On Europespedition I: Neds wiv de leds (I)

  • This report is a part of the following series: Europespedition I: Neds wiv de Leds.
  • This piece was written over a year ago. It may no longer accurately reflect my views now, or may be factually outdated.
  • This piece was originally written for my old site, Oh What? Oh Jeez! As such, it may not have transferred over properly and some images and links might be broken (and, to a lesser extent, my writing from years ago is about 80% run-on sentences).

When I am with you I shall keep a diary […] I do not suppose there will be much of interest to other people, but it is not intended for them. […] I shall try to do what I see lady journalists do, interviewing and writing descriptions and trying to remember conversations. I am told that, with a little practice, one can remember all that goes on or that one hears said during a day.

Mina Murray, Dracula

Between the 15th and 24th I was on holiday. Me and three accomplices (Huss, Wheenie and Scrot) stayed in Amsterdam and Noordwijk, bouncing between various Flying Pig hostels. Turns out travelling is the dog’s bollocks, but money is depressingly finite. Even with our tactics of staying in hostels and buying double beds to save money, I still burnt through around four hundred quid, which to a person of student age is a huge amount. HI have my back though, and apparently travel writing can pay off. That, and a record of what happened during our nine days of debauchery might be fun to look back over, not to mention I haven’t written anything for over two months and I’m starting to lose the ability to justify my hosting fees (although the fact I spend about six quid per year on them helps matters somewhat). Second coming of Hunter S. Thompson, here we come!

T minus 1 day

Bags were frantically packed, documents checked and re-checked and time trundled along at a painfully slow place. We were leaving for Stansted at four in the morning the next day, so the other three came round in the evening to spend the night. We decided going to sleep wouldn’t be worth the effort and so pulled an all-nighter; we regretted this within no time. For the time being, we decided not to spend the time watching Cyberbu//y for the twentieth time and instead spent it playing Dark Heresy, with a little chaser of Horrorclix since I’ve recently rediscovered my box of models. The Dark Heresy went swimmingly, although by half three our maths skills were suffering as the daftness of not sleeping began to dawn on us.

Lift-off

Dad came down looking enviably refreshed and drove us to the airport. Driving through Lincolnshire in the early morning, starting when it’s still dark and arriving by the time it’s bathed in daylight is always a great experience as you feel you’re waking up alongside it. By the time we arrived at Stansted, it was as bright as it was going to get and my brain was confused into thinking it’s day so stopped being tired. There was no way that would last, but whilst it did we made our way through security. I set off the scanner and got frisked for the first time ever; already this holiday was full of thrilling new experiences. I looked like a tit walking around without any shoes, but I’m sure we had to remove them the last time I flew. Maybe it’s been long enough since Richard Reid’s footwear faux pas that people have re-evaluated shoes as weaponry, or maybe the smell of thousands of travellers’ bare feet caused airport security worker suicides to skyrocket, or maybe it’s just an American thing. Regardless, before long we were on the plane, which we had to reach by walking across the tarmac. I didn’t think that was still a thing, but I suppose an umbilical is probably miles outside easyJet’s budget.

We had four seats in a row, but the rows were two groups of three separated by the aisle. The others nabbed the seats together and I was left with the lone wolf spot. The girl beside me immediately put in her headphones and closed her eyes, so the odds of conversation were low. She was also the first of many we saw this holiday with hair dyed candy blue, which never stops looking absolutely ridiculous. I followed suit with the headphones as we took off, but the plane’s tiny size and lack of sound insulation meant every grind of a gear or hydraulic movement was horrifyingly loud. Strange sounds from an aeroplane almost invariably send your mind to thinking about exactly how much of the wing just sheared off or which engine you’ve lost. Those thoughts always remind me of Fearless, my favourite plane crash film (a surprisingly populous genre) and the way I tell myself I’d react to a plane crashing. After about twenty minutes of climbing, the pilot came over the intercom to say we were beginning our descent. Being used to the eight or so hours it takes to fly to the US and barely through a single album this came as a surprise, but takeoff and landing are the best bits of any flight so it’s nice to cut out the chaff. The cabin staff came round to sell food and drink, but the prices were about seven quid for a 250ml bottle of wine. Come on easyJet, what level of income do you think someone buying your flights is on?

