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.
*PIN NOT AUTHORISED*
“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.
*PIN NOT AUTHORISED*
“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…