3 and a half years ago, I travelled back to the UK for the first time since I’d moved away to China. On the way back home, I made sure my itinerary included a very necessary stop in Amsterdam.
A whole pandemic later, I found myself in Taiwan for almost 3 years without having the opportunity to return to the UK, though that chance came in the saddest of ways. Tragically, my grandmother would pass away, and I had no choice but to come home. This particular journey also included a stopover in Amsterdam, and this is my story…
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Why wouldn’t I want to go to Amsterdam? That brief single-night trip a few years ago had already given me the impression that Amsterdam was the place I needed to be in life. The beautiful fairy-tale like town filled with all manner of characters whizzing blissfully past on delicate basket-fronted bicycles is just heaven to watch. And it has nothing, absolutely NO-THING-UHH to do with any substance that may (or may not) be sold in certain establishments…
A truer fact is that it was a simpler route to get home. With such great distances, expensive tickets, and a sudden tragic event, it was the best option I could find. Just a happy coincidence that the choice included a night in my personal idea of heaven.
An Abandoned Airport
Now that a great proportion of society has returned to normality, Taiwan has not. Still, in the grips of paranoia, its borders are closed off to outsiders, and thus, the airports are pretty much abandoned. Arriving there at 5 pm felt like those 3 am flights you took as a working-class family, it was dead.
It was the first time in my life I waltzed through security without having to wait for a single person. It was a wonderful way to start what would become a 22-hour journey.
Please Take Your Mask Off
2 flights and 5,870 miles of travel later and I finally arrived in Amsterdam to find a very curious sight. It took me a while to realise that I was the only person in the airport wearing a mask!
I had completely forgotten that Europe had pretty much scrapped the mandate, though ours in Taiwan was still going strong. Even in the circumstance, I still felt strange to take it off, so for the time being, and with an important flight to catch, I left it for the time.
I fucking hate immigration. Regardless of the Brexit-esqe overtones of that statement, I mean that I cannot FUCKING stand the process of immigration. Having been through it a myriad of times in several different countries, I’ve never had the fondest feelings towards it. Passing through immigration at the airport is the ultimate ballache.
Akin to feeling nervous at the sight of a cop, whether or not you’ve actually done anything wrong, there’s just the potential for disaster in the air. Immediately as I handed my passport to the man of intimidation-oozing Aryan genes, I hear
“Why are you in Amsterdam?” Good question I thought. “I’m transferring on a flight to the UK tomorrow.” “Yes, but why did you come here?” ….good point…I didn’t think to smoke some weeeeeed. Would have been an appropriate answer. Thankfully, SS Officer Dutch thankfully allowed me into his country.
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A short bus ride and I was dropped right in the centre of town to start a beeline towards my hostel for the night. Due to the unfortunate timing and very short notice, most budget hostels were unavailable. The cheapest I could find was €50…. €50!! Are you mad?! I don’t think I’ve ever paid more than £20 on a hostel in my life, and I blow a decent week’s budget worth on ONE night in a hostel, maddening. And it ended up being €20 on top of that too.
It was what it was, no point whining about it. Nonetheless, I made special efforts to ensure that the hostel was a “smoke-friendly” one, better make the most of my time there.
Back Into the Swing of Things
Let’s face facts here people, I’m going to be visiting Amsterdam, let’s not pretend we don’t know what people get up to. The canal-lined streets are a playground for artists, creative individuals and peaceful little restaurants while other streets and corners are home to more adult entertainment, both the sexual and “let’s smoke a doob and eat a chicken sandwich” kind of experiences. And being in Rome, I was going to try it all.
I headed on a peaceful trot toward the first of the many coffeeshops I marked out on my map a few days prior. My first stop on what would become my 24 hours in Amsterdam was Easy Times Prinsengracht. It has more of a shisha bar vibe with tucked-away bench seating and dimmed lights, it was the perfect way to get reintroduced to the world with 1g of Strawberry Sour Diesel.
Right, without getting into too much detail, let’s just say that I am by no means a stranger to smoking weed, far from it in fact. However, for the last 3 years, I have not been anywhere near it – I wonder if anyone can work out where I was the last time I did? – That effectively makes me a novice once again, a herbal virgin. I’d be going back to those days in the back of a Citroen Saxo on the edge of a forest venturing into the unknown.
Rough Wakeup Call
Having sat down, I rolled a joint with an impressive speed with a quickly revitalised muscle memory, like riding a bike! In my overconfidence, I may have packed a little more than was necessary at that point, but there was no turning back now. Needless to say, I was brutally kicked into a new dimension within minutes. The walls were closing in, the world began to wobble, and the dim brothel lighting certainly wasn’t helping. It was time to get some air.
Heading to the streets did nothing to help my incoming panic attacks and rushes of anxiety. Though I thought a rush of fresh air would detoxify me, it instead become a torturous sensory overload that was Amsterdam.
It had been years, YEARS since I had felt anything of this magnitude, something lifelong stoners only dream for. However, for the time, it was getting a little intense, so taking a stroll to do some photography and wobbled film-making closer to the centre of the city became the next move.
There’s Magic in the Air
Keeping with the when in Rome attitude, another iconic staple of Amsterdam’s narcotic culture are truffles! While magic mushrooms are illegal in Amsterdam, truffles are the legal herbal alternative. Though these aren’t the type of shit that Karen tries to flog alongside her rose-coloured crystals and heal everything cream, these things are legit.
