On the Europespedition

Neds wiv de leds

~10,000 words

Published:

Last modified: July 27th, 12,014 HE

Part 1

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!

MDCarchive @ Wikimedia Commons

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 250 ml 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.

What is the feeling when you’re driving away from people, and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? -it’s the too huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.

Sal Paradise, On the Road

Part 2

Part deux of the thrilling saga of the Inbetweeners’ adventures in the Netherlands.

Day 4

We got a nine thirty shuttle and felt like arse to the point where when we checked in at the Flying Pig Downtown again we couldn’t bring ourselves to tell the receptionist we’d been before and quietly listened to the whole induction talk again. It was bags in the lockers and back outside to the Dam Square where we met Huss’ sister and her two friends, the three having booked a trip to Amsterdam coincidentally for the same time as we were there. Huss was stunned when his sister asked if he’d been into the Amsterdam herb and that she would be tomorrow and before long they went off on their merry way whilst we went to 420 Cafe, where we had been told by Australian Dan we could get space cakes; Scrot wanted to try some weed but wasn’t a fan of smoking so this seemed like a good compromise. We took them to a big outdoors café and had them with bitterballen (about the only Dutch food we could pronounce). Scrot heeded not my warnings and ate the whole thing at once whilst I had half and we decided we should probably get back to the hostel sharpish, just to be safe. After about an hour they kicked in and Scrot was on his arse in bed staring up at the ceiling. We left him and played pool for a bit whilst I finished mine and so coasted on the longer but more manageable high. When we went back upstairs, Scrot was a goner. Wheenie and Huss went to get KFC but I was too comfortable and Scrot was practically unconscious so we stayed back.

The evening came and we decide to go out, leaving Scrot to his dreams. We meet back up with Huss’ sister and her friends and go on a pub crawl; the first place is just off the Dam Square and when they say pints were €8, the ripple of disbelief as the news travelled down our group sums up how different Amsterdam’s deal was to Noordwijk’s, where hostel pints at happy hour (9–11pm) are €2.30. We eventually find a string of places with €5 pints which is about as good as we were going to get. The best is Ziggy’s Bar off Oudekerksplein, a small pub with an upstairs pool area above a basement room at the back. One of Huss’ sister’s friends has her first shot come straight back up and the other is named Giselle, but had been nicknamed Jizz by her friends until they reached the age where they realised Giselle wasn’t a name you could shorten in polite company. We also find a place that gives girls free shots with every pint bought, which we very much take advantage of. Huss’ sister decides to buy me a pint or two and even chips in for some of my McDonald’s at the end of the night when I run out of money; we’ve been making jokes about picking up Huss’ sister for about a month now and she goes and ends up paying for my drinks and treating me like the girl. No complaining here though; someone Dutchier than a Dutch will always welcome free things. We eventually part ways and walk back to the hostel where Scrot is still sleeping. The night is obscenely hot and the wankers in the next room had nicked our fan so everyone has a rough night.

Day 5

Around the half-point of the trip was the only day on which we didn’t drink. We kicked it off by trekking to the EYE Film Institute Netherlands which was doing a month-long David Cronenberg exhibit and end up watching Videodrome. No-one is quite sure what to make of it once it’s done but we all think we probably enjoyed it. Wheenie and Huss had been convinced to give brownies a go so we went back to 420 Cafe. Neither had any experience with weed so they got one to share between them. Back in the hostel they crack in. It’s too hot to do anything outside so Scrot and I are fine to stay with them. Wheenie’s kicked in whilst we were walking back to the hostel so by the time we’re there he’s already a write-off. Huss’ kicks in shortly after and they sit together on the bed with Scrot whilst I lounge on the other. Wheenie lucks out with a giggly high and routinely laughs silently for minutes until he’s fallen to one side. Huss freaks out a bit and comments that every time [he] moves his head, it’s like someone squeezing his eyes like a sandwich. He thinks he’s dying and we help and reassure him by taking the piss and quoting The Inbetweeners. On the subject of The Inbetweeners, one downside we discovered of being a group of four eighteen-year-old English boys is that every last person we met from the Anglosphere immediately called us it. I suppose it could have been worse; when we inevitably asked which ones we all were, Wheenie and I got a healthy mix of Simon, Will and Neil (the Neil shoutout having been accompanied with a spirited defence of how he was the best of the group and had the most game), Huss was deemed too mysterious to even guess at and, best of all, Scrot was unanimously Jay’d by the about sixteen Anglos we met.

