A different trip, a different style, a different setting. I’m never completely sure as to how to prepare for a new voyage, especially when it takes me somewhere completely new, somewhere so unlike the places I’ve travelled to in my adult life. I knew that Europe would be a surreal experience; the old world that has so influenced the world that I currently live in, the root of the culture in which I emerged. But I also knew that in a lot of ways, there would be enough similarities that I wouldn’t have to prepare myself in the same extensive and concerned manner that I typically have on my exotic, tropical adventures.
Currently sitting at a restaurant table in northern Belgium, I’m wearing all of the same clothes that I’d normally be wearing during a Canadian spring: jeans, a t-shirt or long sleeve, and a light jacket to break the wind when I’m strolling about the cobble-stone streets of Bruges in which I awoke this morning. This is exactly my attire back home, without the additional weight on my shoulders of the daily responsibilities of life. I’m free here, free to go and do as I please. I packed fairly light, I packed smart, I didn’t bring anything I didn’t need, and walking around with a backpack during a European spring is a lot less formidable than seeking out a hostel or guesthouse in scorching hot weather. I even have a bit of room to spare in case I want to bring back any souvenirs.
Thus I was off, once again with the love of my life and travel partner Teresa. The excitement for this trip really began to hit us the weekend before we left. I remember waking up on the Saturday morning and being unable to eat as my heart throbbed in my chest. Then the day came and we were more amped than ever. Everything went smoothly, from dropping our car off at Teresa’s sister’s boyfriend’s house (he’s tinting our windows while we’re away) to hopping in an Uber and getting to the airport with three hours to spare before our KLM flight to Amsterdam departed. I even ran into a very popular vegan YouTuber, Vegan Gains, who has close to 150,000 subscribers and happened to be heading to Amsterdam/Belgium as well on the flight two hours after ours. Teresa spotted him first and the three of us had a good conversation on veganism before we snapped a picture together.
The flight was quicker than I thought and fairly uneventful. We left at 5:30PM and with a six hour time difference, wound up in Schipol Airport at around 6:30 AM the following morning. By the time we got our bags and went through customs, figured out the train system and caught a train, then subway, to Holendrecht station, we were beat. Our internal clocks were telling us it was well past 2 AM.
We arrived at our destination, Lucky Lake Hostel, one of the coolest places the two of us have ever stayed. The outdoor grounds consist of two main rows of brightly coloured trailers, as well as some outlying cabins along the outskirts. All of the staff, who hail from countries around Europe, were beyond accommodating and friendly, giving us the lowdown on everything, providing free breakfast out of a stationary bus every morning that guests can easily whip together themselves, and providing a free hourly shuttle back to Holendrecht station (where they had picked us up from early in the morning).
Teresa and I helped ourselves to some coffee and toast with peanut butter and a wide variety of jams, as well as whipped up a batter for these little mini-pancakes that David, an Italian working at Lucky Lake, informed us were a local specialty. It was all delicious and the coffee woke us up a little bit, despite having been awake for quite some time now.
We instantly noticed that a majority of guests were partaking in another specialty that is only as open and accepted as it is in Amsterdam (and perhaps a few other places in the Netherlands). It’s very early in the morning that people start lighting up their joints. I don’t know how anybody gets anything done in Amsterdam at that rate, but they do and it’s pretty awesome.
Our room wouldn’t be ready for a few more hours so we decided to head into the city, still jet-lagged and completely sleep deprived, but not wanting to waste a second. We got back to Holdenrecht and jumped on the M54 train which took us directly to Amsterdam’s Centraal Station, a massively beautiful building when viewed from the outside and a jumping point for the rest of the fairly small city.
The one thing I truly loved about Amsterdam is how accessible everything is by foot or bicycle. The cobble-stoned streets and endless canals are so classic and romantic that it’s fairly easy to just fall in the love with the city the second you set your first gaze on it. It’s extraordinary and timeless. Words would do little to truly describe the feeling that one gets from taking the time to explore all of the little nooks and crannies. Things really got beautiful when we ventured away from the centre, into some of the quieter neighbourhoods that are no less, or perhaps even more scenic than their more central counterparts.
Despite running on close to empty, Teresa and I still managed to enjoy the few hours we managed to visit the city on our very first day. Coffee shops, not to be mistaken with cafes, abound on nearly every corner and in many of the small alleyways. Selling a wide variety of marijuana, hashish, and other cannabis products in addition to coffee, tea, and pastries, these coffee shops are a haven for the individual looking for a chill time. Many open as early as 10 AM for those looking for an early toke before work or to start a day of complete and utter relaxation. The first place we found was called the Blue Bird where we decided to sample some Lemon Haze. The prices are certainly inflated in the coffee shops compared to what you could get on the street, but the quality is undeniable and you know you’re supporting local businesses versus potential criminals. Being relative lightweights ourselves, we constantly turned our heads to see men and women of all ages lighting up gigantic cannons stuffed with the good stuff. I simply couldn’t handle that much.
Again, I don’t know how anyone gets anything done but it’s a great way to see the city from the perspective of an altered mind. It’s beyond beautiful in Amsterdam. Despite having to head back to our ready-and-waiting bright green trailer at the Lucky Lake, a little outside of the city, we would be back early the next morning, well rested after six hours of sleep, followed by a few hours of wakeful research, followed by seven more hours of sleep. We fought off the jet lag fairly quickly, Amsterdam easily winning over any weariness-induced doubts we could have had.