Amsterdam has several legal highs that actually could qualify for the real deal! They have all sorts, from alternative Viagra to natural ecstasy, though I wasn’t interested in either. I had my eye on the truffles. Again, without getting into detail, I also have some experience with magic mushrooms (might (or might not) tried some while walking on the Great Wall of China), so I’m no stranger. Regardless, as I had a lot to do that day and only 24 hrs to do it, I got the weakest and the smallest amount I could.
The owner of the store stressed that I should eat them on an empty stomach to gain the full effect and should avoid orange juice or sugar because it would kill the sensation. Off I went into the streets to contemplate how and when to take them.
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Having walked around for a fair while, it was time to find a place to sit down and continue on my inevitable path. The next coffee shop market out on my map was the Original Dampkring, an institution in the city. I recognised its quirky outer display from Oceans Twelve, so I thought I could join the elite group.
The bad thing was, like most of the other places I had visited, there was a large queue and very little seating available, so it was on the next place.
The next site belonged to the iconic Bulldog chain, this one being the Energy Coffeeshop. This one had a vast line outside it and was another place bathed in deep mood lighting and a low claustrophobic roof. A gram of Amnesia Haze will do for now. It gave me a chance to sit down at the bar counter with my diary to contemplate. And it also gave me a chance to begin my journey to Destination Truffles with 3g of those just to see what happened.
Plan of Action
Now that truffles had been consumed, it was a matter of time until something drastically changed. I tried to time it so that they would kick in once the light go down and the centre of Amsterdam turns into a whole new creature. For a while, I went for a walk around just for some light photography and a general sense of wonder to kill the time.
Finally Seeing the House
About 4 years ago when I was last in Amsterdam, I made the effort to find Anne Franks’s house to photograph it after many moments of standing in wonder. Weeks later, my mother giddily informed me that in fact, it wasn’t Anne Frank’s house I was looking at, it was just a random Dutch house – a bit of a heavy night for me. So now that I was a bit more level-headed, it was time to search it out once more.
The reserved appearance of the building not only made it easy to miss but even eerier. Such an incredible and tragic piece of history which has survived all these years. It illustrated some of the dark histories that live within these angelic streets.
In all honesty, from this point forward, my time in Amsterdam has become a genuine blur, though some events stand out above others. As soon as the sun started to set, it was time to head to the red-light district. Dusk is the perfect time just as the lights turn on and glisten across the waterways. And though I had no intention of partaking in any lurid activities, I had every intention of watching.
I’ve never actually understood how some guys have no shame knocking on those doors when there’s a sea of people beside them, it’s kind of embarrassing, though nonetheless funny! And there’s something so beautiful about the neon lights along that street, it’s like a moth to a flame!
By now the number of truffles I had left was dwindling, much like my consciousness. After another top-up outside the Bulldog café, I was on my way to a whole night of walking in bleary-eyed laps around the Red-Light District completely and utterly in ecstasy.
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Even for the uninitiated know that some herbal remedies puts you straight down a path of snack-based devastation. Amsterdam is well aware of this, and so around every corner, a mouth-watering number of bakeries, cafes and candy stores can be found to intice the stoned zombie hordes.
Throughout the day, I had avoided eating for two reasons: A) the truffle man recommended to keep an empty stomach to get the full effect, and B) I had the perfect spot in mind. Of everyone, it was my girlfriend that recommended a place, which raised a few questions about what she was doing along the canals of Amsterdam.
The chain is called FEBO, and never in my life have I ever met a more convenient stoner-safe paradise in my life! As the residents of Amsterdam know exactly the kind of thing a bunch of baked tourist need, this place had vending machine style booths that housed some Dutch fast-food classics. From chili burgers to some unpronounceable pastry and meat, just what I needed. To top it all off, to avoid that anxiety ridden, LED battering experience of dealing with a cashier, you simply popped your coins in, picked your booth and boom, freshly-prepared toasty snack just for you. Needless to say a lot of my time and money was spent there.
The Next Morning
Waking up as frazzled as when I went to sleep, I felt satisfied with the night I had. It was my release from years of good behaviour and a reward to myself. However now I still had half a day to use, and I wasn’t planning on wasting it.
On this day I’d be more tactical with my schedule by spending some time for photos and video shots. But like any good morning in Amsterdam, the first stop of the day was the coffee shop. I headed over to Smokey Coffeeshop. It was the absolute perfect setting for me! It had that dive bar feel to it, dimly lit, quiet, and a nice place to recuperate.
I started my morning with a gram of AK47 and a delicious cappuccino.
Use Your Time Wisely
Time was counting down, but more gnaja to smoke! I had about a gram left in total and didn’t want to waste it. I headed to The Jolly Joker, hoping I could grab a quiet coffee as I work my way through my stash.
Rightfully so, they pointed out I also need to buy a cannabis-related item, go figure. I went for the pre-rolled joints not thinking that they are packed WAY more than I normally would. I barely made my way through half of it before almost having a breakdown. With a flight in a few hours, I couldn’t push it too much.
How Did I Get Here?
As a man who doesn’t like to waste, I headed back to the hostel so I could try to finish whatever I had left. Like the champion I was, I tapped out eventually and left everything I had to the bleary and awfully generous-looking wooks who were sitting in the smoking-room.
I headed on the bus towards the airport on a trip I would call one of the worst in my life. At this point, with my fragile inexperienced body and some of the most potent herbal substances known to man in my system, the aim of the game was don’t puke on the bus. The 30-minute journey felt like a week and a half, but I had made it.
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A Welsh university drop-out on a mission to travel the world for as little money as possible. My adventures have taken me through over 30 countries across Europe, Asia and Oceania, and the list keeps on growing! From classic backpacking to working and volunteering, I have found all sorts of ways to maintain a life on the road.