After a while of lazing in the room, Scrot said he was too ill to do anything and went to bed (he was dealing with some sort of cold he’d picked up the night before and went on to infect the entire group and probably more than that with his weely bad sniffles, as we christened the condition to take the Michael) and the other two were either already asleep or just in a world of their own so I made my way back to the venerable smoking room. There was a girl from Virginia on her own so we ended up spending a few hours talking and smoking. When she left I finally asked her her name which turned out to be Laura Lee; about as stereotypically Virginian as I think a person could get. Images of dungarees and a wheat stalk lolling out of her mouth popped into my head but she had been lovely so I giggled internally as we said goodnight and she went up to bed. I eventually got up and joined a group of people on the cushion mound: an Australian, who was a bit too out of it to say an awful lot; an Asian guy from somewhere, possibly also Australia, who was similarly gone; and an Argentinian girl from Buenos Aires who strongly resembled Katheryn Winnick’s Lagertha from Vikings, which was certainly nice. We talked for a while about how beautiful Patagonia is and what life in Buenos Aires was like, and just as with the Brazilians never had any trouble understanding each other, even with her limited grasp on English. I think some things are universal enough that you can get someone’s gist just by the way they say something, regardless of the language they say it in. Things like a hearty swear after a stubbed toe, or how cool 260,000 m2 semiarid scrub plateaus are. I was starting to feel the call of the bed so said goodnight and made my way back up to our furnace of a room.

Day 6

We woke and got on the midday shuttle back to the beach hostel, on which we met Aussie Jon (or Jaussie as Huss coined but I never really warmed to it), a perpetually high man who communicated almost entirely in giggles. By the end of the 45 min trip, we’d all become fast friends and I ended up spotting him some of my own stash because he’d forgotten to stock up in Amsterdam before going to the hostel, the nearest coffeeshop to which was a 20 min bus ride away. When we arrived and checked in we went down to our room and saw the Australian woman again. Oh, you’re back, she said with all the enthusiasm of the prison bitch as Brick and T-Bone come back to the cell with a shifty look. I promised to be less irritating to her this time around and she seemed to trust me and replied with a laugh and it’s okay. Upstairs we met Swedish Chris again, along with an Aussie girl and her Kiwi friend who were christened Hot Australian Girl and Friendzone, respectively. Later that night, and further cementing the beach hostel as the greatest place in the world, the bar was turned into a cinema and everybody watched The Room. As a testament to the universality and simple magic of the film, a quartet of Danes arrived midway through and immediately shouted out ooh, za Rüm! A middle-aged couple also arrived and the woman commented that she didn’t get why people watch the film. By the end of it, she was joining in the jokes from the back of the bar.

After the film, we speak to the Danes for a bit and I repeatedly call them Swedish, which I now wonder if counts as racism. Drinks are had and the others go to bed so it’s time for the by now well-rehearsed shuffle to the smoking room to mingle with the night birds. For some reason, the smoking rooms always seemed populated a few hours later into the night than the bars at the hostels. Unsurprisingly, Aussie John is there having a giggle and I spend the time with him and a bunch of the staff, including Jacob the ponytailed New Zealander from before and Craig, the Scousiest Scouse I’ve ever met who may or may not work at the hostel but who is never seen without his vape in one hand and a pint in the other. There I carve out my spot in the hostel lore when I ask if the Red Light District has a happy hour, a question that sounds far more reasonable in my head than out loud and which brings forth a torrent of laughter and a promise from Craig to bring that up to every guest the hostel ever has. The night ends on an entertaining note when Hot Australian Girl wanders in plastered, speaks to me just long enough for me to get her name and passes out on the smoking couch. When you are such a state that the phrase it’s okay, she’s got a pulse has to be shouted and you don’t react in any way to having a bucket of ice thrown on you, you perhaps need to re-evaluate the way your life is going. Jacob is getting increasingly concerned as some of the people in the smoking room grow a bit leery towards her and so takes her up to bed. I follow suit.