Day 1

We spent an hour or so faffing around with the Dutch train system and finally emerged from Amsterdam Centraal like so many babes in the wood. Thousands of people were milling about every which way and we walked towards the direction the information lady pointed out when we asked her where to find Nieuwendijk (pronounced Noy-Vend-Jik by us, so props to her for being able to tell where we meant). We hear there for the first time what would become the soundtrack to most of our time in Amsterdam; the frantic ringing of bicycle bells. Looking around we saw a couple cyclists barrelling towards us and darted out of the way just in time. Crossing the road in Amsterdam is an exercise in faith, but we somehow didn’t see any accidents the entire time we’re there. We found the Flying Pig Downtown and were checked-in by a girl who looked like Zooey Deschanel. Once the bags were in our lockers we made a beeline to the nearest pharmacy for some deodorant, because God knows we needed it. Maybe there was a connection there between that and the girl on the plane’s anti-sociality.

I still hadn’t yet crashed and the others all seemed awake so we set off to see the immediate area, which soon devolved into me wanting to find a coffeeshop and kick off the trip. Not just any coffeeshop, mind, since there’s at least three or four within five minutes of the hostel, but Grey Area, which Google Maps tells me is a nine minute walk, but the others let me have the map so it ended up more like an hour and drastically more circuitous than Google Maps’ route. On the way we stumbled onto Langestraat, which the other three fall in love with and add more time to the trip taking thousands of pictures. Photos became a running issue throughout the trip as they took a trillion photos of every drain or blade of grass we came across and I got far too frustrated with it when I should have just left them to it (I myself took one photo the whole holiday, of Aussie John’s head in a linen box). In retrospect, perhaps I should have taken a couple photos as at least then I wouldn’t have to nick a load of pictures from the internet or the others for this article. Live and learn.

Asking directions was a bust, as trying to figure out where we’re asking about when we pronounce Oude Leliestraat as oodee-leelee-strart was too tall an order for anyone about and we ended up getting sent the opposite direction over a bridge that we later found out was right next to Grey Area. The queue was long, but I’m English and that’s my element so I waited whilst the others sit by the bridge. I talked to a couple people in the queue, breaking English queueing etiquette, but they all seemed relaxed for reasons I can’t possibly speculate about and it all went well. After pondering the menu for a while I decided to plump for a €16.99 gram of Ever Grey; starting the holiday with a bang. I also picked up a lighter, grinder and papers and ended up spending around €26. I left very much aware that this was going to be unsustainable; mids it is for the rest of the trip!

We wandered around for a bit longer and ended up going to the Torture Museum for €7.50. As grateful as I was to the Altoids tin I brought for muffling the smell a bit, the museum was narrow and winding and soon ponged quite a bit. We also found a fantastic bench near a canal T-junction and sat for a few hours watching the long tour boats manoeuvre 90°, waiting for a crash that never came. At one point a cop biked up and asked us if we spoke English. The immediate reaction was one of oh shit, is this an Anne Frank memorial bench that’s entirely decorative and by sitting on it we’ve accidentally committed a war crime or something, but he asked us instead if all the bottles laying around were ours. They weren’t and we said so, which he accepted and biked off. I get the impression that the Netherlands is such a peaceful wonderland that the cops can ask people if they’re committing a crime right now and if they are, the criminal feels an obligation to say so.

Scrot fell asleep on the bench and Huss was feeling a bit worse for wear so they went off for a nap; Wheenie and I went to the smoking room and played chess whilst I sampled some of my purchase. Far too much of my purchase, as it turns out, as I lost six games in a row and became a vegetable for a while. We eventually went up for a nap but I couldn’t sleep and after a couple hours I went back down to the smoking room. There were two guys from London and two girls from Paris sitting on the cushions so I joined them but was mostly just quiet. Thankfully they were all about our age and probably weren’t hostelling veterans as I made the rookie mistake of asking if they minded me joining them; if there’s one thing this trip has taught me, it’s that nobody ever minds, you’re all hostelling. Eventually they all went to bed and I follow suit, meeting the Parisian girls again in our room as they turned out to be sleeping under Wheenie and Scrot, by the bed I’d noticed earlier had a pile of books on, topped with Molière’s Le Misanthrope. This was the first hint that the hostelling crowd promised to be a far cry from that of back home, but before I could think about it too much my head hit the pillow and I was out.

