I went with a company called Outgoing – my friend Emma works for them as a Trip Co-ordinator and basically organises everything from hostel bookings to coaches, to ferry crossings and even bar crawls. The company themselves do trips to loads of European countries, they’re mainly aimed at student groups and are low budget, quick stop tours involving copious amounts of alcohol and if they’ve got time, a bit of culture too. We went as Outgoing reps for the weekend, despite the sheer amount of students going (400+), our responsibilities were fairly minimal; we had to get the students there, get them into rooms at the hostel and then get them to their club night on the first evening. Apart from this, we had to be available for general queries and questions most of the weekend by phone but we found group leaders and students were fairly self sufficient. This was great, as it freed up the weekend for us to explore the city and take in some culture.
We were staying at the Hans Brinker hostel in the centre of Amsterdam. Having had a brief glance at their website before we went, I was unsure whether to be amused or terrified for what was in store but having spent 4 nights there now, I’d recommend it to anyone. The rooms were basic but more than adequate and the place had a really nice vibe. Staff were really friendly and helpful and it was in a great location for the centre of town. On the first day we arrived we had a walk around the centre, went down by the canals and in some of the cool vintage shops. We stumbled across an amazing antique shop and spent a good half hour looking round at the charming desks and baroque style mirrors – the place was like Aladdin’s cave, it just kept going back and back with more great rooms full of antique gems to explore. We headed back to the hostel to get ready for the club night and escorted all the students across town to Dansen bij Jansen – a student club with a 42nd street kind of vibe. As Outgoing regularly bring their students here, Emma had a good relationship with the owner and we soon found out he’d got us on the guest list for The Black Keys after party who’d been playing in Amsterdam that evening. This was a huge win.
At around midnight, we went to a café next door to the club and purchased our first ‘special cake’. I feel I should state now, I’ve always had a pretty strong opinion about drugs and had purposely never tried anything before. As such we were a little apprehensive but figured if there was anywhere in the world to try it for the first time, it was Amsterdam. We shared a cake between us and then went back into the club and waited for it to take effect. After about 40 minutes, the giggling started. After about 80 minutes, the giggling continued but a bout of paranoia had definitely started to kick in. We started to be very aware of the fact we were laughing and that all the students would know we were high. As we were supposed to be ‘authority figures’ for the weekend, it was making us really conscious. I started to feel like I wanted to lie down, the whole club was starting to spin and contort and I just wanted quiet. We started walking across town back to the hostel, laughing all the way home. I don’t think my mouth’s ever been that dry in my life, I felt like a lizard licking my lips constantly and twitching, a side effect I’d definitely not expected. Once we got back to the hostel, I felt more at ease but was still shocked at how much it had affected me and how long it was lasting.
On reflection, it probably wasn’t the best place to try it. We’d been drinking, were in a strange, loud place with people we didn’t know and were certainly not prepared for the after effects. I’m glad I tried it and will definitely look back at it with fond memories of giggling fits and feeling like one massive cliché, but I don’t know whether I’d do it again. I honestly don’t know how anyone does it on a daily basis and feels that rubbish the next day. For me, the lack of control was fun for about half an hour, but after that I just wanted to ‘sober up’. The thing I disliked the most, was that I wasn’t able to. I’m glad that I had the experience I did with someone who was doing it for the first time as well, we were almost channeling and feeling the same thing at the same time. Having always been against drugs however, it was good to know that after having that experience, I still pretty much feel the same. The lack of control’s just not appealing for me.
The next day was one long hangover – despite wanting to curl up in bed and die, I managed to get myself up and about and we had a walk into town for breakfast and I got some great photos of the buildings along the river. I fell in love with the architecture when I was there, I love the way that all the houses were completely different. In one row, each house was unique and individual, with really skinny ones, tall ones with turrets and coats of arms and wide ones with a multitude of colours and shutters. It was all so picturesque. On the way home we stopped off at Wok to Walk for some top class noodles – this place was awesome. You could choose every part of your dish from which noodles you wanted, to meat/veg/sauce etc – definitely recommended if you visit Amsterdam for a quick meal. Saturday night arrived and the students were all going on a bar crawl organised by an outside promoter. We got them all to the first drop off point and then headed out ourselves with the plan to go to the Red Light District. On our way, we were exploring some of the back streets and came across a gorgeous little bar and stopped off for some hot chocolate to warm ourselves up. We ended up staying here all night, got a bottle of champagne and watched the world go by. The bar itself was fairly small but clearly not somewhere tourists would normally stop at. We got chatting to two girls who lived locally and talked about everything from British politics to Twitter – we really felt like we’d stumbled across a gem of a bar and had such a great evening.
