I was 23, at university, semi-carefree and nowhere near close to spontaneous. Danny and I were housemates at the time, and he suggested a trip to Amsterdam in December for a long weekend. Being students, we booked the cheapest accommodation, the cheapest flights, and the cheapest form of public transport; coach.
Mike, who I mentioned in the New Zealand articles also came, it was arranged we would meet Danny's friend, Dan, at Schiphol Airport. The coach journey was horrendous as we boarded at 6am and headed for Bristol airport. I remember the rain, the cold, and the dark atmosphere as I listened to music in unsettling surroundings. The trouble is with coach travel is that any nut-job can basically get on as long as they have paid since stops are few and far between you have no choice but to be boxed in with strangers for an unknown amount of time.
I remember landing in Schiphol, meeting Dan and getting what we assumed was the train into Amsterdam Central. Both Dan and Danny had been before, so instantly took the lead for me and Mike, being the virgins of the city. To get into Amsterdam, you have to essentially catch a bullet train, which should in reality only take 10 minutes. At this point, we had been on the train for almost 30 minutes, random stops would appear but no callout for our final destination. A young girl sat opposite us listening to music, Danny took courage and asked her if we were close to Amsterdam, her faced immediately dropped.
The young girl who could hold her English well, informed us we had caught the wrong train and were heading out of the country, fuck! She whipped out her phone and searched for directions to get the train back towards Amsterdam. She even told us what platform etc. If you are reading this, you are a lifesaver! We hopped off at the next stop. I’m not usually one who just assumes and has presumptions before getting to know a place, but I know when a place is desolate. Surrounding the train station were crumbled buildings, demolition sites and fucking ugly structures smothered in graffiti. If there was ever a time I was going to die, it was in this shantytown. Luckily, the train arrived, and we finally made it into Amsterdam and the hostel for midnight. As mentioned earlier, this trip was done on a budget which meant I was sharing a bed with Mike, not a room but a bed!
Amsterdam is exactly what Amsterdam is; a tourist destination fucking overtaken by unleashed brits, almost like a Benidorm on ice. I shan't go into the finer details of the trip, but you can very much guess what they were; tits in every window, joints, mushroom trips, more tits in windows, pregnancies, and 3-hour walks for bagels, all within 3 days. It was the teller of two evils as I wanted to get loose and enjoy myself but also felt the need to check my shoulder every five seconds and be on constant lookout, for what exactly I wasn't sure, yet.
Towards the end of the trip, we smoked a few more Pineapple Expresses and took a walk. The streets are bustling both day and night, the endless number of bodies flooding the streets all rushing to find their chosen location, it's easy to get lost in the crowd. In my hazy state, I remember taking a step to the side with the others. Were we lost? Trying to find a place? Or looking for the nearest bar? I simply can't remember, but I remember the next part clearly.
Two gentlemen came up to us as we stood on the side of the road. I remember how odd the pair looked together. The first gentleman was a thin man, Eastern European, long coat and holding a cigarette. The second man was the biggest guy I've ever witnessed, African, standing well over 6’ 7” with a torso the same length as me from head to toe. I instantly put my hands into my pockets. “Hey, do you have a lighter?” The Eastern European man kindly asked, “I don’t smoke.” I nervously replied, “Are you English? I love the English! Shake my hand.” He slid out his hand, waiting for me to return the gesture. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the African gentleman slowly moving behind us. I instantly flood with both adrenaline and fear as I realise I am in a dangerous situation.
I refuse to return the handshake, instead, I’m keeping my hands firmly on all my possessions in my pocket. The Eastern European gentleman pulls a sour face, mutters a foreign dialect and walks away with his friend towing behind him. “Fuck, I think we were targeted for a mugging. We need to head back to the hostel!”, I shakingly tell the others, “Too late!” Expelled Mike as his face now turns to one of shock, dead white as all the blood drains from his face. Mike's wallet, phone, and passport were in his back pockets and now in the hands of our new friends. Poor Mike, his inexperience in travelling has bitten him in the ass. Never leave items in your back pocket.
We head back to the hostel but not before 2 American girls come up to us asking for, coincidently, a lighter. We are not so friendly this time in our reply, I am more shocked than anything else. Literally, one of us has just been mugged and two seconds later we have been targeted again? What the actual fuck, Amsterdam! We duck in and out of the crowds like something from a Bond movie as we make our way to the hostel, unharmed with only Mike's possessions missing. We sit and evaluate the situation we have just found ourselves in, adrenaline still racing!
The next day we head to the embassy to get Mike a temporary passport. His mum had transferred him some emergency money and now he just needed a passport to get home. Just our luck, the embassy is closed on the weekends and won't be open till Monday, and we are leaving early Sunday morning. We try to enjoy our last day but last night's antics have left a sour note for all of us, especially Mike. We tried to make the most of what little money we had left and got drunk at the hostel. The conversation turned to the fact that we were leaving Mike in Amsterdam alone on his first trip abroad. Mike is the kind of guy to put up a front, not let it seem like things are getting to him, however behind his laugh I could hear his anger.
Sunday morning rolled around, and it was time to leave, all packed, we head out in the snow/slush and depart from Amsterdam. I remember the goodbye to Mike as he walked with us to the train station. I would have stayed the extra night but being a student, I could barely afford a sandwich, let alone a plane ticket or an extra night in the hostel. We left Mike behind and boarded the plane. The exhaustion and drama made both Danny and myself slump in our chairs and sleep the whole plane journey. Another shitty bus journey and we made it back to our house. Thankfully Mike arrived home late the next day, paper passport in hand!
Amsterdam is both beautiful and damned violent with serenity. As with any city, there is always crime but Amsterdam drops into a sin city. A true contrast of the city shows itself; during the day it is both peaceful and magnetic and at night, a shadow of fear keeps you on your toes as you dig deeper into your sins. Although the outcome of this tale is positive one, I wouldn’t be in a rush to head back to Amsterdam. You have been warned.