Day 7

In the morning, Summer (the real and easier-to-type-repeatedly name of Hot Australian Girl), Scrot and I lounged on the sofas and I had the pleasure of recounting how much of a tit Summer made of herself the night before, which was as much news to her as it was to Scrot. Summer looked about ready to curl up and die from embarrassment and we got to know her as the rest of the group woke up and joined us. As well as giving us a handy scale for quantifying how off their face someone is (with 1 Summer of smashedness being equivalent to her the night before), she also gave us excellent piss-taking material when she popped into a conversation about the various countries’ Mountain Dews tasting different by asking if it was because they were from different mountains. During the day spent entirely at the sofa area I discovered new and wonderful ways to sprawl over wherever I’m sat, which ended up with me on a throne-like chair with a high back and an arm down the back, leg over the armrest. A comment on the kingliness of the repose led to me having to elaborate on my fantasy of lounging around whilst being fed peeled grapes, fanned softly and having a dwarf dressed like a cherub prancing around playing a tiny harp. I have perhaps watched too much Rome.

Before long we’re joined by three San Diegans (Trejo, a half-Mexican natural storyteller and seemingly the Jeremy Clarkson of their group; Burger, the slightly quieter but no less entertaining Richard Hammond of it; and Erica, the even quieter mum of the group, as she later said she hates being identified as, and therefore taking the James May position) and an Austrian (I forgot his name, but kept calling him German which brought me to the same maybe-racist place I was in with the Danes the day before), travelling together. They introduce us to the magical world of 24-bottle crates of beer for €12 from the nearby supermarket, as well as the drinking game Buffalo. We end up buying three of the former which combines with the latter to contribute to hours of drunken stories and banter, the most recurring of which revolves around Summer becoming a hooker and Trejo her pimp. Despite the bizarre roads it travels down, including just how concise a proposition would be successful (considering she was known as Hot Australian Girl the night before, we eventually whittle it down to Sex?) and god knows where else, she stuck around the whole day, which either says something about her personality or about the availability of other company. Whilst at the shop to pick up a third crate, the San Diegans and Austrian miss their shuttle. When we get back, Erica is understandably somewhat ticked off but soon gets over it; I imagine that sort of thing happens often enough. Scrot has suffered from Buffalo more than anyone else whereas I break the game by keeping two bottlecaps in my right hand to keep it off-limits.

At some point, Erica and I go off to the smoking room whilst back at Fort Sofa the drinking continues. We sit on the cushion area (or rather she does; I sprawl as is my custom) and she smokes a brown plant, I green. Here is where I learn that weed is only a good social drug when everyone’s on it as I end up constantly forgetting who I’m with and where I am and instead staring at a really nice grain in the wood or whatever else. Every time I do, I come back and feel like I’ve been silent for ages and worry how awkward it must be for her, but she reassures me that it’s fine and seems to be laughing enough that I’m willing to believe her. She gives me her travel diary to read, which we had all signed earlier with things varying from an elaborate drawing of a friend ship from Huss and Wheenie to an elongated cuuuuuuuunt from me in lieu of having any better ideas. It’s strange to have someone I met an hour or so ago share all those intimate stories with me; she writes candidly about her hopes and fears, her personal thoughts and her adventures. Maybe it’s a travelling thing to trust that those you meet will be sympathetic to you out of a sense of reciprocity; a sort of traveller’s karma. Or maybe she’s just an open person, who knows.