Day 2

We hopped on the morning shuttle to the Beach Hostel in Noordwijk and checked in. Down in our dorm we struggled with figuring out which bed was ours and how to open the lockers, eventually pestering an Australian girl who worked there in what would become a constant theme of the trip. On the ground floor, we gravitated towards the sofa area near the front window and claimed it; it would become our home base for the duration of the stay. We went out to get the lay of the land, discovering stroopwafles for about 12c each after spending 60c on them in Amsterdam. Filling and cheap, they were the staple of our diet for the next eight days, with the side effect that I don’t think I will ever be able to eat them again without wanting to die. At the outside seating area we met Portuguese Psychedelic Festival (after his travel destination) and Social Worker (after his vocation), each more baked than the other. Psychedelic Fest gave us the phrase next level shit to describe anything good for the rest of the trip and Social Worker had a lot to say about the value of following your passions and the rewarding nature of social work, as well as doughnuts to share.

After a while we were joined by American Jesus, a long-haired flip-flop-wearing guy who somewhat resembled a shaven The Dude. Eventually we went out to the beach and picked up a cheap Frisbee (or rather flying disc-brand flying disc) that could barely fly and wasn’t even a disc, and we probably looked like the archetypical beach English when we went to the ocean and stood up to our ankles before rapidly retreating back to our towels. We tossed a ball around for a bit and returned to the hostel, everyone a little burnt, but Scrot karmically more so after having boasted that he was so tan he never did so. We reclaimed the sofas and met Australian Dan and a couple of his countrymen whose names are forgotten and who apparently didn’t merit nicknames. Australians were easily the most prevalent nationality throughout the trip, which at first was odd, but when you realise Australia is a place where Irukandji jellyfish and whatever else are allowed to exist, fleeing it in droves becomes understandable. I also ended up delving into the hostel’s copy of Dracula whilst the others cooked up tea as trying to fit all of us in the tiny kitchen proved to be an exercise in slapstick cock-uppery.

In the evening is the hostel’s Battle Shots World Cup: a game of giant Battleship with a half-pint, four shots and two soft drinks for €10 in the first round, €5 in the semi-finals and free in the final. All of us but Scrot lose our games and I get on the Australian girl’s tits a second time when against her by having no idea what she was saying or when I was meant to take a drink. The staff can’t get too drunk though, so we all get through to the semis anyway. I’m still feeling the pinch from my €26 splurge the day before so concede, but the other three continue on. Opposite us on the other sofa are a guy and a girl, the latter of whom we nickname She-Lawrence after her hairstyle’s similarity to that of someone we know’s, but we have not yet slipped into the Rhythm of travelling and so go for a while without talking to them, an act that would be unspeakable by the end of the trip. They make the first move and talk to us, as they have a bet going on where we were from, and we learn the girl is from Bristol and the guy from Sweden. Swedish Chris, as he comes to be known, is an incredibly soft-spoken computer science graduate which leads to a long conversation between him and I that the others drop out of to talk to She-Lawrence. We talk about computer science job prospects, his code monkey job, Blade Runner and he tells me some great inside secrets about the shadier side of SEO that he picked up from a job working for some company I’ve never heard of, tales of incomprehensible webpages somewhere out there on the internet with endless links to client websites for purposes of link spamdexing.

