Adam Bird

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Monday, 6 July 2009

Amazing Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Life is for living and taking in experiences when you get the opportunity. With the opening of cheap flight routes to mainland Europe I have been fortunate to have previously enjoyed weekends of 'carnage' in Tallinn and Budapest, both of which still live long in the memories. Now that my good friend, fondly known as Reaso begins to count down the days of his pending marriage to Carly, I was given the opportunity to help celebrate his last weekend of freedom in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam.

At first, I wasn't particularly enthused with the idea, after all Amsterdam is famously known for it's relaxed attitude to recreational drugs and apparent 'seediness' of it's sexual tourism, both of which slightly daunted me and I can honestly say held not much in the way of mass appeal.

However, Amsterdam surprised me, the two things that seemed daunting before we arrived, it became clear that reputations clearly stand for nothing and you shouldn't always believe a, the hype and b, everything you read.

With a customary early morning rendezvous at Mid-Kent golf club once again the meeting point of another legendary weekend we left knowing that unlike last time around, off to Budapest, we would be facing a mere hop on an Easy Jet shuttle, rather than a four-hour beer fest that left most of us fearing deportation before passing customs.

Arriving bright eyed and bushy tailed through the "no goods to declare" sign we could have been forgiven for feeling a bit like party poopers as it appeared that everyone was waiting for someone with home made banners or balloons, even the taxi drivers looked happy to be waiting for someone. Not knowing it at the time, it kind of set the scene with everyone being relaxed, laid back and sporting a smile. Maybe the powers that be are right in adopting there liberal attitudes after all?

From Mid Kent to the Hotel Terminus all within a highly acceptable 7 hours left us all keen to start sinking some well overdue beer. Unable to check in until midday we were fortunately allowed to leave our bags behind giving us the chance for some preliminary exploration without the added hassle of carrying our luggage around with us.

Our first stop, also in search of breakfast found us out straight away with the price of beer knocking on for €6, which was to work out upon the steeper side of the scale, so rather than spending more than was necessary we embarked upon a little journey of exploration attempting to find something within an acceptable price range.

Once fed and watered, we left under the expert guidance of best man Dan, whom did a stirling job all weekend, in search of more alcohol - a search that wouldn't take us far, indeed within most of the streets in our immediate vicinity you could go from door to door, bar to bar without getting very far.

However, our first stop, next to one of many 'coffeeshops' gave some of the boys an early opportunity to sample the chance to have a 'smoke' - Amsterdam style. Now before we left I vowed to stay clear of any type of activity of this nature, as on a previous experiment I found myself having a rather adverse reaction to the effects in which smoking of this kind can bring. Me being me, and hopeless at staying away in these situations thought that I would be able to sit down quietly with those who were partaking and enjoy the atmosphere.

Instead, I found myself back in the other bar talking with Stuart, unable to keep a straight face and laughing at nothing in particular unable to stop. Stuart, for which I feel incredibly guilty about was quite concerned for my welfare and had to be reassured that this was just a stage in which I would soon recover.

It took me slightly longer than anticipated, and by the time I had we have moved on to another spot, outside in the sun next to the canal which helped 'chill' me out a little bit, despite the fact everyone was talking about me and blaming me for everything and anything, itself I believe another side effect to my inhalations!

As I came out of my self induced coma our first awards ceremony took place, which was the beginning of a very slippery slope for most of us. Each award was a shot of Jagermeister, received within a larger glass containing a splash of red bull. Now the recipients of said awards were not for contributions to literature or world peace, but indeed for services thus far in the stag weekend. Reaso got one, along with his pint for being the groom, someone else got one for a dodgy set of footwear and I myself got one for being a lightweight and my refusal to step away from a given situation. Although this may still be a result of my self induced paranoia.

With time heading onwards, and us needing to check-in to out hotel we headed back for a quick shower, a change of clothes and for most a little respite from the alcohol caning we had endured so far.

Not for long! Back out into the tiny roads of bars, coffeehouses and shops that sold all kinds of sexual related products catering for all tastes and variety's, we went off searching for yet more drink. Although this time around it appeared that we had lost one of the men we had come with and gained a baby instead. Poor babyfaced Reaso, as part of the tradition in which stag weekends dictate, the stag must be subjected to as many trials and face as much humiliation as is humanely possible. His first "biggy" was to spend the rest of the day dressed up as a baby, including a full sized adult babygrow, complete with bibs (adorned with plenty of expletives), a dummy and was forced to drink his drinks from a specially adapted beaker.

