Amsterdam! The city famous for its bicycles and “coffee” shops. Or is it Amsterdam, the city that has made bicycles and “coffee” shops famous?
I have waited almost six months to write about this experience for two reasons; the first one is that if there is a nosy official reading this, he/she will surely forgive me for admitting to a little spliffy indiscretion in the liberal free-for-all that is Amsterdam. The second one is that it has taken me this long to finally come to grips with exactly how my puffy experience made me feel.
After arriving at our hotel in Haarlem, our bags stowed and a nice meal out of the way, we took the train to Amsterdam, about 30 minutes away and arrived there at about 5pm.
I have been to Amsterdam before – many years ago. That first time we drove all the way from London, arrived in the evening just in time for evening rush hour. By the time we had dropped our bags, I had caught a cold so bad that I could hardly breath through my nostrils. We nonetheless went out into the cold, dreary evening, had one of the best steaks I have ever had at what I still think was an Argentinian restaurant (those I was with insist it wasn’t) took in a puff (or two, or three) at the nearest coffee shop and I retired to bed because the cold finally won the war over my body.
So, I really didn’t feel the effects of the three (or four, or five) puffs I took because I went to bed almost immediately thereafter … congested and very, very tired.
This past summer, I again found myself in Amsterdam, in a perfect frame of mind and with nary a cold despite the rather subdued summer weather compared to the barmy and sultry temperatures I had left back home. But I digress.
Once off the Haarlem to Amsterdam train, we made our way to the pot district. Upon inquiry, we were directed to a coffee shop which was directly right there in front of us. Talk about looking for the police station at the police precinct. The shop was empty but the lady behind the counter couldn’t have been more friendly. She took us through the absolutely bewildering array of varieties of weed with such names as super silver, gold, Congolese and goodness knows what else. Despite the braggadocio I felt from the stuff not having affected me 15 years ago, we decided to settle for what the ‘coffee’ lady said was the milder stuff.
Joints were rolled and in no time, we were puffing away merrily. About 10 minutes later, we got up and left. I didn’t feel any effect on me whatsoever, and I began to conclude that I was really immune to this cannabis psychedelic nonsense.
Then I began to notice that the city was becoming quieter and quieter. Though I could see people milling around everywhere, they were not saying a word and they were passing us by in total silence. The silence was quite reminiscent of a movie I watched many years ago about the after-effects of a nuclear explosion. Before leaving ‘our’ coffee shop, we had mapped out on a city planner where we were going to next. It seemed to be a couple of minutes away and when we left the coffee shop we headed there right away.
We walked down one alley, to the canal, down another alley, to the promenade, all the time carefully reading from our map. After walking like that for what seemed like forever, we admitted to ourselves that we were lost. That was when I started giggling uncontrollably. We checked our map again, established our bearings and headed down yet another alley. And we walked, and walked, and walked. The alley seemed to go on and on forever and, worse, it seemed to me that lifting one foot off the ground and placing it in front of me was taking an eternity.
There was no denying it anymore. I was stoned. And we were now hopelessly lost in the middle of Amsterdam. But we hadn’t come all the way to spliff city to get lost within a couple of hundred feet so we assured ourselves that we would figure out where our destination was. As we studied our map, two ladies came up to us, showed us their map and asked for directions. After admitting that we were just visitors, too, we helped them figure out where they wanted to go and off they went – giggling.
By now, the city was deathly silent. My mouth and lips were dry and I had this feeling of being spaced out, of light-headedness and being on cloud nine. I was also feeling slightly giddy and nauseous. I had to sit down. Around this time, we were around The Bull Dog coffee shop and we sat down across from it.
Sitting in front of The Bulldog, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was seeing the same people walk by again and again, sort of like in a movie that keeps on rewinding itself and playing from the same point. I was glad to be sitting down because my legs had turned to lead and I was feeling distinctively woozy.
And then came my own silence. Normally garrulous without any prompting, I no longer wanted to lift my tongue. I watched the recurring images of my mental movie replaying themselves again and again as the same people walked past – in silence. My brain’s reaction was a couple of seconds slow and I couldn’t be bothered to think. It nonetheless became quiet apparent to me, despite my stoned state, that the reason why I seemed to be seeing the same people again and again was that they were all stoned, or lost or both. I giggled idiotically at my realization.
I was also hungry, ravenously hungry. That, however, didn’t stop the overwhelming feeling I had of being part of a Pollyanna-esque existence that made me feel like donning a garland of flowers around my neck and handing out spade-fulls of love and understanding while singing Kumbaya. And I could still not stop the giggling about the absurdity of it all, the sense that I had puffed myself into a befuddled state where I was not in touch with my mental or physical faculties.
Slowly, gradually, the effects of my six (or seven or eight or nine or ten or whatever) puffs wore off and we set out again to look for the destination we were planning on when we left ‘our’ coffee house in the first place. As we sought it, I knew that I was done smoking spliffs for that day, and for many more days to come. We eventually arrived at our destination which was barely a fifteen minute walk from ‘our’ coffee house.
Despite having drunk coffee and wolfed down two or three pastries, I was still hungry. We ended up at a the Grasshopper restaurant near the Amsterdam train station. Just as I had done 15 years earlier, I ordered steak. It was one of the worst steaks I had ever eaten in any restaurant anywhere, but I finished every morsel of it completely.
By the time we left the Grasshopper, it was close to midnight … and time to head back to Haarlem. And I was still giggling uncontrollably like an idiot who has stolen a sneak peek at Mother Superior’s unflattering knickers.