Amsterdam: The Storm, the Burger Wall, and the World’s Best Coffeeshop [Article]

I flew through a storm, discovered a wall made of burgers, filmed a comedy sketch, and got as stoned as a gay Syrian.

by Joshua Perrett

The plane is going to crash. We are going to die. Or at least that was the thought in everyone’s head 15 minutes before touching down at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol on Easter Monday 2016.

Storm Katie was forecast to hit the UK and North Sea as Easter weekend drew to a close, bringing with it 100mph winds strong enough to sweep up the Easter Bunny and carry him back to wherever it is he comes from. And now those winds were wrapped around the plane. Like a cat in the arms of an overexcited toddler, EasyJet flight 6921 thrusted left, right, up and down, pushed and pulled by the inescapably sticky fingers of turbulence.

Children were crying, adults were consoling, others were making ‘woo’ noises as if it were a rollercoaster ride. Families were clinging to each other, and some were still clinging to their books, trying to read themselves back to serenity. In times like these, when staring death in the face, two types of people can be observed: the book readers and the rollercoaster riders, those who realise that they can do nothing to save themselves and so enjoy each second because it is their last; and those who scream and shout and cry and pray to an invisible man they’ve been ignoring for years but have suddenly found the time to talk to again.

But of course, the plane didn’t crash, and a few minutes later the wheels slammed into the tarmac, the brakes were on, and everyone jumped to their feet, eager to be whacked round the head by those emptying the overhead lockers, squashed along the aisle, and squeezed out of the plane like a nugget of faeces after being constipated.

Schiphol has a modern, commercial look with its great metal beams, glass walls, and its own indoor/outdoor park (sadly, I never got to see the park for myself as I arrived and departed at a different side of the airport). Moreover, it has its own underground railway station, so many retail outlets you’d think you were in a shopping centre, and even bridges crossing canals and public roads that the planes taxi along. My time there was brief, however, as the staff were very helpful and efficient, pointing me in the right direction when I asked for assistance. And the airport’s layout and information boards makes it easy enough to navigate, despite it being Europe’s fifth-busiest in terms of annual passenger volume.

amsterdam_airport_tickets
Tickets pwease.

I took the train from Schiphol to Amsterdam Centraal, and what a train, a bright yellow and blue double-decker that arrived dead on time. I’d never previously been on a train with more than one floor, and it wasn’t at all cramped as I thought it may be; you didn’t have to be Wee Man to fit inside. In fact, a big dough ball of a man sat beside me and there was still plenty of room for myself, my rucksack and his buckets of KFC.

15 minutes later, I was at Centraal. It’s similar on the inside to Schiphol with a plethora of shops and herds of passengers – around 250,000 per day – but different on the outside with a more traditional blend of neo-gothic and neo-renaissance architecture. Needless to say, it’s a fantastically beautiful building – a redbrick façade with clock towers, the Dutch coat of arms, and other stone and gold embellishments. And while the station’s styling is in keeping with central Amsterdam, it’s somewhat contrasting to the city’s outskirts. The train ride in takes you past glass office blocks and through concrete stations elevated above the roads below, and at times you’d think you were heading towards a huge business centre. I suppose the railway’s more like a Transrapid line than the classic style, although it does travel at ground-level, too.

Amsterdam-tram

I was now in the heart of Amsterdam. But I was lost. I’d arranged to meet two of my friends – Loz and Will, who’d taken alternate routes to the city – at the Hans Brinker Hostel. Stupidly, I didn’t bring a map, and I forgot to pick one up from the tourist information centre. And although I knew the name of the hostel’s road, I couldn’t find it on any of the display board maps outside the station. To make matters worse, my phone’s internet was broken. And to top it all off, Loz didn’t know the way there, and Will wouldn’t even text me as he didn’t want to pay any roaming charges. The bastard.

After swerving around trams and bundling across busy pedestrian crossings – one of which was manned by a chap wearing a fluorescent hat, jacket and trousers who’d conduct traffic with a whistle and hand movements – I walked down Damrak, still clueless as to the hostel’s location. Along the way, I caught my first glimpse of the infamous canals, and had my nostrils pumped full of Nutella as I passed the many bakeries (more on them later). Also, two local lads tried to con me out of some Euros – although claiming to be homeless while wearing pristine condition designer clothes didn’t quite convince me – and I saw something I’d never seen before, a KFC with its full name across the front door: Kentucky Fried Chicken. Wow.