As if the costume was already socially uncomfortable, Amsterdam was also sharing the UK's heatwave , making Reaso's babygrow rather hot and very very sweaty! Perfect punishment then for a groom to be!

Following an impromptu pool competition in which I managed four attempts to take a break before finally hitting the cueball we head off into the night searching for an evening meal. We finally settled upon a Chinese restaurant just about big enough to fit us all in. We could have eaten goat chow mein for none of us probably knew any better. It doesn't say much for the state we were in by this time as even Gareth joined in with the eating and this is a guy who orders omlette and chips from the Chinese back home.

I have actually realised writing this that the chronology is wrong here somewhere, as before I attempt to remember the next step it struck me that Reaso had actually changed by this point. Did we all go back and change, or did he sneak off before dinner and revert back to the neatly manicured man we all know?

Anyhow, back to the task at hand. I had obviously sampled one of Amsterdam's famous vices and was looking forward to the other, not necessarily sampling upon what is displayed in certain windows, but some of the Gentlemen clubs put on shows which you probably don't get to see anywhere else, certainly not as publicly advertised as in Amsterdam.

We entered the first place in which we came across the Moulin Rouge, after enquiring about prices/drink deals etc and appeared quite good value for money compared to others that we had seen on the internet. Although the Moulin Rouge website, an incredibly hilarious series of flash animations and most definitely Not Suitable for Work doesn't detail the prices I think it was about €20 each with 2 drink tokens and a 60 minute show. Although this actually worked out cheaper for us, as Stuart who doesn't like to pay for anything unless he has to managed to sneak in and get in for free!

Actually, I think Stuart must of had a whiff of the Amsterdam air and seen a vision from the future that told him it wasn't actually worth paying the money, as he, alongside Nick, another of our stag do party both fell asleep as things left unsaid were occurring upon the stage! In fact, it was rather hilarious, I don't think that the act had seen anything like it. Rather than all eyes being on them half the audience were pointing at Stuart and Nick giggling at them instead!

Despite the things that were occurring on stage, the audience, again a massive surprise to me was not an all male lineup. Instead there were small groups of girls, couples of all ages and general tourists, not all stag weekenders. One of my concerns about Amsterdam was that it would be full of all male groups on stag weekends and we would be walking about careful not to get caught amongst big groups of leery guys.

After our time was up (and we had awoken Stuart and Nick from their slumber) we head out back into the Red Light district in search of another bar and yet more alcohol. Rather than fight our way amongst the hoards of people queuing outside windows ready for their turn, which is another myth I had heard before I arrived, there were plenty of people around, but again, as the Moulin Rouge audience, people milling around were everyday tourists, people who were curious to see what it was all about, groups of people, not pervy looking men waiting for a quick fix to their urges. I found the whole thing quite funny actually, walking past a window and a gorgeous women in a bikini is waving at your "Hello honey" and blowing you kisses, you blow one back tell you be back in a minute and carry on your way!

Rather than stick around the Red Light we had heard about a club called Escape which was a short taxi ride, but cabs are so London, we got a bike ride instead. Two people sitting on the back of a specially adapted bike ridden by a cyclist who is being shouted at in encouragement to pedal faster, to beat the guy riding next to you, whose driving two of your mates is so much more fun - and a lot more environmental friendly!

Through alcohol or a good old fashioned breakdown in communication we ended up in an Albert like square outside of Escape sitting drinking a beer in a bar whilst waiting for Stuart and Gareth. As they didn't show we presumed that they had jilted us and so a contingency plan was put into place instead. Much to my dismay we wouldn't be going to Escape, but to another, smaller club called Smokey Joes opposite instead.

As it happened, Smokey Joes was awesome. Will who would have loved it even more than me had fallen asleep and fallen by the wayside, three down, ten more to go! With a mixture of music dotted around a stream of Michael Jackson songs, plus me being incredibly drunk, sporting a rather flowery shirt and an oversized pair of white sunglasses I could have been anywhere and still had just as much fun! As it was, the soundtrack mixed in with my state of mind led me to occasionally believe that I was the King of Pop reincarnated and pulled off some shapes to match. Knowing only too well how terrible I am when I am sober I can't begin to think what this must have looked like, but the photographic evidence of the evening suggests no such foul play was committed.

