I’m not usually such an extravagantly loquacious individual, but I now suggest that the interesting escapade that I partook in on the sunshine kissed summer of ’17 was in fact ‘cool’.The plan: I and my Dad would cycle to Newcastle from Edinburgh over two days, stopping at a safe-house in the middle of nowhere to kip for the night, “commandeer” a ferry and be laughing all the way to Amsterdam. It was simple.The reality was a tad different, we didn’t compensate for the everlasting torrential rain along the journey, the 5 punctures over the two bikes that greatly hindered our progress and also the confusingly signposted, sloppily set up and sprawling suburbia called north shields. A bit less simple.All these setbacks resulted in us missing the ferry that day and also the feeling of disillusionment seeping through my mind.
The last thing I didn’t rely on during my journey to Amsterdam was the mind-altering and near psychedelic experience that I took part in.The awakening started with an awakening, specifically mine.I arose at midnight.
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I was on a ferry, at midnight, blazingly awake. I decided to get some air. I checked with my Dad if this was fine, he replied with an affirmative grunt, I opened the cabin door and I was on my way.As I got onto the stern, I realised how many stars there were visible in the sky, how many? Well, I won’t be wax lyrical about it but, I’ll call it ‘lots’. I also realised the sea and sky melted into one, as such the horizon was infinite as it stretched to indiscernible distances. I was both figuratively and literally alone on that stern.I was alone, very alone, and it scared me.I quickly put on some psychedelic rock for reasons I cant remember, maybe to drown out my own thoughts and the low hum of the ferry engine, maybe to say to the world “look! I can be ridiculous and strange too”.
I sat there for some time, probably an hour or two. Looking at the state of everything, not understanding it, becoming confused and then going back to the bunk bed.Amsterdam wasn’t what I expected, not because the people there didn’t conform to their stereotypes, but because they did.Weed was smoked openly and freely by large numbers of people, there were more bikes than people in most places, there were signs and flags and general memorabilia supporting the LGBTQ+ community everywhere.Often people try to get rid of stereotypes about themselves. Amsterdammers seem to have taken the opposite approach entirely, embracing them. I admire this.
Being true to yourself is very important, even if it means you are misunderstood, uncared for, vilified even. Would you rather hate yourself or be hated by others?On the topic of things being misunderstood, when I first came to Amsterdam I was very confused by the prevalence of cannabis use. I wondered about it for some time, I wondered why it was considered “fine” and “an enjoyable recreational pastime” in Holland but in the UK it’s something that takes over your life, makes you a nervous wreck and also an unmotivated couch potato.
For the purposes of this essay and for the purposes of me not getting talked at by School guidance. I hate the Wacky Tabbaccy and all who use it, it is the devil’s lettuce. Ask me as a member of the public on the street and you may get a different answer.Cocaine, however, is a stupid drug for stupid people, who do stupid things.A group of these stupid people were careering around in a boat, in broad daylight and plain sight. Snorting Cocaine. They had a small table, some banknotes and seemingly no shame to speak of.I always wonder what makes people take cocaine, what led them down that path.
Was it sadness? Lack of direction? Peer pressure? Or some other factor. Whatever it was, using cocaine certainly isn’t the answer, only a very very temporary fix.God, they looked happy with themselves, though.Amsterdam itself is an amazing city. It is architecturally fascinating, culturally interesting, and defiantly liberal. Defiantly so, because a lot of Holland is rather conservative in comparison.
The rather cramped inner streets are contrasted greatly by the canal boulevards, along which many boats speed down. Meanwhile, thousands of bikes of many different colours but near universal design are used by locals and also foreigners to get around the large old town “Centrum, to them”.It’s a very happening but simultaneously calming place, in short, a great destination for a holiday.The trip as a whole was an eventful, hectic, strange, but overall a calming experience for me at least.
I found a new way of thinking about things in Amsterdam, you may find new ways too if you go there. Through the lens of another culture, it’s very hard not to find flaws in your own.