My first impressions of Amsterdam were gooamsterdam-biked. As you’d expect from any capital city, it struck me as a bustling, urban hub, people travelling on foot, by tram, canal, train, car, bike… And on the third day there, stoned as a gay Syrian, I accidentally managed to walk down one of the cycle paths and almost got hit by a motorbike. Thankfully, the rider thwacked me across the back with his arm and swore as he passed, a friendly reminder not to do it again.

By this point – we’re back to day one now – I’d turned around and headed back to Centraal. Loz and Will agreed to pick me up from there as it was the only place all of us could find. I sat and read the book I’d brought with me, Horowitz Horror, and soon enough Loz and Will had found me. The trip had now officially begun.

We walked down Damrak – turns out I was going the right way after all – and passed about 2 billion bikes along the way. Some were ridden by helmetless maniacs, others were lined up in plazas, like bicycle showrooms, and most of which didn’t seem to be locked up. I suppose that when everyone owns a bike, why would you steal one? Trouble is, the bikes that weren’t locked or propped up were blown over by Storm Katie. You’d be walking along and they’d crash to the ground as if they’d had a heart attack. In fact, it was so blustery that I couldn’t wear my bright pink fedora without it Frisbeeing off into someone’s face. It almost killed a man.

Loz and Will informed me of the confusion they’d encountered at the hostel. Originally, we thought Will was going to pay the full cost for the three of us as he’d booked it, and we’d pay him back later, but now we had to pay individually. This wasn’t a problem, but it meant I’d brought about £80 in cash with me for no reason, and that Loz and I would have to queue up in the hostel at peak check-in time in order to pay. According to Will, when he paid a few hours before, the queues were already 30 minutes long. And after being up since the early hours of the morning navigating airports, railways and a foreign country, we weren’t exactly thrilled by the news. There was only one way to make it tolerable. We had to get stoned.

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In Amsterdam, buying weed is as easy as eating a whole packet of Haribo. Everyone knows that. But not everyone may know of one of The Netherlands’ best coffee shops – Superskunk. Named after a strain of cannabis, which you can buy in-store, the shop offers a wide range of goods from hash to pre-rolls to classic bags of weed. They even weigh it before your heavy, red eyes, so you know you’re getting your money’s worth – something that those of us who’ve bought smoke off the streets can only dream of. And then there’s the edibles. Sure, you can pick up a space cake or five, but it’s all about the toasted cheese sandwiches. Finally, a place where you can get toasties and toasted. They should’ve called it ‘The Cheese Shop’.

Will, Loz and I headed to Superskunk and at first we sat outside the front, admiring the canal, like a boulevard for boats, tree-lined with postcard pretty houses. It wasn’t until after we’d went to the hostel to finish paying for our room that we sat inside. And it certainly didn’t disappoint. Beside the counter were tall tables and chairs like those you’d find in a pub or bar, forming the area I imagine people sit in for a quick spliff and a Coke before captaining a canal cruise. The real magic, though, takes place beyond the Smoking Room doors. Here were sofas stretching along every wall, gold tables, paintings, crisp and sweet dispensers, speakers and candles – a pothead’s paradise. And it was here that we induced ourselves into many kush comas.

Most of our first day in Amsterdam was spent here, sampling the produce, as we were too tired to properly explore the city. But this wasn’t a bad thing. It was some of the smoothest smoke I’ve ever had, so it didn’t feel like a train had smashed into your skull. You could build up your high perfectly, different ratios of sativa and indica on offer to suit anyone’s preference.

Eventually, we stumbled out onto the streets and into one of the many bakeries. And boy, it was good. I had a cinnamon muffin with a bucket load of Nutella in it. So much Nutella it had to be spread on the top too, and it looked like a chocolatey volcano. Needless to say, it was delicious.

After dinning on cake, it was time to turn in for the night. I’d never previously stayed in a hostel, and from what I’d heard, I was expecting to walk into our room to find some long-haired, guitar-playing travellers in the other three bunks. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case, so we could get some much needed rest without first having to introduce ourselves to strangers while high as balloons full of heroin. Somewhat less thankfully, though, Hans Brinker prides itself on being a ‘budget’ hostel. And I do mean budget.

amsterdam-hans-brinkerWhile Hans did have a bar and a restaurant – neither of which we used as we were either out stoning or asleep – the rooms themselves were bare, whitewashed walls, three bunkbeds, gym lockers, and an en suite with a sink, a toilet, and a shower with two settings: dribble or Indian monsoon. That said, my own bedroom’s pretty bland, so I didn’t complain and I actually quite enjoyed its simplicity. It was an incentive to spend as little time in there as possible and see the city.

