Saturday, May 19, 2007

Amsterdam - First Backpacking Trip - Day 1

During the train ride, the three of us were staring out the window at the landscape we were rolling by. We were all visibly excited even after a red-eye flight across the Atlantic. We continually remarked how amazing it is that we are now in Europe about to start a long backpacking trip! It just seemed so surreal, as we've never really travelled without our parents before. It felt so liberating, but also quite scary as we didn't know what to expect. We were all by ourselves in unfamiliar territory, half way around the world from home.

Pulling into the station, we jumped off of the train and walked outside in front of the Amsterdam Station Centraal. We immediately gave our camera to someone and took our first photo of us on our first backpacking trip! After that, we visited a tourist information centre across the road, but they didn't have much free information. Too excited to wait in line, we decided to walk toward the hostel we were staying at, the Flying Pig Uptown.

On the entire way over, we frequently stopped to take photos. Ok, maybe a bit too much, but what can you expect? It was the first hour of our first ever trip with friends, and it was in Europe! I also felt very strange since my family had just taken our first trip to Europe the summer before, so everything in Amsterdam was strangely familiar to me. During my trip with my family, I had never even though there would be the day when I would be wandering these streets with friends, without my parents anywhere near. Amsterdam is very different without your parents. Well, it's not nearly as awkward for sure!

After a long walk through a very indirect route due to some confusion, we finally saw the large yellow sign with the "Flying Pig" name and logo on it. Walking down the quiet street right by Voldelpark, we were all very anxious to see what a hostel looked like from the inside. I was very nervous since I had never shared a room so with so many strange and unfamiliar people. It made me quite homesick thinking about the idea.

After checking in, we made our way down a small cramped staircase. At the bottom was a hallway, somewhat dimly lit with some bulbs with a yellowish tinge. The air was thick with the smell of marijuana smoke. There was the sound of reggae coming from the bar, and the walls and doors were covered with strange paintings of drug use, pigs with propeller hats, and marijuana related things. Walking past the thick smoke, we came to our room.

When we arrived, everyone else was out of the room. With the aid of a single dim light bulb and the dim, gloomy light coming in the windows from the perpetually overcast Amsterdam skies, we examined the room. There was room for 10 or 12 people. Some stuff was lying on other beds, and a bottom bunk that was sheltered by a sarong wrap. The walls were light green, with dark green stencilled giant marijuana leaves in a neat pattern. It was obvious that we had arrived in Amsterdam, the centre of the Western pot world. The cramped, damp washrooms located by the bar where you can hear the music and talking from inside also contributed to the ambiance. We decided to take a short break to recover from our flight. Deciding that we needed to force out the jet lag, I dragged both of my fellow travellers out after a long struggle lasting a couple of hours.

We took a walk to a nearly supermarket, the large Albert Haijns chain. We bought shampoo, toothpaste, some food, and three bottles of wine at 1.5 Euros apiece. You know you are in Europe when wine is just as cheap as water! Arriving back at the hostel, we made some pasta, and met many of the others who were staying there as we were lounging around the kitchen and sharing our wine. Before going out for the night to check out the nightlife, we sat at the bar surrounded by marijuana smoke, and had a Bailey's hot chocolate (quite tasty!) while chatting to a Canadian girl who was also staying in our room.

Finally, after a while, we headed out after somehow spontaneously gathering 8 of our roommates. Since our hostel was close to Leidseplein, we ended up at the Bulldog, which I now know to be the "tourist" hangout spot. Soutrik and I split a special brownie, although we didn't feel any effect at all, while our new Canadian friend bought a few blunts for the night. I ended up trying a puff, my first puff of pot in Amsterdam, sitting in the corner couches behind the busy dance floor. It was also the first time I had heard techno, and I had enjoyed it a lot. The ambiance was great, the dimly lit Christmas decorations hanging above the dance floor, the dim red lights everywhere, and the trance-inducing techno music which was just loud enough to remove your from reality while not being uncomfortable. Everyone around us seemed to be enjoying themselves, relaxed under the influence of numerous substances.

Retiring for the night, not at all tired thanks to the time difference, we tried to go to sleep. This had been a great first day in Europe, and we can't help but feel that we were going to have the time of our lives even if the rest of our trip was like our first day, being jet lagged and uncomfortable with our new surroundings. As we laid in bed trying to sleep, the rest of our roommates who had returned early with us dozed off straight away, under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, and who knows what else.