We talk for a few hours about travelling and the diary stories, relationships, music, uni (she’s off to do a course in Engineering; between that and Swedish Chris’ Computer Science, there’s some really nice representation of the STEM subjects this trip to counteract all the liberal arts students and the idea that we can’t be cool too) and she ends up with a recommendation from me to listen to Pat the Bunny after she says she’s into folk and I see a chance to know at least one person who may someday listen to him, as well as a reinforcement of someone else’s recommendation to read On the Road, the fifth part of which is one of the most stirring things I have ever read and makes me long cripplingly for a trip to ’50s-era Mexico. Aussie Jon also comes in and becomes a fan almost immediately when she says she enjoys rolling and offers to do it for him. I take advantage of the service too but the next shuttle is due soon so we go out and rejoin the others.

As soon as we’re back in the bar, I’m assaulted by noise and Summer who appears out of nowhere and shouts in my face asking where I’ve been. Following the noise to the pool table, it turns out that in the time we were gone an entire beer pong tournament was held and we arrived just in time for the final. It’s England vs. America and Erica gets press-ganged into service for her country. For some reason Summer ends up having to lay beneath the pool table for a bit after either succeeding or failing to do something and I realise I don’t know the rules to beer pong at all. Somebody wins, and I think it may have been England, but it’s hard to tell. The San Diegans and Austrian say their goodbyes and go to their shuttle. Just before they go, Scrot gets a picture of me, him and Erica in what is one of about five photos of me taken on the trip and the only photographic record that I smiled at any point, or whatever you’d call this:

The night is yet young and we all end up splitting up again. The others go to the beach with some randies whilst I join Aussie John in the smoking room, along with: an Argentinian guy named Francisco who is so perpetually smiley that his eyes end up looking like Brock from Pokémon’s; two Canadian girls, Stefanie and Angela; two Asians from America, one a New Yorker and the other from a state with an o in the name; Penthouse Kris, a Norwegian who is staying in the fifth floor single room which was about as close as the Flying Pig got to a penthouse; and Maxine, a New Yorker on shrooms who spends the entire night staring blankly at the wall opposite. The New Yorker Asian spends the night freaking her out by staring at her and looking away whilst Aussie Jon and the Canadian girls figure I’m drunk enough to mess around with; Aussie John tells me the Canadians’ names the opposite way around and I’m baffled as to why the wrong one keeps turning around when I call them, whilst one of the Canadians offers me a mint and says it’s ecstasy. I’m digging either, so nab it straight away and get a lecture about not taking random pills from strangers that perhaps has a very good point. Penthouse Kris and Francisco end up losing it when I have to explain what the term gash means; Penthouse Kris more so as he decides I sound exactly like James May and that that is the funniest notion he’s ever encountered. Eventually the gang returns and Scrot tells me of their adventures on the beach; there have been hilarious lip-locked pairing of boys and girls and the culprits are sure to be suitably piss-took in the morning for their parts in the debacle.

The night looks to be ending on a similarly high note when Summer has a bit too much again and has to be piloted to safety by Friendzone, but not before vomming down the stairs (much to the chagrin of the Parisian girl working on cleanup duty who comes in to loudly exclaim that it smells of death in her thick French accent and then furiously hoovers afterwards) but ends either on a low note or an even higher one, depending on your perspective, when we end up faffing around on the hostel computer with a staff member from London who we introduce to eFukt (careful with that link) and who shows us Brazilian fart porn before we go off to bed. An ignominious way to end a night perhaps, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve read Bashō’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, and I feel this day was just as deserving of a haiku as any sight he saw:

Meeting great people,
The reason for travelling—
Brazilian fart porn.

Part 3

Part drei of the rhythmic odyssey that was the inaugural Europespedition.

It is better to have your head in the clouds, and know where you are… than to breathe in the clearer atmosphere below them, and think that you are in paradise.