The next day we were up bright and early as it was checking out time for all the students. Check out went fairly smoothly and by midday we’d got all the coaches on their way. We jumped straight onto a boat tour and spent the next couple of hours sailing down the canals taking in some of the beautiful scenery. After our boat ride we had a walk round Vondelpark and stopped off at a café inside the park for lunch. The park itself is huge – it was buzzing with people making the most of the sunshine and we spent a while just people watching. I’ve never been to NYC before, but it seemed a lot like how I imagine Central Park would be, a huge calm in the middle of the city.
Sunday evening arrived and with it our last night in Amsterdam. We’d got tickets to a standup comedy show at Boom Chicago, after turning up slightly late we got ushered to seats right at the front and sat there trying to sink down into our seats as far as possible. The show itself was all about improvisation, the 4 comedians would ask the audience for different pieces of information like a girl’s name, a famous actress, an action, an occupation etc then perform sketches based on these items. Some of it was unsurprisingly pretty poor and a bit try hard but there were some funny parts – one highlight was a video clip from their new show ‘Social Media Circus’ – a sketch about the dark side of social media use (currently trying to find the video online, will post later if I’m successful!). My personal favourite of the show however, was when Emma got called up on stage and ridiculed for her middle class upbringing and ‘rambling’ hobbies. They proceeded to improv’ an entire song about her, wish I’d got it on video.
After the show we went for some dinner and found without a doubt the best restaurant I’ve ever been to. Red looked like a member’s only club from the outside; there was no sign and just a huge black door with a lamp outside. We pushed the door and came into a tidy little room with lush velvet curtains surrounding us. We parted the curtains and walked into the main dining area where we were greeted by our waitress. They didn’t have a menu, they just served two things: steak or lobster(!) We were seated at a table by the window and given an extensive wine list with some of the most expensive wines I’ve ever seen available – we went for the House white. The restaurant interior was gorgeous, mint green velvet chairs, mosaiced ceilings and spectacular flower displays, this was definitely not your average steak joint. Our steaks arrived and my god they were good. Best steak I’ve ever had by a long way, just perfectly cooked and really tender with just the right amount of blood – I honestly tried to distract myself from eating it so it lasted longer! We were there for hours savouring the wine and reliving our tales of the weekend – a brilliant end to our last evening in Amsterdam.
Monday morning came and we were up and out of the hostel by ten. Emma had a few meetings with suppliers to go to so I wandered round and made my way to the Van Gogh museum, after seeing the epic queue outside I decided to check out the Rijks Museum instead but kinda’ wish I hadn’t bothered. It was fairly dull inside with only a few paintings I liked, mainly an Andy Warhol piece of some Dutch royalty. The rest of the art in there was not to my taste, a lot of portraits and war related art – in hindsight I would have been better sticking with Van Gogh. I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering round shops and then stopped off at a café for a hot chocolate and pancakes – the patisseries in Amsterdam were amazing, I’m seriously going to miss the doughnuts and custard croissants we had every day whilst we were there! Emma finished her meetings and we headed straight to the airport for the trip home.
All in all, a bloody fabulous weekend was had in Amsterdam. There’s so much that we didn’t see that I’d like to go back and check out and other stuff I’d like to do again (mainly the Red steak), but it couldn’t have really gone any better. It’s such a gorgeous, picturesque city and has so much more to offer than prostitutes and drugs. I could have easily spent another week or so there exploring the museums and art galleries and more of the boutique shops. I didn’t really get to see the Red Light District when I was there so that’s something I’d like to do next time and I also really wanted to check out the flower markets and gardens too, so that’s another for the list. If you haven’t been to Amsterdam before, I really would recommend spending at least a week there to really get a feel for it; it really is a magical place.
I’ve posted a selection of pics here but I’ll be posting my entire collection on Flickr shortly once I get my Diani Mini film processed J