Eventually he joins the others so me and She-Lawrence (née Emma) sit and talk. My earlier guess of sixteen or seventeen is way off as she turns out to be twenty and I learn a valuable lesson about my utter inability to tell people’s ages, which comes up again and again afterwards. She’s been travelling on the cheap for a year, couchsurfing and hitching lifts and all the stuff I want to do, but the fact she has two years head start on me makes me more hopeful than jealous. Soon she will be returning to Bristol to study psychology at uni. She explains how when travelling you eventually slip into “the Rhythm” and become the most sociable bastard ever, which to us somewhat awkward English boys on our first trip out seems unlikely, but turns out to be bang on the money. She also describes her worst Couchsurfing experience, where she was with a friend who spoke no English and she had to translate between them and their host. Any paranoia about Couchsurfing and it’s ilk I had had is effectively quashed, which I’m grateful for because that ought to end up saving me an awful lot of money. We also talk for a while about ancient Greek philosophy, as I’ve read some Plato and she’d had to take a course in it that she thought would be awful but turned out to be fascinating.

As the finals come around Jacob, another of the staff who we’d been talking to earlier when we shacked up in the smoking room and so did just about everyone who worked at the hostel, comes up and says there is a free spot in the semi-final. The mind of the thrifty traveller takes over and I ask him if he meant free as in vacant or free as in no money; it was the latter, but Scrot asks him what the prize was for winning. A free pint, he says, but my suggestion of free room and board for the night leaves me with the nickname Bellend Ben and a reputation for being Dutchier than a Dutch, a phrase that apparently means incredibly cheap. Scrot and Wheenie make it through to the final and end up winning against two of the nameless Australians, redeeming English sporting prowess after Uruguay and Italy had their way with us in Brazil. As we take triumphantly to our sofas, the Australians start talking about the plane that got shot down, and throughout the trip news and developments in that story slowly trickle in in an ominous, background of a disaster movie way. There are also two Brazilian brothers with very broken English about, but we managed to talk to them anyway about the World Cup and football despite my having seen about six games in my life. We get back from a brief trip to the beach and the bar is dead so we go to bed, but Scrot and Wheenie are pissed and excited so soon go back out; they spend the night on the beach with the Brazilians, Australian Dan and some others. Huss and I make up for the all-nighter earlier.

Day 3

Day 3 was a simpler day; it started with me annoying the Australian woman again by faffing around with getting a Euro to pay for a towel for so long that she gave up and let me just have it. We went up and claimed the sofas early, spending most of the day playing Texas Hold ‘Em with Swedish Chris and Australian Dan. Before long, we were joined by Australian Dan II: Dan Harder and spent hours playing the many-titled game Cheat (Australian Dan II called it Bullshit, we called it Cheat before eventually giving it a respectable English name with Bollocks to That). Having two Australian Dans was a disaster waiting to happen, but thankfully the second had fine taste in vidyagaems and managed to recognise when the four of us started drunkenly shouting Killing Floor quotes and singing sections of the official song. From then on he was Dosh, and a finer nickname there never was. After absolutely extinguishing the Killing Floor quote well a few times over and a lyrical discussion of the Germany toilet shit shelf and just what constitutes a brutal shit, Dosh left to get his bus and American Jesus came over, his mind blown by how good the coffee he had just had was. He’d got to talking to the owner of the shop and found out the guy had a room to give; he was loving the Netherlands so much he snapped it up right away. That’s the kind of spontaneous brilliance that attracted me to the idea of travelling so much and it was great to see everything working out for American Jesus.

By this point, I was starting to see what She-Lawrence had meant about the Rhythm and we had all developed something of a script for sparking up conversation with anyone from scratch:

YOU: Hey, where you from?
THEM: {place they’re from}
YOU: Cool, {place you’re from}
THEM: [extend hand] {their name}
YOU: [shake hand] {your name}, where you headed?
THEM: {destination}
YOU: {question about destination}/{anecdote from that time you were there}

And so on and so forth. It’s fantastic when the realisation hits that everybody at the hostel is there for the same reason as you and you will invariably find common ground with everybody. After years of mandatory secondary school pitting you with people whose only similarity may be that they live within the catchment area, this was an incredible experience and a huge part of why I’ve been back a day and am already looking up hostel prices in another tab whilst writing this. We continued to drink before eventually going to bed.

Part Two

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