Henry David Thoreau

Day 8

I’d been staying up until 4am and waking up at 8am each day, but I wasn’t yet reaping what I’d sowed nor even having much of a hangover the next morning. I’d managed not to annoy the Australian woman again and I think I’ve redeemed myself in her eyes as she’s been saying saying hi and smiling at me every time I see her. Once the others were awake, the four of us went to the beach with Aussie John and Penthouse Kris and chilled out listening to John’s tunes on a speaker right by my ear — whenever I closed my eyes I was enveloped in the music and the rest of my body floated a thousand miles away. It turned out the John was a Biggie man but Kris a Tupac, just going to show that travel truly does bring disparate groups together. We messed around in the ocean for a bit, jumping over waves, dried off and went back to the hostel. Aussie John stayed behind and we figured he’d come back when he’s ready. Back at the hostel we slipped back into our sofa base alongside Summer and Friendzone. We gave the people who hooked up last night the piss-taking they deserved and went out for Huss’ first experience of chips with mayo.

Aussie John had been gone for hours and Penthouse Kris said he was sleeping when he left. An ambulance was parked outside the hostel for a few hours and we all got a bit worried for John. We went out for another crate and came back to immediately hear a high-pitched giggle, signalling that Aussie John was around. We found him in the smoking room (natch), burnt to a cinder. We were glad he’s not dead, but left him when the staff went out to the beach and told us to tag along. There we met Tommo, a Dutch regular who somebody gave a guitar with which he provided the soundtrack to the gathering: Tenacious D, Team America: World Police, a jazzy acoustic rendition of a System of a Down song, a cover of Wonderwall in an exaggerated British accent and a rather dubious song of his own making about AIDs.

We go back to the hostel after a while and a 22 Jump Street drinking game kicks off. Wheenie and I decide it’ll be a good idea to get a pitcher each and drink from them like giant glasses, but the film is a shitty camrip with unintelligible audio so I bail to go to the smoking room with Aussie John for a bit. The others come in and we all go up to Penthouse Kris’ penthouse with Aussie John and an exuberant Canadian woman the others met the night before and who has dived over a sofa onto me six times by the end of the night — I assume I looked so at one with the sofa that she didn’t see me. The others get the munchies for kebab and we go off again. Outside I meet Francisco again, along with two of his Argentinian buddies: Juan, whose name I pronounce more and more exaggerated each time; and the other guy. Francisco has apparently told his friends about the night before and I’ve got some infamy in their group. We have a laugh and discuss how Brits and Argies are meant to hate each other, but the four I’ve met have been a hot girl and three cool guys, so they’re okay in my book. The others have their food and we all walk back to the hostel. The Argies disappear and we all go back up to the penthouse where everyone crashes on the double bed and watches South Park whilst I stand out on the balcony staring up at the starry night sky and moving my head to get everything but it out of sight.

It’s that time of night again, so the others go to bed and I make my way to the smoking room. I sit next to an obscenely adorable Swedish girl and we talk for a while before she leaves and Max, a dreadlocked (not in the over-managed, perfect sausages king of way, but in the I forgot I have hair for a few years and this happened kind of way) regular we saw on the beach earlier comes up. We talk about dreads and he says how his lot were having a laugh at us for giving Tommo too much attention; a sure sign that we were new here. He points out an Irish girl who’s been getting guys to buy her drinks all night and says he can recognise the ones that abuse the ability thanks to working at the hostel for a while. He sics me on her and I go over to annoy her because I have nothing better to do. It’s a success, and after a perhaps inadvisable comment about Ireland being like a naffer England she bails and I go back to Max. We talk a bit more and I go to bed.

Day 9

Now the previous eight days caught up and I spent the morning feeling like warmed-up piss. The only things I trusted myself to keep down are five cups of coffee and a plate of pancakes the Parisian girl left out (or crêpes, as she excitedly corrected me). Slowly, the other three came and joined me on the sofa, similarly destroyed, and we all sat in silence alongside the Parisian girl who had just worked an all-nighter and was now napping intermittently. We checked out and get on the shuttle where I was drafted into holding the broken speaker cord together at such an angle that we get both audio channels, which requires near-surgical precision. The journey was soundtracked by the likes of Alanis Morissette and ZZ Top coming in and out of mono for 50 mins and when we got off the shuttle, Scrot and Huss said that the other passengers were from Oakham, about 20 mins drive from where we live. Small world, but people from Oakham are all privately educated tosspots, so it was good they were staying at the Downtown whilst we went on to the Uptown.