How we got home, a mystery, whom with, or who else was still standing? A guess! But Mark left me in reception at the hotel asking me if I knew where I was going, indeed I was, but I never had a door key and the elusive Stuart and Gareth were still to be found. After finding my way back to reception and attempting to explain my predicament to the staff I was still locked out.

The next morning I awoke in a corridor of the hotel, had been asleep on the floor outside, not mine, but three complete strange rooms. Looking at my watch which said 9am, I was convinced that it was 3pm and I had missed all of today's fun. It took me ten minutes to regain a little bit of myself and finding my way back to the correct room. I knocked and was answered by Stuart and Gareth who asked where I had been and laughing as they thought I had been sleeping in one of the other guys rooms - no such luck! I was aching like hell! As we sat attempting to piece together the night before Stuart stuck further salt into my wounds when he explained that he and Gareth had gone straight into Escape and had a great time in the huge nightclub opposite the road from us!

Day two, traditionally for us at least is activity day, rather than watch Gareth wet himself holding a pistol again, we stuck with the tried and tested Go-Karting formula. I, having only ever been once previously felt that I needed some inspiration, so wore my official Lewis Hamilton t-shirt, won last month from a McLaren e-shop Twitter poll. It did exactly as I hoped it would do, but not quite as much as I would have liked. Having finished a long way last on my previous go I finished a respectable fourth from last instead. Indeed, with McLarens performances this year that's a rather nice parallel.

The biggest surprise of the day, was Stuart. Continuing his own personal weekend theme of turning the form book upside down and being uncharacteristic in every respect, rather than finishing in his usual second place, he romped home in first place, leaving him beaming gaily on top of the podium spraying champagne with the familiarity of Jenson Button this season so far.

In the end however, Stuart was to find himself overshadowed once again, and it took something special to do it. As I said earlier on in this post, stag humiliation and trials of a jocular nature are a staple of a stag weekend. Death defying feats are optional, but people tend to leave these off the itinerary at a risk of upsetting the bride to be. This however, was exactly what happened to Reaso!

The go-karting circuit, inside an extremely large warehouse was actually home to a lot more besides a racetrack. Indeed there were plenty of racing related arcade machines, but there was also a bowling alley and an annexe containing quite possibly the biggest indoor play centre I have ever seen. The main draw however was the "Wall of Death". Fairly difficult to explain unless you have personally seen one, but it simply consists of a round room, with a bowl like floor, rising up to around two stories high. Situated at the bottom of the bowl is a modified go-kart. The driver, in this instance Reaso, is then strapped in all nicely, given a quick briefing and is expected to floor the go-kart, pedal to the metal, in hope of driving as high up the wall as possible in a vertical spiralling motion.

I presume that the idea is also to successfully reach a certain plateau upon the wall, before skillfully changing direction and spiralling back in a reverse trajectory. Before Reaso took his now legendary go-kart for a spin and was preparing himself, the rest of us where watching in wonder through special windows in the walls which gave us all and ideal viewport of the action. The walls were lined with a series of colour markers. I presume that these are visual aids to inform the driver as to where they are, as I can imagine things get blurry rather quickly. I along with some of the others didn't think that highly of Reaso's task and so didn't think he would get much further than the green marker, which was the first, just above the bowl area of the bottom, two meters up.

It was therefore with much laughter and hilarity as Reaso whizzed by our windows, seeing the bottom of the go-kart speeding by, a good 6-8 meters up and steadily climbing, until, well I am not too sure what happened, I guess Reaso doesn't either, but I guess he reached the top, had no further to go and fell all the way back to the bottom landing the go-kart upside down with an almighty noise, which caused two seconds of "what the ****" and then everyone trying to get in the locked room to rescue the still upside down Reaso.

From the funniest thing ever, to potentially the most defying, in hindsight we can look back and start giggling again, but seeing Reaso upside down in the go-kart after falling that distance was not a pleasant experience. After a careful extraction process Reaso hobbled out of the room that was known as the "wall of death" with a shake of the head and limp where he had bashed his knee on the way down. Lesser men would have broken, or beat the hell out of all those watching, but Reaso, what a guy, a gentlemen to the end!

Still, what can you do when your life flashes before your eyes? Well I guess, we were in Amsterdam, and we did what we knew, found a bar, had a drink, those who smoke, smoked. I laughed some more, but not quite so much and we found ourselves back outside in the sun next to the canal having another award ceremony.

