My Holland High
As a child, I spent nine months in Belgium, where my mum is from. She made explicit instructions to my grandmother, whom I was living with, to not take me to “that horrid place across the border”. And she never did.
The “horrid place” my mum referred to was the Netherlands. Like foreigners often do, my mum associated the country with the reputation of its red-light district: hallucinogens, coffee shops that certainly do not sell coffee, and window-friendly sex workers.
By the time I was 19, I was backpacking and, like most people who satisfy those two criteria, I wanted to get high.
I was in my apartment in Paris, where I was working and studying, when a friend from Australia told me about his plans to travel Europe. Although I was excited, I was too tired from late-night cram sessions to care an awful lot until I realised his arrival corresponded with my mid-semester break. This flipped the tables completely. Fuck. Yes.
We planned and articulated our strategy, and from there decided to road trip from France to the Holy Grail that was Amsterdam. It turns out my friend organised his trip to coincide with a national holiday in The Netherlands known as Koninginnedag (for those who haven’t got a tongue that flexible, it translates as Queen’s Day). The gist is that Dutch people dress up in orange — their national colour — get drunk, party on the canals, do drugs and celebrate kind of pointlessly over the fact that their country is still a monarchy. But this was a big one, as the Queen was handing over the monarchy to her son, meaning it would be the first King’s Day in forever.
After driving through France and Belgium, we finally arrived at the University of Utrecht, about half an hour outside of Amsterdam, where another friend of ours was studying. I had my first joint at 8 that morning, followed by another eight throughout the course of the day. A bag of mushrooms on top of that and the deal was sealed. I was high.
At first, it was great — the usual stuff where everything you see is funny, you find it hard to give a shit about anything and are just having a good time. And that’s when it started: the thing that changed my mind about drugs and the Dutch nation forever. Everything sort of came to a halt. All I could hear was that static noise you get whenever you have a bad signal on your TV. “Whatever,” I thought to myself. Something different, nothing to panic about.
Then everything really started to twist me up. My heart started beating heavily and the sea of orange of people overwhelmed me more and more with their extreme radiance and revelry with every passing second. I entered freak-out mode. The clock stopped ticking and I was tripping like no tomorrow, and for those who are reading this, it’s not a feeling you want to experience twice.
Just when everything started to seem like I couldn’t be further away from the planet Earth, I discovered I was yet again incorrect. As my friend directed the stumbling mess that was me to the train so I could go home and sleep off my trip, I saw it. It was round table, perfectly circular, and on it was a sort of bulls-eye design: the kind you see on a dart board. On the outside circles of the dart board were a pod of snails.
I was witnessing a snail race — a herd of gastropods surrounded by crazy Dutchmen screaming at their shelled investments to be the first to get to the centre, winning them a maximum of probably 3 euros. The races were being conducted exclusively by little people, dressed head-to-toe in orange, yelling in Dutch, grabbing my hand and trying to convince me to place my loose change on some super-slow bug. And that’s when I entered the point of no return — the black hole.
About a day later, I woke up in my apartment in Paris, having learned from my highly amused mate that I had slept the whole day’s car trip from Holland to France. Confused as to how one person can physically get that high, I closed my eyes and thought to myself, “No-one can know about this.” But of course, it was way to funny not to reveal.
The point of this story to travellers: Go to Holland! It’s beautiful, it’s rich in history, it’s central to the rest of Europe, and most importantly its fun. You take from it what you want out of it, like any place you might go on your journey. Just because a great stigma of drugs and being totally out of it surrounds this place, by no means suggests that you have that kind of time. However, I hope my story can be a cautionary one, and allow it to emphasise how the ideal of having a holiday high can get the best of you.