Our room was up four flights of stairs and after we’d set up we went out to the Vondelpark to try and find the I Amsterdam sign. We wandered for a while and stopped in a few shaded places for a lounge, discussing the old standby of things that are and aren’t okay to shag. Between the hangover and the heat, I got cranky with Huss and the sign and felt a bit bad after; if it was the other two it’d be fine because they’re cunts too, but Huss is the nice one. Eventually we gave up on the sign, went back to the hostel and chilled until the evening.

We go downtown for the Red Light District Pub Crawl, but misinterpret the 8–9:30pm times on the leaflet as being how long the Pub Crawl is and not the period in which people can sign up so have to spend an hour and half in the first bar, where pints are €7 and the free vodka shots are watered down to the point of non-existence. We watch with fascination as every girl ends up surrounded by around four guys in a heartbeat like the weeping angels from Doctor Who, except for one group of about eight who laugh at every one who tries until eventually they are left alone. One guy talks to us and I get paranoid that he’s trying to pull us, but he gets sent off to a different pub crawl group. Finally, the crawl starts and at the first bar we meet a couple English people: one’s already plastered and asks us what our favourite football team is, to which I blag Peterborough United (these colours never run); and one’s from Essex and says he doesn’t drink but does weed instead, making his presence on the pub crawl odd. He also insists on rolling his €3 weed with a filter; I don’t say anything and we leave to go back to Ziggy’s for cheaper pints. The San Diegans were meant to show up because Trejo left his $150 sunglasses but they never do, which is a bit disappointing but Scrot’s happy with his new fancy sunglasses and I’m soon distracted with the help of the free vodka shots at the next bar.

At the next bar, Huss meets two Mexican girls and falls in love with the hotter one. It’s strange to see but hilarious and I try to wingman him for a few seconds before losing track of what I’m doing and doing the exact opposite. I need more money so Scrot and I go find an ATM, finally seeing the Blue Light District on the way, and when I get there it gives me €20 in one note rather than two tens and I pick a fight with it; Scrot has to pull me away. We go back to the bar and meet Somerset Wellies (after where she’s from and the nickname of someone she reminded me of) and a perfectly trashy Irish girl. I’ve given myself up to the spirit of the night entirely and end up with my arm around her without being aware of ever putting it there. The music is pounding so we have to put our faces against each other to hear anything; she says her name is Sinéad and that night her accent is the most fantastic thing I’ve ever heard. It’s unintelligible but beautiful with a singsong lilt that speaks to me, man. I ask her questions just to hear her say things and slowly add names to hers until I’m calling her Sinéad Ó Raghailligh O’Dobsky O’Leary Ó Seachnasaigh McPatrick Guinness-Guinness. Huss and Scrot say they’re going to look for Wheenie who has gone venturing off on his own, I stay with the Irish songbird who keeps buying me pints. We move on to the next bar and I split off to go to the toilet.

There’s jostling and I suddenly find myself out on the street. The bouncer won’t let me back in so I sit by the canal and try to figure out how I ended up outside. Somerset Wellies and her friends come up and decide I’m off my rocker and need help getting home. That’s perhaps not far off, since I come to the conclusion the other three must be gone forever because I haven’t seen them for an hour, and Wheenie is the only one who knows how to get back. The girls are staying in an apartment near Vondelpark and offer to help me get there, from where I assume I’ll be able to find the hostel. It’s a half hour journey normally, but it takes us about an hour so I have plenty of time to talk to Wellies and her friends. Apparently my kicking out was the result of a heady mix of vague bathroom door gender signs and a sink that I thought looked remarkably urinal-like. One of their friends walked in and caught me and I remembered I had thought it odd that a girl walked into the men’s bathroom and kept gasping.