As soon as we woke up, it was obvious what we were going to do. Go back to Superskunk. For breakfast, we smoked about 5 joints between us – although it’s hard to recall exactly how much we smoked as we were half-conscious at the best of times – and had a toastie each. Around midday, we left in search of more things to eat, and this is when we made one of the greatest discoveries since gravity and laughing gas – the burger wall.

Down one of the high streets was a fast food outlet called FEBO, which we christened ‘the burger wall’. Why? Because one of FEBO’s walls was a burger vending machine. You’d choose from chicken burgers, cheeseburgers, bacon burgers, sausages, deep-fried cheese, and this deep-fried gravy pipe thing which was amazing. Stunning. But maybe we were having foodgasms because we were stoned, as when Loz and I ate a chicken burger on our final day before leaving for the airport, our taste buds weren’t quite as satisfied. I think Loz was almost repulsed. That said, if you want a cheap meal or have rivers of alcohol coursing through your veins, FEBO is definitely the place to go. It’ll go down as one of my all-time favourite takeaways.

From here onwards, a cycle began to form. We’d smoke some in Superskunk, stumble to the burger wall, then back to Superskunk, and then back to the burger wall… It wasn’t until midway through our stay that we ventured into other coffeeshops. And although they were good, they had nothing on Superskunk. In fact, they had so little on it that I’ve forgotten their names. Moreover, it wasn’t until the third day that we did something other than smoke or eat. But this time we did something a little unconventional.joshua-perrett-2

When the two halves of Butty Hands come together, there’s only one thing on our mind – making a video. We had all the resources we needed for filming in Amsterdam, a camera, thousands of nugs of inspiration, and an additional cameraman and actor in the form of Will. What’s more, being in a city, we had plenty of locations to film in. Trouble was, we couldn’t decide where was best.

We knew what we wanted from our first shot – some kind of office, a place an employer would gather his workers for a right royal bollocking. There was no way we’d find a vacant office to film in, and we’d never be able to convince anyone to lend us one for a while. After all, do you really think a businessman would lend his workplace to 3 stoned teenagers who are making a video containing a character called ‘Pierre Pumpcock’? Of course not. So we had to use our surroundings, improvise.

The two hostel bunkbeds that lay parallel to each other became the office chairs, and that was about it. The only other thing we could do to make our hostel room seem more business-like was dress Will in a shirt. But no matter. We ploughed on and got the shots, which turned out well with some good camerawork, editing and music. It goes to show that it’s not about what you film, but how you film it. Even a fatal stabbing could be funny with a few comedy zooms, the knife CGI-ed into a banana and Fuckik’s Entry of the Gladiators playing, I’m sure.

We now had a start to the video, and had already planned out the ending. But it was time to figure out that difficult middle section, to keep the story moving while maintaining the viewer’s interest.

Somehow, we made our way to Vondelpark, which was more like a garden you’d expect to see beside a country manor house than within a city centre. Having said that, it has a 19th century pavilion, a sculpture of the poet and playwright Joost van den Vondel, from whom the park got its name, and it was designed in the then fashionable English landscape style of the late 1800s, so it’s obviously steeped in history and culture. This is where we first attempted to film the middle section of our video. But it went terribly wrong.

amsterdam_park_3.jpg

Okay, no one exploded or drowned in one of the water features, but our attempts to record something were disastrous. We were just too damn high to even mumble a syllable, let alone recite proper lines. It was a shame really, because Vondelpark would’ve made the perfect backdrop for a video, but it simply wasn’t to be.

Eventually, we settled on using some old footage filmed in a car in England and another clip from the hostel for the video. But we still had to link us being in Amsterdam to us being back home, otherwise the plot would have been as illogical as using Deep Heat for lube. Therefore, an hour before catching the train to the airport on the final day, Loz and I went in search of one last clip, travelling into the heart of the Red Light District.

For an area with dildos in shop windows, sex shows advertised on the walls and Amsterdam’s oldest coffeeshop, The Bulldog The First, it has a fantastic church called Oude Kerk. What would God make of this, I wonder? Sex, drugs and Sunday Mass. Regardless, I think it’s great that two often opposing cultures can co-exist within a few metres of each other. Perhaps it illustrates that Mokummers are more accepting of others, more socially advanced than other peoples, and in that respect, the way Christians should be.

Shortly after arriving in this side of town we were leaving for the train station, ready for the journey home. We’d got the clips, we’d smoked the spliffs, but we’d seen no tits. No matter, though, because we didn’t visit Amsterdam to see jiggling flesh. We went there to have fun. And fun is what we had.


Here’s the video we filmed in Amsterdam. Unjoy:

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