Brendan, were in the midst of backpacking around Europe and were staying in Volksplein whilst visiting friends in Maastricht. Having meant to take the train to Germany the day before, they were too hung-over to move so ended up staying for the whole of Carnival and not leaving until Tuesday Morning. Add in Adele, Renee, Steffi and a whole other bunch of people who said I met them but have no recollection of doing so. Carnage was about to start.Now my knowledge of the night's proceedings from this time onwards is a little sketchy for obvious reasons, but having met with everyone for a hangover breakfast the next day (and piecing together everything we could remember) this is a reasonably accurate account of what occurred.

We join the street party and 10 minutes later enter a pub, which a week later whilst writing this I still don’t know the name of. Lyndon comes over with 2 large shot glasses filled with a red coloured liquid. “Have a Fireman” he proclaims! Not wanting to know any more details about how he managed to order such a drink I give a toast and we sink them down the hatch. After much deliberation, we conclude that it tasted like a mix of Strepsils Throat Sweets and mint and that another round is necessary. In between draining numerous more ‘Fireman’ I vaguely remember joining in an old peoples’ conga line out of the bar and back in, almost tripping over a drunken 8-year-old kid, and receiving more change for 2 drinks than I had handed over – free beer, who’s going to complain? So engrossed in this new drink we had discovered, and now feeling the effects of it, we realised that everyone else had vanished. Taking another one for the road we have yet another toast in the middle of the street before smashing the shot glasses against then nearest bike rack for no apparent reason. It must have looked at us in a funny manner.

Me: “Left or Right.”

Lyndon “Definitely left.”

We waded our way through the crowd, still raving to a haggard old jukebox in the middle of the street, and up to Markt Square. Using military espionage tactics we tried to find the highest point around to get the best view of where everyone might be – this happened to be a statue with loads of girls dancing on it. Jumping up we put our dance moves on and start chatting. There was a wreath on top of the statue decorated with leaves and fruit. What would any normal person do? You guessed it. I try to feed them some lettuce.

Me: “Where’s the best bar around here?”

Girl: “I don’t know.”

Me (Angrily): “Why not!”

Girl: “I’m only 16.”

Me: “Goodbye.”

Running away we make our way back to Vrijhof Square we enter the first bar I see.

Me: “Two shots of the strongest drink you have please.”

Barwoman: “You do know that’s Red Label Whiskey?

Me: “Perfect! How much do I owe you?”

This choice of drink did not impress Lyndon in the slightest.....

Turning on our heels we find the rest of the group (now accompanied by an American contingent) dancing around an all-white sausage cart which had two large speakers attached, was accompanied by dancers, also head-to-toe in white, and had an in-house DJ. In the words of Cooper Harris: This was definitely where I’d parked my car! Now I can only assume that it was one of the few remaining floats from the carnival but nonetheless they seemed happy to have drawn a crowd. We followed the cart everywhere it went, dancing alongside and singing word-for-word every song the DJ played from his Generation 2 I-pod Nano. Turning around at midnight, exhausted and with the float owners starting to get slightly agitated with us, we looked to see the vast distance we had travelled – a whole 150m from across the other side of the square! I suppose time really does fly when you’re having fun.

When the float dancers started to dismantle the cart we took it as our cue to leave, which obviously meant finding the nearest bar. With Maastricht having the statistic of encasing ‘more bars per square mile than any other city in Europe’ - this was not too difficult. Rounds of Tequila Slammers please Barkeep. Now by this point, I have been drinking for going on 12 hours straight and had eaten little in the way of food. Hunger gets the better of me and I stray away to get some Kassouflet. I get lost. With no-one else in a state to operate their mobile phones, I call Pavel. He answers. Meeting up with him we surge around every bar at the Markt, introducing myself to anyone I can find and genuinely just being a nuisance to society. A girl approaches me and claims she likes my hair and then proceeds to full-on bite my nose!

Me: “Eh Sorry? Are you special?”

Her: “…..”

Me: “I’m going to take that as a ‘Yes’.”

It is now 2 am and I need to dance more. We march onwards to the only club in Maastricht: The pig-sty shit-tip that is…… Alla!

From this point on I am blootered and nothing of much interest occurs. We dance, I meet someone from Wales and have a go at them for beating us in the rugby, I make more friends whose names I don't remember. We stay for half an hour tops before returning home. Despite raping my wallet of any cash I had left Carnival had definitely been a success so far. And that was only Day 1.

day 2

No sleep for the wicked! I woke up early on Monday, along with the rest of Volksplein, feeling like death. We all congregated on 70E’s kitchen to discuss the previous night’s antics and I managed to put together a timeline for my last blog post. Despite all being equally drunk and generally being in the same place as each other we all seemed to have had extremely different nights, but equally enjoyable. Brendan, for example, had woken up across the river and had walked all the way back, past what he claimed to have been a Medieval Castle. A quick Google maps search showed the nearest castle being 2h 39m on foot so it is still a mystery as to where he went, having taken only 45 mins to get home.

ESN had arranged a pub crawl for 2 pm and we were welcomed at Falstaff with a healthy crowd, already necking the beers. With enough alcohol in our systems from the night before to probably still be over the limit, we had previously agreed to calm down on the alcohol consumption for the day – but that clearly wasn’t going to happen! Double fisting at lunch time we danced our way around several bars until we made it safely and drunkenly to the Markt. Here the pub crawl parted ways agreeing to meet up again at 10 pm to continue our Maastricht invasion, with some participants wanting to go home for some much needed R&R. We, however, had other plans and were not going to stop that quickly. We spotted a blue float beside the last pub with the music turned up to 10 and scores of older people dancing around in flash, sparkly clothing…..their party was now our party. Jumping on the float we turned the civilized parade into a rave tent. After about 20 minutes of drunken international students upsetting this status-quo, they had had enough. We were asked first to politely leave, and when we ignored that warning were threatened in Dutch with something I was not willing to hang around to get a physical translation for.