Luckily, our close proximity to the canal never resulted in any major casualties, although Will losing a flip-flop was the closest we came. Cue much more laughter, which is truly infectious, especially in Amsterdam. The bars being al fresco, containing groups of people smoking certain things that induce laughter. With them all being close to each other it only takes one guy to start laughing raucously at one end of the road for it to contagiously pass along the street with ease.

It wasn't long before, with me being a fairly lightweight drinker that I was asleep after finding a nice quiet area of a bar somewhere. The nights previous escapades finally taking it's toll. Quite rightly I was subject to abuse, however I wasn't aware of the extent until much later when looking back through the photographic evidence and noticing a naked posterior rather closer to my nose than is actually necessary! (I still have these, but will remain unpublished to save myself and the posteriors owners blushes)

Friday afternoon turned into Friday evening, and the fun and laughter continued apace. Pushup competitions were spontaneously undertaken in tribute to James, brother of Reaso whom, for reasons unknown started the trend on arrival at Amsterdam airport by dropping down and giving ten pushups from the knuckles. Now, non attendee readers of the post, and whom are still reading this far, (thank you) but this isn't normal day to day behaviour of any of us. Yet stick us on an Easy Jet flight somewhere and send a couple of pints our way all sorts of uncharacteristic things start happening!

Talking of uncharacteristic brings me back around to Stuart once again! Having finally arrived inside Escape and loving every minute of it, dreams of Ibiza as I once again start pulling some awful, drunken shapes alongside everyone else, even Carly's Dad who joined in absolutely everything all weekend and played a non-stop blinder, Stuart hit the proverbial brick wall and couldn't withstand anymore. In the morning post mortem it was discovered that he left alone at 2.30 am, headed home, stopping for a Chinese for one before leaving it unopened and passing out in the comfort of his hotel bed! Those who know the normal, non Amsterdam version of Stuart will find the whole tale rather difficult to believe!

With the boom boom boom of the electo dance music getting too much to bare we left Escape and headed back over to the previous nights venue, Smokey Joes which was packed to bursting and playing a lighter brand of club music, mixed in with some old classics and remixed Bob Marley. After my succession of bottles of water drunk within the confines of Escape I hit the booze again in the form of Tia Maria and Orange jucie, the old smarties substitute which was going down a lot easier than the constant stream of beers which had been consumed for most of the weekend.

It was in Smokey Joes that I had noticed Gareth's hat. It had been a souvenier from the previous night and along with the various lary shades formed our wardrobe accessories for the duration of the weekend. Again, not normal day to day behaviour, but something in the stag weekend air compells such random acts of foolishness. Now Gareths hat was a straw cowboy hat and it was in a little state of disrepair when it came into his possession. What was a minor tear around the edges of the hat became a major gash, and little by little, strand by strand the hat began to disappear. Leaving, by 6.30 when we arrived back at the hotel a straw fez with a brown leather bottom, which was where the rest of the hat was originally intended, something perfectly highlighted if you follow the photographic story from beginning to end.

We left Smokey Joes in the brilliant brightness of a beautiful Amsterdam dawn. The streets around the club were fairly busy with fellow 'all nighters' but as we got further away, the streets became quieter and we had a laugh and joke, mostly at Gareths expense all the way back to Hotel Terminus, where we rudely awoke Stuart, called him a few choice words before crashing into a slumber ourselves.

The morning after the night before is always fairly painful, but for none more so than for Will, whom when I first saw him in the morning was sitting on the floor outside the hotel physically shaking and looking, well dog rough to be fair! It transpires that Will's affliction was the direct result of too many cans of Red Bull, straight, without the Vodka. How many he drank, he probably couldn't tell you, but as it says on the tin, it gives you wings, and Will probably felt with all the shaking going on he could quite possibly fly!

Doing the Thursday to Saturday thing is by far the best solution in handling the after effects of weekends of this type. Coming home on Sunday ready for work on the Monday is a recipe for disaster. It's now Tuesday (Wednesday by the time I finish this), and I still feel rather dodgy, but once the pain, sweats, shakes and the other effects are over your left with the memories. I started this blog by stating about life's experiences. Amsterdam was a hell of an experience, one that none of us will easily forget. Different to Tallinn, different to Budapest, but nothing is the same as the next thing. The guys who I shared all three experiences with hopefully be there this time next year in another place sharing a whole new bunch of alcohol infused memories. It doesn't matter, you can go anywhere, but one thing you can guarentee, it won't be what it says on tin, on the internet, in the guidebooks it will be what you make it. And boy did we make it!
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