At one point I get a hankering for a hookering and try making my way back to the Red Light District with no money; the girls stop me and tell me I’m in no state to do any of that and we eventually end up at the hostel. I say goodbye and go inside, making my way to the smoking room. Inside I meet a Swedish girl and we share her favourite bong and talk for hours about the rise of right-wing political parties in Europe and modern feminism. Eventually I make my way out front to stare up at the sky with my 2 l bottle of water I don’t remember acquiring and the other three turn up, not best pleased after spending four hours looking for me. I apologise and offer them some water from my now-empty bottle but for some reason they’re not interested. I hear the guy from Essex who doesn’t know how to use weed got noshed off by a hooker for €50. We go up to our hostel beds. Tomorrow night will be spent in my own, and I’m not as excited by that fact as the others seem to be.

Homeward Bound

In the morning, I found out about the TransAsia and Air Algéria crashes. I now know not to look at the news if you have a flight later. We went out to Vondelpark for about an hour and then to the I Amsterdam sign, which we found out was actually on the Museumplein. Huss visited the Rijksmuseum whilst we went back to the hostel to unwind in the bar all day, eventually rejoined by Huss. We discussed other travel ideas, like a country-wide game of hide-and-seek, a Europespedition outside of Europe and how this trip would have been had we had some other friends (about Lakpo we decide it would have been louder but entertaining). We got an articulated bus to Schiphol and got on the plane, same seating arrangement as before but Wheenie insisted on the window seat and this was only his second flight so we assented. Two English guys sat next to me and we talked. They’d been in Amsterdam for five days and said that was a bit much. I said nine days was too few for us, but Wheenie had said nine was excessive earlier that day which left me worrying about whether the others had enjoyed the trip as much as me, as I felt somewhat responsible since I planned it. I figured they did (with the exception of last night maybe) and relaxed a bit. The other three gave me brutal stink eye, however, when the seatbelt signs went off and the two guys next to me moved next to their friend in front who had two empty seats next him, leaving me lounging across all three and peering out the window at the sunset like some sort of decadent Roman patrician.

We were picked up by Huss’ mum and driven home, where I returned to find the eFukt shirt I ordered before leaving laying on my bed; the feeling was akin to someone returning home from war to find their wife with their newborn child. I looked at my RSS feed and there were over 1000 items on it so I marked them all as read and stayed up until 2am writing this before going to bed.

The Day After

I awoke to the sound of Dad playing Rainbow, filling the house with the sound of Eyes of the World. I had had a dream about the plane crashing into the ocean and rescuing everyone which ended with kissing the Parisian girl who worked at the hostel and finding out she was having trouble with her fiancée. I didn’t think too hard about what it meant, but I realised I hadn’t dreamt all trip. I’m sure there’s something cringeworthy in there about how I didn’t dream on the trip because the trip was like a dream, but I’ll leave that to the She-Lawrences of the world to analyse. For my part, I took the hint from the dream and watched Fearless again and spent the entire day writing this, not yet ready for the trip to end so I had to surround myself with the recalled sights and sounds of it for as long as possible.

Aftermath

I’d grown so used to being cynical as a defence mechanism and expecting nothing to live up to my expectations that for something to do so so entirely and then some is a strange and wonderful experience. I met more amazing people in nine days than I have in eighteen years at home, from those who still have names like Emma, Aussie John, the San Diegans, Swedish Chris and Penthouse Kris, to those who never got them but were no less memorable, like the Katheryn Winnick-looking Argie, the Swedish feminist and the American Jesus. My writing of this has been punctuated with getting up to wander around the house to nowhere in particular and then back. It’s wanderlust, pure and simple; in other tabs I have open about eight sites for various travelling services, from BlaBlaCar to WWOOF; the world has never seemed so huge and yet so small — Erica posts a status on Facebook about her trip and says anyone in San Diego is welcome to stay any time. I file it away as something to keep in mind, and the West Coast seems about as good a destination to dream about as any other. In her travel diary was a, by her own admission cliché-sounding, phrase that I feel might be onto something: You meet everyone twice. At least I hope so.