Bar Street was the next stop on our mission to visit every licenced establishment in the city. Think of this place as a more upbeat and less sophisticated Ashton Lane and you get the picture of where we were heading. The main joint to be cased is called Café Cliniq which plays its music louder than everywhere else and has cheaper drinks prices. Unfortunately, however, it was also home to a crowd so young it would make Boho Unders look like an old folk’s home. After buying a round of drinks with a 10 Euro note and receiving 42 Euros in change I quickly exit the crèche - Without everyone else for some reason. A fair while later I randomly bump into Lyndon who is trying to shake off a girl who appears to be stalking him. With a leave no man behind attitude he runs away to the toilet to never return - leaving me stranded. I try to think as to the whereabouts of my friends and have my first sensible thought of the day – I return to Café Cliniq. None of the original group was there but I did bump into Ben, a native who is in my finance tutorial. Apparently, I also met a load of other exchange students and was buying them drinks – I have no recollection of this. I have a feeling I then met the Peruvians and tried to convince them to go with me to Feesfabrik, which I had been told was the best bar to pick-up women. I can only assume we couldn’t find it as the next thing I knew I was in a conga line going up the street towards Vrijof. There I rejoined the same group whom I had left in Café Cliniq, ordering a round of 15 beers as my apologies for running away.

Time to get my dance on once more, I stroll into the bar with Bjorn only to be manhandled by some big black bouncer and chucked back onto the street. I am still confused about what had happened but having spoken to the barman who was outside the explanation was given as this. Completely verbatim:

“You were dancing together so energetically it looked like you were fighting each other”

For some reason, I accepted this answer and went quietly back to my table full of beer, perhaps because the man was built like a mountain.  Smashing each glass on the floor as we drank, we were feeling tired. A Fireman was most definitely needed to keep us awake.

We enter the bar and request the bottle only to be told we had drunk it all the day before and they were all out…

Lyndon asks for the next best thing and the bartender brings out a gold plastic bottle; which at first has the appearance of industrial cleaning fluid. Perhaps that’s why she had it stored beneath the sink instead of on the spirits shelf behind the bar? Now any normal person would have immediately seen that this was going to be a bad idea. After a whole day of drinking, however, this looked like a great idea. Bottoms up, we order a round………yuck!

Renee had to take Bjorn home because he was too drunk to stand of talk and we completely lost Brendan and Adele. In an almost real life deja-vu situation we leave the same bar and are in the same situation as the previous night:

Me: “Left or Right.”

Lyndon “Definitely left.”

Back towards the street rave, it is, this thing must have been going on for 48 hours non-stop by now. I find a ripped and shrivelled costume lying on the ground and decide to try it on. To my disappointment, it doesn’t fit, although a purple cow with horses legs looked like a very cool hybrid animal if you ask me. Sprinting into the Vrijhof Square in search of food we approach one of the many burger vans. “Fish” is the only word we can get out and the man behind the counter hands us dishes of battered strips of what I assume to be haddock, although not 100% convinced. Expecting to be told a price he instead just stares at us like we are aliens from another planet. We walk away with our free food, confused and debating whether to go back for more - I swear I couldn’t make this stuff up.

We enter a pub that has both a side door as well as the main entrance and instead of going to the bar like any normal people decide to walk round in circles out one door and back in through the other. It was definitely time to go home. We walk past the statue with the fruit covered wreath and see that there is a whole bunch of potatoes sitting there. Self –amusing as Lyndon and myself are, what started as a distance throwing competition lead to a stray one almost hitting the side of a police car driving past. Let’s get out of here. The journey home which should have taken 10 minutes turned into three-quarters of an hour as we developed an unhealthy obsession with finding an unlocked bike to cycle back, to no avail, however. With Lyndon pressing every flat buzzer the whole way up the street home I crashed out promising myself tomorrow would be a much more sensible and relaxed affair.


day 3

The final day of the carnival was also the tamest with two solid days of drinking getting the better of us. We owed it to ourselves though to at least head out for the closing ceremony so at 10 pm we tried to stomach some beer and jaunted down to bar street to find the ESN crew. After some cheerful dancing, it was time to head to Vrijhof Square, taking our place among the gathering crowd of thousands who were waiting with bated breath for what promised to be a dramatic closing ceremony.

A large 20ft model which was hung from a pole, the best visual description without a photo is that of a Russian Doll. People then proceeded to ramble on through a megaphone in Dutch as the crowd got all the more ecstatic as every second ticked closer to midnight. I have no idea what they were spouting but some of the crowd were so excited and drunk it looked like they might have a seizure. Starting a chant with Bjorn of “Burn the Bitch, Burn” we were under the impression that the grand finale involved setting the doll on fire. People started joining in but our rendition of ‘Disco Inferno’ might have taken it one step too far as we started to get some frowning looks from the locals. We thought it might be safer to shut up.

The clock struck 12 am and everyone started cheering….but still no fire. They then proceeded to take down the doll and pack it up safely back in a van as the crowd began to disperse… worst closing ceremony ever but then it wasn’t exactly the Beijing Olympics.

Despite having 3 of the best days of my life Carnival had defeated me, and my liver is probably still slowly recovering as I write this more than a week later. My costume did manage to survive to tell the tale though so after a quick wash and tumble dry I’m sure it’s presence will be seen on the streets of Glasgow next Halloween.